Conservative Commentary
"the blogger whose youthful effusions have won him bookmarks all over Whitehall ... horribly compelling" - The Guardian
Great Weblogs
The Enemy Within

Most recent posts ...

Wednesday, January 21, 2004
Any other bright ideas?

One benefit of Tom Watson's not-quite-unprovoked vendetta against Richard Dawkins is that it is producing some rather interesting links to controversies that involve the Oxford scientist. Yesterday, it was to a piece examining critically Dawkins' campaign to relabel atheists 'brights'. This campaign has come under some fire for its rather obvious implication that by laying claim to the 'bright' adjective these athiests look down on everyone else. It has to be said that their pleas of innocence - "Snotty? Condescending?! Us?!" - are not particularly convincing given this suggested exchange from Richard Dawkins in his Guardian column launching the idea:

"You mean a bright is an atheist?"

"Well, some brights are happy to call themselves atheists. Some brights call themselves agnostics. Some call themselves humanists, some free thinkers. But all brights have a world view that is free of supernaturalism and mysticism."

"Oh, I get it. It's a bit like 'gay'. So, what's the opposite of a bright? What would you call a religious person?"

"What would you suggest?"

Of course, even though we brights will scrupulously insist that our word is a noun, if it catches on it is likely to follow gay and eventually re-emerge as a new adjective. And when that happens, who knows, we may finally get a bright president.

An open and shut case, one would have thought, but the above isn't mentioned in the criticisms.

Anyway, I think one has to feel a little sympathy for organised athiests, for they have a tougher cause than most to promote. Atheism is by definition a negative, a denial, not an affirmation. Save for disagreement with theism, athiesm has no necessary doctrines nor claims of its own to make. Absolutely nothing else can unite all atheists beyond this one coincidence of their not believing in God, so it's inevitable that the only real way their lobbyists have of making their presence known is by being obnoxious to religious people. So they talk endlessly about the religious having an imaginary friend in the sky, they rewrite history to blame religious faith for just about every war, and they compare Creationists to the Taliban. In Britain, as Giles Fraser has noted, they have little choice but to follow religious groups around, absurdly demanding their time on patently religious programmes like Thought for the Day and complaining vociferously about pre-debate prayers in the House of Commons. In the US, their snarling agents in groups like the ACLU persecute ruthlessly anyone who would not confine religion entirely to the private sphere, from the fireman who says "God Bless" on duty to the schoolgirl who wears to class a red and green scarf at Christmas time.

What choice do the political atheists have? The only distinguishing feature of their movement is disagreement with others. You can't campaign on that without including plenty of negative stuff about your opponents. So if atheism is a big part of your personality, and you feel the need to spread its message, it's near-impossible to do it without acting like a jerk.

Great Sites
Tory Party
Reading ...