Richard Dawkins has just had his Humanist of the Year title withdrawn by the American Humanist Society, because of, well, because of his humanist zeal.
Dawkins was so focussed on not getting taken out by the Flying Spaghetti Monster and its zealous worshippers that he was blindsided by the most unbelieving of the unbelievers. Turns out the real problem is not the religious religious types, but the non-religious religious types, like the American Humanist Society, or as I think it will probably become known, The American Humorous Society.
In a classic case of the Maginot Line, all Dawkins’ guns were pointing in the wrong direction. So he was taken out by the Sexual Spaghetti Monster, a huge contorted and contradictory entangled ball of zealotry, quasi-religion and heresy-hunters whose centre is as locatable as a bowl of over-boiled spaghetti, and probably just as firm.
And it was all so completely left field.
Dawkins was never going to be burnt at the proverbial public stake by Christians. Never. In fact God-fearers were lining up to have conversations with him for years. Every apologist worth their salt was baiting him and calling him and pleading with him to give them some credibility by engaging with them. Often to no avail. Heck, ask David Robertson, my friend and colleague, who was knocked back by Dawkins as an insignificant flea! So impressed was he by the rejection that David named his blog TheWeeFlea.
We wanted Dawkins. We needed him! We wouldn’t have him cancelled in a pink fit. Besides, as Christians we were committed to open dialogue. Free speech doesn’t come for free, and it didn’t come from secularism either, let’s get that straight. And it won’t be handed out in the future by secularism, as Dawkins is finding out.
So, no, Dawkins didn’t see the anti-religious of the Sexular Age coming at all.
And now, the man for so long the hero of the anti-religious and the hard atheists, has been cancelled by the AHA for – wait for it – ““demean[ing] marginalised groups using the guise of scientific discourse”.
In other words, just as he has done much of his adult life, Dawkins pulled the lever on some of the excesses of religious groups, this times the trans movement, especially its insistence that a man who calls himself a woman is actually a woman, and not a man after all. That’s the guts of it. Or the chromosome of it, as Dawkins might like to put it.
And he did it in his usual grumpy manner over the years. Here’s just one tweet:
“Is trans woman a woman? Purely semantic. If you define by chromosomes, no. If by self-identification, yes. I call her “she” out of courtesy.”
Which all seems so brutally and truthfully scientific to me. And hey, if you’re a Christian you’re used to Dawkins’ sneer, so everyone else needs to harden up, right?
Apparently not. The AHA has pulled his 1996 honour and written to him – and to everyone in the world to ensure they are seen to be right on – to explain their decision. 1996 eh? Seems like a long time ago. I got married in 1996. Twenty five years. A lot of water under the bridge.
Twenty five years and a lifetime ago for the Sexular Age. What we could only imagine in 1996 being demanded in the public square, when it comes to sexual identity, is now the reality. And Dawkins, at 80, is now the old man in damp corduroy that Francis Spufford once described Christians as, in his excellent, and intriguing little book, UnApologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity can still make Surprising Emotional Sense.
It’s intriguing too to re-read Spufford’s book, given it was written in 2012 when the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism were riding the range and terrifying fundamentalists everywhere, leaving huge dollops of horse poo in their wake. Now they are old or dead. Yet apparently still terrifying fundamentalists, except only of the sexual variety now. Even Hitchens surely would be astonished at how quickly rational debate over matters that are scientific would be under attack not from the orthodox religious faithful, but from the religious faithful of the Sexular Age.
Spufford quotes or mentions Dawkins often. In some senses that makes his work seem out of date. But the title of Spufford’s book gives away the fact that he was ahead of his time (and I’m keen to read his new novel Light Perpetual), in his very title.
“Surprising emotional sense”. If there’s one thing that many a Christian is suddenly realising after years of banging on about how to make the faith seem rational, it is that we have neglected the emotional sense of Christianity as a huge apologetic drawcard. And Dawkins et al never picked it. He and his ilk were decidedly progressive in their rational approach, but let’s face, it, clearly Neanderthal in their emotional approach, hence its lack of universal appeal. Their grumpy superciliousness wore as thin as those corduroy trousers Dawkins wears.
Spufford nails our current cultural moment with this comment:
Most people don’t have a God-shaped space in their minds, waiting to be filled, or the New Atheist counterpart, a lack-of-God-shaped space, filled with the swirly pungent vapours of polemic. Most people’s lives provide them with a full range of loves and hates and joys and despairs, and a moral framework by which to understand them, and a place for awe and transcendence, without any need for religion.
Dawkins et al failed to realise this. The Sexular Age did. And it filled the space quite nicely before settling in and then deciding that it would try to totalise its beliefs in exactly the same way a religion did. Hence the cancelling of Dawkins the heretic.
The AHA board stated that Dawkins had:
“over the past several years accumulated a history of making statements that use the guise of scientific discourse to demean marginalised groups, an approach antithetical to humanist values”.
Dicky was not tricky enough. He was too obvious in his scientific language. He simply assumed that once religion declined – as it inevitably would in the light of reason – that Reason with a capital “R” would hold ascendency.
At least Dawkins had a ripper riposte. He accepted the stripping of the award and went to his CV to remove all reference to it, only to find he had never put it on the CV in the first place.
:Hmmmph,” he sputters, “I dumped you, you didn’t really dump me.”
The American Humanist Society publicly celebrates those it calls “freethinkers” so the irony is huge is it not? Turns out the straitjacket they require every freethinker to wear means that free thinking is bound by the “thou shalt nots” of the Sexular Age.