Every single day, my newsfeed sends me at least one or two articles featuring a whine by some religionist about the “militancy” of the “new” atheists. Today’s bellyache, a piece called "Secularism: Boring (Part I)," comes from Jacques Berlinerblau, “associate Professor and Director of the Program for Jewish Civilization at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at
In any case, Berlinerblau begins with this query:
Can an atheist or agnostic commentator discuss any aspect of religion for more than thirty seconds without referring to religious people as imbeciles, extremists, mental deficients, fascists, enemies of the common good, crypto-Nazis, conjure men, irrationalists, pedophiles, bearers of false consciousness, authoritarian despots, and so forth? Is that possible?The short answer is: Yes, it’s possible. The longer answer is: Yes, it’s technically possible; we atheists will gladly eschew those terms when describing any theist to whom they don’t apply. Got a suggestion?
He then goes on to characterize the atheist writers of best-selling books as “the soccer hooligans of reasoned discourse.” You can almost hear the author rubbing his hands together at his single “clever” turn-of-phrase, and calling his friends to say, “Hey, listen to this!” The problem is: that’s not exactly a reasoned response to a stream of thought-provoking volumes. Instead, it’s the response of someone who is an imbecile, an extremist, mentally deficient, irrational, a bearer of false consciousness, and an authoritarian despot. Whether Berlinerblau is also a fascist, an enemy of the common good, a crypto-Nazi, a conjure man, or a pedophile is not clear.
Berlinerblau’s main complaint is that atheism’s current advocates lack “new ideas.” Well, of course they do. Atheists’ one and only unifying “idea” is that a belief in any supernatural beings is ridiculous because it can’t be founded on evidence. In addition, many of us see that religions inherently create artificial separations among peoples, and lead to wars and other atrocities. How evil of us to notice that! These are old notions that have gone unanswered — at least satisfactorily — by godpushers since way before the Christian era. They’re not new ideas; they’re old ideas whose time, we hope, has finally come.
Berlinerblau does make a valid point, however:
... contemporary nonbelief lacks any discernible political dynamism, not to mention power.He’s right. That’s why all atheists should unite in the next election. We must refuse to vote for any political candidate — any! — who (1) doesn’t speak out actively and agressively for continued separation of church and state, (2) won’t clearly support the rights of millions of nonbelievers in
The associate professor goes on to say:
For the past decade or so, only the most snarling and extreme variants of atheist and agnostic thought have been featured in Book Review sections, Op-Ed pages, and magazines of opinion. Sticking it to the Pope, taking on Islam in its entirety, or ridiculing Bible-carrying Christians has become the admission ticket for those nonbelievers craving media attention.It would be difficult to disagree with that assessment, were it not so maliciously misleading. Yes, in order to appear in The Washington Post or Newsweek Magazine — sponsors of the “On Faith” forum that published Berlinerblau’s article — an atheist must say something outrageous. Is that the atheists’ fault, or the media’s? Are Newsweek and The Washington Post seeking out non-sensationalist atheists to write columns for them? They wouldn't have to go far; the Atheosphere is filled with gentle non-souls, who make confrontation-free, humanistic arguments for godlessness. But those kinds of people wouldn't sell paper, or generate hits, on the scale to which "On Faith" aspires. So, instead, rabble-rousers like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are encouraged to shock the audience that clamors to be shocked.
Even amongst our controversy-hungry media, I think an atheist like Neil deGrasse Tyson, for instance, gets some well-deserved attention without “ridiculing Bible-carrying Christians.” As far as I know, “sticking it to the Pope” is not a feature of any writings by Daniel Dennett. “Taking on Islam in its entirety” is a powerful-sounding, but meaningless phrase, since atheists take on all religions in their entirety.
And if he were really hungry for non-extreme atheist writing, Berlinerblau could find plenty of it readily available. Even setting aside the "moderate" nonbelievers' blogs, why hasn't he read the hundreds of philosophy, science, humanist, literary, and skeptic magazines that treat all facets of freethought? Because that doesn't make good copy for his own snarl.
So let’s add “maliciously misleading” to Berlinerblau’s list of descriptive phrases.
The article finishes with a suggestion that we atheists indulge in self-criticism. (The italics are his.) I volunteer to start. I hereby criticize myself for spending far too much time reading drivel like Berlinerblau’s little essay (Part I of it, anway) . In future, I resolve no longer to take seriously the ravings of maliciously misleading imbeciles, extremists, or mental deficients, even those who have written extensively in scholarly journals.
Think of that as my first campaign promise.