Second, the day after the discussion, Hemant put up a rather frustrating post on his blog. Quick context: during the show, Hemant made clear that when he complains about angry atheists, he isn't attacking Richard Dawkins. Now, the linked story was titled Area Atheists put a friendly face on their convictions, but don't avoid debate or confrontation. The article tries to set up a split between well-known figures such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and the lesser-known locals who are the focus of the story:
...while they may hail Harris and company as sorely needed opposing voices in a world beset by the fallout of religious fanaticism, many atheists eschew verbal assaults and online gimmickry, saying they are far more interested in illuminating the nonbeliever's view than casting aspersions on faith.The story engages in some obvious silliness: The headline is actually a perfect description of Dawkins: he is confrontational while maintaining an almost stereotypical charming-Oxford-professor demeanor (see the picture I posted of Dawkins). Similarly, one of the atheists quoted in the article says, "There is still a social taboo against discussing our honest opinions on religion, and that is a shame," and "Justifying anything on faith is absurd, and allows everything and anything to be believed without being grounded in reason and fact." That could serve as a decent summary of Sam Harris' The End of Faith.
If Hemant had simply linked to the article as "look, coverage of local atheists," I'd have no objection. But here's how he described it: "an article about the not-so-angry atheists... You don’t see pieces that focus on the up-side to non-religiosity very much, so savor this one." All this implies Hemant endorses the silly dichotomy found in the article, even though he'd deny it when asked explicitly.
This rather reminds me of the Greg Epstein controversy, where Epstein kept calling Dawkins et. al. "fundamentalist atheists" even though he conceded the label was inaccurate. When that happened, Hemant had no trouble seeing Epstein's remarks were problematic. In both cases, what makes them frustrating is not a refusal to get the basic point, but an insistence on continuing to score own-goals anyway. Listen to me, Hemant: even if you don't mean to, the way you keep using the phrase "angry atheist" plays into the hands of those who would banish honest discussion of religion from the public square. You know, the sort of people who will call even you, the Friendly Atheist, a punk and an asshole because you don't believe in God. If you want to criticize specific behavior on the part of atheists (as opposed to vague generalities involving some unnamed atheists out there... somewhere), go ahead, but drop the "angry atheist" rhetoric. Please.
In other news, Skatje Myers is telling the ScienceBloggers to "Quit being such drama queens". Maybe applicable here... to what side, who knows.
Technorati tags: atheism, religion, fundamentalism, Hemant Mehta, eBay atheist