Pesky pointy-headed pencil-neck geeks

It’s a funny thing, but there are people who think it’s worth pointing out that ‘atheists are no more rational than anybody else.’ Gosh, really? And here I was thinking that just by being an atheist, I automatically and indisputably occupied an Upper Level of humankind where the air is thinner and the rationality flows like wine.

No actually I don’t think anything so stupid, and I never have. I do think something much more limited and carefully phrased than that…but of course that wouldn’t be exciting to contradict, because if you make limited carefully-phrased claims then you’re probably not saying anything as obviously and risibly stupid as ‘atheists are more rational than anybody else.’ What would I say? That atheism as such is more rational than theism as such. That’s about it, really. There are plenty of atheists who aren’t atheists for particularly rational reasons, and there are rational people who are theists, though that one is trickier (because I don’t agree that being theist is itself rational). There are also plenty of atheists who are atheists for rational reasons but who still aren’t demonstrably ‘more rational than anybody else’; there are also atheists who are more rational than most people…but that’s so far away from the invented claim that ‘atheists are more rational than anybody else’ that it’s beside the point.

Maybe such claims don’t mean atheists in general but rather explicit or vocal atheists – ‘New’ atheists, in short. Maybe the jibe is really ‘New atheists are no more rational than anybody else,’ because the idea is that any atheist who is overt about it must be thinking she is more rational than anybody else. Maybe the idea is that being overt about it is the same thing as thinking one is more rational than anybody else. But that isn’t necessarily the case. One can want to be rational, careful, critical, thoughtful, reflective, questioning, skeptical, without thinking one is any of those things, much less that is more so than anybody else.

But it’s otiose to point this out, of course; jeers like ‘atheists are no more rational than anybody else’ are part of the Sarah Palinization of discourse. Nyah nyah, you read too many books; neener neener, you think you’re so smart; you New York latte-drinking elitists think you know everything.

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