The dangers of Islam: Wright vs. Hitchens

I am delighted to see a pungent exchange between Robert Wright in the New York Times and Christopher Hitchens in Slate.  (It’s about a week old, but I’m just back).  Wright explicitly blames American belligerence against Islam as the force producing the Fort Hood shooting spree by Major Nidal Hasan.

The title of Wright’s piece is “Who created Major Hasan?”, and of course the answer is “America!”

The Fort Hood shooting, then, is an example of Islamist terrorism being spread partly by the war on terrorism — or, actually, by two wars on terrorism, in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Fort Hood is the biggest data point we have — the most lethal Islamist terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. It’s only one piece of evidence, but it’s a salient piece, and it supports the liberal, not the conservative, war-on-terrorism paradigm. . .

That’s a reminder that, contrary to right-wing stereotype, Islam isn’t an intrinsically belligerent religion. Still, this sort of stereotyping won’t go away, and it’s among the factors that could make homegrown terrorism a slowly growing epidemic. The more Americans denigrate Islam and view Muslims in the workplace with suspicion, the more likely the virus is to spread — and each appearance of the virus in turn tempts more people to denigrate Islam and view Muslims with suspicion. Whenever you have a positive feedback system like this, an isolated incident can put you on a slippery slope.

This is all part and parcel of Wright’s apparent bid for the Templeton Prize, most recently displayed in The Evolution of God.

Well, I’m not in favor of stereotyping individual Muslims, but as for Islam, well, it does seem to be an intrinsically belligerent religion. Read the Qur’an — you’ll find plenty of belligerence there.  And if you object that the Old Testament is belligerent, too, look then all the imams calling for jihad.  And how many Muslims stood up to protest the widespread jubilation in the Middle East that ensued after 9/11, or stood up to defend the right of Danish newspapers to publish cartoons mocking Mohamed?

Nor was I in favor of invading Iraq — here I differ from Hitchens — and now it looks as if we’ve been stalemated in a Vietnam-like situation in Afghanistan.  We should simply get out, because we won’t — and can’t — win.  But regardless, Hitchens is on the mark when he goes after Wright:

Very well, then; the case for Maj. Hasan the overburdened caseworker seems to have evaporated. Robert Wright, among others, is big enough to admit as much. Wright, now emerging as the leading liberal apologist for the faith-based (see his intriguing new book The Evolution of God), now proposes an alternative theory of Maj. Hasan’s eagerness to commit mass murder. “The Fort Hood shooting,” says Wright, “is an example of Islamist terrorism being spread partly by the war on terrorism—or, actually, by two wars on terrorism, in Iraq and Afghanistan.” I know that contributors to the New York Times op-ed page are not necessarily responsible for the headlines that appear over their work, but the title of this one—”Who Created Major Hasan?”—really does demand an answer, and the only one to be located anywhere in the ensuing text is “We did.”

Everything in me revolts at this conclusion, which is echoed and underlined in another paragraph of the article. Why, six months ago, did “a 24-year-old-American named Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad—Carlos Bledsoe before his teenage conversion to Islam—fatally shoot a soldier outside a recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark.? ABC News reported, “It was not known what path Muhammad … had followed to radicalization.” Well, here’s a clue: After being arrested he started babbling to the police about the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Wright describes this clue-based deduction of his as an illustration of the way that “an isolated incident can put you on a slippery slope.” Though I can’t find much beauty in his prose there, I want to agree with him.

For a start, did Hasan or Muhammad ever say what “killing” of which “Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan” they had in mind? There isn’t a day goes by without the brutal slaughter of Muslims in both countries by al-Qaida or the Taliban. And that’s not just because most (though not all) civilians in both countries happen to be of the Islamic faith. The terrorists do not pause before deliberately blowing up the mosques and religious processions of those whose Muslim beliefs they deem insufficiently devout. Most of those now being tortured and raped and executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran are Muslim. All the women being scarred with acid and threatened with murder for the crime of going to school in Pakistan are Muslim. Many of those killed in London, Madrid, and New York were Muslim, and almost all the victims callously destroyed in similar atrocities in Istanbul, Cairo, Casablanca, and Algiers in the recent past were Muslim, too. It takes a true intellectual to survey this appalling picture and to say, as Wright does, that we invite attacks on our off-duty soldiers because “the hawkish war-on-terrorism strategy—a global anti-jihad that creates nonstop imagery of Americans killing Muslims—is so dubious.” Dubious? The only thing dubious here is his command of language. When did the U.S. Army ever do what the jihadists do every day: deliberately murder Muslim civilians and brag on video about the fact? For shame. The slippery slope—actually the slimy slope—is the one down which Wright is skidding.

It is he, who I am taking as representative of a larger mentality here, who uses equally inert lingo to suggest that Maj. Hasan was “pushed over the edge by his perception of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.” That’s a nice and shady use of the word “perception.” Might it not be equally true to say that Hasan was all-too-easily pulled over the edge, having already signaled his devout eagerness for the dive, by a cleric who makes a living by justifying murder of Muslims and non-Muslims alike?

etc.  Do read both pieces.

What’s with The New York Times lately?  Accommodationism there is rampant, particularly in the op-ed section, where Nicholas Kristof published a mushbrained piece praising (God help me) Karen Armstrong and Robert Wright’s books, and criticizing atheism as “irreligious intolerance.”  It’s almost as if the paper made a calculated decision to coddle religion, for that’s what their readers want.

UPDATE:  Thomas Friedman has a piece in today’s New York Times placing the blame more properly where it lies.

88 Comments

  1. MadScientist
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    What’s Wright smoking? (Or snorting, or injecting …) I’m always infuriated by idiots who say “the criminal is not to blame – society/the victims are to blame!” Major Hasan has some major problems with his head and his actions may not have much to do at all with religion, although the magical thinking of religion often does encourage violence in the name of some sky-fairy or other. Even if Hasan were to claim that he did it for his religion, such a claim could not be taken at face value. Did others explicitly encourage him, or did he make the decision on his own (the implicit encouragement by religion which no individual in a religion can control but which all are collectively responsible for).

    If anything there is an undue obsession of the public with Hasan’s religion. If he were just another crazy white kid we’d be hearing about how the latest video game made him do it.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

      Major Hasan has some major problems with his head and his actions may not have much to do at all with religion, although the magical thinking of religion often does encourage violence in the name of some sky-fairy or other.

      Exactly, religion is inherently encouraging violence (by distinguishing between “us” and “them”), so whatever his motivation his actions underlines the problem with religion.

      To see this, assume these acts being caused by independent factors. [I don’t believe that is necessary the case for all factors, but it isn’t essential to the model. At least one independent factor is present, after separation of the religious sector, unless religion is the cause of all violence.]

      Unless I’m mistaken, then we have an incidence rate of violence that is independent of the frequency of causes. Each time an incidence happens, religion as a major violence instigator takes its (huge) share of blame.

      Regardless of Major Hasan’s personal motivations, regardless of his claims, his deed shows religion for the problem it is.

  2. Posted November 28, 2009 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    “What’s with The New York Times lately? Accommodationism there is rampant, particularly in the op-ed section, where Nicholas Kristof published a mushbrained piece praising (God help me) Karen Armstrong and Robert Wright’s books, and criticizing atheism as “irreligious intolerance.” It’s almost as if they made a calculated decision to coddle religion, for that’s what their readers want.”

    I have to disagree with your conclusion. They probably think that they are doing right when they coddle religion.

    I agree with you in that current mainstream Judaism and Christianity are more palatable (though still wrong) and that is probably because they have learned how to blow off or rationalize away their more noxious religious texts (though some fundamentalists remain…far too many).

  3. Slim
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    What is up with Robert Wright? When even Sarah Palin can figure out it was an act of terrorism by someone “pulled” in by Islam and the crazy’s, Wright must be quite blinded. Palin on two occasions I’ve seen has spoken much like Hitchen’s here. Liberal’s are funny in how they can play the blame game, especially with race issues (Obama becomes “boy” suddenly – said by a liberal of course putting words in others mouths, a favorite tactic), but watch out when Islam is involved. It was good to see Hitchen’s shift from his Marxist views, his ardent political Marxism was tiresome, but since 9-11 he’s been a damn fine team player – YAY, there’s hope!

    BTW, watch “Collision”

  4. Slim
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    blueollie,

    Hmm: “They probably think that they are doing right when they coddle religion.”

    They haven’t been “coddling” my religious or political beliefs, far from it (not now, not ever from what I’ve seen). Is it possible you are seeing that only through your atheist eyes?

    There’s usually religious books that bounce into the NYT top ten, just more of the postmodernist kind lately. They create a stir for a while because supposedly it’s what the intellectuals speak (religion brought to you by the the academe you cherish so much). As long as it’s radically liberal they’ll Op-ed it to death (or at least until the books fade – then it starts over in a year or two). If it’s to “religious” (“lol”), they hit the ignore button or run counter Op-eds by academics that only a student could love.

  5. newenglandbob
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    I am glad Hitchens ripped Wright apart. I disagree with Hitchens that Wright is slipping down a slope because Wright has been wallowing down in the mud for a long time. His book, his articles, his debates and his web utterings has put him against reason and logic and he defends irrational behavior and excuses it.

  6. BaldApe
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    It’s almost as if they made a calculated decision to coddle religion, for that’s what their readers want.

    Well that wouldn’t be much of a surprise. They are in business, after all.

  7. Occam
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Disturbingly, though, and perhaps inadvertently, Wright has a point.
    A gunpoint.

    “However you come out on that argument, the case of Nidal Hasan shows one thing for sure: Homegrown American terrorists don’t need a safe haven. All they need is a place to buy a gun.”

  8. Slim
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    BaldApe

    I promise not to harp on this point, but I think this perception of the NYT’s being overly religion friendly is absurd in many ways.

    “Well that wouldn’t be much of a surprise. They are in business, after all.”

    Right, and what we see another round of is liberalized post-modernist religion. Books on and about religion in this fashion have been popular to the general population for many decades. Liberal outlets like the NYT’s eat this stuff up. The books cause buzz (thus greater Op-eds) because they are proven sellers and people have their eyes on the NYT’s best seller list. A pull to the liberalized religious post-modernism is partly why the reaction was cold to some of the “New Atheist” material, but what those books provide is exactly what we are seeing again now. Like I said, in a year or two we will have another round.

    Much of this, the best selling of religion by post-modernist and “New Atheist”(and Dan Brown type stories which are hot), match the continued trend of a populous still eating this stuff up and also reveal them as scientifically uninformed when they discuss the issues.

    I only take an interest in this stuff, like this site, because I’m in the sciences and also majored in philosophy, plus I read a great deal, including all the “New Atheist” book (Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens). Being very religious myself, I enjoy the debates.

  9. Posted November 28, 2009 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    I’m afraid Wright also has a point when he says that wholesale denigration of islam is poisoning minds and can push some people over the edge. He overstresses his point, sure, but nevertheless, it’s a perfectly vicious circle: militant islamists perpetrate violence, which make a lot of Americans view islam as a whole with suspicion, which make more Muslims feel alienated and denigrated, etc. One of the problem, here, is that people seem to have a hard time making a difference between islam (religion of about 1 billion and a half people, the huge majority of whom are not “intrinsically violent”) and Islamism, a political movement that uses the religion itself as a weapon! I imagine Hitchens wants to paint all religions, so he says Islam is evil, but it’s too broad-brushed a portrait to be accurate. As for Islam being more conducive to violence than other religions, huh… How is it possible to say this when what we see is a movement that mixes politics and religion and is very different from the everyday life of most Muslims? And as for the moderate Muslims, yes, there are a lot of them who call to renounce violence and who condemn the terrorist. Perhaps they are not audible to Hitchens (and to Coyne, seemingly) because a lot of them couch their condemnation in religious terms and say that their islam is not the religion the islamic terrorists make it sound, that these terrorists have hijacked the religion of their brothers. So, in this way, they do condemn the violence, but not the religion. No more than, say, the Pope ever condemned catholicism itself for the violence of IRA!

    • Posted November 28, 2009 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. Wright goes too far to state that the demonizing of Muslims was the main cause of the Fort Hood shooting, but I have little doubt that stigmatization of Muslims is a significant contributing factor in the rise of Muslim extremism in the US and Europe.

  10. Slim
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Irene Delse,

    Hitchens is clearly correct in his Op-Ed. I think you’re missing a very important part of Hitchens’ argument.

    Please, let me quote him with emphasis added:

    “The terrorists do not pause before deliberately blowing up the mosques and religious processions of those whose Muslim beliefs they deem insufficiently devout(!). Most of those now being tortured and raped and executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran ARE MUSLIM. All the women being scarred with acid and threatened with murder for the crime of going to school in Pakistan ARE MUSLIM. Many of those killed in London, Madrid, and New York were Muslim, and almost all the victims callously destroyed in similar atrocities in Istanbul, Cairo, Casablanca, and Algiers in the recent past WERE MUSLIM, too.”

    The moderate Muslims are audible to us all, including Hitchens, if they are allowed to speak freely.

    It is FREEDOM that trumps religion here and everywhere, or should. I live in a country which offers FREEDOM of and from religion and as devout religious person, I kind of like that!

    Playing the blame game as Wright has gets us nowhere, it is a threat to our freedom. And it was our freedom that was threatened by Islamlamist. That is the facts on the ground.

    • Vance Lunn
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      I would agree. Freedom is the answer to this. All people are different. When they are free to be who they are as long as they don’t interfere with the freedom of others to be who they are, then they concentrate on being themselves. This makes it harder for radicals to recruit them becuase they are too busy being themselves. As I understand it, the Koran commands its followers to either convert or subvert all the people of the world. This creates the problem that if you’re devout to this faith you can’t respect the right of others to be themselves. This is the reason why they use political correctness to try to squash the expression of anything they beleive is not in line with the Koran. This is one reason they don’t like this country and try to change it. Our Constitution, when actually followed by our politicians, prohibites them from interfering with the freedoms of others.

      • Slim
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 7:19 am | Permalink

        Vance Lunn

        Well Said!

        I’m somewhat frustrated how easily some here want to side track into nonsense when such important, straightforward discussions is taking place. I don’t mind the Santi nonsense as much as a couple others with me. Shame on them, Shame!

        What Christopher Hitchens and even Sam Harris have done the past few years is extremely important. They are shining a light on the secular left and it’s irrational anti-military, pro-postmodernist threats to our freedom. They are kicking in the political correctness that hounds the irrational left in the U.S. and Europe.

        Harris still maintains he’s liberal, but I’ve read quite a bit of his work and he appears very aloof on political matters in general, but on the important issue we speak of here, he is RIGHT, without a doubt. Hitchens has given up his Marxism and has clearly shifted right on many issues and most importantly after 9-11, the U.S. military, our being attacked, the threats to our FREEDOM. He woke up and is fighting the good fight against the postmodernist irrational left like we constantly see with people like Robert Wright and even Armstrong, weak atheist who are anti-military and who threaten our FREEDOMS.

        It took 9-11 to wake up a segment of the secular left, it is profoundly unfortunate it had to come about that way, but I am pleased non-the-less it is happening.

  11. Slim
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    I wanted to say: Playing the LIBERAL blame game as Wright has gets us nowhere.

    His book and views are much like the other person mentioned here, Karen Armstrong.

    They ARE atheist and any self respecting Atheist or Religious person knows that. Wright is simply following a tradition of liberal religious thought while claiming to be non-religious, and Armstrong is close behind. Their ideas and books are as much for the “almost atheist” as they are for the “almost religious”. The world is filled with Atheist who still need God, it’s old news for a new generation.

  12. Posted November 28, 2009 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    This is part of a growing trend akin to the onslaught of theistic evolution sympathizers. It’s considered middle-brow multicultural awareness. It’s all the rage, ya know?

  13. Posted November 28, 2009 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Jerry, do you absolutely have to speculate on the motivation of those you don’t agree with? I think you are being unnecessarily cynical here. It isn’t obvious to me that Wright and Shermer do that they do because of the Templeton bribe.

  14. Slim
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    pyridine,

    I think what needs to be kept in mind with regards to Coyne and the Templeton Foundation, is that because of Coyne’s stance towards Templeton he uses certain phrasing in the belief it is to further degrade a person, book or what have you by connecting them to Templeton. It’s not necessary for him to believe there is a direct connection or one that makes a difference, only that Templeton’s influence worries Coyne and the rhetoric works for the audience he is writing for primarily.

    One thing I can agree with Karen Armstrong on is that “New Atheist” like Coyne are more than what he quotes, “irreligious intolerance”, they are pathological in their attitude towards religion.

    Of course we aren’t allowed by political correctness to say “New Atheist” “hate” religion – but motivated perhaps by an extreme dislike that is pathological (for evidence, watch the reply of horrors of religion). That’s why out of the “New Atheist” I admire Hitchens, he is out about being anti-theist. He’s fond of saying he detest theism. PZ Myers says he’s anti-religious, but PZ’s a lovable curmudgeon who fires up the zealots on both sides.

    Coyne hates religion, obviously, though will deny it. He’s not only motivated by an emotional need that is fostered by his hatred, but he’s paranoid about religion. This partly explains his attitude towards the Templeton Foundation. He’ll point to sponsorships that don’t exist or prizes that do, like the $150,000 to the makers and writer of the film, Passion of the Christ, which Coyne detest. He claims his beef is the science being mixed with religion, even though he’ll praise and quote from their famous scientific prayer study which showed no effect of prayer. Richard Dawkins also praises the Templeton prayer study and I have not seen ONE “New Atheist” criticize that study on scientific grounds. So much for the argument of mixing science and religion.

  15. Posted November 28, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    What’s with The New York Times lately? Accommodationism there is rampant, particularly in the op-ed section

    Not all that lately – Wendy Kaminer wrote an article a decade or more ago pointing out that overt atheism is taboo, and one of the supporting facts she cited was the NYT’s rejection of an Op-ed of hers because it was too overtly atheist.

  16. Posted November 28, 2009 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Friendliness-to-theism, at a minimum, seems to be the default position of nearly all mainstream ‘liberal’ media in the US and UK these days. The NY Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the New Statesman – they all slobber on ‘faith’ and frown on atheism. I’d expect better from at least the Guardian and the New Statesman, since they’re far more explicitly left-wing than the NYT and the WashPo – but I’d expect in vain; they are if anything worse.

  17. santitafarella
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Wright’s piece is being wildly misread and given a misleading spin. Wright does not say in any way, shape, or form that Maj. Hasan is America’s “fault.” Wright is making a sociological and media observation. He is not evaluating America’s essential “goodness” or “badness” with regard to foreign policy. He is not saying that America produced Maj. Hasan.

    What then, is Wright saying? It’s simply this: Living in an Internet age means that fundamentalists can magnify emotional responses to occupations, provoking unbalanced people to rogue violence and acts of terrorism.

    Barack Obama’s assassination is the proper analogy. Barack Obama occupies the White House (as America occupies Iraq and Afghanistan). Does it screw up moderate and liberal white Christians for Obama to occupy the White House? No. But there is a whole Fox media-Internet subculture of “patriot fundamentalists” for whom occupation of the White House by a black man makes them crazy, and if Obama is assassinated it will probably come from someone steeped in this fundamentalist Internet subcultural. Occupation is a psychologically freighted condition in which people make parental projections (the motherland, the mother religion, father’s house etc.) and unbalanced people can become violent when their psychosexual boundaries are broached.

    It appears that Hasan is one of those people on the fundamentalist Muslim side who cracked. That’s all Wright is saying: fundamentalism in the Internet age spreads malignant viral memes very effectively, and emotionally poisons unbalanced people. And it’s one of the things that Americans have to take into account when deciding what to do about the fact they they occupy two Muslim countries: Iraq and Afghanistan.

    What Coyne doesn’t like is Wright’s prescription: Americans need to be careful not to conflate Islam generally with fundamentalist Islam in particular (just as, if Obama were assassinated, we would be careful not to equate moderate Christianity or soft patriotism with the fundamentalist brands of Christianity and patriotism that the assassin might well adhere to).

    —Santi

    • Posted November 28, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      Ick.

      • Slim
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        I’ll second that!

        Ick.

        🙂

    • santitafarella
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Ophelia,

      Ick is not an argument. Please explain.

      —Santi

      • Posted November 28, 2009 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

        Of course it’s not. The stuff about what you weirdly and unpleasantly refer to as “Barack Obama’s assassination” is creepy and disgusting. At the very least you shouldn’t refer to it that way, as if it were a real event or an inevitability. If you’re going to talk about such a subject you should at the very least do it carefully. Have a little common sense.

      • santitafarella
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

        Ophelia:

        My intent was not to offend, and I’m sorry I shocked you with the analogy, and putting the analogy too bluntly. I know the “a” word with regard to Obama is painful to think about, but as someone who has been an early and enthusiastic supporter of Obama—sending him money early on, blogging my heart out for him on the cusp of the election—I am heartsick at the demonization and assassination memes moving around the Internet, and on t-shirts and bumperstickers in the United States. You might not know about this if you are living in England, but one bumpersticker says, “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8”, and when you read the passage, you find it is one of the most malignant passages in the Bible—a prayer for a person’s death, and the widowing of his wife, and the orphaning of his children.

        I don’t think that those of us who are liberals should be using euphemisms here. The American far right is murderous toward Obama, and the Obama assassination memes are quite akin to jihadi terrorism memes. I was not being flippant in making the analogy.

        I’d like to hear Coyne on the Psalm 109:8 bumper sticker. If you want a source for legitimate outrage, it’s hard to top.

        http://santitafarella.wordpress.com/?s=psalm

        —Santi

      • santitafarella
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        “The commonest sense is that of men asleep, which they express by snoring.” (Thoreau)

      • Posted November 28, 2009 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

        I’m not in England, and I’m well aware of the demonization of Obama. It’s nothing to do with all that. It’s just that starting a paragraph with

        “Barack Obama’s assassination is the proper analogy.”

        is stupid. Use your head.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      dreck

  18. Slim
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Ophelia Benson pretty much gets it right, IMHO. I’ll state up front, from what little I know of Benson’s writing and web site she is just another “New Atheist” who (dare we say it) is motivated largely by hate and paranoia for religion (lets break down that last taboo).

    I think Benson is talking about Wendy’s “The Last Taboo” where is actually says the following.

    “The supposedly liberal, mainstream press offers unprecedented coverage of religion, taking pains not to offend the faithful. An op-ed piece on popular spirituality that I wrote for The New York Times this past summer was carefully cleansed by my editors of any irreverence toward established religion (although I was invited to mock New Age). I was not allowed to observe that, while Hillary Clinton was criticized for conversing with Eleanor Roosevelt, millions of Americans regularly talk to Jesus, long deceased, and that many people believe that God talks to them, unbidden. Nor was I permitted to point out that, to an atheist, the sacraments are as silly as a seance. These remarks and others were excised because they were deemed “offensive.” 1999

    Of course Wendy used to argue a lot that the MM wasn’t liberal leaning at all, usually offering the no evidence argument that most outlets are owned by the rich elite. She was simply wrong. The liberal media is still offering on a regular basis a mix of pop cultural mindless secularism and liberalized post-modernist religion.

    As I said the coolness best selling “New Atheist” received was predictable. What Wendy failed to notice was what we are offered by the liberal media part of the Editorial Bleed, but the bleed is soaked in the secularized liberal post-modern religion.

    Watch, I’ll return here in a year or two and it will be another round of religious type book on the best seller list and I could predict the reception they’ll get.

    The annoying cry of “New Atheist” these days about why aren’t the liberal media being nicer to us, well go ask you zealot counterparts. Trusting the “New Atheist” movement would be a foolish move indeed.

    • Posted November 28, 2009 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      No no, that’s quite wrong. We aren’t crying “about why aren’t the liberal media being nicer to us” – we don’t want any media to be “nice to us,” that’s just silly and childish. We’re asking why the liberal media are so enthusiastic about “faith” and so hostile to atheism. It’s not self-evident that almost all media should be enthusiastic about “faith” and hostile to atheism, so it’s not crazy or childish for us to wonder why almost all media, including the comparatively liberal media, are.

    • Posted November 28, 2009 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Because, as we all know, reality has a left-wing bias.

    • Slim
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Benson,

      Calm down. First, I said nothing about being crazy or childish. It’s a question of the taboo the liberal media presents to zealots like you (like I said, you want to know why they’re cool to you, go ask your counterpart). There is plenty of Atheist leaning messages in the media, just perhaps not to your liking.

      I gave you an answer why the media fawns all over Atheist like Wright and Armstrong (yes Armstrong is clearly and atheist – even an Atheist such as yourself can see that). I didn’t make a claim of self-evident, I laid out an argument. They suck up the liberalized post-modernist religious ideas and types, perhaps it gives them solace knowing how much trash they present in their media. Clearly, from where I’m sitting you guys are half nuts to think the media is that friendly to religion. You’re simply naive in how you view the media as a whole, meaning the entire NYT’s (for example) not just the Op-Ed two pages.

      But, please, show me where I made any accusation today about being “crazy or childish”, nice try though, very intellectually dishonest discussion tactic. You’re not going to pin that one on me.

      • Posted November 28, 2009 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        Don’t tell me to calm down. I’m not excited – and it’s none of your business whether or not I am.

        I didn’t say you did say crazy or childish; I was paraphrasing what you did say, which implied that it’s absurd/wrong/clueless etc etc etc for us to wonder why the liberal media are so fond of theism. I wasn’t quoting you, so it should be obvious that I wasn’t accusing you of saying we are crazy and childish except in the broad general sense.

        You, on the other hand, just called me a zealot and intellectually dishonest. You’re an unpleasant interlocutor.

      • Slim
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

        Benson

        “Don’t tell me to calm down. I’m not excited – and it’s none of your business whether or not I am.”

        Yes, quite obviously you’re fully in control of your emotions. “LOL”

        Again, Benson it was also about why there is a taboo towards Atheism in the liberal MM media. You had brought up Wendy’s “The Last Taboo” for a reason for Christ sake – I had commented on that which also went along perfectly with what I had already discussed.

        You are a zealot, Benson, why not just admit you are? That you could possibly deny that you are, if that is what you’re doing, is absurd. Of course I do mean it in a derogatory fashion, but that does not make it any less TRUE. Claim the mantle, Benson!

        That you, Benson, could accuse me of being “unpleasant” is a laugh.

        Just because we can agree on this blogpost certainly doesn’t mean I’m suddenly going to drop my guard and play nice with someone who has argued as you have. This was a nice little side track – now go pound the table some more shouting how you’re not excited.

      • Fat
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        God, who is this loon “Slim”? It can’t think or write or make sense or be civil or stay on topic or understand what other people say. Who is it to be calling other people zealots??????

        Jerry Coyne deserves a better class of readers, if you ask me.

      • Posted November 28, 2009 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

        Yes, quite obviously you’re fully in control of your emotions. “LOL”

        I call sexism.

      • Slim
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 12:35 am | Permalink

        Deen

        “I call sexism”

        Would you mind explaining why you think that?

        Benson

        “I’m not about to take your word for it that I’m a zealot.”

        Whatever. You are a zealot when it comes to your views of religion, pure and simple. You also defend zealotry. I don’t see why you wouldn’t just admit this and break that taboo. Same goes for “hatred”, yes I know it’s PC to say so for “New Atheist” and we have seen here the “passion” of the Atheist argument. Hogwash, “New Atheist” routinely use and defend fervently, ridicule, contempt, conversational intolerance, mockery, openly expressing oneself as anti-religious or anti-theist and as Dawkins has expressed to do these to even greater degree than what is already available. That’s only the beginning (notice we are not talking about science and all of it still is TRUE).

        I say just admit to being a zealot because the negative connotation of being overly passionate already applies and is therefore bypassed as a legitimate argument to say you’re not, the fanatical zeal to come out as straight on anti-religious as Myers and Hitchen’s has is obvious. Not only are most of the “New Atheist”, including yourself, anti-religious but fervently bemoan and attack those that even appear sympathetic to religious faith.

        BTW, it is simple to tell when someone is excited in their writing, as you obviously were, twice. One way to tell is that you became incoherent with respect of simply losing focus and trying to redirect. I’ll go ahead and believe “crazy and childish” was somehow a logical direction for conversation since I no one brought it up besides you.

        I’m done with this idiotic conversation. Get offended much do you?

      • Posted November 29, 2009 at 6:39 am | Permalink

        Slim: really, you need me to spell it out? You tell a woman to calm down, and when she reassures you she is calm, you choose to believe she must be lying, and instead accuse her of not being in control of her emotions. An accusation that plays off the stereotype of women being “emotional”, and that is hardly ever used against men. Hence, sexism. Clear now?

        It’s also a low tactic for silencing someone. It’s an insult that a woman can’t really respond to without proving the insulter right. Maybe you thought you were very clever when you used it, but you were merely being a jerk.

        You owe Ophelia a major apology anyway. She didn’t say you called atheists childish, she clearly said it would be childish for atheists to expect the media to be “nice”. That you chose to interpret that as fighting language is your problem.

        Of course, you know full well that you started off with fighting words yourself to begin with. You said that atheists have an annoying cry, and you implied that they are zealots and are foolish to trust the “New Atheist” movement. It seems you were here to pick a fight from the beginning. I don’t think you should be the one to accuse anyone of dishonest discussion tactics.

        Especially not after using sexist language to try and silence Ophelia Benson.

      • Slim
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 7:04 am | Permalink

        Deen

        No I didn’t need anything, you did EXACTLY what I thought you might, that’s why I asked so simply.

        I read no further than this.

        “really, you need me to spell it out? You tell a woman to calm down, and when she reassures you she is calm, you choose to believe she must be lying, and instead accuse her of not being in control of her emotions. An accusation that plays off the stereotype of women being “emotional”, and that is hardly ever used against men. Hence, sexism. Clear now?”

        I did NOTHING of the kind, but you have now. Without a doubt I would have said the same thing, male or female and I have. So, let me guess, you don’t believe me. As I noted to Benson about your irrational remark: “my reply to Deen’s sexist statement.”

        Think about it.

      • Slim
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        Let me clarify something for you, Deen.

        What I did do was in fact show Benson is wrong in her claim that you can not tell if someone is “excited” in their writing (I told her to calm down remember).

        Her claim is this: “You can’t tell whether people are excited or not just by reading their comments on the internet. You can tell whether they have used heated language or not, but not what their actual emotions are.”

        That is not true. She is taking “calm down” to literally obviously, hence my poking her further with go pound a table and shout you’re not excited.

        Also, again (and again) she left out the other aspect of the discussion, purposefully or in an attempt to redirect. No matter her objection (and your absurd idea I need to apologize) Benson without prodding of any kind even admitted to “paraphrasing what you did say”. My demand for evidence of the accusation still went unheeded, only an admittance came.

        Here is exactly what I said, which followed (yes FOLLOWED twice me making an argument about how books on religion are received by the MM liberal media – partly in a response to what BENSON mentioned).

        “The annoying cry of “New Atheist” these days about why aren’t the liberal media being nicer to us, well go ask you zealot counterparts.”

        I’m not complaining “New Atheist” are being “crazy or childish” in this regard, I explain them to be a bit naive in my outline. Is this really that hard to understand or is your agenda blinding you?

      • Slim
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        Because of this insane side track, I almost feel I owe you aid in understanding something very basic, Deen.

        Since you both want to cherry pick and be obscenely literalist in a discussion, let me spell this out for you. Then I’m done, you either get it or you don’t.

        Read along now and think.

        Benson said (leaving aside her bringing up Wendy’s “The Last Taboo” idea about the media and Atheism): “but not what their actual emotions are.”

        Right, but what did I say?

        “Calm down.”

        Notice, again, again and again, that she actually doesn’t return to the relevant issue and instead side tracked (for disagreement purposes I’m sure – which reveals an actual “emotional response” – no, I can’t scientifically prove that, but I am not CLAIMING to know her emotion.) I don’t know what her emotions are, but I can can guess.

        She is a hate filled zealot against religion and defends those attitudes. The level of the “passion” of the Atheist type argument is lame and everyone knows it. It is ONLY political correctness that keeps the TRUTH at bay. Why not just admit it what you are was my question. Be PZ brave, say you’re anti-religious, which Benson is and use and defend greater and greater levels of ridicule, conversational intolerance, mockery and anti-religiousness (and more or course).

        Dawkins in “The Devils Chaplan” even says he uses scientific language (his “virus” metaphor stemming from his Meme theory) to be HOSTILE to religion.

        “To describe religions as mind viruses is sometimes interpreted as contemptuous or even hostile. It is both. I am often asked why I am so hostile to organized religion.”

        It that is not a way to manipulate scientific understanding, then nothing is. Of “New Atheist” the past year have tried to argue now how pleasant they are and just want a “nice” religion, even if it hold a belief in God. Gee, thanks, and to be so clear is helpful, why not create a religion for all of us, oh that’s right Benson has, Deism (which I suspect many Atheist are, like Wright, Harris, Shermer and Armstrong).

      • Posted November 29, 2009 at 10:59 am | Permalink

        Keep digging yourself in deeper, Slim. After the “it’s sexist to point out sexism” and “I’m a jerk to everyone” defense, I’m curious what else you can dig up.

    • Posted November 28, 2009 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

      “Slim”

      You can’t tell whether people are excited or not just by reading their comments on the internet. You can tell whether they have used heated language or not, but not what their actual emotions are. At any rate, I did not use any heated language, so you don’t have even bad evidence for my purported lack of calm.

      Yes I know it was about the taboo; that’s what I said; what it’s not about is what you called The annoying cry of “New Atheist” these days about why aren’t the liberal media being nicer to us. A taboo is different from not being nice.

      Why on earth should I ‘admit’ that I’m a zealot merely because you say so? I don’t know you – I’ve never heard of you before. I’m not about to take your word for it that I’m a zealot.

      • Slim
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 12:39 am | Permalink

        My reply to this comment is just above in my reply to Deen sexist statement.

      • Posted November 29, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        Brilliant stuff, “Slim.” I am entirely convinced.

      • Slim
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        Really, Wow. I could have never imag…. Oh wait…er…oh you little devil.

      • Posted November 29, 2009 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        “Slim”

        Jerry said stop the personal invective in a post stamped 9:58. Here’s you calling me a devil in a comment stamped 10:08.

      • Slim
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        I like my mistake better than the correction – “Chaplain”

        Darwin: “What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature!”

  19. Janus
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    It’s rather distressing that even on a blog such as this one there are still people who deny that Hasan did what he did specifically because of his belief that Islam is true. It couldn’t possibly be any clearer. He even gave a fucking lecture with fifty fucking slides explaining why violent Jihad is a moral imperative for Muslims, for fuck’s sake.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/gallery/2009/11/10/GA2009111000920.html

    • Slim
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      HA, well said.

      We are in TWO wars with insane Islamist and here we have a clear sympathizer who uses a stealth attack right on his base. If it wasn’t Islam we would all be calling this what it is, a terrorist act in the name of Islam. It doesn’t matter how one becomes a sympathizer, unless you like making excuses when body bags are filled with people dying for our freedom.

      The question of extraction from our wars has become a liberal masterpiece of political correctness that will not end sympathizers actions or take overs of villages, towns, cities and perhaps another country.

      That’s why I’m glad to be writing on this Atheist blog today. Liberalism and Atheism go together like Catholic priest and young boys, but thanks to people like Hitchens another group of voices if finally coming around.

      Hitchens moving away from his Marxism and blame game mentality has been a boon to move the secularist away from their conventional anti-military leanings.

      We are at war with Islam, exactly how your Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens say it. Keep pounding away at the dangerous MM liberal bias that plays up people like Robert Wright.

      • santitafarella
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

        Slim:

        If you can’t (or won’t) make distinctions between moderate Muslims and fundamentalist Muslims who promote and engage in acts of violence, I can’t help you. But I’ll only say that your mentality is very, very damaging to clear thinking about terrorism as a global problem. Wright is not trying to be politically correct, he’s trying to think clearly about a complicated issue.

        —Santi

  20. santitafarella
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Here’s the salient quote from Wright’s piece (and that Coyne failed to quote):

    “One reason killing terrorists can spread terrorism is that various technologies — notably the Internet and increasingly pervasive video — help emotionally powerful messages reach receptive audiences. When American wars kill lots of Muslims, inevitably including some civilians, incendiary images magically find their way to the people who will be most inflamed by them. This calls into question our nearly obsessive focus on Al Qaeda — the deployment of whole armies to uproot the organization and to finally harpoon America’s white whale, Osama bin Laden. If you’re a Muslim teetering toward radicalism and you have a modem, it doesn’t take Mr. bin Laden to push you over the edge. All it takes is selected battlefield footage and a little ad hoc encouragement: a jihadist chat group here, a radical imam there — whether in your local mosque or on a Web site in your local computer.”

    • Posted November 28, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      This quote shows exactly why Wright is overstating his case: battlefield footage may give an extra push, but it really needs a welcoming group of extremists to reel them in fully.

      I think it’s ridiculous to blame the media here. It would make far more sense to blame the Christians who are treating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a holy war.

    • santitafarella
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Deen:

      Are you willfully misreading Wright, or just skimming the quote? Wright is saying, as explicitly as possible, that fundamentalists putting forward fundamentalist memes via the Internet are responsible for Maj. Hasan.

      Wright is not “blaming America” for Maj. Hasan (as Coyne weirdly imagines), nor is Wright blaming the media. He’s blaming fundamentalists exploiting the psychology of military occupation to inflame unbalanced people via the Internet.

      By distorting what Wright said, and making it appear that Wright is muddle-headed in his patriotism because he’s trying to cut religion some slack, is really disappointing. I trust Coyne to characterize things properly (even when I disagree with him), but in this instance (and in the Shermer instance of his earlier post this weekend) he’s (in my view) distorting positions to score (dubious) points. I don’t think that secularism is served well by Sean Hannity-like distortions of other liberals’ opinions. If you’re going to disagree with somebody, at least disagree with what they actually said, not the straw man that you are looking to rhetorically crucify and set the bonfire of outrage under.

      —Santi

      • Posted November 28, 2009 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        You haven’t withdrawn or offered to re-do those creepy remarks about assassination. You’ve got muck on you.

      • santitafarella
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        I did explain myself. See above where you asked me about it.

        —Santi

      • Posted November 28, 2009 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

        Santi, I’ve read both Coyne’s post, as well as Wright’s article, and I think it’s more likely that you’re the one who missed the point. Wright’s main argument clearly is that the “war on terrorism” helps breed more extremists. I happen to agree with that, actually, since the data clearly shows that this is in fact what has happened. Also see my response to Irene Delse above. I just think he’s going too far by claiming that this is what “created Major Hasan”.

        However, Coyne’s criticism is also obvious: Wright appears to downplay the role of religion. Extremists don’t just get pushed by what they see in the media or on the internet, they get pulled in by existing religious fanatics. They need a fertile breeding ground to be there to begin with.

        Being “muddle-headed in his patriotism” doesn’t seem to factor into Coyne’s criticism at all. No idea where you got that idea. It’s certainly not my problem with Wright’s article – I’m not particularly convinced of the value of patriotism to begin with.

      • santitafarella
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

        Deen:

        Coyne engages in an implicit defaming of Wright’s patriotism as an American citizen from the very beginning of Coyne’s piece. Here’s exactly what Coyne said:

        “The title of Wright’s piece is ‘Who created Major Hasan?’, and of course the answer is ‘America!'”

        That “of course” is not innocent. It’s a cynical observation of Wright’s deepest commitment (not to nation, but to religion). Coyne clearly intends to imply that Wright’s love of religion trumps his love of country. Coyne also said:

        “Wright explicitly blames American belligerence against Islam as the force producing the Fort Hood shooting spree by Major Nidal Hasan.”

        In other words, Coyne is saying that Wright is shifting the buck for Maj. Hasan’s existence from religion (where it belongs) to America (where it doesn’t).

        Of course, Coyne has completely and spectacularly missed Wright’s point. Wright does not explicitly (or even implicitly) blame America for Maj. Hasan. He blames three interacting factors:

        1. Islamic fundamentalism
        2. The American military occupation of two Islamic countries
        3. The ability of the Internet to facilitate inflamatory propaganda and the networking of fanatics

        There is absolutely no blaming of “America” in any of this. It’s a policy decision that American policy makers have to struggle with: if we are going to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan we have to deal with unstable rogue gunmen and terrorists nurtured by resentments picked up from other fundamentalists on the Internet.

        Wright doesn’t downplay the role of religion in the terrorism problem. He heightens it and identifies it with precision. And it’s a precision that makes Coyne uncomfortable (because it messes with Coyne’s pet broad stroke thesis: Islam is a beligerent religion).

        Thus what Coyne has done in his post (rhetorically) comes right out of the Fox News playbook: If you say, “America should get out of Afghanistan”, you can expect a Fox News host to retort: “Why do you hate America so much?” The distinction between American foreign policy and America is simply dropped from the equation so that one can say of another American (as Coyne did of Wright):

        “”The title of Wright’s piece is ‘Who created Major Hasan?’, and of course the answer is “America!”

        —Santi

      • newenglandbob
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        Santi:

        Your number 2 IS the blaming of America.

        You Fox playbook paragraph is pure strawman and fictitious.

        Deen explicitly addressed your post point by point and all you do is repeat your points. Respond to Deen instead.

      • santitafarella
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

        Bob,

        You don’t buy my distinction between America and American foreign policy?

        Fine.

        But surely you don’t deny that the military occupation of two Islamic countries, mixed with fundamentalist zeal on the Internet, make for a rather toxic stew, do you?

        And if you agree, how on Earth is this, in any sense, blaming America for Maj. Hasan? Coyne tries to leave the reader with the impression that Wright has downplayed religion’s complicity in the tragedy of Maj. Hasan and put it on America, when, in fact, Wright has set religion at center stage (specifically, fundamentalist religion). Wright’s argument is not even coherent without fundamentalist religion at its center.

        —Santi

      • Posted November 28, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

        Oh, yuck – this is low even for you, Mr Tafarella.

        Coyne engages in an implicit defaming of Wright’s patriotism as an American citizen from the very beginning of Coyne’s piece.

        That is truly gutter stuff. He does no such thing, and what a sleazy smarmy self-righteous accusation.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

        Michael Shermer’s position is also being ripped apart by most people on Richard Dawkins web site.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

        Oh, and one other point Santi:

        The biggest ‘toxic stew’ is Islam itself. The Koran calls for killing all Christians and Jews in particular and all non-believers in general. Combine this with the lack of most freedoms in Muslim dominated countries and the misogyny, homophobia, Xenophobia and lack of representative governments as well as Islamic fatwas and madrases then you have hit upon the real problem, not the stuff that Wright produces.

      • santitafarella
        Posted November 28, 2009 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

        Bob,

        I think that you’re essentializing Islam and the Koran in ways that aren’t taking into account historical and contingent factors. And Islam is not a monoculture. One of Wright’s points is to make distinctions and make friends with moderate and liberal trends within Islam. Why alienate friends by making blanket statements? Look at Iran this past year? Talk about complexity! And aren’t those liberalizing students wonderful? Maybe they are the future of Islam in Iran, and maybe they’ll be more liberal in governing than their parents have been. And if they still call themselves Muslims at the end of the day, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, is it?

        —Santi

      • Posted November 29, 2009 at 6:44 am | Permalink

        Why alienate friends by making blanket statements?

        And yet, as we’ve been pointing out, it’s Wright who’s making blanket statements when he says things like “Islam isn’t an intrinsically belligerent religion”.

  21. Michelle B
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Is it just me, or is Slim’s prose so outlandish that Poul Anderson would be envious of it? I do not understand most of the words Slim is writing. Santi’s stuff may be dreckish, but at least I follow his dreckish line of dreckish thinking. But with Slim, no such luck.

    One yelping of Slim’s that did manage to standout with some clarity is his harping on atheists hating religion and their not admitting this hatred (even if his suspicion is true what bearing would it have on the fact that there is no evidence for religious ideas? Seems like some furious goalpost shifting).

    Most atheists find religion to consist of a banal bunch of ideas to which they are mostly indifferent. It is the sexism, the racism, the sectarianism, the homophobia, etc. that we are passionately against (not necessarily hate).

    Anyways, despite not understanding most of Slim’s stuff, I am concluding he is a windbag.

    • Slim
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      B

      Fairly good joke, interesting reference. I bet you smiled when that popped into your head, feel very satisfied I bet.

      Bottom line, B, Hitchens is RIGHT, Wright is WRONG.

      Got it? Good. The stuff with Benson is to be expected (psst. she’s a zealot don’t you know, very unpleasant to theist too).

  22. Posted November 28, 2009 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    RE: The dangers of religious intolerance and ignorance!?

    I am very surprised that Ophelia Benson, a coauthor of the book Does God Hate Women? couldn’t comprehend the extensive influences of a religion on the extremely religious people — especially (both implicitly and explicitly) on their psychosexual perspectives and beliefs as Santitafarella tries to point out above — just as in a very superficial (the 19th-century British imperialistic) way that Hitchens has had not found much beauty in Wright’s (a commoner’s) prose in his recent NYT Op-Ed piece Who Created Major Hasan?

    I thought Santitafarella has had insightfully gutted out the interplays of the religious psychosexual and the sociopolitical dynamism and terrorism that both Hitchens and Benson have had ignored — or been unable to admit and comprehend, because of their commitments to the anti-religious polemics as propagated in the irrationalist neo-atheism — as one that I long pointed out in Let’s begin the Dialogue and Reconciliation of Science and Religion Now! — RE: Point of clarification: How irrationalists lost their sensibility to other people’s religiosity (in particular) or spirituality (in general)!? (PhysForumEU; July 5).

    Best wishes, Mong 11/28/9usct5:36p; practical science-philosophy critic; author “Decoding Scientism” and “Consciousness & the Subconscious” (works in progress since July 2007), Gods, Genes, Conscience (iUniverse; 2006) and Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now (blogging avidly since 2006).

  23. santitafarella
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Ophelia:

    Since you say that Coyne did not mean to slight Wright’s patriotism, would you please tell us what this sentence means, exactly, and what his “of course” implies:

    “The title of Wright’s piece is ‘Who created Major Hasan?’, and of course the answer is ‘America!’”

    If Coyne was trying to be fair to Wright, why didn’t he drop the “of course” and use the phrase “American foreign policy”? Like this:

    “The title of Wright’s piece is ‘Who created Major Hasan?’, and his answer is American foreign policy.”

    —Santi

  24. newenglandbob
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Santi,

    I will answer down here because that thread chain is too long.

    I understand the attempt people are making to negotiate and befriend more moderate and liberalized Islamic components. This is what the US military is doing also in Iraq and now Afghanistan. That is what the Obama administration is trying to do in Iran and North Korea and Pakistan. But there is still the huge elephant in the room. It is not just a small fringe element calling for the death of Americans and non-Islamic people. It is not a small fringe element, but millions who cheered the slaughter of several thousand innocent people on 9/11/01. It is not just a fringe element who are murdering many Muslims in the name of god or suppressing women by the tens of millions. That elephant needs to be addressed. Hitchens gets this very correct in his debates and writings.

    • santitafarella
      Posted November 28, 2009 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

      Bob,

      I’m not interested in being an apologist for Islam, and I recognize that there are a lot of terrorist sympathizers in the Muslim world. No doubt. My question is: Why? I suspect it has a good deal to do with growing up in failed economies, and getting atrocious educations. Did you know, for example, that with all of Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth, the per capita income of the average Saudi has been in steep decline for at least a decade? People become receptive to extreme religious and political messages when they see enormous wealth disparities and feel hopeless.

      If Saudi Arabia was culturally atheist (for example), and under enormous stress, atheist ideologies (say, Nietzsche’s will to power) could give ample excuse to people to engage in terrorism. Conrad’s novels (as well as Dostoevsky’s) sometimes meditate on the possibilities of secular terrorism. The books of the religious (and irreligious) are probably neutral when people are living in win-win socio-economic situations, but turn toxic under stressful conditions. Indeed, the bad passages in the religious books probably got in there precisely under stressful conditions of war and power struggles—and the nicer passages when peace and generosity had more leeway to flourish. It’s not like the old books were written in a vaccuum. People take up book passages that meet the challenges of their times—and that includes atheists. In a time of peace, atheists might read Stephen Gould and Paul Kurtz. In a time of war they might carry Thus Spoke Zarathustra in their pockets.

      Which passages in Gould or Nietzsche give us the essence of atheism? I say that there are none. Likewise, I say the same of the Koran with regards to the essence of Islam.

      —Santi

      • Posted November 29, 2009 at 7:12 am | Permalink

        Why? I suspect it has a good deal to do with growing up in failed economies, and getting atrocious educations.

        Santi, if people here were arguing that sociological and economical factors are not involved, I’d be right there with you pointing this out. Unfortunately for you, nobody here thinks that. Misery clearly makes people seek out religion more. But don’t forget that religion is also uniquely well adapted to preying on people in misery, with their claims of certainty in a world of chaos, and their promises of a wonderful afterlife, if only you follow their rules. Never mind if it actually increases misery in this life.

        Which passages in Gould or Nietzsche give us the essence of atheism? I say that there are none. Likewise, I say the same of the Koran with regards to the essence of Islam.

        Since there is no atheist dogma, there are no holy books of atheism, and neither Gould nor Nietsche are prophets of atheism, your comparison fails quite spectacularly.

  25. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    irrationalist neo-atheism

    Em, “neo-atheism”, or rather atheism as understood today, is hyper-rationalist. Always have been, always will be. Read Dawkins, Bennett (AFIAU) or Stenger for to see that a majority of the latest authors are using rationality.

    How can they not? Atheism is what you get after throwing out irrational belief in nowhere to be observed non-natural phenomena.

    Deluded exceptions [such as Hitchens, if he really is a believer in Marxism] “only enforce the rule”, you know. 😀

  26. whyevolutionistrue
    Posted November 29, 2009 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    ok, we’re going to stop the personal attacks now. I will delete any posts on this thread that contain invective or non-productive argument

    • Slim
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      Even if it came from NewEnglandBob?

      Why would I doubt that whyevolutionistrue?

      • Slim
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        Quick

        Everyone do time stamped screen shots. I’ve done the entire discussion, twice. As of 11:35am ET U.S.

      • Posted November 29, 2009 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        Oh hooray, so all your irreplaceable invective is saved for posterity. Good job!

        Who’s publishing it? OUP? Harvard?

    • Occam
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Dear Jerry,

      About time you put your foot down, too.
      This thread has got seriously derailed, seriously deranged, and a few contributions are downright sickening.

      WEIT deserves a lot better. I can’t remember such a collective letdown.

  27. santitafarella
    Posted November 29, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Deen,

    In your most recent comment just above, you said, “But don’t forget that religion is also uniquely well adapted to preying on people in misery . . .”

    I agree with you, and I accept your point that atheism does not have holy books with icky passages. But I’d ask you to absorb my larger point: Under stress people reach for what is at hand. You are right that there are obscene passages in the religious books well adapted to times of war, and for a multitude of other situations. Religions are highly adaptive. But I’d like you to consider this: Atheism is highly adaptive too. Atheists also have a tradition—the secular tradition—and in times of stress, atheists also reach for ideas, and my question is, “What ideas do they reach for?”

    In times of war an atheist might well turn to Nietzsche, or pull Machiavelli’s “The Prince” from the shelf, not as sacred texts, but as guides for action, and the justifying of actions. An atheist soldier in Afghanistan might well get quite cynical and start reading Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” (with Kurtz’s dark admonition near the end of the novella to “Kill them all”). Atheism, in other words, may not treat Nietzsche or Machiavelli or Conrad as holy writ, but atheism does not exist in a vacuum. Like religious ideas, secular ideas are sought out in different contexts. I’m suggesting that atheism is no more or less prone to violence than religion—and that violence advocating secular books and ideologies, in stressful situations, are just as easily brought from the shelf and used for violent justifications as religious ones. You don’t need holy books to find justifications for violence, you just need to pull down Hagel or Marx or Darwin from the shelf and read them in a certain way. My thesis is that a world without religion wouldn’t be any less violent or ethically horrifying than a world with religion. It would be about the same.

    —Santi

    • Posted November 29, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      I’d say an atheist would be far more likely to reach out to science than grab any of the books you mention.

      Like religious ideas, secular ideas are sought out in different contexts.

      Yes, but unlike religious ideas, secular ideas are open to discussion, verification and change.

      • santitafarella
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        Deen,

        It depends on who holds them. I don’t think that you would have gotten very far reasoning with Stalin or Mao or Robespierre (all adherents to secular ideologies).

        —Santi

    • newenglandbob
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Secularism and atheism are two distinct ideas. One is to separate government from any religion influence and the other is non belief in any deity. Neither idea owe anything to Nietzsche or pull Machiavelli. I believe in secularism and I am an atheist and I distance myself from both of the dogmas from Nietzsche and Machiavelli.

      Stalin and Mao and Robespierre were totalitarians – another dogma.

  28. santitafarella
    Posted November 29, 2009 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Deen:

    Here’s another question (related to Coyne’s post). While you don’t think that a young atheist might turn to Conrad or Nietzsche in a time of war or stress, you would agree that they might turn to Coyne and Harris, right?

    Well, Coyne and Harris appear to have both thrown-in rather vocally with the neoconservative thesis that the terrorism problem is Islam qua Islam. What’s the difference between a young atheist, getting that message from Coyne and Harris, and a young Baptist getting that message from Billy Graham, Jr.? Coyne, Harris, and Graham are all making arguments that make intuitive sense to their specific audiences, and arriving at a similar conclusion, right? (Islam qua Islam poses an existential threat to Western civilization.) And logically taking that position assists the argument of those beating the drums of military escalation in Iran and Afghanistan, right?

    —Santi

    • newenglandbob
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      Santi, this is so off base that it is disgusting. Every sentence here is offensive and wrong.

    • Posted November 29, 2009 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      … you would agree that they might turn to Coyne and Harris, right?

      Wrong. I think most atheists, young or old, have far less of an authoritarian mindset than you seem to project onto them.

      Yes, Coyne does seem to think there’s something wrong with the teachings of Islam, more so than with those of Christianity. That doesn’t make Coyne the same as Billy Graham jr. Coyne doesn’t decide over our salvation. Coyne doesn’t have the power to cast us out from any community. As such, we are much more free to disagree with Coyne than a young Baptist would be to disagree with Graham. And we do disagree with Coyne. All the time. I’ve done so in this thread, and I’ll probably do it again.

      And logically taking that position assists the argument of those beating the drums of military escalation in Iran and Afghanistan, right?

      Wrong again. Military action does not logically follow from having problems with the teachings of Islam.

      • santitafarella
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

        Deen:

        You’re more hopeful than I am about the atheist project (“imagine no religion”). I, personally, don’t think that atheists are immune from deference to authority or groupthink, or have a better handle on these problems than other groups. I also don’t think that an atheist America would be a less demonizing or violent America than (the current) majority Christian America. I think it would be about the same. People would just find other rationales for what they do. They wouldn’t actually change how they live or relate to one another. Oh, and if they wanted to start a war, they’d find nice secular arguments to justify their overgeneralizations and objectifications of the “other.”

        It’s easy if you try.

        (Lennon echo intended, I suppose.)

        —Santi


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