Although I don’t swear on the blog, and I try not to be “uncivil,” I nevertheless really appreciate DuWayne Brayton’s recent, profane post disagreeing with me and even defending incivility–most centrally because unlike much commentary out there coming from New Atheists, it gets my views right. To wit:
I do however, have a problem with Chris’ rhetoric about theists who accept evolution. Put simply, he seems to think that there is a marked lack of civility on the part of the so called “new atheists,” when it comes to attacking the faith component, of those who reconcile their theism with evolution and science. He also seems to think that there are a lot of factual errors to the arguments of the new atheists and ultimately, that attacking that reconciliation is a bad strategic move. I know more than a little about this issue of reconciling theism and science, or more accurately, theism and reality. I am less than a year out from having finally ending my twenty some year battle to maintain my faith, in the face of science and indeed other aspects of reality that aren’t strictly science related. In all honesty, I think that his problems with incivility and ultimately strategy are both ill-founded. And while I think that the issue of factual errors is a little less clear, I tend to disagree with the accommodationist position – both from the theists themselves and the atheists who defend them.
From someone who is criticizing me on science and religion, this is probably the most accurate summary so far of what I think. Thank you for that.
To be sure, Brayton has a very different view of how we ought to act when discussions of religion come up:
And when they start in with what they think I need to know, to find my faith again, I am probably going to get really uncivil with them. I give a fair warning when someone starts that line with me – after that, I am likely to get rather mean. Or when they start with the notion that my lack of religious/spiritual belief offends them, I am quite likely to laugh in their face, in a markedly uncivil fashion. I honestly don’t give a shit if this smacks of “they started it” type rhetoric. I am not of the opinion that simply because someone isn’t being overtly rude, I need to maintain the same. Frankly, I find the notion of pretending to be polite, when in reality one is being an asshole rather offensive. I am pretty damned straightforward with people and expect the same in return. I have a lot more respect for someone who calls me an asshole, or a moron, than I do for someone who says basically the same thing, pretending to be polite about it.
I understand how hard it is to be civil when one feels under fire, or when somebody’s in your face. But I highly doubt the effect of such a confrontational approach will be to change anybody’s views.
Still, Brayton’s post is bracingly honest, and I suspect captures why many atheists today are so fired up. It is because they have freed themselves from a religion they came to hate–probably for good reason–and now feel they were oppressed for many years by a worthless, false belief system. I never had that deconversion experience, because I never had religion to begin with. So perhaps I just don’t understand the force of it. But here is how Brayton puts it:
The only reason that I spent twenty years in an abusive, painful and sometimes debilitating relationship with Faith, is because I was constantly running into people who told me that it is possible to make the very reconciliations that you are so adamantly defending. Were it not for Christians who accept homosexuality, were it not for Christians who accept evolution, were it not for Christians who are sex-positive, were it not for Christians who perform incredible feats of mental gymnastics and convinced me I could do the same, I would have become an atheist a very long time ago. I would have been saved the pain, the doubts – the trauma, of fighting so desperately to make the absolutely incoherent, fit together coherently.
And were it not for the uncivil, ill-mannered “new atheists” you disagree with, I would probably still be suffering that relationship today…
Okay…and I can see how you would be angry. Everybody has to figure out their own road with respect to belief or the lack thereof; you’ve figured out one way of going, and I respect that. And you say what you think, which I also respect.
However, I’m not sure it’s fair to blame religious moderates for difficulties you may have had along the way.
Consider that for a lot of people out there who have doubts about their faith, but who unlike you are unable to go all the way to atheism, the moderate ground can be a very welcoming place to stop for a while (maybe for a very long while). Moreover, it is far better to end up there than to stay in fundamentalist land. In this sense, are the moderates really the enemies?
I really appreciate Brayton’s post–but I am no less convinced that religious moderates are very important, and that atheists should make allegiances with them, show them respect, and above all, appreciate the central role they play in this exceedingly contentious and personal issue.