Friday, 19 March 2010
Atheist Pulpiteers Preaching to the Choir
I once read of a preacher who made a marginal note (a gloss!) in his pulpit manuscript to remind himself to raise his voice at a particular point in his sermon: “Argument weak; yell like hell!”, he wrote. The pulpiteers of popular atheism must have gone to the same school of rhetorical arts as the preacher, except their marginal note seems to go like this: “Argument weak; ridicule opposition!”.
According to reports appearing in the press here in Australia, the public addresses at the ‘Global Atheists’ Convention’ held in Melbourne last weekend, which drew an audience of 2500 to hear speakers such as Richard Dawkins, were marked by extremely disparaging ad hominem attacks on perceived opponents which were greeted with raucous laughter and applause by the audience. “The Pope“, according to Dawkins, was “a Nazi“, and Senator Steve Fielding (an Australian politician who is an unabashed evangelical Christian) had an intellect “somewhere below that of an earthworm.” “Are there any believers here?” asked another speaker, “then I’ll speak s_l_o_w_l_y for you”. You get the picture.
Now, ad hominem attacks have always been standard fare of rhetoricians, and indeed are still so today, as anyone who watches a televised parliamentary debate can attest, although modern tastes prefer the rhetoric to be toned down as compared with, say, medieval or present-day atheists' conference standards. But an audience trained to listen discerningly and critically can easily spot and disregard such tactics as irrelevant to any logical force the speaker’s argument may have. Which makes it all the more surprising that speakers as evidently intelligent as Richard Dawkins would resort to them, and doubly surprising that his audience of self-proclaimed enlightened ones would lap it up apparently so uncritically.
The general public, it seems, has not been impressed, and at least one high-profile Australian agnostic has said that the tone of the GAC has prompted him to want to re-consider Christianity, as it seems to be the only guarantor of civilised values left in the world. Not quite a conversion, granted, but the door is open...thanks Richard!
Perhaps it only goes to show that, widespread perceptions notwithstanding, professed atheism is no guarantor of a critical mind?