Wednesday, March 14, 2012

we exist; fear us

A bit more on atheist shrillness, or at least accusations thereof, if you've got a couple of minutes. Someone had the bright idea, after all the shocked pearl-clutching and swooning over atheist billboards in the past, of speculating about what sort of wording would be anodyne enough not to cause conniptions among the devout. Well, inspired by this challenge, someone has undertaken a real-life test of it by attempting to get the banner below stuck on the side of a bus in Pennsylvania. Brace yourselves:

About as inoffensive as it's possible to get, I'm sure you'll agree, since all it's doing is announcing, as if it were some sort of revelation, that atheists exist, and can be found on that wretched hive of scum and villainy, the internet. Amusingly, though, or appallingly, depending on your mood, the transport authority rejected it on the grounds of its being "controversial".

So when the cretins at Spiked have another of their bizarre periodic eruptions of bile towards atheism and ask questions like this:

Are atheists really a beleaguered minority in the US? Is it really a great taboo today to profess that you do not believe in God?
- then the simple answers are respectively: yes they are, and yes, clearly it is. Not in the coffee shop in Hampstead that you filed your piece from, perhaps, but certainly in Pennsylvania.

Contrast that salutary demonstration of what gets classed as "shrillness" and "stridency" - i.e. anything that's not staying indoors and pretending they don't exist - when perpetrated by atheists with the sort of poisonous bigotry that gets a free pass when it's perpetrated by members of the major religions. Not just a free pass, moreover, but a forum in a supposedly respectable newspaper for you to trot out the view that same-sex marriage is as bad as slavery.

And it's no use Richard Coles getting all groovy vicar on us and saying hey, that's not the kind of religion I do, guys, and if Jesus were around today he would in a very real sense be hanging out with the gays and probably even going to their weddings - it is the wishy-washy "inclusive" C of E bullshit trotted out by the likes of Richard Coles that excuses and enables the vicious intolerance of people like Cardinal O'Brien who purport to believe in the same magic book and magic friend. And in any case, the Cardinal's right and Coles is wrong: the Bible does prohibit being gay. So if you are a gay Christian, then you have some thinking to do: essentially, one of them will have to go. You could live a life of miserable repression and conflict while still being able to hang out at the jam stall with the vicar at the church fĂȘte, but on balance I'd suggest ditching the belief in the exact factual accuracy of a book that starts with a story about an enchanted garden, an angry giant and a talking snake, for fuck's sake.

I must just link, as a parting shot, to this article in the New Statesman by Bryan Appleyard, as I think it must be the stupidest thing I've ever read on the subject of religion and atheism, and bear in mind at this point that I've read a few Spiked articles and some stuff over at the Guardian's Comment Is Free section. Almost every single paragraph contains either a reference to atheists being "militant", "fundamentalist" or a "cult", or some gratuitous Dawkins-bashing (by Alain de Botton, among others), or a massive flaming straw man completely misrepresenting what atheists believe - odd, really, seeing as how it's about as simple a philosophical position as it's possible to take. Here's a good bit:

The third leg of neo-atheism is Darwinism, the AK-47 of neo-atheist shock troops. Alone among scientists, and perhaps because of the enormous influence of Richard Dawkins, Darwin has been embraced as the final conclusive proof not only that God does not exist but also that religion as a whole is a uniquely dangerous threat to scientific rationality.
Whoa, hang on: "Darwinism", which I take to mean acceptance of the entirely uncontroversial Theory of Evolution, is in some way to do with God and religion, and not about finches and earthworms and the like at all. How does that work then?

Actually I must reproduce the de Botton bit about Dawkins, just because it's so priceless. Check this out:
He has taken a very strange position. He's unusual, in that he came from an elite British Anglican family with all its privileges and then he had this extraordinary career, and now he stands at the head of what can really be called a cult . . . I think what happened was that he has been frightened by the militancy of religious people he has met on his travels and it has driven him to the other side.

It smacks of a sort of psychological collapse in him, a collapse in those resources of maturity that would keep someone on an even keel. There is what psychoanalysts would call a deep rigidity in him.
Blimey. Well, at least no-one accused atheists of being Nazis. That sort of thing is best left to the Pope.

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