Monday, February 14, 2011

Languange and Gnu Atheism

This is a very good illustrated talk on language, and the purposes of veiled ways of taking that are needed in order to maintain relationships. Talking in a veiled manner is used in order to negotiate an outcome or come to an understanding when an awkwardness exists between the participants in that they may not know what the other knows, and know what they know what the other knows, and so on.

The important bit as far as Gnu Atheism is concerned is in the latter part of the presentation, in which the speaker explains why the little boy speaking his mind in the fable about the emperor with no clothes is so effective and necessary in order to bring about a change in thinking. It also applies to the Gnu Atheist movement advertising that tells people that it is OK to accept that gods do not exist. This example also shows why it is important for New Atheists (and their Gnu cousins) to be vocal, outspoken and public. It is so the other members of the public can feel the sense of social knowledge and have acceptance of non-belief, instead of the sense of awkwardness.

Religious organisations have known or instinctively acted on this. In the past it was blasphemy laws that enforced the limiting of questioning religious authority so that it could not be discussed with anyone, as anyone could inform on you. Totalitarian governments work in the same way. Opposition cannot be organised because you don't know who to trust, or how widespread the same feeling of opposition exists. What is true for all forms of oppression of a social group is that while the knowledge of rejection remains restricted to the individual no progress can be made. This is why the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have been triggered by truth and social media, and why governments suppress them as a matter of course; facebook and twitter have become ways of spreading individual knowledge to the wider group that allows dissenting thought to be socially acceptable.

In these more enlightened days the blasphemy laws are reduced or removed from the state laws, so the religious organisations have to fall back to social pressures in order to keep dissenting voices silent. Religions know that the longer and more widespread the silence exists, the more that people can only go so far as to individually reject religion, but only in their own minds. So the power of religion remains. If one cannot know that one can safely be overtly non-religious, so one also has the social pressure for exhibiting religiousness for external appearances.

This is where the accomodationalism comes in. The accomodationalists want to have a veiled conversation about science and religion or superstition so that they can pretend to remain friends with the religious. The language used by accomodationalists is a veiled language, so the uncritical listeners get the message that they want to hear. The faithful hear that science does not contradict their faith (even though it does in reality) and the scientists hear that it is OK to teach science to the faithful as they are not contradicting the faithful beliefs (even though it does if done properly)

Conversely, Gnu Atheists have no interest in pretending to remain friends with religious persons they don't personally know, and so are quite happy to say that superstitions and myths are silly when there is evidence to show that they are silly. The price that the Gnus pay is they may lose some friends, but maintain their integrity and intellectual honesty. What it also says is that in the case of religions and superstitions Gnus tend to value a friendship based on honesty more than one based on the pretend veiling of conversations.

(h/t Andrew Sullivan)

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