The new crybaby theists
I posted a reply to this article at the The Age/Sydney Morning Herald, again attempting to promote the term 'unapologetic atheist' as a replacement for 'new atheist'.
The new crybaby theists
November 5, 2009 - 1:01PM
Having lost the power of the gun in the West, apologists of religion have a new weapon: being offended. Photo: Ben Rushton
Greg Craven attacks one of the terrible “infestations” we face today: being “beset by atheists”. Craven's article was remarkable for being almost entirely composed of ad hominem attacks on people who disagree with him. Incredibly, Craven declares that the “new atheism” is “so banally derivative of every piece of hate mail ever sent to God that I am amazed Satan has yet to sue for copyright infringement”.
Get it? This is obviously a fairly broad category, yet the long and short is that someone who doesn't believe in god is plagiarising the devil. Craven goes on to wonder at “atheist bigotry”, such as the view that at the “slightest opportunity”, Catholics would reintroduce the auto da fe. Who can fail to be dazzled at Craven's obvious framework of pluralism and tolerance?
Whilst Craven's writings can be easily dismissed as name-calling, they reflect the rise of a new phenomenon. The public and commercial prominence and success of atheist writers such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling has been heralded as the rise of a “new atheism”. Yet the response to this could equally be heralded as the rise of a “new theism”.
Facing a new attack with an international audience playing close attention, religions have as little rational argument in their favour as ever. There was a time when they could deal with dissent through more draconian measures: the kind that can still be practiced in, say, Saudi Arabia. Having lost the power of the gun in the West, apologists of religion have a new weapon: being offended.
Rather than confronting (say) Dawkins' arguments with counter-arguments, people like Craven, and many others like him, instead cry out: why are you picking on us? All we want is for you to respect our beliefs. And so, the crybaby theists hide behind the demand for respect, which sounds reasonable enough. The more shameless – and their ranks are represented in many religions, such as Muslims, Christians and Jews – complain that when someone criticises their religious faith, the people who belong to that religion are being subjected to abuse.
The bottom line is that such special pleading is a way for theists to avoid answering their critics. The cry that religious beliefs are not being treated respectfully often demonstrates incredible arrogance and hypocrisy.
Firstly, in a liberal democracy, people should adjust to the prospect of other people finding their views stupid, immoral, pernicious, or any other terrible thing. For example, consider the case of a racist. They may view others with contempt, and members of the targeted minorities might respond with contempt for the views of the racist. Should we demand that victims of racism respect the beliefs of racists? Of course not: we grant the truism that some beliefs are stupid, immoral, pernicious and other terrible things. A liberal democracy cannot function without the possibility of discussing which beliefs are good and which ones are not. Crybaby theists wish to be shielded from the normal rough and tumble of arguments about beliefs. There are people who honestly think religious belief irrational, and find aspects of organised religion troubling. If anything is outrageous, it is the arrogance of religious extremists, here and elsewhere, holding that such views should not be allowed open discussion.
Secondly, hearing of the need for religious beliefs to be treated respectfully by evangelical Christians is galling. This is a religious faith full of those who believe in the importance of preaching to unbelievers and converting them. Obviously, if they respected the views of atheists and believers in different religions, they would not indulge such practices. Yet many Christians, with scriptural support, think non-believers and the un-baptised are going to hell. How respectful is this? Unlike crybaby theists, I'm happy for missionaries to try to persuade adults of the merits of their irrational case. Indeed, no atheists that I know of actually suggest that theists should “respect” their beliefs and stop arguing for theism. Atheists have simply taken up arguing their point of view: against religious belief. Some people whose income depends on irrational belief in the afterlife and dated holy texts have naturally reacted with anger at such developments.
But to return to Craven: why pick on Catholics? No one picks on all Catholics, but certainly there's a few Catholics I can think of who deserve criticism. For example, there's Pope Benedict XVI, whose primitive views on contraception, abortion and homosexuality cause great harm in the world. Fortunately, there are many Catholics who don't take the popes very seriously. Religious motivations by no means monopolise those causing terrible evils in the world. Yet if the spread of the so called new atheism can encourage a new scepticism towards irrational dogmas and undeserving authorities, a very real public service will have been performed.
Michael Brull has a blog on the Independent Australian Jewish Voices website, and is a semi-regular commentator on newmatilda.