Friday, October 08, 2010

Who needs enemies?

Where are all these accomodationists coming from?  They’re all over the place!  Lots of them are themselves atheists.  This is not in itself perverse: wanting to play nice with people who don’t agree with you is not an unreasonable position.  Respecting things because some people cry if you don’t isn’t logical, but neither is it particularly offensive to me.  Accomodate if you must.  I find your reasons for doing so specious but each to her own.  Just don’t tell me that I have to do it too.  And this is the problem, isn’t it?  Accomodationism seems not to be about being nice to believers so much as telling everyone else that they should be nice.

So what’s the deal?  Why is the place so lousy with accomodationists?  What are they getting out of it?  I’ve no idea, of course, but it’s fun to speculate. 

Ophelia Benson says some useful things here.  For example:

Useful well-conducted dissent – accurate, careful, reasonable – is vital for getting at the truth, and that kind of dissent among atheists is of course all to the good. But the backlash isn’t like that. It’s political: it’s angry, hostile reaction to a challenge to the status quo.

The last sentence says lots.  It might help to explain why people who otherwise demand evidence for extraordinary claims feel so strongly that religious people mysteriously don’t have to.  It might explain why they use anecdotes as evidence in this one area, while calling out people who do that in others.

I’m thinking partly along similar lines.  There is anxiety to be found in upsetting both people and applecarts.  My parents were….disappointed… when I stopped going to church.  Yeah, that kind of ‘disappointed’.  I don’t think I told them out-and-out that I had become an atheist, but if it wasn’t clear to them at that moment, it must have been in the months and years to come. They certainly know it now  And it was hard.  I didn’t want to disappoint them.  I knew that if I left the church, they’d be disappointed with me for the rest of their lives.  I also knew I had no choice but to do it anyway, but it was still a hard thing to do.

Applecart-wise, I’m uncomfortable around clergy.  What’s that about?  In social situations, I find it harder to say things that might offend the religious to clergy  than to less officially religious people.  In social situations, that is: I haven’t the slightest concern about offending people of various cloths online.

This confuses and angers me and I try not to act on this impulse, but it’s there.

My anecdotes are meant to illustrate the obvious point that it’s hard to let go of religion even when you’ve let go of religion.  Other people feel different pressures, I’m sure.  Is this what’s driving accomodationism?

Possibly.  I have an image in mind of what Ophelia calls ‘status quo’.  To me it looks like a web of inhibitions that dampen desires to criticise certain things.  It’s OK to criticise science because there’s (largely) no inhibition against that.  There are all kinds of interacting and complicated inhibitions that make it difficult to criticise religion to the religious though, even when it’s easy to criticise it in a fairly anonymous way or to the irreligious alone.

This is all obvious, of course, and all speculation.  I’d love to have time to think about how to ball it into a hypothesis and think about how to test it.

But in the meantime, I think Ophelia is right, as far as she goes.  I’d love to peel apart ‘status quo’ and see what it might mean, though.

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