Saturday, 22 September 2012

Authentic Theist Calls Atheists 'Sub-human'

My attention was drawn by my friend Quine to a post by Father Dwight Longenecker, who has a blog called Standing on my Head at Patheos. Father Longenecker is an American who has travelled the long (?) road from evangelical Christianity in his childhood to Catholic priesthood in his adulthood, via the Isle of Wight.

I cannot link to the actual post, which was originally here, because it has been taken down. The piece was called The Authentic Atheist, and went like this:

Not surprisingly, the bigoted nature of this did not go down well with many people, including some right-thinking theists. I responded to the last section by posting this comment:
It’s interesting that we could assert “These are the authentic theists. They plod through life eating, working, shopping, breeding and sleeping, and God never leaves their consciousness. Members of this sub-species may be sparkling sophisticates or ill-bred boors. They may be the decent and moral folks next door, or they could be despicable murderers. In a frightful way, it doesn’t matter. If they exist, perhaps they have bred and spread like the alien bodysnatchers, and exist in our midst like spiritual zombies—indistinguishable in the teeming mass of humanity except to those few who see them and tremble.”, and it would have as much traction as the original. Which is to say, none. (‘Spiritual zombies’ is amusingly ambiguous.)
My point was to draw attention to the bigoted nature of the Father's comments. In this short piece, he inspires prejudice against a group of people that he calls 'authentic atheists', describing them as a 'sub-species'. To say the same about 'authentic theists' would clearly be bigoted, I hoped he would see, and unjustifiable.

The priest was dissatisfied with the response the post received, so deleted it and all the comments. This is bad netiquette, imo, but since it's his blog, he has that right. He explained that the snippet had been taken out of context; as we can see from the screencap, it's an extract from a forthcoming book. Well, fair enough, but who took it out of context?

Once again my friend Quine uncovered an earlier piece that throws some light on this passage. Apparently written in 2003 and called In Search of the Authentic Atheist, in this he says something similar about the 'authentic atheist', and then talks about 'truly secret Atheists' (if we forgive the typo). Next he says:
My imagination is too vivid. I am spinning stories and jesting to make a point. Because people laugh and cry I'm sure all humans have souls, even if they neglect them.
So if we are being charitable, these characterisations are not meant to be taken seriously. Ha ha, he's just jesting. He's drawing attention to the hilarious stereotypical views some have of atheists. Well, that's all right then; the context is all, and we were too quick to judge him a bigot.

Unfortunately, the article continues with:
But if my hunch is right that some people never give God a thought, then they are the best evidence that such a thing as an atheist might exist after all. If such people exist then we are witnessing a radical and tragic decline in the human race, for it is sub-human to exist without a god of any kind. Real religion is a universal part of the human condition. In every culture and language — from primitive tribesmen who grunts at the stars to sophisticated technicians who grunt at computer screens — the troublesome religious instinct persists in a most stubborn and triumphant way.
So the Father sticks his neck out and calls it sub-human to live without a god. Of any kind! Literally, he would judge a person more human if they worshipped a god of any kind. They could worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Satan, and they would be more human than an atheist. Remember, it's a god of any kind, so evil ones are preferable to none at all. But in the absence of an irrational worship of an invisible being,  a person becomes sub-human, a spiritual zombie, Father Longenecker thinks.

The Father commits Hume's classic 'is-ought' fallacy when he declares that how things have been in human society so they should be. 'Real' (not sure why he qualifies religion with this adjective) rape and murder are a universal part of the human condition, but we don't think it should be, I hope he agrees. He wonders where the 'universal, tender and mysterious instinct to fall on our faces and before our immense and intimate maker' comes from, but, of course, this is a far too simplistic view of humanity. Religious behaviour is extremely diverse, and appears to spring from a number of our evolved features. To reduce it to the features of the Father's favourite religion enfeebles humanity.

This is reminiscent of Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's comments that atheists are 'not fully human', so is perhaps to be expected from a Catholic priest. It's not enough that the Church promotes the repression of women around the world, denies rights to homosexuals, and protects child abusers within its ranks. Now, one of its representatives wants to draw atheists as 'sub-human'. Well, in light of their other crimes, this is small beer, and perhaps it's a good sign that they are aiming at atheists now, rather than persecuting heretics of any hue (remember, he's happier with folk who worship gods of any kind).

Nevertheless, I'd like Father Longenecker to wind his neck in and start treating everyone as a human being.


Post a Comment