Tuesday, November 15, 2005

and so to baird

Julia Baird is certainly spunky enough to warrant being the Good Weekend’s new page three (or so) girl. Is it my imagination or is there a new photo of her every week, looking cute with that button nose, in her sexy designer jeans with those legs that go up to here? It’s making me wonder if sanctuary shouldn’t have a brand-new photo of its columnist every week. Maybe it’d make my writing more interesting too. OK, I’m just jealous of those legs. (Where she might be described as a filly, I might be described as a Clydesdale.) What it does show though is she’s clearly happy to participate in raunch culture. Well, if you’ve got it, flaunt it, I guess.
To drag myself to the subject of her writing, though. I’ve agreed with her in the past, but last weekend I found myself getting quite cranky about her latest column, "Beyond Disbelief"*.
It’s not atheists with the problem. It’s not atheists who need to "rethink the value of religion" in these apparently increasingly religious times. Baird suggests we need a "pluralistic atheism, allowing for different sorts of belief." Where has she been? My atheism has always been pluralistic; it has to be, because we’ve got no choice but to accommodate the fact that other people believe in some pretty incredible stuff. Some of our best friends have imaginary friends; we don’t mind at all. Most believers are very harmless and most central tenets of religion are positive and well-intentioned. So whatever floats your boat is fine for most atheists. I feel like I’ve spent my life being expected to deeply respect other people’s freedom to believe in whatever, but there hasn’t been that kind of respect extended to atheists. And now we’re intolerant? Please. It’s not atheists who have a problem with tolerance. We put up with a lot. It is difficult to get away from religion in our culture. Every day, our lives are influenced by the various belief systems of others, from terrorism to the Fair Pay Commissioner’s need to consult with his God about his work. Politicians love to come out and accuse atheists of lacking values; our Treasurer likes to talk up Western-branded religion when given an opportunity, but piously tells other religions to remember that Australia is a secular place. It’s we atheists who are hemmed in from all sides, by other people’s belief systems.
Baird finishes her column with this:

"As Muslim extremists continue to plot ways to bomb and maul the innocent, and Bush claims the war on Iraq has the imprimatur of God, surely it’s a good time for a robust debate about pluralism. Openly articulated tension between belief and non belief can only be a healthy thing. Let the air in."

I am unsure what she means with this. That atheists need to engage in more futile debate with believers? How can we ever really defend against religious fanatics who want to kill us for being infidels? And when we do engage in debate with religious moderates within our own culture, we are accused of not respecting their beliefs. If we say Intelligent Design can't be taught in Science class because it is not scientific, we are told we are intolerant of alternative views. See the Herald's blog today, where The Contrarian writes:
"Intelligent Design deliberately contests conventional wisdom -- in this case Darwin's theory of evolution.
As Allen Orr wrote recently in The New Yorker, intelligent design also accommodates much of Darwin's evolutionary theories.”

So it contests the theory of evolution while also accommodating much of the theories? Sounds like a complete god’s breakfast to me.

(*Sorry, no link available. What’s the story with your endless missing columnists, Fairfax?)