Thursday, April 27, 2006

There are no atheists in foxholes...

...or around the water cooler at the offices at RawStory either, apparently.

(Does RawStory have offices?)

This is one of Mannion's Rules of Polemical Writing. If you've built an argument around calling people you don't agree with "whackjobs," start over.

Because: You don't have an argument, you have a rant. If what you want is a rant, well, that's your business. I like a good rant now and then myself. I have two archive catergories devoted to rants, in fact. Can't remember if there are any posts in either file built around calling anybody a whackjob.

RawStory columnist Melinda Barton thinks the Left needs to purge itself of its religious whackjobs.

I didn't know the Left was an entity, let alone one organized enough to muster a decent purge.

The whackjobs Barton wants tossed out on their collective ears are really irreligious whackjobs---I'm just using her word there, don't hold me to it---a certain kind of atheist. It's hard to say exactly what kind because she's not precise in her definitions. She seems to mean the arrogant, prosletyzing, down with all churches, let's organize a Religion of Pure Reason and if You Don't Join It You're Stupid kind.

Know any?

Most of the atheists I know are fairly modest types. They don't believe in God, but they're not particularly worried about their lack of belief. They're not insecure enough to go around insisting that everyone else agree with them. They're like Dietrich on Barney Miller when Barney asked him what he'd do if he was wrong about there being no God.

"What if when you die you wind up in heaven and find yourself facing You Know Who? What are you going to say then?"

Dietrich looks upwards as if into the eyes of a large, thundering Almighty and says with a shrug of apology, "Whoops?"

I've known a couple of atheists in my time who thought they were pretty hot stuff for having rejected the superstitions and ritualistic mumbo-jumbo the rest of us unenlightened types held onto, nevermind that for both of them their atheism was really a temperamental tick more than an intellectual triumph of reason over fear and ignorance. They'd have been insufferable prigs even if they'd been regular church goers. Their atheism was as pompous and shallow as a lot of Godbotherers' piety. But that was them, and neither one was politically active even to the point of envelope stuffing. The Left doesn't need to purge them.

There are some atheists out there who are preaching a gospel of Pure Reason. They've written some interesting books and the ones who are academics probably give lively lectures, but they're busy with their books and their teaching and if the Left purged them I don't think many of them would notice.

There are people out there pushing the idea that if we'd all just shake ourselves free of a belief in God and an afterlife we would do ourselves all kinds of good. Religion has a very mixed track record when it comes to dealing with living in the here and now. For too much of the history of the human race religion has provided an excuse for one tribe of human beings to murder and enslave another. Christianity, besides routinely giving its blessing to wholesale slaughters of various kinds, has actively opposed and done its best to stamp out individual, innovative thought of the kind that leads to scientific, political, and philosophical breakthroughs that improve the lot of humanity. A good case can be made that the first great achievement of the early Church was the Dark Ages.

There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity...It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us of nothing and which man should not which to learn.

That's St Augustine.

This is St Paul:

For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."

He goes on and on.

The early Chruch's mostly successful campaign to replace reason with blind faith in not God but the priests who claimed to speak for Him is the subject and theme of Charles Freeman's Closing of the Western Mind.

I don't know if Freeman's an atheist. But he's British anyway, so there's no point in the American Left purging him.

There are some people who argue that the Church and all organized religion are still the enemies of reason and they are not just stupidly destructive but actively evil and anyone who persists in believing what they teach, including a belief in God, is complicit in that evil. This guy, for instance.

Sam Harris is emphatically an atheist, and in his book he comes across as arrogant, prosletyzing, for the disbanding of all churches, and convinced that if you don't agree with him you're an idiot. But I don't know if he's a Leftist. From the infuriated and hate-filled way he writes about Islam, you'd swear he was a Right Wing blogger, so Barton can purge him if she likes but there may not be any point in it.

I know the Church has a lot to answer for, but I'm of the opinion that what's wrong with religion is that it's a human invention and the best way to improve it would be to purge it of human beings. Everything awful that has been done in the name of God and religion has, when you look closely, really been done in the name of money, land, power, and the aggrandizement of some egomaniacal individuals who managed to get their hands on the tools of power, religion being a very useful tool that way. Take away religion and you still have money, land, power, ego and the human beings who desire them or are carried away by them.

You can argue that we would all be better off if we were committed to lives of Reason, if we were more like Vulcans, logical and scientific in our thinking, disciplined to ask for the evidence first before committing to any cause or idea or point of view, and I'd agree. I just don't see that that's necessarily incompatible with believing in a god or going to church nor do I see that it is incompatible with the pursuit of evil. Murder and theft can be very reasonable courses of action.

But as it happens, these days I'm an atheist myself. I'm not happy about it. In fact, it makes me pretty darn grumpy. I try to keep it to myself, but I'm only human. I've had a few less than positive things to say here about the Catholic Church, Christians in general, and the men in skirts and dog collars and three thousand dollar suits who make people jump through hoops in the name of God but for their own selfish ends.

Maybe Barton should purge me.

Maybe she would like to. I can't tell. Like I said, her definitions aren't precise. And she doesn't name many names, give links, or list books to provide examples that would give me a better clue to what whackjobs she wants purged.

Mostly she just fires off that word, whackjob, willy nilly, without taking careful aim, like Dick Cheney on a quail hunt, with the same result---she wings people who thought they were her friends, or on her side, until she started blasting away.

One of the people she winged is PZ Myers.

Made him mad.

I would not want to have PZ Myers mad at me.

Read his post: Look, Ma, I'm a "secular whackjob"!


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