Louise Antony’s edited collection Philosophers without Gods (Oxford University Press, 2007) is a fine collection. Part of its appeal comes from the range of arguments and reflections that fill its pages. Equally valuable (though perhaps less obviously so) is the range of attitudes that come with those arguments and reflections. Some essayists reflect a respect for religious belief and even a lingering sense of melancholy that they themselves can (no longer) be religious. Alas, other essayists are overtly hostile and pandering, but this too is informative in its own way.
One of the most hostile and pandering of the essays is Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s “Overcoming Christianity”. While Sinnott-Armstrong recounts past encounters with obnoxious religious people that would draw the sympathy of most readers, he expresses a degree of hostility toward all religious people which suggests he is a good match for his obnoxious interlocutors. For example, he offers the following advice:
“Our best hope for progress is for atheists to speak out and (as politely as possible) tell any theists who will listen why religious beliefs are ridiculous.” (78)
Note three things here.
Second, note the vast range of beliefs that Sinnott-Armstrong dismisses as worthy of ridicule, derision and laughter. Religion is a vast category that includes beliefs held by the vast majority of the world’s population. So Sinnott-Armstrong believes the vast majority of people on earth hold beliefs that are worthy of mockery and derisive belly laughs.
Finally, note that Sinnott-Armstrong advises atheists to be polite (does that mean holding in their belly laughs?) while they kindly inform the vast majority of the world’s population that their beliefs really do deserve a good belly laugh.
Like I said, while Sinnott-Armstrong may have had his share of interactions with obnoxious religious people, I suspect he can hold his own.