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.

Maybe, maybe, but then again one could just turn the whole idea back on him. One could argue (with evidence via quoting) that the whole series was full of “the familiar old digs” at the tribally-hated gnu atheists. I’ve been arguing that throughout: his “critical comments” have been 1) familiar 2) tribal 3) generalized and evidence-free. Given that, it seems painfully self-serving to say that most of the criticism his series has received has been tribal as opposed to thoughtful.

It’s probably true that much of the response was tribal; mine probably was tribal, but then Julian’s critical comments were directed at a tribe. His response now is rather like poking a dog with a stick and then complaining when the dog growls. He’s been talking about “new” atheists in a tribal way for years; we bristle because he talks about us that way; then he complains when we do what he’s been poking us to do. It’s all tribal. Sure, our response may be tribal, but his hand-waving generalizations about us are every bit as tribal, and his came first.

Actually I think his are a good deal more tribal, because they’re so general and vague, while the responses give chapter and verse.

The conclusion is pure poisoning the well.

…atheists need to be a bit more modest and self-effacing than they have appeared to be. The whole idea of the “heathen” label was to take ourselves a little less seriously. We say we respect science and reason, but what both have taught us more than anything is how fallible, biased, irrational and prejudiced we all are.

If you agree with these conclusions, then I expect you’ll find much to agree with in the Heathen Manifesto. If you don’t, and you like a good excuse to fire off a ranting response to a Comment is free belief blog, then start rubbing your hands now.

In other words, if you don’t agree with my conclusions, you’re the kind of person who likes to fire off ranting responses to a Comment is free belief blog. That’s how to be modest and self-effacing, folks! Just announce that all disagreement is malicious hand-rubbing ranting.

Tribal indeed.



  1. F says

    The series may come to an end, yet I somehow suspect Julian will not. Nor will the rest of the you’renothelping/accomofaitheist crowd.

    Since I disagree, not only am I an unreasonable ranting trollmaniac, I’ve been shoved into some tribe or other. Fantastic. Thanks!

  2. BigJ says

    I’m utterly sick of the mendacity in public discourse between “faith-accomodating” atheists and, well, everyone else. “I respect your faith even though I’m not a believer” is egregious bullshit, as is the notion that any (or all) non-believers should respect anyone’s religious views, or even that the religious should respect each others’ views. It’s worthwhile and praiseworthy to attempt to maintain a framework of respect for *people*, but utterly disingenuous to suggest that this in some way equates to a respect for their religious beliefs, particularly when the entire point of the debate is that you don’t share those beliefs, and indeed your opinion is that said beliefs are foolish, ill-considered and detrimental to society as a whole.

    How on earth can that possibly leave one with wiggle-room for respecting faith? It’s the same sort of compartmentalisation that allows people of different religions to insist on said respect for *all* religions, even though in theory they believe mutually-contradictory things to other religionists and in many cases believe that the others’ beliefs are sinful, wrong, and will inexorably lead to a miserable and painful eternity.

    Respect? Codswallop.

    I am an atheist. I believe religion is superstitious, ignorant, often at odds with human moral development, toxic to rational thought and incompatible with the development of a fair and equal society. I have no respect for it whatsoever, and atheists pretending that they *do* are at best failing to understand the issues and at worst being intellectually dishonest with themselves and others.

    I may – and indeed do – have respect for certain people who hold religious views, but I hold in contempt the majority of the views themselves; and if they were honest, I’d guess that most other atheists feel the same.

  3. BigJ says


    Glad you liked it! If I were better at this stuff I’d be blogging myself instead of commenting on the blogs of people who can actually write 😉

  4. Caravelle says

    I don’t know about the “respect people, disrespect beliefs” thing, it sounds a lot to me like “hate the sin, love the sinner”. Which is also something I think sounds perfectly fine, except that people on the receiving end of it don’t perceive it the same way at all.

    Rhetoric aside, what does respecting a person and not respecting their beliefs look like in practice ?

    And the more difficult questions, do people on the receiving end of this perceive themselves as being respected, and if not are they wrong (because of religious entitlement, say), or should we accept we’re actually disrespecting them ? And if they are wrong, how do you get them to change their mind ?

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