27 August 2007

Atheists and Foxholes

NPR's On The Media did a bit last week on media coverage of atheists. One point made was that the irreligious hate the expression "There are no atheists in foxholes," because it implies that we don't really mean what we say, that in the end we're hypocritical cowards who will kowtow to the Great Sky Father for the tiniest chance at Life Eternal.

And also because it's bullshit. My father was an atheist in literal foxholes in World War Two, and was never moved to belief in the supernatural.

Another rationalist just died.

This little mini-essay was inspired by the death of Perry DeAngelis. I never met Perry, but I listened to his voice every week on The Skeptic's Guide To The Universe, the weekly rationalist podcast of the New England Skeptical Society. Perry was a founder of both the NESS and the SGU. He wasn't the host of the podcast, but I think he really helped set the tone. That is: he was uncomprisingly critical of bad thinking, of uncritical thinking and false logic and deception. At the same time, he was the very opposite of humorlessness--in fact, he was the quickest with a quip of the assembled skeptics. He also avoided a pitfall I've certainly plummetted into at times: he never, once, in all the podcasts I listened to, implied that he or any other skeptic was innately a better person than the Believers and the victims. His point was always how easy it is for someone to fall into a logical trap, not how cool he was for avoiding them all.

He had spent the last few weeks in the hospital, but even as he lay dying he refused to be intimidated or cowed. His last two appearances on the show were both brilliantly funny.

I never met Perry DeAngelis, but it's clear that he remained an atheist even in this metaphorical foxhole. The world is better for his having lived in it, and that's the highest compliment I know how to pay to anyone.

My condolences to Perry's friends and family


Hiram R. Shadrasky said...

Sounds like an interesting guy. Unfortunately, I've never heard of him - and pretty much everything returned from a Google search is about his death (which is, I guess, a testament to his popularity).

Carl said...

Perry wasn't incredibly famous--only 20,000 people a week listen to the show, after all. I just felt the need to memorialize him. It was close to having a friend die, even if we only exchanged a couple of email messages.

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