Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Hammer Salesmen Keep Seeing Nails

It's not an exaggeration to say that Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris changed my life. Before I read The God Delusion and Letter to a Christian Nation, I was merely a lapsed Catholic. But reading these books gave me permission to openly self-identify as a secularist/atheist/agnostic. So I must admit to having a bit of a soft spot for these authors. Unfortunately, I have to call them both out for being jackasses, because sometimes that's what one must do in order to be intellectually honest.

First, in a recent interview, Richard Dawkins tells some anecdotes in which he implies that he does not condemn sexual harassment or pederasty. Okay, I kinda-sorta get what he's saying, so it isn't completely incomprehensible. But for the love of FSM, is this what you think is important to say right now? Is this the highest moral purpose you aspire to in these times - to defend anonymous perps on the basis of "different standards"? Yeesh. You're trolling us, Richard.

Now, I see that Sam Harris has decided to make a meal out of Malala Yousafzai, the teenage girl who was shot for speaking out against the Taliban. Harris seems to be willing to sacrifice anyone and anything in the service of his rhetorical cause. I'm afraid that others who have criticized Harris for rigidity and absolutism are right. Dear Sam: you wrote a great book, and you make some interesting points. But when you appropriate the courageous work of a young Muslim girl in order to make your point that Islam is Evil, well... it might be time to put down the computer and go outside for a while.

Grow up, fellas. We need you. 

These days, I find James Carse more compelling.


J G-W said...

You might find Alister McGrath's Twilight of Atheism a provocative read.

He presents a history of atheism in its grand arc, from the French Revolution to the post-Soviet era, making the case that atheism has historically found its broadest and strongest appeal in times when the Church was in bed with corrupt political establishments.

But, he argues, religion has self-critiquing and self-renewing qualities that make it a "moving target" for atheism. Modern atheism, on the other hand, has been plagued by the two vices you've identified here: its inability to develop a compelling moral system; and the tendency of atheist preachers and organizations to veer toward rigidity and sectarianism.

Atheism, he argues, has been most useful as a critique of corruption in religious institutions and doctrines, but has never provided a fully satisfying substitute for religion.

Knight of Nothing said...

I saw your review of Twilight of Atheism a while back. From what you wrote, the contents of the book do sound interesting. Adding historical context is always a good thing. But I have to admit I bristle a little at the title - does he really think that "atheism" is going to go away?

Could I take a look at it next time I'm over?