Let’s start with vocabulary

A very interesting discussion last week at the Valve. Similar to many discussions we have, but also different, on account of different people conducting it. It’s about Dawkins and what the Valve poster, Bill Benzon, finds ‘bothersome’ about him. He puts it this way:

As far as I can tell, my target is a certain kind of discourse, a kind which Dawkins exemplifies particularly well, but others participate in it as well. And what bothers me about this discourse is not that it is against religious belief, but that it is against the religious as well.

That’s not as clear as it might be, but I think what he’s saying is, people who are sharply critical of religious belief are ‘against’ (attacking, hostile to, unfair to, aggressive toward, offensive to, unkind to) religious believers themselves. In other words it’s yet another voice swelling the already deafening chorus saying ‘shut up about religion because it is offensive to be critical about it because it’s not possible to be critical about it without attacking the people who believe in it.’ It’s saying that it’s not morally respectable to discuss religion in frank terms because there is no way to do that without insulting – without ‘being against’ – religious believers. I dislike that chorus, for several reasons, which I’ve referred to now and then: among them are the fact that that doesn’t apply to other beliefs, and the fact that it simply adds to the already very heavy social pressure to be extra extra extra-special kind about religion.

Most commenters, I’m happy to say, share my dislike, and do an excellent job of arguing. A biggish chunk of the morning flew away while I read the comments; I recommend them. John Horgan – the ‘end of science’ guy – drops in; so does PZ; so do other interesting people. Dan Green (a Valve author who is also a B&W author) notes:

It’s puzzling to me that otherwise smart, non-mystical people like Bill Benzon, Jonathan Derbyshire, and, indeed, Thomas Nagel have come down so hard on Dawkins’s book and its “deperate arrogance.” It suggests that atheism is still far from acceptable even in “intellectual” circles.

Just so; and that’s why this kind of thing is annoying and depressing. There shouldn’t be all this pressure to closet the atheism even in ‘intellectual’ circles. It shouldn’t be a consensus. It’s a consensus even among people who claim not to like consensus. Very odd.

Muriel Gray at the Herald is not silenced.

…a nutcase Britain utterly obsessed with religion. People were threatening Jack Straw with violence; some woman (we think – for all we know it could have been Paul Gascoigne under that niquab) was claiming her right to mumble lessons at children while wearing a bag over her head, and the pope had made the hilariously Monty-Python esque declaration that he was “considering” abolishing limbo for unbaptised babies, no doubt making intelligent Catholics squirm with embarrassment at the screaming silliness of heavenly admission by human whim.

Yes, but also giving me something to write a teasing N&C about. It’s an ill wind, etc.

Let’s start with vocabulary. Let’s stop describing these tax-funded establishments as faith schools. They are superstition schools, for that is what they teach. Alongside hard facts, innocent children are hoodwinked into accepting as real the mythology of virgin births, gods who regard women with bare heads as wicked harlots, that Noah’s Ark was real and that Darwin was wrong. It’s clear that, given the rising tide of superstition sweeping our country, no politician will help end this state-funded child abuse, and so it is time to try and fight back.

But be sure to do it without being, or appearing to be, ‘against the religious.’ Thass forbidden.

Once we got our schools and started churning out multiracial youngsters free from any kind of manipulation, save that of being taught to question everything, we could start our political lobbying. Why should religious concerns be put above ours? Why shouldn’t we have the right to be appeased when we are offended by religion, the way the religious whine like toddlers when someone shakes a stick at their myths? Why shouldn’t we be consulted and treated with respect as a community? Why are the sincerely held beliefs I’ve outlined inferior to those of a Christian, Jew or a Muslim?

Why indeed. I would very much like to know.

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