The grand colours of the atheist movement seem washed out to me. The great debates, the vibrant speakers, the literature now all seem distant and far removed from the present.  One of the touchstones I fondly remember though, is the Intelligence squared debate, a spirited affair in which both sides did their best to persuade the audience of the validity of their respective positions. Here it is again, in case you missed it.


The oration, the rhetoric, the impassioned defences. Fantastic stuff. But more importantly, I think the debate spoke to people. Certainly no one deconverts or converts on the basis of one debate, but the possibility of this being a beginning (either way) is there.

What I see and feel now is the utter lack of space to grapple with ideas and ideologies. Certainly here at DWR we have planted our stakes and, over the years, made it abundantly clear that religion is too sweet a poison that has no place in a civilized society.

Yet, taking a peek at the handy wordpress blog feed, one can develop a nasty case of carpal tunnel just scrolling through the assorted god bothering and religious ballyhoo that religious individuals vomit up, in a endless stream. It is faintly disheartening to see the lack of progress we as a civilization are making on moving toward dispelling the fairy tales of the past. It makes me think, to a certain extent, that we are wired for belief in compelling narratives rather than seeing the world as it is.

We used to have a regular contingent here at DWR of believers who earnestly (sometimes not so earnestly) would state the case for religion, it made for a lively time in the comments section. But now that’s mostly gone, at least in the case of religion. It is understandable, who wants to be told that their worldview is the bunk-y-est of bunk and be shown exactly why their arguments do not hold up.

I get that.  But preaching to the choir, so to speak, has its limits.  It gets boring after awhile.

Lately though, not just in the religious arena, but in politics and feminism as well the move toward the calcification and crystallization of viewpoints and ideology seems to be cutting people off from each other. The chance to have one’s arguments and ideas rub up against opposing views is a fraught with hyperbolic statements and condemnations. The idea that atheists eat babies comes to mind and other assorted religious misreadings of atheist positions.

But the climate now is different.  We’re all going full-tribal now and withdrawing from the sphere of public debate and the informative acrimony that goes along with contentious issues.

Instead of debate, interactions seem more like the lobbing for rhetorical grenades back and forth between groups and individuals, looking for the ‘ah-ha I win’ rhetorical riposte which does little, or close to nothing to move the issue in question forward.

Let’s be clear here, I am responsible for my fair share of rhetorical grenades – see the RPOJ tag here – but is that paradigm the only way forward?

Moving forward seems much more difficult now as so many issues in society now are extremely partisan in nature and don’t even fall into the category of ‘contentious’  because the sides are so firmly ensconced in their respective positions.  It seems like one of the by-products of the atomization of our consumerist society is the deadening of the public sphere and concomitantly the exposure to other points of view that, in terms of intellectual maturity and growth, are vital to the health of society.

Who wins when we cannot listen to each other and respectfully disagree?