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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Those apoplectic excesses

I've bought myself a copy of Walter Sinnott-Armstrong's book, Morality Without God? Sinnott-Armstrong is a respected philosopher, not least by me, and I look forward to reading what he has to say. But I was immediately struck by a quote on the back cover from a review in Publishers Weekly. This says, among other things, "... Sinnott-Armstrong provides a welcome relief from the apoplectic excesses of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens..."

Oh dear. If the Publishers Weekly reviewer said that, then, okay, the Publishers Weekly reviewer said that. But what a dumb thing to say. Since when can Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens seriously be accused of "apoplectic excesses"? Dawkins is notable for being polite, rather gentle, though sometimes wickedly funny. Hitchens often spoke in a forthright way, but it was always measured - and again, his speeches and writings were laced with humour. Neither is notable for speaking or writing in a way that resembles somebody having an apoplexy.

I often think that these reviewers have no sense of tone at all, at least when it comes to debate about religion. They can't comprehend the tone of someone who unambiguously opposes religion, but communicates in an intelligent way about it. Any unambiguous statement of opposition to religion gets categorised as angry, strident, "apoplectic", etc.

But more importantly ... come on. Isn't it getting a bit unoriginal to praise every academic book in support of an atheistic viewpoint by comparing it to the nastiness of Dawkins or Hitchens? This is such a cliche by now. It's a bit like saying of every new fantasy book that it's comparable to (or better than) The Lord of the Rings.

Come on, reviewers, you can do better this. So can you, publishers - surely you can find more interesting quotes to use on back covers.

8 comments:

ColinGavaghan said...

Dearie me. Still, I suppose at least we now have a better understanding of how feminists felt in the 80s, when it seemed impossible for them to stick their heads above the parapet without being branded 'strident' or 'shrill' by the right-wing media.

WSA is a top guy, btw, and no slouch on the dry wit department himself. I'd be surprised if he agreed with that description of Dawkins.

(Also, I wonder how Publishers Weekly would describe a mako shark genetically modified for ... sorry, I'll move on.)

Legal Eagle said...

You're right about every fantasy epic being compared to LOTR. In some ways, I guess it's a compliment to Dawkins and Hitchens - they *are* the benchmark.

Kel said...

" It's a bit like saying of every new fantasy book that it's comparable to (or better than) The Lord of the Rings."
Which is just stupid, because nothing can ever compare to it. ;)

James Sweet said...

But more importantly ... come on. Isn't it getting a bit unoriginal to praise every academic book in support of an atheistic viewpoint by comparing it to the nastiness of Dawkins or Hitchens? This is such a cliche by now.

There's a flipside to this: As tiring as it is to hear, it does show that the Overton window effect (or whatever you want to call it) is working. Because of the gnus' forthrightness, there is now "room" for other atheistic thinkers to state their cases more explicitly and be praised as moderates.

When Hawking made his comment about there being no need for god, the Times of London praised him for being so much nicer than mean ol' Dawkins. Without Dawkins, the Times would have reamed him for daring to make such a bold claim.

mental reservation said...

"apoplectic excesses" is rather tame. I read the God Delusion before it was translated into German, so I knew its contents when the German quality newspapers reviewed the book. All three reviews I read were scathing: I learned that the book was not only written in an aggresive and hateful tone, but also full of ad-hominem attacks against believers. Based on those reviews, I wouldn't have bought the book.

In conclusion, it is true that every new fantasy book is better than LotR.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, Legal Eagle, Dawkins and Hitchens aren’t the benchmark. Silly caricatures of them are.

Grendels Dad

ColinGavaghan said...

On another note, these criticisms actually add credence to Dawkins' own claim, that we have been collectively hoodwinked into accepting special treatment for religious as distinct from other world views. Similarly robust critiques of political or philosophical ideologies would rarely be discounted on the basis of their lack of politeness. Christopher Hitchens' brother Peter is not routinely slammed in the quality press for his vituperative and scathing attacks on leftist & liberal ideas, after all; or if he is, it's for the content of his attacks rather than his 'rudeness'.

Svlad Cjelli said...

What is Dungeons & Dragons in this analogy?



P.s. New captcha is harder. As in, "maybe I am a robot after all."