There’s yet more accommodationism from National Public Radio (NPR):
Over at NPR’s cosmos & culture section, a site that seems to be turning into Accommodationism Central, Barbara King reviews Richard Dawkins’s new autobiography, An Appetite for Wonder. It’s a positive review, with this summary:
So, I approached An Appetite for Wonder with some trepidation. Indeed, the book was lampooned in The Guardian‘s “digested read” feature as boastful and arrogant. But what I discovered was something quite different. It’s a memoir that is funny and modest, absorbing and playful. Dawkins has written a marvelous love letter to science.
Indeed, that Guardian “digested read” was unfair and mean-spirited, and I know because I’ve read the book.
There’s one problem, though. King calls her review “Richard Dawkins’ delightful memoir dilutes the poison.”
What’s the “poison”? You can guess. King refers to a 23-minute radio interview she had with Dawkins last year, which you can hear on another NPR post, “Richard Dawkins celebrates reason, ridicules faith.” (King, by the way, is an anthropology professor at my own alma mater, The College of William and Mary.)
In much of the interview, King takes out after Dawkins for insulting people as well as their faith. She really is like a dog with her teeth in the postman’s leg, and clearly has the agenda of defending faith against not only accusations of falsity, but against any criticism at all.
She summarizes the interview in a small essay on the post, which includes this (my emphases):
On his blog last year, Dawkins called a person named Minor Vidal a “fool” for his expression of thanks to God after surviving a deadly plane crash. (To be fair, Dawkins called “billions” of other people fools, too, in the same post.)
Dawkins told me that if he insulted any person, he regrets it. But this example shows how hard it is, in practice rather than theory, to aim harsh language only at a person’s belief, and not at the person.
Another example comes from Saturday’s rally. There, Dawkins noted his incredulity when meeting people who believe a Communion wafer turns into the body of Christ during the Eucharist. He then urged his followers to “mock” and “ridicule” that. (He says this 13 minutes into the video, though it’s best to watch the whole thing.) His exact words after describing the Catholic ritual, were “Mock them. Ridicule them.” So by “them” did he intend to refer to Catholic beliefs, not Catholic people? In context, it doesn’t seem so to me.
How much does that distinction matter? When it comes to religion, does demeaning a person’s belief not also demean the person?
Why use demeaning terms, and urge others to use them, for either the belief or the person? Surely it’s not adequate justification that some religious people are guilty of the same sin, or worse. Doesn’t the embrace of reason compel a person to rise above a grade school calculus of that sort?
. . . My steadfast disagreement with Dawkins emerges from his refusal to see that the expression of faith isn’t inevitably a simple-minded approach to living. I’m a big fan of reason. I’m just no fan of the stereotype, embodied by Dawkins, that we atheists equate others’ religious faith with a lack of intelligence or courage, or both.
Well, we can disagree about how often faith is “sophisticated” and “not simple-minded.” I’d bet that King, an academic, rubs elbows with religious people who are extremely liberal—almost atheists. Nevertheless, I’d also bet that they aver belief in things like a divine being who came to earth as his own son, was executed, and then was resurrected.
But since King claims to be a “big fan of reason,” doesn’t she agree that faith based on revelation and dogma, but not on evidence and reason, attest to some lack of rationality, or to unreflective “wish thinking”? (Of course King says nothing about the palpable harms of faith.) But to argue, as King does, that demeaning beliefs is the same as demeaning persons, is simply a tactic to make atheists shut up.
In truth, criticizing religious beliefs is often taken as a personal attack. My response to that is, “Too bad!” Religion doesn’t get a pass over any other form of belief because discussing it hurts people’s feelings. As someone once said in reference to such criticism, “Nobody has a right not to be offended.”
Do listen to the interview and see if you detect any “poison” in Dawkins’s responses. I know I’m biased, but I found his responses temperate and—given King’s animus—respectful.
Oh, and has King (who admits she’s an atheist) spent any time criticizing those believers who denigrate atheists? That all starts in the Bible with Psalm 53:1:
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.