Something about postmodernism

Tina Beattie in Open Democracy.

If we are to understand [the upsurge in various forms of religious extremism] and its social and political implications, then we must go beyond the headline-grabbing confrontations between religious and atheist extremists.

She says, contributing her own mite to the headline-grabbing confrontations between religious and atheist ‘extremists,’ in particular by using the phrase ‘atheist extremists’ at all. What are atheist extremists? And in what sense of the word are Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens – Beattie’s chosen examples – extremists? Do they advocate violence against believers? Suppression of believers? Forcible silencing of believers? No. They disagree with them, that’s all; they think believers are wrong, and they say so. In what sense is that extreme?

The attempt to stage a war between religion and science – whether fuelled by religious or scientific fundamentalists – is part of the problem and not part of the solution with regard to the times we are living in.

She says, attempting to do her bit to stage a war between religion and science by using the phrase ‘scientific fundamentalists,’ as if unaware of how oxymoronic that phrase is, and how tiresomely overused it also is. Really, she’s doing quite a job here of saying tut tut, let’s not do this, and doing exactly what she is saying let’s not do.

If we seek to preserve our liberal western values, then we need to resist the spirit of aggression and confrontation which is becoming increasingly characteristic of public debate – in Britain and the United States especially – concerning the role of religion in society.

Do we? But who says it is a spirit of aggression and confrontation? Why is it not instead a spirit of honest inquiry and forthright criticism? Honest inquiry and forthright criticism are very much part of liberal values (not just western ones – why did she specify that?), aren’t they? And I would say that attempts to shut those activities down by using inflammatory and inaccurate words like ‘extremist’ and ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘aggression’ to characterize mere written and spoken analysis and criticism is very illiberal indeed.

Also lurking within the media treatment of religion today is a masked anti-Catholicism, for that too has been a feature of modern societies such as Britain and America whose values have been largely shaped by Protestantism.

Oh, it’s not masked in my case. I hate Catholicism. But that’s allowed – that’s part of liberal values. We can hate libertarianism, we can hate socialism, we can hate Catholicism.

The recent confrontation between religion and science is in this context a smokescreen which is distracting us from much more urgent political and intellectual issues. It allows the secular intelligentsia to hide behind a convenient and inflated – where not fabricated – myth of religious extremism…

So it’s the secular intelligentsia that is fabricating a myth of religious extremism. What about those myths of atheist extremism then? Who is fabricating those?

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