The train wreck that was the New Atheism


The title of the article is What Was New Atheism?. The use of the past tense is noted. The label was coined in 2006 by Gary Wolf in Wired, and we spent the next decade sort of agreeing that there is a kind of unified movement here (while trying to explain it wasn’t “new”), while what unity we had splintered beneath us. I guess it’s over now. The “New Atheism” had a 12 year shelf life. We should have used more preservatives, I suppose.

Yes, I was a New Atheist (past tense again). I promoted it, I happily wore the label, I was initially optimistic that we were going to change the culture, I was naive and stupid. I swallowed some of my early reservations — is this just a reaction against Bush fueled by xenophobia inspired by the September 11th bombings? — but figured that would pass, that people would step in the door and then find enduring meaning in science and evidence-based reasoning.

Boy, was I wrong.

Mainly what happened is that the credibility of science was stolen to bolster rationalizing prior bigotries. People were drawn into the Church of the New Atheism by Islamophobia, but rather than being enlightened about the unity of humanity, they instead learned that bastardized evolutionary theories could be weaponized to justify all kinds of abuses, because that’s what the self-appointed “leaders” were doing.

And that’s another thing — who put Dennett, Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens in charge? They got profiled in Wired with ominously shadowy portraits (omens of the “Intellectual Dark Web” to come), and they made a video in which they appointed themselves “The Four Horsemen”. Whatever the New Atheism was, it was structureless, so it was easy for a couple of early popularizers to fill the vacuum. Watching a PR move rapidly turn into a de facto powerbase that would quickly dominate conferences and writings left me uneasy — but as long as we weren’t building idols and golden thrones for the Tetrarchs I figured this, too, would pass. Unfortunately, while it didn’t get to the golden thrones stage, for too many people the four turned into oracles whose dicta should not be questioned, and dissent would lead to being ostracized. It only took a year to build a cult of personality.

This particular article views the whole brief episode through the lens of politics, and just politics, which is rather interesting. To me, politics was a side effect, but I agree that it was clear that to some it was primary.

The genesis of New Atheism can be traced back to a series of foreign-policy debates in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Christopher Hitchens’s writings in this period had little to do with atheism, as they were mainly directed against fellow unbelievers on the intellectual left. The controversies that led Hitchens to break with that left nonetheless helped lay the foundation for the New Atheist phenomenon. Like so many other apostates from the American left—from Whittaker Chambers to Irving Kristol and the early neoconservatives—Hitchens held onto his disdain for the liberal mainstream for the rest of his writing career.

Yeah, Hitchens…what a mess. He was a brilliant polemicist and one of the most artfully eloquent people I’ve ever met, but he was also politically vicious, and was adept at denying humanity to the people he wanted bombed. The most dangerously intelligent person I’ve known, he was quick to seize on the intellectual foundation of atheism as a useful tool to persuade others that his causes were legitimate. I suspect part of the reason was also that with God out of the picture, that left him the smartest man in the room.

Unfortunately, it also introduced a political rift, because now a group of people who may initially have rejected the pious stupidity of the Republicans found themselves being told that we ought to support Republican militarism. And at least two of the other three horsemen were agreeing with him.

An aspiring neuroscientist with an undergraduate degree in philosophy, Sam Harris had founded the New Atheist genre in 2004 with his anti-religious manifesto The End of Faith. Harris’s critique of religion was simple, hinging on the idea that “beliefs are principles of action.” In other words, everything we hold to be true has the potential to inform what we do, and at bottom our behavior rests on a more or less coherent set of propositions. The major world religions are illegitimate not only because they make claims that science can show to be false—though for Harris this was obvious—but because a system of belief founded on “bad ideas” will tend to lead people to bad actions. Two years later, in The God Delusion, the Oxford biologist and “Professor for Public Understanding of Science” Richard Dawkins emphasized the other side of the equation. The most commercially successful of the New Atheist best sellers as well as the most evangelical, Dawkins’s book actively aimed to convert readers to scientific rationalism. Unbelief was not only a social good which prevented irrational acts of violence, Dawkins argued, it was also a good in itself for the individual.

That’s an anodyne summary of Harris’s position. It needs to be mentioned that one of his themes is that Islam is particularly evil and that we’re in a great clash of civilizations and must overcome the Muslim hordes. I’d fully agree with that summary of Dawkins’ book, though. But again, the article looks at everything from a political perspective, which, while I agree that it’s valid, it doesn’t align well with my personal reasons for committing to the New Atheism, which were more humanist and scientific. But yes, these emerging political differences were definitely part of schism that was tearing the movement apart.

In this regard, the New Atheist critique of religion reflected liberal America’s defining worry about George W. Bush and his Christian voter base’s hostility to science and technical expertise. Under the Democratic consensus of the time, it was unnecessary to agree on whether the wars were just so long as everyone under the liberal tent could agree that the people in charge of these wars were irrational and incompetent—or simply stupid. American liberalism has a technocratic streak that long predates the 21st century, but both at home and abroad, the tenure of George W. Bush provided it with a counterpart that appeared uniquely ignorant of “facts, logic and reason.” Many liberals wanted no part in Bush’s personal crusade against the enemies of Christendom; others believed that they were more competent to win America’s wars than their boneheaded conservative opponents. New Atheism affirmed both of these impulses simultaneously.

From my perspective, though, the deepest of the rifts was the emerging anti-feminist wing and the active neglect of social justice issues. It wasn’t just that the New Atheism had a specific, narrow focus (on, apparently, oppressing Muslims), but that it loudly denied that anyone else within the movement could have other priorities. Feminism was wrong and bad and you should shut up about it, and there was the lie that atheism could only be about denying the existence of gods while not-at-all-subtly promoting other philosophical positions.

In the early 2010s, New Atheism was less in the headlines than it had been during its heyday. But at the conferences where the surviving New Atheists spoke and on the online forums where their books were debated, shouting matches regularly broke out over accusations that they were Islamophobic apologists for American empire. In addition, the 2010s also saw an increasing number of polemics concerning sexism within the atheist community, starting with a 2011 episode known as “Elevatorgate,” in which the feminist vlogger Rebecca Watson complained of being propositioned in an elevator late at night during an atheist convention, only to be scolded online by Dawkins that women have it far worse under Sharia law.

These kinds of incidents produced a schism among prominent atheists. On one side were proponents of an atheism explicitly tied to progressive values, such as the biologist PZ Myers, the “atheism plus” movement, and media figures like The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur and Kyle Kulinski. On the other were most of the prominent New Atheist celebrities—including Harris, Dawkins, Michael Shermer and Dave Rubin, a former employee of The Young Turks—who felt that the emphasis on feminism, diversity and anti-imperialism distracted from the fight against religious extremism.

The rest of the article is describing an ongoing tragedy. The New Atheism has been successfully co-opted by the Alt-Right, and now is all about policing political correctness, whining about how white people are oppressed, and how women are ruining everything. The “celebrities” are all about sneering at social justice and promoting old conservatives, like Charles Murray, while denying that they’re actively working for conservative causes.

It’s interesting where the old guard have ended up.

Hitchens has died, but his fans continue the process of apotheosis. I don’t even want to talk about him anymore, because it usually prompts a deluge of people trying to patch over the ugly bits of his reputation. He was a saint, don’t you know.

Dennett has basically retired from the fray. Maybe he was the smartest of the four. Although I would argue with him fiercely on his misunderstandings of evolution, at least he kept his discussions on a philosophical plane.

Harris, the worst of the bunch, is also the most successful. He has successfully pandered to the most regressive members of his audience, and continues as an alt-right, “Intellectual Dark Web” figurehead, and is continuing to profit. If anyone is a symbol of the moral and intellectual corruption of the New Atheism, though, he’s it.

Dawkins had the most well-earned prestige, and has ended up squandering his reputation with repeated foot-shootings.

And me. I was never on a par with those big names, but I was a madly typing proponent of the New Atheism. Now, though…that period is the deepest regret of my life (not that that means much, I’ve been lucky to live a life with few regrets). I’m still a strong atheist, and will be on my deathbed, and I do not regret promoting godlessness and a reason-based life, but I was unfortunate to be part of that traveling shit-show before I realized it’s destination was where it is now: a shambles of alt-right memes and dishonest hucksters mangling science to promote racism, sexism, and bloody regressive politics.

Comments

  1. Artor says

    There was already a term for what “New Atheism” aspired to be at first: Humanism. Those guys ain’t that, and never were gonna be.

  2. says

    who put Dennett, Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens in charge?

    I believe the whole “four horsemen” thing was a promotional concept by Dawkins’ then-girlfriend (who was being paid by the RDF at the time). It was a rather non-bright bit of marketing.

  3. skeptic says

    Harsh.

    I concur that Harris has probably been the most successful, but defining him as “alt-right”? Please! Not swallowing the worst of political correctness does not make one alt-right, but rational. In fact, the backlash against the silly antics of the worst who demanded political correctness elected Trump and has raised Peterson to the prominence that he has.

    I don’t see my self as a “new” atheist, or “left-wing atheist” or any other descriptor one wants to choose. I am an atheist. Full stop. I am a humanist. Also full stop. Any other views I may have on feminism, politics, abortion, intellectuals or any other perspective have nothing to do with the two.

    Don’t attempt to draw any correlation between them.

  4. says

    Now, though…that period is the deepest regret of my life (not that that means much, I’ve been lucky to live a life with few regrets).

    I don’t know if this will make you feel any better, PZ, but your writings really helped me to grow as a person and become more progressive in my political views as you have been a good source of information one does not pick up in the mainstream media. I learned of you back in 2010, I think it was, when I was a naive and impressionable 25-year-old and you spoke at the American Atheists convention in Des Moines. If you hadn’t been “part of that traveling shit-show,” I’m not entirely sure where I’d be now. Yeah, likely I’d still have progressive leanings because those leanings are what drew me to your writing in the first place and I most likely would not have been drug into the shit that happened after that (e.g, “elevatorgate”). But I do wonder if my evolution into a progressive would have been slower without you. That said, this may not mean much as I’m kind of a nobody in this world and so your impact on me is rather limited to just me due to my limited social influence, but I doubt I’m the only one you’ve had a positive influence on.
    Also, look at the horrible influence you caught me next to back 7 years ago! (That’s me in the middle of the picture in that post.) I shudder to think that maybe — just maybe — I could have been drug into the shit without positive influences like you.

  5. chigau (違う) says

    Views on “feminism, politics, abortion” have nothing to do with atheism and humanism?
    How does that work?

  6. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Another ‘nym with skeptic who shows they are nothing but an ideologue who doesn’t understand feminism is nothing but treating females as equal human beings. Which is what I would expect from a humanist. Somebody needs to skeptical of themselves.

  7. atgc says

    Any reconsideration for the idea that atheism, new or old, could possibly be the point of cohesion for a ‘movement’? People from Ayn Rand to Karl Marx were atheists, and that tent is too big to accommodate many common ideas or ideals. Where did we ever get the idea that the absence of a belief could be a unifying factor in the first place? I suspect we thought that atheists must be perforce rationalists who seek truth wherever it leads us, and that rational truth-seeking would inform all aspects of our beliefs. That’s hubris, probably, but more to the point it’s a terrible read on how people think.

  8. says

    I read your blog posts throughout this period. You always called out the bad behavior. It seemed like you tried to do the right thing and steer the “movement” such as it was in a productive direction. You failed, but you tried. You having nothing to regret.

  9. says

    “skeptic” @ 3:

    Not swallowing the worst of political correctness does not make one alt-right, but rational.

    Really? Use of the term “political correctness” is a pretty big fucking dog-whistle for the alt-right or alt-light, I’ve found.

    I am an atheist. Full stop. I am a humanist. Also full stop.

    User of dictionaries. Full stop.

    Don’t attempt to draw any correlation between them.

    Ooh, internet tough guy. Don’t let the killfile hit you on the fedora on the way out.

  10. Owlmirror says

    PZ, OP:

    Dennett has basically retired from the fray. Maybe he was the smartest of the four. Although I would argue with him fiercely on his misunderstandings of evolution

    Really!? Could you expand on those misunderstandings are or were?

    I think Dennett’s clearest mistake was in embracing the use of “Bright”, but then, I’ve always had an instinctive rejection of labels, even positive ones.

  11. says

    @3 skeptic:
    No, not full stop. I’d say you need to define what you mean by “humanist.” I’ve too often seen people slap that label on themselves as a way to stroke their own egos and declare themselves as a “Good Person” without having to do the actual work that goes into being a good person. A common red flag is these people, much like you have done, indicate that feminism is entirely separate from humanism. I see, in a nutshell, humanism as taking a rational approach, without reference to a deity or higher power, to solving human problems and feminism primarily involving problems women, who are humans, face. How, then, can you separate the two unless your so-called “humanism” is limited to a subset of humans or a definition of human that excludes women? So, yes, I do “attempt to draw any correlation between them.” Why shouldn’t I? Explain.

  12. euclide says

    I have the chance to live in France, a country where there is no real stigma to being an atheist (keeping your religion or lack of a purely private matter is the accepted norm)

    Anyway, we have left wing atheists and right wing atheists. There are more christians on the right side (but there are left wing christians) ; there are christian islamophobes and atheist islamophobes.

    Having an organized atheist movement in France has kind of no sense. Politics is a lot more important.
    Thus that whole “should atheism embrace social justice” has always sound very strange to me.

    In that aspect by the way, Trump is kind of a good sign for the US politics. You have a president with no public faith who managed to be elected, which was supposedly not possible.

    Personnaly, even if I object their policies, I think right wing politicians with a religious agenda a lot worse than the atheist/agnostic kind. Pence is a lot scarier than Trump in my view. But mainly, politics and religion should be unrelated subjects.

  13. thirdmill301 says

    PZ, I agree with much of what you said, but you lost me at “islamophobe.” Atheists should be phobic against all organized religion, be it Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or Islam. So yes, I’m an Islamophobe, Also a Christophobe, a Judiasm-phobe and a Hindu phobe. I despise and detest all of them. Each and every single one of them is a pernicious, destructive superstition that has created much misery. The damage done by every one of them is incalculable, and threatens continued human existence.

    If having an atheist card means I can’t say nasty things about that vile and abominable religion called Islam, then I will happily burn my atheist card. As I type this, gay men in the middle east are being flogged and thrown off the roofs of tall buildings. Women in the middle east are being victimized by female circumcision, purdah, and the most horrific misogyny humanity ever invented. Atheists are being killed by angry mobs. And our atheist leaders have the effrontery to condemn those who speak out against Islam, the source of such misery. And saying that Christianity is just a bad, while true, is nothing more than the logical fallacy of “what -aboutism” — let’s just change the subject rather than talk about the issue.

    Yes, Christianity is just as bad. So fucking what?

    And as long as the atheist left is seen as the defender of Islam, the mass of atheists who aren’t enamored of honor killings and blasphemy laws and religious mobs will wave goodbye.

  14. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Septic at #3:

    Sweetie, “political correctness” isn’t a real thing. I promise it isn’t lurking under your bed.

  15. hemidactylus says

    I’ve been slogging through New Atheism: Critical Perspectives and Contemporary Debates Editors: Cotter, Christopher R., Quadrio, Philip Andrew, Tuckett, Jonathan (Eds.) which has some rather critical essays on whether Four Horsemen New Atheism is more reason based than polemic and if any of them are familiar enough with religion to effectively critique it without misleading the public. Harris’s treatment of Islam is scrutinized as is the conflict thesis.

    Hitchens took a harsh stance on Kissinger and our disastrous policies toward SE Asia yet was a cheerleader for invading Iraq which had quite disastrous consequences too. I was originally for the invasion until I did a 180. Hitchens never changed his tune did he?

    Dawkins didn’t support our invasion of Iraq so New Atheism isn’t necessarily a coherent whole. Hasn’t Dawkins been somewhat critical of Israeli policies toward Palestinians?

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_views_of_Richard_Dawkins

    Dennett seems the best of the bunch. Though I may not be fully on board with his compatabilism he was the more sympathetic for me in his free will debate with Harris. Harris sounded downright paternal toward his listeners (an unconscious tell?) saying: “I don’t know, Dan, if you’re aware of this — you don’t squander as much of your time on social media or in your inbox — but I heard from so many of our mutual readers that they were despairing of that contretemps between us. It was like Mom and Dad fighting, and it was totally unpleasant”

    https://medium.com/@mgmobrien/does-free-will-exist-sam-harris-and-dan-dennett-discuss-a3d54259a417

    Boghossian added his own approach to New Atheism that has thankfully been expanded by Anthony Magnabosco, Tyrone Wells and others. Street Epistemology seems to be more about addressing people without attacking their views head on, though it seems evasive in that the practitioner’s own lack of belief is not put out there nor their own somewhat clandestine deconversion agenda. I just discovered Tyrone Wells this past week:

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtShJugohT2eaolubHnIuMg

    Dan Barker writes books offering his own takes on free will and morality. Hemant Mehta’s blog has some pretty decent content. So all is not lost.

  16. monad says

    PZ, I think it was a good thing you were in the fleet for a time. I think it helped a number of people who otherwise would have sailed on to that same destination realize they should turn aside, or at least turn aside sooner.

  17. euclide says

    @16 if islamophobia leads to oppress people based on their faith, I think there is a problem.

  18. Saad says

    thirdmill301, #16

    Unfortunately, the term Islamophobia has stuck. The correct term for the concept PZ is referring to should be anti-Muslim bigotry or Muslimphobia.

  19. hemidactylus says

    @13- Owlmirror
    I can’t speak for PZ but my recollection of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea was that Dennett had an exclusively adaptionist approach, though his biases may have been appropriate to his subject matter. I think the universal acid notion may have been an overreach. I’m not a fan of memetics (his pet project). He was rather polemic in his attention to Stephen Gould. It’s been a while since I read that book, but one gem was his rather thoughtful take on the Baldwin effect.

    Breaking the Spell was IMO the best Four Horsemen era book.

  20. cartomancer says

    In terms of the “four horsemen” (a term originally intended, I think, as a bit of fun), it strikes me that Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett are rather different in character from Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. The latter two certainly seem to have been animated by strong political goals and regressive agendas – though one wonders with both how much of it was genuine commitment to principle, however odious, and how much was grandstanding, preening, contrarian posturing and intellectual masturbation.

    Dawkins and Dennett are different, I think. Dennett never really committed himself as anything other than a thinker trying to examine religiosity and its place in the world. Dawkins did have a big streak of evangelical rationalism, and wasn’t afraid to wade in to any debate on social issues to voice personal opinions, often ill-examined ones, but he wasn’t motivated by any kind of political agenda. Certainly not the cheerleading for the Bush-Blair neoliberal attack on the Middle East that motivated Hitchens and Harris. It seems to me that he viewed his place as someone who wrote a controversial book setting out how silly and harmful religion was, particularly to science, and then retired.

  21. skeptic says

    @ 14 Leo Buzalsky

    Humanist is respecting all humans. However, what I see happening all to often is the segregation of humans into categories. We don’t need the tribalism that this segregation has caused, and continues to cause. Therefore, male, female, race, sexual orientation, religion, political philosophy or any other category one may want to recognize or invent should never, ever harm any of the people who are in that category.

    However, that doesn’t mean that one needs to accept every single thing a person in that category claims to hold. As example, when a person labels things as “masculine toxicity”, one doesn’t need to automatically accept that label. It may be valid, but just making the assertion doesn’t make it so. As a certain person once said, “That which is claimed without evidence, can be rejected without evidence.”

    For some reason, I just can’t remember who said that. :)

    Long and short, we don’t need to be part of an echo chamber. Just because we disagree on one issue, doesn’t mean there are difference on the great ones.

  22. thirdmill301 says

    No. 20 and 21, I agree that people should not be mistreated because of their religion. By the same token, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people accused of islamophobia for any criticism of Islam. (Religion of peace, my ass.)

    If we agree that Islam is a terrible thing, but individual Muslims have the same human rights as everybody else, and it’s OK to say both of those things, then we’re probably not that far apart.

  23. specialffrog says

    @skeptic: do you think you can have respect for all humans without equal rights for all humans?

  24. Porivil Sorrens says

    I’ll save my criticisms of Islam for a time when the most powerful country on the planet isn’t routinely invading and murdering Muslims overseas or oppressing the Muslims within its own borders.

  25. Pablo Campos says

    Very insightful post. I personally don’t embrace new atheism anymore. Since I’m just a millennial I didn’t really have to see this ugly transformation of the movement from its beginning so for the very few years I labelled myself as a new atheist (or atheist in general) it later wasn’t hard dropping the movement when I realised it wasn’t for me. Anyway, thanks for the deeply introspective post.

  26. says

    It’s weird to look back and remember that I was there when the 2006 Wired article came out. That’s about when I started following atheist blogs. At the time, it didn’t really seem like the birth of a movement, but I suppose that’s around when things started getting rolling.

    I’m upset about how things went, but I take this experience and treasure it. Now I know what it’s like to be part of a social movement that takes a great idea and runs with it… eventually running off a cliff. I will use this to be a better activist and a better person.

  27. says

    Dennett himself wasn’t so much an issue. It’s more that Dennett was symbolic of how old white guys who were barely associated with the atheist movement at all would achieve a greater degree of prominence than any of the POC or women leaders, solely on the basis of a clever advertising campaign from 2007.

  28. thirdmill301 says

    Porivil, No. 29, so just to be clear, you’re not claiming that criticisms of Islam aren’t true?

  29. skeptic says

    @27 too many see that repression of expression of emotion as toxic. My partner well knows how emotional I can get, in private, but I suppress that in public. Does that make me toxic? How?

    @28 I’m not sure how you get that I don’t support equal rights for everyone. I don’t care if your straight, Asian, in a same sex marriage, trans, White, First Nations or any other slice of human you want to present, of course we have or should have the same rights. As the meme so well says, People Have Rights, Philosophies Don’t. Political, religion or any other philosophy have no rights. Period.

  30. springa73 says

    I think that any ideology or point of view, no matter how good or reasonable it looks “on paper”, can be twisted into an excuse to treat other people horribly. Therefore, no matter what you stand for, you’ll find some real assholes who at least superficially agree with you. The only way to avoid this problem is to avoid standing for anything at all, which isn’t a good idea either.

    This is not to say that ideology doesn’t matter, but I do think that how a person uses their beliefs is often even more important than the beliefs themselves.

  31. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Porivil, No. 29, so just to be clear, you’re not claiming that criticisms of Islam aren’t true?

    Islam gets fixated on excessively for reasons having more to do with the racial/ethnic characteristics of its (stereotypical) adherents than its actual practices. Including eliding the vast majority of Muslims’ moderate views and the West’s culpability in creating conditions that allow extremists to flourish, and in some cases actively placing and keeping them in power.

    This fucking phone keuboard is fedigned for peolle proportionef like fucking Tolkien elves so that,v,s all you’re getting fir now.

  32. says

    #34: that’s the best you can do? That men may be a little shy about cutting loose with the emotions in public is considered toxic? Nonsense. I’ve known many women who were more stoic than I am, and that’s not a trait associated with men, or with toxicity.

  33. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To PZ
    I think you underestimate just how influential and popular you were at the time. I think it’s fair to say that the split down the middle of “New Atheism” was the regressives on one side, and you “leading” the charge on the other side. For that, you should be incredibly proud of yourself. You did really good work, and you helped shape the views and lives of many, many people for the better, including my own.

    PS:
    I still have a more nuanced view of Hitchens and Harris, but I won’t defend any of the atrocious stuff that they’ve said, and Harris in particular has said a lot of very atrocious stuff. Still, I have to thank Harris’s early work for exposing me to what is probably a beginner’s philosophy discussion of morality and utilitarianism, and for that, I still thank him.

  34. says

    If I was a “leader”, then my fall from grace was even more precipitous than I thought, because right now I’m totally persona non grata.

    Also I know I was a cheerleader for the movement, and it’s kind of tricky to strike a balance between deprecating my role to excuse myself from blame, or to exaggerate my role in the past.

  35. drken says

    Personally, I have no problems with anybody in the Atheist movement denouncing Islam as regressive nonsense. What I disagree with in the strongest terms are those in the movement, like Sam Harris, who believe that the presence of Muslims constitutes a security threat. Of course, once you do that, you’re accused of being part of the “regressive left” who hold Islamic beliefs to be above criticism. A stock insult that can be used to dismiss anybody who disapproves of invading Islamic countries or criticizes Israel (or doesn’t praise them effusively enough).

  36. stevewatson says

    I recall a Chris Hedges piece from sometime back in those heady days accusing New Atheism of being part of Western imperialism and/or colonialism and/or something like that. And my reaction was WTF? I just didn’t recognize the movement he was complaining about.

    Now I see that he was, in considerable measure, correct. Shit.

  37. doubtthat says

    I made this exact error. I think, without a doubt, it was the greatest political miscalculation I made. Slapped me in the face when I was doing legal work on the Southside of Chicago and realized that my allies in causes I cared about and thought were important were often located in churches.
    The two big dynamics I miscalculated (white male blindness) was the racism and misogyny. Ironically, the same dynamic driving radical Islam (disaffected, angry, women-hating young men), is what drove the worst aspects of New Atheism.

  38. says

    PZ @39,
    As far as I know, you were the most prominent atheist blogger, and I think you can be proud of the role you took. The thing that’s uncertain to me is, how important was the atheist blogosphere anyway? Blogs always seemed important to me, because they were my main access point, but it is believable that we were bit players all along, in a movement that revolved around a very small number of celebrities.

  39. doubtthat says

    I must say that even if the content is great, I’m having trouble taking the Atlantic article seriously because the author’s name is … Jacob Hamburger.

    Come on, man, gotta Mark Twain that one.

  40. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    As an outsider to atheism but an anarchist, to me the political lens was always the most important. In my experience, even people who pretend to be apolitical aren’t. I don’t actually meet many people who have entirely cultural or philosophical concerns: their rhetoric always shows a political agenda. The only difference is that there are people who are honestly political and those, like Harris, who hide it. I was there when Hitchens started railing against Chomsky and others, seeing the honest sadness in Michael Albert as he bid farewell to Hitchens, and to me it was transparent that Islamophobia and Iraq War support led him to emphasize hating religion a lot more than, you know, protecting humanity. In the long term, people are going to default to their political identity. And if their atheism was never coupled with humanist concerns that they were consistent about, well… You get 4Chan.

  41. microraptor says

    Fredric Bourgault-Christie @46: A lot of times, it seems that when someone claims to be apolitical it really just means they’re fine with the status quo and don’t want to see it changed.

  42. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    What I disagree with in the strongest terms are those in the movement, like Sam Harris, who believe that the presence of Muslims constitutes a security threat.

    They do constitute a security threat, but so do people in general. Maybe Muslims are a slightly higher security threat on average for airport security, but then it devolves down into a practicality and fairness argument, and that one airline security expert schooled Sam Harris on the implementation difficulties and why Harris’s approach is both impractical and unfair and its negatives would outweigh any benefits.

    I would add that focusing on airline security is such a low issue for me as well, as is focusing on terrorism of any kind in the US. It’s just not a big deal at all. Whereas, poverty, hunger, racism, LGBT issues, stopping fascism in America, and more – those are big deals that are worthy of our attention. Airline security in particular is a sideshow.

    Sam Harris IMO likes to be contrarian in the sense of picking an obscure corner case where he thinks other people get it wrong, and especially controversial corner cases, in order to demonstrate his intellectual superiority. I still want to think that there’s hope for Sam to pull his head out of his ass and start being a good face and a good force for atheism, skepticism, humanism, feminism, etc., but I’m not holding my breath.

  43. doubtthat says

    At this point, any discussion of Sam Harris’ positions on modern political issues has to be reconciled with his awesome ignorance. There is just too much data at this point to give him the benefit of the doubt. On topic after topic he reveals a frankly astonishing lack of knowledge about social, political, and economic theory and history.
    It’s how he ends up defending Charles Murray then being surprised when someone points out that Murray wrote a book claiming black art and artists were inferior to white art and artists because encyclopedia entries about white art were longer. He cannot be taken seriously on anything at this point.

  44. John Morales says

    “skeptic” @25:

    As a certain person once said, “That which is claimed without evidence, can be rejected without evidence.”

    For some reason, I just can’t remember who said that. :)

    Lots of people have, you among them; it’s been a proverb for a long time, and most certainly precedes the person whose name you cannot remember.

    Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur.

  45. garnetstar says

    I perceived it as rather more simple than the author of this article: a bunch of guys who used atheism to get famous, and then proclaim that, since they were so smart and rational, every bias they held was also true.

    The biases turned out to be depressingly ordinary for straight white men: against women and people of color, and for their own country’s/hegemony’s dominance over everyone else, by force.

  46. Brian says

    Hitchens has died, but his fans continue the process of apotheosis.

    You misspelled “apoptosis”.

  47. says

    This blog and others led a lot of us away from the rising tide of racism and mysogony in the movement which other people wouldn’t denounce. It’s weird though because I wouldn’t call this blog a feminist blog, it’s a bio blog that talks about atheism and a few other things with a feminist/anti-racist viewpoint. It really freaked me out how upset other people in the community were upset by this take.

  48. hemidactylus says

    I find some odious forms of Jesus thought more of a threat than Islam. Christian nationalism or Reconstructionism would seem more likely to make deleterious political waves than Shariah in the US. Muslims are demographically small here and perhaps self-selected to be more tolerant and embracing of larger culture. My having gotten drunk with a Muslim friend of a friend several times in the past may bias my current views somewhat.

    Whatever one wants to think of Maajid Nawaz I think he has some very positive aspects despite his being a part of the IDW circus act. I also find some positives in Reza Aslan. His unfortunately cancelled show was actually really interesting to me.

    There are multiple atheisms. There is the church-state identity politics that Hemant Mehta highlights in The Friendly Atheist blog. Nonbelievers of various stripes are concerned with freedom from religion and may even seek strange bedfellows alliances with believers on church-state issues. Humanist invocations may be hard to digest for local government meetings. I would love to see a wave of imams or everyday Muslim believers asserting their free exercise rights opening government meetings with Quranic verses or invocations to Allah. Or better yet quotes from freethinking Abu’l-Ala’l-Ma’arri.

  49. Onamission5 says

    PZ, don’t sell yourself short. This blog network and its many writers, along with handful of other blogs and their writers, were critical in providing harbor for those of us who, like Amber Music states above, were blindsided by how vicious the push back against connecting our humanist values to atheism was. If it wasn’t important, if it wasn’t influential, there wouldn’t have been such a massive campaign to discredit FtB as a whole and you specifically.

    Weirdly, even after everything that’s happened, I still have hope that the hangers on can someday create the movement we thought we had at the start.

  50. says

    I want to second all the people crediting you for helping to demonstrate a superior alternative to the alt-right forms of atheism.

    And re: your naivete early on…I think even the best-intentioned of us are struggling to come to terms with the depths of the moral rot in this country, the reality that the racism and subordination of women on which the country was founded has never gone away and continues to inform not just radical fringes but huge swaths of our society. Consider Bernie, who was active in the civil rights movement decades ago, but was in 2017 surprised to learn that tons of never-convicted (mostly black and latinx) citizens sit in jail cuz they can’t pay bail. We aren’t born knowing, corporate media aren’t exactly dying to let us know, and it takes a pretty rare courage to stare into the void all by yourself.

  51. lemurcatta says

    An interesting reflection.

    I’m not a fanboy. But I do think it’s important to point out that Harris never really liked the term atheist or even new atheist. I don’t think he describes or described himself in those terms. And he also never really claimed to be on the “intellectual dark web” ( he titled a podcast episode by that name, but apparently in a tongue in cheek reference to Bret Weinstein using that phrase in the interview for that episode).

    I “grew up” on those books (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens). I still listen to Sam’s podcast. Sometimes I disagree with how he often chooses to only highlight what he thinks liberals are doing wrong (with the notable exception of continuously excoriating Trumps incompetence), while largely orbiting the dumpster fire on the right. And I have no doubt many of his fans are probably assholes. Yet, I still feel like he has so much to say that is important and relevant to me. Like meditation, which I took up before knowing about Sam. Anyways I guess I’m just trying to say that not all the people who still find Harris relevant are alt right ass hats.

  52. Ichthyic says

    <

    blockquote> In fact, the backlash against the silly antics of the worst who demanded political correctness elected Trump and has raised Peterson to the prominence that he has.

    ROFLMAO.

    this couldn’t BE more wrong if you tried.

    why is the alt-right so fucking disconnected from reality? it’s like they INSIST on being disconnected from reality.

    OTOH, the overgrown Oompa Loompa in charge does rather encourage a disconnect.

    meh, they would have been this way whether or not there was a literally troll in charge of the US.

  53. A. Noyd says

    “skeptic” talks about issues of social justice like TV shows portray hacking. It might fool people who know nothing about the subject, but anyone with a smidgen of understanding notices just how absurd and nonsensical it is. I mean, “masculine toxicity”? Really?

    Also, I’m curious why he goes out of his way to describe “identity politics” (as understood by silly wankers who figure themselves above it all) instead of simply using the term. Has he figured out it’s too obvious of a tell?

  54. says

    Ichthyic, this is another example of the Right’s favorite rallying cry: “Look what you made us do!”

    It can be used with or without their favorite threat: “If you don’t do [the thing they are demanding today], then we will have no choice but to go on and do what we were already going to do anyway!!”

  55. thirdmill says

    Hemidactylus, No. 55: as between Christian nationalists and radical Muslims, which one is scarier depends entirely on where and when one lives. No religion can be trusted with political power; there is no historical example I’m aware of in which theocratic government wasn’t an atrocity. You are right that Muslims pose little risk to the US at this time because of their small numbers, but they are making millions of people in the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia perfectly miserable. And were their numbers to grow in the United States to where they actually did achieve political power, at that point you might start to feel nostalgia for when Christians were the dominant political and cultural force. As a humanist, my concern is how best to play them against each other so that the rest of us can live in relative freedom.

    But what isn’t a good strategy is calling anyone with nasty things to say about Islam a bigot, and while that has not happened so far in this thread, I’ve seen and heard it plenty elsewhere.

  56. andyo says

    “Skeptic”, how long have you been around online, it sure seems like you’re playing the tired “I don’t see race” card, plus some dictionary atheism thrown around for good measure. It’s disingenuous and shallow.

    Not swallowing the worst of political correctness does not make one alt-right, but rational. In fact, the backlash against the silly antics of the worst who demanded political correctness elected Trump and has raised Peterson to the prominence that he has.

    If the “silly antics of the worst who demanded political correctness”, or the silly antics of ANYONE, makes you vote for Trump or promote Peterson, you were already broken way before said silly antics happened. It’s your own goddamn fault Trump got elected, take responsibility.

  57. chrislawson says

    As far as plausibility goes, for someone to describe themselves as apolitical, well they might as well claim to have a perpetual motion machine.

  58. says

    There is a difference between fighting against religion and fighting against religious extremism. Most people who follow a religion are perfectly reasonable human beings with what seem like irrational views to an atheist. Most of them even ignore whatever teachings the religion has on matters such as gays, contraception and abortion and don’t believe in imposing them on others. The problem comes when atheists attack religious extremism by lumping these people in with the extremists. As this article shows even atheism has its own extremists. Studies have shown that the most effective way of combating religious extremism come from within the religion itself in programs run by the followers of that religion. Typically government funded and sponsored programs developed by people who buy into false stereotypes of religious extremism and don’t do the basic research into what makes a person an extremist are a dismal failure. They don’t address the real causes, they don’t properly counter the ideas that drive extremism and certainly in the case of Muslims are viewed with suspicion. When as part of these programs the criteria for assessing a primary school child’s potential radicalisation includes if they pray at lunchtime and teachers are obligated to report them for counseling it has become absurd. The most effective methods of countering religious extremists come from their co-religionists who are usually the first on the radicals list for beheading or some equally gruesome method of execution. Sadly they are also forced to circle the wagons when loud mouthed politicians chasing undeserved votes join forces with sundry bigots, fascists, racists and the more strident prophets of atheism and Foxwit screaming heads. People like Dawkins need to lose their obsession with a cartoon version of shariah and get to understand the religion and its followers better. They might be surprised.

  59. John Morales says

    garydargan:

    Studies have shown that the most effective way of combating religious extremism come from within the religion itself in programs run by the followers of that religion.

    So? Are you suggesting atheists endorse “mild” religionists but otherwise stay out?

    (Arguing accommodationism is passé, I know)

    People like Dawkins need to lose their obsession with a cartoon version of shariah and get to understand the religion and its followers better. They might be surprised.

    Why? And BTW, you speak of Islam as if it were a monolith. Cartoonish that version may seem to you, but are you so very sure it’s not instantiated?

    (You’re essentially making the same error, but in the other direction)

  60. skeptic says

    @ andyo

    You didn’t comprehend my point. My reference to political correctness electing Trump or bringing Peterson to prominence is not an endorsement of either, but a recognition that dismissing all political correctness as not having a backfire effect, is being willfully blind.

  61. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    but a recognition that dismissing all political correctness as not having a backfire effect, is being willfully blind

    Then many of us are willfully blind, because we disagree with you in the strongest possible terms. With very few exceptions, “political correctness” just means “treating people with respect”.
    http://neil-gaiman.tumblr.com/post/43087620460/i-was-reading-a-book-about-interjections-oddly
    These people are upset like the KKK were upset when MLK Jr did his marches. They’re going to be upset no matter what you do as long as you’re being effective about it. If they’re not upset, then odds are good that we’re not being effective enough. See also: MLK Jr’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail.

  62. John Morales says

    skeptic, your point is vacuous, and expressed in an extremely muddled manner, and is furthermore irrelevant to the topic at hand, that being New Atheism and its status, not the reactance of fools.

    But sure, arguendo: is your intent to now proceed to the entailed consequence that supposedly follows from your putative point? Some prescriptive proposition?

    (You might care get on with it, then)

  63. says

    of course we have or should have the same rights.

    There are rights, and then there is equality. Often in the atheist/skeptical sphere we encounter “rights” promoted above equality, as in “I got mine, jack, so I wanna protect my right to keep it.” Even if the system is profoundly equal. A focus on rights is something I associate as aligned with libertarianism, rather than social justice. I would say that social justice implies a concern with equality (the “justice” bit) whereas a concern with rights might be part of an appeal to legalism.

  64. says

    At this point, any discussion of Sam Harris’ positions on modern political issues has to be reconciled with his awesome ignorance.

    It’s not mere ignorance, it’s profound intellectual dishonesty. I did a whole dissection of one of Harris’ podcasts, in which you can see that he repeatedly manipulates the listener by attempting to equate Hamas with Islam in general. [stderr] it’s not ignorance; he’s got an agenda and he is dishonest about it. That’s not to say that he’s not ignorant- he’s plenty ignorant too, and that’s what trips him up.

    When you carefully analyze the things he says, it’s really suprising how he argues dishonestly even when he’s explaining his own views. I got clued in to how bad Harris’ arguments are back when he was promoting virtue ethics, and demonstrated no understanding of the arguments against virtue ethics, and generally made a near-trumpian hash of the issue. Of course someone who is willing to be so intellectually dishonest has cast doubt on his position as a moral arbiter, too. If you want to hear a complete shitshow on the moral landscape there’s an Intelligence Squared podcast wherein he tosses virtue ethics like a salad; I defy anyone to listen to it and not come away doubting that Harris can think at all, let alone whether he is a great thinker.

  65. John Morales says

    [“… a near-trumpian hash of the issue …”]

    So contemporaneous! So evocative! So informative :|

  66. jack lecou says

    Yes, I was a New Atheist (past tense again). I promoted it, I happily wore the label, I was initially optimistic that we were going to change the culture, I was naive and stupid. I swallowed some of my early reservations — is this just a reaction against Bush fueled by xenophobia inspired by the September 11th bombings? — but figured that would pass, that people would step in the door and then find enduring meaning in science and evidence-based reasoning.

    Boy, was I wrong.

    A lot of us were right there with you. Lurking on this very blog, even.

    If it helps though, I actually think I owe a great deal to you and this blog and its generally enlightened denizens. As a young white dude coming of age in the noughts, I could have gone down a different path.

    I mean, I’d like to think I’d always have ended up here, but one never knows.

    I read a lot of Heinlein and Niven and Pournelle as a kid. For a time, I thought the moral philosophy embodied in the “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” actually made a lot of sense. I knew how to program a computer, and studied math, and economics. Those are, unfortunately, all warning signs. It’s not unpossible I could have ended up some kind of lobster head.

    But. I did at least have a 90’s after school special sort of idea that racism and sexism were bad things. And I was coming here. Came for the flaying of creationists and criticism of Bushian idiocies, stayed for the education in social justice.

    This was always my only real contact point with “new atheism”, and if you and the people and discussions here didn’t actually open my eyes, they at least kept them open. First with a sensible reaction to the racist idiocy of people like Harris* and then to the, if possible, even greater idiocy and evil revealed by the elevatorgate reaction**. That was like someone had turned the lights on, and suddenly there are a thousand cockroaches scuttling around. And yet it wasn’t cockroaches, it was atheist dudes. Who wanted to identify with the roaches, for some reason, and didn’t even have sense of shame enough to stay hidden under the cupboards. (I was right here reading in disbelief when Dawkins scuttled out and spelled “Dear Muslima” out in tiny little black dots of poop on the counter…)

    Frankly, everything since then has been pretty straightforward, morally. “Try to act better than the cockroaches.”

    I’ve been trying to make the world better instead.

    So, for what it’s worth, thanks.

    ----
    * Seriously though – how is it not obvious that Islam is no better or worse than any other religion – they’d all keep humanity in the dark ages if they could.

    ** Well, revealed to some of us. Those of us, who, ok, maybe didn’t have our eyes all the way open before that…

  67. jack lecou says

    “political correctness” just means “treating people with respect”.

    Indeed.

    I’d add that the error a lot of “anti-PC” warriors make — well, besides possibly just being un-self-reflecting assholes — is the classic “so busy worrying about whether they could that they never stopped to ask whether they should“.

    Having the Right to tell a fat joke, or a rape joke, or to, say, dress up in blackface and a Saints jersey a few weeks after Katrina, doesn’t mean you’re obligated to exercise that right. In fact, any sensible philosophy of “Rights” also needs to have something to say about the responsibilities which necessarily go hand in with them.

    Responsibilities like not being an asshole to your fellow human beings.

  68. Porivil Sorrens says

    @33
    Of course I think criticisms of Islam are real. I don’t agree with all of them, and as I literally mentioned, I have my own. I just keep them to myself, because I’d rather not lend ammunition to the people who are murdering and oppressing innocent muslims. I’ll save my criticisms for when we’re past that.

  69. says

    Takes me back to 2011, when young manbabies took Rebecca Watson’s gentle admonition to avoid hitting on women they don’t know as some kind of red flag, at which they then charged, bellowing, and haven’t shut the fuck up since.

    Basically, people like our “skeptic” friend, ostensibly holding themselves above “identity politics” and “political correctness”, nonetheless decided that their identities as men were under dire threat, which required immediate political activity, and those advocating equality among non-believers required immediate correction.

    If you’re a self-labelled humanist who dismisses feminism and other equality-seeking movements as tribalism or PC gone mad, you’re a shitty humanist. If you’re “skeptical” about the need for gender or racial equality, ditto. Plus, you’re a bad skeptic, as the hard and unimpeachable data showing that women, lgbt people and other minorities have received nothing less than short shrift from their male dominant-race counterparts over the centuries is easier to access than ever.

  70. Ishikiri says

    If we accept that horrible things are done in a lot of majority Muslim countries, which I do, what exactly is the political argument that follows? That we should intervene in those countries somehow? That we should treat people from those places a certain way as a matter of policy?

    This is where my problem arises with Harris and others who focus on the evils of Islam. Discrimination is unjust and awful, and foreign intervention, especially military intervention, almost never does anything accept make things a whole lot worse. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria are a disaster because of the US.

    Also, if you spend all of your time criticizing foreign countries in which you have no influence, while ignoring problems in your own country of citizenship where you can actually do something, it speaks to your political alignment.

  71. says

    I didn’t ‘grow up’ as an atheist via New Atheism. I was reading Nietzsche, back before The God Delusion existed. I bet that comes off as snobbery, but alas I’m just old. :) Nevertheless I did pick up a copy of Dawkins’ book, and I was on Dawkins’ forum online, and for a while I was enamored of what PZ likes to call ‘dictionary atheism’. In fact I’m pretty sure I defended it here once or twice.

    But I kept reading Pharyngula, and I came around, and found I was wrong about that. And when Dawkins screwed up his forum I left and didn’t miss it. Thanks for being part of the alternative, PZ. Thanks also for introducing me to other writers and Youtubers and such. It’s not just you; it’s the network, it’s the others you help us find. I wouldn’t be watching ContraPoints otherwise, for example, and that would be a crying shame. What a journey that has been.

    It’s funny to me that I see one of the benefits of atheism as having no gods, no saints, no prophets, no heroes. And yet, there’s New Atheism with its Four Horsemen. It didn’t make them any less human, though. That they would fall short was inevitable. Maybe it’s just human nature to want to find exemplars to put on pedestals. People are certainly prone to it in politics. I wish my side of it was better about that.

  72. doubtthat says

    @Marcus Ranum

    I’ll check out your piece.

    You are correct, there is a great deal of slimy malice in what he does. That’s what first turned me – the gross little games he played in both the publication and subsequent controversy over “In Defense of Torture,” for example.
    What has surprised me since about Harris, though, is how amazingly childish his grasp of politics and history are. Like, I find a sleezy manipulator dangerous, but interesting – It takes work to break apart the strategy and pull out the malign agenda. But lately, the times some bullshit Harris generates finds it way into the spaces I watch, it’s just awful and wrong in a Fox News level way – a quick google search and the first paragraph of the wikipedia entry is enough to contradict the point.
    To your point, though, I do sometimes suspect this is less ignorance than him making a play for those sweet, sweet alt-right dollars, but it functions as ignorance.

  73. Pierce R. Butler says

    Pls consider, PZ, just how politically/culturally dismal and barren the revival of atheism in the English-speaking world would have been without you having kept an online banner of reason and humanism held high for so many of us to rally ’round.

  74. mnb0 says

    Now if some former fans of New Atheism have understood what Chomsky meant with “the burden of proof has to be placed on authority and it has to be dismantled if that burden cannot be met” something good has come out of the mess that New Atheism has been from almost the beginning. Hint: an excellent evolutionary biologist is not necessarily a decent philosopher or historian (you can decide for yourself to what extent this applies to Dawkins, Myers or both).

  75. brucegee1962 says

    I think overall it’s pretty simple. There was one overarching question: which is more important, religion or politics? And the answer is politics, every time. Religion is a distant second.

  76. Eric says

    It was 2007 or thereabouts. I haven’t read anyone’s books. I wasn’t an atheist (well I was, but I wasn’t going to use that word). But between you, Orac, Greta, and Ed, and a few others I found my people! I still don’t have anyone’s books, but your writings helped coalesce my thoughts into what I could no longer deny: I was an atheist and lying to myself. “Atheist” was a bad word. But now here I was.
    It was never about feminism or atheism+, but it was never NOT about that; I was just surprised that there were people that felt as I did. Your earlier writings were a breath of fresh air to me. Openly deny God? Who does that?
    Dr. Myers, I became and labelled myself an atheist because of you; I even use the word openly when I describe myself. Maybe it sounds silly in 2019, but here we are. Thanks.

  77. pacal says

    Thirdmill No. 62. You say:

    “You are right that Muslims pose little risk to the US at this time because of their small numbers, but they are making millions of people in the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia perfectly miserable. And were their numbers to grow in the United States to where they actually did achieve political power, at that point you might start to feel nostalgia for when Christians were the dominant political and cultural force.”

    You might want to be a little more nuanced. The great majority of the people of the Middle East are Muslims and it is extremist Muslims who are one of the things making life miserable for other Muslims. After all the main victims of extremist Muslim terrorism are in fact other Muslims. Also may I point out that the most extremist Muslim state, and it’s been so for many, many decades, is Saudi Arabia ruled by the Saudi Royal family and run has a brutal theocracy has been supporting Muslim terrorism throughout much of the Middle East and beyond for quite some time and it is also a key US ally. It’s religious schools are hotbeds of extremist thought and terrorism with massive state support. Right now Saudi Arabia is supporting / leading a vicious terrorist like war in Yemen. Perhaps the USA might better be able to handle Muslim terrorism in the world if it wasn’t supporting a theocratic, extremist Muslim state like Saudi Arabia which exports religious extremism and terrorism. This is one of the reasons I laughed when George Bush Junior talked about bringing democracy to the Middle east in the wake of the invasion of Iraq and at the same time was arm in arm with Saudi Princes.

    And of course one should not ignore the role of the USA in making life miserable for people in the Middle East. Drone strikes, counter insurgency etc., have of course, sadly, killed and made miserable lives for many in the Middle East and I could go into the rather unpleasant history of USA administrations interference in Middle East politics. I would just like to conclude with a certain USA administration document from the Eisenhower administration which stated that the perception in the Middle East is that the USA opposes development and democracy in the Middle East and supports Dictators. The document went on to say that the perception was true because development and democracy did not serve the interests of the USA. Even after the invasion of Iraq various US officials despite the pro-forma posturing about democracy wanted to basically force the new Iraqi government to be a certain way and do certain things. (Like sell off to private Western investors, the nationalized oil industry.) I could also mention the attempt to create a rubber stamp assembly to approve a new constitution for the Iraqi state. Fortunately this whole process fell apart because of mass public protest in Iraq otherwise Iraq would likely have turned into a full disaster for the USA.

    As for your last bit. Well that reads like Reds under the beds stuff. Muslims are a small minority in the USA. Their chances of attaining enough political power to try to impose anything like Sharia law is bluntly minimal for at least 50 years and I suspect permanently. Unless you think that Muslims are somehow immune to the secularizing trends in American society. You also seem to think that Muslims will likely become a dominant political force in the USA. Very unlikely. Instead you seem to be saying you will be sorry you didn’t take the threat of Muslims in the USA seriously. Frankly for the time being I don’t. Oh and there are signs of secularization in the Middle East which in my opinion should be encouraged.

    As for nostalgia for Christian domination. Given the existence of Reconstructionists and Dominationists among Christians, who openly desire a Christian theocracy and do have influence, I am more fearful of them. For example Pence, the Vice President, certainly has a lot of Reconstructionist attitudes and in my opinion is a wannabe theocrat.

  78. flange says

    Why this compulsion to have, to belong to am atheist organization? I guess many of us are hard-wired to seek out, socialize with people, especially people who agree with us. To me, it’s like turning a non-belief into a religion— with all that follows: dogma, heresy, egos, schizms, and assholes. The people I like to hang around with are decent, honest, free-thinkers, people who won’t be told what or how to believe. And I think a sense of humor helps. Organizations like Planned Parenthood, Citizens for Separation of Church & State, SPLC, ACLU, etc. address the issues most of us care about. We can support, or not support those.
    “Organized Atheism” to me is a non-starter.

  79. leerudolph says

    PZ snarks about Hitchens: “He was a saint, don’t you know.”

    Indeed he was; very much in the style of “Mother” Theresa (note that I am scrupulously retaining his entirely appropriate scare-quotes). Nietzsche’s apothegm about monster-fighters and abyss-starers chalks up another true positive.

  80. says

    Among all the people whose writing I started following during the heyday of new atheism, you’re the only one I’ve stuck with. You’ve been a big part of expanding my horizons. You also linked to the I Blame The Patriarchy blog when it was at its most active, and that blog seriously challenged my assumptions and, honestly, forced me to become a better person.

  81. says

    Thirdmill

    You are right that Muslims pose little risk to the US at this time because of their small numbers, but they are making millions of people in the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia perfectly miserable.

    So, what’s the religion of the overwhelming majority of the people being made miserable?
    You see, if people don’t consider you a bona fide participant in such discussions it’s because of statements like this. Because, yes, the people doing those horrible things are muslim, but their victims are muslim as well. You are lumping in the victims with the perpetrators and link those horrible crimes with the religion they both share.
    Also, if and since muslims do pose little risk in the USA and Europe, despite what right wing hate mongers want you to believe, who do you folks need to spend so much energy on them?

  82. thirdmill says

    Pacal, No. 86, and Giliell, No. 90, Marx was exactly right when he said that religion is the opium of the masses. Opium, of course, is a powerfully addictive drug that destroys lives, families and societies in its wake. And that damage tends to be both caused and suffered by opium users. Muslims both cause and suffer the consequences of Islam, and that’s not a contradiction. If I get drunk, crash my car into a tree, and wind up in a wheelchair, and I the perpetrator or the victim? Well, both.

    And a religious extremist is simply someone who takes the tenets of a religion seriously. The Bible says that gays should be killed. Most Christians don’t agree, but that’s because they don’t take that particular portion of the Bible seriously. The Christians who do take that part of the Bible seriously are the ones who show up at military funerals with signs that say God Hates Fags.

    I think it’s a good thing that most Christians (at least in the US) don’t take the Bible as seriously as they claim, and it’s a wonderful thing that most Muslims (at least in the US) don’t take the Koran seriously when it talks about waging jihad against infidels. But that’s a credit to them, not to their religion.

    But back to your argument that most of the victims of Islam are Muslims (which sounds a lot to me like talking about black on black crime; it’s the same basic argument.) I get that the West has a lot of culpability for the conditions in the Middle East, I really do. I would argue that Islam itself has made the clean up far more difficult than it would be otherwise. The House of Saud would be gone tomorrow if it hadn’t convinced much of the population of Saudi Arabia that they are Allah’s defenders of Islam against Western imperialism.

  83. Porivil Sorrens says

    That’s blatantly not what Marx meant by that, lmao.

    He’s saying that religion is a pallative cure that appeals to oppressed and lower class people because of their material conditions (just like how opium appeals to the sick or the pained), without fixing the core problem.

    In the full context, he calls religion “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.”

    Using that quote to more or less make the exact opposite point he was making is some creationist-tier cherrypicking.

  84. thirdmill says

    Porivil, what did I say that Marx would have disagreed with? Yes, it’s a palliative; it’s also the devastating evil I described, just as opium is. So even if I’ve expanded his meaning, it’s an expansion and not a conflict. And I’ll bet you a nickel he’d nod his head in agreement.

  85. thirdmill301 says

    And Porivil (or anyone else who wishes to respond), one other thing. I have this nagging suspicion that if I had come here and said that Christianity is evil, and then gone on to say all the nasty things about Christianity that I did say about Islam, that neither you nor anyone else here would have so much as raised an eyebrow. I’ll believe you if you tell me I’m wrong, but if I’m not wrong, then I have to ask why the tender solicitousness toward a religion that you acknowledged does lots of bad things? Why the discomfort in acknowledging that it’s a horrible belief system?

  86. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Thirdmill, still sounding like you have an irrational fear (phobia) of Islam you don’t put onto practitioners of other religions who hold similar beliefs. Quit defending your irrational fear of only the one religion. Be fearful of all, or none. That is the route to sounding rational.

  87. Saad says

    thirdmill,

    And Porivil (or anyone else who wishes to respond), one other thing. I have this nagging suspicion that if I had come here and said that Christianity is evil, and then gone on to say all the nasty things about Christianity that I did say about Islam, that neither you nor anyone else here would have so much as raised an eyebrow.

    And you truly and honestly don’t understand why that is?

    Do you really not see that Western (for the lack of a better term) criticism of Islam is a much more delicate issue than Western criticism of Christianity?

    Would it help if we consider a scenario in America where there’s panel of white speakers sitting in front of an audience of mostly white people discussing the misogyny or homophobia found among black men?

  88. Porivil Sorrens says

    @93
    I’d take that bet and raise you several hundred dollars that he’d disagree about religion being inherently bad. In the context of the quote, he literally speaks favorably about religion in general. In other works he talked favorably about religion. As mentioned, his more or less sole problem with religion was that it obscured class relations. Plenty of contemporary movements reconciled religion with Socialism, which he apparently never saw fit to write scathing criticisms of.

    Insofar as why I’m not as shy about criticising Christianity, that’s easy. Christians aren’t being oppressed, invaded, and murdered en masse by the most powerful countries in the world. There’s not a single criticism of Islam I have that is worth lending ammunition to bloodthirsty genocidal maniacs – the US, that is.

  89. thirdmill301 says

    Nerd, in my very first comment on the subject I explicitly stated that I despise all religion; if you missed that, then I’m not confidant you understood anything else I wrote either.

    Saad, the position you’ve taken is dangerous, because it essentially says that certain groups get a free pass to engage in bad behavior. I don’t disagree with you on the politics of it. I don’t even disagree with you that black males have good reason to not take criticism seriously coming from white privilege. That, however, is a separate issue from whether the criticism is true.

    So far, nobody here has challenged my basic assertion that Islam is a nasty ideology that does nasty things. What I’m hearing is that there are political reasons to not say so, or that other religions are just as bad. However, that viewpoint comes from the privileged position of not being a woman or a homosexual living in Pakistan. I’m sure women and homosexuals living in Pakistan would be glad to have help from any quarter. As would the victims of black male misogyny and homophobia.

  90. rietpluim says

    thirdmill301
    There are many versions of Islam and one may differ enormously from an other. Your treatment of Islam as one consistent ideology is a hasty generalization, which as you may know is an informal fallacy.

    There goes your assertion.

  91. rietpluim says

    But that’s a credit to them, not to their religion.
    And how do you know? They know better what their religion is than you do.

  92. thirdmill301 says

    Riet, there are many versions of Christianity. There are even many versions of fascism. But none of that is the point. The point is that when a gay man gets tossed off a rooftop in Iran, or a 12 year old girl is forced into a marriage with a 50 year old man, or an angry mob lynches a Christian in Pakistan, it’s Islam that’s behind it. If there were no Islam, those things would not be happening.

    I welcome the kinder and gentler forms of Islam, but make no mistake: They don’t even begin to make up for the pain and misery that Islam has caused over the centuries. For the same reason that kinder and gentler forms of Christianity don’t begin to make up for Native American genocide, or Western colonialism, or persecution of homosexuals.

  93. thirdmill301 says

    The Islam that’s behind it is the Islam that has political power. And that seems to be the determining factor.

    Kinder and gentler Islam mostly exists in places where Islam has no real political power. In places where it does, the worst forms of Islam always seem to be the ones in charge. And Islam isn’t alone in that respect; we see very different Christianities in places where Christianity has political power than where it does not. Which takes us back to my original comment that no religion is to be trusted with political power.

    But for purposes of this discussion, if you want to know an ideology’s true character, give it political power. With Islam, the results are less than stellar.

  94. Porivil Sorrens says

    @101

    The point is that when a gay man gets tossed off a rooftop in Iran, or a 12 year old girl is forced into a marriage with a 50 year old man, or an angry mob lynches a Christian in Pakistan, it’s Islam that’s behind it. If there were no Islam, those things would not be happening.

    [Citation Needed]
    Violent homophobia and child abuse have occurred in almost every major country irrespective of religion. There’s no magical Islamic spell that forces these people to do the things they do, so the idea that absent Islam (or even absent religion as a whole) people wouldn’t do these things is actually just a laughably idealist assertion that makes your Marx-quoting even more ironic.

    @98

    I’m sure women and homosexuals living in Pakistan would be glad to have help from any quarter.

    Criticizing Islam on the English speaking portion of the internet will do literally nothing to help women and homosexuals living in Pakistan. Posting isn’t praxis. Not a single person will see any comment you ever post and go “Huh, I was going to throw a homosexual off a roof, but thirdmill made a really good point on that blog I consider apostate in a language I can’t read so I guess I’ve been owned.”

    What it will do is embolden those who think we need to invade to save all those poor Muslims from themselves (especially if they happen to live somewhere strategically or economically useful), or those who think that the friendly muslim guy round the street needs to get beat up because he’s secretly a member of ISIS.

  95. Porivil Sorrens says

    @103

    The Islam that’s behind it is the Islam that has political power. And that seems to be the determining factor.

    Yeah, sure. There’s no common factor lining together the most fervently regressive Islamic countries. It’s completely coincidental that countries that have been the targets of Western imperialism for decades to centuries embrace religious authoritarianism. Clearly it’s the magic islamic voodoo that makes that happen, and not people acting in response to their material conditions.

  96. thirdmill301 says

    Porivil, while not excusing Western imperialism, Islam did not need Western imperialism to become violent, bloodthirsty, hostile to science, hostile to pluralism, misogynistic and homophobic. It was all of those things long before the West arrived. How do you think it managed to conquer all the territory it conquered, by acting like Norway? And I think that’s the central point of disagreement between us. You want to blame Western imperialism for everything wrong in the Middle East. I don’t dispute the atrocity that Western imperialism was and continues to be, but the people there had adopted a violent and bloody ideology long before the West came along, and they have some responsibility to abandon it if they want to improve their lives. Abandoning Islam would not be a magic bullet, though neither would the West leaving the region completely, but it would make a bad situation noticeably better.

    And you’re right, nobody in Pakistan is going to see anything I post here, or care, but that’s not the point. If that were the point, nobody here would care what I said about Islam.

  97. Porivil Sorrens says

    @106

    How do you think it managed to conquer all the territory it conquered, by acting like Norway?

    By acting like literally every other expansionist power at the time and prior. But I doubt you think Roman polytheists were all bloodthirsty maniacs.

    You want to blame Western imperialism for everything wrong in the Middle East.

    No, I want to blame imperialism in general with the adoption and support of authoritarianism, which is a demonstrable historical fact. The fact that it manifests in the middle east as religious authoritarianism is a matter of historical circumstances, not Islam being some special evil. The same mechanism that makes Islam the source of authoritarianism in the middle east is what makes Juche the source of imperialism in Korea.

    I also just flatly reject your idea that the only difference between authoritarian and progressive Islam is how much power they hold. There is a tangible historical and cultural difference between Islam as practiced in the middle east and in the west, and ignoring that is actually just stupid.

    Abandoning Islam would not be a magic bullet, though neither would the West leaving the region completely, but it would make a bad situation noticeably better.

    They have zero reason to abandon authoritarian Islam as long as they have the looming threat of western imperialism over their head. People embrace authoritarianism in response to external threats. The cessation of western imperialism in Islamic countries is a necessary condition to reducing the hold of religious authoritarianism.

    And you’re right, nobody in Pakistan is going to see anything I post here, or care, but that’s not the point. If that were the point, nobody here would care what I said about Islam.

    That’s blatantly false, for reasons I literally just explained. I care about what people in the west say about Islam because people do read it – and then use those criticisms of Islam to justify bigotry and war.

  98. Rob Grigjanis says

    thirdmill301 @103:

    if you want to know an ideology’s true character, give it political power

    Like Communism, Capitalism, etc? Gosh, I wonder what all these have in common.

  99. Saad says

    thirdmill, #98

    Saad, the position you’ve taken is dangerous, because it essentially says that certain groups get a free pass to engage in bad behavior.

    Fuck no, it does not. White/Western never-Muslims aren’t needed for Muslim/ex-Muslim activists to fight for reform among Muslim communities in the west. In fact, they’ll only make it worse. Groups don’t change because people from outside the group lecture them about it.

    Here are some questions that need to be asked when a western/white/never-Muslim decides to criticize Islam in any sort of organized or public fashion:

    1) What need do I (someone living in a non-Muslim majority country where Muslims are marginalized) have to criticize Islam? Am I providing insight that liberal/reformist Muslims and ex-Muslim activists don’t have? Is my fame or influence going to steal attention away from those personally involved Muslims/ex-Muslims who actually have lived experience of Islam and have skin in the game?

    2) Who is going to be my audience? Can I help avoid the audience being anti-Muslim right-leaning bigots? Will my views and quotes be used to further marginalize Muslims? Will Donald Trump or Steve King retweet me?

    How can you not see that criticism of Islam in the west is a very different thing from criticism of Christianity. None of those dangers exist if you choose to criticize Christianity in America.

    So far, nobody here has challenged my basic assertion that Islam is a nasty ideology that does nasty things.

    That’s because it’s a fucking strawman.

    Suppose we back off and let you have a podium in a huge theater and you’re allowed to say how Islam is a nasty ideology. Who exactly are you saying this to? Who will be filling the seats in front of you? What do you hope to change by standing in a venue in some western country speaking to a crowd about how bad Islam is? All of this is assuming your intentions are good, by the way, which I doubt they are. I think you’re coming from the same place as Dawkins and Harris and using the downtrodden minorities in Muslim countries as an excuse to get your fix of criticizing Islam/Muslims.

    I’m sure women and homosexuals living in Pakistan would be glad to have help from any quarter.

    Sam Harris speaking to Pat Condell and that Amazing Atheist asshole about the evils of the Moozlems in front of an audience of white people who supported Richard Dawkins in bullying the 14-year old Ahmed Mohamed over the clock incident does absolutely nothing for the oppressed in Pakistan. It does help make America a more dangerous place for Muslims though.

    I get the impression your atheism and your awareness of Muslims is stuck at the End of Faith level.

  100. Saad says

    thirdmill,

    And you’re right, nobody in Pakistan is going to see anything I post here, or care, but that’s not the point. If that were the point, nobody here would care what I said about Islam.

    How are you not getting this?

    The (unnecessary) criticism won’t affect the people suffering in Pakistan. It will affect the Muslims living here. Did you not see one of the main things that got the orange fuckhead roaring applause during his campaign?

  101. Onamission5 says

    thirdmill @98: I’m sure women and homosexuals living in Pakistan would be glad to have help from any quarter. As would the victims of black male misogyny and homophobia.

    Would they, though? Would any of the groups you mention really welcome “help” imposed upon them from outside which doesn’t take into consideration their experiences, their voices, their actual needs and concerns, but rather, seeks to change their culture into one that the helpers prefer, which might not be better for them after all? Is help which regards an entire culture as deficient and in need of paternalistic outside adjustment actually helpful?

    You seem to be forgetting (or ignoring) that for a whole lot of people here in the west, the sort of solutions they propose are things like: convert Muslims to Christianity, police women’s clothing, bomb everyone and let god sort the rest, make it unsafe to practice Islam in any manner. Is any of that helpful to Muslim LGBT and women in Pakistan? Are any of those things the kind of help they’re asking for? Are they asking for outside help at all? Do you even know what their needs are as they see them? Are black women helped when US society and legal system uses a racist approach or takes a racist view of black male misogyny? Is it useful for white people to single out homophobia within a single minority population without A) examining their own homophobia B) placing priority on listening to black LGBT community as regards their own complaints and proposals?

    It’s a grave mistake to just blanket assume that any and all help imposed from without will address the needs of those within.

  102. Porivil Sorrens says

    @112
    But it was so good when we put all those Native Americans in “schools” to “Kill the savage to save the man!” We were just helping uplift them out of their backwards, barbaric ways.

    Of course, 19th century Threadmill would just be pointing out how dangerous the Native Americans are and how backwards their beliefs are, and not lose any sleep when his words get used to support the trail of tears.

    (Not to mention what the 1930’s version would be espousing…)

  103. says

    Thirdmill

    And a religious extremist is simply someone who takes the tenets of a religion seriously.

    Oh bullshit. This presupposes that there is one “right” version of that religion and that the most regressive followers of that religion are correct about it.

    You want to blame Western imperialism for everything wrong in the Middle East.

    You are aware that Saudi Arabia is entirely a creation of western forces?

    If there were no Islam, those things would not be happening.

    Holy cupcake, that’s like Trump pointing at a handful of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and then saying “if there were no undocumented immigrants those people would still be alive”. It’s simplistic and leaves out all other contributing factors to a particularly violent interpretation (or instrumentalisation) in those places as well as the fact that there are many places with quite a lot of muslims where that is not happening and places without muslims where it is happening.
    While I’m not going to discount religion’s influence in these matters, it also doesn’t mean that we can have a simple cause. That’s like saying the Irish Troubles were a religious conflict and without Henry the fucking Eighth splitting from Rome everything would have been fine.

  104. rietpluim says

    What Islam did not need Western imperialism to become violent, bloodthirsty, hostile to science, hostile to pluralism, misogynistic and homophobic, exactly?

  105. Saad says

    thirdmill,

    The point is that when a gay man gets tossed off a rooftop in Iran, or a 12 year old girl is forced into a marriage with a 50 year old man, or an angry mob lynches a Christian in Pakistan, it’s Islam that’s behind it. If there were no Islam, those things would not be happening.

    Now you’ve moved onto just spewing demonstrably false garbage.

  106. Porivil Sorrens says

    In the vein of the particular focus on Pakistan – you really are doing the situation a disservice by ignoring the role that Imperialism has played on the indian subcontinent and the surrounding area. The formation of the Muslim League faction that led the Pakistan movement in then-India was explicitly a reaction to what they believed to be religious intolerance among the British leadership – which had even been the genesis of the Mughal rebellions (for example, forcing Indian levies to eat rations that contained pork and use cartridges that were sealed with lard.)

    Like, the role British Imperialism played in the gradual increase of support for Islamic theocracy and authoritarianism is literally a matter of historical record that we can see almost year by year for centuries. Acting like it’s just “normal people turned evil by islamic voodoo” rather than people gradually embracing authoritarian religio-nationalism in response to an increasingly restrictive imperialist power displays less historical literacy than your average middle-school student.

    Oh also bonus points – the Muslim Mughal empire in India was incredibly religiously accepting and syncretistic, and presided over one of the most stable and economically healthy periods of Indian history for nearly two centuries before the western powers began to invade.

  107. Saad says

    I’m from Pakistan. That I’ve been reading and commenting on Pharyngula for a few years now should tell you where I stand on Islam.

    But I’m finding it amusing to read thirdmill basically saying Western never-Muslims criticizing Islam in a convention of mostly Western never-Muslims somewhere in Vermont will help reduce the stigma of being gay in Lahore.

  108. rongaul says

    It’s a good start, but he needs to apologize to Chris Stedman. PZ joined the Internet lynch mob that libeled him for being “too friendly to religion”. It was a despicable display of dogmatism and this bullshit atheist “Omerta” code of enforcement.

  109. John Morales says

    rongaul, that’s a rather lengthy piece. Still, you’ve done a decent job of adumbrating it in the intro, which saved me much reading.

    My point is to show that belief in a deity, or any supernatural force alone, does not ordain any crimes and travesties from the get go.

    I concur; there is no such logical entailment. But I think it facilitates crimes and travesties, as well as being otiose.

    (There you go, a suggestion for your next essay)

  110. John Morales says

    PS rongaul @119, “faitheist”, accommodationist Chris Stedman? An apology? Heh.

    It was a despicable display of dogmatism and this bullshit atheist “Omerta” code of enforcement.

    So you claim. Presumably, because there is no other possible, justifiable basis why Stedman’s faith in faith would be ridiculed by PZ, right? Only the Omerta code.

  111. thirdmill says

    Saad, the reason I need to criticize Islam is that Islam (with help from some of its supporters) has essentially declared itself to be above criticism. And if there were no other reason in the world to criticize it, that would be more than enough.

    And here’s my bottom line. I view religions as the functional equivalent of rival gangs of thugs, each one trying to impose its will on as wide a territory as possible. Rationalists are the functional equivalent of law enforcement trying to keep the gangs of thugs at bay. And we do ourselves no favors by singling out one of the rival gangs — Islam — for favorable treatment. Every religion needs to be mocked, excoriated, criticized and vilified. No exceptions. Not even the religion of the Prophet Mohammed, Piss Be Upon Him. I am nothing short of astonished that rationalists, who ought to be foes of religion in all its manifestations, are so enamored of Islam.

    And by the way, I am not from Pakistan, but I did live in Saudi Arabia for three years, where I met and married an atheist who was raised Muslim, to whom I’ve been married for the past 25 years. Also, I have a minor in Middle Eastern studies. While that doesn’t make me an expert, and by virtue of having grown up in Pakistan I will acknowledge you know things I don’t, it does mean I’m not arguing from the ignorance that some of those who disagree ascribe to me.

  112. John Morales says

    thirdmill:

    I am nothing short of astonished that rationalists, who ought to be foes of religion in all its manifestations, are so enamored of Islam.
    […] I’m not arguing from the ignorance that some of those who disagree ascribe to me.

    Maybe not, but you sure are arguing from the false belief that rationalists are enamoured of Islam, and rather poorly at that. Look: you consider yourself a rationalist, yet you are not enamoured of Islam, right? So, instantly, your claim becomes a mere existence claim, rather than an universal one.

    Every religion needs to be mocked, excoriated, criticized and vilified. No exceptions.

    So, walk the walk instead of talking the talk, if you cared to be credible.
    Because you sure are focusing on Islam rather exclusively.

  113. Porivil Sorrens says

    @123

    I view religions as the functional equivalent of rival gangs of thugs, each one trying to impose its will on as wide a territory as possible.

    That’s a very myopic, idealist view that neither reflects the historical nor sociological underpinning of the spread of religious beliefs. But like, you do you I guess.

    And we do ourselves no favors by singling out one of the rival gangs — Islam — for favorable treatment.

    Yeah, nah. We do a lot of people favors by not lending ideological support to bloodthirsty monsters that would sooner blast the Middle East to a blood-drenched smear and mow down their local mosques.

    Every religion needs to be mocked, excoriated, criticized and vilified.

    Cool, should be easy to pick one that isn’t in the actual real life crosshairs of every major western military.

    Not even the religion of the Prophet Mohammed, Piss Be Upon Him.

    Oof, I thought most atheists were past their edgy teenage “Draw Muhammad day” nonsense. Embarrassing.

    am nothing short of astonished that rationalists, who ought to be foes of religion in all its manifestations, are so enamored of Islam.

    I don’t like it when western powers mass murder innocents of any faith. That’s all the reason I need to rein in my criticisms.

  114. Rob Grigjanis says

    thirdmill301 @123:

    the reason I need to criticize Islam is that Islam (with help from some of its supporters) has essentially declared itself to be above criticism.

    Yeah, the worst cases do. But how does that differ from any ideology under the leadership of dogmatic ideologues or sociopathic opportunists? And that certainly includes atheistic regimes.

  115. Rob Grigjanis says

    And seriously, “enamored of Islam”? It’s almost as though you haven’t read what Saad and others have written. Next you’ll be calling us dhimmis, like Ann Coulter does.

  116. DLC says

    There is a difference between critique of religion (e.g. “you’re indulging in magical thinking, there is no God.”) and religion-phobia. (e.g. “Religion Bad, bomb all religious people into the stone age!” ) There is absolutely nothing wrong with being against religion, whether it is against all religion or the disingenuous being against say, Roman Catholicism. They are both allowable positions, even if the latter is logically untenable. As for the security issue : While Islamic fanatics get all the press, it should be noted that in the immediately preceding year, every act of religious-based terrorism in the USA was carried out by white christian men. Every one of them . This does not mean that Islamic fanatics are not a danger, but it should be taken proportionately.
    There’s a chance that some Muslim fanatic may carry out an attack, whether it be a simple knifing up to a mass casualty event — the fact remains that domestic, white, christian men are the greater threat at this time.

  117. rongaul says

    @JohnMorales
    You know the term “accomodationist” is a vague, intellectually dishonest term that you have absolutely no rigorous definition of, right?

  118. John Morales says

    rongaul:

    @John Morales
    Getaway cars facilitate bad shit also. Your point?

    Ah, your acumen shines through! Shame I’m in one of those moods where I hold back less than usual.

    My point is that, though I concur with your explicitly-stated point, it is a vague yet vacuous one (my emphases):
    “… belief in a deity, or any supernatural force alone, does not ordain any crimes and travesties from the get go

    In short; your point actually allows for conjunction with any other factors to yield such crimes and travesties, nor does it deny that such crimes and travesties are to be expected (only that they are not necessitated), nor does it address other than the “get go” (sic), rather than an ongoing circumstance.

    (Pretty fucking feeble)

  119. John Morales says

    rongaul:

    @JohnMorales
    You know the term “accomodationist” is a vague, intellectually dishonest term that you have absolutely no rigorous definition of, right?

    <snicker>

    No, I don’t know that.

    You know that accommodationism was well and truly hashed out on this very blog (among others) quite some time ago, don’t you? Because if not, you are an ignoramus in relation to your pontifications, and if you do, you must perforce imagine all that hubbub and confrontation was about some vague thing.

    For your edification: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Accommodationism

    Now, care to tell me more about this purported Omerta? Because I myself am a fairly hardcore atheist, and I’ve never heard of it. I’m even anti-religion in general, not just deism and theism and animism and whateverism, so if anyone would know about its existence, it should be me.

  120. Saad says

    thirdmill,

    I am nothing short of astonished that rationalists, who ought to be foes of religion in all its manifestations, are so enamored of Islam.

    Until you drop this strawman, I’m finished discussing this. None of the people engaging with you here so far are enamored with or are defending Islam.

  121. Saad says

    Also, you claim to be about rationality but you don’t want to to think about these things. If you actually cared about this topic, you’d consider some of those questions I listed in #110. Being rational and reasonable involves looking at all aspects of a situation and the probable impact of your words and actions, not just going omg religion islam bad muhammad piss. Look at the place Muslims have in America (for example), look at what actual form criticism of Islam takes in America, look at the crowds it attracts. Everything can’t be an academic discussion happening in a bubble away from the real world.

  122. says

    If I had to put label on myself it would be more antitheist than atheist, yet that is my private self. Unless someone starts flashing his religion into me, who I am privately doesn’t matter and I do not plan to turn anyone to my opinion.
    But I would call myself secularist in public.
    It doesn’t matter what you believe in your own free time but when we talk about laws and rules, we cannot claim any religion has a right to dictate them, we have to create rules that are secular and state should never help fund or spread any religion.
    As in my country Islam is almost non-existent publicly and christians are really obnoxious they are the ones I’m wary about, on the other hand in the wide world Islam is better known for a radical threats to secular society.
    The issue with discussing any religion (or movement like atheism humanism or feminism to a degree) is that religion is a set of beliefs but also customs, rules and other accompanying features that may or may not be grounded in the religion itself, many of them contradict each other and no one believes in all of them at the same time. And as we all have different perspectives, when we start a discussion about some label, we discuss completely different things seen from completely different sides.
    So one person can think about decent people trying to live lives to their best while other will see honor killings and genital mutilation and the label they use can mean sometimes one sometimes other. Mayor of London and ISIS members both believe in Islam even if what they believe in is almost completely exclusive. But too often heated discussion ensures when one person attacks one of them while second person defends the other.

    About political correctness:
    It is sad that in Social Media Era there is such a strong tendency to divide into us and them. You either agree with us in everything or you are one of them. You either love PC and minorities or you are alt right, you either refrain from any criticism or you are just spreading dishonest whataboutism.
    Whatever social issue you will choose – feminism, metoo, racism, there will be people who will always try defend their kind or defend perpetrators of oppresion often wearing a pretense card “I don’t care about race/sex/religion”
    And there will always be people who will find every issue, every argument, every controversy to be an example of male white supremacy opressing minorities.
    And just by pointing out not every man arguing with a woman is sexist, not every white person arguing with non-white person is racist, not every accused man is a rapist (or that there is not enough evidence yet) – this is enough sometimes to be automatically named a despicable alt-right racist.
    And in the days of social media bubbles, where every news portals personalizes what you see and everyone has different sources endorsed by their social media friends it is normal, that the set of stories I heard about and that you heard about are different.
    If you are fervent follower of metoo movement you will know hundreds of story where it worked. If you think that rape and sexual misconduct are bad but it is not right to be falsely accused you will never hear about those hundred stories – but you will hear about the few cases when someone in power was falsely accused. Because “dog bites man” is not a story while “man bites dog” is. That seriously changes what both of you understand under the label “metoo movement”

    Sorry for long posts I’ll try to sum it up
    If you and your circle is pro-PC you are more likely to hear all the stories where an idiot or asshole slip up on his racism/sexism and tried to blame PC-police for making a fuss out of it what only reinforces your perspective of PC being good and PC critics being dishonest.
    If you are not pro-PC (not anti-PC just not pro) than you are more likely to hear only the odd stories when someone abused the oppresed status (I wish I could express that better).
    And even if you can’t recall them precisely enough to quote them or find them on the spot, they are the part of your reality.

    Every movement in the eyes of the outsider is distorted by it’s outliers and every insider doesn’t notice those outliers.
    Remember that before engaging in heated argument, because understanding someone else is the best first step to convince him (understanding to be able to counter his real arguments, not understanding to agree with him).

  123. rongaul says

    @JohnMorales, “your atheism facilitates murder, like in Chapel Hill, ND”
    Sounds like bullshit, doesn’t it? Sounds like you. If you read my whole paper then you would just move your goalposts to another rant of vacuous, insipid, I’ll-defined drivel of anti-intellectual New Atheist tripe.

  124. rongaul says

    @John Morales
    That “defintion” is strawman bullshit. There’s no rigor to it. Where’s my “magical thinking” in my paper? You got nothing but slogans, and atheists from all over are exposing New Atheism’s bullshit dogmatism, more and more each day.

  125. KG says

    If you are fervent follower of metoo movement you will know hundreds of story where it worked. If you think that rape and sexual misconduct are bad but it is not right to be falsely accused you will never hear about those hundred stories – Gorzki@138

    This alone is enough to show that you are a complete numpty, if nothing worse. If you dispute this, just show me one “fervent follower of the metoo movement” who thinks it is right to be falsely accused.

  126. pacal says

    Thirdmill at 91 you say:

    “But back to your argument that most of the victims of Islam are Muslims (which sounds a lot to me like talking about black on black crime; it’s the same basic argument.) I get that the West has a lot of culpability for the conditions in the Middle East, I really do. I would argue that Islam itself has made the clean up far more difficult than it would be otherwise. The House of Saud would be gone tomorrow if it hadn’t convinced much of the population of Saudi Arabia that they are Allah’s defenders of Islam against Western imperialism.”

    Really “victims of Islam”!? I was talking about Muslim’s being victims of Muslim religious extremists and that is NOT like “black on black” crime, which hardly ever has a Religious / Political motivation. Again a complete lack of nuance. There are Muslims and there are Muslims. It is really funny how you just don’t get how Religious extremism and Political differences are involved in Religious Political violence in the Middle East. Are you seriously arguing that “Islam” causes Sunnite and Shia Muslims to fight and kill each other, that makes about has much sense has saying Christianity causes Catholics and Protestants to fight and kill each other. My point was that the Muslim extremists are a much greater threat to other Muslims in the Middle East than they are to non-Muslims outside.

    As for your comments about Saudi Arabia. Thanks for entirely missing the point. My point is if the USA is even remotely serious about dealing with Muslim terrorism, theocracy, etc., why the hell is it supporting, massively, the autocratic, fundamentalist, terrorist supporting / training, Saudi state? A state which has been spending many, many decades supporting and exporting the most extreme forms of Muslim extremism etc. The Saudi state would be more likely to be gone if the USA and other Western powers weren’t so hell bent on supporting, sustaining, shoring up and ensuring the survival of the Saudi state. A state which directly and indirectly supports terrorism throughout the world some of which is directed against the west.

  127. says

    rongaul, is your screen name a play on Ron Paul?

    As far as thirdmill goes I’m surprised he hasn’t broken out the Eurabia trope yet.

  128. Porivil Sorrens says

    I mean, he’s all but dogwhistling it with the “You’ll be nostalgic for christian hegemony when the muslims finally take power” nonsense.

    Somehow, the various muslim politicians in the west have managed to avoid their innate urge to institute sharia law the second they get into power, and seem to support the same ostensibly liberal policies as the nation they represent. How odd.

  129. John Morales says

    rongaul @139-142, you do amuse me, and sufficiently so that I here continue to engage you.

    @JohnMorales, “your atheism facilitates murder, like in Chapel Hill, ND”
    Sounds like bullshit, doesn’t it? Sounds like you.

    Well, it’s your straw dummy, so I accept that to you, it does. In reality, not-so-much.

    (That I would never claim anything that stupid is not of relevance to your beliefs, which tells me about how you form your beliefs)

    If you read my whole paper then you would just move your goalposts to another rant of vacuous, insipid, I’ll-defined drivel of anti-intellectual New Atheist tripe.

    Heh. In that very paper you literally wrote “My point is [blah]”, whenceupon I wrote that I agreed with your point.

    Again: if the point of your whole paper is what you explicitly said it is, I don’t need to move anything. And I note you haven’t disputed any of my critique, you’ve merely waved your arms about and blustered that it’s a “rant of vacuous, insipid, I’ll-defined drivel of anti-intellectual New Atheist tripe”. And yet, those caveats you put into your summation are still there.

    (Ask yourself, perhaps, why you felt it needful to include them)

    That’s ill-defined as in almost all New Atheist terminology.

    Heh. You can either claim that the concepts are ill-defined and therefore lack meaning, or that they are wrong or inapplicable to the subject at hand. To try to do both is incoherent.

    @John Morales
    That “defintion” [of accommodationism] is strawman bullshit. There’s no rigor to it. Where’s my “magical thinking” in my paper?

    Evidently, you think on the basis of defined terms, not on the basis of the concepts to which terms refer. Also, why do you ask me where the magical thinking in your paper is, when I’ve already told you that I didn’t read it because you helpfully summarised its point in your introduction?

    Anyway, fine, I accept that you think that Chris Stedman — the Chaplain advocate for inter-faith dialogue and author of “Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious” — cannot be an accommodationist on the basis that you think that term is a strawman.
    Interesting, also, that you don’t quibble about ‘faitheist’, though that’s a near-synonym to ‘accommodationist’ and even more of a neologism.

    (A feeble way to avoid addressing the issue, but I do credit you with trying your best)

    Here’s a real definition of accomodationism, with reliable sources and attribution, not a New Atheist pseudo-intellectual made up bullshit one.

    The concept of polysemy might be a revelation to you; same term, different meanings in different contexts.
    FWIW:
    Root term: accommodate. Root meaning: made to fit. Functional meaning: to cope with.
    Someone who advocates accommodation is an accommodationist, and advocacy for accommodation between atheists and theists is an instance of accommodationism.

    I did notice your conspicuous aversion to attempt to sustain your claims about this atheist “Omerta” thingy. I do get you; just because someone becomes a Chaplain and seeks to ape and endorse all the aspects of organised religion while ostensibly rejecting only its supernatural aspect, that’s no reason to think they’re too friendly to religion, is it? It can only be this dreaded Omerta enforcement to which you appeal, but which you are so very loath to actually describe.

    In passing, it seems to me you mistook PZ’s repudiation of movement New Atheism and what it has become for some softening of his personal stance towards religion and religionists. Not the same thing.

  130. John Morales says

    Well, thread is quiet, and by the timestamps I suspect rongaul shall soon peruse this thread again.

    So, to pass the time:

    You got nothing but slogans, and atheists from all over are exposing New Atheism’s bullshit dogmatism, more and more each day.

    Hey, rongaul, care to specify when this phenomenon began, and whether the rate of exposure increase, in your estimation, is arithmetic, exponential, or even perhaps (ahem) hyperbolic?

    If we can determine the type, we can then empirically approximate the coefficients over the elapsed interval and thus extrapolate when ultimate exposure will be achieved!

    (At which point, of course, even further exposure shall become no less moot, but still. Inquiring minds want to know)

  131. Arun says

    P Z , this blog network with atheist bloggers like you had helped a great deal in seeing through the bigoted views of many celebrities of “ New” atheist movement. That also helped us to weed out their influence among atheists in my part of the world.

  132. William Bell says

    Your and others’ presence in the movement is what prevented everyone for going for the hucksters who went full Charles Murray. Although as someone with a more philosophical background, in retrospect I find a lot of what was said (by you included) to be relatively naive (I am going a bit Courtier’s reply here merely due to brevity), the movement with its progressive chunks is better than the solely politically right-wing replacement. I watched Thunderf00t as a younger person, I got off the train before Gamergate (that was the meltdown right?) happened fortunately. I could have kept watching him instead of reading you, but you were a more positive influence politically.

  133. William Bell says

    Morbid that many people who would have called Carl Jung pseudoscience woo a decade ago are now the core of Jordan Peterson’s following.

Leave a Reply