Saturday, November 9, 2013

Another Theologian Pining For The Good Old Days Before Atheists Became Uppity

John Carlson has taken the occasion of Albert Camus' 100th birthday to complain about horrible the New Atheists are.

As far as I can tell, there's no clear and widely-accepted definition of just who exactly is a New Atheist and who isn't. I'm sure some people consider me to be a New Atheist, although I don't consider myself one. If stridency is the only criterium then I may be one. Stridency is not necessarily a good thing, but I'd much rather my statements were strident and accurate than mild and vapid. In any case, I don't know of many things more likely to unite atheists, New and not, in opposition, than articles like this one. (Which is so typical of the contributions of the Huffington Post on the subject of atheism, so familiar, that I was quite surprised when I checked Carlson's author bio and found that this is his very first piece for the Huffington Post.) One of the things that's particularly annoying is the assertion that an atheist who is now dead would've been on the author's side and not on the side of these horrible atheists these days, and because Camus is dead he of course cannot contradict the author. Get a living atheist to say that he thinks you write great stuff, and then maybe I'll be impressed. Maybe. It would of course depend on which living atheist it was, among other things. There are some atheists, * cough cough, Huffington Post regular Chris Stedman, cough cough *, who have made careers around ostensibly representing atheists, when what they really do for a living is suck up to powerful religious leaders, and who are therefore very unpopular with the atheists they supposedly represent. Including this one.

And although Carlson may be right in his depiction of Camus as an avowed atheist who was particularly considerate and kind and gentle and conciliatory in his statements to believers, his suggestion that Camus was typical in this way of atheists of his time, and that stridency and open hostility to religion were invented by the New Atheists, is absurd. Even for a theologian. Hobbes and Spinoza and Hume and Gibbon and Marx and Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Camus' good friend Sartre were all outrageous on the subject of religion, they all outraged their religious contemporaries. On purpose. We can debate the ways in which Camus' overt friendliness to religious believers may have been good or bad; but there is no denying that it made him unusual among the publicly-avowed atheists in Christendom in the past few centuries. Which is as long as we've been allowed to be publicly-avowed atheists. Which is just one of a bunch of perfectly good reasons for us to be pissed off in general and impatient with theologians in particular and occasionally impolite. In short, Carlson's "longing for the old atheism" is another case of nostalgia being a longing for something which never existed, as nostalgia is roughly 100% of the time.

Hope this isn't confusing to those of my readers who are used to me bashing New Atheists. Don't worry, I'll get back to them. But not today. A theologian pontificating in general terms about atheism makes me feel a temporary solidarity with almost all other atheists just about every single time. Except of course for a few jerks such as the aforementioned Chris Stedman.

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