And he names names:
Is it really possible that PZ Myers and Ellen Johnson think I was recommending that we stop publicly criticizing religion or that I am hiding my own atheism out of “shame and fear”? I would not have thought such a misreading was possible, given the contents of my speech and my rather incessant criticism of religion in my books, articles, and lectures.
Here’s his point, he says:
There are many people in this country who do not believe in God and who understand that there is conflict between science and religion, but who do not feel the slightest inclination to join an atheist group or to label themselves in opposition to religion. These people are “atheists” by any measure, but you will never meet them at one of our conventions. They have read the writings of the “new atheists,” sent us letters and emails of support, are quite fond of criticizing religion whenever the opportunity arises, but they have no interest whatsoever in joining a cult of such critics. And there is something cult-like about the culture of atheism. In fact, much of the criticism I have received of my speech is so utterly lacking in content that I can only interpret it as a product of offended atheist piety.
He gives the example of a press conference where we attack Bush’s embryonic stem-cell research veto on the basis of rationality and education versus attacking him on the basis of our atheism. Harris says that the former attack is much more powerful, and I’d agree with him there.
Still, the sides are arguing completely different things.
The pro-atheist side says that we need the “atheist” (or Humanist, Bright, etc.) label to rally people under some sort of umbrella. It helps organize people who are like-minded even if it does alienate some who attach a negative connotation to the words.
I haven’t heard anyone saying we should abandon specific arguments (like in the example above) that are based on logic and reason alone.
To give attention to our collective views, it helps to have a concrete label that others can use to identify us.
I do hope there comes a day when atheism is just the obvious stance, there’s no need for the label, and we do just rely on evidence and reason to make decisions. We should advocate for that and stress that point (I think that’s what Harris is trying to say).
But in the process, there’s no getting around the fact that to think in that way means shedding the superstitious beliefs that religious people hold. That’s atheism. It’s blunt and honest and gets attention. And the more of us who come out and say we are non-religious, the better chance we have of inviting others to think using similar methods.
(Thanks to Mriana for the link!)