Jacques Berlinerblau and R. Joseph Hoffman are back with their one-two sucker punch, still banging on about the perceived ignorance of New Atheists. And they’ve found a new reason why atheists should be indebted to religion.
At the Chronicle of Higher Education (whose new motto seems to be “All the Gnus That Are Fit to Diss”), Berlinerblau makes what he sees as a telling point: there have been no atheist martyrs!
In any case, Hoffmann’s essay [see below] makes the point that it is tremendously difficult to identify an atheist who has been martyred for his or her non-belief. The author notes that such martyrdom operations have usually been reserved for heretics and apostates—yet the heretics and apostates, of course, were believers themselves.
I don’t get it. Who among us has ever claimed that there were atheist martyrs? And so what if there weren’t? Would it give us more credibility if some of us had been burnt at the stake?
Berlinerblau then adds helpfully that in the olden days, “atheist” was a term not for a god-denier, but for someone whose faith was different from yours:
In this sense, countless “atheists” were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered in Europe of the 16th-18th centuries. This was a Europe, incidentally, were [sic] historians are very hard pressed to find unambiguous atheists as we know them today—that is to say, people who explicitly denied the existence of any God whatsoever.
This suggests a multitude of possibilities and future areas of research for non-Gnu Atheism. One which I have been exploring in the book that I am currently writing concerns the “genetic” affinity between atheists and heretics..
(Note the implication that Gnu Atheists aren’t interested in research.)
And if that isn’t enough, Berlinerblau gets in one last preen about his superior wisdom: unlike the rest of us, he recognizes that atheists truly owe a debt to religious discourse. Why? Not because, as you might think, religion gives us false ideas on which we can hone our brains, but because faith vouchsafed us the very notion of skepticism! Yes, it’s true: we are deeply indebted to those Muslims who were skeptical about Jesus, and to those Christians who cast a cold eye on Mohamed:
Nonbelievers would gain much by seeing themselves as heirs of a skeptical tradition, one whose roots extend to religious forms of reasoning and dissent.
Berlinerblau was inspired by Hoffmann’s new piece, “Atheist Martyrs? Gnus to Me,” which makes the same point at much greater length. I never cease to be amazed at the creativity of faitheists who, denying god themselves, come up with new explanations of why religion is really good. In this case it’s because our rejection of all gods is a direct inheritance from those who clung firmly to just one god.
When Professor Dawkins in his now famous remark says that “We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further,” he is right in one respect (as well as funny) but wrong in another. Because the process of rejecting 99% of the gods and most of what has been believed about the remainder is not a conclusion that atheism has forced. Unbelief has been forced to the surface of our consciousness by critical processes that are rooted in religion: in the empiricism of Maimonides; in Aquinas’s disputational method; in Luther’s critique of Catholicism and sacraments; in Abelard’s stress on the subjectivity of ethics and Roger Bacon’s contributions to scientific thinking. In so much more. Perhaps to state what is too obvious to be obvious to many people: in the fact that the transmission of knowledge through books was the labour of clerics and monks. . .
. . . It is strange to me that men and women committed to the paradigm of evolution and historical change are often willing to postulate creation ex nihilo or spontaneous generation for their own ideas.
What Hoffman really means, of course, is that the Gnu Atheists ignore him. Why can’t we see his superior knowledge about the history of unbelief? Why must Hoffmann fester in obscurity while Dawkins and Hitchens rake in the cash and encomiums?
It’s palpably clear that what Hoffmann and Berlinerblau really can’t stand is that their tedious screeds languish unread in university libraries while the Four Horsemen get all the attention—attention that translates into effectiveness. After all, how many converts from faith have Hoffmann and Berlinerblau made?
I’m not just guessing about this: Hoffman says it explicitly in a comment at Butterflies and Wheels:
Before anyone adds to the list of my “calumnies” that I am now being self-defensive, I am. Part of that has to do with (as I suggested) a record that goes back long before most Americans had heard of Richard Dawkins. Some of us older and old atheists remember what a lonely battle that was. Many who came to the movement since 2000 will not. And that is precisely the point. Without saying jealousy is involved, there are many (not just me) who know that the Dawkins revolution could not have taken place without the almost invisible work of many of my associates in and out of the academy over many many years. On the one hand, we need to be grateful that the New Atheists have been successful in garnering support; on the other hand, and I know this from experience, nothing ensured the death of a book in this country before 1995 like putting the word atheism or humanism in the title. So, there were laborers in the trenches.
So says the Rodney Dangerfield of atheism. Wounded feelings lately abound among faitheists: for a particularly bizarre specimen, see Michael Ruse’s latest post at the Chronicle of Higher Ed:
On occasions I have been faced with a choice between the easy path and the more difficult. For instance, should I publish with a commercial press that will take basically anything I offer because they know they will make money or should I go with a university press, even though it involves refereeing and possible rejection, something I hate and fear as much today as I did 40 years ago. (“It’s easy for you, Mike. You’ve got a thick skin.” Nonsense! There is no such thing as a thick skin. It is just that some of us learn to live with our thin skins.) I just don’t want to end up on my deathbed and feel that I could have done better. I coulda been a contender. (Of course whether or not I am going to end as a contender, whatever I do, is perhaps a moot point. But here I am blogging for the CHE. Who says that after four billion years of evolution there is no progress?)
Translation: I could have been as popular and rich as Dawkins, but I was too noble to sell out.
Statements like this make it clear that much of the criticism of Gnu Atheism by fellow atheists like Ruse, Hoffmann, and Berlinerblau stems from a universal but deplorable human emotion—jealousy. Perhaps Hitchens should have added an eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s books.