April 26, 2007

I don't believe it

girl.jpg American public television stations are being offered the opportunity to broadcast a three-part documentary called A Brief History of Disbelief. It's a BBC production that's said to be "intelligent, literate and thought provoking."

And unless you live in Wichita, Muncie, Tampa or Roanoke, you won't get to see it. Apparently, those folks are more open to atheism than New Yorkers.

Maybe if enough people contact Channel Thirteen (or your local PBS station), they'll get on board. Mention the program is being offered by Executive Program Services.

Update: I just got a reply from the station rep saying the show "probably will air in the
near future" in New York.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


I'm pretty sure it'll air in New York City, since it's being sponsored in part by the American Ethical Union (according to aeu.org), which is based in Manhattan. I wonder if we'll see it in Missouri. . . .

Eventually, of course, we'll all see it in Hell, where it will be on every channel 24-hours a day, mocking us.

It's also in its entirety on youtube (broken up into parts) but be warned- it's very smug and British.

Smug? British? Atheist? Wow, this film could marry Lalla Ward (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lalla_Ward).

(I kid, I kid, smugness in offense of hypocrisy is no vice)

Owen -- I was a little worried about that (the smug part). I watched a little of Dawkins' visit to US churches and he comes off as such a douchebag. Also, I don't watch anything more strenuous than Clique videos on YouTube.

TG -- That Wikipedia entry sure is enlightening. I had no idea that 1) Dawkins met Ward through Adams after 2) Dawkins sent Adams a fan letter.

I mean, I sent Douglas Adams a fan letter too. Why didn't I get to marry Lalla Ward?

Because you were like 12 at the time (I assume). I was too, and ask myself the same question.....

Um. Fuck you?

Let me rephrase that...

You know, I keep reading that Richard Dawkins is a smug asshole, but whenever I see or hear him being interviewed, he is unfailingly polite.

Okay, the notion that atheists should refer to ourselves as "Brights" is silly and embarrassing, but when people say he comes across as a douchebag, I'm perplexed.

Is it just that he doesn't couch his views in some insipid parody of
"respect" for the faithful? Wouldn't that be even more condescending?

As uncomfortable as I am with the idea that any single public figure could adequately represent "atheists,"I will gladly take Richard Dawkins over Madalyn Murray-O'Hair any day of the week. (And not just 'cause she's dead.)

Whatever his failings, he's certainly nowhere near the grand scale of asshole-ocity achieved by Pat Robertson and Bill Donohue -- or even Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson.

I'm tossin' and flossin' and my style is awesome. Causing more family feuds than Richard Dawkins. And the survey says: Ya dead. Guillotine flies and chops off your fucking head.

Ogred - Have you seen this? Even though everything Dawkins says is right and everything Haggard says is wrong, I think Dawkins totally earns the dressing down he gets at the end. Would you want someone coming into your house and talking to you in this tone, just because he disagreed with you? Would you speak that way to someone you disagreed with? There's a broad middle ground between insipid parody of respect and smug asshole.

Madalyn Murray O'Hair is setting the bar awfully low. How about Sam Harris? His debate with Rick Warren is far more civil and just as forceful.

I should have said "most of" what Dawkins says is right. I'm no fan of megachurch services, but comparing them to the Nuremberg rallies is both ignorant and insulting -- not to Christians but to humanity.

Dawkins does come off sort of like a jerk in that clip, but I think most people would have had a hard time not doing so, because it's very hard to not get agitated when someone is doing the "I'm behaving like I'm reasonable even as I'm saying things that are either demonstrably false or totally illogical" thing that Ted Haggard is. So solely from this clip it's hard to say whether Dawkins is always like that or whether Haggard's debating style (making it hard to get a word in, decrying Dawkins's intellectual arrogance while displaying equal or greater anti-intellectual arrogance) is helping create the dynamic. (Admittedly, leading with the Nuremburg trial reference tends to imply that Dawkins is just kind of a jerk, since that precedes the rest of the conversation, and is a terribly inflammatory way to start that conversation.)

I'm curious as to whether Ted Haggard was filming the same conversation, which would explain why he'd come out and grandstand about getting off his property and "you called my children animals" after the crew was already getting ready to leave.

Well, I think it's pretty funny that Jonathan Miller is aiming for the "Less-Smug-Dawkins" niche. He spoke at my high school once. All-school assembly all about how wonderful he is. He is pretty wonderful but not-smug it ain't.


I hadn't seen that clip of Dawkins and Haggard. The reference to Nuremberg is cringe-inducing, yes. But, honestly, I was expecting something a lot worse based on the way you set it up.

When Haggard starts talking about how, as a Christian, he supports the scientific method and then goes on to try to tell Dawkins what "some evolutionists" say about the development of the eye, Dawkins is annoyed and rightly so. And then for Haggard to lecture Dawkins on arrogance while displaying that same quality?

I'm sorry, I'll admit to being biased, but I think Haggard comes off as the bigger asshole in that clip.

As for your question: if someone came to my house and talked to me the way Dawkins talks to Haggard (or vice versa), I'd probably tell him to fuck off.

But, if I were the spokesman for a large atheist organization, being interviewed for a documentary by evangelical Christians on the subject of religion, I would probably expect to be challenged on my views. And I wouldn't expect them to pull any punches out of "respect" for my opinions.

The evolution exchange is a perfect example of Dawkins' smugness. Of course he's correct, but other than to revel in his correctness, what good does it to do him to bark, "who says that?" (implying: "you're a moron"). If instead he'd politely explained why Haggard's comment showed a basic ignorance of evolutionary theory, he'd be able to expose Haggard while not sounding arrogant. (He wouldn't, of course, persuade Haggard, but that could be part of the fun.)

Also, I'll add that a church is not (or at least not primarily) an organization to promote Christianity. It's a place for believers to worship. I happen to belong to a secular Jewish congregation, and when Orthodox Jews show up at our services looking to pick a fight, it's rude and inappropriate in a way that it wouldn't be if they showed up at the offices of a secular Jewish "organization." I can defend my beliefs in either one, but it's common decency to treat them differently. Obviously Haggard, and his church, play multiple roles in the evangelical community, so it's not inherently uncivil to tear him apart in his office. But Dawkins does so immediately after sitting through a worship service, not an organizing rally. (And yes, there is a difference.)

Again, I'll refer to Harris as an example of someone who neither pulls punches nor acts disrespectful. (And, not coincidentally, Warren comes off worse than Haggard, which is tough, cause Warren is less offensive in general.)

Haggard agreed to appear on camera for this discussion. It shouldn't matter that Dawkins sat through a service beforehand. And, did he? The thing is edited. For all we know, he might have attended a service one day, then requested the opportunity to come back and talk to Haggard on another day. Either way, I don't see why it matters. If Dawkins had stood up in the middle of the service to challenge Haggard, then yeah, I'd say he was being a dick.

As for Sam Harris, maybe he's more respectful, but you're comparing the tone of a video clip with that of a transcript. We don't know that Sam Harris's manner was never snarky or smug. And might not Dawkins's "who says that?" have come across different on the page?

Yeah, he could have controlled himself better, but that outburst looked to me like impatience and exasperation at Haggard spouting bullshit about science, rather than Dawkins saying, "oh, you're just a stupid Christian, what do you know?"

I think we'll just have to disagree on this.

And since it's a friendly disagreement I won't drag it out, except to say that there's an audio clip of the Harris/Warren debate on that site, which is what I was referring to.

I didn't notice the audio clip.

What is abrasive about Dawkins in the clip is that the viewer immediately understands that they are not watching an unbiased investigation by an Athiest of a belief system opposed to his, but that he has gone into Haggard's office to use him to prove what an ignorant slut Haggard is. The outcome in Dawkin's agenda was set before he entered into dialogue. This is condescending to the viewer, no matter what the viewer's belief system.
Also, in the truest current British intellectual motif of anti-Americanism, which includes a healthy dose of anti-Semitism, he introduces his clip by cluing his viewers into the fact that Haggard has an inside line to Bush, Blair and Sharon, the triumpherate which would be dubbed "Satanic," if Dawkins believed in such cloven hooved devils.
And yes, he was smug, arrogant and an asshole. Pretty much the very qualities that he is determined to impress upon his viewers that every American happens to be.

Dawkins is a wiz, says what needs to be said and if someone seemed smug while dealing with Haggard, well maybe that someone was effing prescient, if that's the word...

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