I apologize for this long post but I would like to systematically and throughly bury the argument that New Atheists are paranoid islamophobes. Sam Harris and the New Atheists are attacked as scientific, miltiarist, racists and Harris has responded.
For instance, in recent days bothSalon and Al Jazeera published outrageous attacks on me and my fellow “new atheists.” The charges? Racism and “Islamophobia” (again). Many readers have written to ask when I will set the record straight. In fact, I consider both articles unworthy of a response, and I was quite happy to have a reason to ignore them. But then I noticed that the columnist Glenn Greenwald had broadcast an approving Tweet about the Al Jazeera piece to his fans (above).
Harris long noted that there is a weird common ground between fundies and new atheists: they both consider Islam, as it is practiced by many, to be a religion of war and not peace. Further that Islam is the most dangerous religion in the world today, as practiced. Finally, that global intervention into societies that promote Islamic Jihad brutally and deny fundamental rights to humans is necessary both for security and to liberate people from totalitarianism, fascism, and most importantly needless death, rape, abuse, and oppression. The ideology as stated in the sacred text of Islam is inherently violent. The text requires the most strenuous of mental gymnastics, or excising of the bad, to make it benign. Christianity is marginally better. The answer is not to throw Christians at Muslims like an ideological shield, that’s a Christian response.
Increasingly, Americans will come to believe that the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West. Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right, whose infatuation with biblical prophecy is nearly as troubling as the ideology of our enemies. Religious dogmatism is now playing both sides of the board in a very dangerous game.
While liberals should be the ones pointing the way beyond this Iron Age madness, they are rendering themselves increasingly irrelevant. Being generally reasonable and tolerant of diversity, liberals should be especially sensitive to the dangers of religious literalism. But they aren’t.
They’ve shifted their base and instead of simply trying to convince people that God is a myth, they’ve embraced the monster narrative of the day.
Bullshit. We don’t want to make the world Christian like conservatives.
Murtaza Hussein notes in Al Jazeera also deep within:
Scientists in the service of power, who once employed Phrenology to “prove” the racial inferiority of blacks, now enthusiastically push forward the belief that Muslims as a people lack basic humanity.
Bullshit. We wish to point out the hypocrisy of all sacred texts that breed fear, hate, terror, or even required inclusion. Don’t require me to be a scientist or empiricist either! But do insist that I not rape or abuse women!
Dawkins who tweeted he thought Islam to be the greatest force for evil today.
Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote ch&verse.But often say Islam greatest force for evil today”
First, it is important to get the issue is of ideology as Harris calls it and not a race issue. As such if they castigate him they should call him a bigot. None of the New Atheists make remarks on the morphology of the those who follow Islam and it is idiotic, unbecoming, banal and utterly incorrect to do so. There is no physiology of an Islamist nor has anyone said so. Bringing in comparisons of phrenology, skin color, or brain pan size is a sad argument and only reveals the pathetic desperateness to debase the entire discussion. What next the Hitler card? The Holocaust card? The Stalin card? As if any, name me one, New Atheist has ever said genocide or mass murder or even complicit collateral abuse were desired or necessary based on physical characteristics or even ideology. No New Atheist wants to eliminate Muslims. That’s Christian fundamentalism; they are the ones saying Muslims and Atheists both go to hell, deservedly so.
The relation of atheists to fundies is collateral. Most New Atheists think fundies are lunatics; we fight them all of the time. As such NA’s aren’t Islamophobic as they do not fear them for religious, irrational reasons; it is because the ideology breeds terrorism and the religion itself is absolutist. If the damned text didn’t have the words that encourage abusive jihad we wouldn’t attack the text. For fundies against Islam it is because they see Islam as the wrong religion. For atheists because they see Islam fomenting radical terrorism. If the Christians start crusades, I’ll join Saladin. Indeed, most New Atheists are totally against Christian missionary work. And we are against Christian fundies because they want a theocracy. Most of us are also against NeoNazis, social Darwinism, and a host of other hateful world views.
We don’t give a damn about fairies. No one is killing people for fairies. No one is killing for the Easter bunny. We don’t put a sword in the hand of Mickey Mouse. We don’t give a damn about the reality of god in politics until people kill for that god, or claim global warming is fine because the end of the world is near as stated in the bible and it should be allowed. Religion would be and should be personal until it encourages crime and abuse. As secularists we do not want religion in the public so people can have their own religion freely. We don’t want public proselytizing! We don’t want religious tests for governance!
As individuals we meet on the street, we don’t ask their religion, we wonder if they are kind, safe, trustworthy. If they wear a cross, a hijab, a swastika or some other display of solidarity then we wonder what that means: just what do they believe? I don’t give a damn if they are Muslim or Seventh Day Adventist. I care if they condone violence. Perhaps they wildly interpret their text? But if they say they are Seventh Day Adventist I am going to consider they believe their canon that the world is ending soon and they will refuse to work on Saturday.
The next foolishness is to beat up those who haven’t read the koran, the bible, or any of the other many sacred texts as being unable to say anything about the ideology. Because Muslims are required to read the Koran as Jews are required to read the Torah they hope to gain an appeal to authority. Yet, if this is so then Muslims must have read all of the Hadith (and what of the two sons), Jews all of the Talmud, and further since neither orthodox Muslims or Jews acknowledge the validity of translation they must have been read in the originating language. This continuum of expertise never ends. A true believer should read all commentaries for and against as well so they most deeply understand the concepts. As such only the most well read, able-to-be-tested person has any right to say anything at all. This is asinine. You give your soul to another and have none.
We have experts, division of labor, for a reason. I don’t need to count for myself the 200 references to slavery in the bible to say they are there. I don’t need to read the koran to understand the 500 references to violence in the koran. Indeed, these accusers use quotes out of context themselves and claim understanding as promoting abridgment and then yell only unabridged absorption counts. These people would have us mored in mental constipation of an infinite regress into an infinite postmodern conversation where meaning can never be found because there is always just one more reading that could matter. Even as base as saying all readings are misinterpretations does not make salient arguing moot.
A text, any text, that makes claims to morality and epistemology can be evaluated on its selfstated effects and its affected response. If the people don’t get the text, don’t follow it as intended, then the text has a problem. Otherwise, if the text is not the ideology, the people’s subjective interpretation of it is, and the text can be safely abandoned. Many religious people have tried to make the truth interior, unapproachable, solipsistic but then any action is moral because no one has the right to comment. The great failing of Existentialism was that it praised action, any action, and more action of any kind as moral good. Under this the worst and most effective dictator could be the most moral person. All moral ideologies can be evaluated by salience to its members. That is the point isn’t it? Existentialists quickly covered their bases and created what can best be called an ethics of ambiguity but it still failed–man must create his meaning but that meaning must be life affirming.
The New Atheists have often compared religions. They are not afraid to pick on any religion. Rightly so. The most ideologically benign religion is probably humanism, then universalism, then unitarianism, followed by episcopalianism, and so forth all the way down the continuum. Harris has often made the point that it’s hard to pick on Jainism as the more devout they are the more peaceful they are. The ideology itself is inherently nonviolent. An aggresive fool would be quickly outed.
A history of any ideology can show whether it has helped the people over time or created strife. This kind of functionalism is made mute by religions that rely on justice in the afterworld. Killing all jews, christians, buddhists, muslims, or savages is punitive justice as retribution is merited based on other world fantasies which are wholly immeasurable, inaccessible, irrelevant. Solipsistic and nihilistic. If god can’t be discussed then he can’t be discussed in any means, pro, con, or indifferent. There simply is nothing to talk about. At which point the ideology has excused itself from human involvement–let the gods fight among themselves and when they choose they will inform us. And not in a cave, on a mountain, or in the dark without witnesses. These transparent charlatan tricks have no place in morality.
The words mean what they say and must be trusted to mean what they say. If a statement uses the language of overt violence it is of no service to people reading it who must have it interpreted for them. This only creates a priest class. It is the prime reason other than indulgences for the Reformation.
In many cases ideologies are politically debased. Marx is incredibly accurate yet intentional misinformation has made him evil and Marxism is claimed to be bankrupt. In this case the follower can indeed say the language has been intentionally misused. The same goes the other way. A text that is political reinterpreted to create confusion can make a bad text appear to be good. If the Jihad of Mohammed were peaceful he and his generals would never have had left the Arab peninsula to siege war. Yet, it only takes a light reading of Marx or Mohammed or Peter or Siddhartha to get what they are saying in those statements. If you couch a statement, convert others regardless, in a bed of flowers one need not spend time on the flowers to get the message. If you can find where Marx says to kill all religious people then I’ll burn that book too. If you can show me an Islamic commentary that is widely followed, as law, that is anti violence then lets us be anti extremist. But again an extremist Jainist would be of little worry so why do we need the term extremist if the text is inherently peaceful?
Most religions, world views, ideologies resort to simplistic, facile jingoes to make the religion accessible: do unto others, do no harm, know thyself, all things change. There are mountains of these fretless jingoes the religious and others love to use. These jingoes are accountable. Do unto others is not the same as do no harm. To pretend they do is to mock wildly.
Religions rely on an essentialism such that when it is accepted whatever is said must somehow support the ideology. A Jehovah’s Witness insists there are no contradictions in the bible. Any kind of reading shows that to either not be true or to require an entire rewrite. Yet this Manichean view of the sacred text encourages abuse and is an insult to our intelligence. It is a self protective prejudice to prevent any discussion or change. It is static, stiff with rigor mortis. It has no parallel in the natural world on any kind of sensible level.
We New Atheists are not Islamophobic. The koran is a sucky book. So is the bible. Hammerabi’s code has issues. Buddhism’s hatred of desire is pathetic. Perhaps they are worth reading (does anyone actually read the begats or care about the 600 or so rules no longer relevant) but no bastion of great writing or philosophy. We work against torture, rape, abuse, murder, injustice, and promote human rights. If a liberal religion began to condone mass killings we would fight them. As such we are not after all Muslims, all Christians, all Jews, all Buddhists, all Hindi or any other religion just because it is mythological. We are after injustice and seek justice in this world to allow everyone to live as well as possible. Most of us go after homeopathy too because it discourages well being and is conducive to fraud. The truth will set you free.
If we make god the issue it is because murder is done on behalf of god.
It would be great to be isolationists. War is expensive and destructive. Yet, as people from oppressed countries clamor to leave and cry for help and as we no longer have geographic barriers to allow real isolation we have no choice. A woman who cries rape in Cairo is no less important than one who cries rape in New York. When a letter can carry a deadly virus to any corner of the world then they have themselves made themselves complicit in globalization.
Liberal guilt over colonialism and imperialism is not assuaged by ostrich behavior; we screwed them now let’s go home and let them wallow without help. Civil courts don’t care about ideology. They care about action. It doesn’t matter what world view you belong to if you murder, the murder is the problem. Intent and motive do add intensity, as we make less of murder by passion but nevertheless we are judged by our actions and not our thoughts. If it is all interpretation then if you all cleaned your own house we wouldn’t have to. I can’t ignore the shit flowing down the creek my way.
Jim Newman, bright and well