|Bunting does it again
||[Apr. 6th, 2009|09:00 am]
Madeline Bunting is at it again, constructing straw men with passion and efficiency:|
The argument she constructs is tediously simplistic: that the so-called "new atheists" are out to wreck all belief in myth, and destroy the power of stories, restricting what people can say, and think, removing any moral foundation from their lives.
Where are the "foghorn voices" she complains about? Richard Dawkins, with his search for truth, and campaigns for the teaching of science without the influence of religion? Dan Dennett with his gentle request for the teaching of all major religions to children so that they can judge facts for themselves? How about her fellow Guardian contributor A. C. Grayling? How about Jonathan Miller? David Attenborough? It is true that Christoper Hitchens speaks with a passion and takes no prisoners, but to call his elegant and witty contributions to the discussion "foghorn" is crass.
Maybe it is because voices are speaking in ways that have rarely been heard in recent times that what they say shocks some people. A quiet voice where there has long been silence can seem deafening.
What the New Atheists want is not to remove the power of myth from societies. Their views are in no way about certainty, as Bunting asserts (this is so clearly the case it is hard to attribute her words to ignorance), but about fairness in society and the rights of individuals. Personal belief in myth is one thing, but for a group to claim authority and the right to respect because of their belief in myth is quite another, and has been a damaging and divisive influence. Myth can, and does, provide a moral foundation for some people, but it is no basis for policy in a fair and democratic society.
There are two arguments to be had against religion. The first is its removal as a justification for public policy. The second is about its factual basis as a view of reality. The first should be a matter for urgent legal and political campaigning, in areas such as the appointment of bishops in the House of Lords, and the status of faith schools. The second can be a matter of polite discussion, while respecting personal freedom of belief. Far from ranting about "foghorn voices", Bunting should, if she is a supporter of freedom and democracy, be supporting the first argument with enthusiasm. Somehow I doubt we will see that happen.