There’s a lot of mishigass on the Internet lately, and one of the craziest is this article in the Torygraph by Tim Stanley, described as “a historian, and columnist and leader writer for The Telegraph.” His Wikipedia bio is here, which includes this:
In October 2012, Stanley stated he was “raised a good Baptist boy”.
Later, he considered himself to be an Anglican, beginning around “one glorious summer” in 2002, and was baptised as an Anglican in Little St. Mary’s, Cambridge, in New Year 2003. He subsequently aligned himself with the Church of England’s Anglo-Catholic wing, before converting to the Catholic Church when he was 23.
Only a religionist could make an argument like the one below, one that bashes atheists but also seems transphobic—in the genuine sense—at the same time.
You can read it by clicking below, or find it archived here.
New Atheism has been blamed for a lot of things, but all it really did was shake people’s belief in God. Since there’s no evidence for a divine being, it simply called attention to what seems to be true, and how can that be bad?
Well, it’s been said to have caused cause a loss of morality, an increase in misogyny, and now the rise of the “trans cult,” whatever that is. All because New Atheism helped dispel a delusion—a delusion that people like Stanley buy into and others, while nonbelievers, still think necessary for society to function. (Scandinavia shows us that’s clearly untrue.)
What’s unclear in the piece is what Stanley means by “the trans cult” or, in sentences like this, the simple word “trans”.
And yet, today, the Christian clergy is almost silent on trans.
While he could mean “extreme trans activism”, like the insistence that trans women can compete with natal women in sports, that’s not the sense I get from reading the piece. Stanley seems to subsume under “trans” anything to do with transgenderism, and that would include supporting the equal and moral treatment of transgender people, which is simply the right and fair way to behave. If Stanley does mean the latter, and the article suggests he does, then he’s an arrant transphobe.
And, at any rate, it’s simply dumb to assume that New Atheism is responsible for “the trans cult” (how can you have a cult without a leader?). The presumption seems to be that New Atheism kept other religion-like activities at bay, and then the demise of religion allowed those activities, which includes “wokeness” to emerge: “people need to fill their religion-shaped hole”. And, he says, the “trans cult” is part of that wokeness.
Now all that might be true, but you can’t blame New Atheism for putting a delusion to bed. If wokeness is a replacement for the religion effaced by New Atheism—and I’m not at all sure it is—is it really New Atheism’s fault for the unpredictable emergence of an unpredictable strain of ideology? That’s Stanley’s view, and remember he’s a Catholic, so he has bought the whole hog:
We all love a repentant sinner. After a decade of encouraging the trans cult, the elite has realised that it’s a dreadful idea and is nimbly backing away. Self-ID is out; the Tavistock clinic is closing. Gender services will return via NHS England, but with a minimum age of seven – just in time for one’s first communion.
But don’t let the powerful tell you trans was a one-off mistake, a wrong-turn down a blind alley from which we can reverse. It was, and remains, our direction of travel. It’s the consequence of tearing up the old maps by which we once lived, inviting us to plot our own chaotic routes to nowhere. Yes, I blame Richard Dawkins for a lot.
And then he claims, without support, that most New Atheists went on to become “fanatically woke”. Where are the data? If I were to guess, I’d say that some woke people were New Atheists, whole others were religionists who thought wokeness was a way of doing good. In fact, nearly all the New Atheists I know are antiwoke, but that’s just my subjective experience. And those who are antiwoke are supporters of trans rights with the few exceptions like trans women competing in women’s in sports and occupying women’s “spaces” like women’s prisons and shelters.
And Stanley has his own subjective take:
Do you ever wonder, he [Peter Boghossian in an interview with Helen Joyce] asks, if we were wrong? Wrong, because the “vast majority” of New Atheists went on to become fanatically woke. Even Dawkins, who insists sex is a biological reality, has been mildly cancelled; the American Humanist Association took away his humanist of the year award. Could it be, Boghossian suggests, that without religion, people “go to crazy town” and “believe things even far more out there than walking on water”?
It all must have seemed jolly clever. The problem, however, is that atheism can only take something away; once the old faith is gone, it offers nothing to fill the void. Yet some atheists acknowledge that human beings consistently demonstrate a need to believe in something beyond themselves, conceding that this might serve an evolutionary purpose. Whatever the cause of our curious instinct to put our hands together for gods, dictators or Gary Lineker, we can now see that a generation that doesn’t look outwards, towards God, looks inwards, to itself. The defining spirit of our time is self-obsession; neurosis, self-actualisation, the triumph of mind over matter. What I want, I must have. What I wish to be, I can become.
Stanley’s error is twofold. First “taking something away” can be a good in itself (anti-Semitism and belief that Trump won the last Presidential election are two beliefs whose removal was very good). Second, I don’t agree that we all need to fill the gap created by the loss of religion. I keep saying that if you look at Scandinavia and northern Europe, which are losing religion faster than grass goes through a goose, you do not see these mostly atheistic countries filling the loss of religion with some religion-like activity. People can accommodate to the loss of a delusion, and most do. I’ve met many new atheists who were former religionists, but have a reasonable and empathic stand on trans issues.
I won’t go on, though Stanley does. I’ll just reproduce his last two paragraphs:
Therefore, denying the realities of sex spells misery for individuals while also undermining social cohesion, for we lose a common understanding of what words mean. Our new culture says that truth is subjective, that what matters is lived experience; two plus two might equal four to you, five to me. But science and religion search for truth on the assumption that it is objective and of universal meaning. There is the basis in that commonality for a dialogue that is far more sophisticated and enriching than the one we had in the past when Dawkins toured Lourdes and said it was far-fetched.
Without an honest conversation, we are doomed to repeat the mistake of privileging feeling over fact, for fear of causing offense. To return to the NHS’s approach to gender, a minimum age on treatment isn’t good enough. Do we believe that human beings can change their sex with medical intervention? I say, as a rule, “no”. And by establishing this, we can accept, love and support those who happen to break it.
Apparently, because God created two sexes (something Joyce asserts in the preceding paragraphs), the “trans cult” is a denial of God’s creation. That is, of course garbage, and not because there’s no God. It’s garbage because there really are people who feel they’re members of their non-natal sex and adopt the persona of that sex. They of course remain of their natal sex (trans women are biological men), but are fully deserving of the respect due any human being—and to me that means addressing them by whatever pronouns they choose.
It’s also garbage because Stanley thinks that “privileging feeling over fact” is wrong but lives his life dong that. He’s right about the priority of fact over feeling, but what else is religion (like Joyce’s Catholicism) but privileging feeling over fact? The essential beliefs of Catholicism—that Jesus was the son of God/God, performed miracles, was crucified and resurrected, and that accepting these as facts is essential to get into a speculative Heaven—all of these involve privileging feeling over fact. That’s what religion is all about, and that’s what New Atheists want to dispel