Agnostics and Atheists: For Your Response 


Ronald Aronson tries to explain (in The Nation) the popularity of Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens:

"Americans as a whole may not be getting too much religion, but a significant constituency must be getting fed up with being routinely marginalized, ignored and insulted."

It's listening time, from my perspective as a Christian theist. Is this a fair statement of the situation? What would you do about it? Bear in mind that Aronson's statement doesn't really get to the heart of most of what these four have been saying. Their thesis has not primarily been that atheism has been marginalized, but that atheism is true. But all through the article to its end, Aronson's suggestions are political, not centered on what is actually true or not. 

Aronson also said,

"But over the past generation, [unbelievers] have come to feel beleaguered and, except for rare individuals like comedian and talk-show host Bill Maher, voiceless in the public arena. The great success of the New Atheists is to have reached them, both speaking to and for them. These writers are devoted, with sledgehammer force and angry urgency, to 'breaking the spell' cast by the religious ascendancy, to overcoming a situation in which every other area of life can be critically analyzed while admittedly irrational religious faith is made central to American life but exempted from serious discussion."

A point to consider, similar to my previous one: the "spell" Dennett wanted to break was not religious ascendancy but religious belief, that is, the thought that religion is anything other than a product of social evolution.

Aronson's political orientation toward the issue could be represented with this:

"Above all, each [Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens] sees himself as breaking a taboo. This explains not only the vigor and urgency of these books, their mainstream character and their publishing success but also the common refrain in reviews that they have 'gone too far.' Of course they have, because their many faults are often inseparable from their strengths. Self-indulgence is their common flaw: Dennett and Dawkins might have considered their readers more and disciplined their own need to follow out every line of thought, while Harris is so full of his point of view that he, like Hitchens, is unable to consider faith as anything but stupid. They show little understanding of religion or interest in it [see Daniel Lazare, 'Among the Disbelievers,' May 28]. Still, I am surprised by the hostility and bemusement expressed toward them by their fellow travelers in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker and The London Review of Books. In attacking religion the four have been breaking the taboo against talking about it seriously, and they may be forgiven for not being calmer, more expert or more measured. Doing battle with what they see as the most pervasive and bothersome phenomenon in American life during the past generation, Harris, Dennett, Dawkins and Hitchens deserve praise for their courage and tenacity in shattering its spell."

Non-theists, I encourage your response via the comments; I also encourage you to read the whole article before you do so, because these short quotes don't come close to covering the ground he did. This is an open invitation to anyone who will respect the guidelines listed on the bottom of the comments page, especially that we stay on topic and show mutual respect.

Theists, let's also respond, but first let's listen well. 

Posted: Fri - June 15, 2007 at 04:40 PM           |


© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

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