The best way to sum up what irks me about Stephen Hawking’s statement that heaven is for “people who are afraid of the dark” is that it stingily generalizes thousands of years of diverse cultural and spiritual inquires in our shared human experience. Progressive folks wouldn’t tolerate this kind of talk from self-styled “religious” people, nor should we embrace it from Hawking. Embrace his belief that there’s nothing to the spiritual all day long. That’s fine. But let’s not confuse an irresponsible soundbite for some kind of meaningful blow against the forces of reactionary religion. It’s not. Neither are all the people who hope or believe they’re engaged in some kind of spiritual life a bunch Bible-beating, Koran-beating, whatever-beating fundamentalists who can’t cope with some scientifically provable rejection of their schema. But we all know that, don’t we?