I once watched a debate between Reza Aslan and Sam Harris. Harris came off much the worse, because he was being intellectually dishonest. He pretended that fundamentalism was Christianity, etc. Azlan eventually called him on it, explaining that intellectual dishonesty was hardly the way to win a serious argument. It might be fun; it might be exciting like a mud-slinging political campaign; but it was not serious intellectual argument.
Today Aslan is allowed into the quasi- atheist pages of the Washington Post’s On Faith section. This is slightly remarkable, given that the section seems to be focusing on the atheist side of things. The babble and the scorn pour forth in equal measures. Usually, they don’t allow anyone but atheists, wackos, and left wing religious to be in real evidence on those pages, but today they post one of the more insightful columns in months. If not years.
There is, as has often been noted, something peculiarly evangelistic about what has been termed the new atheist movement. The new atheists have their own special interest groups and ad campaigns. They even have their own holiday (International Blasphemy Day). It is no exaggeration to describe the movement popularized by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens as a new and particularly zealous form of fundamentalism–an atheist fundamentalism. The parallels with religious fundamentalism are obvious and startling: the conviction that they are in sole possession of truth (scientific or otherwise), the troubling lack of tolerance for the views of their critics (Dawkins has compared creationists to Holocaust deniers), the insistence on a literalist reading of scripture (more literalist, in fact, than one finds among most religious fundamentalists), the simplistic reductionism of the religious phenomenon, and, perhaps most bizarrely, their overwhelming sense of siege: the belief that they have been oppressed and marginalized by Western societies and are just not going to take it anymore.This is not the philosophical atheism of Feuerbach or Marx, Schopenhauer or Nietzsche (I am not the first to think that the new atheists give atheism a bad name). Neither is it the scientific agnosticism of Thomas Huxley or Herbert Spencer. This is, rather, a caricature of atheism: shallow scholarship mixed with evangelical fervor.
Ridicule and scorn lie at the heart of the neo-atheist movement. It is not really dedicated to science, or rational thought. Those things, when properly considered, cut the legs right out from under the neo-atheist movement. No, the real pay off for its most vociferous adherents is the intense rush they get out of being naughty. Of being in your face. Of lashing out at those people they just hate.
That’s why their holiday is devoted to making religious people angry, not at promoting the glories of rational thought, or science, or whatever quality they claim to represent. No, the thrill they get out of tweaking other’s sensibilities is at the real heart of this fad.
The principle error of the new atheists lies in their inability to understand religion outside of its simplistic, exoteric, and absolutist connotations. Indeed, the most prominent characteristic of the new atheism–and what most differentiates it from traditional atheism–is its utter lack of literacy in the subject (religion) it is so desperate to refute.
Ah, but it is not about truth. It is about making others feel bad. It is about rubbing their sanctimonious little faces in the (seeming) contradictions contained within a book of several thousand pages. It is a political campaign; it is all about distorting the other guy’s message until he sounds simply unsuitable. It is about laughing at his values.
Why the focus on the absolutist forms of religion? Well, that is what they hate. Those are the people who preach against homosexuality, those are the people who believe in a literally literal interpretation of every single word in the bible. And they may have a point there. Fundamentalism does no one any good; it is an excuse for rigor as well. But to make the phony leap from fundamentalism to religion in general is, well, stupid. Unthinking. Anti-intellectual.
They also like to pretend that religious people are against science. They like to pretend that religion stifles science. This is so stupid as to border on insanity. Any serious historian of science will tell you that the church was one of the great promoters of science. Even in the much abused case of Galileo, they only insisted on hewing to the theories that were prevalent in the universities of the time, rather than a radical new theory. Newton was religious, as was Copernicus. Copernicus in fact was a clergyman of sorts. He did not publish for fear of what others in the university would do to him. In fact, the local archbishop read and studied his theories and encouraged him.
There is no great divide between science and religion. They make it all up; they like to have some windmill to tilt at. Current religious objections to stem cell research are not anti-science; they are pro human. It is clear that dehumanization of the worst sort could result, and the religious point is well taken. They point out there is no real reason to use fetal cells in this endeavor, and they are right.
And then there is the patently stupid notion that religion causes wars. (Talk about making simplistic statements!) Or that religion is behind many or most of the evil in the world. Here are the top twenty wars of the twentieth century:
|Military Death Toll||War||Dates|
|1||20,000,000||Second World War||1937-45|
|2||8,500,000||First World War||1914-18|
|4||1,200,000||Chinese Civil War||1945-49|
|7||800,000||Russian Civil War||1918-21|
|8||400,000||Chinese Civil War||1927-37|
|10||200,000||Spanish Civil War||1936-39|
|15||100,000||First Sudanese Civil War||1956-72|
The second world war was caused in great part by Adolph Hitler, the National Socialist, who abhorred Christianity and wanted to stamp it out. That war, if anything, might be laid at the feet of Socialists, leftists and other millenial seculars who were going to bring in a great period of glory – by killing as many people as they could. Hitler only rose to power because of a great fear of the Bolsheviks. Without the Russian revolution, there is no Hitler. And probably no second world war.
The first world war was caused by contending European nations. It had no religious basis whatsoever. The Russo-Japanese war was similar.
Korean War? Communists. The 1945-49 Chinese civil war? Communists. Vietnam? Communists. Russian civil war? Communists. The 1927-37 Chinese civil war? Communists. French Indo-China? Communists. The Mexican revolution? Proto-communists. Spanish Civil War? Communists. Russo-Polish war? Communists.
Do you detect a trend?
The only ones on the list as possibly having a religious impetus are:
The Iran-Iraq war. Both sides were Muslims but were contending versions of Islam – Sunni and Shia. However, there was just as strong an impulse coming from the simple dictatorial needs of both Saddam and the Ayatollah. Saddam, you will remember, was a socialist. He planted European style socialism in Iraq.
French Algerian War: Colonial / Islamist. Afghanistan – Islamists.
So, now we see things clearly. Wars are started by 1) Socialists and communists 2) Islam, but perhaps only when infected with European socialism, 3) Powerful nations simply contending against each other. 4) and perhaps colonialism.
The only religious wars in there seem to among Islamic nations. And even in those cases, there had been an infection of Islam with European socialist ideas.
So you see their problem. Communists, socialists and their brethren have been responsible for an enormous amount of killing. What to do, what to do? Apparently, those on the left who typically supported socialist and communist efforts hit on the rather Alinsky-ist notion of turning right around and pretending that religion was the cause for all the wars.
But the truth is exactly contrary.