Luke Savage’s vicious (and misleading) atheist bashing

I’d never heard of Jacobin magazine before, so I looked it up, and it’s characterized by Wikipedia like this:

Jacobin is a quarterly “magazine of culture and polemic” based in New York. Its self-styled raison d’être is as a “leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture”. The publication began as an online magazine released in September 2010, but expanded into a print journal later that year.Jacobin has been described by its publisher as a radical publication, “largely the product of a younger generation not quite as tied to the Cold War paradigms that sustained the old leftist intellectual milieus like Dissent or New Politics.”

I was curious because several readers called my attention to an article in Jacobin by Luke Savage (someone I can’t find out much about) called “New Atheism, Old Empire.” And its subtitle tells you the point: “The ‘New Atheists’ have gained traction because they give intellectual cover to Western imperialism.”

What? That’s a new one on me. New Atheists are all engaged in justifying imperialism? I was going to show the header picture, but (probably realizing the falsity of this blanket claim) Jacobin changed the picture since yesterday: it formerly featured a montage of Bill Maher, Lawrence Krauss, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, and Richard Dawkins, few of whom could be considered defenders of imperialism. Now only Hitchens is shown.

Savage’s piece is a vile and splenetic polemic, centered mainly on Hitchens and Sam Harris, and much is made (and distorted) about their views. Certainly Hitchens did support the invasion of Iraq, but he and Harris are made to look as if they crave an all-out war with the Middle East, with the object of finally ridding the world of Muslims. The piece also attacks New Atheism by making the usual assertion that religion isn’t based on truth claims (as the NA’s argue), so we’re all misguided. Nor, says Savage, is religion a monolith, so you simply can’t criticize, say, Islam, as if it were.

I am so tired of writers recycling the same canards about New Atheism, and in the process either willfully or stupidly mischaracterizing religion, that I won’t write much about this long article. You can read it for yourself—but do so only if you are of a phlegmatic nature.

Here are a few of Savage’s tactics, and I’ll give one example of each.

1. Mischaracterizing New Atheists as bloodthirsty and imperialistic. Here’s a summary of what Savage thinks:

At face value, and by its own understanding, New Atheism is a reinvigorated incarnation of the Enlightenment scientism found in the work of thinkers like Bacon and Descartes: a critical discourse that subjects religious texts and traditions to rational scrutiny by way of empirical inquiry and defends universal reason against the forces of provincialism.

In practice, it is a crude, reductive, and highly selective critique that owes its popular and commercial success almost entirely to the “war on terror” and its utility as an intellectual instrument of imperialist geopolitics.

Whereas some earlier atheist traditions have rejected violence and championed the causes of the Left — Bertrand Russell, to take an obvious example, was both a socialist and a unilateralist — the current streak represented by Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris has variously embraced, advocated, or favorably contemplated: aggressive war, state violence, the curtailing of civil liberties, torture, and even, in the case of the latter, genocidal preemptive nuclear strikes against Arab nations.

The one thing Savage gets right is that what’s “new” about New Atheism is its infusion with science and the desire to examine religious doctrines with empiricism and reason. But, as we’ll see in a minute, Savage thinks that’s a fool’s errand.

As for the imperialism and bloodthirstiness of New Atheists, you can get that only by extreme cherry-picking, as in the case of Sam’s musings about torture. Those were Gedankenexperiments, of course. And those “genocidal preemptive nuclear strikes”? Another philosophical thought experiment, as are most of the statements that Savage uses to paint Sam as a genocidal maniac. Hitchens was opposed to totalitarianism in all forms, which is the reason he unwisely favored the Iraq war, but favoring the curtailing of civil liberties? Really? Didn’t Hitchens stand up against the fatwas and the suppression of the Danish cartoons as violations of freedom of expression?

And Dawkins, of course, is known for being opposed to war in nearly all cases. Dawkins has certainly criticized Islam (and all religions: his book isn’t called The Allah Delusion), but I’m not aware of a single instance of his advocating violence to rid the world of faith. Readers can correct me if I’m wrong. Savage’s midcharacterization of New Atheism comes through misunderstanding and—>go to  #2:

2. Quoting out of context. I’ve already alluded to several examples involving Harris. Here’s another:

In extremely sinister fashion, Harris has mused about the birthrates of European Muslims and the supposed peril of their prolific breeding. The notion of a demographic “threat” posed by Muslims in Europe is easy to debunk empirically.

Even if this weren’t the case, the sordid subtext of these remarks is confirmed by Harris’s favorable treatment of far-right figures, who speak openly of the demographic dangers posed by Muslims. In Letter to a Christian Nation, Harris makes his sympathies explicit, declaring: “With a few exceptions, the only public figures who have had the courage to speak honestly about the threat that Islam now poses to European societies seem to be fascists.”

If Savage really read Harris’s book, then he has willfully distorted the last quotation. Did Savage somehow miss that Harris thinks the involvement of right-wingers in criticizing Islam was a bad thing?  Sam was of course bemoaning the unholy alliance between New Atheists (most of whom are liberals) and right-wingers when it comes to criticizing Islam. He wants to change that situation and help liberals recognize that Islam is a danger, despite their misguided tendencies to sympathize with Islam as the faith of the underdog. Harris was not being sympathetic to fascism!

3. Characterizing criticism of Islam as “racism”.   Savage says this:

Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins have all rejected the notion that there is anything racist about statements of this kind or the prescriptions that so often follow from them: “Muslims aren’t a race,” being by now a particularly worn phrase in the New Atheist rhetorical repertoire. Harris and Hitchens have also dismissed the term “Islamophobia” as a tool for silencing their arguments. According to the latter: “A stupid term — Islamophobia — has been put into circulation to try and suggest that a foul prejudice lurks behind any misgivings about Islam’s infallible ‘message.’”

Given that “race” is an entirely social construct, with a history that involves the systemic racialization of various national, ethnic, and religious minorities, this defense is extremely flimsy. The excessive focus on Islam as something at once monolithic and exceptionally bad, whose backwards followers need to have their rights in democratic societies suppressed and their home countries subjected to a Western-led civilizing process, cannot be called anything other than racist.

First of all, I reject the notion of “race” as a purely social construct. Human populations differ genetically, and that’s what biologists mean by “race”.  Of course, as I’ve said repeatedly, the genetic differences between human populations are not large, and also blur into one another, so that grouping them into distinct “races” is a futile task.  But the fact that there are genetically different populations is not therefore a “social construct”. It is a social construct to say “there are x different races and here they are. . “. Nevertheless, if you use lots of genes you can show populations grouping into larger groups that can be statistically distinguished. One could call these “races,” if you’re cognizant of what that means and of the blighted history of the term.

But even in that biological sense, Muslims are not a race. Middle Eastern Muslims are genetically different from Indonesian Muslims, and both are genetically different from Somali Muslims. What they have in common is not genetic cohesion, but a common set of beliefs in the dictates of the Qur’an. Criticism of Islam is not criticism of human beings (as is, for example, anti-Semitism) but criticism of their beliefs; and the humans who hold those beliefs don’t constitute a “race.”  Muslims are no more a race than are Christians or Jews.

And what about Christianity? Sam, after all, wrote Letter to a Christian Nation. He construes Christianity as no more a monolith than is Islam, and is clearly aware that there are differences between sects. But there are commonalities, too, and the commonalities that are harmful are what New Atheists worry about.  So are Christians a race? Is criticism of Christianity, which all New Atheists do with regularity, also “racism”? If not, why not? If Savage’s argument is carried to its extreme, it renders Islam (and all religions) immune to criticism because anyone so doing can be deemed a racist.

4. Arguing that religion really isn’t based on beliefs about what’s true. Savage neither mentions a single harm of religion nor even accepts that many religious people do harm based on their understanding of religious doctrine as what God wants—an empirical claim. As he says:

The typical New Atheist text scrutinizes religious myths without attention to, or even awareness of, the multiplicity of social and theological debates they have provoked, the manifold ideological guises their interpreters have assumed, or the secular belief systems they have helped to influence.

Moreover, the core assertion that forms the discursive nucleus [JAC note: bad writing!] of books like The God Delusion, God is Not Great, and The End of Faith — namely, that religious texts can be read as literal documents containing static ideas, and that the ensuing practices are uniform — is born out by neither real, existing religion or by its historical reality as a socially and ideologically heterogeneous phenomenon. As Terry Eagleton puts it in a discussion of God is Not Great:

“Hitchens argues earnestly that the Book of Genesis doesn’t mention marsupials; that the Old Testament Jews couldn’t have wandered for forty years in the desert; that the capture of the huge bedstead of the giant Og, King of Bashan, might never have happened at all, and so on. This is rather like someone vehemently trying to convince you, with fastidious attention to architectural and zoological detail, that King Kong could not possibly have scaled the Empire State Building because it would have collapsed under his weight.”

Contrary to the crude epistemology of rational scientism, religions are not rigid “doctrines” that followers obey uniformly, regardless of their social or material contexts.

Yes, Terry Eagleton’s view of religion is certainly that of most believers (NOT)! He might as well have quoted Karen Armstrong, too. But why not Pat Robertson, any of the numerous imams who proclaim rigid and harmful interpretations of the Qur’an, or the Christian rightists who have a monolithic opposition to abortion, women’s rights, and gay rights? What Savage is doing here is covering with a blanket of fuzzy words the truth that religious doctrine really is in many cases fairly monolithic, often harmful, and frequently differing among sects mainly in degree. You will find relatively few Muslims in the world who espouse gay rights, but you will find many Muslims who don’t want to execute gays.

The beginning of the case for New Atheism involves demonstrating that religion is more than a social club, more than a set of metaphorical stories to help teach beneficent morals, more than a way to feel connected to the rest of humanity. It is largely a system of beliefs about what is real, and that is what makes it harmful, for what it thinks is real (including God’s will) is false. Yes, even a single faith is heterogenous, but that doesn’t make that faith, or moieties of that faith, harmless.  Nor does it mean that no religionist acts according to the dictates of their faith.  They do. In the end, Savage’s attack on New Atheism completely ignores the harm that is done by accepting as real things that are palpably false.  He uses the most liberal construals of religion—those of Eagleton or Armstrong—as the kind or religion that fills the world.

He’s wrong, of course, and I need not demonstrate that here. If you want to see such a discussion, wait six months and read my book, which begins by showing that many believers actually do see the claims of religion as empirical truths.

It still mystifies me that the Left, which is supposed to embrace Enlightenment values, is so loath to criticize the faiths that continually try to dismantle those values.

87 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted December 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    sub

    • francis
      Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      //

      • Diane G.
        Posted December 5, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

        //

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 7, 2014 at 4:01 am | Permalink

          unsub (?)

  2. Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  3. Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I saw this circulating on Facebook the other day. It struck me as near-plagiarism, since its points are a clumsy medly of well-known recent criticisms. A discussion ensued on the imperialism aspect, in which I asked if Amnesty International or the Universal Declaration on Human Rights are imperialistic. The answer appears to be “yes.” The lesson: when someone decides to call you “imperialist” or “racist,” they immediately win the internet. Your only option is to concede and apologize.

    • steve oberski
      Posted December 5, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      No, no, no, the thing to do at that point is to mention Hitler and the Nazis which trumps “imperialist” and “racist” and will immediately shut down that thread.

  4. revelator60
    Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    When Hitchens died, N+1, another leftist journal, complained that he spent so much time on atheism when he could have been promoting anti-capitalism instead. And if you’ll recall, Eagleton has attacked Dawkins for holding liberal positivist views.

    So I think part of the far left’s beef is that New Atheists are not left-enough or Marxist-enough. Many members of far-Left are already atheists (in the way that classical Marxists were), but they view anti-capitalism as a far more pressing goal.
    They seem to have forgotten that the far left has failed to present a viable alternative to capitalism, and while they might despise liberals (not to be confused with neo-liberals), those liberals are trying to effectively ameliorate the consequences of unrestrained capitalism. The New Atheist standpoint is essentially a liberal one–even Hitchens, despite supporting the Iraq war, was mostly liberal on other issues. While I’m sympathetic to the far-left, it’s liberal politics that has a better chance of achieving practical results, especially in a country as conservative as the US.

    • Draken
      Posted December 5, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      If you so sincerely despise capitalism, wouldn’t the logical consequence be that you refrain from using its most prominent fruits? And that includes the computer you’re typing your anticapitalist screeds on.

      It certainly wasn’t developed to its current form in a communist country or fashion.

      Oh, it’s largely produced in a nominally communist country, but sure as hell not in a kolkhoz where the workers have the least say in the matter.

      • Draken
        Posted December 5, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        For the sake of clarity, ‘you’ in my comment doesn’t refer to revelator60 of course.

      • Filippo
        Posted December 5, 2014 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

        “If you so sincerely despise capitalism . . . .”

        To congenially inquire, what do you think of the terms “human capital” and “human resource,” as compared to (flesh-and-blood) “human being” or “person”?

        Certainly, “capital” and “resource” accurately-enough describe the Romneyesque venture capitalist’s perception of the flesh-and-blood human being not closely related to himself, eh? (That’s why “personnel” was replaced, eh?) The venture capitalist surely views children (kindergartners) not his own as “capital” to eventually exploit as he sees fit so as to increase his share of the economic pie.

      • Posted December 6, 2014 at 1:50 am | Permalink

        Sorry but this is now a nonsense argument akin to “if you hate America so much why don’t you move elsewhere”. Computers aren’t any more capitalist than plows are feudalist.

  5. Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I had a brief Tw***er exchange with the author. We didn’t really come to any sort of agreement, but it was a pleasant and respectful exchange.

    I think Savage fears that right-wing Islamophobes benefit from some of the arguments that New Atheists make. Savage’s mistake lies in assuming that the New Atheists in question intend this benefit. But it’s worth taking seriously. If I thought that odious people with views I despise were taking my words out of context and pressing them to a purpose I do not endorse, I would speak out about it. I would take great pains to criticize those odious people at every opportunity, to make sure that no thinks that I support them in any way.

    I’ve often heard Sam Harris deny that he is an Islamophobe. Less often, I’ve heard him admit that Islamophobia exists and is a genuine problem. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard him identify and criticize actual Islamophobia. If I were him, I would go out of my way to criticize actual Islamophobia, and if he doesn’t, then he shouldn’t be surprised when people don’t realize he’s against it.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      I think Sam Harris does speak out against Islamophobis but his words are drowned out by those shouting, “racist!” so you don’t hear them. A case in point is on Real Time in his confrontation with Ben Affleck. Sam clearly says that we should support Muslims who criticize Islam and that he is not advocating harming all Muslims, however, he is so shot down that no one hears him make those points.

      • Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        Exactly, it’s as though we’re not supposed to care about all the muslims who doubt, who question, who want to leave islam or join something else. It’s not our place to care about persecuted members of the more progressive Bahai faith or the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who are repressed and outlawed in a number of conservative islamic countries. Their suffering vanishes in a puff of post-modern hot air about imperialism.

        • matt
          Posted December 5, 2014 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

          Harris has addressed that stuff ad naseum, and then spent three hours discussing it all on The Young Turks. you have to be illiterate or intellectually dishonest to misunderstand him at this point, IMO.

          • Posted December 6, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

            Yes, harris has addressed that stuff as nauseum, for all the good it’s done him. That is my point. I’m suggesting he try a different approach.

            The bottom line is that the way Harris talks about what he talks about convinces many people that he is a bigot. That’s a problem, and it doesn’t actually matter whose fault it is. If he wants a different result, he should employ a different strategy, and that’s what I’m suggesting. Instead of just saying “What I do is not Islamophobia”, he should point out things that are Islamophobia, and then distinguish the two. Harris spends a lot of time attacking Glenn Greenwald and Reza Aslan, but I’ve never heard him say much about Pam Gellar or Frank Gaffney.

            • GBJames
              Posted December 6, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

              You seem to have gotten things upside down somehow. There is nothing that Sam Harris can do to correct willful dishonest misrepresentation of what he actually says. The Greenwalds and Aslans of this world are intent on protecting Islam from direct criticism and will do so whenever they encounter it.

              It is Harris’ responsibility to express himself as clearly as possible and he does a very good job in that regard. Blaming him for the dishonest mischaracterizations of others is off the mark, IMO.

              • Posted December 7, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

                I’m not blaming him, and I’m not talking about dishonest critics.

                I think I’ve expressed myself very clearly, and yet you haven’t understood me at all. Maybe that’s my fault, maybe that’s your fault (whatever that may mean without free will), but what difference does that make? Even if it is somehow your fault, it’s still possible that you would understand me correctly if I explained myself differently. And that’s no less true if it’s my fault. Blame simply doesn’t matter.

            • GBJames
              Posted December 7, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

              “…the way Harris talks about what he talks about convinces many people that he is a bigot.”

              OK. You don’t want to blame him (or anyone). But you clearly attribute responsibility for the people calling him a bigot.

              Sam Harris could comment about Pam Gellar until the cows come home. It would make no difference. People simply ignore his comments on this subject, as you seem to have done. He has repeatedly has addressed this.

              “…to express my concern that the political correctness of the Left has made it taboo to even notice the menace of political Islam, leaving only right-wing fanatics to do the job. Such fanatics are, as I thought I made clear, the wrong people to do this, being nearly as bad as jihadists themselves. I was not praising fascists: I was arguing that liberal confusion and cowardice was empowering them.”

              You can read more if you have a mind to.

              • Posted December 8, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

                No, not “responsibility”. I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean. I think there is a causal connection between what Harris says and what people think he thinks. That’s not unique to him. That’s true of everyone ever.

                (Not for nothing, but it’s also a straightforward application of one of Harris’s own arguments: that there is a causal connection between what the Qur’an says and the beliefs of Muslims.)

                You’re very confident in your view that what I’m suggesting won’t help, but I can’t see where that confidence comes from. You keep quoting examples of Harris not saying what I think he should say, which clearly doesn’t prove anything.

                And you’re overlooking the fact that calling out SPECIFIC examples of Islamophobia is worth doing even if it has no benefit to Harris, because Islamophobia is vile.

              • GBJames
                Posted December 9, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

                My “confidence” is derived from watching for years as apologists for Islam (and religion in general) mischaracterize the positions of “Gnu Atheists” from Harris to Dawkins to Hitchens. And beyond. If you’ve been paying attention you will have noticed the same thing.

                It strikes me as passing strange to hear you deny blaming or assigning responsibility when your whole point is to say that the reason for dishonest mischaracterization is because “he’s doing it wrong”… if only he’d take your sage advice, and just say it with your words, then the would all understand him.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted December 6, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

          It reminds me once again that the mohammedanist world defaced the grave stone of its only science Nobel prize winner Abdus Salam and throw him out as “non-Muslim”. (Or at least the mohammedanist government did: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdus_Salam#Religion .)

          As nearly always, it is the mohammedanists that suffers most under mohammedanism. Secular activities as science are secondary victims when they thrown under the bus with the inherent “Islamophobia” of these sects. Ironically you can’t criticize it without being tarred as operating on ‘Islamophobia’.

          As opposed to the starting comment here my conclusion lies elsewhere, the idea simply doesn’t merit use at all. It isn’t useful, except for shutting down criticism and then it is harmful. “Racism” is on the other hand both useful and precise.

    • Sastra
      Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      I think Savage fears that right-wing Islamophobes benefit from some of the arguments that New Atheists make… If I thought that odious people with views I despise were taking my words out of context and pressing them to a purpose I do not endorse, I would speak out about it.

      I’m curious. How many “right-wing Islamophobes” does Savage think use arguments or quotes from Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, or any other atheist? I suppose a case might be made against Ayaan Hirsi Ali since iirc she joined a conservative thinktank — but do right-wingers ever trot out atheists (especially atheists who take pains to identify themselves as liberals) as great sources and justification?

      • Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        Neoconservatives might.

        • Sastra
          Posted December 5, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

          Possibly, but does Savage have specific examples? Since the genuine Islamophobia of the right usually includes explicit charges of Muslims being the tools of Satan and Christian persecution, it just seems an odd pairing to shove that together with gnu atheism.

          • Posted December 5, 2014 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

            Perhaps [I’m speculating here] Savage would argue that the New Atheists push center/left intellectuals toward alignment with the neocon imperialist agenda. In politics, opinion is like a greedy Venn diagram where 2% agreement with one faction can perversely round up to 100% success for that faction’s goals, when aggregated together with all the other intersecting interests.

      • Posted December 5, 2014 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

        I was just about to make this point. The only time I ever hear right-wing spokespeople talk about a New Atheist is when they’re ranting about how wrong the NA is and how awful society would become if the NA got his or her way.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted December 6, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

          As I’ve mentioned here before, I watch Fox News a lot. (No, i don’t agree with them politically.) They’re very anti-atheist, which reflects statistics on the attitude of Republicans towards atheists. Libertarians are less likely to be anti-atheist than other Republicans.

          I’ve heard one Fox presenter, libertarian Greg Gutfeld say something like, “atheists, like Hitchens, have been warning us about Islam for years, but none of us listened because it was the atheists”. They strongly support Hirsi Ali, but never mention that she’s an atheist.

          If there was a lot of using atheist talking points on the right, at least on Fox News, I think I would’ve heard it.

  6. Jim Parkey
    Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that the issues Harris/Dawkins have with Muslims (mostly Arabic) are more cultural than religiously derived. Imagine if northern Europeans had the Koran instead of the Bible, and Arabs the reverse. Do you imagine Wisconsinites would now be advocating Jihad in numbers similar to Arab Muslims? Or that Arabs wouldn’t base their anger toward the west on selected portions of the Old Testament? The issue seems cultural and geopolitical at root to me.

    • Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      Your scenario is plausible, and is a mirror-image of the status quo in which western and eastern authoritarians seek justification from their respective scriptures. The New Atheists attack the underlying spirit of dogmatic authoritarianism, irrespective of its cultural source. In every culture, in every part of the world, you find groups that demand adherence to their particular interpretation of sacred texts. In some regions these groups can more easily employ force to gain compliance and suppress opposition — this is true in some parts of the US as well as other countries. The overwhelming theme of New Atheist literature is to combat the dogmatic authoritarian impulse and to support pure reason and scientific thinking in its place.

    • Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      We have often discussed religion versus culture here. I think the consensus was that some of the issues about Islam (suppressive codes against women, etc.) had a pre-Islamic origin, but they have long ago been explicitly rolled into the faith. Otherwise they would have gone the way of the Dodo. It is sort of like how Christianity absorbed practices around the olde pagan winter solstice celebrations, but now those things (gift giving, maybe a Yule log) are at least largely Christian.
      There are other things that are Islamic in origin b/c they could not be anything else. The fun game known as kill-the-apostate is an example.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted December 6, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        Yes. Also, attitudes etc in Christianity evolve. Islam doesn’t. It makes a point of not evolving. Islam doesn’t allow criticism, and is the only religion constantly trying to get the United Nations to ban criticism of itself.

    • Posted December 5, 2014 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think you can separate culture from religion like that. You only have a hard time imagining Wisconsinites advocating jihad because you only have experience with a non-Muslim majority in Wisconsin. If culture in Wisconsin had been informed by or developed alongside the Koran, who’s to say the idea of jihad wouldn’t have emerged? The religion informs the culture and vice versa, because religion and culture aren’t two completely discrete things.

      But we can certainly criticize the ideas that take root in a culture, and if that culture says those ideas are their religious ideas, I’ll criticize them as religious ideas.

    • trou
      Posted December 6, 2014 at 12:06 am | Permalink

      One can’t equate violence in the Koran and Bible. In the Koran there are commands to kill apostates but in the Bible there are stories of God commanding certain people be killed (Canaan for ex.). One is ongoing and the other specific instances that happened, but are not commanded to be repeated.
      To please Allah you must defend the faith which may involve violence. To please God I guess you just hate gays and put women in their place.
      In Christianity, the Lord will come back and slay the unbelievers and cast them into hell, but that’s his thing. For now, a Christian is supposed to turn the cheek and love his neighbor- unless they’re gay.
      That’s why there is more violence in Islam. It is still an ongoing command to kill.
      Judaism and Christianity, not so much.
      *Unless you’re a nutjob as we occasionally see.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 6, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      Oh, the abrahamistic basic myth text are bad and only formally kept at bay by the christianist reformation. So yes, essentially correct.

      But when one reads the mohammedanist texts it is also apparent that they are even worse if possible re proposing use of violence and dehumanizing The Other. And directly written for the purpose of brainwashing as opposed to mere ‘historical’ propaganda. (Having three myth personas endlessly repeating themselves.) So it is maximally useful for advocating theocracy over generations.

  7. alexandersafir
    Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    “Giving intellectual cover” is not the same as “justifying imperialism”. That is a sloppy mischaracterization.

    The cited (and quoted) essay is a jumbled grab bag of incoherent rants — I note the typical, eye-roll inducing use of the word “scientism” and some other frothing bits not worth critiquing, but the writer *does* manage to make a good point or two in spite of his own efforts to derail himself.

    One point is quite true: “The typical New Atheist [sic] text is laden with maudlin references to Darwin, Newton, and Galileo…” Contemporary “atheist” literature, like many of the enthusiastic people who consume it, is obsessed with making “Science” into an object unto itself. That is to say, a “fetish”. This “Science” fetish strips science of its method, its public criticism and of its reproducibility, in favor of — well, pretty pictures of Mars and breathless articles about robotics and the like. Like he said, “maudlin”.

    Another (nearly hidden) point is the one in the title. It isn’t that just “atheists” give intellectual cover to political and military goals, but that much of the so-called “rationalist” and “pragmatic” thought we see played out in Right Wing think-tanks is reenforced by Islamic hysteria found among atheist writers. That is what it means to “give cover”.

    Do I need to say that “not all Muslims” are deserving of the label? No serious-minded person is going to go after Catholics or even Mormons with the kind of aggression as shown toward Muslims. These writers, some of whom don’t dissuade people from referring to them as “leaders” don’t also dissuade people from taking the most radical and reactionary interpretations of their overtly radical, reactionary, and tone-deaf positions.

    • Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, but it’s not the task of these New Atheists to go around telling people “I’m not a leader.” They don’t proclaim themselves leaders, and they have better work to do. Give me a break.

      And you’re just wrong about people like Harris, who spends lots of times dispelling misonceptions about his ideas and distancing himself from the right-wing reactionaries.

    • Jeff Rankin
      Posted December 5, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      Showing the results of science is fetishizing science? I don’t get it.

      And would it matter? Science – thinking, process, methodology – is still there isn’t it?

    • Posted December 5, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      If that’s how loosely you’re going to define “give cover,” then new atheists should see absolutely nothing wrong with “giving cover to right wing think-tanks.” What’s the alternative?

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted December 5, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Catholics and Mormons are not behaving in the same way as huge numbers of people and groups are, under the name, self described, of Muslim. Given the criticism they do receive, they would be shown that kind of aggression if their behaviour and stated aims warranted it.

    • Posted December 5, 2014 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      “No serious-minded person is going to go after Catholics…”

      I’ll just leave this here.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted December 6, 2014 at 2:16 am | Permalink

        And I’ll leave (and highly recommend) this.

    • Filippo
      Posted December 6, 2014 at 6:34 am | Permalink

      ‘One point is quite true: “The typical New Atheist [sic] text is laden with maudlin references to Darwin, Newton, and Galileo…” Contemporary “atheist” literature, like many of the enthusiastic people who consume it, is obsessed with making “Science” into an object unto itself. ‘That is to say, a “fetish”.’

      Do you mean ‘an object unto itself’ – and a “fetish” – like some religion (other than ones own, of course, eh)? Care to provide any maudlin references to religious figures?

      ‘That is to say, a “fetish”. This “Science” fetish strips science of its method, its public criticism and of its reproducibility, in favor of — well, pretty pictures of Mars and breathless articles about robotics and the like. Like he said, “maudlin”.

      As if breathlessness does not characterize any religious practitioners.

      Just congenially curious – what’s the proper response to the practically flawless Orion test yesterday (apparently the result of some intense focus (or is intellectual curiosity a “fetish”?) on science, engineering, mathematics and technology over the last several hundred years)? Running through the streets ululating and shooting automatic weapons into the air?

      • Filippo
        Posted December 6, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

        Also, I meant to ask: do you consider the first photos/film of the Earth in space from the late 60’s (re: “Earthrise”) to be “maudlin”?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 6, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      This comment, and in hindsight Savage’s article, nay the whole phenomena of unwarranted trolling of atheism, shouts for an “Crazy-anti-atheist Index” akin to Baez Crackpot Index. [ http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html ]

      Without further ado (except an excuse for the length):

      A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to atheism:

      1. A -5 point starting credit.
      2. 1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false.
      3. 2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous (such as a deepity).
      4. 3 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent.
      5. 5 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.
      6. 5 points for using an argument that contradicts the results of a widely accepted statistics.
      7. 5 points for each word in all capital letters (except for those with defective keyboards).
      8. 5 points for each mention of “Darwin”, Dawkins”, “Harris” or “Hitchens”.
      9. 10 points for each claim that atheism is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
      10. 10 points for pointing out that you are an atheist, as if this were evidence of sanity.
      11. 10 points for beginning the description of atheism by saying how long theologians have been working on it. (10 more for emphasizing that you worked on your own.)
      12. 10 points for arguing that current atheism is “new atheism”, as if this were somehow a point against it.
      13. 10 points for arguing that while current well-established atheism does not describe religion correctly.
      14. 20 points for complaining about the trolling index.
      15. 20 points for suggesting that theology deserve to be listened to.
      16. 20 points for every use of myths as if they were fact.
      17. 20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to religion.
      18. 20 points for talking about how great your religion is, but never actually explaining it.
      19. 20 points for each use of the phrase “scientism”.
      20. 20 points for each use of the phrase “Islamophobia”.
      21. 30 points for suggesting that a famous figure secretly believed.
      22. 30 points for suggesting that Darwin, on his death bed, was converted to religion.
      23. 40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, racists or supremacists.
      24. 40 points for claiming that the “scientific establishment” is engaged in a “conspiracy” to support religion.
      25. 50 points for claiming religion do not make concrete testable predictions.

      This comment rates:

      1.
      -5

      2.
      “One point is quite true: “The typical New Atheist [sic] text is laden with maudlin references to Darwin, Newton, and Galileo…”” +1
      “”Science” fetish” +1
      “Islamic hysteria” +1

      3.
      ““Giving intellectual cover” is not the same as “justifying imperialism”.” + 2
      “is obsessed with making “Science” into an object unto itself.” +2
      “Like he said, “maudlin”.” +2
      ““atheists” give intellectual cover to political and military goals” +2
      ” “not all Muslims” are deserving of the label?” +2
      “going to go after Catholics or even Mormons” +2
      “don’t dissuade people from referring to them as “leaders”” +2
      “overtly radical, reactionary, and tone-deaf positions.” +2
      “”Science” fetish” +2

      8.
      “Darwin”. +5

      9.
      “Contemporary “atheist” literature, like many of the enthusiastic people who consume it, is obsessed with making “Science” into an object unto itself.” +10

      12.
      “quite true: “The typical New Atheist”. +10

      20.
      “Islamic hysteria”. +20

      23.
      “don’t dissuade people from referring to them as “leaders””. +40

      Congratulations! Your comment merits a rating of 101 on the Crazy-anti-atheist Index.

      This “Science” fetish strips science of its method, its public criticism and of its reproducibility, in favor of — well, pretty pictures of Mars and breathless articles about robotics and the like.

      I suppose you are trying to say something here, but you are just not saying it. Photographs of Mars and advances in robotics are both done in science with its methods, available for public criticism and reproducible as any other observation.

      By the way, a “fetish” is not “making [something] into an object unto itself”. Fetishism is imbuing an object with sexual or magical properties. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fetishism ] Your description is either a 1-1 map, which is trivial, or an attempt at a deepity for unsupportable effect.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted December 6, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

        Oy! I forgot the repetitions of the errors Jerry pointed out in the first place:

        5.
        “Islamic hysteria found among atheist writers.” +5

        So a rating of 106.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted December 6, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        Well done! 🙂

  8. Michael
    Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    It’s a little hard to take Savage’s critcisms seriously when he doesn’t even present a single statistic of his own to explain what Muslims or Christians believe in regard to their holy books. It’s a polemic that quotes the targets of his opprobrium without bothering to cite his rebuttals of their opinions. He just assumes his readers will get what he’s saying without taking the time to articulate his points with evidence. It’s essentially a faith-based argument. No wonder he’s so upset with new atheists, who decry exactly that kind of analysis.

    • rickgladwin2014
      Posted December 6, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      +1

      Critical thinking is just SUCH hard work.

  9. Scott Woody
    Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    If only there was a “New Islamisist” movement equally strident and (anti)militant as the New Atheists. I still wouldn’t agree with their philosophy but it would sure be fun to watch.

  10. Kevin
    Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    What exactly does Savage suggest is a better approach to dismantling the epistemologically perjured lives of religious people? Savage may want to think about what science has done for him lately and then consider the alternative.

  11. Posted December 5, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    “This is rather like someone vehemently trying to convince you, with fastidious attention to architectural and zoological detail, that King Kong could not possibly have scaled the Empire State Building because it would have collapsed under his weight.”

    Yes it is silly that we have to do this.

    When people start using King Kong as justification for the mass slaughter of Gorillas, then we will likely need to actually point out that the story is fictional.

    • Posted December 8, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      I might add that this illustrates another worthy point, I think:

      – It isn’t just that the bible (for example) has horrible actual commandments (e.g. the kill gay men thing) but the *examples* it provides are equally horrendous. People learn as much or more from example as from other matters, so all the killing and hell-fire speeches etc. are *endorsed* by preachers and lay people who (for example) call the bible “the good book”. Sure, they may try to weasel out of the examples, but they are *in there* all the same. This is where the fundamentalists are slightly more honest; they point out that the antigay stuff is in there with the “love your neighbour”. In my view liberal Christians and so on should be revising their scriptures (as Jefferson – no Christian but an admirer of some of the better bits – did), but that would give the game up in other ways.

  12. jay
    Posted December 5, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    The left is not about the enlightenment (though many people on the the left are). The left embraced communism, Castro, Hamas, suppression of speech that didn’t fit the ‘approved’ patterns. Many are more worried about capitalism (source of all the word’s problems, doncha know?) than about enlightenment values.

    Anyone who seriously is a scholar of enlightenment would not be at home in either the left or the right.

    • Thanny
      Posted December 6, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Other than ditching the left/right dichotomy, I find the most useful way of thinking about it is that at the extremes, the left and right wrap around and shake hands, congratulating each other on their fascistic pushes for censorship and conformity.

      But make not mistake – Enlightenment values are very much left of center. They just disappear when you go too far left.

  13. Sastra
    Posted December 5, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Moreover, the core assertion that forms the discursive nucleus [JAC note: bad writing!] of books like The God Delusion, God is Not Great, and The End of Faith — namely, that religious texts can be read as literal documents containing static ideas, and that the ensuing practices are uniform

    I consider myself a gnu atheist and have read all those books and don’t recognize Savage’s “core assertion.” On the contrary. As I see it the core assertion is that interpretations of religious texts — as well as the practices of the religious — can and do go all over the place and there is NO way to judge between them because 1.) the supernatural does not exist and there’s ultimately nothing to measure against and 2.) adding “faith” to epistemology makes it a goddam free for all. You’re not supposed to make sense by the world! God is above the world! Now reign this one in.

    Far from assuming there is only one type of religion gnu atheists make a big point that there can’t be one true, wonderful, pure type of spirituality which the “extremists” and “bad guys” have fallen away from. The only measurable metric is sincerity. Otherwise they’re all equally real, all equally true, and if anything the believers who are the least secularized are the most dangerous. Thats is not and can not be used as a point in favor of religion (“why, we’re practically humanists … except that humanism is narrow and cold and bereft of love.”)

    The last thing religion is, is “uniform.” The only things which unite all of them together are the factors which define them as “religion” and not just life philosophies: the supernatural and faith. Anyone who sneers that ha ha that’s not religion apparently thinks religion is a version of atheism.

    • Posted December 5, 2014 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

      “But, Ms. Health Inspector, you’re not appreciating the difference between cockroaches and rats, and I have far more cockroaches than rats in my kitchen.”

      “I appreciate the difference fine. They both carry disease and you have to get rid of them both.”

      • Sastra
        Posted December 6, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        Yes, nice one.

        Or it’s like defending one’s use of homeopathy because it’s so harmless (ie totally inert) — unlike those alternative medicine extremists who take colloidal silver or engage in trepanation. Gosh, it’s like skeptics can’t tell the difference and think it’s all the same. Don’t condemn alternative medicine as a whole just because some people do it wrong.

    • Vaal
      Posted December 6, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      “and if anything the believers who are the least secularized are the most dangerous. “

      I listened to a podcast interview with an ex Muslim and he made an excellent point:

      It’s interesting that the most modernized and liberalized Muslim’s (and Christians) will shun the extreme, crazy-sounding portion of their religion. And yet it’s THAT extreme-sounding portion that is is known as “Fundamentalists.” The people sticking most fundamentally to the words of the holy text. When some Muslims claim “Islam is a religion of peace” it certainly doesn’t help them that those sticking most earnestly to the fundamentals of the text are the least civilized and most violent.

      It doesn’t speak well for the holy text. Same goes for Christianity. Liberal Christians want to hang on to the bible as the go-to book for understanding the message of Our Maker, and atheist can’t help noting that this is a book that, the more of it you take seriously, the crazier and less in touch with reality you end up. And even liberal Christians acknowledge that as well (every time they disassociate themselves from the ridiculous views of Biblical Literalists).

  14. Posted December 5, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Am I allowed to say that if race is purely a social construct, than all stereotyping is racism.

    Including political stereotyping (conservative, liberal, men, women, believer, atheist). In fact, any negative statement about any group would be racism.

    • Posted December 5, 2014 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      I wouldn’t totally disagree. The way I see it, stereotyping is a mechanism for dehumanizing others, often to justify selfish inclinations – from small ones like ignoring information that conflicts with our worldview (like I do to conservatives), to the big ones: oppression, lethal aggression and genocide. Once the other is not human, the judging party is free to act however it suits the objective.

      I think racism is an especially pernicious form of stereotyping because it can be done on sight! The racist doesn’t need any information about the other’s character, beliefs or anything else. Unfortunately, the word “stereotype” is too sterile and clinical, so it doesn’t convey the ugliness you have in the word racism.

      And that’s why “racist” and “Islamaphobe” are such craven smears. Critics want to unload on an inhuman charicature so they don’t have to compromise their own precious worldview and pet ideas. The best thing you can say about it is it’s a sign Gnus are landing blows and hitting nerves and good for them! And happily they have thicker skins than their critics do!

  15. Posted December 5, 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    One of the most important aspects of Hitchens’ work was, as he put it, making a distinction between the numinous and the supernatural.

    To miss that is to misunderstand, misinterpret and generally miss the point of the “New Atheism”.

    Yet, I’ve never once heard any of his critics on the left even mention this, let alone take up a position in relation to it.

    • Posted December 5, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      (Hitchens can be heard talking about this on that “4 Horsemen” vid, with the other three basically agreeing.)

  16. Posted December 5, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on My WordPress Notepad.

  17. Posted December 5, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    From Wikipedia; As a teen John Dobson [best known for the Dobsonian telescope, a portable, low-cost Newtonian reflector telescope]became a “belligerent” atheist. He said: “I could see that these two notions cannot arise in the same being: ‘do unto others as you would that they do unto’ and ‘if you’re not a good boy, it’s into hell for keeps.’… They must be spoofing us. So I became an atheist, a belligerent atheist. If anybody started a conversation about the subject, I was a belligerent atheist.”
    Over time Dobson became interested in the universe and its workings. He earned a masters degree in chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 1943, working in E. O. Lawrence’s lab. In 1944 he attended a lecture by a Vedantan swami. Dobson said the swami “revealed to him a world he had never seen.” That same year Dobson joined the Vedanta Society monastery in San Francisco, becoming a monk of the Ramakrishna Order. “One of John’s responsibilities at the monastery was to reconcile astronomy with the teachings of Vedanta. That job led him to build telescopes on the side. He took to wheeling them around outside the monastery, fascinating the neighbors who would congregate around him.”

  18. Posted December 5, 2014 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    I rarely if ever hear the phrase “Muslims are not a race” used, and quite frankly it has a somewhat sinister sound to it in my ears. Maybe because Muslim’s are every race, including the human race, and in some way that seems almost to imply they aren’t part of any race. The phrase that is ordinarily used is “Islam is not a race” it’s a religion.

    • Thanny
      Posted December 6, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Accountants are not a race.

      Yankees fans are not a race.

      Those statements are precisely as sinister, so perhaps you should reconsider your reasoning.

  19. Posted December 5, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Communism and Nazism are defunct as dynamic messianic ideologies, at least for the time being. For those whose tastes run to saving the world and paving the way to paradise, whether earthly or spiritual, radical Islam is pretty much the only game in town at the moment. Most leftists can’t quite manage the ideological double back flip to medieval religious fanaticism (yet), but obviously many of them can smell the pheromones.

  20. Posted December 5, 2014 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    WTF? Mr. Savage betrays his lack of rigor with the throwaway quip about God is Not Great being a “facetious” inversion of the Muslim mantra. It’s not facetious at all! It is deadly serious, calculated and apt.

    If anyone is giving succor to imperialists, it’s lazy opinionators who tar those with whom they should have common cause with the same brush the imperialists use. It’s no surprise when a polemicist uses quote-mining to build an argument or makes straw men to knock down, and it’s certainly no surprise when leftists denigrate and misrepresent the designated foes in their absurd ideological “purity” battles – there’s a 160+ year tradition of that (and of course back in the day people were literally assassinated, it was not just their characters figuratively done). This is an insignificant screed by a novice writer in an irrelevant journal, so the Horseman Plus a Comedian are in no jeopardy, so who cares? It’s still crap, though.

    Organized, authoritarian religion is no friend to the people nor to the socialist movement. If Mr. Savage disagrees, there’s a whole screed to be written on that, too. As a left-leaning non-ideologue, I can say stuff like “Hitchens made a lot of great points, but I’m not comfortable being quite so pro-war myself,” or “Sam Harris has written about the use of force that are more blunt than I might put the same sentiments.” Well, how dull is that! No clicks are generated or eyeballs attracted by endorsements and respectful quibbles. Oh well, I’ll just have to settle for being sincere and open to people I respect having minds of their own. Yawn.

    And real quick: this business about religion not making real-world truth claims. Why is that thought to be a good thing? To me, it’s even more appalling to think that yahoo in Arizona wants homosexuals to die because of a metaphor. It makes Xianity seem even more absurd to say their savior was tortured and killed for a metaphor about a metaphorical sin to save humans from metaphorical eternal torment in a metaphor. Someone who thinks that’s a narrative that justifies stomping on reproductive rights and other liberties is not just delusional: that is either crazy or stupid – and probably both.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted December 6, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      + 1!

      • Dermot C
        Posted December 6, 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

        As a British Socialist, I am becoming very dismayed at the refusal of my comrades to point out religion’s iniquities, and specifically those of Islam.

        In an online discussion of the nature of religion, Jerry’s ‘Jacobin’ link was quoted approvingly by self-describing atheists who no doubt describe themselves as Socialist. My evidence is anecdotal but I have reason to believe that there is a real self-censorship among British Socialists in any analysis of Islam, and, rather surprisingly, in the other monotheisms. So that the cultural atmosphere of ‘not giving offence’ extends even to not offending the ideas of, not Islam, but religion in general.

        So that if one does criticize a religion, one must be ‘fundamentalist, racist or xenophobic’: all epithets which my interlocutor ascribed to me. And rather amazingly, in the context of my rather mildly pointing out that Reza Aslan was qualified to write a book on the Sociology of Religion (in which he has academic credentials) but not on the biography of the Christ figure, as he has no historiographical credentials.

        The willingness to shut down argument within the British Left goes that far: it is the rhetoric of the incoherent smear rather than the Socratic examination of a proposition. It is the intellectual abandonment of the idea in favour of the co-definition of ‘Islam’ with ‘my Muslim friend’. It is fundamentally dishonest, consciously misinterpretative and possibly prompted by our species’ distressing psychological delight in moral condemnation of others, and consequent buttressing of one’s own ethical probity, bolstered by the knee-jerk principle to not offend anybody with any idea.

        The British Left is enslaving itself, to borrow an idea from Christianity, in its refusal to examine ideas as ideas: much simpler to interpret another’s monotheistic scepticism as evidence of her racism. I can argue against individuals, but I have no illusions that I will change a person’s ideas immediately: debate does not work like that. But I can hope that in time this paradigm within the British Left will shift. If it does not, and my fellow Socialists continue to prefer rant over reason, then the British Left will be lost. x

  21. Nicolas Perrault
    Posted December 5, 2014 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    “It still mystifies me that the Left, which is supposed to embrace Enlightenment values, is so loath to criticize the faiths that continually try to dismantle those values.”

    Jerry, you are not alone. I am just as mystified as you are. Apparently religion is not the opium of the people any more. What happened? Must we wait for an attempt on our lives to come to grip with the Islamic doctrine of jihad?

  22. Filippo
    Posted December 5, 2014 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    ‘So are Christians a race? Is criticism of Christianity, which all New Atheists do with regularity, also “racism”?’

    Also, what if one were once a Christian, who with regularity harbored secret criticisms of Christianity, and is now no longer a Christian and with regularity criticizes Christianity. Would Savage say that s/he was and is racist?

    • Doug
      Posted December 6, 2014 at 5:02 am | Permalink

      Cat Stevens is White, Muhammad Ali is Black. If Islam is a race, does that mean that when they converted to Islam, they not only changed their religions, but also their race? And they are now the same race?

  23. Randy Schenck
    Posted December 5, 2014 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    I too am really puzzled at the crazy attacks on atheist and certainly this latest “savage.”

    This Jacobin magazine – I am not familiar with but I assume is the modern version of the French revolutionary bunch and extreme left wing. The Jacobin club kind of generated from the Dominican Convent so the frustrated revolutionaries might just naturally be seeing red anytime they come around an atheist.

  24. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted December 6, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    It isn’t the fault of atheists that science has become scientist, it isn’t even a bug in science, it is an unexpected feature that basic physics is simple enough to encompass basic nature. I wouldn’t take that as an implication that “new” atheism hasn’t advanced in other ways, but a better term would be “modern” atheism. Would we want to adopt “New Christmas” every other decade, as its commercialism and practices change?

    Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins have all rejected the notion that there is anything racist about statements of this kind or the prescriptions that so often follow from them: “Muslims aren’t a race,” being by now a particularly worn phrase in the New Atheist rhetorical repertoire.

    This particular claim has never pass the smell test, and it would be well if the unthinking masses of writers trolling atheism would drop that particular canard to avoid looking ridiculous right out of the gate.

    To wit, ‘doctors have all rejected the notion that there is anything racist about statements of this kind or the prescriptions that so often follow from them: “Smokers aren’t a race,” being by now a particularly worn phrase in the New “Evidence Based Medicine” rhetorical repertoire.’

  25. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted December 6, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    May I point out, as someone who only posts rarely due to various issues, that if right-wing Islamophobes “benefit” from New Atheist arguments then it is most certainly true that Islamic apologists of all stripes; moderates, liberals, conservatives and fundamentalists; absolutely revel in the leftist dogma that minorities are incapable of the same kind of ugly behaviour that majorities engage in. The arguments that Glenn Greenwald uses, that nothing bad is to do with Islam, that it’s all political, that it’s the response to western imperialism, that we should essentially ignore what fundamentalists tell us about their religious motivations – these are the exact same arguments used by people like Mehdi Hasa, and Mo Ansar and Myriam Francois-Serrah. They are used to decry any objections to the horrific attitudes to women, to homosexuals, to non-believers, to adultery, that are widespread in many Islamic countries, and they are used to shout down anyone who suggests there might be serious problems with Islam. The arguments of these fellow left-wingers are used to shelter the most appalling, illiberal behaviour by minorities from criticism. It works both ways.
    The blindingly obvious answer to this problem is not to stop criticising Islam – it is to do more of it, because at the moment almost no criticism is coming from the left at all. The vast majority of it is coming from right-wingers. It’s hideously overbalanced and right now it’s easy for Muslim moderates, who could do so much good if they were prepared to swallow hard and be honest about the flaws in their religion, to shrug off that criticism as biased(I think they’re right about that by the way. When have the right ever given the slightest shit about the cause of gays and women and, ugh, non-believers?) because it comes from the right.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 6, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      I do see a fear of criticizing ideas if held by a *minority opinion as rather condescending to that minority. These aren’t frail people; they can handle criticism. Ironically, protecting ideas from criticism simply because they are held by minorities is rather repressive.

      *minority refers to minority in one’s country

  26. Posted December 6, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Perhaps Jacobin should visit the Vatican Archives, or he’ll the Vatican website and crack open the Catechism and the mountains of Papal Encyclicals that have been written over the centuries. These establish doctrines and dogmas and are, by definition, categorized as eternal truths. One might even say they are rigid. Catholicism is only the oldest and largest sect of Christianity and Jacobi has the tenacity to claim religion doesn’t contain rigid doctrines?

    • Posted December 6, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Of course, that should be Savage, but my point stands.

  27. Posted December 6, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Carl S~ on ExChristian.net noticed that James 5v3 says gold and silver rust ! Lol, So primitive. How did I not pick up on that ?
    This is the book some Christians defend as infallible ??

    Biblehub commentary says
    Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
    Your gold and silver is cankered – That is, that you have heaped together, by injustice and fraud, a large amount, and have kept it from those to whom it is due, James 5:4, until it has become corroded. The word rendered is “cankered” (κατίωται katiōtai,) does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It properly means “to cause to rust; to rust out” (Passow); “to be corroded with rust” (Robinson); to be spotted with rust. It is true that gold and silver do not properly rust, or become oxidized, and that they will not be corroded like iron and steel; but by being kept long in a damp place they will contract a dark color, resembling rust in appearance. This seems to be the idea in the mind of the apostle. He speaks of gold and silver as they appear after having been long laid up without use; and undoubtedly the word which he uses here is one which would to an ancient have expressed that idea, as well as the mere literal idea of the rusting or oxidizing of metals. There is no reason to suppose that the word was then used in the strict chemical sense of rusting, for there is no reason to suppose that the nature of oxidization was then fully understood.

  28. Vaal
    Posted December 6, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    This is the kind of thinking that holds up the New Atheists, like Harris, Dawkins etc, as one of the “extremes.” On one side you have “Religious Extremists” and the other you have people like Sam Harris we are supposed to take as an “Atheist extremist.”

    This only ever gets lolz from me, as it so obviously undermines the position of someone making this claim.

    So on one hand we have “religious extremists” represented by Christians who want homosexuality banned, who bomb abortion centres, who in the past killed heretics etc, and we have Muslims extremists advocating a world under the boot of Sharia Law, beheading people, calling for killing of homosexuals, suicide bombing, flying planes into buildings.

    And on the other side representing “Atheist Extremism” we have someone like Sam Harris, a normal guy, never hurt anyone, calmly expressing the onions that we ought to ask for better evidence for religious claims.

    If THAT is what “Atheist Extremism” looks like vs Religious Extremism, it’s pretty much made the case for going with atheism!

    • Doug
      Posted December 6, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      Conservatives do the same thing with the term “Far Left.” Anyone who disagrees with them is not simply left-wing, but Far Left. Newsweek is Far Left, CNN is Far Left, The New York Times is Far Left, etc. They don’t say what they would consider to be just slightly left of center–National Review, perhaps?

  29. harrync
    Posted December 6, 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    “Whereas some earlier atheist traditions have rejected violence and championed the causes of the Left — Bertrand Russell, to take an obvious example, was both a socialist and a unilateralist — the current streak represented by Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris has variously embraced, advocated, or favorably contemplated: aggressive war, state violence, the curtailing of civil liberties, torture, and even, in the case of the latter, genocidal preemptive nuclear strikes against Arab nations.” If Savage just had a computer that accessed the Wikipedia article on Russell, he would have seen that “… just after the atomic bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Russell wrote letters, and published articles in newspapers from 1945-1948, stating clearly that it was morally justified and better to go to war against the USSR using atomic bombs while the USA possessed them and before the USSR did.” Perhaps then he could have found a better example of an old-time, peaceful atheist.


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  1. […] and considered debate (usually). Yesterday morning one of Coyne’s articles was ‘Luke Savage’s vicious (and misleading) atheist bashing‘, about an article Savage wrote in Jacobin called ‘New Atheism, Old […]

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