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.