You can’t win

Richard Dawkins has a very amusing piece about the journalistic take on his discussion with the archishop the other day. One stupid cliché after another, most of them derogatory. Dawkins is a charismatic preacher haw haw; bust-up; ardent atheist – and so on. There was no bust-up, so the audience was in despair – in the imagination of one of the reporters. Dawkins “confessed” to being an agnostic shock-horror; never mind that he said that in the book that triggered all these stupid witticisms.

It’s hard to resist a feeling of “You can’t win”. On the one hand we ‘horsemen’ and ‘new atheists’ are attacked, often aggressively and stridently, for being aggressive and strident. On the other hand, when journalists or religious apologists actually meet us and we turn out to be courteous and civilised, they accuse us of climbing down, “admitting” or “confessing” that we have changed, when actually we are behaving exactly as we always have. They seem to feel let down when they discover that the real people aren’t anything like the way they so relentlessly portray us; as if, since they’ve gone to the trouble of inventing extravagant caricatures of us, we should at least have the decency to live up to them in real life.

Quite. And what is the outrage that prompts all this caricaturing? Atheism. Not child-rape; not human trafficking; not “honour” killing; not selling tainted drugs; not skimping on equipment maintenance such that the Gulf of Mexico turns into an oil dump. Atheism. Not believing in a magic fella in the sky.

Natalie has a post on the same subject (but suggested by a different instantiation of it).

We were chatting in our top secret and amazingly awesome backchannel, full of such incredible wit and delightful banter that you shall never ever know, about how some folks over at an intelligent design website called Uncommon Descent decided to do a bit of a breakdown of the whole Loftus thing, propping it up (in act of unconcealed schadenfreude) as indicative of some kind of big rift or infighting amongst atheists.

Which is a bit tedious and uninformed in that it hasn’t exactly been much of a conflict or controversy at all. No battle lines actually got drawn, nobody was attacking anybody (except in Loftus’ imagination), and there was no grand battle.

Quite. I made a related point the other day when I posted about snide comments on Twitter about this supposed Big Rift. People were drawing big conclusions on the basis of pretty much nothing.

Greta Christina made a really interesting point, though, that got my brain pieces to start doing brain stuff. She pointed out how whenever there’s a disagreement within our community, no matter how minor, people will exploit it to make up stories about “rifts” and “infighting” and “drama”, how we’re a bunch of angry little kids who endlessly squabble amongst ourselves. And then when we do agree with one another, suddenly we’re a “hive mind”, an “echo chamber”, “preaching to the choir”, a “circle jerk”, “silencing dissent”. We’re mocked and attacked for disagreeing with each other, and mocked and attacked for agreeing with one another. A catch-22, no-win, damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation.

Sometimes in the space of one tweet.

Oh they’re all like that

Mark Jones has an excellent post on Julian’s tone piece.

A snippet:

As often when it comes to this sort of accusation, no evidence is linked to support Baggini’s position. To be clear, I don’t doubt that the occasional atheist might make a tone-deaf pronouncement. I object that atheists are characterised as a group with this clumsy stereotype, and I object that the four horsemen, and gnus, are too.)

Yep. Atheists are this, the new atheists are that, the online atheists are the other. And as for the new online atheist bloggers – ! No stereotype can be too stale or too general or too wild for them. They must be destroyed.

Will he never arrive?

Via Ericmore of Julian’s interminable Heathen’s Progress. This one is about tone: not just the tone that “new atheists” use but the allegation that they (we) are tone deaf to religion. Religion is comparable to poetry and pop music. Some people don’t “get” poetry, or pop music, or both. They can’t say anything interesting about either one, because they don’t get them. They’re tone deaf to them. It’s the same with religion.

Right, except that it isn’t. Poetry doesn’t tell everyone what to do. Poetry doesn’t have a billion or more “members” or “believers” or other kinds of belongers. Poetry doesn’t have dogma. Poetry doesn’t have a single “sacred” book that many believers take as god-inspired or god-made, and authoritative, and not-to-be-disobeyed. Poetry doesn’t treat rules invented by a few pastoral men 3 thousand years ago as binding on all of humanity still and forever.

I could go on. I could go on, but you get the idea. It’s all very well, all this “yes but you’re missing the music” line of chat, but religion makes claims on us, huge claims, and that makes mollifying talk about its music 1) beside the point and 2) a dangerous side-track.

But anyway it’s bullshit. It’s like saying that religion is like everything good that humans do – art and sport and wonder and imagination – and that therefore atheists should just stop being atheist in public or else art and sport and wonder and imagination will disappear!!1!

…to say that an abrasive tone is not constructive is to say more than something about a person’s manner of speech. It’s not constructive because it is rooted in a one-dimensional understanding of the phenomenon under discussion. Atheistic tone-deafness misses many of the things I’ve talked about in this series, such as placing mystery at the heart of life, and living with the aid of beneficial rituals and practices. The abrasiveness is not some kind of independent, wilful rudeness that could be smoothed over while keeping the message intact. We talk about people who are rude as being ignorant and more often than not, when someone comes over as too hostile to religion, ignorance is at the root of it, not simply an absence of good manners.

What’s at the root of it when someone comes across as too friendly to religion? What’s at the root of Julian’s tortured back-and-forth yes-but friendliness to religion? I don’t know; I leave it to your artful speculation.

Guest post by Musical Atheist on Richard Dawkins

After the torrent of spiteful dreck we’ve seen directed at Richard Dawkins lately, the comment by Musical Atheist came as a blast of cold fresh air in a stuffy room. Therefore, I’m putting it up on the main page.

Musical Atheist says:

I don’t like my own country very much at present. I think our politicians and our press display the lowest sort of sneering childishness, on a regular basis. Playground bullies who grew up to apply their bullying on a wider scale.

For this reason, when I first discovered Dawkins’ writing, I felt that he was one of the few public figures in Britain I could find genuinely inspiring. He’s honest, his moral integrity is innately bound up with his passion for his work, which is the noble work of the pursuit of truth. You’d think the religious authorities ought to get that, even if they think he’s wrong. He’s flawed and human, he’s made errors in judgement and sometimes takes cheap shots, but he still stands out as one of the few British public intellectuals engaged in doing active good and treating moral ideas seriously.

When I read TGD a few years ago I, as many Christians keep saying,  didn’t recognise the god he described. I thought it witty, acerbic and entertaining, but not applicable to me. But I gradually realised that the example of scepticism and rigorous commitment to evidence that he was describing was applicable to all types of spiritual belief. When I began to apply it to my own (woo, new agey, vaguely pantheist, occasionally animist) spiritual ideas, I was genuinely shocked to find how much baggage of unjustified belief I’d accumulated over the years, and how much, if I was being honest with myself, I had to throw out.

Reading Dawkins got me interested in scepticism; led me to other writers and blogs like B&W and Pharyngula; reminded me of my childhood pleasure in science, long stifled by mediocre teaching; but more than anything, gave me the tools to reclaim my own mind. How do you repay the people who help you do that?

And he did it with one entertaining bestseller that didn’t even address the specific beliefs I actually held, but that I was able to use as a springboard for my own thought process.

Shall I compare thee to a spotty adolescent

Well at least Amol Rajan gets it.

Proof, if proof were needed, that “militant secularism” isn’t having such a great time of it in modern Britain has been in plentiful supply over the past week, during which there has been a sustained and vicious assault in our media on one of our most distinguished academics. Professor Richard Dawkins (FRS, FRSL) presumably personifies militant secularism, and has been made to suffer for it. [Read more...]

However childish

Speaking of the dopy endlessly-recycled vendetta against gnu atheism, John Gray obliges with another iteration of his version, via a perfunctory review of some book or other which he barely notices.

It is only the illiteracy of the current generation of atheists that leads them to think religious practitioners must be stupid or thoughtless. Were Augustine, Maimonides and al-Ghazali – to mention only religious thinkers in monotheist traditions – lacking in intellectual vitality? The question is absurd but the fact it can be asked at all might be thought to pose a difficulty for de Botton. His spirited and refreshingly humane book aims to show that religion serves needs that an entirely secular life cannot satisfy. He will not persuade those for whom atheism is a militant creed. Such people are best left with their certainties, however childish. [Read more...]

Narcissus leaves the pool

Some goon was sniping at FTB on Twitter the other day – stupid snipey generalizations that have nothing to do with reality. Why would anyone even bother sniping at FTB in general? We’re not all the same, so what can one say that will be true? We all post in English, mostly. Anything else? We all sleep with our eyes closed? We all eat food and drink water?

Anyway, the stupidest tweet said “narcissism is near a sine qua non for blogging at FtB.”

Oh yes? Why?

No seriously, why? Why more than any other group of bloggers, or just any other blogger? What’s so narcissistic about everyone at FTB? [Read more...]

Justin finds another consignment of atheist-bashing

One Reverend Bryan Griem, writing to the Pasadena Sun:

Look, you just read the stats: “Researchers have found that spiritual people have decreased odds of attempting suicide, and that spiritual fitness has a positive impact on quality of life, on coping and on mental health.” Atheists be damned. They will be. So I really don’t care what they think regarding these tests. I’m tired of having their constant nagging, their constant opposition against God — their evil. They contribute nothing positive in the long run. Their very name, “a” theist, means they are “against,” with a big “no” regarding America’s “creator” and “Nature’s God” (the one mentioned in our Declaration of Independence). I’m frankly sick of them. Why they are here on the In Theory cast is beyond me. It’s like saying, “I have no spiritual input because I don’t believe in the spirit. So here’s my ignorance….”

I wonder what the military puts on gravestones of atheists, a thumbs-down? Listen, all religions are protected by our laws, but atheists don’t countenance America’s documents that mention God. They don’t actually deserve rights that even bizarre religionists have. If it could be shown that people who deny God create military weakness, however small, what should commanders do when choosing a winning military?

Whee-ew. We’ll be damned. We’re evil. We contribute nothing positive. We don’t deserve rights.

Well at least he’s a civilian, so Justin can safely ignore him.

Justin’s post.

Up for a prize

Good morning girls and boys, it’s time for Monday’s entries in the “What Week-old Dead Fish Can We Throw at Richard Dawkins Today?” contest.

A big round of applause for Mary Ann Sieghart at The Independent, who wastes no time but gets to the vulgar abuse right out of the gate.

The Church of England couldn’t hope for a better enemy than Richard Dawkins. Puffed-up, self-regarding, vain, prickly and militant, he displays exactly the character traits that could do with some Christian mellowing. In fact, he’s almost an advertisement against atheism. You can’t help thinking that a few Sundays in the pews and the odd day volunteering in a Church-run soup kitchen might do him the power of good. [Read more...]

And now for some good Twitter jokes

Martin Robbins@mjrobbins And here is The Telegraph’s Charles Moore in 2005 attacking Blair for apologizing for slavery http://tgr.ph/AeDOiu

plus

So according to the Telegraph, you shouldn’t hold guilt for your ancestors’ actions, unless you’re Richard Dawkins. Neat.

David Aaronovitch@DAaronovitch

The Telegraph attack on Dawkins for having slave-trading forebears two centuries back, is wonderfully bizarre. Mad, really. [Read more...]