Making it gnu

There has been a lot of dissatisfaction penned lately against the Gnu Atheists. Call it in-fighting. A friend put it this way after I’d sent him Ophelia Benson’s reply to Julian Baggini: “I felt like I was reading the kind of fashionably CP debate the 20s spawned in magazines 5 people read but two were later assassinated for when Stalin made sure to end debating.” I’ve learned through many heated emails that my friend is not a Gnu Atheist, though I most definitely am.

The attacks range from “Don’t be a dick” slaps-on-the-wrist to outright “we’ve outgrown this childish New Atheism crap.” The message is clear: we need to forge alliances with the moderate religious groups; only together can we fight the real fanatical dickwads. And the Gnus – while they may have done much of the legwork in kicking down the door – are spoiling our cause with their rant.

Which all sounds very nice, except that the Gnus have been doing a fine job of fighting dangerous nonsense for a long time now – at least since Baruch Spinoza set down his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. In fact, there is really nothing “new” about the Gnus, save the medium (blogs, mainly) and the skyrocketing success of a few of their books (Hitchens & Dawkins et al.)

But to read the accomodationists, or “fatheists”, one gets the idea that the Gnus have overstepped some invisible boundary of polite debate ethic. They are routinely accused of being “strident,” “no-nothing,” presumptuous, indelicate. A favorite criticism is that the Gnus attack a straw man God, or the religion of only the most fanatical fringes. Real people, they admonish, are more like Karen Armstrong and Terry Eagleton; they believe in a vaporous, disinterested God who can be all things to all people. Well, hip hip hooray. PZ Myers has posted a challenge on his blog. Send him your best contemporary arguments for God and he will, uh, consider them. I predict they will fail dismally, though like all Gnus I am open to the possibility – however faint – that I might be persuaded.

I’m with the Gnus on this one. I’ve read their books and regularly read their blogs and I can tell you I’d be proud to call this disparate bunch of nerdy atheists my pals in unbelief. Not that I dislike the more moderate tone of the “accomodationists” (I realize not everyone is comfortable taking such strong positions), but I have a problem when they begin chastising their more flamboyant peers for being, well, too outspoken. It’s thanks to the Gnus, after all, that meeker atheists are getting op-eds in mainstream newspapers like HuffPo, Guardian and NYT. Remember Natalie Angier’s Confessions of a Lonely Atheist, published in the NYT less than ten years ago?

You want to know who the Gnu Atheists are in their own words, and how far from a pack of jackals they really are? Hang out at Pharyngula for a few hours, then walk across the street to Butterflies and Wheels, Ex-Catholic Girl, Blag Hag and Why Evolution Is True. That’s where the action is right now. These are exciting voices. They are also fiercely liberal, wonderfully intelligent and disarmingly good-humored. You’re in for a pleasant surprise.

For a long list of atheist blogs check out the Atheist Blogroll, which lists 1270 openly atheist blogs as of this writing (including this one). Enjoy your day.

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