The Problem With New Atheism

There is an obvious problem with the social and political movement known as New Atheism, and that problem is one of hate.

Since New Atheism first reared its head in our post-9/11 world, it has sought to confront and counter religious thought, belief, and practice around the globe. Over time though, followers and leading figures in the movement have shifted away from simply religious criticism and have moved towards outright religious hatred. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of Islam. It seems that now Atheists use their non-belief as a shield in the hope that it will deflect accusations, and excuse them from religious hate, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.

It seems that Atheism has now become synonymous with intolerance and hatred, becoming much like the dogmatic religions they say they oppose. To be an Atheist apparently means to hate anyone who follows and believes in a God. In opposition to this, I believe that what being an Atheist should mean is that you love everyone regardless of which God they may believe in.

Though I am an Atheist, and a very assured one at that, I feel incredibly uncomfortable with using my knowledge that there is no God as justification to hate others. New Atheism espouses the use of criticism and objection to religious influence, and I must say that I agree with that wholeheartedly. I believe that allowing someone free reign on an issue, especially an issue which is potentially damaging and so obviously incorrect, is a dangerous void to leave open. Like racism, sexism or any other speech, movement, or action which corrupts and discriminates, religion should be confronted at the appropriate times. “The appropriate times” however, do not cover the occasions where a religious believer is using public transport, or walking along the street. Nor does it cover social media, communicating with shop vendors, or passing buildings of worship. These are not confrontations, but attacks.

New Atheism is both a religious stance and a political one. In terms of ideology it sits closely with anti-theism, secularism and humanism. I see secularism and humanism in close proximity to one another. They inhabit a space on one side together, whilst New Atheism and anti-theism sit on the other side. The reason I see these ideologies as positioned on two different sides is because of their respective uses of tolerance, or intolerance as the case may be, and attack. Whilst New Atheism and anti-theism seem content, and at times even joyous, in attacking those who believe, humanism and secularism do not seem to do so. All four positions are critical of religion, but there is a substantial difference between being critical and being abusive.

Rather than offering solutions as to why people should not believe in fictional deities, New Atheism’s arguments have become more torrents of hate than reasoned argument. It is as if they have abandoned the debate altogether and instead chosen to focus on verbally attacking their opponent personally. This criticism of religion, and most recently Islam in particular, stems not from the Atheists love of truth, freedom, and science, but from their hatred of religion, its people, and its practices. The same hatred that drives the New Atheists to blame all Muslims for terrorist attacks, can be seen on the flip side of the coin where ISIS show their contempt for the West, and demand that Islamic law be practised across the globe.

There is much talk of religious extremism, both violent and non-violent, but what seems to be missing from the picture is any discussion about non-religious extremism? If we were to look at this subject, then New Atheism would appear to fit the necessary criteria.

If I could borrow a religious scene for just a moment, and ask you to imagine that there were gatherings of New Atheist members – a form of non-religious church if you will. At this New Atheist church the congregation would be led by a scholar, academic or preacher. Stories would be told, discussions had, and a final going away speech would be said before everyone departed. What would this speech advocate? What would the person addressing the congregation say to the gathered crowd? If we look at recent comments from leading New Atheists it is not too hard to imagine: “They hate us. They are inherently evil. They are all to blame. We will never get along.”  Such a theme sounds radical, it sounds extremist, and such an address would have far more in common with the likes of Abu Qatada and Adolf Hitler, than it would with the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

When the words that you speak place you in the company of some of history’s most evil individuals, it is time you did some extensive soul searching. Do you really want to be actively promoting such a poisonous message? Like the radical preachings of religious extremists, or white pride fanatics, your words are nothing but divisive and cancerous.

I have previously written about the illogical and idiotic nature of hating someone because of the colour of their skin, and now I am finally realising that hating someone because they are Jewish, or because they are Islamic, or Christian is as illogical as hating someone because they are white, black or green. I have known this within me for quite some time, and now I have correctly identified that such thought contradicts the message being pushed by New Atheism.  To hate hundreds of thousands, if not millions, if not billions of people based on one single characteristic that they share is utterly absurd.

I believe that Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, and Christopher Hitchens can all be deemed Islamophobic. I think it is undoubtedly true that they show more contempt for Islam than any other religion. Though they claim to hate them all equally, some are more equal than others it seems.

I am fully aware of the subjugation Islam can instil in a society and upon what should be free people. I am also aware that there are a tremendous number of people in this world who do not follow such conservative values, despite being Muslims themselves. Evidence of the diversity even within the Muslim community can be seen by looking at the states who are predominantly Muslim and comparing them to one another. Not all of them advocate full covering for females, not all of them ban alcohol, and not all of them practice the death penalty. This alone shows that to categorise all Muslims as being the same is simply ridiculous.

My time in Turkey and Syria introduced me to cultures that I had not seen previously, and though I saw things that I was utterly opposed to, I found that I was not alone in this opposition. It is not as if every single person that I met did not drink or take drugs, or did not have tattoos, or did not practice sex before marriage. Each individual was different, and their opinions and actions were unique to them. It was interesting that whilst living in Turkey, one of the main concerns I heard from residents, predominantly the younger generation, was that Turkey was become too Islamic. That laws and customs that should be present in a democracy were being abandoned in favour of more conservative Islamic practices. If all Muslims are the same, and all Muslims are to be blamed for terrorism, or are indeed terrorists themselves, you would not expect to hear such disapproval, but you did.

Such is the world that we live in now, and such is the popularity of what I call pick-and-mix religious followers – those who cherry pick their favourite parts from religious books and beliefs whilst proclaiming that they are followers of that faith – that to criticise an entire religion, unless it is purely on the issue of the existence of a God, is meaningless. The Islam that Turkey follows differs hugely from the Islam in Saudi Arabia, the Christianity in the UK differs from the Christianity in the US where it is much more prominent. Rather than attacking a religion in its totality, it would be more worthwhile criticising a certain movements or societies interpretation of that religion.

ISIS deserves to be criticised and vilified, because what they preach and how they behave is truly abhorrent. These Muslims though share very little in common with the average follower of Islam. Similarly, Anders Breivik, the self-confessed “Christian crusader”, who was responsible for the deaths of 77 innocent people in 2011 shares very little in common with your local vicar. Baruch Goldstein was a Jewish terrorist who murdered 29 Palestinians and wounded a further 125 in 1994, and his actions cannot be seen as representative of all the followers of Judaism.

Hate breeds hate, violence begets violence, and ignorance pours fuel upon them both. Peaceful coexistence on this planet is possible, if only we allow for it.

Recommended further reading:
https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/new-atheism-old-empire/
http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/8885481/after-the-new-atheism/
https://newhumanist.org.uk/articles/4820/atheism-is-plainly-
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/03/sam-harris-muslim-animus?utm_content=buffer9a05e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer
http://www.salon.com/2013/03/30/dawkins_harris_hitchens_new_atheists_flirt_with_islamophobia/
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/04/20134210413618256.html
http://mondoweiss.net/2012/06/sam-harris-uncovered
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/30/we-can-save-atheism-from-the-new-atheists

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4 thoughts on “The Problem With New Atheism

  1. “I think it is undoubtedly true that they show more contempt for Islam than any other religion.”

    You do live in the same world as I do, yes? I personally am not quite surprised by this. Without a doubt, a very small minority of Muslims are pretty actively trying to ruin the reputation of their religion, a job in which they are, of course, pretty much supported by stupid western people who want to believe that these people somehow are typical Muslims.

    And sorry, while I agree that hate isn’t an answer, comparing extremist atheists to extremist religious people sounds a little strange… What does an extremist atheist typically do? Write angry postings, write angry books, sure. What does an extremist Muslim? Bomb a bus. What does an extremist Christian? Shoot doctors working in an abortion clinic – or give money to kill gay people in africa. Personally, while I don’t like extremisn, if I had to choose, I would probably chose the people who don’t kill other people.

    And personally I doubt that peaceful coexistence is possible, sorry. Humans are too good at finding excuses to kill each other. But perhaps I’m just pessimistic. But at least I don’t assume that atheism would solve any problem. For me, atheism simply is probably true, but that doesn’t mean that it’s automatically leads to a better tomorrow.

    1. Thanks for the comment.
      I understand what you mean about siding with Atheist extremists over religious extremists. The worst Atheists do seems to be drawing cartoons and vocalising their feelings, whereas Boko Haram, Taliban, ISIS, EDL, KKK, etc resort to violence.
      And you say given the choice you would side with the cartoonists? I understand that also, but you must see that these are not the only two options. Two extremes, and you can either pick one of the other.
      What about the Atheists who do not condemn entire religions for the actions of a select few? What about the Atheists who live alongside religious people in peace? What about the religious followers who not only refuse to support extremist movements, but actively oppose them? They are possible positions to take as well. It is not so simple as a dichotomy of two extremes.

      On the issue of a peaceful coexistence, that is where you and I must differ then. Humans are indeed good at finding excuses to kill one another, but every day billions of people choose not to conduct such actions. Humans, like other animals, want to coexist peacefully, because conflict benefits nobody.

      1. This is why I said, if I had to choose. Of course there are not only religious extremists and atheistic extremists (otherwise, the definition of “extremist” would be quite strange). But of course you must admit, that some religious extremists (not only the ones blowing stuff up) have a negative impact on the world. Do you suggest simply letting them continue? Honestly, if the only thing religious extremists did, was praying to a god I don’t believe in, I wouldn’t care. Let them. But unfortunately, that is not the case. You do not have to go as far as terrorists to find religious people who want to reduce the freedom of others, including other religious people, because they think that’s what their god wants (or at least using their god to voice their own opinions).

        Unfortunately, humans are basically an irrational species. Peace seems to be the exception, not the rule. It’s easy to sit in the western world and forget that only 70 years ago our western ancestors killed each other for very complicated political and social reasons – and for hate. So, yes, we will have to disagree here. Without changing human nature, I’m afraid the peace is just a nice dream.

  2. This is perfect. So many Atheist act like born again christians ramming their lack of belief down others’ throats. I’m not saying it’s not ok to voice an opinion but be ok about. Atheist and anti-theist are two very different things. The anti-theists seem to be frustrated by the theist refusal to accept scientific fact, i totally understand this but there is nothing to be said to change the mind of a devout believer. No amount of evidence will ever be enough.

    Atheist.

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