Residual respect for an enduring institution

I did an interview with Geoff Whelan of QED which is now posted.

One of the questions was

Are you dismayed when those who you would think naturally would support a strong atheist position turn their criticism against those who directly challenge religion? Is there something about free thinkers that encourages dissent? Or are we talking about Dennett’s belief in belief, in the sense that someone may realise on an intellectual level that religious belief is false but that they still have residual respect for an enduring institution?

Funny, PZ has a post about yet another example of that kind of thing, just today. The yet another example is yet another by Joseph Hoffmann, yet again in the same style – loose generalities about atheists, with no specifics to dispute. I saw it a few days ago and was going to retort but then deflated out of sheer boredom. It’s just the same old dreck. Hate-mongering, basically, stirred up against a category that is already thoroughly hated, and without any pesky particulars or evidence. It’s not an impressive or responsible thing to do.

But never mind. Speaking of impressive and responsible – who do you think is going to be at QED too, along with his father? Rhys Morgan! Booya.



  1. Saikat Biswas says

    For someone who flaunts his erudition at every oppurtunity, Hoffman’s articles are spectacularly devoid of substance.

  2. Hamilton Jacobi says

    The interview was excellent. But the skunk in the room seems to be attracting all of the attention.

    I can never figure out Hoffmann’s reasoning. He is nostalgic for the good old days when becoming an atheist was a mighty intellectual struggle, and the successful atheist could stand proudly atop his mountain of slain dragons. These days it is all just so trivially obvious and mundane that there’s no excitement in it any more.

    And yet the bad guys are those who make the trivially obvious choice and say it is trivially obvious in their fight against the rising tide of theocracy. The theocrats themselves are just silly children not even worth bothering to condemn.

  3. says

    No, I can’t figure it out either. It looks just childishly sniffy and petulant – like not wanting all those boring ordinary people to love the movie you love because they don’t love it for the right (sensitive, sophisticated, special) reasons. He’s a scholar of religion therefore vulgar atheists are evil…or something.

  4. says

    … but that they still have residual respect for an enduring institution?

    That’s an interesting way of putting it.

    When I see the extent to which they have institutionalized dishonesty, I can’t say that I have much residual respect.

  5. Aquaria says

    I can never figure out Hoffmann’s reasoning. He is nostalgic for the good old days when becoming an atheist was a mighty intellectual struggle, and the successful atheist could stand proudly atop his mountain of slain dragons. These days it is all just so trivially obvious and mundane that there’s no excitement in it any more.

    What good old days? The 19th century?

  6. Saikat Biswas says

    I see that he has dutifully deleted the first comment that challenged his views. What else is new?

  7. says

    The Hoffman piece is a disgrace. He’s guilty of the same meaningless deepity that characterises an Armstrong or an Eagleton tract. I was surprised when I didn’t find the word numinous buried in the verbiage. God does not exist. How is the old respectful ‘big’ view that God does not exist (with all due deference to the existential angst encountered on the long considered journey from belief to unbelief) any different in substance from the new disrespectful materialist ‘small’ view that God does not exist? If God doesn’t exist then every institution on this planet that has that belief at its core is an institution built on sand, not on rock. If those institutions have anything valid to say at all (they rarely do) it is despite their founding philosophy not because of it. What use is it to characterise an idea in something that is simply wrong as ‘big’ or ‘small’?

    And this:

    When did atheism cease to be a big idea? When atheists made God a little idea. When its idea of god shriveled to become a postulate of a new intellectual Darwinism. When they began to identify unbelief with being a woman, a gay, a lesbian, or some other victimized cadre. When they decided that religion is best described as a malicious and retardant cultural force that connives to prevent us being the Alpha Race of super-intelligences and wholly equal beings that nature has in store for us. When they elevated naturalism, already an outmoded view of the universe, to a cause, at the expense of authentic imagination.

    Deserves a rebuttal piece all of its own. How dare we rail against the injustices of religion? Atheists are small when we say religion is a poison. Atheists are shriveling belief when we point out that institutionalized child abuse is a bad thing. Atheists are postulating a science fiction utopia when we suggest that religious oppression of women, homosexuals and other ‘victimized cadres’ should end. Atheists lack authentic imagination because we rail against injustice and call bullshit on made up explanations of the universe. If that is the case I’m proud to be small.

    Hoffman has clearly read a lot of books. Those books are premised on a falsehood that he seems to accept. Yet he is full of sneering contempt for those who have not immersed themselves in the sophisticated crap he has made a career out of. He’s had to read all about fairies and if you want to properly not believe in fairies you have to read all about them too.

    Personally I would prefer to read about the latest experimental results from CERN or look at another wonderful Hubble image. I don’t lack a sense of mystery or wonder, but ‘just making stuff up’ answers nothing no matter how flowery your language.

  8. Jurjen S. says

    It’s odd how “reason” and “science” become negative concepts only when talking about (gnu) atheists, and cease just as rapidly upon returning to the standard one uses when everything else is concerned.

  9. sailor1031 says

    Hoffman writes:
    “Atheism has become a little idea because it is based on the hobgoblin theory of religion: its god is a green elf with a stick, not the master of the universe who controls it with his omniscient will. –Let alone a God so powerful that this will could evolve into Nature’s God–the god of Jefferson and Paine–and then into the laws of nature, as it did before the end of the eighteenth century in learned discussion and debate.”

    Surely the only way to explore this “Nature;s doG” is with the science that Hoffman decries so much? What one wonders would TJ’s concept be today in the light of all that science has learned in the last two centuries. Interesting that in that same time frame theology has contributed nothing to our knowledge and understanding.

    Actually I think Hoffman’s problem may be that he had to make enormous intellectual efforts to lose his belief (if in fact he has done so – definitely he has not proven that here) and therefore thinks that everyone else has to make similarly Herculean efforts……’s just another version of the courtier’s reply; we don’t really know anything about true atheism because we haven’t studied what he’s studied and we haven’t, perhaps, read the same books he has read – or so he thinks.

    Who knew simply not believing bullshit could be so complex and difficult? But I’m still confused as to the relevance of Wilfred Owen’s poetry (which I read when I was about ten) or that of any other of the great war poets? Sassoon anybody?

  10. says

    The “little god” problem…Well what else can god be at this late date? A god of the gaps is bound to be little, isn’t it, because the gaps keep being closed, so god shrinks and shrinks and shrinks again.

    The thing that really annoys me about this stuff – and I agree with Geoff that it’s a disgrace – is the sniffy “get out of my quad you peasant” aspect. The sheer academic snobbery. Religion is ubiquitous and it doesn’t give up power or privilege willingly (cf the archbish at the House of Lords on Monday). It does its level best to force its god on all of us. It’s just ludicrous to talk as if atheism should be reserved for scholars of religion.

  11. says

    Good grief. He also removed the one very mildly critical comment that was added yesterday (along with Geoff’s)…I guess that’s the one that Saikat mentioned.

    What next, messages from Marc Stephens?

  12. Saikat Biswas says

    Ophelia, the comment that I was referring to was a different one. Mild enough for my taste, gratuitous enough for Hoffman’s. But regardless of his comment moderation standards, it is always excruciating for me to listen to anyone espousing ‘disappointed atheism’. I’m done with his opinions.


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