Last week someone by the name of Theo Hobson expelled a hard, dry turd onto the pages of The Guardian:
Richard Dawkins wants America’s atheists to stand up and be counted. He wants them to form a lobby that’s capable of challenging the religious culture they inhabit. He says that about 10% of the nation is atheist – if these godless millions unite, then they can begin to influence national politics. Dawkins has even tried to start the ball rolling, by launching a movement called the Out Campaign.
[Quoting Dawkins] “When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous, I am told – religious Jews anyway – than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place.”
What is it that Dawkins actually wants? On one level the gay rights analogy gives the answer: he wants an end to discrimination against this minority. Apparently Americans distrust atheists more than any other minority group, including homosexuals, recent immigrants, or Muslims. He wants a cultural change, in which atheism becomes seen as a perfectly respectable viewpoint.
But the gay rights analogy is actually less relevant than the Jewish one. The truth is that Dawkins does not want equal rights; he wants what he says that the Jewish lobby has: disproportionate influence. If atheists had more political power, “the world would be a better place”. He wants the gospel of atheism to spread; he wants it to change the culture. (Theo Hobson, The Guardian; hat tip, the redoubtable Austin Cline)
The easiest way to respond to this is to restore some of the context from which Hobson ripped Dawkins’s views (it’s a long pull quote but I want you to see the violence Hobson did to those views):
The OUT campaign has potentially as many sides to it as you can think of words to precede “out”. “Come OUT” has pride of place and is the one I have so far dealt with. Related to it is “Reach OUT” in friendship and solidarity towards those who have come out, or who are contemplating that step which, depending on their family or home town prejudices, may require courage. Join, or found local support groups and on-line forums. Speak OUT, to show waverers they are not alone. Organize conferences or campus events. Attend rallies and marches. Write letters to the local newspaper. Lobby politicians, at local and national level. The more people come out and are known to have done so, the easier will it be for others to follow.
Stand OUT and organize activities and events in your local area. Join an existing local neighbourhood atheist organization, or start one. Put a bumper sticker on your car. Wear a T-shirt. Wear Josh’s red A if you like it as much as I do, otherwise design your own or find one on a website such as http://www.cafepress.com/buy/atheist; or wear no shirt at all, but please don’t carp at the very idea of standing up to be counted with other atheists. I admit, I sympathize with those sceptics on this site who fear that we are engendering a quasi-religious conformity of our own. Whether we like it or not, I’m afraid we have to swallow this small amount of pride if we are to have an influence on the real world, otherwise we’ll never overcome the ‘herding cats’ problem. If in doubt, read PZ Myers’s exuberant hortation at http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/07/come_out.php.
“Keep” OUT worried me at first, because it sounds unfriendly and exclusive, like the Barcelona Travel Agent whose travel poster, in well-meant English, read “Go Away!” “Keep OUT” here means, of course, keep religion out of science classes, and similar expressions of the US constitutional separation between church and state (Britain has no such separation, unfortunately). As yet another delightful T-shirt put it, “Don’t pray in our school, and I won’t think in your church.” Lobby your local school board. Quote Christopher Hitchens: “Mr Jefferson, build up that wall.”
Chill OUT (exhort others to do so). Atheists are not devils with horns and a tail, they are ordinary nice people. Demonstrate this by example. The nice woman next door may be an atheist. So may the doctor, librarian, computer operator, taxi driver, hairdresser, talk show host, singer, conductor, comedian. Atheists are just people with a different interpretation of cosmic origins, nothing to be alarmed about.
What other OUTs might we imagine? Well, suggest your own. Vote OUT representatives who discriminate against the non-religious, the way George Bush Senior is alleged to have done when he described atheists as non-citizens of a nation “under God”. Politicians follow where the votes are. They can only count atheists who are OUT. Some atheists are defeatist in thinking we’ll never be effective simply because we’re not a majority. But it doesn’t matter that we’re not a majority. To be effective, all we have to be is recognizable to legislators as a big enough minority. Atheists are more numerous than religious Jews, yet they wield a tiny fraction of the political power, apparently because they have never got their act together in the way the Jewish lobby so brilliantly has: the famous ‘herding cats’ problem again. And the argument applies not just to politicians but to advertisers, the media, merchants across the board. Anyone who wants to sell us anything caters to demographics. We need to stand up and be counted, so that the demographically savvy culture will come to reflect our tastes and our views. That in turn makes it easier for the next generation of atheists. Fill OUT ‘Atheist’ on any form that asks for your personal details, especially the next census form. (Richard Dawkins, The Out Campaign, my emphasis)
Dawkins expressed these same views in the interview from which Hobson quotes. It’s obvious Dawkins is referring to the Israel lobby, although blurring the distinction between Jewish interests and Israeli interests has been a deliberate, conscious and successful tactic of the Israel lobby since the outset. But covert accusation of anti-Semitism, even when veiled, is still a potent rhetorical device, and Hobson doesn’t hesitate. In this regard he is the same kind of bottom feeder as AIPAC and he freely borrows their weapons.
Then there’s this:
I have been chided in the past for referring to the “militant” atheism of Dawkins and his like. But the desire for one’s creed to spread, in order to make the world a better place, surely merits the label. Atheists reply that there is nothing dangerous or sinister in the desire to see more rationality, less superstition. Really? Dawkins was asked what he hoped an atheist bloc in the US might achieve, and this is the first part of the answer he gave: “I would free children of being indoctrinated with the religion of their parents or their community.” Is this not amazing? I have seldom read a sentence that has induced such a sharp shiver of revulsion. This man evidently dreams of a state in which it is illegal to take one’s children to a place of worship, or to say prayers with them as one puts them to bed. (Theo Hobson)
The last part, of course, is nothing short of a lie. That a religious zealot like Hobson would have a high tolerance for untruthfulness is not surprising, as promoting falsehoods is their stock in trade. But for the record, Dawkins has unequivocally denied he is in favor of the legal sanctions or coercions Hobson claims he promotes. Austin Cline also highlights the first part, just as outrageous:
Anyone who would claim that simply wanting a viewpoint to spread in order to improve things “surely merits” the label “militant” has passed far outside the boundaries of reasonable discourse or any sort of thinking that is restricted by basic logic. (Austin Cline)
Who the hell is Theo Hobson? Wikipedia describes him as some sort of maverick Protestant theologian (“post-Anglican”):
His principal interests are the relationship between Protestant Christianity and secularism, which he believes is more positive than is generally understood; the relationship between theology and literature; and the post-ecclesial renewal of worship. He thinks that large-scale carnival-style celebration must replace church worship. (Wikipedia)
I’ll give him this much: Anyone who wants to replace a church service with a bacchanalia can’t be all bad.