Accommodationist of the Year!

by admin Posted on January 3, 2012


I’d like to thank the Academy.

Jerry Coyne has just awarded me the Mooney Prize for “Accommodationist of the Year” and pays a lot of attention to why, he says, no one is paying attention to me.

He defends his fellow atheist headlights and several sidelights by calling Eric MacDonald “Venerable” (which I thought was a title only a pope could bestow on a saint-in-waiting) and to Jason Rosenhouse as a promising young atheist blogger. He has more trouble finding a name for Greta Christina so he just asks, “Has he read her?” Yes, he has.

Since Jerry seems to have the power to hand out titles (who knew?) I will take him at his word that the chums he defends are everything he says they are. And more. He even seems to have access to my insanely jealous private thoughts (“Why not me… Dear God, why not pay attention to me.”) This maddening envy should have been obvious to me, but wasn’t until Jerry pointed it out.

I thought I was attacking the newbies because they are turning atheism into a private joke, or blague privée as we pompoustuans prefer to call it.

But there is no petulance here. –Nor in Jerry’s comments, where he reminds me that he has written two books. One of which, Speciation, “has become the standard text on modern views about the origin of species.” Damn, I wish I’d written that.

He also quotes the Venerable Eric’s humble and charitable response to a note I left on the Venerable’s blog:

“I feel so embarrassed for you, and for the pitiful criticisms you try to make. It won’t do simply to snipe at us. You must respond to what we say, and if you do not have the time to do that, then you should just get out of our way, because your criticisms invariably miss their mark and we have places yet to go.”

It is not everyday you see largess like this in action. And don’t think twice about it: I will be glad to get out of your way–if you just let me know which way you are marching. So far it isn’t clear. (Btw, loved the Robert Frostiness of that last line.)

I know zombies can sometimes also be unpredictable in their clamber for human flesh. What are new atheists after? Where are you heading? A Christian would say to hell, but based on Jerry’s–not to forget the others’ posts–I tend to think nowhere. And that’s pretty clever. It keeps people off guard when you do the God-snatch at the end.

Get Out of our way…

I’m sorry if this seems pompous and incoherent. Accommodationists are a little like theologians that way, I guess. I sometimes find it hard to finish my thoughts in a jealous rage.

I will try to do better in 2012. I plan to study the blog sites of all the headlights and sidelights and use them as models of how it’s done. Whatever it is.

Further reading:

The Surefire Atheist Rapid Response Manual (December 2011)

Atheism’s Little Idea (November 2011)

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19 thoughts on “Accommodationist of the Year!

  1. Pingback: A few good links | eChurch Blog

  2. I went and had a look. Oh, dear.

    Alas, Jerry still has not yet grasped that he has not written two books. He has written one book, and is the co-author of a second book. This may seem a trifling detail to him but I suspect that his co-author does not view it in that light. Nor do his co-author’s lawyers, who tend to be picky about such matters. This is not reassuring in a man claiming to be impelled by the values of evidence and reason.

    And when it comes to speciation I prefer Raup and Niles Eldredge; they, at least, can deal with the hyper-mutators in their hypotheses and don’t wander around stoutly ignoring the existence thereof…

  3. i have always wondered if New atheists realize the history of the word “accommodationist”. from Wikipedia (sorry) about Booker T. Washington”…..Late in his career, Washington (Booker T.) was criticized by leaders of the NAACP, a civil rights organization formed in 1909. W. E. B. Du Bois advocated activism to achieve civil rights. He labeled Washington “the Great Accommodator”. Washington’s response was that confrontation could lead to disaster for the outnumbered blacks. He believed that cooperation with supportive whites was the only way to overcome racism in the long run.Washington contributed secretly and substantially to legal challenges against segregation and disfranchisement of blacks.[3] In his public role, he believed he could achieve more by skillful accommodation to the social realities of the age of segregation.[1]..”
    from the Oxford Companion to African American Literature”. “…..If Washington’s racial accommodationism is unpalatable, it needs to be understood in light of his beginnings in West Virginia….rom working in the coal furnaces and salt mines of West Virginia to doing housework, Washington’s insistence is that he achieved his position as racial spokesman through hard physical labor. He goes to great lengths, for example, to describe his admittance into Hampton Institute in Virginia in 1872 as the result of his ability to clean and dust a classroom. It is clear that Hampton would have a profound impact on Washington’s views, for it was there he met General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, who would become his mentor and benefactor. Graduating from Hampton in 1875 with honors, Washington returned to Hampton briefly after two years of teaching back in his native West Virginia to implement a program for Native Americans. In 1881 Armstrong recommended Washington to the Alabama legislature, which was seeking to open a normal school for African American students in Tuskegee.”

  4. “He even seems to have access to my insanely jealous private thoughts (“Why not me… Dear God, why not pay attention to me.”) This maddening envy should have been obvious to me, but wasn’t until Jerry pointed it out.”

    So, are you jealous of his LOLcats? Or is it his boots? Don’t you wish you came up with that hilarious term, “faitheist?” Yet I wonder if HE is jealous of Myers and Dawkins for figuring out how to get their followers to send them money. How much longer before this scientist begins selling ceiling cat t-shirts on the internet?

  5. Congratulations!

    All of this reminds of that paper written by George P. Hansen (20 years ago now!) on the whole CSICOP phenomenon:

    Among Hansen’s observations about CSICOP that are most relevant are:

    (1) It’s rhetoric relied heavily on “vilification”, “ridicule”, and “decrying the dangers” of ideas they labeled as irrational.
    (2) The activities of CSICOP “display more parallels with political campaigns than with scientific endeavors.”

    • The irony of using an ecclesiastical title doesn’t escape me, though in your current church hating mode it does seem a cynical use of phrase that’s meant the bearer is worthy of veneration and not simply old. Would you accept “Contemptible” as a suitable alternative titulus and wear it proudly if it were offered? –Though in its current reduced circumstances, not sure the Anglican communion should be making plans for any titles that would run beyond 2015.

      • Well, RJH. I don’t use any title at all now, though it is sometimes accorded to me by others. My only point was that you were wrong about the use of the title Venerable. As to your suggestion that I should wear the title ‘Contemptible’, are you suggesting that that is what I am? If so, what became of your concern about having a reasonable conversation?

      • Eric, I understand the comment and the convention. I put it to you that if you are willing to justify another blogger’s use of the word venerable as being not far of the mark, would you wear the word contemptible if it were offered by a church that characterized its opponents that way. I doubt very much that you are contemptible, though some of your comments are. By the way, though, What an Unbeliever Believes is a much earlier post, but I did find some of your commentary interesting and I mean that in earnest. It should have been marked as such; I am in China and many blogsites including my own are not accessible here, so evidently the instruction to mark it as a re-post didn’t get through to the person giving me information. The less said about the information deficit here the better.

  6. I’ve compiled a helpful list of things to do to get your blog up to “new” atheist quality:

    1.) Search the internet for something that makes you angry, preferably something about religion.
    2.) Blockquote part of it. Rant desultorily. Repeat.
    Tip: The more off-topic and tangential your rants are, the more your readers will think that you are right.
    3.) Repeat steps 1 and 2 frequently throughout the day. If you leave your computer UR DOING IT RONG.
    Tip: Remember, lolcatz are funny, and you need to be funny too. Readers like funny, and since you probably aren’t funny, they won’t like you unless you use lolcatz.

    This is by no means an extensive list, but hopefully it’ll help you start out 2012 on the right foot with the wrong people!

  7. “it is most important to be angry at the right person, at the right time, and most importantly for the right reason(s)”

    Seems like some folks in the atheist community just want to be angry for the sake of being angry.

  8. I have hesitated with this comment, but am finally more curious than insulted, for I do consider myself part of the movement under attack here. I shall keep it polite, as trading invective would defeat my point, which is to receive a reply, preferably a serious one.

    Unlike quite a few who have responded negatively to things you’ve written lately, I’m not wondering who you are and where you came from; for a number of years I enjoyed your contributions to Butterflies and Wheels. I hope you don’t dispute that the change that has taken place has been more with you than with your outspokenly atheist readers; there are too many of us who agree on that point for us all to have changed in the same way over the same period of time. Even Eric MacDonald, who had not read you earlier and was very dismissive, conceded when he read some older pieces that there was a great difference. The obvious question is why the change? I’m not an insider of American Humanism and thus feel I can put the question point blank in unfeigned innocence: is it all, or mainly, as some have suggested, just a side-effect of institutional politics?

    I see there have been exceptions to your condemnation. Hitchens, of course, is no longer with us, but you did give Ophelia a kind of partial exemption to the charges you level at the others, preferring to blame the low tone on her commenters. You even left something less withering in a comment on Eric’s blog, that to me seemed to express regret that the conversation could not be calmer. If I am in error and attacks on you from the New Atheist side began before you had said anything critical of them, please give me a detailed correction. If not, surely you must see that it’s been hard not to react in kind and it is in your power to alter the dynamic that I, frankly, hope you are not enjoying. Of course, if the answer to my question about institutional politics was “yes,” then this question has already, sadly, been answered.

    Lastly, as an occasional reader and very infrequent commenter to your blog (and please forgive me for the oversight if you’ve already answered this somewhere before), have you delegated Steph to answer comments in your stead, or is she acting entirely independently of your wishes? Not merely the frequency of her responses, but the proprietry tone she employs does give the impression that her comments all have an a priori blessing and approval from you; the absence of any statement to the contrary from you merely strengthens this impression.

    I’d be happy for even brief answers to these questions and appreciate the time taken.

    • I’m not answering in Prof Hoffmann’s stead, Stewart, so please don’t take me wrongly.

      I’m curious about something too: Where exactly is the movement that is under attack? When I go out, which I do frequently, I see no signs or traces of “new” atheism — or even atheism in general. Sometimes I see some smiling faces pasted on a billboard with a silly slogan about being good without God, but that’s it; I see no other signs of a atheistic cultural force afoot. But then I hop on the computer and, lo and behold, there’s talk of a godless revolution going on! And all its leaders seem to be grumpy old people! Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!?!

      So tell me straight: Can we really consider a movement to be a movement if its social structure purely consists in the malcontented elderly using the internet? I would think not; real movements have social gravitas. They have observable impacts on the way people relate to one another. What measurable impact has “new” atheism had? It sure does manage to foster a lot of conflict, but that’s really about it. And now I’m curious about something else: Is that really a movement you want to be a part of?

    • You raise some interesting points. I do think however there has been a sea change in the tone of atheism and I blame this on the clowns, not the circus. Of course there has been a change: I used to have a lot more time to attack the excesses of religion, and I did it using the best weapons of criticism and satire I could. I simply cannot buy into the style nor the strategy of the Dawkins revolution with its troglodyte approach to religion in general, its hamfisted tactics, its political naivete concerning tactics and methods, and its almost ( I use the term advisedly) miraculous lack of depth and vision. There are no deans breathing down my throat; but there are plenty of academics who are tsk tsking at the puerility of the Jerry Coynes and PZ Myers. Religion grew up and gave up most of its truth claims not because it was threatened with a lawsuit but because it developed methods of self-criticism that finally led to the modern era. That is not MY opinion, that is the way it happened. Go back and read my blogs on why there’s no islamic tradition in comedy. It’s because Jews and Christians learned to laugh at their gods. Islam can only laugh at other people’s religion. Like atheism. It is not mature enough to be self-critical and so stand in great danger of fracture. Maybe that has already happened and maybe I am on one side of the fracture. Of course this is sad, because unbelief or what you want to call it is infinitessimally small to start with, not like the late medieval church in the 16th century which split under the weight of its own diverse opinions. I am a critic also because I am a historian, not a scientist, and because I think new atheism lacks a sense of proportion and of the prior history of atheism, which is not an encouraging history. The only difference–and you can quote me–between a PZ Myers and a Madalyn Murray O Hair is that he has a PhD and she is dead. In any case, as the dying new atheist movement seems determined to go on having its monologue and discouraging critique, the best thing for me to do is to develop my own ideas in my own way. Unfortunately I can no longer do this in the arena I once could. Simple as that.

  9. I don’t think I’ve commented here before, though I have thought about it often enough. I came back to this entry to post after re-reading your “What An Unbeliever Believes”— a post that I rather agree with. I do read your blog regularly, and I do tend to support your views on the New Atheists. They are a humourless lot, in general, and depressingly earnest and prone to chest-thumping. I’ve always rather admired Dennett and Dawkins and Hitchens, but too many of their followers (and far, far too many of the commentariat at Pharyngula and Ophelia Benson’s blog) have made unbelief into a very little idea and strike me as both un- and anti-intellectual. You’ve stood up for things like history and cultural context and irony and ambiguity. I don’t find an appreciation of those things at Jerry Coyne’s blog, let alone at Pharyngula—- which is why I do return here for your posts. I hope you’ll keep writing.

    • The difficulty with admiring Dawkins and deprecating the tactics of his followers is that it was Dawkins himself who instigated those tactics, as Andrew Brown has pointed out at:

      Abandoning reasoned discourse under the banner of reason doesn’t work, just as refusing to debate with anyone who isn’t a full-bore whacko fundamentalist doesn’t work. I live in England where it is perfectly normal not to believe in one or more gods; one would think this was a promising starting point for atheism.

      Unfortunately the ‘new atheists’ are so heavily invested in their victimhood status that the statement ‘I am an atheist’ has to be supported by a round of encouraging applause, because obviously living in a country where only 44% of the population believe in god means that the 56% who do not believe in god are an oppressed minority.

      Or something like that…

  10. Stewart,

    I’m unsure where you come up with the idea that Steph answers for Dr Hoffmann. All of my experience (and I frequent this blog quite often) is that Dr Hoffmann anwers for himself. The only resemblance between the two is that they think alike on more topics than the rest of us do.

    And no, I am not anwering for RJH and would not attempt to do so even if he asked (trust me, he wouldn’t).

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