In my recent post on Kathryn Lofton's take on the New Atheists (NAs) and their "misogyny," I dismissed Lofton's arguments on that point as more projection than proof. The post has now been linked at a couple of other blogs where some lengthy discussions have ensued. In one of my comments in response to another reader on the 3 Quarks Daily thread, I described at some length my overall attitude toward the religion vs atheism debate and my view of the NAs. Prasad suggested that the comment could serve as an independent post here to clarify where I stand on both issues. I thought that is a good idea. I will do so and let the post serve as reference point in the future if and when I again feel the need to discuss any other provocative subject in this particular field.
Before I go to the summation, I want to also clarify a couple of other points in the form of questions that may be asked of me:
- Have I for most of my adult life found a reason to live according to the precepts of any organized religion?
- Having rejected religion, am I ignorant of the role religion has played in human history and do I also reject any or all art, music, literature etc. which may have its origin in a religious experience, inspiration or reference?
- Do I as a non-believer find the celebration of joyous religious / cultural events like Christmas, Diwali, Passover or Eid offensive?
- Does the religious belief of others bother me unless it interferes in a negative way with my life?
- When I support a political candidate or a social commentator, does it mean that I agree with him or her about everything including the rules of etiquette they choose to adopt?
The answers to all of the above is "no." Now the manifesto:
The "Ditchens"* don't necessarily speak for me but Cyrus Hall** does. Thanks, Cyrus!
Has Dawkins stopped secretly beating his wife? Has Hitchens? I don't know and frankly I don't care until the police starts to investigate or one of them declares that wife beating is a salutory way of maintaining domestic harmony. Neither Lofton's projections and innuendo about uber-rationality and misogyny nor the paucity of contributions of female writers in Dawkins' tract are enough evidence for me to conclude that he or the other atheists are woman haters. And if it turns out that they are, it will probably have little to do with their rejection of god and belief in scientific enquiry.
Some of the rationalist hand wringing over the strident style of the Ditchens reminds of a somewhat crude joke about liberals I had heard many years ago. The humorist said that liberals are people who when someone else farts in a crowded room, feel compelled to declare loudly that they didn't do it.
Do the Ditchens speak for me? Not all the time. I should speak for myself and I do, whenever I have the opportunity with the little voice I have. I have neither the gusto nor the forum to be heard as widely as the New Atheists do (how about neo-atheists instead of new? that sounds more official and is a nice foil for neo-cons). The core message of what many of the New Atheists wish to convey about the role of religion in society is more or less what I might say myself, but perhaps at a lower decibel. Do I want them to keep speaking and shaking things up? Definitely. My agreement with the New Atheists is limited to the idea of religion and its place in public policy. Their politics or any personal traits they may possess are different matters altogether. I have made myself clear several times on what I think of Hitchens' support of the Iraq war. But now we are getting into the territory of babies and bathwater.
For years and decades, the only voices in the public sphere regarding religion / god etc. have belonged to those with whom I disagree vehemently. The likes of Reverends Billy Graham, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have had the attention of sizable segments of the American public and the ears of several presidents in my time. They have influenced the national conversation and probably public policies as well. Politicians of all stripes have kow towed to them until I have felt like throwing up. No, please don't tell me that they are ignorant louts. All of them were educated with advanced degrees and commanded huge followings. I don't consider myself an intellectual who resides in the rarified towers of ivory where I can only have conversations with like minded people. I have brought up two children in red states, volunteered in schools, the Little League and the Boy Scouts and served in the community as a tutor and political campaigner amidst those who listen to Fox News and believe in the messages of the likes of Falwell and Robertson. Occasionally it has been lonely and frustrating. I also have many religious (some very) friends whose faith defines every aspect of their lives including the outcome of a football game. We get along rather nicely. I grew up with an atheist father and an observant mother in a family whose members were divided roughly equally on both sides of the religious debate and I loved them all. Things were harmonious and never did we as children, feel the pressure to believe in either ideology. So, as Cyrus points out, I am fully cognizant of the simple fact that some people indeed need god and religion in their lives to carry on and others muddle through fine without them. I am not interested in conversion. But I want to be recognized as a part of an often vilified constituency which does not wish to see the law, war, peace, health care and science education defined in religious terms. I want my opinions in these matters to count.
Now at last, my side of the story is being told, albeit by some who come across as agent provocateurs. I wish to have a pony in this race and I would love for a gorgeous, elegant horse to enter the track on my behalf. But that horse is not here yet and hasn't been throughout my lifetime. There however, has appeared a stubborn and bad tempered mule in the form of the Ditchens who crashed the theological party. My two bits worth of betting money is on them for now if only to mix things up at the race course.
*Ditchens = Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett & Christopher Hitchens.
**Cyrus Hall = Another commenter with whom I was in agreement.