Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

“All we’re doing is speaking very frankly and bluntly…”

Mon 4 April 2011, 3:54pm

In The Guardian Decca Aitkenhead interviews the rational thinking AC Grayling on the publication of his latest book – “The Good Book: A Secular Bible“.  And he has this to say on atheists, and criticism from supernaturalists.  From the Guardian interview

Atheists, according to Grayling, divide into three broad categories. There are those for whom this secular objection to the privileged status of religion in public life is the driving force of their concern. Then there are those, “like my chum Richard Dawkins”, who are principally concerned with the metaphysical question of God’s existence. “And I would certainly say there is an intrinsic problem about belief in falsehood.” In other words, even if a person’s faith did no harm to anybody, Grayling still wouldn’t like it. “But the third point is about our ethics – how we live, how we treat one another, what the good life is. And that’s the question that really concerns me the most.”

It’s only in the past decade that these three strands of thought have developed into a public campaign against faith – but it wasn’t the atheists, according to Grayling, who provoked the confrontation. “The reason why it’s become a big issue is that religions have turned the volume up, because they’re on the back foot. The hold of religion is weakening, definitely, and diminishing in numbers. The reason why there’s such a furore about it is that the cornered animal, the loser, starts making a big noise.”

Even if this is true, however, the atheist movement has been accused of shooting itself in the foot by adopting a tone so militant as to alienate potential supporters, and fortify the religious lobby. I ask Grayling if he thinks there is any truth in the charge, and he listens patiently and politely to the question, but then dismisses it with a shake of the head.

“Well, firstly, I think the charges of militancy and fundamentalism of course come from our opponents, the theists. My rejoinder is to say when the boot was on their foot they burned us at the stake. All we’re doing is speaking very frankly and bluntly and they don’t like it,” he laughs. “So we speak frankly and bluntly, and the respect agenda is now gone, they can no longer float behind the diaphanous veil – ‘Ooh, I have faith so you mustn’t offend me’. So they don’t like the blunt talking. But we’re not burning them at the stake. They’ve got to remember that when it was the other way around it was a much more serious matter.

“And besides, really,” he adds with a withering little laugh, “how can you be a militant atheist? How can you be militant non-stamp collector? This is really what it comes down to. You just don’t collect stamps. So how can you be a fundamentalist non-stamp collector? It’s like sleeping furiously. It’s just wrong.”

Heh.

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Comments (18)

  1. Henry94 (profile) says:

    How can you be militant non-stamp collector?

    I suppose by claiming that stamp-collecting was responsible for all the wars in history and demanding that stamp-collectors uniquely among the citizens of the state should have no input into public policy.

    My rejoinder is to say when the boot was on their foot they burned us at the stake.

    He’s looking well for a fellow who was burned at the stake. We have had atheist states and their murders and suppression of the religious are a matter of documented fact.

    The mistake atheists often make is to ascribe to religions characteristics that are simply human. It is power that causes oppression and there is neither evidence nor reason to believe that atheists are any different on that score.

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  2. The Word (profile) black spot says:

    “The hold of religion is weakening, definitely, and diminishing in numbers. The reason why there’s such a furore about it is that the cornered animal, the loser, starts making a big noise.”

    “how can you be a militant atheist?”

    It’s time to run for the hills when atheists start talking about the believers as losers while forgeting that the act of true atheism is expressed, and has been throughout history, in war. To answer his question, they’re all militant atheists where war is justified “as the only option”, the last option, the option of last resort.

    True belief is an expression of happiness while the atheist simply expresses his availability to prop up the enemies of “whatever” in his somtimes profound unhappiness.

    The believer can never be the loser if in its very essence his religion is in fact an evaluation of his happiness. The unbeliever on the other hand is simply expressing a loss of any wholesome attachment to happiness.

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  3. HeinzGuderian (profile) says:

    My rejoinder to that would be,and is……………….

    People who believe absurdities,commit atrocities !!

    On that score,religious fanatics are unequalled !!

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  4. HeinzGuderian (profile) says:

    word…………..my happiness is unsurpassed,at the reading of so much……….err,ermm,ooh………….ballix !!! ;-)

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  5. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Guys

    Keep it civil, and preferably rational.

    Henry

    That doesn’t include inventing, or implying, statements by your opponents for you then to argue against. Nor does it include the use of sophistry.

    “It is power that causes oppression…”

    No. That would be the abuse of power.

    And when the holding of such power is justified by reference to the supernatural…

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  6. HeinzGuderian (profile) says:

    Rational ? Belief in an invisible Sky Daddy ? Hmmmm………

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  7. Henry94 (profile) says:

    HG

    People who believe absurdities,commit atrocities !!

    On that score,religious fanatics are unequalled !!

    They are surpassed by the Marxist-Leninists who were all atheists.

    No. That would be the abuse of power.

    Pedantic.

    And when the holding of such power is justified by reference to the supernatural…

    Wrong. The justification can be anything. For the Irish famine it was an economic orthodoxy. For the Communists it was class war. For the Nazis it was race. The case against religion is really the case against human nature. That’s not sophistry. You can participate in the debate or you can moderate it. To do both leads to abuse of even the tiny bit of power you have. Proves my point.

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  8. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Henry

    The case against religion is that it’s a supernatural belief system.

    And as a reminder of part of what’s actually been said in the original post, and the linked article

    Atheists, according to Grayling, divide into three broad categories. There are those for whom this secular objection to the privileged status of religion in public life is the driving force of their concern. Then there are those, “like my chum Richard Dawkins”, who are principally concerned with the metaphysical question of God’s existence. “And I would certainly say there is an intrinsic problem about belief in falsehood.” In other words, even if a person’s faith did no harm to anybody, Grayling still wouldn’t like it. “But the third point is about our ethics – how we live, how we treat one another, what the good life is. And that’s the question that really concerns me the most.”

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  9. Henry94 (profile) says:

    Pete

    The case against religion is that it’s a supernatural belief system.

    I’m not worried about the case against religion. I worry about the case against religious people, “the cornered animal the loser.” That kind of talk is not reasonable. Nor is it fair to ignore the atrocities carried out against the religious in atheist states. If a religious person today is to be held responsible for past atrocities,

    My rejoinder is to say when the boot was on their foot they burned us at the stake.

    then atheists today can be held liable for the murders of Stalin and Mao who carried out their foul deeds in the name of rationality and human progress.

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  10. andnowwhat (profile) black spot says:

    Pete

    The case against religion is that it’s a supernatural belief system.

    I’m not worried about the case against religion. I worry about the case against religious people, “the cornered animal the loser.” That kind of talk is not reasonable. Nor is it fair to ignore the atrocities carried out against the religious in atheist states. If a religious person today is to be held responsible for past atrocities,

    My rejoinder is to say when the boot was on their foot they burned us at the stake.

    then atheists today can be held liable for the murders of Stalin and Mao who carried out their foul deeds in the name of rationality and human progress.

    Henry

    A very obvious current example would be the antics of the Chinese in Tibet.

    I think there is no issue with athiests puyying their ideas out there I do not see any reason why they constantly attack the religious though. They also seem to think that religious people bu everything in their faith. Obviously this is true in the extremes that steal the headlines (so called Islamists, Westboro church, our own local breed of young earthers) but Dawkins and co seem to think that every single person of faith is ignorant, unthinking fools. Lumping all believers in to that one bracket is just as ignorant as the fundamentalists they and most believers despise.

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  11. The Word (profile) black spot says:

    Religious in

    public life – I think there’ll be much more of that to come.

    Dawkins – how many Churches have they built in his name? Clearly an unhappy man, who looks at history and blames the absence of God when God is validating the good and eliminating the evil all the time. There are rules being followed. A true believer feels those rules are being obeyed by his assertion of faith.

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  12. Driftwood (profile) black spot says:

    Dawkins – how many Churches have they built in his name?

    Did you actually read that before posting? Oh well..

    http://www.venganza.org/

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  13. Zig70 (profile) says:

    Childish arguments from Grayling. Easy to be a militant atheist, there are a few about here, just denouce anyone of faith as daft. Driftwood, brill link, I’m converting to pastafarian. I have to be strong and not share it with the kids, the wife would flip.

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  14. Driftwood (profile) black spot says:

    Zig
    May you be touched by his noodly appendage.

    I’m sticking with the atheist reasoning, of the Sam Harris variety
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Harris_(author)

    And of course PZ is good for humour on the Pharyngula
    blog.

    Whatever floats your boat. I still find the idea that churchmen, especially Bishops and Cardinals and so forth should be consulted for their views on politics here etc very medieval.
    Any atheist MLA’s, you get my vote.

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  15. HeinzGuderian (profile) says:

    Anyone who believes in a supernatural,Sky Daddy,despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary,must have their credibility called into question,surely ??

    I mean to say……….70% of the planets surface is covered in water !! The vast majority of the land mass is totally uninhabitable for humans !! Not to mention those pesky Tectonic Plates,shifting about.

    Some call that Intelligent Design…………I know not whether to laugh or cry……;-)

    As for the charges against Stalin and Mao…………Stalin trained to be a priest ( that figures ) . Did Mao go around murdering people in their Millions because they believed in some mystical Sky Daddy ??

    Religion is the scourge of humanity . I joyfully await its demise !!!

    ;-)

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  16. Driftwood (profile) black spot says:

    Heinz
    Leave them their comfort blanket.
    You wouldn’t take a dummy from a child. It’s an altruistic thing among us apes.

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  17. Shuggy (profile) says:

    So how can you be a fundamentalist non-stamp collector?

    By insisting that others should become replicas of your non-stamp-collecting self. I don’t know enough about AC Grayling to say if he’s one of these but as has been pointed out above, there have been movements and states that have taken precisely this position. Mr Grayling could perhaps address this in his arguments but I guess he’s too busy being ‘withering’.

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  18. Zachariah Tiffins Foot (profile) says:

    I find the atheist lobby a complete turnoff. They all seem so angry and arrogant and disappointingly quickly move to insult as a main plank of their arguments.

    Interesting that Sam Harris has been referenced. A guy noted for his defence of Israel, a state built on biblical imperatives that the land was allotted to the Jews by God. Harris could be the subject of a rewrite of that old NI joke: are you an atheist atheist or a Jewish atheist?

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