Last week, Usaid Siddiqui wrote an amazing article over at Aljazeera America, New Atheism’s Astonishing Hypocrisy Toward Islam. It focused on Sam Harris, of course. Harris has claimed that the murder of the three Muslims in Chapel Hill had nothing to do with the murderer’s atheism. And he might be right. But Siddiqui went on to discuss other cases like the French man who was recently convicted of shooting at a mosque for explicitly atheistic reasons. But more important, he talked about the way that the explicitly atheistic Chinese government is oppressing religious minorities.
The response by New Atheists to these things is actually quite reasonable: it is far more complicated than just a question of their atheism. I totally agree! The problem — hypocrisy, as Siddiqui correctly noted — is that such complex sociological and political explanations don’t ever seem to occur when New Atheists talk about violence coming from Muslims. In those cases, Sam Harris can grab some awful passage from the Quran and say, “See?!” And the New Atheists except this as proof rather than pushing him aside and noting that he’s just a bigot.
Another aspect of this is to claim that such atheists don’t really get it. And this speaks to another troubling aspect of New Atheism: its inbred character. That’s right: the nice upper middle class white people who can afford to go to Skepticon aren’t violent! Yeah, that tends to be the way. The thing about having power is that the violence that your lifestyle depends upon is farmed out to other people — or drones. Sam Harris may get to write articles defending torture and casual murder from the sky, but he knows he will never have to do it himself.
What’s more, this idea that atheists who go around physically attacking Muslims are not true New Atheists is a standard rhetorical fallacy: No True Scotsman. And it is one that I hear all the time from Christians. But I accept irrationality from Christians — after all, they’re Christians. But how is it that the “I don’t believe anything I don’t have proof for” crowd should so easily fall into this trap? That’s a rhetorical question, of course. We all know why: the New Atheists are no more rational than anyone else, they just think they are.
It all reminds me of David Brook’s entire career. He thinks the only reason the poor are in a bad state is because they don’t act like the rich people who he hangs out with. And that’s what we get from the New Atheists: a lot of tired “us versus them” thinking mascaraing as clear-eyed rational debate. And it isn’t. It’s just age old hatreds.
If Christopher Hitchens hadn’t died, there would be three main figure in the New Atheist community — the other two being Harris and Richard Dawkins. And they are more known for their anti-Muslim beliefs than anything positive about atheism. Most people are to be forgiven that the primary belief of atheism is a hatred of Muslims. I don’t like this, given that I am a traditional (or old) atheist. In addition, this kind of thinking tilts decidedly to the political right. It still amazes me that atheism — long associated with humanism — has largely be co-opted by neoconservatives.
But what do I know? I’m just one of those stupid liberals who want to make everything complicated. I’m like Obama who sees the Iranian regime in the context of history and politics, and doesn’t realize — like Christopher Hitchens — that it is all due to Islam and that our only choice is to bomb them into submission. This is the state of New Atheism: simplistic answers to complex political questions. But they all believe in evolution! And that strikes me as a rather low bar, given that they share that fact with Pope Francis.