Sometimes, reading the shrill words of theists trying to interpret atheists is a real trip to Bizarro World. What you see, generally, is freakishly far off the mark and often more a case of projection than understanding. It would be hard to get more overt than this: someone named Kathryn Lofton has written an essay titled “So you want to be a new atheist“, which, presumably, is about describing some common set of properties, a dogma and doctrine, that anyone can follow to be one of the New Atheists.
Unfortunately, she falls off the rails from the very beginning, since we’re all a diverse bunch with different backgrounds and different politics and different nationalities…and worse, she imposes some strange beliefs on us. We’re apparently totalitarian capitalists, for instance, and mostly libertarians (she does graciously admit that not every New Atheist is one, at least). It’s a very right-wing American picture she paints of us, which as you might guess, I find discombobulating.
However, here’s the most glaring part, the clearest example of projection I’ve seen yet:
The New Atheists reply, with clarion diagnostic consistency: Religion is something that sells you something invisible so you may feel that which you cannot find elsewhere. It is something for which there is insufficient evidence. It is something people do because they have always done it, not because they know how to think about it. Religion is irrational, it is emotional, and it is instinctual. Religion enslaves you with its wiles, then forgets to remove the handcuffs. It is the fortune teller reading entrails, not the captain consulting his compass. It massages and preys and toys and plays and screws you over, time and again, with a promise it won’t keep because of its irrationality and its whimsy. Religion is a know-at-all with no knowledge. It makes “a virtue out of not thinking.” Religion is cutting the hedge repeatedly around an erection. Religion is, it turns out, a lot like a girl. (My highlighting)
I daresay you won’t find any New Atheist declaring that religion is “like a girl”. You especially won’t see it framed in derogatory terms like that: so girls are irrational, emotional, instinctual, whimsical, having no knowledge, and into bondage? She seems to be projecting her own prejudices about women on atheists, which is a bit odd.
Unless the New Atheists have categorically called religion a girlish pursuit or religious males girly men, (Lofton does not say that they have) it is plausible that it is Lofton herself who conflates irrationality and emotionalism with feminine traits and critical thinking and reason with manly characteristics. She may have again confused style with substance. After all, the majority of the high profile and vocal atheists in the public square are all males. Most of them also assume a combative stance while arguing their points of view. Even if Lofton considers the New Atheists arrogant, self absorbed and boorish, based on her opinion of their discursive temperaments, where did she get misogyny? Perhaps in her eagerness to condemn, Lofton uses the red herring of misogyny without any supporting evidence because it fits the rest of her perception of the atheists. Are some atheists women haters? Of course. Could there be a few among the ones she names? Possible. But it has nothing to do with critical thinking which does not bar women from becoming practitioners. And what is the score in the department of misogyny on the religious side? Start your count with the priestly class and the orthodox.
Whom does Lofton think she is kidding with her innuendo about misogyny and atheism? It is particularly galling coming from someone who is presumably a spokesperson for religion. The sacred bastion of virility, organized religion, is thickly populated by misogynistic power hungry males and at least in the Abrahamic tradition, god too is a masculine deity whose behavior is akin to that of an old fashioned patriarch – one who protects, smites and slays at whim. Whereas misogyny can often be a product of politics, commerce and other secular cultural traditions, I doubt that women have been more systematically and ritually degraded within the realm of any other human enterprise than that of organized religion. Only religion explicitly sanctions misogyny. Think Adam’s Rib, eater of the forbidden fruit, the temptress, the virgin who is to be alternately worshiped and sacrificed, the ideal of the Sati, stoning to death of an adulteress, the unclean half of the population which menstruates and undergoes messy child birth… on and on ad nauseum. Now Lofton tells us that the source of misogyny actually lies in empiricism and scientific enquiry. Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather!