Aggressive mean naughty bad atheists

Atheists are mean, says Nicholas Kristof. No they’re not, say Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett; you just think so because you’re used to religion’s special immunity. As Dawkins puts it:

Mr. Kristof has simply become acclimatized to the convention that you can criticize anything else but you mustn’t criticize religion. Ears calibrated to this norm will hear gentle criticism of religion as intemperate, and robust criticism as obnoxious.

Which is really not an ideal situation: it really does make it difficult for people to discuss the subject honestly. It’s a little worrying how many people are eager to join the chorus urging atheists to shut up – or to be less ‘obnoxious’ and ‘militant’ and ‘in your face,’ which amounts to the same thing. Dennett notes:

There is nothing “dogmatic” or “fundamentalist” about Dawkins’ tone; he is simply speaking truthfully about matters that most people have trained themselves not to mention, or else to allude to in mealy-mouthed terms.

That self-training is not such a good idea.

Mary Riddell skipped that lesson, fortunately:

[T]he bishops are on the prowl…The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, announces that ‘illiberal atheists’ and ‘aggressive secularists’ have stolen Christmas. On a point of semantics, secularists do not wish to harm religion or deny its great cultural influence. They simply want it to know its place. Which, in the view of many bishops, is in every corner of the public realm…On 1 January, laws protecting gay people in Northern Ireland will be tightened. Ruth Kelly…has bowed to religious leaders complaining that the pillars of Christendom will totter unless Christian adoption agencies, bookshops and hotels are allowed free rein for prejudice…[T]he harmonious society Mr Blair desires is not best served by Christian leaders passing themselves off as a persecuted minority and the whipping boy of multicultural Britain. This is purest fallacy. The might of bishops trickles down from the House of Lords, where they sit without a fig leaf of democratic legitimacy…Mr Blair is right to be fearless in giving necessary offence. At a time when religion fills the vacuums hollowed out by fear and uncertainty, he should spread his criticism more widely. Tell the Christian churches that their inroads into the public domain are unacceptable and their twisting of the truth sometimes despicable. This is the opportunity to defuse the public power of all gods, to ban religious schools of every hue, to end the cross-contamination of faith and policy and to move towards a secular state.

Terry Sanderson does the ‘aggressive secularist’ thing:

So now the spotlight is turned on “the fundamentalist secularists” who, according to the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, are the real villains of the piece. Sentamu opportunistically put out an overblown and hysterical statement, pointing the finger at “illiberal atheists”. “There is a worrying trend to be seen where illiberal atheists have combined with aggressive secularists to create a ludicrous situation where those who don’t believe in God have decided that a Christian festival is offending other faiths,” he said…Is the man fully in control of his faculties? Who are these “aggressive secularists” who want to rob Christians of Christmas? Come on, Johnny, name names. And don’t trot out Richard Dawkins, because he has never said any such thing. Nor has anyone at the National Secular Society…The Christian push to incite resentment against non-Christians is dishonest and very dangerous. At a time when the term has become extremely loaded, Sentamu’s usage of “multiculturalism” – whose only proponents, in his view, are these “aggressive secularists” with their censorious political correctness – will be understood in many quarters as code for an attack on ethnic minorities and other non-Christian religious groups.

Oh but he’s a Christian, so surely he can’t be inciting resentment. That’s just the kind of thing Christians don’t do…isn’t it?

27 Responses to “Aggressive mean naughty bad atheists”