Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Courtesy of "some guy in Iowa"

I grow disgusted with the New Atheists (they hate that term; so I employ it freely) because their arguments are so free of intellectual content, and built so solidly on straw men (if I ever get back to that Rorty essay I'll make this point with an argument that is actually, by contrast with Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchens, intellectually rigorous.  Well, rigorous by contrast, I mean.).  But I also grow disgusted with them because I learned in seminary a rather radical view of human society, one grounded as much in the work of Reinhold Niebuhr as in the writings of liberation theologians.  That the New Atheists have a worldview that can only be described as imperialistic, I notice less than I should; but it's really quite plainly present:

The function of [Hitchens’] antitheism was structurally analogous to what Irving Howe characterized as Stalinophobia…the Bogey-Scapegoat of Stalinism justified a new alliance with the right, obliviousness towards the permanent injustices of capitalist society, and a tolerance for repressive practices conducted in the name of the ‘Free World’. In roughly isomorphic fashion Hitchens’ preoccupation with religion…authorized not just a blind eye to the injustices of capitalism and empire but a vigorous advocacy of the same.
Hitchens attacked Mother Teresa because her work and her teachings did nothing to upend Indian society. Though I'm far less inclined to ask the suffering to offer their pain to God than traditional Catholic teachings might instruct, I'm left wondering what Hitchens ever did to so much as light a candle in the darkness of the lives of the poor in India.  And it's telling, as noted in this article at Jacobin, that "for all his pro-imperial bluster, it was Hitchens’ attacks on religion that finally garnered him international fame."

I'd never thought of it that way, but there's certainly money to be made in certain circles from decrying the sins of religion as exemplified by fundamentalists today.  And you don't even have to read the monumental scholarly study of fundamentalism  begun over 20 years ago, to spout off as an "expert" on the topic.  I doubt Richard Dawkins, an Oxford don, or Sam Harris, an educated man, are even aware this set of books exists, much less have they studied them.  And yet their expertise on the question of fundamentalism and Islam is unquestioned.

Such is the state of our international intellectual discourse.

So I am disgusted by the ignorance of the "New Atheists," but I learn from this excellent article at Jacobin that I'm also disgusted by their imperialism.  I mean, I knew Richard Dawkins was a racist and an arrogant English prig and an unreformed imperialist (for his comments on the distribution of Nobel Prizes, if for no other reason), but I also knew the common refrain against calling Dawkins and Harris racists for their assaults on Islam was that "Islam is not a race."  Not so fast:

Given that “race” is an entirely social construct, with a history that involves the systemic racialization of various national, ethnic, and religious minorities, this defense is extremely flimsy. The excessive focus on Islam as something at once monolithic and exceptionally bad, whose backwards followers need to have their rights in democratic societies suppressed and their home countries subjected to a Western-led civilizing process, cannot be called anything other than racist.

Of course, I could be equally disgusted by the words of the New Atheists:

In The End of Faith Harris suggests that nuclear-first strikes may be necessary if the ostensible conflict between “Islam” and “civilization” escalates: “What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry?…The only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own.”

Oh, let's not stop at unleashing nuclear holocaust as we destroy the village in order to save it, let's get personal:

Hitchens also praised the use of cluster bombs in Afghanistan as “pretty good, because those steel pellets will go straight through somebody and out the other side and through somebody else. And if they’re bearing a Koran over their heart, it’ll go straight through that, too.”

On the subject of jihadists, he declared: “It’s a sort of pleasure as well as a duty to kill these people.” On another occasion, Hitchens stunned even sympathetic members of an audience in Madison, Wisconsin by saying of Iran, a nation of almost 80 million people: “As for that benighted country, I wouldn’t shed a tear if it was wiped off the face of this earth.”
Yes, it is the language of imperialism; precisely the language (irony alert) despised by the nearly sainted (by Hitchens) George Orwell.  Is it appropriate for me to insert here that the major demand of religion, and the major failing of New Atheists like this unholy three, is self-examination and self-reflection?

And besides, wishing the deaths of others is simply barbaric.

I commend the rest of the article to your reading.  I have chosen only a few pieces for my own purposes.  I might have wished for a bit more about the intellectual shoddiness of the Big Three; but the discussion of their imperialist manners was quite illuminating, as if I'd always known it but had never dared turn on the light in that particular room.

The cockroaches really should scurry.....

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