(I'm not ignorant of the objection which will be raised by some, that "ignorant about" in the title is incorrect and should be "ignorant of," but those who would so object may themselves be ignorant of the ways in which language changes more quickly than manuels of supposedly "correct" language. I'm lucky I eventually found me a whole differnt kind a English teacher. "About" is correct in the post title. "Ignorant of history" would suggest that New Atheists are unaware that there is something known as history, and honestly, in several cases it's not as bad as that.)
This insight -- that I could've been clearer about the bug the New Atheists have put up my butt -- came to me last night in the midst of a horribly unsuccessful attempt to communicate with someone about my previous blog post. The New Atheist with whom I was trying to communicate was disputing my accusation of Richard Dawkins' ignorance, and referred to Dawkins' refutation of Anselm's cosmological argument.
That led to an a-ha moment for me: Dawkins engages in theological disputation, and I don't. I mean, I knew already that Dawkins debated theologians, but this suddenly made clear to me how Dawkins and I approach certain subjects, such as Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109, in two completely different ways: Dawkins from a theological perspective and I from an historical perspective. I've never engaged in a theological debate, and I don't ever intend to. I've got a streak going, 54 consecutive years without engaging in theological debate, and I'm proud of that streak and I intend to keep it going. Dawkins has spent some time countering Anselm's ontological argument. I'm much more interested in Anselm's role in things like the investiture controversy, a power struggle in the 11th and 12th centuries between some Popes and some European monarchs, because those Popes and those kings and the power they fought over all actually existed, whereas God, the sole subject of ontological arguments, does not. It's similar to the way that long debates over who would win completely imaginary fights between completely imaginary comic book heroes -- debates not seldom participated in by New Atheists, notorious for their comic book fandom -- do not interest me, while discussions of things which do exist or have existed do interest me.
So there it is, one major difference between me and Dawkins: I have nothing to say about theology. Maybe I'm wrong, but it really does seem unnecessary to me to respond at all to someone like, for instance, Terry Eagleton. In my opinion, Eagleton makes himself seem quite horrible enough. No need for any help from me. And as Eagleton attacks people like Dawkins he also promotes Christianty, making it look horrible too. What is there left for me to do, except perhaps to ask people to please note that just because Eagleton and I both criticize Dawkins, it doesn't mean we'd have one nice thing to say about each other?
Yes, I know that theists do exist, and that some of them are ready at the drop of a hat to discuss Anselm's theology and in some cases even to defend it. But because of historical developments between Anselm's time and our own, there is no requirement for me to pretend that Anselm's theology is worth taking seriously, or that there is any Christian theology which doesn't bore me excruciatingly. Maybe I'm wrong, and Dawkins is right, and there actually is a need to critique theology. I think all that's needed is to offer something better. And what's not better than theology?
When I take Dawkins to task for talking about Islam without having read the Koran, it is not a theological objection -- although Dawkins going into detail about someone like Anselm makes his proud ignorance of the contents of the Koran look even more provincial than it already did -- but an historical one. From my point of view with my emphasis on the importance of the study of history, the importance of reading the Koran is not in order to be able to discuss God. What is said in the Koran about God resembles what Anselm said about God in that both are talking about something purely imaginary, and therefore infinitely less interesting than all of the Muslims who have actually existed and actually do exist now. We're talking about billions of people, and one book, not even a particularly long book, which might just tell you more about all of those people than any other book could. If you're at all interested in those people, why on Earth wouldn't you read that one book? And Dawkins, as we all know, can't seem to shut up about all of those people. He's constantly trying to tell us all just exactly what is going on with all of those people. It's beyond the beyond. It reminds me of the anti-Western cleric in exile in London in Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses,
who constantly issues stern warnings of the evils and dangers of the West, who stays in an apartment with the curtains always drawn so that he will not see the West, and whenever he must leave the apartment his followers walk before and behind him and to his left and right and hold up veils so that he will never get a glimpse of the West. The West he's always criticizing and damning. Okay, Dawkins isn't actually quite that daffy, but he's headed in that direction.
And he has set the tone for New Atheism, and so we get things like Free Inquiry's publication of Michael Paulkovich's list of 126 people who supposedly should've left us some mention of Jesus but didn't -- a publication in the leading New Atheist magazine, in New Atheism's flagship, almost, of an essay that would've gotten an F in any Ancient History 101, because it purports to be about ancient history, and yet is so jaw-droppingly free of any connection to something like historical facts.