March 23, 2012

Hoffmann gets closer on #GnuAtheist critique

R. Joseph Hoffmann has been among the better academic writers to critique excesses of Gnu Atheism. The problem is, he has sometimes gone too far himself in protesting against some of their protests.

Because, while conservative Christians aren't all the religious in America, and do make easy targets, nonetheless, they've become more vocal, and more pushy, over the past decade. And, the more liberally religious, even when not put off by Gnu Atheists, have not always been as forceful in criticizing fundamentalist excess as they could.

And, even, some non-fundamentalists still believe some myths about atheism. For example, how else could Americans say they'd be even less likely to elect an atheist as president than a gay unless bias against atheists weren't widespread?

So, while his latest post is better than many earlier ones, he still misses a thing or two.

I do have one bone to pick with one segment of this piece in particular, and it’s where Hoffmann criticizes defending the emotional range of secularists, when he asks rhetorically:
But is there really a general movement afoot to tar atheists as emotional defectives?
Uhh, yes there is, and in a newspaper column nearly a decade ago, before the word “Gnu” was around, I riffed on Shylock myself to write just such a column. (It appeared in the religion section of The Dallas Morning News.)

In fact, after claims that atheists must be immoral, the claim that they must be emotionally soulless is probably the second one raised by conservative religious apologists and general defenders of conservative religion.

The general thesis is that without being able to be grateful to a creator deity, one just can’t appreciate a sunset, or a Beethoven quartet, in the same way that a true believer can.

That said, there are some great comments on the thread.

Nathan Bupp, formerly of the Center for Inquiry, seeing how Paul Kurtz was pushed out, wonders how Gnus would have treated a seminal secular humanist, Sidney Hook. It's a great question, and he's probably right that the likes of a P.Z. Myers would have been an attack dog against Kurtz.

Anyway, here's hoping that the generally articulate Hoffmann gets closer to what I see as the "sweet spot" on Gnu Atheist critique. While their style is pretty much all wrong, their issues don't just narrow down to the three points he lists in his post. And, while Gnus may delve too much into the language of victimization, that's not to say, per the presidential polling I listed above, my column, etc., that there aren't legitimate issues.

Right now? From my perspective, he's about 80 percent there.

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