New albigensianism

The gnu atheist-haters have been having a busy weekend. Yesterday Michael Ruse told us, after saying that he took Philip Kitcher’s article seriously even though he disagreed with it, and wouldn’t be writing about it if he didn’t –

(Actually, as a general rule that is just not true. I write about the New Atheists, even though I don’t think their position is worth taking seriously at all. Or rather, I accept many of the conclusions, but I think the arguments are lousy. But I write about the New Atheists because I think their hateful attitude towards believers is a potential force for great social and moral evil.)

And today Julian Baggini told us about the way atheism is currently perceived (without telling us that he has been doing his bit to foster the very perception he finds worrying).

The problem is that while the word atheist itself means nothing more than “not-theist”, it seems that for many, “a” stands for anti…If being an atheist meant being anti-theist, then I would not be one. I am an anti-dogmatist, an anti-fundamentalist, yes. But I have no hostility to theism as such, and have no desire to strip all theists of their faith.

Neither do we. (I’m including myself among the anti-theists, which is fair enough – my overt atheism is the stated reason the owners of The Philosophers’ Magazine removed my name from the masthead with the last issue, after six years of being on it as Editorial Advisor, then Deputy Editor, then Associate Editor. Julian of course is one of the owners, so it’s fair enough to think I belong to the guilty group.) Neither do we – what we have desire to do is say frankly and unapologetically what we think is wrong with such beliefs. It is a form of majoritarian bullying to pretend that that is the same thing as wanting to “strip” people of their beliefs. If that were the case, Julian would be a criminal simply for being a philosopher.

Of course I think theists are mistaken, but no one should be automatically hostile to everyone they disagree with. Hostility should be reserved for the pernicious, the wicked and the harmful.

But again – the hostility is for the beliefs, not the believers, at least not unless the believers are shouting at us. Again, it’s a ploy, and a nasty one, to pretend otherwise.

Dividing the world up into believers and non-believers, while accurate in many ways, doesn’t draw the distinction between friends and foes. I see my allies as being the community of the reasonable, and my enemies as the community of blind faith and dogmatism. Any religion that is not unreasonable and not dogmatic should likewise recognise that it has a kinship with atheists who hold those same values. And it should realise that it has more to fear from other people of faith who deny those values than it does from reasonable atheists like myself.

Well, that has the virtue of being clear, at least. Julian is saying he sees us – the overt atheists – as his enemies. He’s saying he is reasonable and we are not, and he is an ally of reasonable people and we are enemies.

He is in Ruse country.

He ends by pointing to “two sad facts”:

that atheism has come to be seen as anti-theism, and that, perhaps partly in response, we expect people of faith to forge not-that-holy alliances with each other rather than far better unholy alliances with kindred non-believers. We should challenge both those assumptions, for the sake of values that good believers and good atheists alike hold dear.

So now he’s among the good atheists, and we are among the evil ones.

It’s staggering.

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