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Thursday, June 26, 2003

Bright Sparks

OK, everyone, get out your pencils and paper, and write this down: "In the modern world, there is no minority group so oppressed, so marginalized, that the creation of an advocacy group cannot worsen their plight."---Me

Hmmm...needs work.

In this case, the marginalized and oppressed are atheists, and Richard Dawkins is swaggering to their aid.

This article reeks of smug. Great waves of smug roll from it and envelope my keyboard. It falls to the floor and wafts over the carpet. Anybody know where I can buy some smug remover? I'm fresh out.

He begins by talking about "consciousness-raising", which I'm sure at one time was a dewy fresh idea, but now it's a multi-billion dollar industry. "Consciousness raised, buffed, and tuned! Show up your friends! Be better than everyone else on your block!"

After touching on Northern Hemisphere chauvinism and male chauvinism, he attacks theist chauvinism, homing in on the tiny, precious baybeez:

My favourite consciousness-raising effort is one I have mentioned many times before (and I make no apology, for consciousness-raising is all about repetition).

Otherwise known as keeping a constant, humorless vigil designed to wear down the unsaved heathen until he gives in and adopts the outward trappings of your faith, just to shut you and your fellow harpies up.

Oops. Did I just use a religious metaphor? Heavens...

A phrase like "Catholic child" or "Muslim child" should clang furious bells of protest in the mind...Children are too young to know their religious opinions. Just as you can't vote until you are 18, you should be free to choose your own cosmology and ethics without society's impertinent presumption that you will automatically inherit your parents'...Occasionally a euphemism is needed, and I suggest "Child of Jewish (etc) parents"...children should hear themselves described not as "Christian children" but as "children of Christian parents". This in itself would raise their consciousness, empower them to make up their own minds...I could well imagine that this linguistically coded freedom to choose might lead children to choose no religion at all.

Ahhh...and that was what this was all about, right? Influencing the little tykes' minds.

Friend, I guarantee you that only those children who have no need of such "consciousness raising" will benefit by it. Only those whose parents are already disposed to admit the possibility of atheism in their own households will crack the linguistic code and wonder if it means anything for them. The others will embrace or reject their parents' faith in the fullness of time, as ever before.

Onward into the modern social Hell, whose path is paved with you-know-what:

Please go out and work at raising people's consciousness over the words they use to describe children. At a dinner party, say, if ever you hear a person speak of a school for Islamic children, or Catholic children...pounce: "How dare you? You would never speak of a Tory child or a New Labour child, so how could you describe a child as Catholic (Islamic, Protestant etc)?" With luck, everybody at the dinner party, next time they hear one of those offensive phrases, will flinch...


I expect they'll be doing plenty of flinching on the spot. Please do feel free to reply, "Why don't you shut your smug yap, you insufferable shrew. Take your post-modern piety and shove it firmly up your preternaturally-tight sphincter. And take off that halo, it's cutting off the blood supply to your brain."

This is precisely like being confronted by the big-haired, tightly-smiling Church Lady who attempts to pry into your marital status or religious inclinations. Perhaps Dawkins is not dismayed by the prospect of turning into what is essentially a narrow-minded small-town scold, but I'll pass, thanks.

We retreat from this vision of the Pit to take in a different one:

A triumph of consciousness-raising has been the homosexual hijacking of the word "gay"...Those of us who subscribe to no religion; those of us whose view of the universe is natural rather than supernatural; those of us who rejoice in the real and scorn the false comfort of the unreal, we need a word of our own, a word like "gay".

Oh, God. No we don't. But we do need a cast. We seem to have broken our arm patting ourselves on the back.

Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell, of Sacramento, California, have set out to coin a new word, a new "gay"...Like gay, it should be positive, warm, cheerful, bright.

Bright? Yes, bright. Bright is the word, the new noun. I am a bright. You are a bright. She is a bright. We are the brights. Isn't it about time you came out as a bright? Is he a bright? I can't imagine falling for a woman who was not a bright.

Ugh. This example would more readily suggest the twees, the smugs, the smarmies, the preciouses (hmmm...), or the insufferables. I could go on---the emetics, the ipecacs, the...

Dawkins then assures us that all the really Smart Set (as exemplified by the membership of the National Academy of Sciences) are atheists.

People reluctant to use the word atheist might be happy to come out as a bright...

It invites the question, "What on earth is a bright?" And then you're away:

"A bright is a person whose world view is free of supernatural and mystical elements. The ethics and actions of a bright are based on a naturalistic world view."

"You mean a bright is an atheist?"

"Well, some brights are happy to call themselves atheists. Some brights call themselves agnostics. Some call themselves humanists, some free thinkers. But all brights have a world view that is free of supernaturalism and mysticism."

"Oh, I get it. It's a bit like 'gay'.

So apparently the acceptance of the term "bright" hinges on whether your audience actually is accepting of atheists. The whole exercise seems a bit moot at that point. Otherwise, the only way you have avoided the terrible stigma of "atheist" is if you have given your hearers a tremendous laugh at your expense. They now think you're too goofy (i.e., stupid) to be any harm. The more humorless Church Lady types, however, now believe that not only are you one of the Godless, you're weird too.

Dawkins concludes his imaginary conversation:

"Oh, I get it. It's a bit like 'gay'. So, what's the opposite of a bright? What would you call a religious person?"

"What would you suggest?"

Uh...DIM?? Dull? Dark? Occluded? Cloudy?

HAW! HAW! HAW! What wit, Professor Dawkins! Well said, sir!

What a jerk. This whole column is embarrassingly childish and simplistic for a man who prides (and I do mean prides) himself on his intellect. You can imagine Maureen Dowd writing much of it.