Who is the most contrarian?

Caspar Melville says on the New Humanist blog that the “‘Beyond New Atheism” debate was

a genuine attempt to see if we could have a different tone for discussion about belief, non-belief, human nature and God.

Well I could have saved them the bother by just answering the question: sure we could. Of course we could. In fact we could find such a discussion, with its different tone, any time we wanted one – we could read Comment is Free Belief or the New Statesman, we could browse the BBC’s “Religion and Ethics” pages, we could stroll into a church or mosque. It is not the least bit difficult either to have or to find “a different tone for discussion about belief, non-belief, human nature and God.”

(Different from what? From that of the “new” atheism, as the post as a whole makes clear.)

Given that, why should we? Given that there is already an abundance of discussion about belief, non-belief, human nature and God that is very friendly to god and belief and very unfriendly to non-belief, why is there any need for the few people who take a different tone to be more like the majority?

Well, maybe by “we” Caspar meant humanists and atheists rather than humanity at large. That seems likely, especially since the debate was sponsored by the humanists. But even then, the answer is still yes of course; there are lots and lots of humanists and atheists who are more than willing to distance themselves from the blunt unapologetic “tone” of the gnu atheists and take a more obsequious tone instead. Many of them in fact take an obsequious tone when talking to theists and an acidly hostile one when talking to or about gnu atheists – which is in itself quite interesting.

In short there are different rules, and it is reasonable to wonder why. Many of the people now so caught up in lecturing gnu atheists for being so gnu are not caught up at all in lecturing old theists for being so gnu – so militant and aggressive and fundamentalist and evil. Why is that? Why do theists get a pass while atheists get a dam’ good scolding by other atheists?

I don’t know. I suppose some of them think it’s admirably contrarian and independent-minded and scrupulous about not letting allies off the hook – which might be fair if the claims weren’t so uniformly evidence-free and repetitive. As it is, when there have already been so many “the New Atheists have a bad tone” announcements, making yet another one looks much more like ganging up on a hated minority than it does like admirable independence of mind.

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