Sexism and atheist-baiting, all rolled into one!
Via Skepchick comes this irritating article from Stephen Prothero that attempts to shame the “bad” atheists by upholding the supposedly “good” atheists, who are good due to a supposed gentleness. I knew I was going to dislike it the second Prothero started to engage in gender essentialism, suggesting that the atheist movement needs more women, because women are too sweet and gentle to point out that there is no god, which seems to be the major crime of the meanie “New Atheists”. Or that’s all that I can figure, since he rolls up Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris into one bundle, ignoring the strong differences between the three. (Hitchens is a legitimate asshole, Harris is kind of a sap, and Dawkins’ major crime is that he speaks honestly about stuff that you’re supposed to pussyfoot around.) But don’t take my word for it; Prothero’s argument really does seem to be that the best kind of atheism is an atheism that isn’t atheism at all.
The first was the old line of the New Atheists: Religious people are stupid and religion is poison, so the only way forward is to educate the idiots and flush away the poison. The second was less controversial and less utopian: From this perspective, atheism is just another point of view, deserving of constitutional protection and a fair hearing. Its goal is not a world without religion but a world in which believers and nonbelievers coexist peaceably, and atheists are respected, or at least tolerated.
These competing approaches could not be further apart. One is an invitation to a duel. The other is a fair-minded appeal for recognition and respect. Or, to put it in terms of the gay rights movement, one is like trying to turn everyone gay and the other is like trying to secure equal rights for gay men and lesbians.
That is a terrible analogy. I’ve seen some stinkers, but that one wins the award of the day. Being gay or being straight isn’t a truth claim, except insofar as it’s self-evident that a person who sleeps with members of this sex or that and claims the label is telling the truth about themselves. But that homosexuality exists doesn’t mean that heterosexuality doesn’t. Sexual orientation is actually pretty close to handedness, even if it has a great deal more political weight. The majority of people are right-handed, but some are left-handed. This fact is interesting, but shouldn’t be the source of strife or oppression.