Shoot me for backsliding. At the National Times of Australia, Michael Brull goes after “crybaby theists,” those theists who don’t have good arguments for their beliefs and so resort to whining about atheists’ incivility and rudeness (his exemplar is Greg Craven, who published an attack on the New Atheists, also in the Times). Brull argues:
Facing a new attack with an international audience playing close attention, religions have as little rational argument in their favour as ever. There was a time when they could deal with dissent through more draconian measures: the kind that can still be practiced in, say, Saudi Arabia. Having lost the power of the gun in the West, apologists of religion have a new weapon: being offended.
Rather than confronting (say) Dawkins’ arguments with counter-arguments, people like Craven, and many others like him, instead cry out: why are you picking on us? All we want is for you to respect our beliefs. And so, the crybaby theists hide behind the demand for respect, which sounds reasonable enough. . .
. . .The bottom line is that such special pleading is a way for theists to avoid answering their critics. The cry that religious beliefs are not being treated respectfully often demonstrates incredible arrogance and hypocrisy.
Firstly, in a liberal democracy, people should adjust to the prospect of other people finding their views stupid, immoral, pernicious, or any other terrible thing. For example, consider the case of a racist. They may view others with contempt, and members of the targeted minorities might respond with contempt for the views of the racist. Should we demand that victims of racism respect the beliefs of racists? Of course not: we grant the truism that some beliefs are stupid, immoral, pernicious and other terrible things. A liberal democracy cannot function without the possibility of discussing which beliefs are good and which ones are not. Crybaby theists wish to be shielded from the normal rough and tumble of arguments about beliefs. There are people who honestly think religious belief irrational, and find aspects of organised religion troubling. If anything is outrageous, it is the arrogance of religious extremists, here and elsewhere, holding that such views should not be allowed open discussion.
And let it be noted that athiests rarely complain about the tone of theists’ arguments, which are often pretty vitriolic (c.f. Andrew Sullivan on Scientology), except to point out the hypocrisy. Nor do we request kid-glove treatment for our own atheism. We’re perfectly happy going hammer and tongs with our opponents in the marketplace of ideas:
Indeed, no atheists that I know of actually suggest that theists should “respect” their beliefs and stop arguing for theism. Atheists have simply taken up arguing their point of view: against religious belief.
Indeed, but do read both Brull and Craven’s pieces in their entirety. The striking fact about crybaby theists (and their nonbeliever counterparts, faitheists like Barbara Forrest mentioned in Dan Jones’s New Statesman piece) is that they rarely deal with the substantive arguments of atheists. No new arguments for the existence of gods have arisen in centuries, and their refutations are well known. You rarely see a crybaby theist mounting a vigorous defense of the Ontological Argument, the Argument from Design, or the Argument from Morality. All their complaints are either about how mean we are, or that we are politically hamhanded and should stop saying that religion is irrational, or that we simply don’t understand theology in the first place. And faitheists are loath to admit that Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris have adduced or reprised really substantive arguments against the existence of gods. Even though they must agree with some of these arguments (they are atheists after all!), they pass this over in silence in their rush to accuse the atheists of nastiness.
When I see this, I know that we’ve won on the substance. It’s been pointed out that the same arguments against tone were used against the civil rights movement and in-your-face gay-rights activists. (Now I know that someone is going to beef that religion is not the same thing as racism or homophobia. Granted — although all are based on irrational premises –but that’s not the point.) The “tone” card is always played by those on the losing side — those who have exhausted their supply of rational arguments.