Thursday, December 11, 2014

What is a "Brit-atheist" An Answer To A Question

As far as I know, I'm the first person to use the term which I invented after realizing how many of the atheists I've known were either British atheists or other English speakers with anglophile tendencies or attendance at an elite, British university and who shared common traits.   They share a common received set of ideas, beliefs and, more importantly attitudes, among the most prominent of those is the replacement of rigor with condescension, especially for Americans and, perhaps, most of all, Americans with Irish surnames.   I'm afraid that in many of them I see a continuation of the British class system, only somewhat tempered by democratic aspirations, when those aren't entirely rejected for some dotty Marxist or anarchist tripe.  The domestic form of official radicalism, Fabianism, is a travesty, for more of which, see Mother Country by Marilynne Robinson, the finest critique of the British culture I've ever seen.  We could use one of that quality for American culture* and the awful things which we inherited from the mother country.

I have found them to be rigid, 18th century style scientistic materialists of a kind whose faith was definitively overturned by science early in the last century and by logic as well, though intimations of problems with their faith were obvious well before that.  Being Brits, or anglophiles, they worship Charles Darwin, though remarkably few of them have gone to the bother of reading him or have studied how even in his lifetime, he had a hard time elucidating his great claim to fame, which was not evolution but natural selection.  Which is an idea, itself, embedded in the English class system with all of its assumptions of inequality and utilitarian worth of people as the ultimate truth of human life.   As I've noted, even Marx (who, himself declared he was not a Marxist) was originally enthusiastic for the usefulness of natural selection for his materialism but who quickly realized it for what it was merely a distortion of Malthus that imposed British class expectations onto the whole of the natural world.   I think it was that insight by Marx which confirmed my growing skepticism of the idea.

The new atheism, as shallow an intellectual fad as I'm aware of, led me to review the older atheist scribblers, Russell, most of all, but also others, and I have to say that it all looks a lot less impressive to me now than it seemed when I was in my teens and twenties.  Mostly it relies on common prejudices found among those under the sway of British elites, such as those who have run the BBC and other organs of British ... um, culture, instead of a rigorous and honest view of history, science and other areas of life.

Quite often it relies on myths if not outright fabrications, such as those surrounding Galileo and Copernicus, both of whom were, explicitly, believing Christians, in the case of Copernicus, a Catholic cleric who dedicated his book to the sitting Pope, after having been encouraged to publish by a previous Pope, Cardinals and Bishops.  Another is the largely mythical account of the "debate" between Thomas Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce, in which the Bishop is presented as entirely ignorant of science when even Darwin, himself, noted that he, a fellow of the Royal Society, had a full grasp of Darwin's theories and was aware of all of their weaknesses.  In that case the myth relies on a clearly falsified account scribbled in a magazine about four decades after the event, an account which is at odds with the contemporary record of the event and the position of the participants.  And that's just the start of their mythologizing.  I think that's a habit that the Brit-atheists could have gotten from the vicious, often false,  anti-Catholic invective that was a tradition in England from the time of the Tudors and which served, first and foremost, the royals and the other members of the cleptocracy that the Tudors established.

Least anyone think that I'd make the mistake of identifying the type with the English or British people,  most of them don't fit the description above, they are, in many cases, the first recipients of the disdain, derision and stereotyping.   Frankly, I don't know why they've put up with it for so long.   I could, if I wanted, come up with a short list of prominent Brits who seem to have rejected it, some quite entirely,  even some who were embedded in it before.  It's not genetic, it's just a bad habit.

*  For example, the worship of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the cult of the Founders, which, I will point out, has allowed as legal every single awful thing that American governments, oligarchs and corporations have gotten away with, from genocide of the native population, the theft of their lands, slavery, imperial conquest of lands, the subjugation of women, wage slavery, the theft and cheating and killing of workers, buyers of goods and entirely innocent bystanders, the insane gun industry, our corrupt medical-pharmaceutical industries, etc.  The list is too massive to ever be complete.   We have little to gloat over, even in the face of the dreadful aspects of British society.

1 comment:

  1. I am more and more interested in the Christian thinkers I admire, not because I agree with them 100% of the time, but because they engage in the hard work of self-reflection.

    My seminary offered two degrees: an M.Div., and an M.T.S. The latter was an academic degree, the former professional. The primary difference between them was the engagement with pastoral ministry, but the real difference was the requirement of the M.Div. students to constantly engage in self-reflection and critique. All of our religious beliefs and opinions were subject to scrutiny and challenge, but that scrutiny was not simplistic skepticism, it was rooted in self-examination. The pastor who has not looked long and deep into his own presumptions and preferences and prejudices, is someone ill-suited to lead a congregation.

    Religious people, it seems to me, are peculiarly directed to this kind of self-examination, be they Christian or Buddhist or what have you. I'm not bragging about the superiority of religious people (what kind of self-reflection would that be?), I'm just recognizing the greater value of their company. The best people I've known in my personal life were quietly devout and spiritually grounded and, above all, very humble. The most unpleasant people I've come across are the ones convinced they know all they need to know, that reason is their guiding light, and that all of that is to be used as a cudgel against all opponents who don't think as they do.

    I'm more guilty of that latter sin than not. But I'd rather be among people who recognize that as a sin, than among people who declare their privileges and comforts and even education, an unalloyed virtue.