I do however, have a problem with Chris' rhetoric about theists who accept evolution. Put simply, he seems to think that there is a marked lack of civility on the part of the so called "new atheists," when it comes to attacking the faith component, of those who reconcile their theism with evolution and science. He also seems to think that there are a lot of factual errors to the arguments of the new atheists and ultimately, that attacking that reconciliation is a bad strategic move. I know more than a little about this issue of reconciling theism and science, or more accurately, theism and reality. I am less than a year out from having finally ending my twenty some year battle to maintain my faith, in the face of science and indeed other aspects of reality that aren't strictly science related. In all honesty, I think that his problems with incivility and ultimately strategy are both ill-founded. And while I think that the issue of factual errors is a little less clear, I tend to disagree with the accommodationist position - both from the theists themselves and the atheists who defend them.
This is not to say that I don't still believe that it is important for some voices to be heard supporting the accommodationist viewpoint. Both because I believe that people should speak their mind, even if I think they're wrong and because I think that there are people who need to hear from people like Chris and other non-theists who accept that one can be a theist and still accept science. But I also think it's important to have other voices clearly stating that they think the accommodation is a load of crap. Because first and foremost, there are at least some of us who think it is and because not being critical, would leave a lot of people in a position to continue thinking that they should stick to their faith, even though they are having to commit to rather precarious epistemological assumptions. For some, probably even most people, this isn't a problem - they simply don't care enough about any of it to really think about what they actually believe. Then there are those who do think about it...A lot.
At it's heart, my support of those arguing that theism and faith are not nearly as compatible as many accommodationists insist they are, is the impact their arguments have had on ending my thirty year, abusive relationship with my faith. While I have accepted evolution for roughly twenty years and accepted that homosexuals are human beings and deserving of complete equality for about the same, I spent a great deal of those intervening years trying desperately to reconcile it all. And there have been a great many times over the years, when I have been terrified that I might be wrong, or that I was approaching the questions wrong or that the increasing doubts were enough in themselves, to relegate me to eternal damnation. No matter how cavalier I was at times, there was always a nagging fear, an essential terror - because the stakes were so very high. There were also times when I just accepted that if I'm wrong, I'm still right and would rather face eternal suffering, than spend eternity with a capricious, hateful and at times genocidal god. There were times when I simply hated my god for selfishly relegating people I cared about to eternal suffering, or for allowing so much suffering to exist in his supposed creation. And most importantly, there was almost always an underlying self-loathing that was in turns, because I was too weak in my faith or too strong in my faith.
Put simply, my faith made me a seriously fucked up mess.
And while it is impossible to actually be definitive about the number of people who have that same experience, I know that there are a lot of us out there. I will not just sit idly by and leave it at that. I am going to do what I can to help others who have spent immense amounts of time dealing with the same fucked up mess, that their faith has made of their heads and ultimately their lives, get past that mess and find peace in a life after faith. But in doing that, I am going to do something that goes hard against the accommodationist grain. I am going to challenge the notion that one can reasonably reconcile most theistic dogma, with evolution, with gay rights, with really, the vast majority of what we accept in modern society - things that even die-hard fundamentalist, Christian biblical literalists accept. And I am not going to feel some compulsion to be nice about it either. Because while I'm not out looking for a fight, I am not going to back down, simply because someone invokes the notion that religion/faith/spirituality is a private matter. That these are somehow "hands off" topics. They aren't hands off, when someone else chooses to throw their faith in my face. They aren't hands off, when someone decides to jump into a conversation I am having with other people, to disagree with me. They aren't hands off, simply because in the course of a discussion, someone feels that my very act of saying I believe they are wrong, offends them. I don't throw my beliefs in the faces of others, so if they want to discuss this, they're going to have to accept that they may not like where the discussion goes.
And when they start in with what they think I need to know, to find my faith again, I am probably going to get really uncivil with them. I give a fair warning when someone starts that line with me - after that, I am likely to get rather mean. Or when they start with the notion that my lack of religious/spiritual belief offends them, I am quite likely to laugh in their face, in a markedly uncivil fashion. I honestly don't give a shit if this smacks of "they started it" type rhetoric. I am not of the opinion that simply because someone isn't being overtly rude, I need to maintain the same. Frankly, I find the notion of pretending to be polite, when in reality one is being an asshole rather offensive. I am pretty damned straightforward with people and expect the same in return. I have a lot more respect for someone who calls me an asshole, or a moron, than I do for someone who says basically the same thing, pretending to be polite about it.
But there is another consideration in all of this. Just who the hell are we actually accommodating here? As far as real world impact, who are we actually trying to convince of what? I sometimes get the distinct impression that the accommodationist view is somehow hoping to change the minds of the people who are fighting so hard to get creationism into public schools. That there is some wide swath of the population that is actually fighting to get creationism into the schools, who would likely change their minds, if only atheists would be nicer to them. I don't buy it. Especially when the fact of the matter is, to these folks who are fighting so hard, the mere fact that I believe they are wrong and tell them that, is offensive to them. And for the record, they are also offended by the accommodationists - theists and non-theists alike - and what they believe. At a minimum, they believe we're all hopelessly deluded. Theists who are liberal enough to accept even the possibility of evolution being true, are unlikely to be totally turned away, because some atheists say that the reconciliation is just a delusion within a delusion, any more than they are going to be dissuaded by theists who make the same claim. After all, there are plenty of people out there who are theistic and who also accept evolution and other science that flies in the face of most theistic dogma. They are either going to accept that reconciliation or they aren't. In all honesty, I hope that they will look at the evidence supporting the science, find it compelling and also decide that they simply can't reconcile it with their faith.
The accommodationists have their goals - goals I find commendable and in some ways even support. But I too have goals, goals that sometimes require that I use methods that contradict what accommodationists believe will forward their goals. I even accept that in some cases they're absolutely right - my methods may well interfere with their goals. But I'm not going to apologize for it, any more than I expect them to apologize when their methods interfere with my own goals - and they most certainly do that. I accept that and while I wish that there was a way for both goals to move forward, without stepping on the others toes, that simply isn't possible. There is a point where what I believe to be true and what I believe I need to do about it is going to run hard against those who reconcile faith and reality. For those who wish that I would say my piece differently, that I would be nicer about it or just not make claims about the nature of reconciling faith with reality - please keep something very important in mind...
The only reason that I spent twenty years in an abusive, painful and sometimes debilitating relationship with Faith, is because I was constantly running into people who told me that it is possible to make the very reconciliations that you are so adamantly defending. Were it not for Christians who accept homosexuality, were it not for Christians who accept evolution, were it not for Christians who are sex-positive, were it not for Christians who perform incredible feats of mental gymnastics and convinced me I could do the same, I would have become an atheist a very long time ago. I would have been saved the pain, the doubts - the trauma, of fighting so desperately to make the absolutely incoherent, fit together coherently.
And were it not for the uncivil, ill-mannered "new atheists" you disagree with, I would probably still be suffering that relationship today...