Friday, February 26, 2010

Schadenfreude for Lent

This is too much fun to leave in comments below. Once again Sharl comes through for me.

It seems Richard Dawkins has found out that he's not universally "a greatly liked and respected person." To get the story, start with the the Times article, then go to Ruth Gledhill's blog. I'm not really enjoying this, because I don't know Mr. Dawkins and don't really wish him any pain. But I will say, as Ms. Gledhill intimates, that he seems to have attacked only a bloodless concept, and not realized he was addressing actual human beings, and not all of them the people he associates with, and who are his friends, family, and colleagues.

I'm not enjoying this because I've been through it, as I mentioned in comments below. The first lesson a pastor learns is that, while your friends and family may love you, and even your co-workers may respect you, some of the people in the pews will quickly come to despise you, and not necessarily for anything you do, but simply for what you represent to them. And what you represent is authority: some will respect it, some will reject it, and some will simply hate you. They won't think they are vicious; they will assure you it's "nothing personal." But they will sharpen long knives for you, and make you wonder if they don't stay up nights imagining slights they can turn into deceits, the better to ruin you, or at least make their misery, yours.

I see the same thing on blogs all the time. It's terribly easy to imagine anyone in a position of authority enjoys power you don't have, and further that they aren't really people with feelings, but things, objects, which deserve only your derision and curses. Ms. Gledhill touches on this point:

I resisted the temptation to ask him why, if he prefers not to fan flames, he even wrote The God Delusion, or lent his name to His distress at what has been going on in his forum suggests he has never really understood why so many people of faith found The God Delusion offensive. The strong language he himself uses to describe religious belief has a lot to do with it. Church Mouse recently blogged about how Dawkins upset a lot of Christians with a strongly critical article in The Times where he fastened on the utterances of US preacher Pat Robertson on Haiti to condemn an entire religion, describing Robertson as standing 'squarely in the Christian tradition.'

Do Dawkins' own followers, suppurating their rats' rectums all over his long-suffering staff, stand squarely in his atheist tradition?

See how easy it is to turn a person into "other"? I rejected Pat Robertson's ignorant statements, too. But I know better than to call him the absolute representative of all things Christian. Still, not enough Christians struck back at Mr. Dawkins for him to notice (he would have passed it off, anyway; and perhaps that says something about the nature of Christians. Though I imagine more Christians have heard of Mr. Robertson than Mr. Dawkins, and still the majority of Christians in the world are unaware of the existence of either gentleman.), so he finally hears it from his own "followers." People he probably never meant to have as followers; but then, he probably never imagined he was talking to real people about real people (as The Church Mouse points out*). He probably, like those people in the pews so determined to hate their pastor, never imagined anyone beyond the circle of his attentions was anything than "other." Which is something religion is supposed to teach you about.

I'm thinking evolutionary biology never touches on that subject. But maybe that's uncharitable of me. Ah, well, it's Lent. Add it to my penance; I have a lot of that to do, a little more won't make much difference.

*It doesn't quite fit in the foregoing, but I have to quote The Church Mouse on at least one point:

What seems to infuriate Dawkins most is that he believes he has disproved religion already, so if you are still a believer you must either be a total idiot, or are deliberately trying to fool the general populace for malicious reasons. The thought that other people might listen to his arguments and still disagree simply doesn't seem to compute. In fact, it seems to be making him angrier and angrier.
I don't know about the "angrier and angrier" part; I'll take the Mouse's word for that. But I think the analysis is spot on: unable to conceive of a viewpoint beyond his own, unable, in other words, to conceive of a "wholly other," Dawkins is reduced to vituperation. Which isn't surprising, in the least.


  1. Robert, anyone who would proclaim about HIMSELF that he is a "greatly liked and respected person", may have an oversupply of self-regard such as to blind his judgment. Dawkins own words about himself and the fact that he was blindsided by the insulting comments by his fans was what gave me my biggest laugh. If you have to SAY how liked and respected you are, well, it kinda, sorta falls into the category of Nixon's "I am not a crook," statement. It's Dawkins pride, that elicits the schadenfreude. Not that I think mine a proper attitude, especially during the season of Lent, but I'm human. Which only goes to show that to take one's own publicity seriously is a mistake.

  2. Oh, I think you're right. Dawkins has an excess of hubris, which blinds him to see there are people who don't think like he does, but whose thoughts are as valid as his. No small part of the problem, for me, is his attack on Pat Robertson, one that conflates Robertson's stupid remarks with all of Christian theology. It's an ignorance on par with that of Sam Harris, who seems to have disappeared (unlamented) from these discussions.

  3. I found this via Bouphonia, a quote about misusing science by non-scientists:

    “A curious fact about the recent left-critique of science is the degree to which its instigators have overcome their former timidity, of indifference towards the subject, not by studying it in detail, but rather by creating a repertoire of rationalizations for avoiding such study.”

    I have to point out you could replace "science" with "religion" or "theology," there, and make a perfectly valid critique of Dawkins, et al. (and it has been done, repeatedly).

    Which is what, again, is so very annoying.