Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Dick hierarchy

I just spent part of my Sunday morning watching videos of Richard Dawkins on Bill Maher, and Sam Harris on Lawrence O'Donnell's The Last Word.

It's easy for me to be impressed, even awed by the intellects of these men, and to be jealous of their ability to present ideas clearly, simply and without hesitation. It also leads me down the road of the "Don't be a Dick" "controversy" - Phil Plait's claim that being a dick in support of atheism is counterproductive when addressing people of faith. My own thoughts are these:

  • Outspoken folks who advocate atheism and ridicule woo are not going away - P.Z. Myers for example. P.Z. is worthy of respect because he is able to present facts in detail and with clarity. He's to be embraced, but most of us cannot emulate him because we are not smart enough, not informed enough, and are not secure enough in our job, family, social situations to be a dick.

  • Christopher Hitchens falls into the dick category - with a capital "D". On the other hand, he's grown on me over the years, he is consistent in his ridicule of religious institutions. He's a deep thinker, well spoken, a fabulous writer, and courageous in the face of a life-threatening illness. He's a dick, but a treasure. I sincerely hope he's with us for another 40 years.

  • Outspoken folks such as Dawkins and Harris, and Daniel Dennett are essential - the deep thinkers of the Atheist movement - it is a movement people. Honestly, both Dawkins and Dennett come off as wise uncles - charming, gently chiding, but having a deep and wide grasp of human nature and the unfortunate place that religion holds in our individual and collective lives

  • Less outspoken, but notable and respectable exemplars of atheism such as Phil PLait and Adam Savage (to name but two of thousands) - are also essential. We're not all going to be fire-breathers - and we need people we admire who are capable of a more common touch, or with we feel a closer kinship. I can imagine hanging out with Plait and Savage and having a friendly conversation, whereas a conversation with Dawkins might end up with me kissing his shoes or something utterly incongruous.

  • There are millions of us fighting the insurgency - the community on the web, and in local meetups and personal interactions is where millions of other hearts and minds will be won.

  • There are the passive and closeted folks who need to be encouraged to at least join the discourse

  • There are those people that can be enlightened

  • There are those people that cannot be enlightened

If this seems like an overly simplistic and even unnecessary categorization, I'll grant you that. I just need a mental picture to see where I fit in, and to be able to reflect on people within the context that they and we have chosen for them.

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