Sunday, March 9, 2008

Bad Faith and Community

John Wilkins of the Evolving Thoughts blog attended one of Richard Dawkins' recent speaking engagements and didn't like what he saw. There's nothing too shocking or original in Wilkins' criticisms, but PZ Myers has issued a worthwhile rebuttal to one line of argument:

I think the New Atheism is trying to adopt some of the ordinary and worthy human impulses that have been hijacked by religion for so long. To name one specifically, community ... [W]hen secular people with purely secular motives engage in community building, normally rational people gasp in horror, point, and shriek, "He's creating a cult!" It's an attitude the religious love to encourage, because it can be used to short-circuit any competition ... [emphasis in the original]
Community is a good thing, and you get precisely that impression when atheists are criticized for discounting or undermining the communitarian effects of religion. But then when atheists like Richard Dawkins' respond to that criticism by trying to forge an alternate community -- which, like it or not, cannot be done without defining in-groups and out-groups -- they're criticized for that. This is called a catch-22, and it also answers to the label of bad faith. It exposes that the criticism isn't really about community, but about the value the critic places in his particular community. It's sheer parochialism.

Community is a good thing when it is centered on good values, and ultimately a bad thing when it revolves around destruction, ignorance, and fear. Nonbelievers should continue building positive communities of people who love learning and life, prioritize human rights and freedoms, find boundless awe in the natural world, and insist on skepticism toward dogmas and authorities. We can be sure of being called names while doing so -- that we're making a new religion or ginning up new gods or spawning cults -- but this is nonsense, or at best, petty word games.

1 comment:

John Wilkins said...

We're already in a community: the regional population, the nation, and the secular society, and nobody wants to prevent associations of likeminded folk within it. What I rejected, as neither you nor PZ noted, is the fact that we are seeing Dawkins trying to form a community by making believers out to be less than worthy people, as irrational. That's bullshit, and I call it.