I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Andrea has become quite the atheist. She is now going by Nice Atheist Girl. It all started with a conversation we had. I mention it mostly because it is so rare that Andrea finds any idea I have compelling. This is in stark contrast to the way I feel about her, which is basically that if she just decided to work on even her weakest ideas, she would quickly become an internet phenom. Anyway, we were talking about her son who is seeing a Catholic girl. And I made a joke that she ought to be like a Jewish mother, “Why can’t you meet a nice atheist girl?” Before you know it, I’m in charge of making every conceivable change to her new website, which is admittedly really good.
The thing about Andrea’s atheism is that it is so much more pure than mine. For me, atheism is a very complicated thing that is deeply related to what most people would call spiritualism. And indeed, I think that I commune far more profoundly with “God” than almost any Christian I know. Andrea has no tolerance for this kind of nonsense. To her, I think, atheism isn’t so much a rejection of God as it is a rejection of Christianity. And if I could look at it that way, I would be completely on board. Because Christianity is a laughable religion. (Sorry all my Christian friends!) But I feel just as strongly that the nature of existence is a paradox. So my mind reels.
What this means is that most atheists think I’m a squishy kind of proto-agnostic. And that’s not true at all! As far as I’m concerned, most of them are very much like the Christians I talk about. They don’t really engage in the debate at a serious level. But at least such atheists understand that they aren’t engaging. They know that they are simply defining God out of the realm of what is knowable. (Quite rightly!) Christians and other theists think of God as some super powerful friend or father figure in the sky. But the main thing is that atheists don’t much care of my form of atheism. They think of it the way that Baptists think of Unitarians.
To be honest, I feel a lot like the Terry Eagleton of atheism. I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere. (Except probably with Eagleton who considers himself a Christian while no one else does!) So I was encouraged this evening when Andrea sent me a a link to an Abby Ohlheiser article, A Short History of Richard Dawkins vs The Internet. It came along with a text, “It seems that Richard Dawkins is a bit of an asshole.” Being the ever faithful friend, I texted back, “I told you that!” But she said she didn’t know how bad he was. Well, it turns out that I didn’t either.
But here’s the ironic part. I actually kind of agree with Dawkins on his major point. I just don’t think he was making the point well. So I’m going to give it a try here. Religion really isn’t a problem. The key is that you can’t take it that seriously. In the Middle Ages, Islam was an incredibly liberal religion. Now, it is very conservative, by and large. The fundamentalists are in control. That’s a problem. And it’s a problem that hurts all Muslims.
Where I differ from Dawkins is in his focus. It’s true that Islam is coming out of a period of fundamentalism. But I actually think the trend is really good. The Mulsims are becoming more liberal and in another hundred years, I think it will be a force for good. Christianity (maybe with the exception of Catholicism—we’ll see) is moving in the opposite direction. In the United States, 36% of the population thinks that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and doesn’t believe in evolution. In the United Kingdom, the number is only 25%, but another 20% believe in Intelligent Design. Now I understand that there are are a lot of scary Muslims in the world. But shouldn’t Dawkins be more concerned about the bad trends at home?
The article itself gets much worse, with stuff that is an outgrowth of my long held negative opinions about Richard Dawkins. He is very much a man of his social class. And I very much understand: Skepchick is outside his comfort zone. And, most sadly, outside the comfort zone of most male (which is to say simple “most”) “new” atheists. As I discussed a few weeks ago, CJ Werleman quite accurately described the atheist movement as “white, middle class, intellectually smug and mostly apolitical.” But that apolitical part of it is based on the fact that the status quo benefits them. And the idea that women might have a few complaints of their own rankles them.
Of course, Dawkins argument is way beyond the pale. Basically, he claims that western women have nothing to complain about because their clitorises have not been cut off. I’m serious! All I can think is that he was drunk. Because even I don’t think that lowly of him.
Regardless of all this, I continue to find that I mostly agree with atheists. By this I mean “there is no God” and not “you can only complain after an honor killing.” But I still feel very much on the margins of the movement—a man who doesn’t believe in God but understands why people would. There is something good about my position. I’m kind of like the interfaith atheist, or the “intertheist,” if you prefer. And I think the atheist movement could learn a few things from me. Not as much as the theists could. But still.