Be Scofield tweeted me about a new article of his at Tikkun, apparently hoping I would dislike it enough to give it publicity by saying why I dislike it. Ok, sure, why not. I do dislike it. Why do I dislike it? Well because it quite unbashfully calls “the New Atheists” racist.
It also claims that “New Atheists” see everything from a privileged point of view.
Racism In the New Atheist Movement
When Greta Christina says that religious people should be actively converted to atheism or Dawkins likens religion to a virus that infects the mind they are effectively saying “we know what’s best for you.” This is the crux of the problem with the New Atheists. They’ve identified belief in God or religion as the single most oppressive factor in people’s lives and feel justified in liberating people from it because they have “reason” on their side. However, as Reinhold Niebuhr warned, reason is always tainted with the prejudices of the privileged groups in society. He called this the historicity of reason. Thus, the way the New Atheists understand the designation “harmful” or “poisonous” is largely shaped by what they view as most harmful from their own social location.
Oh yes? But who says Greta Christina (since she’s the example Scofield chose to illustrate that claim) belongs to a privileged group? Who, in particular, says she does so more than Be Scofield? He has some forms of privilege that she doesn’t have. Why does he get to italicize from their own social location by way of rebuking Greta, as if she loomed over him like the lord of the manor? Why is her reason more tainted by privilege than his? I don’t know; I suspect he’s just posturing.
He quotes Sikivu Hutchinson and then adds
If you are in a privileged position, as many of the white New Atheists are you may think that it’s easy to just give up your religion. But this of course ignores the complexities of how religion operates in the lives of people everyday. For African Americans, Christianity and Islam have played a central role in the process of humanization – both in the eyes of the dominant culture and in building up the community, personal identity and psychological resilience to resist white supremacy, slavery and segregation. “Reason” as articulated by the new atheists makes no room for marginalized populations need to resist these forms of oppression, nor recognizes the important role that religion has played in this process. Rather, the simplistic labels of harmful, poisonous or virus are carelessly used to discredit it.
Lots of typos and mistakes in there, but more to the point – Christianity and Islam also played a central role in white or Arab supremacy, slavery and segregation. Without that central role maybe African Americans wouldn’t need them now, because they wouldn’t have been so disadvantaged by racial supremacy, slavery and segregation. Does Scofield recognize the important role that religion has played in that process? No; he’s too busy telling us he’s better than the New Atheists.
As citizens of the U.S. we of course live on occupied land. Over the course of hundreds of years we systematically wiped out Native American cultures that were indigenous to the area. The arrogance of “we know what’s best for them” dominated. Their religious and cultural traditions were prohibited. It was the height of cultural imperialism. Of course Native Americans are extremely marginalized and face numerous pressing social issues today. Rest assured, their oppression has nothing to do with their beliefs in God or their traditional religious practices and ceremonies. Unfortunately, when Greta Christina says we’d be better off without religion and insists that we convert believers to atheism she is reproducing cultural imperialism against Native Americans. She knows best because she has reason on her side.
I think I’ll just leave that there on its own, for pure contemplation. Be Scofield is comparing Greta Christina to imperialists obliterating Native Americans.
If many of the New Atheists want to hold to an absolutist position that religion is harmful (despite not being based on any scientific evidence) then they inherently sweep into their critique Native Americans, the gay men who benefited so immensely from MCCSF during the Aids crisis and the Dinka tradition of Africa. Any benefit that the Nation of Islam or the Black Church had for African Americans is negated by the insistence upon religion or belief in God as the single most oppressive issue. If they make qualifications and recognize that yes, there is something wrong with waving a finger at Native Americans and scolding them for their childish ways, then they must abandon generalized sweeping notions like “religion is harmful.” They can’t have it both ways. Either they lecture every culture in the world about their religious traditions (after all you’ve discovered the TRUTH) and as a result reproduce cultural imperialism or make room for a more complex analysis.
Many of these New Atheists claim that holding onto the belief in supernatural entities is absurd or irrational. However, there is nothing more absurd than whiteness, class oppression and patriarchy.
There’s really nothing they won’t stoop to, is there.