Friday, March 02, 2012

Stupidity and arrogance

In response to my post, The Stupid! It Burns! (fatwa edition), an anonymous commenter writes (reproduced in full, without emendation):
First, many of the atheists I encounter are *not* atheists - they are merely anti-christians, which is at best like having training wheels for atheism.

But this should be offensive to any atheist who has actually considered their opinion and approach beyond its "I just wanna stick it to the man" mentality. If you want to hate on Xtians then go ahead but don't act like its anything beyond a reaction to the populist mentality.

Are there "real" atheists ? Maybe a better way to ask this question is "are there people who have carefully considered their position as an atheist and what it actually means after having experienced the challenges that life has to deal out ?" But most atheists I encounter have yet to experience a fraction of a fraction of what life has to deal out. Its easy to be an "atheist" if you are living in your parents basement hitting the bong and watching Dawkins videos on youtube in between tokes.

So this book comes out and the "atheists" are all up in arms since it seeks to find some degree of commonality between opposing factions. The irony is that atheists are equal in their capacity to bore to any TV evangelist or jihadist. These opposing groups have more in common than not - yet they get all emo when a guy advocates that atheists could learn something from religion. Its just two sides of the same coin.

If you can define atheism as more than just anti-christian then you have a shot at getting some respect.
A stunning display of stupidity and arrogance. Where to begin? At the beginning, I suppose.

First, many of the atheists I encounter...
Why would my readers and I find any interest at all in the supposed atheists some anonymous commenter claims to have encountered? There are at least two forms of bias operating here: selection bias and confirmation bias. No one escapes innate bias, which is why responsible scientists and scholars show the original data, so that their attempts to counter their own innate bias can be independently evaluated. The commenter does not give us any clue as to the circumstances or conditions he or she encounters atheists, and gives us no clue as to what they themselves actually say, so we can determine whether his evaluation is accurate. The commenter is merely attempting (ineptly) to dress up his personal opinion in the clothing of actual investigation and deliberation.

Has the commenter read The God Delusion, Why I Am Not a Christian, or the works of Robert Green Ingersoll? Does he or she follow Planet Atheism, Richard Dawkins.net, Pharyngula, Why Evolution is True, indeed any of considerable freely available published opinions of a host of atheists? If he or she has read it and it conforms to his or her opinion of the atheists he or she has encountered, then better to criticize the published literature directly, with citations, quotations and accurate paraphrasing. If he or she has read it, and it does not conform to his or her opinion of the atheists he or she has encountered, then better to correct those atheists; why tell me? And, of course, if he or she has not read the published atheist literature, then the commenter is hypocritically arguing from a position of nearly complete ignorance, hardly a position from which to criticize the intellectual shallowness of others.

Many of the atheists I encounter are *not* atheists...
The commenter does not explicitly state his or her own position, but the text suggests that he or she is not an atheist, in which case the pronouncement of who is or is not an atheist is entirely inappropriate.

[Many so-called atheists] are merely anti-christians, which is at best like having training wheels for atheism. If you want to hate on Xtians then go ahead but don't act like its anything beyond a reaction to the populist mentality.
First of all, what's wrong with being anti-Christian? Too many people act like just the idea that Christianity might be bad is so obviously irrational that the actual arguments do not even deserve consideration.

Why should anti-Christianity be "training wheels for atheism"? I'm not at all confident that I understand the commenter's meaning here, but he or she seems to suggest that once people become competent (?) atheists, they will abandon anti-Christianity. But why would that be so? It seems to me that if they abandon or lack an innate attachment to their own particular religion, as people learn more about the philosophy and practice of religion, they become more hostile and contemptuous towards it. If the commenter wishes to argue otherwise, he or she might want to do more than merely assert opinion as fact and actually make the argument.

So this book comes out and the "atheists" are all up in arms since it seeks to find some degree of commonality between opposing factions.
Presumably, our commenter refers here to Alain de Botton's book, Religion for Atheists: a Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion. It's unclear if the commenter uses "atheists" to refer to the undefined subset of atheists he or she has happened to meet and whose actual positions and comments he or she leaves entirely undefined. Again, if the commenter has a problem with their reaction, why talk to me? Why not talk to them directly?

Perhaps, on the other hand, the commenter refers to atheists in general. Perhaps he or she is entirely accurate, perhaps atheists in general (not just the ones he or she happened to have encountered) really are up in arms just because de Botton seeks to find some degree of commonality. Instead of just pulling an opinion out of his or her ass, the commenter would have a much stronger argument by citing and quoting actual published reactions to Religion for Atheists.

Are there "real" atheists ? Maybe a better way to ask this question is "are there people who have carefully considered their position as an atheist and what it actually means after having experienced the challenges that life has to deal out ?" But most atheists I encounter have yet to experience a fraction of a fraction of what life has to deal out.
This is just stupid. An atheist is just someone who doesn't believe in any god or gods. There are atheists at all stages of maturity and development. One can ask the same of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, etc.: "Are there people who have carefully considered their position" as a Christian, Muslim, etc. "and what it actually means after having experienced the challenges that life has to deal out?" I would imagine that most Christians "have yet to experience a fraction of a fraction of what life has to deal out."

In one sense, the commenter is kind of correct; if religion or the lack thereof was a topic discussed only at the highest levels of philosophical, social, and learned consideration, then it would be disreputable for any layperson to confidently hold a definite position contrary to either the predominant opinion or substantial controversy of the experts. But of course religion and atheism are not like that. Religion claims substantial social privilege. This privilege is enforced, and in some cultures it is enforced by the state using the threat of death. It is religion, not atheism, that depends so strongly not on mature deliberation but rather on the indoctrination of children.

And, of course, if the commenter were to take one step out of his insulated cocoon, he would find that many atheists have given matters of religion mature, deliberate consideration. We will find atheists — who publish their opinions freely — among credentialed, academic philosophers, tenured scientists, and learned literary critics, as well as ordinary people such as myself of every age, from every profession and occupation.

Sure, there are atheists who, as the commenter suggests, do nothing but live in their parents' basements and do nothing but hit the bong and watch Dawkins videos on YouTube, but what of it? There's no membership committee for atheism: if you don't believe there's any god, you may legitimately adopt the label of atheist. If you're a stoner ne'er-do-well, at least you're a stoner ne'er-do-well with one fewer stupid idea. I could insult Christians in return (a pretty easy target), but in my own maturity, I find the exercise of trading insults to be tedious and unproductive.

If you can define atheism as more than just anti-christian then you have a shot at getting some respect.
Well, atheism is the lack of belief that there is any god. But that's not the point.

The point is that respect, in the sense of approval and admiration, is mutual. It is arrogant, presumptuous, disrespectful, and condescending to treat respect as something that can be handed down from on high. One does not earn respect from another; people develop a relationship of mutual respect. I do not want any "respect" that is handed down from any authority, legitimate or self-appointed. And I certainly do not want the respect of an obnoxious, fatuous, opinionated, self-aggrandizing, anonymous commenter who seems blithely unaware of the most basic standards of intellectual decency.

This comment (as well as Appleyard's moronic essay criticized in my original post) is not just isolated: it represents a substantial theme of not just informal but published discourse "critical" of the New Atheists. It is known (supposedly) that criticism of religion is inherently wrong; it therefore follows that the New Atheists are necessarily strident, shrill, superficial, immature, misguided, fanatical, ideological etc. just because they dare to criticize religion. The actual quality of the New Atheist arguments is irrelevant: the topic itself is (supposedly) off the table; just bringing it up is illegitimate and disreputable.

Of course, that's complete bullshit.

5 comments:

  1. Fine piece of writing. Most of my own makes the statement that your final paragraph does, and it needs said more often.

    ReplyDelete
  2. If you define your atheism in terms of anti-christianity then you are NOT an atheist. You are a dilletante/wannabe who is simply reacting to one long standing populist mentality (christianity") by engaging in an an emerging populist mentality ("hipster atheism"). On the other hand christians and atheists deserve each other.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anon: Um, ok. And if you drop a bowling ball on your foot, it's going to hurt. Your point is both obvious and irrelevant. You are simply projecting your own shallowness and stupidity.

    ReplyDelete
  4. And you are simply a hipster atheist who is offended by anyone who has actually considered their position beyond its hip value. How was Burning Man by the way ? Lots of "atheists" there ?

    ReplyDelete

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