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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Off to LA

Off to LA tomorrow! I'm looking forward to meeting lots of people, making new friends, turning some online friendships into real-life friendships, maybe having a beer with some friendly accommodationists, just to show that we "extreme atheists" aren't all that bad, or all that extreme, and so on.

This bash has already been generating a lot of debate. What is an organisation like Atheist Alliance International doing giving an award to Bill Maher, who apparently has some very worrying opinions about alternative medicine? Is the list of speakers too heavily weighted towards men? (As to that, last I counted only about 4 out of about 27 speakers are female, leading one person on PZ's blog to describe the line-up as a "cock forest").

And then there'll be the folks wanting to promote outspoken, uncompromising atheism arguing with those who take a more accommodating line towards at least some kinds of religion. Given my background, you might think I'd belong to the latter group - I was once a student religious leader on my local campus, and I don't assume that religious people are ipso facto bad people; I've said again and again that I don't consider genuinely moderate Christians and other believers to be my enemies; I've also said that philosophical deism cannot be refuted, even though I see no good reason to actually believe in a deist sort of God. I remain, in some ways, a cultural Anglican who also has some experience that gives me an understanding of how evangelicals and pentecostals think, and I don't believe for one moment they are all simply fruitloops (though some of them certainly are that ... or worse).

Notwithstanding all the above, I find myself in the more "hard-line" group that will be represented at the godless bash in LA, since, at the end of the day, I can't accept such claims as that science has nothing to say about religion; that religion is only about such things as morality; that religion has anything of much value to offer, or has any legitimate authority, in the moral domain; or that religion presents a "way of knowing" that gives us reliable information about a supernatural realm. I'm not going to accede to any of those propositions when I think they are seriously mistaken, and even dangerous. I don't accept that this makes me "extreme" or a "fundamentalist atheist". It simply makes me a person who has thought through the philosophical issues and reached some conclusions that I'm convinced are rational and reasonable.

I'm sure that there are people Out There who are far less willing than I am to get along with anyone who professes, say, an eighteenth-century-style of deism or one of the various kinds of politically liberal, non-literalist religion. I'm also strong on the point that separation of church and state cuts both ways - if the religious stop trying to abridge our liberties by influencing the state to pass repressive laws (e.g. against abortion and euthanasia), we'll let them organise internally however they like. Stop trying to bully us with your religious morality, and we'll leave you alone. But the sort of accommodationist line that we've been seeing this year, from so many quarters, goes much further than anything I can accept, and I don't take kindly to the suggestion that my considered views should be censored for some important cause or other.

The issue of accommodationism, in particular, has generated much blogospheric heat in the past few months, so - uh-oh - the temperatures in LA may be quite high this coming weekend.

7 comments:

NewEnglandBob said...

I have the same opinions that you have expressed here. I await your thoughts about the AAI convention.

Anonymous said...

Is the list of speakers too heavily weighted towards men? (As to that, last I counted only about 4 out of about 27 speakers are female, leading one person on PZ's blog to describe the line-up as a "cock forest").


Not only is atheism almost exclusively male, it almost exclusively white.

Why is that?

Anonymous said...

"Not only is atheism almost exclusively male, it almost exclusively white."

By what criteria is it almost exclusively male/white? I know several female atheists and atheists of color, and know a bunch more from the internet. How much of a preponderance of white and male do you need before you make the claim that it is "almost exclusively" so?

Anyway, seeing as you're probably talking about atheism in the US, I would guess that it has a lot to do with the fact that the US is predominantly white. I'm willing to bet most of the atheists in, say, India, are not white.

As far as females go, again, I think you overstate your case. Just for example, ERV and Ophelia Benson are pretty prominent skeptics at least on the internet, and there are lots of smart godless ladies on PZ's blog.

-Dan L.

Ophelia Benson said...

Yes to all that. I too don't think that religious people are ipso facto bad people, I too don't consider genuinely moderate Christians and other believers to be my enemies, I too realize that philosophical deism cannot be refuted, even though I see no good reason to actually believe in a deist sort of God. I haven't exactly remained a cultural Anglican but I did have a cultural Anglican upbringing of sorts (at my school, chiefly - I can still sing some of the hymns, and recite 'and there were, in the same country, shepherds, abiding in the fields etc.'

And notwithstanding all that I too am a hardliner for all the reasons cited. And one more: I dislike the way 'accommodationism' seems to entail misrepresenting non-accommodationism. I dislike accommodationism's apparent total inability to characterize its perceived opponents accurately. In short I dislike the consistent resort to rhetoric.

Parrhesia said...

Hmm, I didn't realise I even WAS a hardliner until I read your description of what it means to be a hardliner.

I agree that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, insofar as the active form of freedom does not impinge on the passive form of freedom, but doesn't that mean that neither you nor I are hardliners? Wouldn't a hardliner think religion so disastrous that we should expunge it from the Earth entirely?

For me, it's just about putting religion into the appropriate box (which is far, far away from politics, education, medicine and science). That doesn't mean religious PEOPLE can't fulfill roles in those avenues, but that religious (un)THINKING has no place in them. And here I was, thinking I was being quite moderate!

Russell Blackford said...

Here I am, just arrived in LA! And yes, I also tend to think I'm pretty moderate. But there seems to be a view around that any explicit arguing against the truth of non-fundamentalist religion, even if civil and thoughtful, is unacceptable because it alienates "moderate" religious folk (meaning mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics, not just non-literalists and other genuine liberals). Since I don't subscribe to that, I guess I'm considered hard-line or extreme.

Parrhesia said...

Maybe it just goes to show that terms like "moderate" and "extreme" are so relative as to be almost useless?

Good luck in LA btw! :-)