Silence is Lead

Right. Here’s an Op-Ed piece by Daniel Dennett that gives one answer to Susan Greenfield’s notion that ‘science-religion ding-dongs’ are a complete waste of time. The anecdote he tells about taking part in a conference at which leading authors, artists and scientists talked to clever high school students, and he at the end of his talk mentioned that he is an atheist.

Many students came up to me afterwards to thank me, with considerable passion, for “liberating” them. I hadn’t realized how lonely and insecure these thoughtful teenagers felt. They’d never heard a respected adult say, in an entirely matter of fact way, that he didn’t believe in God. I had calmly broken a taboo and shown how easy it was.

This is what I keep saying. Majority opinion and rhetoric do have their effects, and do need to be countered (if one disagrees with them, that is). It’s no good just shrugging or sighing and saying as Greenfield says, ‘No one is going to change their views.’ Even apart from the fact that we can’t know that in advance (and Dawkins tells many a story of Bible-raised students thanking him for being the first to explain evolution to them so that they understood and were convinced), there are all the people who already are non-theists but are convinced by the relentless battering of public rhetoric that they’re in a minority of about six people four of whom are insane.

Most brights don’t play the “aggressive atheist” role. We don’t want to turn every conversation into a debate about religion, and we don’t want to offend our friends and neighbors, and so we maintain a diplomatic silence. But the price is political impotence. Politicians don’t think they even have to pay us lip service, and leaders who wouldn’t be caught dead making religious or ethnic slurs don’t hesitate to disparage the “godless” among us.

Just so. That diplomatic silence lets the undiplomatic aggressive god-botherers have it all their own way, with all sorts of sinister consequences for the quality of thought and debate. Counter-theism is not a waste of time.

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