Totalitarian atheism

Barney Zwartz channels Mark Helprin (via an article from an anthology titled New Threats to Freedom. It’s the usual atheist-hating sludge pretending to wit: everything is reversed: it’s not religion that is conformist and coercive, good heavens no, it is that pesky dogmatic militant belligerent ‘my way or the highway atheism.’

Really. Really. I know I’ve said this before, but does Barney Zwartz never go into a bookstore? Does Mark Helprin? I was in the University bookstore here a couple of days ago, and the atheist empire has gotten smaller as well as less visible. It used to take up a good chunk of one shelf, so maybe about 2′, at about chest level, under a sign that said Religious studies and atheism. Now there are no atheist books under that sign, or anywhere else on the adjacent shelves. I looked and looked and finally had to ask, and I was led to a distant shelf where there were a few lonely atheist books at ankle level. There’s hegemony for you! Meanwhile there are many shelves under Christianity, many more under Judaism, many more under Islam, many more under Religious studies, many more under various subject headings – shelf after shelf after shelf after shelf. Yet, somehow, it is atheism that is A New Threat to Freedom.

[Helprin] opens with an anecdote from his youth of trying to philosophise his way out of a fist fight, only to be told by his opponent, “don’t give me none a dat college stuff!” This, Helprin suggests, is exactly the sort of tactic Richard Dawkins employs, confining any discussion to a realm that will give the answer he wants.

Really. Helprin “suggests” that Dawkins employs “exactly” the sort of tactic that says “don’t give me none a dat college stuff!” and then punches you.

If Helprin really “suggests” that, he’s being flagrantly dishonest. If Zwartz got him wrong, then it’s Zwartz who is being flagrantly dishonest. Yet both of them, apparently, think it’s atheists who are coercive.

Since time immemorial, insistence on a sole path to truth has been essential to intolerance. Long the preserve of religion, in the 20th century it went atheistic totalitarian, and has now reached the free West, Helprin says.

Totalitarian; that’s quite a strong charge. Yet it’s atheists who are coercive.

Helprin attacks the atheist bus campaign that began in Britain and has reached Australia. “Signs on buses tell you it’s OK not to believe in God. Admitted, but what of signs that said, ‘it’s OK not to be gay’, ‘it’s OK not to be black’, ‘it’s OK not to be a Jew’? While true, these statements are more than the simple expression of a point of view. Accurately perceived, they are an ugly form of pressure that while necessarily legal is nonetheless indecent.”

No. Being gay or black is not a belief or a not-belief. Being gay or black* is not parallel to not believing in God. Saying it’s OK not to believe something should not be construed as a form of pressure when it is obviously an attempt to counter a form of pressure.

After that there’s a lot of windy stuff conflating aesthetics and emotions with something ineffable, and using that to swear at atheists for being narrow and philistine and boring. It’s stupid, malevolent, pretentious stuff.

And now I really am leaving.

*Being a Jew mixes the two.

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