Posts Tagged ‘new atheism’

Yep. It doesn’t say anything deep or profound, it doesn’t have a title, and it doesn’t make it as clear as it could when I’m being ironic. But it fits to a rather nice meter. And I’ve already written it now, so it’s too late to do anything about it.

Incidentally, if you know what the meter is called – possibly dactylic heptameter, or something along those lines – or can think of a name for the poem itself, leave me a comment.

Update 15/10/10: The meter is slightly inconsistent between double dactyl and double amphibrach. Thanks, NFQ!



Militant atheists
Writing and lecturing
Speeches and articles
Pressing their case
And permanent smugness
Is what you see written
All over their face

Violent diatribes
Secular bigotry
Bashing religion
They can’t leave it be
Their faith is as strong
As the strongest believer’s
Their hate fills the pages
Of Comment is Free

Muslims and Christians
Have their fanatics whose
Fervours and drives
Smother compassion
Convince them that God thinks
Their zeal is more vital
Than mere human lives

In their eyes it’s noble
To kill and to torture
To punish the heathens
They’ll cross any line
Nothing could make them
Believe for a moment
Their mission’s unholy
Their cause not divine

But oh these New Atheists
Don’t they so smugly
Deride any thinkers
Not on the same page
Isn’t that basically
Just as destructive
As Islamist fury
And Taliban rage

Dawkins is hostile
And antagonistic
He says there’s no god
He’s just too in-your-face
It’s daft to suppose
He’ll convince the believers
By so unabashedly
Stating his case

Instead we should try to
Appease the fanatics
And ask them to lay off
Their heavenly war
Respecting religion
Is surely the answer
Just look at how well
It’s always worked before

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A few weeks ago, I was annoyed by a piece about New Atheism by the editor of New Humanist magazine, Caspar Melville.

This week, New Humanist themselves published a counterpoint by Ophelia Benson which I heartily endorse. It’s titled “Friends like these” – a reference to the fact that modern atheism’s enemies are already numerous, and so some of the criticism coming from within the community is distinctly unhelpful.

It’s obviously not the case that internal criticism and debate should be stifled, but it’s disheartening to see so much venom, and so many of the same old straw men being burnt, from the people who are nominally on our side of the discussion that actually matters. Remember, the one about the invisible sky-man who some people think talks to them and cares how we behave.

She also makes the point well that people’s idea of this “new” atheism being militant, strident, and aggressive often seems to be based on things like the discussions in blog comment threads – something which doesn’t exemplify “atheists” so much as “people with an internet connection and an opinion”. Everyone is a dick on the internet. It’s science. SCIENCE.

Case in point: I just read the comments on that very article and now my head hurts. Why do I find this all so frustrating?

Update: Russell Blackford is also busily being right about this.

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Russell Blackford sums up the problems I had with that piece by Caspar Melville, editor of the New Humanist, about the state and direction of New Atheism.

Which is handy, because it means now I don’t have to.

Well, okay, just a bit. Here’s one bit which resonated with me:

Melville seems to think there is something “dangerous” about any degree of solidarity among people who are “critical of religious power and authority and theocracy and irrationalism and superstition and religious exploitation”.

This is what’s annoyed me before about certain anti-Dawkins atheists, who not only like to describe him as some sort of frothing fundamentalist, but pick up on any instance of more than one person agreeing with him simultaneously, and paint it as some kind of sinister rally.

Many of Dawkins’s fans are sensible people. When they agree with him, it’s because they agree with him, not because he is the Leader Who Must Not Be Questioned. He can be fairly criticised, and often is even by those within “the Dawkins camp”.

Of course, not every member of every demographic will always succeed in acting rationally, or arguing without resorting to misplaced emotion and fallacy. No doubt he has supporters who are more fanatical than most of us would see as entirely healthy, and for whom fair criticism might not always get through and be taken on board as it should. But that doesn’t make us all a rabble of fundamentalist sheep.

Caspar wasn’t going that far, certainly. But he seems to be on the verge of siding with those who call it dangerous groupthink whenever there’s a group of people who, well, think the same. The fact that a crowd have gathered to foster a sense of community and express their shared views is not, in itself, antithetical to rational thinking. People are capable of holding onto themselves, even in the midst of other people shouting. Give us some credit.

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