28 February 2011

Further thoughts on ‘nasty’ atheists

First off, I’d like to thank Ophelia Benson and Russell Blackford for their kind promotion of my previous post. It was a very pleasant surprise. Thanks to them, this sleepy backwater of a blog got inundated with visitor numbers of several orders of magnitude greater than usual. I’ve been following Ophelia and Russell (wow, first name basis!) on their respective blogs for some time now, and it is an honour to be recognized by two intelligent, articulate and passionate public champions of reason, truth and freedom.

To my new readers, thank you for your attention and comments. I’m a rather sporadic writer, and not much of a micro-blogger (I prefer to post meaty stuff of around 300+ words). But I’ll do my best to make sure that the stuff I do post is worth your time and intellectual engagement. So please do check in every now and then.

Now on with a small extension to my last essay.

In fairness to the critics of supposed New Atheist incivility, not all of them are actually telling Gnus to STFU. And we have to acknowledge that one fundamental reason behind the call for restraint and politeness is that the ‘nice’ atheists are concerned about the negative consequences of incivility; that is, consequences that harm the cause of atheism/humanism/rationalism. On a basic level, ‘nice’ and ‘nasty’ atheists share a common goal: the promotion of atheist/humanist/rationalist values. The ‘nice’ atheists simply have a more pessimistic view of the idea that this goal can be achieved through blunt rhetoric and unsparing criticism. The Gnus, obviously, do not share this doubt.

What is unfair though is the perceptible imbalance in who lectures who on ‘best practices’. I’m prepared to be corrected on this, but it seems to me that while there’s quite a number of ‘nice’ atheists scolding Gnus for taking things too far in their criticism of religion, there’s a paucity of Gnus berating the ‘nice’ atheists for not getting mad enough. There’s a ‘Don’t be a dick’ camp, but no comparable ‘Don’t be a wuss’ camp. It’s usually the DBAD people who fire the first shots at Gnus over their ‘uncivil’ criticism of religion (not DBADness), and the Gnus then indignantly respond to this salvo.

I’d like to think that religion is a complicated enough disease to require various approaches in treatment. The ‘nice’ atheists can continue with their softly-softly methods (which, let’s admit it, aren’t exactly ineffective) while those with a bit more fire in their belly can act as the shock troops of the movement.

So on behalf of the Gnus, I extend an olive branch to the ‘nice’ atheists on these terms: you stop calling us dicks, and we’ll stop secretly thinking what a bunch of lily-livered, conflict-averse surrender monkeys you all are.




  1. Blame Russell for my wandering over here.

    Now, "lily-livered, conflict-averse surrender monkeys" has made my day. *grins*

  2. That was written with tongue firmly in cheek. I hope the civility police allow the use of humour.