Re: [asa] Re: pendulum swings

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Sat Nov 28 2009 - 15:47:10 EST

Sorry guys, this was too brief.

Both Dawkins and Hitchens have spoken of a nominal Anglican influence in their early upbringing - Dawkins in one of his books (God Delusion?) where he speaks of the attempts he and his fellows made to divert their teacher from religion to stories of his days as an RAF fighter pilot in WWII. Hitchens in a television appearance which I think may have been an episode of the ABC Fora (ABC=Australian Broadcasting Corporation, "Fora" = plural of "Forum" = an ongoing series of public lectures on various topics by noted public intellectuals sponsored by the ABC).

In the context of Cameron's thesis I would say that generally I agree with his "pendulum swing theory" - although I would add two nuances;

First, Dawkins and Hitchens were never religious fundamentalists - but they were nominal Anglicans of the English public schools sort. Cameron's remarks seem to me quite correct in the US context. However, I think in the English context most atheists seem to be of this nominal "sunday school Anglicanism" sort - although some of the English participants in the list may well wish to comment.

Second, I think the primary issue here is epistemic. From my perspective, what makes a "fundamentalist" is an inability to acknowledge that there is no such thing as an "obvious" reading of scripture. Which means that such folk are incapable of recognizing that there is more than one way to read the Scriptural accounts because (1) they are ambiguous; and (2) much our interpretation is decided by what we bring to the text NOT by what the text actually says (recent discussions on the Gospel Infancy Narratives being a case in point). As a consequence, the only two categories a fundamentalist can recognize are "right" (="my reading of the text") and "wrong" (="any other reading of the text") - hence the "swing" from "right" to "wrong".

Basically, the fundamentalist inhabits a black and white world in which shades of nuance (and variation of opinion) are simply not permissible. As soon as you meet somebody who has to argue that another person's reading of the text constitutes "twisting of scripture" because they are incapable of simply saying "yes, I can see how you'd read it that way" then you know you're dealing with a biblical literalist (one of, but not the only, indicator of a fundamentalist). Treating alternate points of view as arising from moral culpability rather than difference of exegetical approach is another good marker.

I emphasise this because I believe that if one looks at John Selby Spong, one finds another interesting type: the liberal Christian fundamentalist - the person who has rejected rank biblical literalism in favour, not of a narrow dogmatic atheism, but in favour of a narrow dogmatic liberalism. What he has in common with the conservative Christian fundamentalists, and guys like Dawkins and Hitchens, is the inability to acknowledge that another person can be an honest, intelligent, educated, and careful reader of Scripture (or science) and still arrive at a different point-of-view.


> Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens were both brought up Anglican
>> Cameron's comments remind me of a question that I have: What was the
>> religious upbringing or exposure of the New Atheists (Dawkins, Harris,
>> Dennett, Hitchens, etc.)? I recall reading in a book review (possibly
>> in PSCF) that Vic Stenger's background was Catholic. Does anyone on
>> this list know the answer to my question?
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Received on Sat Nov 28 15:47:36 2009

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