Atheism and public speaking

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The atheist Jerry Coyne speaking at a 2013 atheist meeting entitled The Amazing Meeting (TAM). TAM is an annual meeting. In 2011, Coyne said about the atheist conferences which he attended that they had an air of self-congratulation.[1] He also indicated about atheist meetings: "But to me the speakers and talks have often seemed repetitive: the same crew of jet-set skeptics giving the same talks."[2]

The news website Vox reported about Reason Rally 2016:

It is clear, too, that almost nobody who takes the stage at Reason Rally was ever trained as a preacher. The whole thing is languid, urgent words in measured tones. The goal is an "end to bigotry," in the pitch of a polite request, to "reject" a supernatural worldview with all the force of tepid applause. Jamie Raskin says the job of politicians is to "listen to scientists" and closes with "Put your thinking caps on America!" Penn Jillette struggles to get a video playing, chokes up over Hitchens, then plays a Bob Dylan knockoff about his love for all people. The Amazing Randi devotes half an hour to a muted jeremiad against the obscure "facilitated communication" hoax. Peter says he does not know what "FC" is, but he'll look into it.[3]

The atheist Jerry Coyne said about atheist conferences which he attended:

But to me the speakers and talks have often seemed repetitive: the same crew of jet-set skeptics giving the same talks.

...a few things bothered me, most notably the air of self-congratulation (which I excused on the grounds of enthusiastic people finding like-minded folks for the first time), the “fanboyness” directed at some of the famous atheists (they hardly let poor Richard alone, and I’m not sure he liked that!), and the lameness of quite a few of the talks. Again, how much new can you say about atheism?[4]

Soviet Union and oratory

Atheism was a part of communist ideology (see: Atheism and communism).

According to the University of Cambridge, historically, the "most notable spread of atheism was achieved through the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which brought the Marxist-Leninists to power."[5]

Professor Robert Service says about the public speaking skills of Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin:

[Stalin]...didn’t have all of the skills - he was a pathetic orator. Well, I say a pathetic orator, he was good at doing the simple things. He was a sort of barking speaker. Not in the sense of being mad, but he barked like a dog. Now, he didn’t have any of the flights of fancy of Trotsky or the eloquence of Lenin, so even as a speaker he wasn’t at all bad...[6]

Ilya Zemtsov wrote in the book Chernenko: The Last Bolshevik: The Soviet Union on the Eve of Perestroika about Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev: "Neither Khrushchev nor Brezhnev was known for his particularly refined behavior and obviously neither excelled in oratory."[7]

John Dornberg wrote in his book Brezhnev: The Masks of Power:

In the limelight - on stage or on television - he is an image-builder’s nightmare. Although his voice is deep and resonant, his delivery is deadly. Ponderous and heavy, encumbered by a Ukrainian inflection that leaves some people wondering whether he is drunk, others thinking he has a speech impedi­ment, Brezhnev is an oratorical failure.[8]

Mao Zedong and oratory

See also: Mao Zedong

David Ernest Apter and ‎Tony Saich wrote in the their book Revolutionary Discourse in Mao's Republic: "At first, Mao was no great platform orator. Some describe his voice as squeaky and high-pitched... His less adoring admirers note the flabbiness of his speeches - a lack of precision, a lack of sureness about a point."[9]

Fidel Castro

In his prime, the communist Fidel Castro was an exceptional orator who had a booming voice.[10]

Benito Mussolini

Benito Mussolini was an Italian, fascist dictator. He was also an atheist.[11]

Mussolini was known for his melodramatic style of oratory. His oratory skills helped him maintain power.[12]

In his work entitled Mussolini Denis Mack Smith wrote:

From his father he [Mussolini] had learnt to be a thoroughgoing anti-clerical. He proclaimed himself to be an atheist and several times tried to shock an audience by calling on God to strike him dead. He forcibly denounced those socialists who thought religion a matter for individual conscience or had their children baptised. [In Mussolini's opinion] Science had proved that God did not exist and the Jesus of history was an ignorant Jew whose family thought him mad, and who was a pigmy compared to the Buddha. Religion, he said, was a disease of the psyche, an epidemic to be cured by psychiatrists, and Christianity in particular was vitiated by preaching the senseless virtues of resignation and cowardice, whereas the new socialist morality should celebrate violence and rebellion."[13]

Christopher Hitchens

See also: Atheism debates and Atheism vs. Christianity debates

The new atheist Christopher Hitchens was known for being an eloquent and passionate public speaker who injected humor in his public speaking.

However, Hitchens had his critics in terms of his public debates. For example, Christopher Hitchens debated William Lane Craig at Biola University in 2009 in a videotaped debate.[14] The atheist Luke Muehlhauser wrote concerning the debate: "The debate went exactly as I expected. Craig was flawless and unstoppable. Hitchens was rambling and incoherent, with the occasional rhetorical jab. Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child."[15]

Michael Wolff wrote in GQ magazine:

His frequent public forums - in which Hitchens' British-style debating skills were presented as a sort of miracle as well as a freak of nature, as if he were a more biting Rumpole - had become a significant and profitable part of his career. He had a cast of agents and hucksters who would organise and promote these events in cheap venues, reserving him a cut of the door.

In American media culture, he took a place last occupied by the conservative pundit William F. Buckley, Jr who regularly wowed middle America with his hauteur and erudition on his talk show,

Firing Line. Of note, Hitchens seemed almost invariably to be matched in his debates with lesser lights - it was Hitchens among the stupids.

I was always on reasonable terms with Hitchens - or certainly had the younger man's good grace to mostly shut up while he talked - and once, at the height of the Iraq war, he asked me to moderate one of these encounters.

The other protagonist was probably demented (if not homeless) and borderline coherent. Still, it was a packed house. Hitchens arrived drunk - though I wondered if it was more pretend than actually drunk because he kept talking about how much he'd consumed - but at some point he certainly was drunk. While many people made the excuse for him about how well he could hold his liquor (another old-fashioned trope), he was, in this instance, as walleyed and uncomprehending as any other person I've known who was drinking at his level.[16]

The new atheist Richard Dawkins has a reputation for avoiding his strongest debate opponents (see: Richard Dawkins and debate).

One hundred people walked out of an atheistic lecture at Oxford University

A hundred people walked out of an atheistic, evolutionary psychology/sociology lecture at Oxford University.[17] Richard Dawkins' website reported about the lecture, "By the time I arrived at a slide calling religions (Richard’s fault!) ‘Viruses of the mind’, the lecture hall was looking rather empty."[18]

See also

Notes

  1. Are there too many atheist meetings? by Jerry Coyne
  2. Are there too many atheist meetings? by Jerry Coyne
  3. American atheists are on the rise. They have radically different visions of the future, Vox
  4. Are there too many atheist meetings? by Jerry Coyne
  5. Investigating atheism: Marxism. University of Cambridge (2008). Retrieved on July 17, 2014. “The most notable spread of atheism was achieved through the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which brought the Marxist-Leninists to power. For the first time in history, atheism thus became the official ideology of a state.”
  6. Stalin’s personality
  7. Chernenko: The Last Bolshevik : The Soviet Union on the Eve of Perestroika by Ilya Zemtsov, page 167
  8. Brezhnev: The Masks of Power by John Dornberg, page 16
  9. Revolutionary Discourse in Mao's Republic by David Ernest Apter and ‎Tony Saich, 1994, page 86
  10. Fidel Castro's role in Cuba is chiefly offstage as he turns 87, Reuters
  11. "Mussolini", by Denis Mack Smith, Vintage Books, 1983, page 8.
  12. Benito Mussolini, crowd psychologist, Quarterly Journal of Speech
  13. "Mussolini", by Denis Mack Smith, Vintage Books, 1983, page 8.
  14. Christopher Hitchens vs William Lane Craig - Does God Exist - 2009.
  15. The Craig-Hitchens Debate by Luke Muehlhauser on April 4, 2009 in Debates,Reviews,William Lane Craig
  16. The damnation of St Christopher by Michael Wolff
  17. A hundred people walked out of Darwin/evo psych indoctrination lecture at Oxford?
  18. A hundred people walked out of my lecture