Why we write

Udo and Russell have their say on the putative schism between atheist camps.

In a different world, the merits, or otherwise, of religious teachings might be discussed more dispassionately. In that world, some of us who criticise religion itself might be content to argue that the church (and the mosque, and all the other religious architecture that sprouts across the landscape) should be kept separate from the state. Unfortunately, however, we don’t live in that world.

No, we don’t, and furthermore, all the fuming and name-calling from the people who despise the “new” atheists is, perversely or tragically or amusingly, just fanning the flames of “new” atheism. That’s partly because nearly all of the fuming and name-calling is noticeably unfair and inaccurate, and so it just irritates instead of persuading, but it’s also because the intensity and fury awakens our curiosity. It does. I often see people asking – people sometimes ask me – why “new” atheists care, why we’re so interested in theism, why bother, why not just ignore the whole thing. Well this is part of why – it’s because the more fury and unfair rhetoric there is, the more we wonder what’s going on, what theists and fans of theists are so worked up about, what they’re thinking, what all this is based on. So we look into it – and we are interested and perhaps surprised by what we find, so we talk about it, and that’s why we don’t ignore the whole thing.

When religion claims authority in the political sphere, it is unsurprising — and totally justifiable — that atheists and skeptics question the source of this authority. If religious organisations or their leaders claim to speak on behalf of a god, it is fair to ask whether the god concerned really makes the claims that are communicated on its behalf. Does this god even exist? Where is the evidence? And even if this being does exist, why, exactly, should its wishes be translated into law?

Yes, that’s what I mean. Even when religion claims authority in the political sphere in something that doesn’t directly affect us, we still question the source of the authority (some of us do). We’re interested. The louder the claims of authority are, the more interested we are. We start to wonder, or to pay more attention than we used to. What is that about? we wonder. Where does this idea come from, and why do poeple accept it so readily? How do people manage to ignore the many obvious problems with it? So we investigate, and write about our investigations, and then the despisers come along and call us a great many harsh names for doing so, and then we get our backs up. We are allowed to investigate this, and we are allowed to talk about it, and we are not any of those things we just got called. So next time we dig twenty feet down instead of ten.

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