Let one flower bloom

Gnu-haters are bad enough when they just say it, but when they say it and then later say they didn’t, they’re worse. I got into a disagreement of that kind with Stephen Prothero on a thread of Jennifer Michael Hecht’s at Facebook. Remember Prothero? I did a post about an article of his in December 2009. Lots of people did. It was the one about how gnu atheism is angry and male but women will maybe fix it up.

He said I got him all wrong.

My point is that there are TWO ways to argue for atheism, rather than one. (Actually, there are many more, but two will do for present purposes.) The people who lit into me afterwards (you included) were/are trying to impose ONE way of doing atheism–an imposition I opposed then, and still do.

Right, except that that’s not what he said. This is what he said:

Today, most Americans associate unbelief with the old-boys network of New Atheists, but there is a new generation of unbelievers emerging, some of them women and most of them far friendlier than Hitchens and his ilk. Although the arguments of angry men gave this movement birth, it could be the stories of women that allow it to grow up.

I heard two very different arguments at this event. The first was the old line of the New Atheists: Religious people are stupid and religion is poison, so the only way forward is to educate the idiots and flush away the poison. The second was less controversial and less utopian: From this perspective, atheism is just another point of view, deserving of constitutional protection and a fair hearing. Its goal is not a world without religion but a world in which believers and nonbelievers coexist peaceably, and atheists are respected, or at least tolerated.These competing approaches could not be further apart. One is an invitation to a duel. The other is a fair-minded appeal for recognition and respect. Or, to put it in terms of the gay rights movement, one is like trying to turn everyone gay and the other is like trying to secure equal rights for gay men and lesbians.

See? He’s unmistakably not saying there are two (or several) good ways to do atheism; he’s saying there’s currently a bad shitty nasty way to do atheism and there’s also a good respectful nice way to do atheism and the latter should replace the former. That’s not debatable – it’s on the page.

Yet he felt entitled to say I was misrepresenting him.

I prefer my way of doing arguing to his way of doing arguing.

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