In the wake of the Ft. Hood shootings, which are looking more and more to have been influenced at least to some degree by shooter Nidal Hasan’s increasing affiliation and correspondence with extremist anti-American Islamist clerics, Dinesh D’Souza has popped up with a USA Today editorial that demonstrates — again — how poor a thinker he can be when attempting both to defend theism from blame for evil deeds theists commit, while in the same fevered breath indicting atheism for all the world’s evils. D’Souza is usually pitiful, true, but this is lame even for him.
Remember, this is the clown to tried to blame “cultural liberalism” for the 9/11 attacks, claiming, in a manner similar to Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, that the Islamic world was so incensed by America’s tolerance for things their religious culture found offensive (you know, homos, abortion, porno, etc.) that they just couldn’t contain themselves any longer. Apart from being an egregious exercise in victim-blaming, the claim reflected total pants-on-head ignorance of several decades of the evolving political landscape over there that eventually led to the rise of bin Laden and al Qaeda. Easier, after all, to blame the whole thing on godless tree-hugging hippie faggots.
The gist of “Don’t Blame God for Terrorism” is that we shouldn’t pick on religious people for being crazed killers, when there have been crazed-killer atheists too. He then drags out his well-worn talking points about Stalin, Marx, Pol Pot, blah blah blah. He tries to make a special pleading argument about Islamic terrorism, claiming its “motives are secular,” ignoring the fact that 9/11 terrorist Mohammed Atta had a list of instructions in his possession that was chock full of prayers mentioning God’s name no fewer than 88 times in five pages, and that it is also widely known (and been the subject of jokes ever since) that the 9/11 gang were taught they’d be rewarded with a harem of 72 virgins in the afterlife. While it may be the case that the al Qaeda masterminds who recruit these idiots to do their bombings for them have complex political motives, the fact that they’re happy to use their religion, its xenophobia and its promises as key elements in their recruitment propaganda cannot be brushed aside as if it were utterly irrelevant, as D’Souza idiotically tries to do. Once you get some wild-eyed wacko yelling about God in the context of mass violence, guess what: his religious beliefs are involved.
If D’Souza actually wants, with a straight face, to make the special pleading argument that “suicide terrorism in its origins has nothing to do with religion or the afterlife” when we have a suicide terrorist’s letter saying things like “Oh God, open all doors for me” in evidence, then he’s not merely ignorant but a lying tosser. (And the qualifier about the secular “origins” of suicide terrorism is irrelevant, since something with secular origins can very easily be co-opted for religious purposes, just as something with religious origins can be co-opted for secular purposes.)
D’Souza’s dishonesty flowers in this passage:
If religious beliefs in life after death are the source of terrorism, where are the Buddhist suicide bombers? Nor has anyone been able to identify the Christian bin Laden, the Christian equivalent of al-Qaeda or Hezbollah, or the Christian “nation of martyrs” patterned along the lines of post-Khomeini Iran. The vast majority of people in the world believe in God and the afterlife, yet hardly any of them launch suicide attacks in the hope of hastening their journey to heavenly bliss.
Well, duh, you idiot. The fact that there are numerous benign religions out there is not under debate. Every atheist acknowledges this, including Dawkins and Hitchens.
But that does not mean that we must ignore the malignant religions that freely exercise their capacity to become violent and fanatical through appeal to the supposed will of their Sky-Daddy. History has shown this occur time and again.
And in the case of benign religions, while I’ll happily mollify D’Souza by agreeing that there aren’t any Buddhist suicide bombers out there, it’s still the case that benign religions are as false as the malignant ones, and in a cage-match, the malignant one will win. Why, it’s almost Darwinian. An Islamist bomber will take out a hundred peaceful Wiccans and Buddhists as easily as anyone else, and the prayers, incantations and deities of those victims won’t protect them from the explosion any more than Allah will turn up with a hot virginal fuckbunny troupe for the bomber. While atheists do often criticize religion for enabling atrocities, our main criticism is still that religion is simply false. That certain religions also happen to inspire violence is just grist for an already active mill.
And no, it isn’t that belief in an afterlife alone, in a vacuum, inspires terrorism. One can forge religious beliefs that include an afterlife, and then, the tenets and dogmas of those religions can go one of two ways: they can be benign, or malignant. You can believe in an afterlife and think the way to get there is by contemplating your navel all day in the lotus position, or you can think the way to get there is by killing infidels. D’Souza’s big lie here is in claiming that atheists don’t distinguish between benign and malignant religions. We do, but of the two, we will be more concerned about the malignant ones, as they’re actually killing people. Duh twice.
Having lamely tried to dismiss the religious element from religious violence, D’Souza then goes on with his usual atheism=Marxism blather. To point out that D’Souza’s concept of Marxism is simple-minded and shallow would be generous. But while atheism was neither “absolutely central” or “the whole point” of Marxism or communism (communism sought to create a classless and stateless society, and religion was rejected, like capitalism, as a tool of oppression), even if it were, what’s D’Souza’s point? This is the most crucial factor that D’Souza cannot grasp, expressed in his woeful misunderstanding (or perhaps intentional distortion) of Dawkins: Atheism only describes what a person does not believe, not what he does. When people act, they act based on what they do believe, not on what they do not.
Now it’s true that what you don’t believe can inform what you do believe. But there is no hard and fast rule — for instance, in the case of atheism — that illustrates that the disbelief in God will necessarily result in a specific set of commensurate beliefs among all atheists everywhere. You could, for example, be an atheist, who then decides that all religion everywhere is just bad juju and ought to be stamped out by force of arms, and so you become a dictator for the purposes of achieving this end. But even there, you would be acting based on what you do believe — religion should be stamped out — and not on your disbelief in God alone.
And the fact that the vast majority of your fellow atheists would disagree with you, and indeed be actively opposed to you (most of us tend to be humanists and rationalists, after all, and I’ll happily reassure Dinesh that we’re not down with the whole “let’s oppress and kill people unlike us” thing) pretty much proves Dawkins’ point that D’Souza distorts, that there is no logical path from atheism to evil deeds. The very idea of “Because I do not believe in God, I will do bad things” makes no sense on its face. It is a blatant and crystal-clear non sequitur, no different than “Because I do not believe in [insert random mythological creature], I will do bad things.” An atheist could say that, but then he’ll have taken an illogical path from his atheism to evil deeds. Because — unlike the Koran with its numerous passages advocating the killing of the u
nfaithful — there is no central atheist dogma dictating a similar fate for the faithful. And if there were, we’d have long ago rejected it as illogical and irrational.
In contrast to the above, consider the sentence, “Because God/Allah/The Great Pumpkin wills it, I will destroy the infidels, paint the walls with their blood and make orphans of their children!” Now, while another theist might say, “Dude, you’re doing it wrong! God is love and all that!” you cannot argue that there is no logical path from the crazed believer’s theism to his evil deeds. Because, as long as the existence of gods remains conveniently unproven, then the religious have the luxury of being (and this is demonstrably true all down history) remarkably indifferent to anything but their own passionate fanaticism. Believers create their gods in their own image, which is why a benign Christian’s God, or a benign Muslim’s Allah, is a very different deity from the God of Fred Phelps or the Allah of Mohammed Atta. And there is a very logical path from an evil belief in a malign deity, to evil deeds.
But while D’Souza is eager to stress that the “vast majority of people in the world believe in God and the afterlife, yet hardly any of them launch suicide attacks in the hope of hastening their journey to heavenly bliss,” he isn’t willing to give the same credit to the vast majority of the world’s unbelievers, who aren’t going around founding totalitarian states and instigating pogroms. D’Souza’s whole schtick is little more than a big “same to you and more of it!” whine, attempting to condemn atheism on the same grounds theism finds itself condemned whenever violence happens in the name of a theistic belief. But he can only make this argument if he distorts the nature of belief versus disbelief, freely ignores the openly stated religious motivations of terrorists and the easily referenced scriptural passages in their actual holy books, and reveals himself to be a hopeless hypocrite whose arguments were all bought at a discount from Fallacies-R-Us. In other words, business as usual for Christianity’s silliest intellectual poseur.