Thursday, January 02, 2014

theObserver on Chris Arnade

Frequent commenter theObserver has an interesting and perspicacious take on Chris Arnade's recent article, Atheism is an intellectual luxury for the wealthy. theObserver's comment has been edited slightly for punctuation and formatting.

I think [Arnade's] argument is slightly different [than Larry's interpretation] but silly.

The article is written in a confessional tone from a former Wall Street trader. He informs us that he received his Ph.D., worked Wall Street for 20 years and a lived a life "devoted to rational thought, a life devoted to numbers and clever arguments." After becoming disillusioned, he began spending time with the poor "brutalized by a system driven by a predatory economic rationalism," a system he supported during his years at Wall Street. His eyes were opened: successful people have a "sense of entitlement and emotional distance [which] has numbed their understanding of our fallibility." He was "reminded that life is not rational and that everyone makes mistakes".

Rationality then forms a large part of his criticism. Dawkins' scientific rationality marks him as a man "removed from humanity," incapable of understanding the importance of faith among the suffering and “preaching from a selfish vantage point”.

The argument then is this:
  • All atheists are rationalists. Rationalism is false because life is not rational; only the wealthy can afford the pretense of rationality; therefore atheism is a luxury for the wealthy.
  • Wealthy atheists cannot truly understand the faith of the suffering poor. Therefore atheism is a luxury for the wealthy, and wealthy atheists like Dawkins are selfish to criticize the faith of the poor.

Arnade projects his own failings onto the entire atheist community. He sneered at religious faith from his privileged, educated vantage point; therefore, all atheists must be privileged and sneering at religious faith from privilege. He was ignorant of the suffering and the importance of faith to the poor; therefore, all atheists must be equally ignorant.

Arnade ignores the wealth and power of religions organizations, enough wealth and power to change this situation next week. They choose not to. Instead they choose to toss scraps from their dinner tables to the poor sinners removed from God's grace. They choose to teach hope in an better afterlife, not hope in our "fallen world."


  1. There is a worry trend in the first world, it seems to me. The rational has been painted as being in opposition to the emotional in an “either or”, mutually exclusive sense. Personally I think feminism, I should say the more recent, crazier variety, has had more than a little something to do with that but I won't harp on that here.

    Whatever the origin of this notion, it is played out constantly in the media. Scientists by dint of being rational are obviously unfeeling. Daring to attend to necessary practicalities at a time of tragedy must mean you don’t care. The article by Arnade is just one more example. He was rational; therefore he was unfeeling. Personally, Arnade doesn't strike me as remotely rational. He sounds like he was the textbook example of a pseudo-intellectual rich kid. Yet another mindless self-justifying Libertarian. In other words, an asshole.

    He is making the simple-minded mistake of thinking that people who share some things in common with him (i.e. atheist, rich, etc.) must be assholes like him. He also seems to conflate atheism with other things like rich, rational, etc. There are many poor atheists, many irrational atheists and many overly emotional atheists. It is worth noting too that there are many atheists who are suffering the most extreme despair who somehow manage to not immediately start believing nonsense.

    There is also a worrying condescension about this whole discussion too. The poor are not as sophisticated as you and I. Sure, we know this whole religion thing is bunk but these poor types just aren’t ready for that kind of truth. Poor is synonymous with stupid dontcha know.

    1. Good point. Please do pick a handle in the future. It's hard to have a conversation with "hey you."

  2. ..."All atheists are rationalists. ...." Any argument were the 1st few words are completely false does not impress me very much.
    I know a number of atheist who are not all that rational!

  3. That's probably why Arnade doesn't make the argument explicit.


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