The debate about accomodationism of religion, the tone this debate should be held in, and the more confrontational stance of the gnu atheists, often gets framed like this :
Version 1: “The mean gnu atheists want to tell granny on her deathbed that there isn’t a god, and that’s such a dick move.”
Version 2: “If you question religion’s tenets and propositions, and if you question its privileges, then religious people won’t like science anymore and won’t believe in evolution”.
Version 1 is a silly strawman that’s gets nevertheless repeated ad nauseam by certain accomodationists, to paint all gnu atheists as rabid fanatics who won’t even stop at granny’s deathbed to win another soul for the cause.There is much stupidity in that argument, and not a small amount of projection.
Version 2 is the mother of all non-sequiturs, and really just an unproven assertion.Show me the evidence to support this claim, accomodationists, the way I see it there is more evidence to the contrary.It also curiously lays the blame for the fact that some religious people choose to be willfully ignorant, and pass their ignorance on to their children, on those who criticise exactly that.
This debate has been going on for way too long, and it’s getting old.Here’s what it boils down to for me:
On the one hand you have adherents of various religious beliefs in positions of power, influence and tax exemption.Their cults survive by passing on its message to the children, the poor, the sick and the vulnerable, and it’s been working for thousands of years.Hearing that you might be wrong is never nice, it makes people uncomfortable, and pointing out to people exactly why they are wrong, and that their cults and beliefs are now under scrutiny, makes them even more uncomfortable.
What we are seeing now is just the backlash of the realisation that religious views and privileges are not sacrosanct anymore.Be that expressed by Saudi-Arabia lobbying the UN for “religious tolerance” laws, or by the Templeton foundation buying science journalists to write nice things about how religion and science can work together.
On the other hand are the folks who do not believe in gods and who see religion for what it is, and see what detrimental effects religion has on our planet today.And they point this out.You may call us militant or strident or atheist fundamentalist or whatever you want to call us, but we won’t go away, and we will continue to make you feel uncomfortable.It’s not an assault on religious freedoms to question a megachurch’s tax status, and it’s not militant, we don’t knock on your door to proselytise and we don’t fly planes into buildings.But religions and churches are doing real damage to real people in this world, and it’s got to stop.
Now, here’s the problem that I have with the subset of this debate concerned about the tone in which we have said debate: I note that the gnu atheists do not complain about tone, those complaints are only ever made by religious people who we make uncomfortable by challenging their privileges or superstitions, and who have no argument to justify their position or privilege, or the accomodationists, who seem to have a completely different definition of tone than anyone else, and do tend to confuse yelling/screaming with any disagreement or criticism offered in a firm and determined manner.
John Wilkins just offered another strawman argument that accomodationists love:
There are a group of critics of religion, of pseudoscience, of regressive politics – all excellent targets for criticism – who think that if you in any way seek polite, civil or reasoned discourse with the targets of your criticisms, you are weak and accommodationist.
I don’t think that’s fair, and I don’t think it’s true.But as I said above, what you have to keep in mind here is what is at stake for the people that the gnus challenge, it’s about power, influence, money, and I guess “piece of mind” in a way, but there is no right not to be challenged or questioned, just as there is no right not to be offended.
Now as to civil and reasoned discourse, I think what we have to understand here is 2 things: First, these terms will mean different things to different people, just like “dick”, and my understanding of what constitutes a civil discourse will vary a lot from Chris Mooney’s or Cardinal Pell’s.Second, don’t forget what’s at stake for religious people, having your cherished beliefs challenged and questioned is not going to make you especially susceptible for civil argumentation, because what they want is to have their superstitions and privileges not challenged.In my opinion, this is where the accomodationists go wrong.
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