I am listening to Penn (of Penn and Teller) interviewing Richard Dawkins as I type. Dawkins just used the phrase, quoting Dennet, “belief in belief” to describe the tone of many of the reviewers of his new book The God Delusion.
Belief in belief
I have been keeping track of reviews (I have a half-finished blog that reviews the reviews) and I have been deeply saddened by the many that take a tone of “while I personally don’t believe I don’t think you should criticize other people’s beliefs”. In particular, the review in the New York Times was particularly sickening.
What Dawkins brings to this approach is a couple of fresh arguments â€” no mean achievement, considering how thoroughly these issues have been debated over the centuries â€” and a great deal of passion. The book fairly crackles with brio. Yet reading it can feel a little like watching a Michael Moore movie. There is lots of good, hard-hitting stuff about the imbecilities of religious fanatics and frauds of all stripes, but the tone is smug and the logic occasionally sloppy. Dawkins fans accustomed to his elegant prose might be surprised to come across such vulgarisms as â€œsucking up to Godâ€ and â€œNur Nurny Nur Nurâ€ (here the author, in a dubious polemical ploy, is imagining his theological adversary as a snotty playground brat).
I haven’t read the book yet (I ordered it form Amazon two weeks ago but I am still waiting) but, as I understand it, Dawkins has two aims with this book.
- To persuade believers that they are wrong
- To persuade atheists to stand up and be proud of their beliefs
Goal #1 is just plain misguided – but maybe Dawkins knows that and has some master plan that involves having people think its goal #1 even though it is not. Goal #2 is a worthy one though.
“mainstream opinion” in america is that atheists are crackpots and should be treated as such. I suspect (and Richard just said in the interview that he suspects) that a majority of well-educated people in america are atheist, or at least agnostic, but, because there is such a climate of distrust of atheists, they remain in the closet. So when a reviewer in the New York Times, or a reporter on NPR talks about The God Delusion they are careful to distance themselves from atheism because, to acknowledge having a naturalistic outlook, free from supernatural or mystical beliefs, is still a career-limiting move in most of america.
Many of my friends and family still have a lingering respect for the religion of their childhood – a belief in belief – which is itself worthy of respect. But the people in the media who disparage atheism while secretly not believing themselves…they remind me of the closet gays in the republican party who champion anti-gay legislation.
Much of The Brights propaganda is self-consciously modelled after the gay movement of forty years ago. The word bright itself is an attempt to hijack a positive word in the same way that gay no longer means what it used to mean. Maybe atheists should go one step further and try a little outing.