On Comment is Fallacious I noticed an article entitled ‘Agnostic about atheism,’ which really should have been enough to trigger the warning sirens. Apparently atheists are the new evangelicals, apparently we are ‘tone deaf’ in failing to appreciate that European culture and music comes from religion, and we deprive ourselves of great foods because great food is religious, such as halal and kosher.
The author, one Tracy Quan, evidently feels that writing chick-lit and knowing which purse to keep her dildo in qualifies her to comment on what atheists are and aren’t.
I think that Tracy Quan needs to stop reading Cosmo and perhaps take on some rather more serious literature, beginning with anything remotely connected to the attacks currently being made upon separation of church and state. Of course atheists are inclined to vociferously attack religion: it’s the cultural archetype for many of the most frightening political ideas currently being advanced by the Right.
If Richard Dawkins sounds a little more strident than Bertrand Russell, I imagine it’s because the western world wasn’t living in fear of the twin threats of airplanes express delivered to their major landmarks or another fruitcake fundamentalist POTUS to vindicate Samuel Huntington. Also Bertrand Russell didn’t have to share a world with people like Pat Robertson and his disciples.
As for the rest, Quan declares, “Run from religion, if you must, but you can’t hide from song, sculpture, poetry, architecture, painting, tourism or food.” Pithy. All song, sculpture, poetry, architecture, painting, tourism and food are related to religion? I have never been one to gainsay the culture power of Christianity, particularly in regard to music, but does anyone believe that this power is anything to do with the beliefs of Christianity?
Quan cites as an example the music of Giovanni Palestrina, musical director of the Julian Chapel. He was funded by the church. Indeed most art was created using the resources of the church; if talented musicians and sculptors wanted work, they went to the largest peddlers of patronage. Organised religions. The depths of Quan’s lack of knowledge is shown completely when she cites Benjamin Britten as part of the cultural tradition of religion.
Arguably, Britten’s most famous work is not religious: the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Even though Britten wrote a great deal of music for the church, many of composers to whom he looked for example weren’t particularly religious either. Mahler, and Stravinsky in particular were emblematic of the collapsing patronage of the church in the face of rising secular operatic and musical institutions.
Quan might gripe that atheists seem to reject the cultural heritage provided by gilded churches and cathedrals, but what of sites such as the Colosseum of Rome, the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Kremlin, the Brandenburg Gate? The cultural monuments of the western world go far beyond the merely religious. The Basilica of St. Peter is not all there is to Rome, I’m happy to say, despite its grandeur.
Yet at the root, Quan’s complaints seem to ultimately reside in the embarrassment she feels whenever atheists get on their metaphorical soapboxes to attack religion. Whether Hitchen’s phrase, “god is not great” or the concept that religion causes war, Quan wonders why we atheists have to indulge in such excess. Evidently Quan really is as ignorant as one might expect from an author of chick-lit.
Anyone speaking out against cultural norms seems to be speaking in excess. Religion has had centuries to become the ‘norm’ in our culture, despite the great and growing numbers of atheists and agnostics. It carries with it the air of respectability; one feels almost apologetic when informing the religious that actually you don’t share their mores and prejudices. One feels mean-spirited when rebutting those who want to ask if you’ve been saved.
Yet why should we permit the current status-quo to persist? A sizable chunk of Christians regularly complain, whether through the pages of the Daily Mail or in Parliament, that they’re being discriminated against through equality legislation etc. Yet the tendency to secularize is actually correcting a previous imbalance, and if arguments against religion need to be advanced along the way, then so be it.
Perhaps I’m just upset that Melanie Phillips hasn’t written an article denouncing me yet.