Body Scanned. I got to find out what this was like on the way into the Statue of Liberty this past Sunday. People who feel "molested" and "violated" by this experience have some explaining to do. The only thing that's strange about it is the puffs of air they shoot at you before taking a "picture." I bet the number of people genuinely upset is exceeded by the number who get a cheap thrill from the idea of their body contours being seen by some hidden stranger.
Keith Richards, Junkie-Genius I'm most of the way through Keith Richards' hefty autobiography, and it's great. Beatles or Stones? Stones. There is tons of "musicology" in the book--you come out understanding what made the Rolling Stones sound like the Rolling Stones. Cool. The book is also a hugely detailed story of heroin addiction and recovery. Yawn. Why do I find that story line so uninteresting? I'm pondering--more on the book in my next TPM column.
Philosophers Without Gods So there I am at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square (NYC)...what a fantastic bookstore! I decide to have a look at the atheism shelf, and there's Philosophers without Gods, now in paperback. I glance at the blurbs on the back, and what do you know--there's a paragraph of my own review in Free Inquiry.
Taken as a group, these readable, personal, and provocative essays make it clear that there are many kinds of non-believers, and even many different elements that make up a single skeptical outlook. Contrary to the popular image, atheism isn’t all rebellious trumpets and defiant drums. That part of the orchestra is essential, but here we have all the varieties of unreligious experience, a full symphony of unbelief.I like (to be honest) rereading this review, because it reminds me of what I really think about "the new atheism." The trumpets and drums are essential, but the full symphony of unbelief needs other sounds. Oh right, now I remember...that's what I think! The review also explains why I am more a violin than a drum--because I am both an outsider and an insider to religion. As an insider, I see what's good about it (see below).
Not a new atheist, therefore an accommodationist? (Rubbish!) PWG is a great antidote to a very popular mistake--the mistake of thinking atheists who aren't new--who don't align with "the four horsemen"--must therefore be "accommodationists." The whole universe of atheists is thus divided into two groups. PWG makes it clear there are far more varieties of unbelief.
"Accommodationism" is a pejorative term for a pair of positions taken by Chris Mooney (and co-author Sheril Kirschenbaum) in the 2009 book Unscientific America. Half of accommodationism is a "compatibilist" position in the philosophy of science that says there's no contradiction between science and at least some of religion. Half of it is a "pragmatist" position that says if you want to promote science education, you should find allies where you can, ignoring disagreements about religion as much as possible.
Since the summer of 2009, new atheists in the blogosphere have increasingly lumped together all atheists who aren't "new" as accommodationists...as if Mooney's reasons were the only reasons a person could have for being not-new. But that's not at all true.
Personally, I am agnostic about the compatibility issue--I await enlightenment. As for strategy, yeah, I agree that that science education promoters should "lowlight" religious disagreements, but I don't stay up nights worrying about science education. My attitude about new atheism isn't primarily colored by those kinds of issues. The atheists in PWG are not all preoccupied with science vs. religion either. Those who are not-new are not necessarily adherents of Mooney-style accommodationism.
The good of religion It goes back to Keith Richards's book. Over and over again, he talks about the "elevation" he feels from making one out of many--one sound in a band with many members. This is a term also used by Jonathan Haidt, who references Barbara Ehrenreich's book about the lost art of dancing in the streets. We can't all be Keith Richards, but anyone can become a member of a church--and then the "band" is huge, crossing boundaries of both space and time.
But wait--why do you need a church for that? Why isn't there sufficient elevation in going to rock concerts or political rallies or baseball games? It's different, because a church (but not a stadium) is a place in which people deal with the passage of time (marked by holidays) and the major events of life--birth, marriage, illness, death. Contingently, though not of necessity, churches are in the time/birth/death business because they are places run by priests who have contact with the powers that supposedly govern such things.
The new atheist attitude is that the whole edifice of religion should come falling down because there aren't any gods. But then you'd lose all the good. As I see it: better for religion to evolve in a rational direction, not vanish entirely. That view is the main thing that makes me a not-new atheist, and it has nothing to do with "accommodationism" about science and religion.
Jingle Bells The holiday season is upon us.