Sunday, January 15, 2012
You may not have seen M*A*S*H, but this teddy bear is the link used by Radar O'Reilly in his evolution towards becoming an adult. As the series progresses, Radar's reliance on his teddy bear lessens; when he leaves the 4077th, he leaves the teddy bear behind. At the end of the series, it is buried in a time capsule with other relics like Henry Blake's fishing lure, Father Mulcahy's boxing gloves, and one of Klinger's little black dresses - a memory of the boys who became men, the men who never came home, the women left behind, and of course, instruments for future wars to be fought. Symbolism was a very important part of M*A*S*H.
One of the more pivotal moments in Radar's character development on the show was the episode where Hawkeye disappointed and yelled at Radar. For the majority of the series, Radar had been portrayed as the proverbial dog nipping at Hawkeye's heel; in this episode, Hawkeye was devolved from hero to human in the younger Radar's eyes. He realized that our heroes are people too, that they make mistakes - and sometimes critical ones.
Sometimes, I am reminded of this when I look at the atheist movement. Though atheism is an old concept, the modern mobilization online is very young. Heroes are cast up - people like Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris. And then sometimes it casts them down (I am reminded of Dawkins's involvement in Elevatorgate, for one, and Hitchens's support of the Iraq War). Stephanie Zvan recently called out DJ Grothe of the JREF for similar ideas.
The movement is still young, and we still cling over-much to the teddy bears of the movement. To the idea that big names are heroes, rather than humans. We shouldn't be shocked when an old, privileged white guy like Dawkins comes out on the stereotypical side of an issue for his particular social groups. We shouldn't be shocked that Hitchens supported an illegal and ill-advised war.
Another word for this is the "sacred cow". But atheism (and it's related sibling, skepticism) is based on evaluating facts. Let's evaluate facts and realize sacred cows do not exist. Dawkins & co. are perfectly capable of making mistakes - as are the newer wave of atheists like Hemant Mehta, Jennifer McCreight, JT Eberhard, et al. When these people err, the gravity of their error is equal to their status in the movement, if we allow for those persons to become teddy bears. Hoisting up teddy bears is dangerous - because it means they can bring the whole tent crashing down when we remember that they are truly human.