21 September 2011

“It’s not the coolness of atheism. It’s the lameness of religion.”

Anglican archbishop Rowan Williams thinks that religion (i.e. Williams’s own Jesus-centric brand of it) is losing the popularity contest to atheism because godlessness is perceived to be ‘cool’. The presumably uncool archbishop opines:

I'm not avoiding the point that the coolness of atheism is very much in evidence. The problem is it's become a bit of a vicious circle. Atheism is cool, so books about atheism are cool.

They get a high profile, and books that say Richard Dawkins is wrong don't get the same kind of publicity because atheism is the new cool thing.

Why of course! Atheism is gaining traction because it’s, like, so trendy now to apply reason and critical thinking to fabulous claims. Asking for supporting evidence is avant-garde! Questioning superstitious, unfounded beliefs is so ‘in’ this season! After all, this fickle, juvenile, ephemeral atheism craze has only been around since the time of Socrates (who actually was one cool cat).

PZ Myers has a characteristically eloquent reply to Williams’s remarks:

[Williams is] making a very common error of perspective. I hate to break the news to all of you, but atheism is not cool. It’s not cool at all. It’s the domain of nerds and geeks and sciencey weirdos with beards and snarky women who are way smarter than the guys chasing them. We are not rock stars. We are not fabulously sexy (well, except for Brian Cox). We tend not to have loud movie star personalities (well, except for Neil deGrasse Tyson). Nothing personal, but if you put together a line-up of one of the Kardashians, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Daniel Radcliffe, and Richard Dawkins, and showed them to the average person on the American street, most of our citizens’ eyes would light up in recognition at the first four, and look quizzically at the guy on the end. And no, it wouldn’t help much to swap in Brian Cox for Richard Dawkins.

But that’s the point: cool is a relative thing. Coolness depends on what you contrast it with. And that’s really Rowan Williams’ problem.

It’s not the coolness of atheism. It’s the lameness of religion.

Exactamundo, dude.

Williams has a pretty strange conception of ‘cool’. So he thinks it’s cool to be the most despised and least trusted demographic group in highly religious societies? That it’s cool to be threatened, harassed and have your privacy violated simply because you associate with atheist groups? That it’s cool to be part of an often persecuted minority in cultures that privilege religion and its believers in various ways, from tax-exemptions to taboos against criticism or mockery?

Atheism and atheists are not ‘cool’. Godless folks may be many other things: courageous, rational, informed, intellectually honest. But not cool. And certainly not lame.


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