The other day I posted an interview with the apologist and philosopher Matthew Flannagan. The interview consisted of a forty-five minute conversation in which Matt developed a thoughtful and nuanced perspective on the nexus between biblical hermeneutics, metaethics, and normative ethics. The Atheist Missionary responded in the comment thread. While he declined to offer any substantial engagement with Matt’s position, he did offer the following comment:
“I can honestly say that listening to this exchange was the first time in my life I have ever considered whether humanity would be better off if we just started burning Bibles.”
Apparently this was not just a passing fancy, TAM then tweeted the same sentiment:
Do you remember about a decade ago when some atheists tried to rebrand themselves as “brights”? Not surprisingly, it never caught on, and atheists continue to have an image problem in certain spheres of society. But it isn’t all bad news for they have nonetheless managed one public relations coup: just consider the common association people make between “atheism” and “free thought”. According to a very popular narrative, religion breeds dogmatism and intolerance while atheism encourages free thought, open-mindedness and tolerance. As a result, people have come to think there is some natural association between atheism and free thought.
But it just ain’t so. Atheism has no essential connection with free thought. At most, the connection that does exist is a result of historical accident. Given that atheists are often a marginalized minority defending their rights in wider society, it is no surprise they tend to be de facto defenders for free thought.
However, one can readily find examples of atheists who act as enemies of free thought. And here we have an example. In his comments here, TAM reminds us that being an atheist does not ensure that one is a real advocate of free thought. Nothing could be more inimical to the spirit of free thought than book burning. And yet, rather than attempt to engage in Matt’s philosophical argumentation, TAM condescends to him whilst advocating for censorship and book burning, and burning of a text accepted by many people as sacred! Incredibly, TAM is behaving like Terry Jones, that pastor in Florida who gained notoriety after advocating for the burning of Qur’ans. And then just to make sure that we know he means business, TAM reiterates his position, tweeting out his intolerance to his 5896 followers.
Maybe TAM was just “venting”. Yeah, that’s it!
But is that an excuse? So the next time a Christian encounters a nuanced and sophisticated proponent of atheism, is he free to “vent” by ignoring the arguments, condescending to the atheist, and advocating for the burning of atheist books?
The lesson of the day? If you’re an atheist you just might be a free thinker. But if you are, it is not because you’re an atheist.