January 22, 2014

Ta-Nehesi Coates comes out of a closet, no thanks to #GnuAtheists

The outstanding, thought-provoking Atlantic Monthly columnist Ta-Nehesi Coates has "outed" himself as an atheist:
I don't have any gospel of my own. [Tony Judt's history book] Postwar, and the early pages of Bloodlands, have revealed a truth to me: I am an atheist. (I have recently realized this.) I don't believe the arc of the universe bends towards justice. I don't even believe in an arc. I believe in chaos. I believe powerful people who think they can make Utopia out of chaos should be watched closely. I don't know that it all ends badly. But I think it probably does. 
He goes on to say that he's not a cynic. Instead, he presents himself as a skeptical realist who finally realized where his journey had led.

That said, if not for generalized Gnu Atheists, he might have come out earlier. He calls work by Carl Sagan an effective argument for atheism, but then notes:
Perhaps it’s just me, but many of my encounters with atheist [sic] remind me of my encounters with the born-again. Indeed I often suspect that the latter was once the former, and is really angry about it.
I'd agree. So would many other non-Gnu Atheists.

Coates apologized five days later, claiming he had perpetuated a stereotype:
One often doesn't realize he's invoked a stereotype until after the fact. I received quite a bit of pushback in comments, and on twitter, accusing me of doing just that. I actually hadn't realized that there was a stereotype of the overbearing atheist. But I did know that when you generalize about broad groups of people, you often end up in trouble. 

So it was with me.  All I can really say is the following--My bad, ye band of godless heathens. Or more seriously, I was wrong to speak in such a sweeping manner. Weasel phrases like "Perhaps it's just me" don't make it right.
He should have stuck by his guns. When enough empirical observation points about a group, in general, are true, it's called, per my earlier comment, a "generalization," not a stereotype. The borders can be fuzzy, yes.

In the last six months, I've gotten a bit more nuanced my my generalizations. I may soon call some people semi-Gnus as part of that.

But, as long as the likes of P.Z. Myers and David Silverman actively fold, spindle and mutilate facts at times, in the pursuit of atheist evangelism, I'll still talk about others, individually and as members of a group, as Gnu Atheists.

And, per Coates, I too won't use this, not even plain old "atheism," as a primary definer of my philosophical and metaphysical take on the world.

Besides, although the phrase "Gnu Atheist" wasn't around 60 years ago, in "The Rebel," Camus wrote of a species of atheist that needed a god to exist, in order to have something to rebel against.

So, welcome, Ta-Nehisi. There's plenty another metaphysical naturalist who feels, thinks, and acts on these issues pretty much like you.

And, given that "diversity" is an issue, Gnu Atheists might just realize that, with Coates, Neal de Grasse Tyson (see this talk of his on Bill Moyers) and others, you might increase that diversity with honey instead of vinegar.

But, I'm not currently holding my breath.

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