• Misguided Huffington Post piece attacks a caricature of New Atheism


    On civil rights, like so many other controversies, there were “people of faith on both sides of the issue”


    The Huffington Post, not exactly a friendd of the New Atheist movement, has an article by Walker Bristol, in which the author repeats the tired accusation of “elitism” on the part of New Atheists, whines about us failing to see the good things religion does (yawn), bashes us for “Islamophobia”, offers a good deal of concern trolling.

    Let’s take a closer look:

    The article starts by by blasting us for allegedly appealing to the “elites” only, and ignoring the poor. Here are some of the accusations:

    There’s something toxic, though, that permeates this movement, something that may well inspire and support the stereotypes that have lingered for years. The atheist movement, in composition and purpose, has in the last decade failed to demonstrate a meaningful dedication to fighting economic inequality and building a safe space for nontheists regardless of their socioeconomic class. Despite all their talk of building a better world and upholding diversity, contemporary atheism and humanism’s most prominent authors and leaders have been suspiciously silent on the topic of poverty.

    Let’s just start by saying, it is rather absurd to expect Atheism to have poverty as its main focus. Atheism is a claim about non-existence of god(s). Atheism does not, by its nature, tackle questions such as inequality. Ayn Rand was an atheist. But with that said, the claim that New Atheist personalities have been “notably silent” on issue of poverty is simply not true. While prominent New Atheist figures (thanks in part to being best selling authors) have been generally well to do, they indeed have spoken time and again about the revolting gap between the rich and poor. They have said that they vote for left leaning politicians, and they understand the effect of social inequality in increasing religiosity very well, which is why (among other reasons) they wish for it to go away. (The issue has been discussed on this blog occasionally.)

    But he is only getting started:

    Organizations have made the same transgressions. Last fall American Atheists sponsored a Twitter hashtag, intended to somehow fight Islamic censorship, declaring “#IslamIsBarbaric”. In doing so, they simultaneously made a bigoted and broad-brushing statement about one of the largest religions in the world.

    “Bigoted and broad brushing”? Does the person trying to silence us in defense of political correctness know that representatives of dozens of Islamic nations demanded curtailing the right of freedom of expression, not just for their own citizens, but for everyone living on this planet? How “broad burshing” can it be, if the Turkish head of state, who can hardly be called an extremist, wants criticism of Islam to be defined as “a crime against humanity”?

    And more on how bigoted we are:

    The problem works both ways: while class ignorance inhibits the ability for atheists to coordinate and work together with their religious peers, religious discrimination on the part of atheists paints them with a classist brush. This is perhaps most evident in the case of atheistic Islamophobia, which author Chris Stedman thoroughly documented in his essay “Atheists Ignore Islamophobia at their Peril.” As atheist authors like Sam Harris were skyrocketed to fame on the heels of September 11th, writing that religion (not politics, nor poverty) was the primary motivating factor in the attacks, the question arose: is Islam (and therefore, are Muslims) especially violent, and deserving of unique disrespect? Through quote-mining the Quran and pointing to political groups like Hamas and Al Qaeda, who indeed profess religious motivations yet are blatantly driven in response to political oppression, Harris and his contemporaries suggest that the Middle East is wrought with such unmitigated dogmatic evil that they are perhaps beyond saving.

    While I am not trying to defend everything Harris has ever said here, I think the above attack on him can be best described as idiotic. First thing, to say that Islamic violence has its roots primarily in politics or poverty, as opposed to religious doctrine, is downright laughable. First, while Bristol may not know this, followers of Islam have no monopoly on poverty, or on having a political axe to grind with the Western world. Why didn’t the attackers come, say, from South America? And why doesn’t the response to political oppression did not show itself in this way, say, in the former Soviet block? Second, as much as he accuses Harris of quote-mining the Koran, it just happens that Harris is not making any of the stuff up. In fact, the Koran is bursting with calls on Muslims to fight the infidels, and resort to violence. Third, going from condeming to Islam to Muslims is not a prenthetical matter. Muslims are not all the same, and no one (except Bristol, apparently) has made the claim that they are; he cannot demand that no criticism be made against the Koran because it makes all Muslims look bad, which simply isn’t the case. Fourth, he rather conveniently focuses his attack on Harris, hence ignoring other prominent atheists like Maryam Namazie, who contantly remind us not to mistake Muslims for Islamists, and hence not to lose our empathy for victims of Islamism, many of them themselves Muslims. But hey, if we ignore “Islamophobia”, that will harm us, which I am sure he would take-thanks for the heads up!

    But just as you thought it couldn’t get any worse:

    In the South in the ’50s and ’60s, it was through the incredible network of black churches in African-American communities that activists were able to organize and share information, and ultimately achieve to the unprecedented successes of Civil Rights. These communities empowered their members, yet atheists construct a presumption that these communities must be in need of empowerment. It seems to be borne from a fear of all things associated with religion: a given atheist is often known to talk about fighting “religion” rather than “dogmatism” or “supernaturalism”, as if “religion” were a wholly poisonous monolith.

    Well, he’s got it exactly backwards. No one has ever claimed that religion is a “wholly poisonous monolith”. Heck, even “God is not great: how religion poisons everything” recognizes this. In fact, Hitchens does mention Martin Luther King in his book. But the point New Atheists are making is that when there is a poinous effect made by religion, it shouldn’t be ignored. And in fact Bristol is the one seemingly making the claim that religion is a monolith. Religion did not support civil rights, monolithically. Has he heard that the KKK is a Christian organization?

    I just wonder why those who hate New Atheism have to misrepresent us so much.


    Category: Uncategorized

    Article by: No Such Thing As Blasphemy

    I was raised in the Islamic world. By accident of history, the plague that is entanglement of religion and government affects most Muslim majority nations a lot worse the many Christian majority (or post-Christian majority) nations. Hence, I am quite familiar with this plague. I started doubting the faith I was raised in during my teen years. After becoming familiar with the works of enlightenment philosophers, I identified myself as a deist. But it was not until a long time later, after I learned about evolutionary science, that I came to identify myself as an atheist. And only then, I came to know the religious right in the US. No need to say, that made me much more passionate about what I believe in and what I stand for. Read more...

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    • VladChituc

      This seems to me to largely miss the point, but a few notes:

      1) Concern trolling is where someone pretends to be a member of a group to tell them how to behave. That’s obviously not happening.

      2) How is Walker attacking or trying to silence anything? Why is it that New Atheists sing the praises and virtue of respectful criticism while handling it so poorly themselves?

      3) Walker’s point was, pretty basically, that NA’s attitude towards the relationship between religion and poverty is harmful. I notice that, instead of addressing that, you knocked down what seems to be largely a series of strawmen. Walker never said NA’s should make poverty their main concern. He never said NA’s don’t write about poverty or help poverty themselves. He never said religion monolithically supported civil rights. Care to site any quotes to suggest otherwise? Because if not, your post really is just a series of putting words in Walker’s mouth.

      • NoCrossNoCrescent

        1. Concern trolling does not mean you pretend to be a member of a group. It implies you falsely pretend to have the interests of the group at heart, and it IS happening.

        2. Just go over how Walker talks about Harris, and tell me he is not attacking him.

        3. The title of Walker’s post: “New Atheists should care about poverty”. (You said he never said we should write about or help poverty outselves? You clearly didn’t read the title.) Which implies they don’t offer already, and that is a lie. And the main point of Walker’s attack is not that our attittude towards the relationship between religion and poverty is harmful. It is that we are condescending and dismissive of the poor, which is another lie. He never didn’t said religion monolithically supported civil rights; but he did fail to mention its harmful effect in that regard, and then attacked us for criticizing religion as a monolith, whereas we the ones trying to parse its effects, unlike him, who apparently sees only the good part.

        • VladChituc

          1. I’ve seen it most often used that way Note that the top definition doesn’t apply in this case either. Where in the piece does Walker say “hey NA’s do this, I just want whats best for you guys?” There should be a name for falsely accusing others of trolling to dismiss criticism,

          2. He’s not? It might be more helpful if you point to specifically what he says to attack or silence other people.

          3. Yes. Sometimes titles lose the nuance in the post. That doesn’t change that on nearly every point you misrepresent Walker’s points. And I think you may have confused “main point” with “lede.”

          “He never didn’t said religion monolithically supported civil rights”

          Oh, glad to see your level of criticism is on par with Glen Beck’s. You must be kidding me.

          • NoCrossNoCrescent

            1. You obviously haven’t read either Walker’s post, or my response, dealing with “atheists ignoring Islamophobia at our own peril”. Lol.
            2. Likewise, you haven’t read what he said about Sam Harris. Sorry, I’m not going to do your work for you.
            3. The title says we should care about poverty. You said he never said any such thing, hence, it was your own error. Maybe you should check your own writing before falsely accusing me of misrepresnting him.
            4. Nice ad hominem attack. Come back when you have more substance.

            • VladChituc

              Oh my. I just can’t.

              1+2) I am intimately familiar with Walker’s post. I cited specific parts, and I cited specific pts of your post. I’m not asking you to do my work for me. I’m asking you to justify what you say. Saying “read x” or “you obviously haven’t read x” is not a response. Walker says nohing at all that can be construed as an attack on Sam Harris, let alone an attempt to silence anyone. You do not get to respond to my asking you to justify your claims by saying “Im not going to do your work for you.” This isn’t doing my work. This is doing what you should have done but failed to do.

              3. I’m honestly baffled. I objected to first, your claim that Walker said atheists should make that their primary concern and second, the interpretation of Walkers criticism as being about NA’s never being involved with poverty. Rather, reading the piece makes it clear that hes targeting an attitude towards religion + poverty.

              4. Do you know what ad hominem is? Honestly. you have done nothing but make weak, unjustified accusations. where did I say “your argument is irrelevant because x.” I actually presented a lot of arguments, then drew a parallel between an awful argument you made and Glenn Beck, who often makes arguments like those. That’s actually a perfectly justified point to make.

              Do you just get off on dropping the names of logical fallacies and types of trolling without having the slightest understanding of what they mean?

              Seriously, if this is how you respond to criticism or argument, I’m not too impressed, nor am I that keen on wasting more of my time here. It’s clear to any reader of yours or Walker’s post that you’ve completely missed the point.

            • NoCrossNoCrescent

              Lol. So Bristol, obviously not a friend of New Atheists, says we should “care about poverty”, and we “ignore Islamophobia at our peril”. You see no concern trolling here?

              His piece doesn’t particularly display familiarity with the actual attitude of New Atheists toward religion+poverty. Neither does yours, by the way. Did you check any of the links in my writing to Jerry Coyne’s website? For example, the one in which he explains in order to get rid of religion, we must get rid of poverty first?

              You offered absolutely no parallel between me an Glenn Beck. You never offered an example of what he does, and what I wrote. Comparing me to him is, indeed, ad hominem.

              I am no impressed with your trolling of my blog, either, but I agree with one thing you said: you just can’t.

            • NoCrossNoCrescent

              I don’t know if you are still around, but I just wrote a full post discussing this subject: http://shar.es/UG7dB

    • Carl

      The New Atheists are the same as the old just more media available so calling us new is a oxymoron. Walker is just another apologist for the religious they will say anything to make them look good and twist something that means the opposite in order to get their propaganda out. Typical theistic idiocracy.

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