The shrill and strident new theists

Michael Brull replies to the elegant vice-chancellor.

The public and commercial prominence and success of atheist writers such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling has been heralded as the rise of a “new atheism”. Yet the response to this could equally be heralded as the rise of a “new theism”. Facing a new attack with an international audience playing close attention, religions have as little rational argument in their favour as ever. There was a time when they could deal with dissent through more draconian measures: the kind that can still be practiced in, say, Saudi Arabia. Having lost the power of the gun in the West, apologists of religion have a new weapon: being offended. Rather than confronting (say) Dawkins’ arguments with counter-arguments, people like Craven, and many others like him, instead cry out: why are you picking on us? All we want is for you to respect our beliefs. And so, the crybaby theists hide behind the demand for respect…The bottom line is that such special pleading is a way for theists to avoid answering their critics.

That and also a way for theists to bully their critics, and that is exactly how they new theists are using it. There is a very strong presumption that we are supposed to ‘respect’ certain kinds of beliefs (religious ones, basically), and the new theists deploy that presumption in their favor with energy and zeal. It’s a great wheeze – no need to make real arguments, and lots of emotive pressure to apply. It’s all good.

[I]n a liberal democracy, people should adjust to the prospect of other people finding their views stupid, immoral, pernicious, or any other terrible thing. …A liberal democracy cannot function without the possibility of discussing which beliefs are good and which ones are not. Crybaby theists wish to be shielded from the normal rough and tumble of arguments about beliefs. There are people who honestly think religious belief irrational, and find aspects of organised religion troubling. If anything is outrageous, it is the arrogance of religious extremists, here and elsewhere, holding that such views should not be allowed open discussion.

And that’s exactly why we keep saying so, as often as they attempt to shut us up via respect-demands or vulgar abuse or a bizarro mix of the two.

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