In case you weren’t aware, there’s a raging battle going on.
No, I’m not referring to Afghanistan or Iraq, but the Atheist Wars, being waged by two camps, known as the New Atheists, and the Accommodationists. I thought a brief discussion of each group was timely, given the recent ‘chatter’ between these two camps.
And what better way to ring in the new year, than with a discussion about religion?
As the name suggests, the Accommodationists are of the ‘live and let live’ variety, and make every effort to avoid hurting the feelings of the faithful. At one extreme of accommodationism, they simply stay silent on their disagreements with the religions or the reasons for their non-belief. Here’s a good example – Dick Gross, who writes the Godless Gross column in the Melbourne Age,and who identifies himself as an accommodationist. In this article, he tackles the New Atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, saying of them:
There are the ”repudiating atheists” who have an interest in denouncing faith in all its forms and in all its activities. This school is evangelical, never missing an opportunity to ram down everyone’s throats that all beliefs are wrong, evil and for the soft of brain.
Of Christopher Hitchens, Gross says:
He eviscerated everything religious like a medieval disemboweling. He made Vlad the Impaler look like a mummy’s boy.
In contrast, Gross’ accommodationist viewpoint is that, yes atheism has some bad stuff, but let’s not forget the good stuff that it does.
At the other extreme of accommodationism, accommodationists bend over backwards to provide comfort and a place in society for the church and all it stands for. Some at this extreme will try to assist the faithful by engaging in research or analysis in an attempt to demonstrate how religion coexists with science, as in the case of the Templeton Foundation. This organisation hands out large lumps of money, ostensibly for “support for open-minded inquiry and our hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries“, but on closer inspection, is really pushing the ultimate accommodationist agenda, also stating in its mission statement that:
The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. We support research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights.
Our vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton’s optimism about the possibility of acquiring “new spiritual information” and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship.
This group takes the head-on approach, calling a spade a spade.
One of the most vocal New Atheists is PZ Myers, who writes the Pharyngula blog. This recent article is a passionate defence by him of his approach, and encapsulates all the key features of New Atheism. Here are some of my favourite bits:
We often get this insistence from the accommodationists that the only way to win people over is to be nice to them — atheists should try to be good citizens who get along with everyone. A related point they will make is that atheists don’t have a real problem with discrimination, because they look just like everyone else and can blend in, and if we aren’t rocking the boat no one will have any grounds to oppose us.
I really, really despise that argument. I don’t want my community to accept my presence because they have me confused with an Episcopalian, or because I’m one of those good atheists who don’t raise no ruckus, no sir, and so they can tolerate me because I’m invisible. I intend to be loud; I will leave no doubt that I disbelieve and am disagreeable about it. I am not the one who needs to learn a lesson in tolerance, the smug, oblivious Christians are, and the only way I can give it is if I’m standing up and challenging them.
So when people, atheists and theists alike, complain that I’m obnoxious, I feel good about it.
In response to a criticism from Massimo Pigliucci, he says:
Pigliucci complained about the arrogance of some atheists who think all believers are dumb, which is a common complaint, and one you hear from believers as well. But they’re wrong: I don’t think I’m smarter than everyone else.
I just think I’m right.
That’s important. Atheists should have a feeling of unrepentant confidence — we are on the right side of reason, the right side of history, and the right side of the evidence. It’s not because I think I have some intrinsically greater worth than others at all, but I have shed some delusions and freed myself of traditional dogma, and have also worked most of my life to alleviate my ignorance. Other people could benefit from similar enlightenment.
And anyone who’s bothered by my cockiness should have a little more self-awareness: we all think we’re right, or we wouldn’t be doing what we do.
I see priests raping children. I see a publicity-seeking nun praising pain and suffering, poverty and sickness. I see politicians pandering for votes by demanding the persecution of gays in the name of Jesus. I see godly men declaring that the role of women is to be silent and subservient…and brood a quiverful of children. I see fanatics strapping explosives to their bodies and killing randomly in the name of their god. I see lobbyists hard at work, trying to dilute science education, and suggesting that we teach the Flintstones as fact in our biology classes. I see a pope in fancy silks and gold-bedecked palace urging people to shun materialism and savor the simple life. I see deluded people opposing work to alleviate climate change because they’re sure God wouldn’t let it happen. I see ordinary people certain that these are the End Times, rejoicing in our imagined imminent apocalypse, and actively working to bring it about.
If you aren’t angry, there’s something wrong with you.
There’s a lot more, but you get the idea. Well worth reading.
If you’re wondering, I think I’m in the New Atheist camp. I bet regular readers would have guessed that. While I have no wish to insult or upset the faithful just for the sake of it, I do find myself very agitated when I hear of any of the things so eloquently listed by PZ Myers above. I get agitated hearing about young children being fed nonsense as fact; about how god loves us and that’s why thousands die in tsunamis; about the double standards of the church around pedophile priests; and about the massive resources compiled by churches at the expense of their flock. The list goes on.
I think when it boils down to it, it comes back to what good does religion do to balance out the bad stuff? Dick Gross tells us that:
While I rail against some religious bigotry and irrationality, in the absence of some detrimental public impact, I live and let live. I acknowledge the good things of the faiths and seek to replicate some of the spiritual sustenance they offer the human species.
While there are good things done by religious-based organisations, I still don’t believe that it is the religion per se which causes the good acts. It is the good acts of people for which the church takes credit. As I’ve argued before, you don’t need religion to be moral or good.
So what’s left to accommodate?