© Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

i heart sam & richard

I am a skimmer — notoriously so in our household. Life is too short to read carefully. When my wife asks what was in our email inbox, I report that somebody had a baby and somebody died.

Same with books. My first time through the bible, at age 13, was an admitted skim. I essentially got World is made, humans screw up, are drowned, then enslaved, then escape. Something about breasts like clusters of grapes, rounded thighs, and hands thrust into openings. [I was 13. Of course the Song of Solomon got more of my attention than Psalms.] Prophets foresee the coming of a guy. Guy arrives, dies, then returns with bronze feet and smites. And there is much rejoicing.

I got more the second time through the bible because I was careful and more interested. Took notes. The closer reading didn’t improve my opinion of it. (Even Song of Solomon suffered from a second look. Your hair is like a flock of goats??)

Some books are best skimmed and cherry-picked, as any minister will tell you.

And so, skimmer that I am, it serves me right that I was the recent victim of a skim-and-run. Poetic justice. A turn of the karmic wheel, as it were. A comrade in the fellowship of bloggers over at Bore Me To Tears skimmed a recent post of mine and thought sure I had dissed Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris:

In recounting his interview of Hemant Mehta, nice atheist Dale McGowan (blogger and author, Parenting Beyond Belief) attacks Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris for being mean. He says that new atheist authors are malicious when they call religious people names like “stupid” and “ignorant” (even though they don’t)…He also claims that Dawkins and/or Harris have/has said that religious people are “too stupid to live” or that they “better damn well be gone before I count to ten.”

Oof! Did I actually say that about Dawkins and Harris? If I did, she’d be absolutely correct in calling me on the carpet. They do NOT say those things, and I am desperately tired of people mischaracterizing Harris and Dawkins as mean-spirited, one-sided fundamentalists. I work hard to correct that false perception so they can be heard. Anyone who makes such claims about Dawkins and Harris (1) has not read Dawkins and/or Harris, AND/OR (2) read them through through a theistic fog, AND/OR (3) is not clear on the meanings of words like “mean-spirited,” “one-sided, ” “fundamentalist,” or “is.”

Imagine my relief when I reread my post and discovered I didn’t say those things.

But so many people do indeed make such claims about Dawkins and Harris that BMTT can be entirely forgiven for thinking I was doing it as well. I’d much rather be accused wrongly in that case than have those two go undefended. So KUDOS to Bore Me to Tears for stepping up to the plate.

I won’t bother to list the many, many ways in which Dawkins and Harris engage in thoughtful hemantic discernment. Read their books. They don’t call religionists stupid, but others do. Recall David Mills’ infamous dog-poop video. (Here’s a very sharp blogpost that lays out the difference between good satire and mindless nail-spitting quite well.)

Then there are the countless non-discerners on the other end — those who declare all religious expressions “beautiful,” all religious ideas “different paths to Truth.” This, too, is dangerous nonsense.

Harris and Dawkins strike a thinking balance between these nonthinking poles.

Life is short, and we’re all reduced to skimming. Various media facilitate our mental toedipping by painting in broad strokes. Among other things, they find it convenient to mislabel the confidence of Harris, Dennett and Dawkins (new meme: “Harnekins”) as “atheist fundamentalism.” Harnekins are confident because they’ve done their homework extraordinarily well. They don’t say I’m damned or stupid or evil if I disagree with them. They say I’m wrong. I am then free to counter with evidence or argument to the contrary. And yes, at times, the difference of opinion matters so much that they will not “agree to disagree,” preferring to hash it out. I admire their courage in doing so.

I’ve begun to pick up the label of “nice guy” atheist. This too is a broad stroke. In fact, I am as nice as I can reasonably be, and no nicer. Like Hemant and Harnekins, I know that there is a point of no return. I know that beliefs have consequences, and I am morally obligated to drop the nice-guy routine when damage is being done. And so I do. But reporters are so fond of quick and easy labels that in nearly every interview an attempt is made to distinguish Mister-Rogers me from the “nasty” Harnekins. I have learned that I must bat down the attempt forcefully or it will end up in print the original source.

To wit: Here’s a portion of a recent interview I gave (to the best of my selective memory):

REPORTER: So, have you read Dawkins’ latest?

DM: The God Delusion? Yes, I have.

REPORTER: I was pretty mixed about it. What did you think?

DM: I do represent the choir, but I must say I thought it was brilliant. I found it compelling and well-balanced.

REPORTER: What about his assertion that religious parenting equates to child abuse?

DM: Funny you should mention that one point. That’s the only assertion in the entire book that goes further than I would go.

[Reporter scribbles in notes, “Doesn’t go as far as Dawkins.”]

REPORTER: I sometimes feel that he and Harris don’t distinguish sufficiently between moderates and fundamentalists. They lump them all together.

DM: Actually I don’t think they do. They offer a separate, distinct critique of moderates, one that I support. Moderates do too little to challenge fundamentalism, and in fact arm them by promoting faith as an unquestionable virtue.

[Reporter scribbles “Pick up cheese and milk on way home.”]

The final piece included the following:

Atheist curmudgeons Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens lump religious zealots and moderates together. Do you?

I agree with them that we shouldn’t have to say please and thank you to religious people simply because they’re religious, but I don’t go as far as they do.

That’s right, it’s more poetic justice. She skimmed her notes.

In order to set the record straight, now and forever, let me say that I DO GO AS FAR AS THEY DO. I differ from Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris only in being less articulate, less famous, less wealthy, less brilliant, and better looking. In virtually all matters of substance, we are in agreement. I hereby carve on the trunk of the World Tree that is the Internet:




This was written on Thursday, 20. September 2007 at 17:48 and was filed under Uncategorized. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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Comments »

  1. “Harnekins”? Doesn’t really roll off the old keyboard, does it?

    How’s about “HarDenneD”? As in… “the three HarDenneD atheists”?

    Comment: Theo – 24. September 2007 @ 10:15 am

  2. HA! Oh, that’s a goodie. Harnekins rolls off my keyboard, and my tongue. HarDenneD, while extremely clever, only gives Dawkins one letter.

    Dawdennis, perhaps? Harkinnett? Denkinettris?

    Comment: Dale – 24. September 2007 @ 10:21 am

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