Fallout from Accommodation/Confrontation Debate Continues

By Chris Mooney | October 18, 2010 2:35 pm

We’re getting more and more media attention to the goings on at the Council for Secular Humanism meeting of the weekend before last. Here’s Sharon Smickle of MinnPost.com:

We often wink, nod and speak in code — noting, for example, that Delaware’s GOP-endorsed senate candidate Christine O’Donnell has said she believes evolution is a myth. But few would stand up publicly to oppose the religious teachings that instruct a vast segment of America to agree with her.

And increasingly we are segmented into news and information pods where we can shut out any voices that threaten our views.

Myers and his New Atheist crowd would like their voices to penetrate your pods and rattle your beliefs. In a sense, they are political movement pushing to fill what they see as a vacuum in America.

Fat chance of that movement going very far in this country.

I agree about the pods part. I question whether the message of New Atheism can get into others’ pods when the gatekeepers of the pods just spin New Atheism as aggressive and abrasive, and demonize it.

Indeed, I tried to make the point in Los Angeles that confrontation, supposing that’s your strategy, isn’t even direct confrontation in the end. Due to the aforementioned pod effect, much of the criticism of religion is going to be channeled through a hostile messenger in our current media environment, if it is discussed at all. 

And here’s Chris Stedman, quite an accommodationist, at Huffington Post:

It’s just a hypothesis, but I wonder if fewer nonreligious people would actively try to dismantle religious communities if we had a more coherent community of our own. Perhaps if we spend less energy negatively “evangelizing,” we’ll find ourselves well positioned to reach out in ways that build bridges instead of tearing them down.

“How pushy should we be, then?” We’re asking the wrong question. Instead, let’s ask ourselves: What are we pushing for?

Is our top priority trying to do away with religion altogether, or is it trying to make the world a better place? If it is the latter, then we must change our approach, reach out to religious liberals and moderates and work together.

And then there’s Hemant Mehta, the “Friendly Atheist,” who polls his readers and finds them very confrontational. He writes:

I’m clearly on PZ’s side of the spectrum, but I don’t think anyone could realistically call me a “confrontationalist.” I’m not looking to pick fights with theists, I frequently get invited by churches to help Christians understand our perspective, and I’m not calling religious people names just to underscore my point. PZ revels in that.

So the downside of the accommodationist/confrontationalist dichotomy is that it leaves a lot of people with no label. What do you call those of us who might lean to one side but aren’t in one camp entirely?

Where do you place yourself on the spectrum?

More, I’m sure, to come. Jerry Coyne has also posted videos of our public debate.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Religion

Comments (9)

Links to this Post

  1. Young links | Evolving Thoughts | October 21, 2010
  1. Jon

    Is our top priority trying to do away with religion altogether, or is it trying to make the world a better place?

    A New Atheist would ask, “Is there a difference between the two priorities?” (The thought process they used to come to that conclusion is another matter…)

  2. I personally feel like I fall into whatever “category” the situation calls for. People you encounter are all at different places in developing and understanding the human experience. Reality is constantly being redefined in our mind as we get closer to truth. But for some, personal perspective is more real than reality. People respond differently depending on where they are in their own understanding. Peole often need to first be okay with being wrong. In our society and culture, acknowledging the need for change can be associated with being wrong. I would place myself in the middle of this presented dicotomy.

  3. AL

    A New Atheist would ask, “Is there a difference between the two priorities?” (The thought process they used to come to that conclusion is another matter…)

    Actually, a New Atheist would argue that these two priorities are not mutually exclusive, which is not the same thing as saying there is no difference between them.

  4. “when the gatekeepers of the pods just spin New Atheism as aggressive and abrasive, and demonize it”
    I am a bit confused here. Are you considering yourself as a gatekeeper of the pods?

  5. “when the gatekeepers of the pods just spin New Atheism as aggressive and abrasive, and demonize it”
    I am a bit confused here. Are you considering yourself as a gatekeeper of the pods?

  6. Jon

    Actually, a New Atheist would argue that these two priorities are not mutually exclusive…

    I think they see it as a direct causal relationship. Do away with religion –> zap! the world becomes a better place.

  7. Jon

    Exaggerating of course, but not by too much…

  8. kirk

    I live in a very conservative community now but I grew up in Austin and the following is true:
    1. a. Austin Unitarian Universalist – completely given to intellectual hedonism, more cars
    during Drag-o-ween which you can probably guess is lots of fun without much god.
    With mixed drinks at a cash bar.
    b. Midland UU – 5 cars in the parking lot for 100 minutes on Sunday. No beer.

    2. a. Access TV in Austin – there is an atheist show that more people on the internet watch
    than people in Austin who, BTW are all intellectual hedonists that go drink beer at
    Threadgill’s after the show.
    b. Midland – there would be riots if anyone in media got off the god message. No beer.

    3. a. Austin atheist social scene – for zeus’s sake you’re in the 512 dude, everyone is
    mountain biking on Sunday, alone or with 3 friends from work. Nobody at an Atheist
    party that does NOT have Shiner Bock on ice.

    b. Midland – 5 of us freethinkers get together for beer every month or so mostly unless
    something like more beer somewhere else is available.

    So the thought that people will NOT drive across town to the same church their boss goes to – even without beer – is loony. Church is a social event while only two things get two atheist together.

    1. delicious beer, especially Shiner Bock
    2. An accommodationist debate.

    So I raised my sons in the Episcopal church so they would know what Easter was because EVERYONE ELSE KNOWS what Easter is. One son is a former acolyte and current Biomed Engineering student who is immersed in science and engineering. He doesn’t like PZ because he is so god damned rude about being right about science. His older brother is a Communist enrolled in law school. His younger brother is Cosmic.

    There is not a single scar on any of them and they fit in with the civilization that they live in.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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