Are “militant atheists” the new camp homosexuals?

Richard Dawkins

Before I go any further I want to be clear what I am and am not comparing with this analogy. What I’m comparing is the role ‘new atheists’ are playing in creating a cultural space for other atheists to openly operate in. What I’m not doing is trying to equate the discrimination & prejudice faced by atheists with that homosexuals face, so far as I can tell homosexuals not only face significantly more prejudice but for obvious reasons homosexuals who feel the need to remain closeted pay a much higher price in terms of unfulfilled lives than atheists do.

Now I’ve clarified what I’m definitely not trying to say I’ll move onto the point I am trying to make. Camp icons such as Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey rose to prominence in the decades before the initial partial liberalisation of the law on homosexuality in 1967. John Inman and Larry Grayson found fame post 67 but in a time when homosexuals were still subject to much legal discrimination and informal prejudice.

Such camp stars, even when not openly gay, played a significant role in humanising and normalising homosexuals for millions of people who didn’t know any ‘out’ homosexuals. In the process of doing so they outraged and offended many, often simply by being somewhat open about their sexualty. Aside from the expected bigots, they also offended some homosexuals who argued that they reinforced harmful gay stereotypes. That may well to some extent be true but it’s difficult to see how without such wildly popular, primetime stars taboos surrounding positive, or at least neutral, portrayals of homosexuals could have been broken.

Camp figures such as Graham Norton, Julian Clary and Paul O’Grady are still very much a fixture on British TV but significantly so are numerous homosexual presenters who aren’t in the least bit camp, and characters on soaps and other shows who are not only not camp but who just happen to be gay, without the need being felt for it to be a major issue on the show.

It seems to me that in many ways trailblazing atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris have played and, the sadly departed Hitch aside, are still playing a similar role for atheism that icons of camp played for homosexuality. They’ve broken down taboos in the process, receiving lots of positive and negative reaction. They are habitually accused of being ‘strident’, ‘shrill’, ‘militant’, ‘extreme’ and even ‘totalitarian’. As with camp homosexuals some of this criticism comes from more understated atheists who accuse ‘new atheists’ of perpetuating and even generating negative stereotypes.

Alain de Botton with his Atheism 2.0 is perhaps a good example of this, he’s highly critical of Richard Dawkins yet doesn’t seem to acknowledge that his “Atheism 2.0” is attempting to occupy cultural space Dawkins, Hitchens and others worked so hard to open up.

My knowledge of ‘light entertainment’ in the US is minimal so other than Liberace I’m not aware of any camp figures who may have played an equivalent role to that of Williams and Inman here so I don’t know if this aspect of the analogy works. However such is the prejudice against atheists in much of the US that in many ways the equivalence with homosexuality is stronger, the Out Campaign is an explicit recognition by atheists of this.

Unduly critical of new atheists as I think they are, I regard the likes of de Botton’s Atheism 2.0 as a generally good thing. Just as most homosexuals aren’t camp and may even dislike camp there’s no reason to think all atheists should be happy with the new ntheists’ joyous rejection of religion and upfront opposition to it. Plenty of atheists seem to rather mourn their realisation that there’s no good reason to believe in god/s, they still like their myths and find meaning and comfort in them even though they now recognize them to be myths.  I just wish Atheism 2.0ers would ease up on the criticism of camp/new atheists a little and give them a little appreciation for all the hard work they’ve done and all the increasingly desperate personal attacks they’ve weathered.


Adventures in Catholic Morality #1 Communism and Fascism

Adventure in Catholic Morality #1 Communism and Fascism

A pro-censorship Muslim inadvertently makes the case for Free Speech

Reading the BBC article on the trouble at UCL caused by objections to a student society posting the excellent Jesus & Mo cartoons on their Facebook page I was struck by the way in which the spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association when speaking out in opposition to free speech managed to neatly summarise exactly why it’s so important:

“The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association is continuing with its protest against the image, saying it has wider implications.

Adam Walker, the association’s national spokesperson, said the two student groups had worked well together in the past and said the offence was unnecessary.

“The principle is more important than who is being attacked – this time it is Muslims and Christians but in the future it could be atheists themselves.

“There is no need to print these things other than to cause offence and history has told us that these things cause offence.”

He added: “I wouldn’t say we’re specifically pursuing UCL atheist society, it’s more about the broader principle.””

Mr Walker manages the impressive feat of being simultaneously completely wrong and wholly correct; the offence is entirely unnecessary and the principle is much more important than who is being “attacked”.

Clearly if Christians, Muslims, Atheists & everyone else is able to prohibit speech they merely find “offensive” then all speech will be banned as there’s nothing which doesn’t upset someone.

You’d hope that the Ahmadiyya Association at least would have some appreciation of this as Ahmadis  are regarded as a heretical sect by many Muslims and subject to persecution in many Muslims majority nations. It’s sad that despite this the Ahmadiyya Association seems to be opposing the secular liberal values which give them the freedom to practice their faith as they choose in the UK.

Jesus, Mo & the barmaid discuss freedom of expression

Do the atrocities of the Old Testament matter in the light of the New?

Whilst it doesn’t stop them rhapsodising about the beauty of their favourite psalms, praising the Ten Commandments, getting their children to colour in pictures of “the animals going in two by two”… many modern Christians seem (understandably) embarrassed by much of the OT, to the extent that sometimes when evangelising they give out copies of the NT alone.

When skeptics point to some bloodthirsty passage or other from the OT Christians are apt to say something along the lines of “Jesus changed all that, Jesus had a message of love”.

Such attempts to brush the OT under the carpet ignore the fact that Christians still claim that Jesus is the God of the OT only made flesh and in a better mood (albeit one in which he threatens people with eternal torture).

Jesus & other NT figures repeatedly refer to the OT:

Matthew 22:31-32 But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

The NT has Jesus reading from the OT to try and justify his claims about who and what he is:

Luke 4:16-21 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.

Jesus apparently believed in Adam and Eve and because of this disapproves of divorce:

Matthew 19:1-6 And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan; And great multitudes followed him; and he healed them there. The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Jesus believed the OT story of Jonah and the whale :

Matthew 12:39-40 But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

At times Jesus seems really rather certain that the OT should not be tossed aside:

Matthew 5:17-20  Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Luke 16:17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.

John 10:35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;

Of course on other occasions he and other NT figures completely contradict this.

Jesus and other NT figures even cite OT atrocities and threaten people with worse:

Luke 17:26-29 And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.

Hebrews 10:28-31 He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Even if the NT didn’t state that Jesus was quite at ease with the slaughter of every man woman and child on the earth save 8 individuals, the fact is that Christians claim that Jesus is the god of the OT who carried out and ordered so much cruelty.

The central doctrine of Christianity – Jesus’ sacrifice of himself to himself so that he could forgive and redeem us for Adam’s sin is based upon the OT , as is Jesus’ claimed status as messiah prophesied in the OT.

Pre-emptive Rebuttal

Some posts on this blog will take a sceptical look at the notion that the bible is the inspired word of an omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent god. They will look at a multitude of ways in which the bible contradicts both reality and itself and also how it’s actually a good thing that the bible is demonstrably false because it is a deeply immoral book.

Throughout this blog the words, actions and morality of characters in the bible will be discussed, much in the manner that you might discuss the words, actions and morality of characters in the Iliad without believing the Iliad to be anything but fiction.

Before we get started here’s a little pre-emptive rebuttal of objections Christians are likely to make in response to bible focused posts on this blog:

You’ve taken that out of context 

In what possible context would the verse/s in question are justified? I cite chapter and verse for the quotes I use so the full context can easily be found, should people want to see it.

People quote John 3:16 on it own all the time, do you accuse them of ‘taking it out of context’ when they do so?

This verse contradicts yours and is much nicer

Quite possibly, the bible is anything but consistent and contradicts itself all the time. This is just one of many reasons why it’s nonsensical to regard the bible as being in some way the work of a perfect super being.

Unfortunately the presence of contradictory nicer verses hasn’t stopped large numbers of sincere Jews and Christians over the millennia believing and acting upon the less pleasant passages in the bible.

How could an all knowing, loving and powerful god leave such unpleasant passages in his book when he must have known that some people would believe and act upon them?

Just think how many lives would have been spared if Exodus 22:18 “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”, for example had been left out of the bible.

That’s just the Old Testament, the New Testament makes it all better 

I haven’t just quoted from the OT (Old Testament). Sadly the bible’s misogyny, homophobia, bizarre ideas of justice… carry across both testaments.

But even if all the unpleasantness was entirely confined to the OT, not only do Jesus and other NT (New Testament) characters repeatedly refer, with approval, to monstrous events in the OT but according to Christianity Jesus is the god of the OT made flesh. As such Jesus is tainted by everything the god of the OT says and does.

Besides, whilst NT teachings on how to interact with other people are on the whole an improvement on those in the OT the overall morality of the NT is arguably worse as it is in the NT that the doctrine of eternal torture for thought crime (the failure to believe in the Christian god) is introduced. The god of the OT is a most unpleasant character but unlike Jesus at least Yahweh leaves people alone once he’s made them eat their own children then killed them.

The Sliding Scale of Militancy: Aims & Actions

As a skeptic I long ago grew used to people calling me ‘militant’, ‘extremist’ and so forth simply for expressing my doubts that astrology, homoeopathy… work or that god, ghosts… exist. The double standard by which skeptics are judged far more harshly than purveyors of woo in all its forms (though religion in particular) still vexes me though so I’ve drawn up some scales of “Militant Aims” and “Militant Actions” to highlight this double standard.

The Sliding Scale of Aims

The Sliding Scale Actions

If you actually look at both his aims and actions Richard Dawkins for example is extremely moderate in comparison to many of the theists who habitually accuse him of being a “shrill”, “militant” “extremist”. However he comes across as “militant” to many as he (quite rightly) treats religion as just another subject to be critiqued and openly discussed without the undue deference theists are so used to demanding and receiving.