Don’t Get Cocky, Kid

Don’t Get Cocky, Kid June 23, 2017
I want this. Wikimedia Image.
I want this. Wikimedia Image.

Star Wars had me at the moment Luke Skywalker blew up some fighters and Han Solo’s response was “Don’t get cocky, kid.” This was a perfect line because, by that time, I was Luke Skywalker, whirling around shooting fighters with him, and rejoicing in his/our skills.

This is the power of great movie making! When Han (Harrison “You Will Soon Be My Summer Movie Hero” Ford) took young Luke down, he was reminding me of something: I had not done much. I was fourteen that year and not quite too old for toys if they were viewed as collectibles. Safe to say, I was no hero and had accomplished nothing. Going to school and doing fairly well was in my own interest and was less an accomplishment for me than for my school and for my parents.

I needed to hear “don’t get cocky, kid,” since blowing up fighters vicariously was no accomplishment what so ever.

This advice has served me well whenever I get excited about something I have done.

First, that something “I” have done is always a team effort or partly the result of the good things that my family, community, and nation have done for me.

Second, success is easy to exaggerate: there are many bad fighters to shoot down in life. Winning is not forever.

The other “get a clue” is how little most of what I do matters in the big picture. The fate of the galaxy does not depend on my mad skills, not even a bit. It is good to rejoice, and any excuse for a party, but winning a debate online is not a sign of Big Things.

Don’t get cocky, oldster me!

This advice comes to mind as I look at the secular or non-religious community just now. The community is in a civil war between old-school atheists and more post-modern types. Like the Bolsheviks who took the name “majority,” old school atheists (mostly white, male, into scientism) took the title “new” atheists. They are my age! Real new atheists are more post-modern than scientistic and dislike the conference atheism of the 1990’s almost as much (though not quite) as they dislike theists. Yet when dealing online with old atheists, one is struck by an odd triumphalism.

Small growth in the US (NONES!) (papering over global decline) has apparently gone to their heads. Those of us who have lived through the “Christianity in America is doomed” media narrative at least three times are not so concerned.

Of course, fear sells so those interested in selling have latched on to the NONES phenomena almost as much as old/new atheism! Still, for a movement that mostly sells books to itself, has little academic standing (even in a secularized academy!), pop-atheism is oddly triumphant.

Recently, one old school atheist suggested that he was needed at apologetics conferences so we could see how to talk to seculars. That would be great if we wanted to talk to seculars my age with no relevant training in any discipline, but that would make us cocky. Shooting down that TIE fighter is too easy . . . and not particularly relevant. The “all religious people are idiots or evil” school of thought rejoices at having shot down a few theists who were going about their business before being blindsided by secularists armed with “street epistemology.”

What is street epistemology?

It is epistemology by people with little training in epistemology.

Why the panic? Why not just use academic philosophy of religion? After all, most philosophy departments are secular and no philosopher who is religious in such a department is insulated from counter-arguments to religious belief.

Sadly, for old/new atheism there has been a considerable academic revival of interest in philosophy of religion by religious and non-religious people. On seeing academic dialog in secular philosophy of religion programs turn against them over the last fifty years, I have seen (and now sadly) read people with little training at the Ph.D. level of philosophy in any sub-field who call for an end to philosophy of religion! When shown that this call is being ignored by secular scholars, we are told that new ideas (such as integrating findings from other fields) are slow to penetrate philosophy.

This shows no knowledge of how a university works. Interdisciplinary work is the goal of every department. For example, when I was in graduate school, the philosophy department was involved in cognitive science and the human genome project. The philosophers interested in religious ideas (including Christian Edward Wierenga) were constantly looking at the research and ideas from other fields.

That’s what professors do. Yet these old/new atheist books, blurbed by the usual suspects*, are taken seriously by . . . the same community that bought the last one.

Is there an older Han Solo to say to these atheists: “Don’t get cocky, kid?”

I don’t know. Perhaps, I should not care, though when people call my friends dumb, uneducated, or foolish, I do want to care. We are not persecuted (really!) in the US, but Christians are murdered or put in camps in the name of secularism in places like China and North Korea. Millions of us were murdered in the last century by folk who claimed the atheist mantle.

We know that American folk atheists are not that sort of atheist, but when we see the same sort of agitprop now used in such regimes to demonize the religious used here . . . we do need to respond.


Mostly, though shooting down those TIE fighters is not relevant, we should keep the dialog going with responsible atheists and academic atheism. Otherwise, easy wins might make us cocky.

*Lest Christian apologists get cocky, we have our own problem with mass blurbs and lightly armed apologists. If you can’t give a contemporary version of an argument stop using it.

This piece was edited by Rachel Motte.

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