Good old NPR, always middlebrow to a fault. Talk about atheism and religion? Well you know what will be said, because NPR wouldn’t allow anything else to be said.
Sometimes the debate between atheism and religion can be enlightening, showing us how both of these different approaches dive deeply into the currents of human experience. Sometimes, however, it can be deeply depressing, devolving into hard lines and acrimony. As an atheist, I often find myself exasperated with what I call “strident atheism.”
The banality, it…well it doesn’t burn. It stifles with fuzzy fluffiness. Atheism and religion are “approaches,” which are different but not more or less accurate. They are approaches that dive (how can an approach dive?) “deeply into the currents of human experience.” Well that sounds profound, but is it right? Not particularly. It’s approximate, and it sounds deep to the unwary and inattentive. If there’s anything I dislike it’s writing that sounds deep to the unwary and inattentive and to no one else.
And then the atheist winds up brightly informing us that he has a brand new label for argumentative atheism, and that brand new label is “strident.”
People in this vein seem intent on ignoring the long narrative of human spiritual endeavor. They often reduce it to histories of ignorance and intolerance. Believers in strident atheism convince themselves that it’s OK to ignore the scholarship on the long and ancient history of human spiritual endeavor. And that brings me to my Valentine.
Oh, god, that is shitty writing. Every word of it is bad. “People in this vein”? And what’s the long narrative of human spiritual endeavor that those people are ignoring? Religion isn’t that narrative. Religion isn’t history of religion. And nobody is a “believer in strident atheism” and the rest of the sentence is just baby talk.
It’s insulting, to use such bad writing on what’s supposed to be a serious news show.
Adam Frank ends with a hymn of praise to Karen Armstrong, despite admitting that she’s not much good.
Armstrong has been criticized for shallowness and for skipping over the subtleties that formal scholarship would reveal. I am sure some of that criticism is true. I can see that she is, indeed, often painting in broad strokes. But like a good science writer, she is opening doors into the history of ideas and experience that we can all follow.
No she isn’t. She’s giving people an illusion of knowledge and a distorted view of the subject.
There is another reason I, a scientist, love Karen Armstrong. All of her writings are illuminated by a deep and resonant compassion. As a scientist I am always interested in universals, things that are always true. Armstrong, who founded the wonderful Charter for Compassion, is interested in the same thing when it comes to human behavior as an expression of spiritual longing. Compassion, she tells us, must always come first, must always be the first concern of a religious life. I am not religious but I could not agree more.
Thank you Ms. Armstrong. Will you be my Valentine?
Gag me. But she doesn’t only tell us compassion must come first; she also insists that all religions put it first, and that’s a damn lie.