Annoying is it

And one more thing. She says something quite rude about Daniel Dennett, and what she says is not accurate. Pp. 9-10.

It is certainly supremely annoying when intellectuals talk down to religious people, speaking as if all smart people are atheists. Philosopher Daniel Dennett is particularly guilty of this. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, he coined the term ‘brights’ for nonbelievers, suggesting very clearly that the right name for believers was ‘dummies.’

He did not coin the term, as he clearly states in the op-ed piece, right at the top of the second paragraph.

The term ”bright” is a recent coinage by two brights in Sacramento, Calif., who thought our social group — which has a history stretching back to the Enlightenment, if not before — could stand an image-buffing and that a fresh name might help.

And he doesn’t ‘suggest very clearly’ that the right name for believers is ‘dummies.’ It’s true that he doesn’t disavow that, so Nussbaum could perfectly well have said that the word seems to imply that its antonym would be ‘dulls’ or similar and that if that’s not what Dennett meant he should have said so. That would be fair. But the piece in fact does not suggest (much less ‘very clearly’) that the right name for believers is ‘dummies’; that’s not the point the piece makes. I dislike the term ‘brights’ myself, in fact I dislike it in much the same way I dislike ‘precious’ and ‘deep’ and ‘respect’ especially when repeated multiple times on page after page, but however much I dislike the word, it doesn’t follow that Dennett was ‘talking down to religious people’ in that piece, and in fact he wasn’t. He was saying that atheists exist, that they’re not weird, and that they get elbowed aside by theists because they are too quiet so they should speak up more.

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.

Nussbaum would have done well to re-read the piece before she wrote what she did.

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