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A Conspicuously Quiet Foghorn April 6, 2009

Posted by Frank Snow in Atheism and Religion.
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I’ve been noticing an irritating trend lately.  It concerns the appearance of a not inconsiderable number of pearl-clutchingly dismissive articles laying into the perceived horrors of the “New Atheism” and why it’s a waste of time/morally wrong/will bring society to collapse/oh god won’t somebody please think of the children.

A good example of this from Madeleine Bunting appeared today: Real debates about faith are drowned by the New Atheists’ foghorn voices.

It begins with a rather choice comment, which bemoans the imminent collapse of British Christianity and then speculates:

One can only presume that the New Atheists are organising a fabulous party to celebrate. Richard Dawkins could stump up for the crates of champagne out of his sumptuous royalties from The God Delusion.

I’m getting really fucking sick of this.  This article comes at the end of a long line of comment, all of which basically comes together to say that these people are deeply unsettled by the idea that atheists have managed to carve out some space in the public discourse, and actually have a voice these days.  This is because the “New Atheists” are horrible brutes who always say mean things, holler at us from the sides of buses, and generally ruin everything by having an opinion and daring to express it.

After reading the article, I found myself imagining Madeleine Bunting as a person who never really goes out much these days, just sits in her living room, playing with finger puppets and howling with indignation when one of them says something nasty about religion.

I am particularly annoyed because it is this kind of straw-man building that is used to argue against a coherent atheist voice.  Accusations such as “shrill” and “strident” are thrown around, and the mysterious and sinister cabal of “New Atheists” are said to have “foghorn voices”.

This is a particularly irritating and absurd claim that goes a long way to demonstrating Bunting’s prejudices on the matter.  Atheists do not have “foghorn voices”.  Religious discussion still dominates in the public discourse, with religious authorities and “community leaders” being consulted on all manner of topics, sometimes regardless of whether or not they are actually qualified to comment.  Atheism has a comparatively smaller voice, and yet, whenever an atheist speaks out over something or dares to write a book suggesting that gods might not be real after all, suddenly they’re horrible jerks.

It is a particularly distasteful equivocation because it equates “having a voice that can be heard” with “having an overbearing, dominant voice that serves only to spew bile over the faithful”, the result of which seems to be the implication that atheists should not have this voice because people of apparently extremely delicate sensibilities will be upset.

I have no time for that.

There is almost certainly no god.  That is how I feel on the matter.  And I will not allow anyone to try to silence me by trying to claim that by saying it in a clear voice that I am indulging in some kind of contemptuous certainty that blasts its opinions shrilly into the night.

I will put up with claims that I am amoral, missing out on true happiness, or lacking in a way of discovering wonder and beauty in the universe, because I know that those claims are wrong.  What I will not put up with is an attempt to silence me or others like me by indulging in this straw-man denunciation of the “New Atheists”.  They are a spectre, a monster under the bed that has been created to frighten people into believing that atheists are strident bullies, and it ought to be put to rest.

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