Friday, October 05, 2007

Atheists should concentrate on the battles worth fighting

reposted from:

Adam Rutherford

The right fight

Atheists should concentrate on the battles worth fighting, such as instances where religion has undue political influence, or turn the other cheek.

October 3, 2007 11:30 AM

Last time we did this little dance, I was gifted the dubious record for most comments ever on Cif. I never did thank Theo Hobson for that, his being the 971st, but then Mike Read's endorsement of Boris Johnson deservedly took its place as most commented on and presumably Cif's most unifying post ever.

So here we go again. Richard Dawkins is going to take on America, and grant atheists a voice there. In response, Hobson is astounded, and defines atheism as "the positive belief that the world would be better off without religion."

Well, I'm an atheist, and I don't think that.

Atheists are not a homogenous group. Herein lies one of the many problems of being faithless.
Dawkins is right, it doesn't have much of a voice, I guess almost none in the US, nor a very constructive one in the UK, where I am faced with the practical problem of sending my kids to faith schools. This however is a secularist problem, not an atheistic one. Confusing the two discredits both.

The issue with atheism continues to be that its most vocal advocates appear dogmatic, entrenched and arrogant. Not because of their assumption of being right, but arrogant by concluding that the millions of people who do have faith are evil, misguided, a bit daffy, or some combination of the above.
It's a misanthropic view, and far from my own position.
To write off those who have faith as deluded and to equate personal relationships with the divine with a belief in fairies is insulting and unhelpful.

I met Theo Hobson recently; he is charming and smart, and I utterly disagree with him. (I know you guys give him a hard time, but he's not barmy, and does want to change things for the better, so lay off the ad hominems.) He believes that

Dawkins has no idea what faith is. He's probably right, and I also simply cannot grasp what it means to have a relationship with God. It feels like trying to explain the smell of a lime to a man with no nose.
Adrian Mole once ruefully wrote in his secret diaries "trust me to not have any faith", but I'm not sad that I don't have this ability. However, I won't disparage those who do, just because they do.

Hobson makes a good point though: "The comparison of American atheists to both homosexuals and Jews is very interesting. It is tantamount to crying: "Let's seek influence through posing as a victimised minority!'"

Whether or not atheists are victimised in this country is not easy to ascertain.

I certainly resent religion's privilege. Thought for the Day on Radio 4 is mostly annoying to my godless ears
(but I would listen to Jonathan Sacks every day of the week).
That Tony Blair said: "God will be my judge on Iraq," fills me with furious anger because that's not how our democracy works: the prime minister works for me, not for God.
But this brand of vocal, uncompromising atheism seems only to exist only in opposition, and thus is doomed to stagnate.
Only by selling atheism as a positive choice will a movement attract support beyond its existing stalwarts.

Can we all stop being so shrill please? This is not debate, it's farting in your opponent's general direction.

Fantasising about the end of religion is pointless. Would the world be better off without religion? Who knows, it's never going to happen.
Theo, Richard Dawkins does not necessarily represent me, and I call myself an atheist, not an agnostic (see Bertrand Russell for a practical definition). I agree with many, maybe most, of the things Dawkins says, but not all. His wish that people have a voice in a super-powerful, constitutional republic is surely no bad thing, as long as they lobby on issues that concern the relationship between religion and public life. An atheist's views on traffic policy are as irrelevant as a Catholics.
To try to attach a generic political movement to atheism is an error, because it is not a political stance.
Take this recent glorious turn of events: new guidelines last week say that creationism is banned from UK classrooms. Well, thank Christ for that. But let's not claim that as a victory for atheism, it's a victory for intelligence over ignorance. It's a triumph of secularism.
I'm sure Theo and many Christians would agree.

My atheism is a personal, positive worldview, which does not feature god. I try to make it contain compassion and morality, which are derived from innate, cultural and yes, sometimes, historically religious ideas.

That position is only strengthened by dialogue with people of faith. As a liberal I'm not fixated on persuading others, but I can try to make my stance attractive enough that others might choose to consider it.
To Theo I say good luck for inculcating a moral and spiritual framework in his children's minds. I do things differently. To Dawkins I say good luck giving a platform to the voiceless: if you succeed, maybe then they can speak for themselves. To all the atheists out there who are caught in this crossfire of mudslinging and rhetoric I say, revel in your godless landscape.
Fight battles that are worth fighting, like where religion has undue influence, and the rest of the time turn the other cheek.

No comments:

Post a Comment