Monday, November 07, 2011

There's that myth again

Eric MacDonald, former Anglican Priest1, is a previously unknown (by me) rich vein of bad new-atheist thinking expressed in especially bad new-atheist writing. With the exception of PZ, most of these white boys cannot turn a phrase. But where Coyne's niche is childishness ("Thinking Christian--that's an oxymoron!") MacDonald's approach is: the more words you take to say something trivial (On the Haught-Coyne debate: Coyne won!) the truer it must be. And you also get to ingratiate yourself with the master:
I swear, I wish Eric MacDonald would take up debating theologians on the stage rather than on his website.  As a former Anglican priest, now an atheist, he knows all the tricks and evasions of theology
Debate aside, I want to zoom in on one of MacDonald's snarky comments (I know about snark) on his own post. In addressing another comment on Haught v. Coyne that stated "the days when they [theologians] could expect to get their rings kissed in the ideological marketplace are behind them," MacDonald regurgitates:
[Well said.] I do think this is precisely what annoyed Haught the most. Of course, there’s intellectual arrogance involved. He just thinks that his arguments are so watertight (as he says at one point!) that he can’t conceive of anyone seriously doubting that they are. But I think more important is the fact that religion is no longer being given a kind of instinctual respect in the public sphere, and this is very unsettling. They will have to get used to not having their rings kissed in the ideological marketplace. It must be a bit of a shock.
Leaving aside the obvious strawman, that I suspect it is not true that Haught can't conceive of anyone doubting that his arguments are watertight--and if he does MacDonald can't know this--I want to address the ring kissing reference.

This is a common new-atheist fantasy, dovetailing nicely with their persecution complex. Here is the fantasy: It is only now, well into the 21st century CE, due largely to the efforts of the valiant new-atheists, that religion can be attacked, ridiculed, mocked and disrespected.

What a load of bull. Religion has been attacked, ridiculed, mocked and disrespected in the west for centuries. At least since the Enlightenment. By intellectuals, (e.g., Bertrand Russell) founding fathers (Thomas Paine), celebrities, and garden-variety common folk including, in my experience, public school teachers at all grade levels.2

I don't know what fuels this new-atheist delusion of grandeur-- that they are Rosa-Park-like trailblazers. I can only speculate that feeling "special" is worth perpetuating a myth that denies their own heritage.

The difference between the old (previous generations) atheists and new-atheists is not that new-atheists are boldly going where no atheist has gone before. Hardly. No, the difference is that the old atheists did it so much better. Who on the scene today can compare with Russell or Paine or Camus? Nobody.

I know I can't persuade any new-atheist that it is a myth that we are shocked and appalled that they dare to criticize. They enjoy the fantasy too much to let go. I can only hope that they improve their game. But there is no sign of that-- instead we get the same reprocessed crap over and over. Like from Eric MacDonald.

1 Granted, "former Anglican Priest" often indicates an improvement in one's spiritual acumen. Not this time.

2 With the exception, at times, of works of art. It is true that art critical of religion sometimes gets suppressed. It is also true that art supporting religion occasionally gets suppressed. Something about art can bring out teh stoopid.

1 comment:

  1. It might be that they get this sense from attacking the moderates. Moderates are indeed sometimes surprised, wounded, insulted etc. because they are pro-science, pro-evolution, etc., and regularly teamed up with Old Atheists in support of such causes -- without anyone ever giving up their positions on religion issues. But, these days, the moderates often are attacked even more vehemently than the fundamentalists. (Ironically, all this probably strengthens the position of religious moderates in the long run -- there is no better way for them to get cred in the conservative religious community than by being attacked by the Gnus, really...)