There is something I find exceptionally troublesome about the Accommodationist position. I'm not sure if it is the way that their normally sound logic warps as it approaches matters of religion or if it is the blind spot they have for seeing and understanding the messages of the people they try to denigrate as being mean, militant atheists. But I am relieved to see that most of the people I respect are also not buying this "religious apologetics from atheists" stance and are defending the vocalizations of a long maligned minority.
The following is a repost from Greg Fish's excellent blog on science and Skepticism; World of Weird Things. While comments are turned on here, the real discussion is over at the Weird Things blog where this was originally posted. Please stop in and sound off.
Judging by Chris Steadman’s reaction to my post about his contest which showcases his article about how much more at home he feels with theists than atheists as the example of being a non-offensive secularist, I’ve struck a nerve. So much so that he asked the judges recruited for his contest to wag their finger at me and do their best to inform me that being an atheist doesn’t mean you have to be in conflict with theists. Really, even after you spell out word for word how and why you get the impression that they’re alienating the atheists they’re trying to sway to their side, the accommodationists still refuse to even acknowledge the key points. Instead, it seems that they’re much more interested in calling atheists as big of a problem as fundamentalists to their grand vision of the world and almost ironically, fight with me while insisting that we shouldn’t be fighting. Why is it that accommodationists tend to react to criticism with the very thing against which they love to advocate?
Ok, let’s go through this one more time. I didn’t infer or paraphrase Chris’ words about how much he likes the company of future theologians to that of atheists. Those words come directly from his article. How are atheists supposed to feel about someone who asks them to build on their secular identity while holding up those very dismissals as the picture of how he wants them to construct this identity in prose? When his judges wag their fingers at me and tell me that it’s ironic how I miss the point that a secular identity doesn’t have to involve wars with theists, they’re throwing down a massive strawman, soaking it in kerosine and leaving me matches. Did I say anything about how atheists must rise up against the yolk of theist oppression? No. Did I detail how much fun I was having antagonizing religious and spiritual people in my life? No. In fact, I did the opposite, going so far as to point out that I even date religious and spiritual people. My actual point, the one Chris and his judges so skillfully dodged, is that you can’t tell someone to build up an identity as the very thing you say you dislike. Atheists, agnostics and humanists aren’t theologians in religion class. If you say you prefer the theologians to the secularists, how exactly are you encouraging a secular identify?
On top of this, I’m getting more and more irritated with the constant accommodationist mantra that separating oneself from religion necessarily means you must be in conflict with it, an assertion they repeat over and over again to criticizing anyone who brings up the fact that they’re alienating atheists. You disagree with them? Oh, you must be one of those hardline atheist loudmouths who only wants to fight religious people just because you have nothing better to do. This caricature works in the cutesy tut-tutting and high minded odes to mutual respect, but that’s not the problem. No, the problem here is telling atheists that they should base how they act in public on religious ideas and trying with all their might to find everything good about theistic beliefs. Atheists are atheists because they don’t want to base their ideas on theistic concepts. Browbeating a vocal atheist by reducing everything he or she says to an image accommodationists want to present: the ugly caricature of an obnoxious, warmongering simpleton, is dishonest and extremely alienating. How hard could this possibly be to understand? Why do accommodationists have an obsession with reducing atheism to anti-theism? To get in on a Templeton fellowship? To seem enlightened and open-mined by comparison?
Rather than actually rolling up their sleeves to do the work atheists have been doing: helping to promote good science in schools, refuting creationist encroachment on biology classes, echoing the message that you can be a good person without belief in the supernatural to the contrary of fundamentalist hysterics, the faitheists in the accommodationist movement are much more interested in playing politics. And they have to. The minute they have to point out to creationists that evolution is a valid theory, they’re going to break down the faux truce. The second they start getting into specifics and showing why people doubt certain faiths, they’re going to end up exactly where many skeptics and atheists find themselves on a daily basis. And when that happens, all of their vows of being inoffensive to theists are going to seem every single bit as hollow as they are. Instead of promoting science and logic, they’d so much rather write pretty things about religion because atheists aren’t a big enough group so making caricatures of people like me isn’t going to harm their political sway. That’s why I called this kind of accommodationism cowardly. How else could I call someone who claims to and have your back while hiding during a real conflict as not to sully his hands, endear himself to theists, stay above the fray, and wax poetic about unity and friendship?
Of course the problematic point here is how exactly that unity and friendship will be achieved. How is hugging your local pastor and telling him that while you’re an atheist, you think what he’s doing is just marvelous going to stop him from going to a school board meeting later in the week and pound the podium with his Bible while imploring the local school system to teach creationism in science class? This was the question at the heart of the Unscientific America debacle in which accommodationists dodged the question of how we’re supposed to defend science from fundamentalists and theological elements which seek to reach into public schools to proselytize using bad science and faulty logic. And as pointed out above, with good reason. Once you really go forward with the issues at hand and apply the idea of agreeing on everything to matters of science, which tend to have only one set of answers to them, the supposed consensus breaks down. What do we do then? Don’t look at the accommodationists. They’re not going to give you an answer. Instead they’re just going to invoke a golden mean fallacy and talk about cooperation and common ground. Which in case of atheists really means to declare criticism from the atheist side spiteful and call those leveling the criticisms “the problem.” That’s how consensus, common ground and cooperation apparently get done in the accommodationist world.