A very different intellectual tide. Not.

Nicholas Kristof spots a trend.

A few years ago, God seemed caught in a devil of a fight.

Atheists were firing thunderbolts suggesting that “religion poisons everything,” as Christopher Hitchens put it in the subtitle of his book, “God Is Not Great.” Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins also wrote best sellers that were scathing about God, whom Dawkins denounced as “arguably the most unpleasant character in fiction.”

Yet lately I’ve noticed a very different intellectual tide: grudging admiration for religion as an ethical and cohesive force.

Lately? He hasn’t been paying much attention, has he. It’s not “lately”; it’s been all along; it’s been simultaneously and before that and for the past 30 centuries or so. [Read more...]

Part deux

More on O’Neill. (Don’t ask ‘why.’ I’m interested in this kind of thing – the blithe indifference to facts, the perversity, the malice, the lack of responsibility, the should-know-better quality; the smugness, the preening, the bullying on behalf of the already powerful.)

on 31 March, atheists in the US military had their first-ever get-together on a military base, under the banner ‘Rock Beyond Belief’. ‘All of us want to come out of the closet and demand equality’, said one sergeant, no doubt pissing off gay military servicemen who, not unreasonably, probably think that such phrases are best used by them rather than by their godless colleagues.

Note that “no doubt.” Note the “probably.” He doesn’t in the least know that gay military women and men think that such phrases are best used by them rather than by their godless colleagues. (Not to mention the fact that he doesn’t know they can’t be both. He doesn’t know that all gay military women and men are theists. Gay people in general have good reasons to be wary of theism.) He doesn’t know that, and he gives no reason to think so. That could be because it’s so hard to think of one.

O’Neill’s point seems to be that atheists are not in fact closeted – which if you know anything at all about how atheists are viewed in the US is completely ludicrous. Of course there are closeted atheists! Lots of them, all over the country.

Let’s pretend for a second that you’re O’Neill, and you need this explained to you. It’s like this, O’Neill: atheism is hated in many parts of the US, and so are atheists. In many places atheists don’t know if there are any other atheists in their school or workplace or town, and they feel isolated and weird and afraid.

Think about that simple little statement of facts. What do you suppose the upshot is? It’s that many atheists don’t tell anyone they are atheists. Others tell a trusted few but no one else. That is what it is to be closeted.

So why would gay soldiers be pissed off because atheists talk about being closeted? Why would they think the word is for them and not for anyone else?

We can stop pretending that you’re O’Neill now. I don’t know how he would answer my questions. I don’t think there is any reasonable answer.

Then there’s this:

although there is certainly cultural hostility towards atheists in parts of America, elsewhere, particularly in academia, publishing and throughout the political and media worlds of Western Europe, they enjoy untouchable ‘darling’ status these days, being fawned over like never before.

One, untouchable ‘darling’ status? Are you kidding?

Did he miss the outburst of vituperation at Richard Dawkins in the wake of the Ipsos Mori poll, complete with the Telegraph’s shock-horror story about a distant ancestor of his owning slaves…two centuries ago? Has O’Neill missed the whole backlash? (That would be odd, given how much he’s contributed to it himself.)

Two, even if that were true, what difference would it make to people in Creeping Jesus, Alabama? One might as well say that because there are some rich people named Jones, all people named Jones are rich.

It is their creation of a movement based on negatives rather than positives which explains why the New Atheists are so screechy. Because bereft of anything substantial or ideological to cohere themselves around, they instead spend the whole time attacking their opposite number – those who do believe in what New Atheists do not: religious people, the thick, the unenlightened. Like electrons in an atom, the ‘negatives’ of the New Atheist clique are forever whizzing around the ‘positives’ of the God lobby. The hole at the heart of modern atheism was best summed up in what Time magazine last month described as ‘The Rise of the Nones’ – that is, the speedily growing group of Americans who now list their religious affiliation as ‘none’. That is fine, of course, but then to cultivate an entire identity, a whole life’s outlook, on the basis of that ‘none’? That is sad. Who wants to be a ‘none’? I’d rather be a nun. At least they still believe in something.

Yes, they believe in something – they believe in a male god who founded a church run exclusively by men; they believe in their own subordination; they believe women should die rather than have an emergency abortion; they believe the Catholic church deserves their loyalty and subordination despite its lurid history of cruelty and brutality. What a strange thing for O’Neill to boast of.

How dare you rebel against the tyrant

Brendan. At it again. Possibly more indifferent to the facts than ever.

I know Easter is traditionally a time when Christians give praise for the rising again of Jesus after his flagellation and crucifixion by the Romans. But this year, in the midst of your Easter egg-eating and possible Mass-attending, try to spare a thought for the modern-day equivalent of whipped, weeping Jesuses – that is, the New Atheists, the non-believers, who would have us believe that it is they who face persecution in the twenty-first century. Playing what we might call the Crucifixion Card, the atheist lobby now argues that its members suffer the slings and arrows and jibes of the heartless hordes in a similar way that Christians did 2,000 years ago.

Does it? Does “the atheist lobby” (is there such a thing?) claim “its members” (do lobbies have members?) suffer the way early Christians did? I don’t recall ever seeing such a claim. Do you know of any? Do fill us in if so. Meanwhile – I think O’Neill is just saying it, the way he just says so many things. Commentarial license, no doubt – but he abuses it. He abuses it in aid of making perverse claims that the more privileged are being bullies by the less privileged. What an ugly hobby.

Perhaps keen to shake off the tag of ‘Darwin’s pitbulls’, atheist campaigners now play the role of put-upon pups. They’re all about the victimology. Over the past two weeks, there have been public gatherings of atheists in which they have, self-consciously and shamelessly, plundered from the language of old oppressed groups to try to describe their alleged plight.

Bullshit. (And O’Neill should remind himself of the way bishops and cardinals have been shamelessly plundering the language of oppressed groups lately to complain about public reaction to the child-rape and failure-to-report problem among others.) Bullshit. We’re not “plundering” any language; there is abundant evidence that atheists are subject to the same kind of bigotry and marginalization for no sensible reason that “old oppressed groups” have been. Many of us also belong to those “old oppressed groups” so the language is already ours, and we know perfectly well that it fits.

There are no legislative restrictions on atheists’ rights or apartheid systems that separate them from the God-fearing, which means their claims to be following in the footsteps of protesting blacks are not only unfounded, but also pretty depraved.

That’s just flat-out false. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he can’t be bothered to find out. There are legislative restrictions on atheists’ rights in the US, in individual states and localities. As for apartheid systems – he should watch a few videos from the recent Cranston school board meetings sometime. It’s not official apartheid, but it sure as hell is loud aggressive bullying of one slender teenager. It’s de facto apartheid.

The central problem with the New Atheist movement is that it is based entirely on a lack of belief rather than on a belief. It is built on an absence, on a negative, on the fact that these people share a non-belief in God, rather than on any shared vision of the future.

Wrong: we share a vision of the future without the secretive unaccountable bully who tells us what to do but won’t let us appeal the rulings. Would O’Neill make the same accusation against movements to get rid of Mugabe, or Kim, or any other tyrant? He might say getting rid of the tyrant is just the beginning, of course, but would he actively sneer at the anti-tyrant movement itself? I don’t know; maybe he would if he had some weird “contrarian” reason to think the tyrant is actually a swell fella who is misunderstood.

 

What “everybody knows”

Eric MacDonald has a very good piece on Julian’s humanist manifesto. He makes the same point I kept making (and really, it’s hard not to – it’s so obvious):

Julian Baggini has now published his Heathen’s Manifesto, which he begs atheists to read. I wish I could understand the motivation behind it. It seems to be based on the premise that atheists, and new atheists in particular — an unidentified assemblage of nonbelievers who are, it seems, strident, obtuse, impolite, and seek to banish religion from the world  — need to grow up, be sensible and kind, and ally themselves with their allies amongst religious believers, something that, so far, they seem disinclined to do. I sometimes simply despair when I read Baggini, because he never really identifies any of these supposedly rude, self-centred, self-praising atheists, nor does he provide an example of the kind of thing that he seems to object to so much. In order to say that we need a change in attitude, he has to show who is exhibiting the attitude he so much deplores, and the entire series on Heathen’s progress over the last six months or so never identifies any particular person as the kind of unbeliever who needs to change his or her attitude. [Read more...]

Vocational hazards

Barbara J King at NPR is repeating her mantra that it’s wrongwrongwrong bad awful reprehensible to say that absurd beliefs are absurd.

Last Thursday, I spoke with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in a recorded interview at the NPR studios in Washington, D.C. That meeting was suggested by the American arm of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, in the wake of a post I wrote here at 13.7 last month.

In my original post, I questioned whether Dawkins was the best choice to be headline speaker at the March 24 Reason Rally in Washington, given that one of its goals was to change negative stereotypes about atheists. [Read more...]

A tribe of one

There was an earlier Heathen’s Progress a few days ago, which did hint that the series isn’t in fact intended to go on forever. That’s good to know. (One needs to know what to pack.) On the other hand, Julian used it to treat all disagreement as “tribalism,” which looks to a naive observer like an unfair move.

First of all, it is dispiriting to see how tribal so many people seem to be. For all the interesting, thoughtful comments that have been posted on the pieces I’ve written, and supportive emails I’ve been sent, there have been many more that have used whatever the subject of the week is as a simple pretext to get in the familiar old digs against whoever the other tribe happens to be. There’s also been a tendency to take any critical comments I make as indications that I’m on a certain “side”, as though it is not possible to criticise your fellow travellers, or that we only agree with friends and those we disagree with are enemies. [Read more...]

A spectre is haunting the Guardian Open Weekend

Oh no not that – not another installment of Heathen’s (ant-like) Progress. But yes, it is so.

This time it’s a manifesto. Oh good, more management of atheism by a self-nominated boss of atheism. More telling us all how to do it more korrektly by some random guy. More “we have to do it this way” from one person who keeps forgetting to show us his Certificate of Rulership Over All Atheists.

In recent years, we atheists have become more confident and outspoken in articulating and defending our godlessness in the public square. Much has been gained by this. There is now wider awareness of the reasonableness of a naturalist world view, and some of the unjustified deference to religion has been removed, exposing them to much needed critical scrutiny.

Unfortunately, however, in a culture that tends to focus on the widest distinctions, the most extreme positions and the most strident advocates, the “moderate middle” has been sidelined by this debate. There is a perception of unbridgeable polarisation, and a sense that the debates have sunk into a stale impasse, with the same tired old arguments being rehearsed time and again by protagonists who are getting more and more entrenched. [Read more...]

Another week, another inch of heathen progress

Oh dear god, Julian is still boring for Britain. What in hell do the people at Comment is Free – Andrew? David? – think they’re doing? Do they really think the series – Heathen’s Progress – is so brilliant or witty or enlightening or whatever to be worth carrying for all this time? Didn’t it start last October or something?

[pause to look]

No. Even worse: September. September 30, but still September.

Maybe the subhead for the series is all the explanation needed.

Julian Baggini sets out on a pilgrimage towards the truth, picking his way past the noisome swamp of New Atheist controversies… [Read more...]

Keep your little pulses

Thestupiditburns.

Melvyn Bragg?! I liked Melvyn Bragg; I think In Our Time is a great thing and I wish we had anything nearly as good in the US. But this is a nasty, ragey, wrong, silly outburst.

What he says about reason is ridiculous, for a start. He begins with a superfluous and venomous announcement that Hume is a much better philosopher than Dawkins, then goes on to argue from authority that Hume said so ha. He also misunderstands what Hume said (which must have been calculated; he’s bound to know better). [Read more...]