Matt and Revere are already battling over two topics that always seem to provide a good show for spectators and participants in the blogosphere:
Framing and Atheism
Read their posts for full disclosure, but to recap:
* Dawkins et al. have generated more discussion of atheism and critiques of religion, but is the this particular brand of discussion productive? Not only is it polarizing, but it lacks a positive message about alternative values and forms of community that could replace religion.
* The ‘Dawkins et al. phenomenon’ is very much a product of the Freak Show of modern media.
* News attention gravitates to the most polarizing and extreme of views. Thus, the actual discussion that ensues distracts from and actually harms the ability of secularists to work together with others in society to solve pressing collective problems.
* Responsibility is on Dawkins for how the message is translated and used because it ‘feeds the media beast. This might mobilize the base, but it risks alienating the middle.’
* Doesn’t disagree that the PR campaign provides ‘emotional sustenance and talking points for many atheists.’
* The writings of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, PZ etc, have opened a wide forum talk about belief and non-belief in ways not possible before.
* Religious delusions are harmful delusions.
* Many people don’t believe or disbelieve and phrase things in religious terms as a social default without alternative models.
I see a lot of gray here and there are certainly merits to both arguments. Matt points out that we can talk about atheism in a way that is not polarizing or balkanizing, but in the Dawkins case, the media has provided an ugly portrayal of conflicting soundbites and personalities. Exactly Matt.
Revere’s also correct that the new wave of prolific atheist writers has opened the discussion and provided needed exposure of alternative beliefs and ideas. He calls religious delusions harmful and indeed (dare I mention again), any breed of fundamentalism has the capacity to become dangerous when used as justification for hate, murder, war, and all sort of atrocities. Revere’s onto something here.
You see, these seemingly opposing viewpoints are not necessarily mutually exclusive in many areas, although I suggest there is one weakness in Revere’s reasoning when he touches on atheist literature:
the power of these books comes from the fact that they awaken latent recognition by a huge population of readers who had otherwise thought of themselves as believers but only by default, because they saw no one of any stature or legitimacy brave enough to say what had more or less subconsciously occurred to them so many times as a result of personal experience.
Now I don’t have the data to back this up, but I trust that people are more clever on an individual basis than we give them credit for, so I don’t buy the argument that scores have ‘thought of themselves as believers by default?’ Are we really that sheepish a society? I just don’t think these books provide folks reason to notice they were atheists all along without a shepherd. Wouldn’t that liken PZ to Abraham? Or dare I say it, Jesus?
Pharyngula himself would be amused at such a comparison… well actually, who can predict the musings of PZ? In any case, my opinion on any of this is really of little consequence. (why do I have the nagging feeling someone will quote that in the comments?) But neither is Matt’s or Revere’s or PZ Myers’ for that matter. What’s important is that you turn these ideas on their head by continuing to think independently and critically. Yep. You.
So read everything you can that interests you. Be no one’s flock. Politically, religiously, socially, and so on. Pollice verso?