“New atheists” are privileged racist homophobic imperialists

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.

Still alive

Whenever I see Joe Hoffmann’s latest burst of hatred at Da Noo Atheists, I decide to ignore it because he obviously loves the attention. (He’s like Michael Ruse that way. Exactly like Michael Ruse. Ruse writes a stupid generalized sneer about noo atheism, gets flack for the stupidity and generality, writes an aggrieved response to the flack. Repeat. Repeat repeat repeat. This is what Hoffmann has taken to doing.) Then other people don’t ignore it, so once the pleasure of seeing the post ignored is no longer available, I shrug and don’t ignore it too.

So the latest one, the New Year edition, is pathetically titled “Re-Made in America: Remembering the New Atheism (2006-2011).” As if he could make it be dead just by entering a terminal date. Nice try, Joe, but it’s not dead yet. [Read more…]

You did ask

I was asked what I think of the quotes from the NO God Blog and Al Stefanelli quoted in Chris Stedman’s most recent Letter to the Atheists. Ok; what I think.

The first one is from a post titled “A Point was missed” on what appears to be a blog on the website of American Atheists. It’s not signed. It’s short. It’s dated April 29, 2010. It seems about as random, as an “example” of anything, as one could get. The bit quoted is very badly and stupidly worded; no disagreement there; but so what? I don’t even know who wrote it. I certainly don’t take it as representative of anything. It’s nearly two years old. What on earth is the point of dredging up an old obscure anonymous blog post as part of what is called a “sampling of comments from prominent atheists about Islam and Muslims”? Yes of course you can find people of any point of view or faction or party or any other category, saying stupid things, but what of it? [Read more…]

Are we making progress yet?

Julian has a new installment of Heathen’s Progress out, in which he sums up the progress so far, by repeating what he’s said in the previous installments, with links, then in the last couple of paragraphs asks if that’s progress, and tells the reader to tell him. It’s all rather stately and solemn, as if he were a government commission, but let’s do our best to help.

Since this series is called Heathen’s progress, I thought I’d take the opportunity of the festive break to see if I’d actually made any.

Back at the beginning, I explained that my purpose was to move the God debate on from the stalemate it seemed to be stuck in, to see what could come after the new atheism. When I said that “the battle lines need to be redrawn so that futile skirmishes can be avoided and the real fights can be fought”, I was quickly and rightly told that I should start by ditching the military, confrontational metaphors. Lesson one: how issues are framed and the language we use really does matter.

Well this is part of what makes it seem so stately and as-if-a-government-commission. It seems odd for one person to think he can move the God debate on, and to say that that’s what his purpose is. It seems…official, and powerful, and more than one person can usually do. It seems a little peremptory to look for what could come after the new atheism when it’s not at all clear that “the new atheism” is over yet. I think most gnu atheists, if you asked them, would laugh at the idea and say fuck no, we’re in the thick of it. [Read more…]

Not another one

Hey guess what the war is over!

This year has marked, I believe, the beginning of the end of the war between science and religion. Creationism cannot last. The New Atheists are now old (or departed). And between these camps the middle ground continues to expand.

Has it all, doesn’t it. The air of easy omniscience, the disdain for atheists, the gloating at the death of one particular atheist, the false dichotomy, the warm uncritical affection for the middle ground, the stupid assumption that it’s “extreme” (not to mention old, or dead) to think science and religion are not in every way compatible. [Read more…]

Religion is about literal doctrines after all

So after weeks of heavy breathing, Julian’s Heathen’s Progress arrives at what we already knew – that believers actually do believe the tenets of their religion.

So what is the headline finding? It is that whatever some might say about religion being more about practice than belief, more praxis than dogma, more about the moral insight of mythos than the factual claims of logos, the vast majority of churchgoing Christians appear to believe orthodox doctrine at pretty much face value. They believe that Jesus is divine, not simply an exceptional human being; that his resurrection was a real, bodily one; that he performed miracles no human being ever could; that he needed to die on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven; and that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. On many of these issues, a significant minority are uncertain but in all cases it is only a small minority who actively disagree, or even just tend to disagree. As for the main reason they go to church, it is not for reflection, spiritual guidance or to be part of a community, but overwhelmingly in order to worship God.

Yes…just as the dread “new” atheists have said all along. Believers who don’t really believe are the minority, not the majority. [Read more…]

We drift and dabble

Oh goody, another more in sorrow than in anger rumination on Atheists Are As Bad As Theists And Vice Versa for a Sunday.

For a nation of talkers and self-confessors, we are terrible when it comes to talking about God. The discourse has been co-opted by the True Believers, on one hand, and Angry Atheists on the other. What about the rest of us?

What does he – Eric Weiner – mean “co-opted”? What does he even mean “what about the rest of us” – what about them? “Angry Atheists” haven’t “co-opted” anything, and the rest of us are just as able to speak up as the people Weiner is trying to portray as marginal. [Read more…]

There goes the neighborhood

I saw Joseph Hoffmann’s post saying how tiny atheism and atheists now are a few days ago, when it was new, and decided to ignore it*, on the grounds that it was little different from its many predecessors and that nobody except one indefatigable fan was paying any attention so why bother. But then I saw that PZ had done a post on it, and then I saw that Eric had, so starving the beast is not an option, therefore I might as well do my share.

What does it say? That atheism is not good enough.

I cannot imagine a time in the history of unbelief when atheism has appeared more hamfisted, puling, ignorant or unappealing.

Is this because its savants are also described by those adjectives, or because their fans are just being fans, merchandising the cause: t-shirts, coffee mugs, quick fixes, blasphemy competitions, and billboard campaigns? (Axial tilt is the reason for the season: Honest Jethro,  I thought I’d never stop laughing). I mean, who are we unless someone is offended by who we are?  What good is blasphemy if no one is getting their knickers in a knot anymore, for Christ’s sake. How can we “come out” when there’s no one standing outside the closet to yell “Surprise!” at? And, by the way you churchy jerks: we are victims. [Read more…]

Residual respect for an enduring institution

I did an interview with Geoff Whelan of QED which is now posted.

One of the questions was

Are you dismayed when those who you would think naturally would support a strong atheist position turn their criticism against those who directly challenge religion? Is there something about free thinkers that encourages dissent? Or are we talking about Dennett’s belief in belief, in the sense that someone may realise on an intellectual level that religious belief is false but that they still have residual respect for an enduring institution? [Read more…]

Sandals with socks? A whiff of wet dog?

Another rather heavy-breathing piece by Julian in his “Heathen’s Progress” series. Once again he’s saying very much what “new” atheists have been saying all along, so why is it again that he’s so annoyed by “the new atheists”? Loud voices was it? Bad haircuts? Garlic breath?

I’m very much in sympathy with this view*, and this series is largely an attempt to try to find more constructive points of engagement that can only emerge if we ditch lazy and tired preconceptions about those with whom we disagree. At the same time, however, I’m all too aware that “you just don’t understand” is a card that is often played far too swiftly and without justification.

On the one hand, but on the other hand. I agree with the obvious, but at the same time, I also agree with a different obvious. That’s philosophy. [Read more…]