A breath of fresh air

Oh good, a new book saying how bad and stupid the ‘new’ atheism is, and it starts out just as it should, by summoning the usual clichés.

[The book] is clearly intended as a riposte to all those blasts of aggressive atheism from the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Reading Armstrong after these boys is like listening to a clever and kindly adult after a bunch of strident adolescents. Both Bible-bashing fundamentalists and dogmatic atheists have a similar idea of what “God” means, she points out…

Well done! That got a lot in. The usual implication that there have been thousands of atheist books, which promptly collapses into the usual sad admission that the total is all of five, or maybe as many as eight if you include the outliers like Onfray and Stenger. The usual charge of aggression directed at…some books. The S word! Hooray, he got in the S word! He gets the Madeleine Bunting Award for this week. ‘Fundamentalists’ is there, ‘dogmatic atheists’ is there, the charge that they share a silly idea of god that is nothing like the sophisticated version that everyone actually believes in and prays to is there. Well done in such a small space: many of the familiar stale tropes, and not one thing surprising or unexpected or even clever.

…a similar idea of what “God” means, she points out, and it is an absurdly crude one. They seem to think the word denotes a large, powerful man we can’t see.

Yes…There are reasons for that. For most people, the word denotes exactly that.

Socrates pushed rationality and intellect to the point where they fail: you reach his famous aporia, and realise you really know nothing at all. The new atheists do the opposite. Their rationality and intellect bring them to a place of absolute knowledge, a height from where they survey all history, and pronounce with finality on pretty much everything.

Okay, I’m bored with the joke now. That’s just cretinously stupid, and it’s not true. ‘The new atheists’ don’t do any such fucking thing, and we (I guess I get to say ‘we’ now, since I’ve been called one by no less an authority than Madeleine Bunting) are pretty damn tired of being told that we do.

The book is by Karen Armstrong. The reviewer, Christopher Hart, vouches for her at the outset in the careful way that one has to:

Karen Armstrong is a former Catholic nun who has written highly acclaimed biographies of Muhammad, Buddha and, most recently, the Bible.

Yeah – notice he doesn’t say who does the acclaiming. Cautious.

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