Saturday, August 11, 2007


Amen Corner

Gordon Lynch, a professor of sociology of religion at Birkbeck College, University of London, has an article entitled "Richard Dawkins, TV evangelist" in the Guardian. An initial point is how Dawkins, with his television work, books, website, appeals for funding and sale of prayer shawls ... opps, scarlet letter "A" emblazoned T-shirts ... and all the rest, is reminiscent of the methods of evangelical ministers. Set a thief, I suppose ...

I don't know if this from Lynch is quite fair:

The sheer ferocity of many of the atheist critiques of religion also suggests that we are not in the territory of reasoned debate, but witnessing the birth pangs of a new, anti-religious cultural identity.
But it is certainly true that what some would see as excesses in Dawkins' diatribe have been defended by his supporters as understandable in a book intended to "raise the consciousness" of and engender mutual support among atheists in a society which unjustly finds it a less than respectable position.

The conclusion of the article at least deserves consideration, though it too seems overstated:

To those of us who identify with liberal and progressive cultural movements, whether religious or humanist, there are potentially worrying trends here. The intensity with which new atheist identities are being forged through a hatred of imagined religious others is matched by the hatred felt by some conservative religious groups towards those they perceive as godless.

In the same way that global conflict emerged when American neoconservatives and radical Islamists found in each other the perfect enemy, so future conflict between militant atheists and religious conservatives may have the rest of us ducking in the crossfire. In this sense, while Dawkins's intentions are doubtless well meant, the rise of the atheist movement he symbolises could do more than the alternative spiritualities he disparages to threaten the fragile cohesion of our societies.
It is one thing to take on the tactics of evangelicals to combat the ill effects of organized religion but it will do no one any good if atheism becomes organized with all those same ill effects.
[Sigh] PZ is over at Pharyngula making it hard to maintain that Lynch's conclusion is overstated. PZ quotes Charlie Brooker's review of Dawkins' latest program that includes the screed:

Superstitious idiots. They're everywhere - reading horoscopes, buying homeopathic remedies, consulting psychics, babbling about "chakras" and "healing energies", praying to imaginary gods, and rejecting science in favour of soft-headed bunkum. But instead of slapping these people round the face till they behave like adults, we encourage them. We've got to respect their beliefs, apparently.

Well I don't. "Spirituality" is what cretins have in place of imagination. If you've ever described yourself as "quite spiritual", do civilisation a favour and punch yourself in the throat until you're incapable of speaking aloud ever again. Why should your outmoded codswallop be treated with anything other than the contemptuous mockery it deserves?

Everyone who prays is an idiot and a cretin deserving of contemptuous mockery, without any differentiation whatsoever. For most people that means members of your family, your co-workers, your neighbors, your doctor, your lawyer, your mechanic, your indian chief. All deserve nothing but contempt. It is constructing an in group/out group dichotomy every bit as pernicious and lacking in reality as any religious sect's. And, if actually acted on, it is exactly the same sort of zealotry that "justifies" the hatred and discrimination that the worst types of religion do.

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