Monday, May 07, 2007

What it's to do with England anyway?

Madeleine Bunting of the left-wing British tabloid The Guardian has rushed to defense of religion everywhere. She is upset about the flurry of best selling books excorating the realm of irrationality and faith. Her’s is a long, tiring piece and to deconstruct the entire article would take far too long but a few points can, and should, be made.

Let us look at the thesis of this silly piece as outlined in the headline, “The New Atheists loathe religion far too much to plausibly challenge it. Anti-faith proselytising is a growth industry. But its increasingly hysterial flag-bearers are heading for spectacular failure.”

First, we should be clear as to whom she is referring. She specifically mentions the four best selling books by Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

I’m not sure “loathe” is the proper word but it is the word Bunting would want people to have in mind. She has to exaggerate her case considerably in order to make it. Now if someone said that “Jews loath Nazism far too much to plausibly challenge it” we would find that remark absurd. Throughout history there have been people who have “loathed” certain ideas and who have challenged those ideas very well.

Certainly when it comes to loathing these so-called “New Atheists” have a long ways to go before they could catch up with fundamentalist Christians or Islamists.

Bunting claims: “Meanwhile, critics in America argue that the polarisation of the debate in the US is setting the cause of non-deism back rather than advancing it.” What could this possibly mean? Leave aside the fact she is more precise to say “non-theism” than “non-deism” but I suspect she doesn’t know the difference.

How would the books by these four men set the cause of “non-deism” back? She never says. Like many faith statements she simply asserts it. So what possible meanings are there.

1. One the books could be converting atheists to religion. There is no indication that this is happening. Nor does Bunting offer evidence it is.

2. Perhaps she means that none of the religious people reading the books are abandoning their faith. There is an indication that some are. But even if none were that wouldn’t make things worse just not make things better. It is a draw not a set back.

3. Perhaps she means that a few are deconverting while most aren’t. Not a massive win for reason to be sure but an advance not a set back.

4. Or she could mean that there is some significant number of religionists ready to abandon religion who, because of these books, fail to do so. But again there is no evidence of this happening.

Certainly in the American context it appears that these books have no ground to lose whatsoever. Put this in an election context for a second. An unknown challenges an incumbent. The unknown, of course, wants to debate. The incumbent tend not to want to debate. Why? Because the unknown can only gain ground while the incumbent can only lose ground.

In the religion debate in the United States, the context used by Bunting, atheism is a minority opinion. It is the unknown challenger and thus is only likely to gain ground even if badly argued, which I don’t thinks these books do (I have not read Hitchens yet). Bunting appears to be using a specific tactic here. She wants atheists to think that promoting atheism is a bad idea in the hope of them shutting up. It sounds as if she is worried that in a public debate she will lose ground not the atheists.

She also implies that religious beliefs can’t be challenged successfully regardless of what happens. She refers to the “durability and near universality of religion”. Again what does this mean? It is durable in that there are people who are religious. But certainly in most Western countries, the US being the main expection, religion is a minority activity. And in some advanced nations atheism is the dominant position.

In fact Bunting herself admits as much. She says that in Britain, “Church attendance continues its steady decline and the Christian evangelical boom has never taken off.” In fact the numbers of Britians who say they are non-religious is rather high. Even more oddly a good number of them are clergy in the Church of England.

She wants to attribute these books to “a particular kind of American atheism that feels victimised.” Alas, two of the authors she labels “New Atheists” are her fellow Brits.

She writes: “The whole New Atheist publishing phenomenon is like eavesdropping on a blistering row in the flat next door: one's response alternates between fascination and irritation, but is it really anything to do with us?”

Currently the world is witnessing radical religion in the United States and in the Islamic world. That has lead to conflicts, some of them rather unpleasant to say the least. And there is certainly something outlandish, if not totally absurd, to her acting as if none of this impacts England. Her glib “but is really anything to do with us” comment is the height of intentional stupidity or dishonesty.

What does it have to do with England? Let us look at the London Tube bombings. Bombs exploded on several underground lines and on a public bus. In total 52 people were killed and in excess of 700 peple were injured. And this woman stupidly wants to know what any of this debate has to do with England! Nor should we forget that 148 British solider have died in Iraq, a war that was entered into, to some degree, because of the conflict between American fundamentalists and Islamists.

It is a moral outrage that this woman is so dishonest as to pretend that the conflict between competiting fundamentalisms has nothing to do with England. And to remind her as to what this has to do with England this post contains the pictures of some of the victims of this conflict. What does it have to do with England! Indeed.


Blogger Ethereal said...

I have read Madeleine Bunting's article about the "new atheists" and from what I have read. She just have a problem with the selling of books by atheists. What is has to do with London. To me, nothing.

Just another religionist that is upset with the fact that she is losing ground.


May 08, 2007


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