Friday, April 12, 2013

The Quiet Ones

A faithful commentator doesn't know what to make of my last crack (i,.e., lifted from The Economist) about atheism.

Oh, I wouldn't read much into it; I think I just found it amusing.  But if the question is whether atheists make a nuisance of themselves: I'd have to say that some do (you've heard of this guy?).  But my guess is that there are actually quite a few who do not pester and harangue: some, perhaps, because they fear getting into fights that might cost them, others possibly because they simply don't think it is anybody's business--a subject they are no more eager to discuss than their bowel habits.

And while I'm on the subject, I suspect the same may be true of believers, Christian or otherwise.  Some share the good news in a mood of transcendent ecstasy; some like limpets to your screen door.  Like it or not, the phenomenon of religious feeling appears to be amazingly widespread, at least as pervasive as the taste for Monday night football, even ignoring any possible overlap.  I gather there are some who hold to the view that religion is an essentially social experience, and that you can't have a private religion any more than you can have a private language.  I doubt it. a I'd rather go to the other extreme and venture that the number of belief-patterns in the world is at least as numerous as the number of public sects--allowing that some people may well have more than one.  And among all these, the vast majority may be precisely those you do not notice.


Larry Hamelin said...

Three comments and I'm a "faithful commenter"? Your standards are low. ;-)

I've been involved in the atheist community since the turn of the millennium. I'm mostly interested in the philosophy side, but I know a lot of people who are more directly involved in the political side.

I think you are not quite getting the point of the atheist project, so let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

I, and most politically active atheists, would love it if religion or the lack thereof were just something that polite people considered nobody's business but their own and their friends'. But that's not the world we live in. We live in a world where religion has a voice in the public discourse that is not only strong but also privileged. By calling it "religious," people can say things, and demand that things not be said; without the mantle of religion, those demands would be dismissed out of hand.

We might, of course, be mistaken and misguided, but most political atheists believe that religious privilege is both unwarranted and contrary to the public good. Silence, good taste, and minding one's own business, however desirable, are not going to counteract that privilege. Although our project is considerably different, we reject silence just as the gay rights advocates rejected silence in their own struggle, however desirable we might consider a polite reticence about sexuality.

There are, of course, those among our ranks whose are ... er... whose contributions are of inferior quality. But such is democracy.

But merely bringing up the subject of religion and religious privilege in the public, social discourse is enough to be labeled "nuisances," as your opinion of Christopher Hitchens indicates. Say what you will about the man, he could support his points, even when he was dead wrong, with evidence and reason.

We think the issue of religion and religious privilege is important enough that we can live with being labeled as nuisances for just bringing it up.

Buce said...

Five comments and you get a badge.

Christopher Hitchens was a nuisance: an overrated product of a misemployed promotional machine, and not even very funny most of the time. The thinking man's Dean Martin.

But it does not follow that all atheist commentators are nuisances. Certainly any attempt by Christians (or any other sect) to dominate the lives of the rest of us is always worth resistance and response. I do admit I find it easiest to deal with those who seem to have some clue as to just what the religious impulse is all about.

Buce said...

One more: I do think that if they ever decide to make a biopic about God, then Leonard DeCaprio would be the right man for the part. Herb Gardner used to say: The God Story--about a small boy, born in a Pennsylvania mining town, who grew up to be God.

Anonymous said...

reading your comment and i'm immediately put off by the phrase "atheist community". it just seems so odd to build a community around... nothing.

however, reading your explanation (variations of which i have seen many times) and I fully understand and support your objectives. but language is important. you lose the debate with religious people and some atheists by such black-and-white labeling that doesn't accurately reflect what you are after; freedom, or more specifically, freedom from religion. everybody is entitled to believe their fairy stories (or not) as long as those beliefs do not creep into the public sphere. everybody is entitled to believe their fairy stories as long as there are no special privileges awarded by the government for such.

too often important movements lose the debate from the outset by either letting the other side determine what they are, or by simply not being clearly and accurately reflecting what their principles are. it is easier the be black when the other side is white, when in reality one's position is green.