The war between the "accomodationists" and the "new atheists" is heating up again. This flare-up started with a couple of books that attempt to reconcile science and religion, some highly critical book reviews taking the view that science and religion are not compatible, criticisms of those book reviews, and off we go.
I find the debate to be misguided. Both sides are making mistakes that are causing them to waste a fair amount of effort. In point of fact, the accomodationists and the "new atheists" are both necessary, given certain political facts.
I can illustrate my point by looking at some recent news regarding the issue of homosexuals serving only in the military.
The Supreme Court recently refused to hear a case that would have questioned the military’s "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The policy states that homosexuals may serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual orientation a secret. They are not permitted to say that they are gay, or to engage in any homosexual activity. Should they do either of these things, they are removed from the military.
In this dispute, President Obama played the accomodationist role. He asked the Supreme Court not to review the case, claiming that the military has made its decision based on considerations of unit cohesion and troop morale. I believe that Obama is well aware that the aversion to homosexuals serving in the military is pure bigotry. However, Obama has a lot going on, and has probably decided that his political capital can more efficiently be spent elsewhere.
In adopting this position, it is certainly NOT the case that all gay-rights activists must adopt the same agenda. It does not follow that all homosexuals must defend the President and argue that this accomodationist view is correct, merely because the President has a need to maintain some alliances. There is still a place for another political group to argue that this is a hateful and discriminatory practice (which it is) that no decent person would support.
If we were to adopt the position that all homosexuals should adopt the President’s agenda, the effect of this will be to ensure that these hateful and discriminatory practices will never end. In fact, without opposition – without a group out there defending the proposition that these practices are hateful and discriminatory, the hate and discrimination will probably get worse.
So, a society has two roles to fill. One role is that of the "truth seeker" who seeks to discover and report what the facts are without regard as to the popularity of those facts. The other role is that of the practical politician who says, "I need to get 51% of the people with a wide variety of beliefs to pull together to get something accomplished."
Both groups perform a useful function. The people who are in error are the people who say that we must rid ourselves of one group or the other. We are foolish to rid ourselves of the accomodationists because then the only thing that will 'get done' is the ostracism and alienation of those who hold even a moderate position on the issue under debate. We are foolish to get rid of the truth seeker because that would make the compromise position the default position (which, in turn, risks pushing the compromise position even further to the right.)
I hope that this blog fits into the category of the truth seekers. I am not at all interested in accommodating anybody. I present the propositions that I hold to be true, then I offer my arguments for that position.
In this role of truth seeker (which I may or may not be any good at), I will argue against any atheist I hold to be mistaken as readily as against any theist. Sometimes I will argue against atheists that a particular criticism of theists is mistaken. I do not do so under a policy of being nice to theists. I do so under the policy of having respect for the truth.
I also sometimes note that the atheist tribe is willing to abandon morality for the sake of the enjoyment of treating others (theists) unjustly. I also point those things out, and for the same reason. I am after the truth about what is right and wrong, which implies criticizing atheists when they abandon morality for the sake of enjoyment or political convenience.
But I have no interest in appeasing either atheist or theist egos with claims that they would like even though I dispute their truth, or remaining silent on truths that I suspect they might not like.
That is not my role. That is not why I am here.
In saying this, I recognize that those who are on the front lines of "getting things done" are going to have to make compromises. It is in the nature of that particular role. Without an accomodationist Obama, the White House would still be in the hands of the religious right. That is the cost of demanding purity.
What both sides need to do is to avoid the conceit of thinking that theirs is the only legitimate role, and that there is justification in saying to those in the other role, "Your role should not exist."