A Friend of Ricochet sent me this article this morning:
Two atheists - John Gray and Alain de Botton - and two agnostics - Nassim Nicholas Taleb and I - meet for dinner at a Greek restaurant in Bayswater, London. The talk is genial, friendly and then, suddenly, intense when neo-atheism comes up. Three of us, including both atheists, have suffered abuse at the hands of this cult. Only Taleb seems to have escaped unscathed and this, we conclude, must be because he can do maths and people are afraid of maths.
De Botton is the most recent and, consequently, the most shocked victim. He has just produced a book, Religion for Atheists: a Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion, mildly suggesting that atheists like himself have much to learn from religion and that, in fact, religion is too important to be left to believers. He has also proposed an atheists' temple, a place where non-believers can partake of the consolations of silence and meditation.
This has been enough to bring the full force of a neo-atheist fatwa crashing down on his head. The temple idea in particular made them reach for their best books of curses. ...
I'm not a terrific fan of John Gray and only mildly interested in Alain de Botton--they're fine, I suppose, but neither are authors I'd cross the street to read. I'm mostly posting this for the benefit of the many young people I meet in Turkey who seem trapped between two rigid ideologies. There is something called "Islam" on the one side, which they associate with adults who are keen to ban smutty books, a state that seems to want from them nothing but obedience, and a campaign to make Turkey look ridiculous in the eyes of Westerners. They now also associate it, very sadly, with the word "neoliberalism," a word they can rarely precisely define. On the other hand there is something called "secularism," by which they often mean "atheism" and usually, "Richard Dawkins," whose books and lectures on television are generally the only thing they know about atheism, science, or evolutionary biology. They sometimes have a vague idea that these latter concepts are naturally linked with "communism" or "anarchism" or "social justice" or perhaps being "Green," or maybe just associated with listening to a lot of God-awful heavy metal music, wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt and getting a tattoo.
And I feel terrible for these kids, because most of them want something of which I approve, deep down--freedom at least from the repressive hand of an authoritarian state and their authoritarian families--but they have no idea that there's a universe of really interesting thought about these ideas, whole libraries of books out there, that could spare them re-inventing the philosophical and intellectual wheels.
I know many will read this and think, "Well, that sounds like America." And I guess in some ways it is. But at least in America you have a reasonable chance of happening on a good teacher who says, "Look, kid, you need a decent education. Here are some important books to read."
The odds of it happening in Turkey just aren't that great. Not impossible, but not great.