I have neither the heart nor the time to reprise or analyze the latest salvo of attacks on New Atheists, so I’ll just list them here (with a brief quote from each) if you’re interested. These have, in fact, all appeared in the last few days, so something is afoot.
As a palliative, there’s one defense by Michael Luciano.
“The damnation of St. Christopher“: Michael Wolff rips apart Christopher Hitchens in British GQ Magazine.
And in a sense it ends up making the case against him. Hitchens was really not a contrarian – at least not a contrarian in the sense of someone with eccentric, lonely opinions, often held for no other reason than that no one else holds them – but rather doctrinal and partisan. What’s more, he mostly gave offence where no offence would really be taken – or where he could be guaranteed a phalanx of defenders. Mother Teresa was one of his theoretically courageous targets – except who cares about Mother Teresa?
His God book followed Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Atheism was already a bestselling view. The God book is also a particular sleight of hand. It makes a persuasive case against a deserving target, so you might forget that virtually the entirety of the Hitchens-reading audience is comprised of nonbelievers – nonbelievers who have not even had to have a crisis of faith.
I don’t think so!
“It’s easy to attack to Christopher Hitchens now that he’s not around to defend himself“: The title of this Telegraph piece implies that Andrew M. Brown (no, not the goddy Andrew Brown) will defend Hitchens against Wolff, but he actually agrees with Wolff’s assessment:
Anyone who saw Hitchens in real life, perhaps at one of the public speaking events at which he flourished, will know what Wolff means about the writer’s “external” life. After the God is Great book and his transformation into professional atheist, Hitchens turned into a combination of revivalist preacher and pop star. Wolff describes him falling out of limousines and always, drunkenly, taking on lesser opponents. When I was in my twenties, I loved his early collections of essays and “minority reports”, but went off him once he’d become a massive celebrity: he no longer seemed so cool. (Perhaps it was just that I’d got older, too.)
Wolff is not immune to the overwhelming appeal of Hitchens, which was particularly to other male writers. He had abundant charisma, and seemed most alive when projecting this in performance. As Wolff says, “His greatest effort always seemed to be to live in public, with the effort itself being more important than the nature of the opinions or controversy that got him there.” In his writing and in his life he lived as he wanted – or seemed to – without fear of the consequences. Most of us would like to live like that, and that’s why we find Hitchens so appealing.
“Sam Harris, the New Atheists, and anti-Muslim animus“: In the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald defends his earlier Guardian attack on and his email exchange with Sam Harris. He quotes Harris at length to support his views, and concludes:
As I noted before, a long-time British journalist friend of mine wrote to me shortly before I began writing at the Guardian to warn me of a particular strain plaguing the British liberal intellectual class; he wrote: “nothing delights British former lefties more than an opportunity to defend power while pretending it is a brave stance in defence of a left liberal principle.” That – “defending power while pretending it is a brave stance in defence of a left liberal principle” – is precisely what describes the political work of Harris and friends. It fuels the sustained anti-Muslim demonization campaign of the west and justifies (often explicitly) the policies of violence, militarism, and suppression aimed at them. It’s not as vulgar as the rantings of Pam Geller or as crude as the bloodthirsty theories of Alan Dershowitz, but it’s coming from a similar place and advancing the same cause.
I welcome, and value, aggressive critiques of faith and religion, including from Sam Harris and some of these others New Atheists whose views I’m criticizing here. But many terms can be used to accurately describe the practice of depicting Islam and Muslims as the supreme threat to all that is good in the world. “Rational”, “intellectual” and “well-intentioned” are most definitely not among them.
“New Atheists are Muslim bashers, not rational thinkers“: Nathan Lean defends his characterization of New Athiests as Islamophobes at PolyMic (see his earlier Salon piece here).
More scrupulously and objectively, Gallup polling data conducted over the course of six years in more than 35 Muslim-majority countries shows a different picture, revealing that women are increasingly empowered, literate, and afforded the same rights as men. In addition to the polling data, the recent revolutions are further indication that Luciano’s tired notion of Muslims who hate freedom is unfounded (Of course, the election of Islamist governments must mean for Luciano that Muslims don’t really love democracy because they chose — you know, the non-American kind).
Lastly, one must wonder what is the purpose of the New Atheist narrative? Dawkins, in proselytizing fashion, tells us in the preface to his book The God Delusion that he intends his book for religious readers and that he hopes they will become atheists after reading it. Surely, though, clubbing people like seals and sneering at their supposed stupidity won’t accomplish that. That is the problem with the New Atheists. The aggression is counterproductive and damages the reputations of atheists writ large, just as Muslim extremists or extremists of any religious faith damage the reputations of their co-faithful. All fanatics are a problem, and the New Atheists, by virtue of their disproportionate and unyielding fixation on Muslims and Islam, and their embrace of American militancy in Muslim-majority countries, are fanatics. It’s too bad that their masquerade as rational thinkers has fooled otherwise intelligent people like Luciano.
Michael Luciano is PolyMic‘s politic’s editor, who wrote a good piece criticizing Lean’s Salon article, “How not to argue against the New Atheists“. An excerpt:
But the most egregious offense that Lean commits is a sin of omission. In attacking Dawkins et al. for their criticisms of Islam, Lean completely ignores the question of whether their critiques actually have any merit – and with good reason. It does not take a sociologist to know that the more a country’s laws are influenced by religion, the more oppressive they tend to be. And as Nolan Kraszkiewicz points out, religiosity and bigotry tend to go hand in hand.
Lean does not engage the New Atheists’ claims about Islam’s track record because he knows that’s a losing battle. When it comes to women’s rights, gay rights, free speech, and matters of social equality in general, the predominantly Islamic Middle East is a wasteland of religious conformism and misogyny. Not surprisingly countries with majority Muslim populations regularly bring up the bottom in surveys measuring women’s rights. Regarding gay rights, there is no such thing. Speech is not free, but limited, and woe unto those in Muslim-dominated countries who blaspheme the Old Time Religion.
Is this because Islam is morally “inferior” to say, Christianity? Hardly. For about 1,000 years the fervent followers of Christ ruled Europe during a time appropriately called the Dark Ages. It was a time of ignorance, fear, oppression, misogyny, misery, and holy wars. That time is over, not because Christianity got better, but because it became less powerful and influential. If there is to be any hope for human rights for all in countries dominated by Islam, that religion too will have to become less powerful and influential.
Critics of the New Atheists are free to take issue with their tone, but to dismiss them without addressing the substance of their arguments constitutes an implicit admission that they just might have a point.