Today in Salon, Camille Paglia, an atheist who obviously hasn’t been paying much serious attention to the post 9/11 New Atheist movement, stumbled upon Richard Dawkins talking about religion on NPR, and having never heard his voice before, she thought he sounded a bit, well, ridiculous:
I was recently flicking my car radio dial and heard an affected British voice tinkling out on NPR. I assumed it was some fussy, gossipy opera expert fresh from London. To my astonishment, it was Richard Dawkins, the thrice-married emperor of contemporary atheists. I had never heard him speak, so it was a revelation. On science, Dawkins was spot on — lively and nimble. But on religion, his voice went “Psycho” weird (yes, Alfred Hitchcock) — as if he was channeling some old woman with whom he was in love-hate combat. I have no idea what ancient private dramas bubble beneath the surface there. As an atheist who respects and studies religion, I believe it is fair to ask what drives obsessive denigrators of religion. Neither extreme rationalism nor elite cynicism are adequate substitutes for faith, which fulfills a basic human need — which is why religion will continue to thrive in our war-torn world.
The thrice-married emperor of contemporary atheists? In Camille Paglia’s broadside of Dawkins I detect the distinctly catty suggestion that Dawkins’s religion bashing is psychosexual detritus from his wars and disappointments with ex-lovers. Not a nice innuendo, but I suppose that most religion obsessed atheists, however many times they’ve been married or discouraged in love, are, at bottom, brides left at the altar. God has disappointed and disillusioned them, and you never hear the end of it.
Why all this meanness? Psychological attacks are disguised ad hominen attacks, but sometimes have validity. When you hear someone who sounds like a psycho you just know you need to put your guard up. My opinion is that Dawkins is more concerned with selling books and pushing his dogma than any real discussion of metaphysics and i have yet to see the man utter a single unique insight.
I’ve followed Paglia for many years, and I notice that she tends to focus in on style rather than substance (when she wants to put the knife in on somebody). It’s a way of asserting dominance (at least if you’re not paying close attention). I find it an annoying trait in her, though I think that her attention to style with regards to literature analysis is what makes her a good literary critic. I just don’t think it is fair to overemphasize such moves in public debate surrounding real human beings. I don’t think that they are totally invalid, I just think that they should not be overemphasized. The substance of Dawkins’s arguments stand or fall regardless of Dawkins’s psychological motivations.