I disagree with Hoffman without being diametrically opposed to everything he wrote in his piece here. For instance, the famous “blasphemers” he mentioned in his piece indulged in anti-clerical humor, not necessarily “atheist humor.” Anti-clerics (people who poke fun at the behavior of priests or practices of a religion) have been around since the days of the pre-Socratics.
But until the late 1800s there remained anti-blasphemy and anti-heresy laws on the books of Christian nations, though decreasingly enforced. Christian Roman Emperors Theodosius and Justinian, condemned “heretics” such as “anti-Trinitarians,” and in their law books called them “demented, insane,” and worthy of being judged by the full force of the state. And so the argument went for centuries, with popes, Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, all arguing and agreeing that rulers must persecute heretics and blasphemers.
So Iʼm in favor of a day to commemorate the movement away from anti-blasphemy/anti-heresy laws. People ought to be reminded of just how strongly both Catholics and Protestants argued in favor of such laws. And how strongly some Islamic groups still do.
I also agree with Voltaire and Twain that religion could stand to be satirized. Though I would agree with Hoffman if heʼs merely saying that atheists should do more than just call religionists “stupid.” Thereʼs certainly no wit in doing merely that.
I also understand where Hoffman is coming from. Like Kurtz before him, Hoffman craves serious discussions between atheists and theists, and also wishes to forge alliances between humanistic atheists and theists of all religions. Neither imagine religious belief and practices will end soon. They are interested in Christians, Muslims, atheists, all being the best and brightest they can be—to help maintain the bonds of civil society and civilization.
On the other hand… People, especially younger folks, tend to be less well controlled, more highly excitable, less predictable than Hoffman at his age. Neither are atheism and atheists all alike, neither does Hoffman explain why they should be. One even doubts whether there ever was a completely “new atheism” as some journalist claimed by inventing the phrase.
Neither are all atheists interested in nothing but serious dialogue any more than all Christians are. At heart weʼre all still primates who want alpha males to do the work of leading us, shepherding us, heroes we can point to, whom we can claim “win debates,” or authorities we can cite. So we can feel like “winners,” like we “know things beyond a doubt.” So we can feel empowered. Thatʼs often why people join mass movements, to attach their fragile individual egos to something greater or more enduring than their own individual lives. Read Hoffer.
As for Kurtz himself, Iʼve read some of his works, and met him. He was a serious individual, hard working, and also liked to drink. (I prefer total sobriety.) He invited me to a conference after Prometheus Books published my book, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. But I found the jokes and chatting in the bar more entertaining and interesting than the lectures at the conference. But then, I was never much of a fan of mass movements, pep rallies, spectator sporting events, etc. I liked to be left alone to read books, especially about peopleʼs unique individual intellectual and spiritual journeys, and share written dialogues with others, and pluck on my guitar.
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