Friday, June 29, 2012

Atheists Don't Lack Humility, Imagination, or Curiosity

Even though I agree with Rabbi Yoffie that the likelihood of religion disappearing completely is highly unlikely most of his criticism of Nigel Barber's recent HuffPo piece range from disingenuous to outright moronic. His short but ignorant laden attempt at rebutting Barber does more to demonstrate his own short coming than the author in question. The title of Yoffie's piece kicks off a cascade of double standards and dubious accusations. "What Atheism Lacks: Humility, Imagination, Curiosity" would be more honestly titled if he replaced the three words after the colon with "Silence." I did not find anything that would indicate Yoffie actually paid attention to Barber's piece as a whole. I seriously doubt it would have made the slightest difference if Barber supplied limitless pieces of evidence. He does, by the way, support his assertions. Yoffie, not do much.

One of the rabbi's objections, "Mr. Barber professes to offer proof for his thesis, most of it drawn from his own writings..." This would be legitimate if those writings were not themselves supported. Apparently, he does not realize that when you are among the few conducting original research in a specific area of social science you, by nature, end up being a primary source of citations. Barber does not cite himself alone. If he read through Yoffie might have noticed that Barber does cite others in his short HuffPo piece, which is rather rare among the regular writers on the site (Yoffie certainly doesn't). This is also a bit of a double standard. Where does Yoffie get his authority as a Rabbi? Studying scripture, perhaps. What is that based on? What research have religious authorities conducted on the "truth" of their faith? Religion is self referencing and its original sources are based on quite literally nothing.

Yoffie goes on to demonstrate his own lack of humility and imagination when he asks, "how do these atheism-obsessed individuals measure holiness? How do they distinguish the holy in life from the ordinary and the profane" I'm not sure how he reaches the conclusion that atheists are automatically obsessed for thinking about religion while theists are not. Even setting that aside, his questions are bogus. The terms he uses are expressly religious. It doesn't take much effort to see that an atheist is not likely to think in those terms. Holiness is meaningless. If he is asking what amazes us or fills us with wonder that would be a legitimate question. The fact that he intentionally words it the way he does without ever considering it is inherently  biased seems to indicate a level of arrogance and/or a failure of imagination on his own part.

He then has the nerve to "marvel at how limited Mr. Barber's intellectual horizons are." Are you kidding!? Yoffie never indicates that he has made any effort to read or fact check Barber's writing. Skimming through the brief HuffPo piece, which is meant to bring attention to externally published works, does not count. He also never mentions having looked into the few other researchers working in the same area. Barber cites Phil Zuckerman among a few others. Yoffie would do well to read Zuckerman's works since they are not only well researched but also written with the average person in mind. I doubt he'll bother. Where's the rabbi's intellectual curiosity?

As he approaches the end of his critique the level of hypocritical self-deluded bullshit increases. The last few paragraphs are loaded with the likes of, "even if the language of faith is not our language, it may be the language of others. Thoughtful liberals are almost always curious; knowing that different people recognize different truths....there are still substantial pockets of otherwise distinguished scholars who fail to understand religion and, more importantly, fail to acknowledge their own lack of understanding." I fail to see any examples of Yoffie recognizing an atheist point of view being legitimate in any way. His use of expressly religious terms and ideas actually is in direct contradiction of this point. He also provides no examples or proof of these scholars misunderstanding religion. I think it is more likely that he wants to believe, has to believe, such scholars are mistaken. The thought that a group of highly intelligent people who are skilled researchers reaching negative (from Yoffie's perspective) conclusions about religion seems to be too much for the rabbi to accept.

As I implied at the beginning, I doubt it is the way Barber writers or even the details that really bother Yoffie and like-minded critics. That an atheist speaks or writes at all is what they object to. Simply projecting their own shortcoming onto us does not excuse their own blatant flaws. It certainly does not loan andy credence to their baseless accusations and criticisms. Being human, we atheist are flawed and fallible, but thiests never seem to be able to mount any legitimate critiques. Maybe if they actually paid attention to what we write and say they'd pick up a few. We certainly don't pull punches when criticizing each other.

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