March 25, 2007

Atheist Revolution Criticized by Atheists

I recently installed StatCounter, making it easy to explore how visitors are finding this blog. After noticing a few visits from Goosing the Antithesis, I decided to check it out. To my surprise, I found this post in which I was characterized as someone who "would try to stop everyone else from having a good time" and as seeking to "temper everyone into falling into step for an 'atheist movement' which does not exist." Is this how I am perceived among atheists? I certainly do not see myself this way, so I wonder what I might have written to give this impression.

I am used to receiving everything from bible quotes to personal attacks from a handful of Christian extremists, even though most Christians who comment here or e-mail me directly have been civil, polite, and downright thoughtful. What I am not used to is what I believe is unfair criticism from within the atheist community. That is not to say that I expect to always agree with other atheist bloggers or for them to agree with me. Disagreements are to be expected and are often helpful in expanding the perspective of both sides, or at least stimulating critical thought. Still, this caught me off guard.

The post which was referenced on Goosing was this one. Naturally, I went back and read it again, worried that I must have inadvertently said something I'd forgotten about. My use of quotes did imply that I am skeptical about any sort of new atheism. As I've said previously, all this phrase means to me is that the media has suddenly decided that we are worthy of attention. I reject the notion that this new atheism is meaningfully different from the atheism most of us have affiliated with for decades. Does this mean that I don't want others to have fun or embrace atheism? Of course not.

I then asked a question which seems relevant, "If we become too aggressive, don't we run the risk of becoming the very fundamentalists we oppose?" Notice the question mark on the end. I asked this as a thought-provoking question. That is, this was not my claim. In fact, this was an intentional device to set the reader up for what would come next - my argument that there is no such thing as fundamentalist atheism or militant atheism. This was my claim.

In the final section of the post, I explored the possibility of atheist extremism. I suggested that this concept at least appears meaningful in the sense that it is possible to imagine an atheist extremist. I then specifically excluded those most commonly associated with the new atheism from consideration as extremists, noting that they did not come close to the characterization of atheist extremists I offered.

I asked the author of the Goosing post, Francois Tremblay, about this apparent misunderstanding. He indicated that he had not actually read my post before labeling me this way but that someone named Alison had and that she assured him that I was "one of those people." I had no idea who Alison might be, but I think I may have figured it out. I am guessing that Alison was one of those who commented on my original post.

There was an Alison who commented, however, I cannot for the life of me figure out the relationship between the content of her comment and the content of my post. I can only guess that she was responding to another comment rather than to what I had written and somehow presented this to Tremblay as if I had said it. She said, "I disagree strongly that we should monitor others' behavior because they share that little thing in common with us." I'm not sure what my post said that could have prompted this comment. She goes on to say, "Trying to censor others' behavior in order to 'make atheists look good' doesn't make any sense to me." I agree, but again, I'm not sure where I said anything that would suggest otherwise. The rest of her comment suggests that she has little interest in contemporary psychological theories of thought and emotion. That is certainly her right. How people think about their world may be irrelevant with regard to truth, but it is certainly relevant to belief. Personally, this is an unending source of fascination to me - understanding how the mind works to permit the irrational beliefs which are so common among our fellow citizens.

I believe that Tremblay's criticism of me, based on a post he admits to not having read, is unwarranted. I can easily identify posts I have written arguing against each of the fallacies of which I am supposedly guilty of committing. I trust that you will let me know if I am wrong and if I am truly coming across as someone who "would try to stop everyone else from having a good time" and someone who wants to "temper everyone into falling into step for an 'atheist movement' which does not exist."

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