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Oct 16 2011

A tedious impasse

I see Julian has a new series at Comment is Free, Heathen’s Progress. (I saw it the other day via a post of Eric’s.) It’s about telling believers, atheists and agnostics how they’re all doing it wrong, and how to do it right.

In a debate that has been full of controversy and rancour, there is one assertion that surely most can agree with without dispute: the God wars have reached a tedious impasse, with all sides resorting to repetition of the same old arguments, which are met with familiar, unsatisfactory responses. This is a stalemate, with the emphasis firmly on “stale”.

Oh dear, I’m so bloody-minded. The first sentence of a long series, and one which says surely most can agree on just this one thing without dispute…and I disagree. Wouldn’t you know it.

I don’t disagree that that describes part of what’s happening, but I disagree that it describes what’s happening, period. Yes there’s a lot of repetition; no that’s not all there is. So, no, I don’t agree that “the God wars have reached a tedious impasse.” I think things are happening, not to say changing. I think “the same old arguments” have become much more widely known to far more people, and I think that by itself makes a difference. I think it’s way way way too soon to come over all jaded and bored and declare that that’s all there is to it. I don’t think it is a stalemate, not least because religious apologists and pontificators can no longer have things all their own way. Now that the intertubes have come along, religious apologists and pontificators get pushback whenever they publish anything. Part of what’s happening with all this repetition of the same old arguments that Julian finds so stale is that religious commentators are becoming aware that their claims are not unanswerable. It takes time for that kind of awareness to spread and to bite. Relax; be patient; put up with the repetition.

In any case things are churning in other places too. Atheist and secularist groups are forming and growing; books are being published; blogs are starting and continuing; people are talking. It’s not just a matter of the same old arguments repeating like an endless rerun of Seinfeld.

My heart sinks whenever I am invited to talk or write about the existence of God, whether science is compatible with faith, or whether religion is the root of all evil. I struggle to say something new, knowing that this is such well-trodden ground, the earth is packed too firmly for any new light to get in. The only hope is to start digging it up.

Really. Five years or so of “the new atheism” and the ground is so well trodden that now it’s time to dig it up. I don’t think so. I think there are things to say about, for instance, the eagerness of so many people to end the conversation. I think there are things to say about the silencing tactics that have been used – some of which are not entirely absent from Julian’s piece. I think this very “oh it’s all so stale” note is one such tactic.

I do not blame the quagmire on the intransigence of any of the three sides in the debate – believers, atheists and agnostics – but on all of them. Broadly speaking, the problem is that the religious mainstream establishment maintains a Janus-faced commitment to both medieval doctrines and public pronouncements about inclusivity and moderation; agnostics and more liberal believers promote an intellectualised version of religion, which both reduces faith to a thin gruel and fails to reflect the reality of faith on the ground; while the new atheists are spiritually tone-deaf, fixated on the superstitious side of religion to the exclusion of its more interesting and valuable aspects.

One, are they, really? All of them? Are all new atheists really tone-deaf to the more interesting and valuable aspects of religion? I don’t think so. I think most of them pay some attention to those at least some of the time. Two, given what a vast army of people there are who are already doing that, would it really be so terrible if all new atheists did focus on the superstitious side of religion alone for a time? I don’t think it would. Given the row upon row of shelves devoted to hooray-for-God in the bookshops, I think a few books devoted to the opposite of that are not such a terrible (or “tone-deaf”) thing.

A plague on all their houses: all are guilty of becoming entrenched in unsustainable positions. For there to be movement, all are going to have to recognise their failings and shift somewhat. The battlelines need to be redrawn so that futile skirmishes can be avoided and the real fights can be fought. This is the first in a series of articles which together will attempt to do just this. Over the coming months, I’ll be fleshing out the charges I have made and suggesting what the right responses to them should be.

But there is movement. Even without shifting, there is movement. Even if the basic arguments are repetitive, there is still movement. I’m still busy with the battle lines drawn where they already are, and I want to fight the fights that I think are real, not the ones that Julian thinks are real. I haven’t nominated Julian to be my general, so I’m not shifting.

As a querulous member of the atheist camp, one of my aims is to end up with a richer, more constructive vision for what should follow the “new atheism”, which may well have been needed, but does not appear capable of taking us much further. To use another military analogy, the new atheism seems designed for effective invasion, but not long-term occupation.

People keep saying that. Over and over and over and over again. (Talk about stale!) It’s bollocks. The “invasion” is a long term thing, to put it mildly. We can keep doing that while other people do the “occupying.” The new atheists don’t have to stop what they’re doing and do something else, because what the new atheists are doing isn’t finished yet. We get that lots and lots of other atheists really hate it and wish it would shut up, but that’s just too bad. If other atheists want to occupy, by all means occupy, but don’t try to make us join you. You do what you want to do, and we’ll do what we want to do, and that will be fine. Telling us what to do, on the other hand, not so much.

One key characteristic of this new, new atheism must be more modesty. Although it was not intended to be a boast, advocacy of the noun “bright” to describe atheists illustrates how they have too often come over as smug and over-confident.

Sigh. Yes, no doubt, but almost no new atheists do advocate the use of “bright” so that’s a boring (and stale!) strawman…and silencing tactic. And speaking of smug, and more modesty – what is all this “must” talk? Who is Julian to tell new atheists what we “must” do or be? I might just as well try to tell the new heathens (if that’s their title) what they “must” do. I’m not smug and over-confident enough for that.

Not a great start for the campaign, I think. I expect the later, substantive articles are better. I haven’t read them yet…

 

 

50 comments

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  1. 1
    Ken Pidcock

    My heart sinks whenever I am invited to talk or write about the existence of God, whether science is compatible with faith, or whether religion is the root of all evil.

    (1) Arguments for the existence of God are at least as common on CIF as complaints from tired old atheists. And, actually, these arguments continue to evolve in response to refutation. They may all be bullshit, but who’s fault is that? (2) The issue of whether science is compatible with faith is by no means packed too firmly for any new light to get in. If you think it is, you haven’t been paying attention. (3) If Baggini has been arguing that religion is the root of all evil, he may be the only atheist who has been. So, yeah, perhaps he should let that one go, or perhaps not fabricate it in the first place.

  2. 2
    Daniel Fincke

    Bravo, Ophelia.

  3. 3
    Ophelia Benson

    “They may all be bullshit, but who’s fault is that?”

    Heh! Great line.

  4. 4
    SallyStrange

    Given that religious people aren’t going to come up with any new arguments anytime soon, of course the arguments are going to seem stale.

  5. 5
    Jeff Samuelson

    Bravo indeed, Ophelia! In particular the part about ongoing invasion even as others do the occupying. Stephanie Zvan’s post for today struck a similar chord.

    BTW – I think it’s funny (but not at all surprising) that “bright” is still misconstrued the way it is. It was never intended as a reference to intelligence, but naturally was taken that way. At worst it was politically unwise.

  6. 6
    feralboy12

    Yes, a tedious impasse. Like watching a tennis match where one side (atheists) serves the ball, the other side (theists) hit it into the net, and the umpire who wasn’t asked to attend (apologists) declares a foot-fault and no point is scored.
    Over and over and over.

  7. 7
    Stewart

    Firstly, almost everything you said above, perhaps phrased a little differently.

    Secondly, “effective invasion?” Since he’s going to be fleshing this out, I’d really like to hear where the Saddam Husseins of this conflict have been deposed. The New Atheists no longer needed because their aims have been achieved? The churches still have far too much influence and power everywhere, even in much of secular Europe, and how far away are we in the States from the running of atheist political candidates being a non-issue? Not to mention the non-Western part of the world. In so many places, even putting up a billboard saying that atheists exist is a cause for pitched battles. Dawkins denied a venue for being atheist, and didn’t I read about Tim Minchin unable to get a piano? We’ve shown that we’re not going away, our numbers seem to be growing steadily and we’ve made our lack of belief something that does get talked about, rather than swept under the carpet. These are not insignificant steps, but they are a preparation for effecting real change, not a point at which to slam on the brakes. Ignoring the voices urging us to do so, especially those that seem to be coming from our own camp, is perhaps the most important ingredient in the successes to come.

  8. 8
    anthrosciguy

    Seems to me the more regular religious people hear what passes for sophisticated apologetics, the more likely they are to eventually say “WTF!? this is what the great thinkers in my belief system have got? is that really all there is?”

    That’s thought a’starting.

  9. 9
    Daniel Schealler

    But there is movement…

    I think I prefer a metaphor I half-remember from a Pratchett novel.

    Regardless of whether or not there is movement, there can still be pressure, like with geography. Pressure mounts imperceptibly over decades, and then without warning the ground beneath your feet shifts ten meters to the left.

    Methinks we’re still in the first rumbles.

  10. 10
    Cuttlefish

    Daniel #9 kinda sorta beat me to the metaphor, but I wanted to say it seems odd for people whose world view encompasses things like plate tectonics, evolution, and the formation of solar systems to describe the current pace of change as “stale”.

    Perhaps we have been spoiled by a recent surge of progress (the fault shift described in #9); if so, we are taking much too short a view. I suspect the infrastructural temblor due to the internet has changed the pace of progress for the foreseeable future.

  11. 11
    Ken Pidcock

    Yes, a tedious impasse. Like watching a tennis match…

    I’ll remember that, especially as regards the role of the accommodationist as ensuring that no point is made. Very clever.

  12. 12
    'Tis Himself

    while the new atheists are spiritually tone-deaf, fixated on the superstitious side of religion to the exclusion of its more interesting and valuable aspects.

    If we don’t bring up the superstitious side of religion then who will? The goddists brag about the supposedly “more interesting and valuable aspects” and tell us things like Biblical literalism and misogyny are features, not bugs. Ken Ham and Harun Yahya (aka Adnan Oktar) aren’t going away just because Julian Baggini is tired of hearing them being refuted.

  13. 13
    Adam Lee

    I find it very amusing that Baggini declares the debate “stale” because – what? Theists aren’t deconverting by the millions in response to our arguments? Human psychology just doesn’t work that way; our minds aren’t that malleable, and he’s foolish if he expected anything different.

    On any debate like this, the main means of change is going to be generational. Younger people whose minds aren’t set in the old ways, who see atheism and theism as live and competing options, are going to be more liable to persuasion than older people who’ve invested so much of their lives in faith and have so much more to lose if they walk away. And that’s exactly what we see happening: the rates of atheism increasing in every generation, and even, by some counts, every year. The change is slow, but it’s definitely there, and it’s progressive.

    Or, to use another analogy to complement the plate-tectonics one: Atheism is like erosion. You might observe a stream of water running over a rock for a day, a month, or a year, and see nothing obvious take place. But give it a hundred years, and that boulder will start to wear away. And in a million years, that same stream can carve mighty canyons into stone. Of course, I don’t think it’s going to take nearly that long in our case!

  14. 14
    Charles Sullivan

    There’s more to New Atheism that just the ‘debate’ that Baggini mentions. By creating a visual presence and an active community New Atheists offer a place to turn in the future, a home, for the disillusioned believers, agnostics and closeted atheists to find allies and comradeship.

  15. 15
    Chris Lawson

    I guess while we’re dropping old, stale arguments, we should also stop addressing creationists who misuse the 2nd law of thermodynamics, homeopaths who insist on water memory, witch-hunters in Nigeria, free-market extremists who claim that the current global financial crisis was caused by too much regulation, and [fill in your own examples]. Just because a topic is old and opinions are entrenched in many people does not mean we should just ignore it because it’s “stale”. I mean, has anyone heard any new arguments against female genital mutilation recently?

  16. 16
    sailor1031

    Oh! That Julian! At first I thought it was someone else. Okay – what is totally fucking stale is self-important people really over-thinking this stuff. It’s fucking atheism! That’s all! Not believing in any god or gods. Not believing any stupid fucking religion because some whacked-out psychotic said it 5000 years ago or 2000 years ago or 1400 years ago. That’s all it is FFS. It isn’t about invasion or occupation or even revolution. It’s just about individuals realizing that religion is crap and stopping doing it! There Julian – it’s that simple? And it’s not helped by self-indulgent, narcissistic little twits like you who grossly over-estimate their own importance. Now Fuck off and let me get on with not believing all that religion shit – as I have been doing since long before your weenie little ass was born!!!

    Apologies Ophelia – this self-important little prick annoys me; can you tell?

  17. 17
    sailor1031

    sorry – I meant jerk not prick!

  18. 18
    stevegray

    Sailor1031

    +1. Great comment. But I think you were right the first time.

  19. 19
    otrame

    sailor1031 @ 16

    “Narcissistic.” That was the word I was looking for when I commented on this on Pharyngula. I think I also mentioned intellectual masturbation.

    I think he sees all the attention the gnus are getting and he wants some of that attention and that is the best he can come up with to get it. Not much of an advertisement for the art of philosophy.

    Oh, and @17: There you go. Who says we never make progress*.

    *Got nailed a while back for using bitch and learned a lot from the experience. My only excuse is that I was babbling with rage–it was Michele Bachman I was talking about. But the truth is calling her a bitch is an insult to female dogs, and that is sad. I like female dogs. I apologize to all the female dogs. We really need to come up with some really good non-gendered , non-animal, insults.

  20. 20
    Daniel Schealler

    @otrame 19

    Crotch.

  21. 21
    Bruce Gorton

    When I first started at my current job I was picking copy for online news.

    One of the biggest rules was “There is nothing quite as boring as bored people.”

    Julian would do well to pick up on that.

  22. 22
    Michael S

    It’s easy for noobs to confuse mass information dissemination with endless repetition.

  23. 23
    Barry Pearson

    This has to be viewed in the long-term. My view is “We are engaged in a war for enlightenment, being fought over generations.”

    This war is being fought across generations, with several different “battles”: “god versus no god?”; “religion – good or bad?”; “science – right or wrong?”; “where should we find our ethics/morals?”; “how should we govern?” For each battle, we need to advance where we can, and at least hold ground where we can’t advance.

    I’ve written about this in: The war for enlightenment

    And sometimes there are encouraging signs: We are winning some battles in the “war for enlightenment”

  24. 24
    Dave

    Imagine how Hume must have felt. Oh the Hume-anity!

    [Sorry].

  25. 25
    Jon Jermey

    As I pointed out on Eric’s site, it doesn’t matter how often you say the same things as long as you keep saying them to different people.

    The Mousetrap has been running in London for nearly sixty years. By Baggini’s logic it should have closed after the first night.

  26. 26
    Stewart

    I think this is good news however one looks at it. If we’re becoming boring, then we’re less sensational; atheism is becoming part of the scene, rather than a shocking deviation from it. And while it might be true to a certain extent, there’s also the “atheism is cool” meme, for which we are supposed to thank Rowan Williams, I believe. Rebelling against the older generation is not a reason to disbelieve in god (if anything, the other way round, if necessary), but if the natural tendency to rebel at a certain age happens to lead one into ways of critical thinking that guard one against ever relapsing (as one sometimes turns into one’s parents later, for example), that is a net benefit.

  27. 27
    Stewart

    Good point about The Mousetrap. Then what about Boy meets Girl movie plots? If that doesn’t justify an armed uprising, I don’t know what does.

  28. 28
    AJ Milne

    …the new atheists are spiritually tone-deaf, fixated on the superstitious side of religion to the exclusion of its more interesting and valuable aspects…

    On the contrary, I would consider myself most continually engaged with and concerned with the frequently incredibly corrosive social and psychological aspects of religion, which, by the way, present many, many problems in the modern context of would-be democratic societies, and would-be educated populations. The superstitious roots of and underpinnings of religion are deeply entangled with this problem, of course, but any massive and deeply entrenched movement and/or institution and/or institution which functions as do religions would generally attract my attention, and for a clutch of reasons with much in common.

    Ah, but why be insulted? It’s just the same old same old. Just yet another accomodationist useful idiot who swallowed the bafflegab, finding yet another thin excuse to dump a casual smear on anyone so jejune as to make forthright criticisms, another day. What else could anyone expect? They’re a tedious, predictable lot, sure. But reliable, at least*.

    As to this lovely charge that the new atheists neglect these alleged ‘valuable aspects’, well, then, if I have fallen short, allow me to correct this forthwith…

    After all, any institution of any longevity and popularity is likely to have some ‘valuable aspects’. No doubt, for example, membership in the Khmer Rouge did keep youth busy; woulda kept vandalism down, one expects. And the nice thing about the Communist governments of the Eastern Bloc, as I recall, is they really could put together a nice parade…

    … hell, even the contemporary Young Republicans, I guess, it’s probably better that these people are putting up bunting as opposed to, say, trying to invade Alberta for the oil or somethin’.

    So, hey, the church, yeah, sure, they’ll suck you into an incestuous lil’ social cult of doublethink in which the highest value you are taught is intoning the words, however absurd they may be… Fitting in, see, conforming to the whole, however ridiculously incoherent a banner of ideas it may unite under…

    But hey, as preparation for membership in any number of organizations with equally cockamamie approaches to intellectual life, this is pretty much a primo approach, let’s remember… And there do always seem to be rather a number of those around–witness the previous enumeration.

    So it’s valuable training, I’d expect, for the rest of life, absolutely.

    (/And failing this, at least it’ll keep ya outta the pool halls, anyway. And let’s face it. Those are trouble with a capital T.)

    (*/Or, as Ophelia puts it: ‘Talk about stale’. That, exactly.)

    (/With apologies, OB, for length. I have been going on around here, lately, I know. One of those months. Anyway.)

  29. 29
    Stewart

    Sometimes I wonder what goes through people’s minds before they write these things. Religious authorities have had a stranglehold on humanity for thousands of years and even where they’ve lost it in a completely literal sense, they can be heard preaching the same platitudes with mind-numbing monotony and reacting with outrage whenever and wherever any other ideas get a look-in. In the last ten or so years, amazingly enough, a few voices opposed to this have actually been heard in such a way that even the general public has noticed them. For some reason this has led quite a few people who would once have been burned at the stake as heretics to declare that their fellow atheists are going too far. I really wonder what’s behind it. Is the possibility of the status quo actually changing a bit really so anxiety-inducing?

  30. 30
    Daniel Murphy

    In 2009, Julian Baggini was pleased to share his opinions of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens, without having read any of them. That’s what he wrote:

    “I have not read any of their books. That does not, however, disqualify me from having an opinion about them.”

    And it showed:

    http://fritanke.no/index.php?page=vis_nyhet&NyhetID=8484

  31. 31
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @Dave:

    Boo

    the new atheists are spiritually tone-deaf, fixated on the superstitious side of religion to the exclusion of its more interesting and valuable aspects…

    What interesting and valuable aspects?

    Art / Music / Literature? Secular art exists and is just as good.

    Erm… I can’t think of anything else that would be ‘valuable’ given religion as its source. It’s an unquestioning, superstitious, illogical belief system and it’s only fomented a large amount of pain and hatred towards those who don’t believe the same way.

  32. 32
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @Daniel Murphy:

    The book review version of “I have no facts to back this up, but…”?

  33. 33
    Svlad Cjelli

    “fixated on the superstitious side of religion”

    Oh, you mean this one? The relevant one?

  34. 34
    Svlad Cjelli

    Frankly, religion belongs in D&D. I enjoy religion in D&D, because if your god fucks up badly enough, you can always go kill him.

  35. 35
    Ophelia Benson

    Cuttlefish @ 10

    it seems odd for people whose world view encompasses things like plate tectonics, evolution, and the formation of solar systems to describe the current pace of change as “stale”.

    And several others said similar things – it’s generational; it takes time; plus, as Cuttlefish indicates, the pace of change has actually been pretty damn fast. It’s just absurd to say “OK! Done now. Everybody go do something else.”

  36. 36
    julian

    I enjoy religion in D&D, because if your god fucks up badly enough, you can always go kill him

    If only!

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve killed the same demigod dracolich. Just to spice things up, I’d assassinate the rest of the party and swear allegience to it… but they’d give me the boot if I did.

  37. 37
    Retired Prodigy Bill

    Having read most of the published works of Paine and Ingersoll, I find it pretty pathetic that anyone would focus on the last few years as “stale.” Most of the basic arguments against religion and fantasies about omnipotent sadists have been around quite a bit longer than that awful “New Atheist” moniker.

    Nor do I consider the pursuit of truth an “unsustainable position,” although I will agree that my position on the matter is firmly entrenched.

  38. 38
    Hank_Says

    Baggini reminds me of a certain president standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier and unfurling a victory banner while the trenches are still exchanging bullets and the enemy’s leaders are still at large. But Baggini’s banner doesn’t say “Mission Accomplished”; it says “I’m bored, can we go home now?”

    If Baggini thinks it’s time to “occupy” rather than keep invading, clearly he hasn’t looked further than the beach-head. Perhaps he doesn’t realise that WW2 wasn’t won at lunchtime on D-Day.

  39. 39
    Alex SL

    The idea that you should only ever argue your case once and then assume that all is said is a bizarre one. In any conflict, there are two sides pushing against the Overton Window, and often one of the sides (or even both) is impervious to arguments anyway.

    Primarily, the atheist does not argue to convince the theologian, the socialist does not argue to convince the hedge fund manager, the Keynesian does not argue to convince the Heritage Foundation, the environmentalist does not argue to convince the executive board of Exxon, the feminist does not argue to convince the pimp, and the evolutionary biologist does not argue to convince Ken Ham. These people are all paid very well to be unable to change their mind, so that they will remain.

    What you do argue for is for those sitting on the fence, for those growing up and previously unexposed to the arguments, and to push push push at the Overton Window, at least to keep it moving in the wrong direction. The moment you stop, the moment you become fed up with repeating your perhaps valid and unassailable arguments because you have done so for 20 years already, the moment you assume you have won, the other side will steamroll over you. This is why the developed world is in a death spiral of contractionary austerity at the moment, repeating the mistakes of the 1930ies – the Keynesians and the Labor movement became complacent and stopped fighting like they mean it somewhere between 1960 and 1990, and now the Overton Window has been moved so far right that proven, successful policies that would help have literally become unthinkable.

    The same did or could still happen in other areas. Maybe there are no new arguments against religion. But if you stop presenting them, the next generation will grow up under the assumption that arguments for religion are the only ones that exist.

  40. 40
    Ophelia Benson

    What you do argue for is for those sitting on the fence, for those growing up and previously unexposed to the arguments

    Exactly. Jeremy and I confronted this, or noticed and accepted it, when we wrote the books we did – we weren’t saying anything new, but it’s worth repeating anyway, because there are always people who haven’t seen it before, and new writers always produce new combinations and arrangements. I should think Julian has confronted the same thing, since he writes many many many books. I know he’s quite frankly not doing new philosophy but making what there is available to a larger audience.

  41. 41
    Ewan Macdonald

    From the blurb:

    Julian Baggini sets out on a pilgrimage towards the truth, picking his way past the noisome swamp of New Atheist controversies, and skirting the forbidding crags of fundamentalism. Where can he find the promised land of reason?

    Ooh! Ooh! I know this one! Is it, “slighty above the fray and as close to the center as one’s posturing can allow”?

  42. 42
    Ophelia Benson

    Heh!

    I considered skewering the blurb but quickly decided not to, because Julian probably didn’t write it. No doubt Andrew Brown did…Andrew finds us all very noisome. (And he hasn’t asked me to do a C is F piece in ages! The swine.)

    Blurb or no…I do think the whole “allow me to tell all of you how you are wrong” is quite staggeringly smug and over-confident, and that it takes considerable gall to call us smug and over-confident (especially on the grounds of thinking “brights” was a good idea, since we don’t.)

  43. 43
    Ophelia Benson

    One other thing…I was thinking yesterday that part of Julian’s piece sounded a lot like something Karla McLaren said in her anti-gnu-atheist piece last spring. Sure enough…

    http://nonprophetstatus.com/2011/04/26/why-do-we-need-new-atheists-cant-we-just-spruce-up-the-old-ones/

    The Four Horsemen of New Atheism did their work well, but they cannot help us clean up the battlefields they created. That’s not their job. The clean-up, the strategizing, the community rebuilding, the future imagining, and the alliance-making — this is not a job for bomb makers.

    Compare Julian:

    The battlelines need to be redrawn so that futile skirmishes can be avoided and the real fights can be fought…To use another military analogy, the new atheism seems designed for effective invasion, but not long-term occupation.

    I’m tempted to salute.

  44. 44
    Ewan Macdonald

    Yeah, true, the blurb was a cheap shot, but I couldn’t resist. It applies just as easily to Brown in any case (assuming it was him.)

  45. 45
    Hamilton Jacobi

    Good heavens. When your rhetoric begins to sound eerily similar to Karla McLaren, it’s time to slink off into the wilderness and die of embarrassment.

  46. 46
    Ewan Macdonald

    Here’s a thought: compare the percentage of atheists who cringe at “brights” to the number of the number of theists (and in fact apologists) who cringe at “reverend” or “the holy” or “the true believers” or “the devout”. I think that would be instructive.

  47. 47
    Alex SL

    Argh. I meant to say “to keep it FROM moving in the wrong direction”, of course.

  48. 48
    Worldtraveller

    I don’t know who this Julian person is, but if this is typical of the intellectual rigor that he puts into writing, I have some misgivings about him actually comprehending the criticisms.

    To wit:

    Broadly speaking, the problem is that the religious mainstream establishment maintains a Janus-faced commitment to both medieval doctrines and public pronouncements about inclusivity and moderation;

    That broadly speaking qualifier might be a bit too broad a brush, but let’s grant this for the sake of argument. After all, he seems to be coming from the perspective of a Brit (I’m assuming, based on the source of his writing).

    agnostics and more liberal believers promote an intellectualised version of religion, which both reduces faith to a thin gruel and fails to reflect the reality of faith on the ground;

    while the new atheists are spiritually tone-deaf, fixated on the superstitious side of religion to the exclusion of its more interesting and valuable aspects.

    I broke those two comments up, because they seem to contradict each other. If he’s claiming the liberal/agnostic version doesn’t reflect the reality of faith ‘on the ground’, then the next part implies that the gnus are adressing the reality of faith on the ground, but he still manages to complain about it.

    “A pox on all their houses” is the rallying cry of the intellectually lazy. Which is ironic, considering that seems to be what he’s accusing the gnus of.

  49. 49
    Worldtraveller

    Not a great start for the campaign, I think. I expect the later, substantive articles are better.

    Get used to disappointment. [/Obligatory Princess Bride reference]

  50. 50
    Ophelia Benson

    Good point. I think he probably meant different things in that bit – reality of faith on the ground one thing, superstitious side another thing, or at least not exactly the same thing; but you’re right that that’s not obvious.

    Who he is is the co-founder and former editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine; as such he used to be my boss.

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