Oh, no. I spent a long day traveling, getting my daughter to the airport in Minneapolis so she could fly off to Phoenix for 10 weeks of research (she has arrived, and seems a bit shocked to be in a desert), and then I drove all the way back. I sit down to see what has happened in the world, and discover that Charlotte Allen hates me. She doesn’t like you much, either. And she got her little tirade published in the LA Times. Let’s take a look and see what she doesn’t like about us.
Her opening is clear. She thinks we’re “crashing bores”. A hint for Ms. Allen: never start an essay by declaring your subject to be boring. Either your readers will stop at that point, or they’ll read on and discover that despite your claim, you seem to be concerned enough to write on at excessive length about something that is supposedly boring.
Second paragraph: she says something about Eagleton. I read Eagleton’s book, and didn’t recognize her summation (Dawkins and Hitchens indulged in “a philosophically primitive opposition of faith and reason that assumes that if science can’t prove something, it doesn’t exist”), either from the Eagleton book or from the statements of either Hitchens or Dawkins. This line of argument doesn’t last beyond one paragraph, however — perhaps because there is no way she can defend it — and she quickly drops any pretense of wanting to engage a substantive argument. Instead, she tells us more specifically why we’re boring.
My problem with atheists is their tiresome — and way old — insistence that they are being oppressed and their fixation with the fine points of Christianity. What — did their Sunday school teachers flog their behinds with a Bible when they were kids?
Well, personally, I don’t feel that I’m opressed. I’ve pointed out before that it’s awfully easy for an atheist to just keep his or her mouth shut and pass for a believer. My usual theme instead is to show what a botch theists have made of the country, and how hypocritical they are, and how absurd their beliefs are. But otherwise, yes, we do have de facto discrimination against the godless in America; we have some blatant examples, and of course there is the obvious fact that one must be a professing believer to get elected to office in most places in this country. All Allen musters against this evidence is the claim that atheists are a tiny minority (which makes it all right to discriminate, I guess?), and there are only six states with anti-atheist clauses in their constitutions. Logic…not her strong suit.
As for the claim that we’re fixated on the “fine points of Christianity”, I don’t think so. Atheists are more concerned with the basics: where is the evidence for a god, any god? Some of us are a bit fascinated with the Christian obsession with the details of ritual and dogma in the absence of any reason to accept their core beliefs, but that’s not our weird fixation, Ms. Allen — it’s yours.
Then there is an incoherent middle where she just flames on about how mean atheists are (I call them all horrible names, you see), never seeming to notice that all she is doing is spouting angry vitriol about atheists. Gripe, gripe, gripe. The only time she even tries to state what the position of theists might be is in her closing paragraph, and again, she’s oblivious to the problem with her position.
What atheists don’t seem to realize is that even for believers, faith is never easy in this world of injustice, pain and delusion. Even for believers, God exists just beyond the scrim of the senses. So, atheists, how about losing the tired sarcasm and boring self-pity and engaging believers seriously?
Yes? We know you work hard to maintain a belief in a loving, personal god in the absence of evidence and the existence of facts that contradict you. We agree with you that it is remarkably unlikely and difficult to understand. We also agree that the existence of god is something you can’t sense — we can’t sense it either. Whenever we engage you seriously this is the same stuff we get, over and over again: we’re just supposed to believe in the absence of your ability to explain why we should.
There simply isn’t anything to engage in Allen’s howl of outrage. I’m a little surprised that something so shallow and empty could get published in the LA Times at all, especially with Charlotte Allen’s track record. My only previous encounter with her was an astonishing rant in the Washington Post, in which she flatly claimed that women were dumber than men. Seriously. While claiming there was no difference in average intelligence.
It should be impossible to take this raving crazy loon seriously, but somehow she’s getting published in major newspapers. That’s the real mystery.