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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Ophelia writes back

More on this later, but for now here's Ophelia Benson's reply to Caspar Melville. She's right about the pile-on thing. Yes, any particular "New Atheist" may be wrong on this point or that point, and we should discuss it sensibly and coherently on a case by case basis. But what's the point of piling on in a way that characterises allies as if they are just silly, thoughtless dogmatists - which is certainly not the case, e.g. the books by Dawkins and Dennett are considered, thoughtful, often funny in the case of Dawkins, very conciliatory towards believers in the case of Dennett, and full of useful distinctions and nuances. As Ophelia says, the failure by so many people to acknowledge this looks political.


The picture is further confused because New Atheism can mean the big four (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens), or the big four plus some others, or all of them plus all avowed explicit outspoken atheists. Worst of all, it can mean the big four plus all drive-by shouters on the internet. It is seldom made explicit which is meant, and the result is that critics often oscillate between various meanings without notice. One minute we seem to be talking about best-selling New Atheist writers, and the next it turns out we have in mind an all-caps rant by some angry teenager in North Dakota.

Spare a thought for that teenager though. That’s the other side of all this. Yes there is some noisy atheist ranting and name-calling on the internet, but on the other hand, ten years ago that godless teenager would have thought she was the only atheist in the universe, and now she knows very well she isn’t. Maybe she pushes back a little too hard now and then, but she is feeling liberated and no longer isolated, and that’s a good thing. Eventually atheism will become commonplace, and the drive-by commenters will calm down. The teenager in North Dakota has a better future.

H/T Ophelia.

1 comment:

Robert N Stephenson said...

Coming in rather late I feel something isn't quite right. When I was an atheist 25 years ago (round about) there were heaps of us, out spoken and listened to; I never felt like I was alone in that belief, and by every manner known I pushed hard and nasty against anyone who wa not a true believer in logic and reason.

Yes, Ophelia is talikng about an incident I did not see ot even participate in, but atheism is not a new found freedom of the modern age: It is just a more spoken about idea and way of thinking, very much akin to the mid 80s with the rise of new age and the discovery of Yin and Yang.

While it is unfortuante the idea of New Atheist isn't really a consistent term, it is no more inconsistant that just labelling every one Christian and forming an argument around some generic understanding (usually catholicism).

I have met many a ranting youth on both side of an argument around faith and non faith and in the arguments in all cases there is far more going on that just the search for voice and expression. The higher the ranting, the greater the display of anger and vitriol always indicates personal issues outside of the dicussion - dealing qwith those is hard in this type of media; though it is not anyone, especially our responsibility to deal with these issues -.

10 years ago atheists were just as vocal as they are today, there has been no increase in this vocality, only an increase in the reporting and attention paid to it. While it would be good to enter into cross belief discussions it won't happen - I have already commented about aggression elsewhere; eventually the flying fist gets blocked and the surprise is no longer a surprise: then you have to start all over again.