October 2005

A couple of the Cantabs linked to an article by Giles Fraser in the Guardian which says that atheists should be less arrogant.

I think we all agree that arrogance is a bad thing. These people, for example, are frightful oiks, as I’ve said before. It’s one of those irregular verbs, though, isn’t it? I am forthright, you are outspoken, he is arrogant. Are the objects of Fraser’s criticism arrogant?

We read two specific examples of the sort of thing he’s against. Fraser is shocked and slightly embarrassed at the sight of people who have gone to the trouble of joining secularist organisations actually saying that they want a secular world. Who’d have thought it?

This misses the point, though, as does the injunction that atheism should be more critical of itself. The point is that atheism is not a thing in the same way that a religion is. As Fraser has himself said elsewhere, atheism is strictly defined in contrast to theistic religion. Not all atheists would describe themselves as humanists, for example, though Fraser conflates the two. Most atheists wouldn’t trouble themselves to join an atheist group. They don’t feel a fraternity with other atheists, the substitute family and InstaFriendsTM which are such an attraction of religion. They don’t feel the need to indulge in critique from within, because there’s no border to turn inwards from. I might think that some of the outspoken atheists are arrogant, but I don’t feel the need to say that they’re Not True Atheists.

So, given that atheists are not by nature gregarious, those who do form groups or speak out in public probably have their reasons. Fraser picks out an atheist living in Texas, who you’d imagine might not have such an easy time of it; and Maryam Namazie, who certainly has her reasons for making the statement to which Fraser objects.

Fraser moves on to criticise the out-moded philosophy of atheists, which isn’t post-modern enough. Oddly enough, given Fraser’s advocacy of post-modernism, what I know about it is mostly filtered through Christian critique of it. So, if Evangelism Made Slightly Less Difficult is anything to go by, it’s about moving away from attempts to explain everything (which attempts you should refer to as meta-narratives in discussions with philosophy professors) and towards smaller stories which have meaning to individuals. From The Post-Evangelical we also learn that it’s a good idea, even though no one is very sure what it means (but see Pete Broadbent’s excellent follow-up to that post of mine for a nice description of evangelical sub-culture: Doctrinal Rectitude Trust, indeed! 🙂

Some Christians are in favour of post-modernity and some are against it. It’s not surprising that atheists are the same. As I’ve said before (bottom few paragraphs), as someone who was educated as a scientist I’m aware of how much we don’t know and where some of our most powerful ideas don’t fit together at the edges. If there is a big story, we don’t have it, and nobody who actually knew anything about it would say otherwise. I personally hope that there is a big story, and the power of scientific methods leads me to think it’s probable, but I don’t know. I don’t think relativism is a practical philosophy to live by, so I suppose I’m Not a True Post-modernist.

Fraser contradicts himself at the end of his argument (although the idea that arguments should not contradict themselves is, I suppose, an out-moded rationalist position). First he points out that that outspoken atheism is Victorian and unfashionably modern (as opposed to post-modern), and is therefore bad. Then he says the opposite, that atheism is not remotely counter-cultural, and is therefore bad. Assuming culture is defined by the views of people who read the Guardian, Fraser’s sort of Christianity is bang alongside it. This is no bad thing: it’s better for Christians to be Guardian readers than members of the Doctrinal Rectitude Trust, but he can’t have it both ways.

In fact, in the UK, both outspoken (by which I mean evangelical and to some extent Catholic) Christianity and outspoken atheism stand as opposites over a large number of people who simply don’t care one way or the other. Both are counter-cultural in way which inclusive, liberal Christianity is not (which is partly why inclusive, liberal Christianity is dying and the evangelicals will eventually own the Church of England). If the one were to cease, the need for the other would also, and we could all go home. As it is, these islands are connected to the rest of the world, and in any case, there are occasionally things to be concerned about here.

Fraser’s final call for atheists to understand religious belief is odd, given that the atheists who bother to talk about religion are often those who have the best sort of understanding possible for an unbeliever, namely that they were once believers themselves. Speaking for myself, I hope I’m only arrogant when I’m returning the favour, although I am sure exasperation gets the better of me sometimes (hint to Christians: don’t try to advertise on my journal 🙂 I understand more or less what makes believers tick. I just think they’re wrong.

I went to see Serenity the other day. Here’s a spoilerific review, in which I won’t tell you exactly what happens, but I will mention stuff which people who’d like to see it totally fresh probably don’t want to know. It’s cut for those on LJ, and there’s a bit of spoiler space for my literally 1’s of readers using RSS.


I liked it. I liked Firefly, as I’ve mentioned before. In some ways I liked Firefly better than Buffy, as I somehow found it a more convincing world.

According to the couple of members of our party who hadn’t seen the series, Serenity does stand up well on its own, but I suspect a lot of the geekier viewers will be going because they’ve seen Firefly and want more. As a continuation of Firefly, it’s satisfying: we finally find out what exactly it is about River that makes the Alliance want her so badly (hint: it’s not that she’s made of chocolate), and the backstory of the Reavers is revealed as well.

The film is darker than most of the episodes (with the possible exception of the pilot, also entitled Serenity). Mal’s ruthless and more obviously damaged by the war. Major characters die without much warning. The villain is a total sociopath. Luckily, there is still the by-play between the characters which made the series funny, but it’s much more graveyard humour than it was before.

The special effects work well without being intrusive. Whedon finally gets his huge space battle, which is worth seeing on the big screen. Serenity (the ship) has lost some of her friendly lighting in favour of cooler blues, in keeping with a more high tech, less Old West feel to the film as a whole: you can see it in the costumes too.

My only complaint about the film is that it’s rushed (actually, that’s not my only complaint: the crew’s inability to get the Super Secret Info off the ship using a marvelous technology we call radio was slightly grating, but necessary for the plot, I suppose). We get what in TV land would be at least a season’s worth of exposition about River, and the resolution of the Alliance’s hunt for her, in a couple of hours. There’s not a lot of time for anything else. Characters other than Mal and River don’t see much development; and River herself magically transforms from Bipolar Girl into Buffy (that silhouetted shot with the axe, eh?) with barely a pause for breath.

That said, I write as someone who’d seen the original series. Totally satisfying the existing fans might have meant making an over-long film which would be of no interest to people who didn’t already care about these characters. I think Whedon’s done the best he could with the constraints that the evil Fox TV executives handed him, curse them.

In summary, it’s a good action adventure for people who’ve not seen the series, and it’s finally some more Firefly for people who have.

By the way, anyone who wants to be throughly spoiled might enjoy Serenity in 2000 Words or Less.

challenging_god is having a Biblical contradictions thread. For people unfamiliar with how this works, here’s my step-by-step guide:

First, a nutty creationist rants about the atheistic cult of humanism, and throws out a challenge to prove that the Bible contains errors, contradictions or what-have-you.

Next, bitter atheists descend upon the thread and interpret single verses as free-standing statements of propositional logic, and show how they contradict each other.

Occasionally, someone makes a valid point, like the differing genealogies of Jesus in Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels (both designed to show Jesus as the Jewish Messiah; both, alas, different). When this happens, the inerrantists trot out their standard counter-argument, which involves relying on things the text does not, in fact, say, or on ignoring the hard bits in favour of what is actually a more liberal Christian interpretation. I’ve not seen the one where they say “Hmmm… yes, this is a difficult passage[this being the approved terminology], but I’m still going to be an inerrantist, if it’s all the same to you”. I feel that it can’t be long in coming, though.

Anyhow, I have a favourite contradiction (a contradiction with external reality, rather than an internal contradiction, but still, it about waps it up for that wascally inewancy). I successfully used my contradiction to “turn” robhu (note: sarcasm). It has not yet been banned for its mind-melting power, so I’ve given it another outing on this thread of the discussion. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to engage ikefriday, the original poster, in debate. Instead, triphicus has turned up, and insists on being sane and reasonable. Standards are falling in evangelicalism, let me tell you.

I’ve also e-friended mr_ricarno after an interesting conversation about CICCU.

And so to bed.