On Chris Stedman: a reply to James Croft

So Chris Stedman has a Salon article (actually an excerpt from his new book) titled “Toxic atheism drives people apart,” which got a bunch of people annoyed, which in turn got James Croft telling all the people annoyed with Stedman how wrong they are, accusing them of failing to “abide by basic standards of intellectual honesty and respond to what he actually writes.”

A lot of James’ post seems to be based around the hypothesis that maybe by “New Atheism,” Stedman means something other than “people like Dawkins and Harris and PZ and Crommunist.” Now, I think “New Atheism” is a horribly inaccurate term that I wish no one would use, but I still recognize that the established usage is “people like Dawkins and Harris and PZ and Crommunist, and James should recognize this too. There’s nothing wrong with Stedman’s critics assuming he meant what people normally mean by “New Atheism.” (Plus, the sentence immediately below the article’s title explicitly mentions Dawkins and Harris, though if I’m being charitable I can imagine that’s Salon’s fault, not Stedman’s).

Beyond that, yes, Stedman’s critics accuse him of thinking things which aren’t explicitly part of the article. But it’s not clear that they’re wrong to do so. As I say in the first chapter of the book I’m currently working on, an awful lot of people object to even mentioning atheism in public (unless it’s to condemn it). So when other people start making incoherent criticisms of atheists, even when they don’t explicitly say they want all atheists to just keep quiet, it makes a lot of sense to suspect that’s what’s going on.

For example, when people get upset about the “incivility” of stating the plain truth about certain holy texts, it’s natural to infer that they really just want to enforce a rule against saying anything bad about religion, ever. And when someone starts going on rather vaguely about how horrible those “New Atheists” are, it’s natural to infer the same thing. (ETA: or, he officially approves of criticizing religion if it’s done “right,” but is so uncomfortable about the whole business that he’s come up with a narrow notion of “doing it right” that very few criticisms of religion will ever fit.)

Soon, I hope to have out a revised version of chapter 3 of the book, which will have a section talking more about this in detail.

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