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Is the "New Atheism" movement Islamophobic?
April 4, 2013 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Glenn Greenwald thinks so. Noted atheist Sam Harris recently made some inflammatory comments about Islam and Muslims in his twitter feed. This is not a new development. Is this a defining characteristic of New Atheism?
posted by MisantropicPainforest (412 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sam Harris's ideas are an embarrassing relic of everything that was wrong with post-9/11 panic and the view of the U.S. as besieged by evil inhuman Muslims everywhere.

He is also an out-of-touch-with-humanity Hollywood scion who has sought to build up a reputation as a disinterested scientific genius while concealing his origins as the son of Golden Girls creator Susan Harris. Probably because his posturing as the 21st century Tom Paine seems so silly as the child of such a funny person. And in his first book he pushed fringe ESP pseudoscience and babbled about "the search for the sacred" as a replacement for religious culture. Classic Southern California lunacy.

To quote Steve Martin:

"It's so hard to believe in anything anymore. I mean, it's like, religion, you really can't take it seriously, because it seems so mythological, it seems so arbitrary...but, on the other hand, science is just pure empiricism, and by virtue of its method, it excludes metaphysics. I guess I wouldn't believe in anything anymore if it weren't for my lucky astrology mood watch.”
posted by steinsaltz at 9:03 AM on April 4, 2013 [46 favorites]


I'm having trouble figuring this out, which one of the two of them posted the email exchange first?
posted by Blasdelb at 9:04 AM on April 4, 2013


PZ Meyers: Atheists don’t like Islam. We also don’t like Catholicism, Episcopalianism...
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:04 AM on April 4, 2013 [46 favorites]


Is this a defining characteristic of New Atheism?

Like most hypotheticals, the answer is probably "no." But it's hard to argue that Sam Harris isn't irrationally focused on violence committed in the name of Islam. If that's not Islamophobia, I don't know what is.
posted by muddgirl at 9:05 AM on April 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm having trouble figuring this out, which one of the two of them posted the email exchange first?

I think Greenwald claims he did it first. It's very Greenwald-y that so much of the piece is about "how I, Glenn Greenwald, fighter for truth, justice and all things generally commendable, struck another blow against the forces of Anti-Greenwaldism" and that it takes him so damned long to get to the actual meat of the issue. I do wish he weren't quite so insufferably self-congratulatory. Then again, on that score he and Sam Harris are pretty well matched in the Heavyweight Preening Self-Importance League.
posted by yoink at 9:09 AM on April 4, 2013 [33 favorites]


Well, depends, what do those modern atheists have say about Israel, and are they called Zionists or anti-semites for whatever they say ?
posted by k5.user at 9:12 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, isn't a question, regarding individuals, which comes first? Do they decide religion is nonsense first, and then hate Muslims because Muslims have a strong tendency towards religious beliefs; or do they hate Muslims first, and then use atheism as their excuse?
posted by tyllwin at 9:13 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


irrationally focused on violence committed in the name of Islam

Yes, why on earth would someone worry about violence committed in the name of Islam? It seems totally irrational. It's not like tens of thousands of people (most of them Shia Muslims) have been murdered by Islamist (mostly Sunni) terorrists in the last decade and a half. Anyone worrying about that must be a racist.

In fact, I'm so unconcerned about violence by Muslims that I'm going to mount a Broadway musical called The Book of the Prophet, which mocks Mohammed and Islam in general. I won't have to worry about any sort of violence, and the liberal intelligensia will laugh at the improbable things that Muslims believe, and not accuse me of hatred.
posted by Dasein at 9:13 AM on April 4, 2013 [69 favorites]


Like most hypotheticals, the answer is probably "no." But it's hard to argue that Sam Harris isn't irrationally focused on violence committed in the name of Islam. If that's not Islamophobia, I don't know what is.

Well, hell, there are some people who have an anti-Christian hobby horse they like to ride too. And, I'm sure we could find some people who have an anti-Judaic bent, or anti-Buddhist or even anti-Shinto.

Mind you, this doesn't excuse any of that. But neither does it typify that "the new atheism" is all one thing or all another. Rather, it seems to once again underscore for me that there is a difference between what a person believes, and what a person does; for, just as there are plenty of Muslims who don't commit violence in the name of Allah, and there are plenty Christians who don't wave "God Hates Fags" signs in front of funerals, there are also plenty atheists who aren't Islamophobic.

So, I'd amend your statement - like most hypotheticals, the answer is no, it is not a defining characteristic of New Atheism. However, Islamophobia does seem to be a defining characteristic of Sam Harris, certainly, and the reasons for why he's Islamophobic are probably much too complex to assign to one single source.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:14 AM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm going to mount a Broadway musical called The Book of the Prophet, which mocks Mohammed and Islam in general

Kickstarter?
posted by tyllwin at 9:16 AM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


I feel compelled to point out that Harris and others have been roundly criticized for what he says about Islam for the past year or so. This debate with Bruce Schneier on whether we should do extra screening on people "who look Muslim" in airports is particularly revealing.

Yes, why on earth would someone worry about violence committed in the name of Islam?

I didn't say it was irrational to worry about violence committed in the name of Islam. I said it was irrational to focus on it, especially in the US. I am more worried about violence committed by anti-government conspiracy theorists, or by right-wing Christian militias, or anti-abortion activists. They are much more common in the US, and thus we should worry about them more. It's like worrying about dying in a plane crash more than worrying about dying in a car crash - the latter is MUCH more likely.
posted by muddgirl at 9:17 AM on April 4, 2013 [40 favorites]


I would expect a defining characteristic of any atheism to be a non-belief in gods. But I'm old-fashioned.
posted by DU at 9:18 AM on April 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm going to mount a Broadway musical called The Book of the Prophet, which mocks Mohammed and Islam in general

It might bomb.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:18 AM on April 4, 2013 [63 favorites]


PZ Meyers: Atheists don’t like Islam. We also don’t like Catholicism, Episcopalianism...

I realize that's probably meant to be glib, but it's also not really a universal truth.

I personally really enjoy all mystical wizard shit. I like tumblrs full of weird shapes and sigils superimposed on hubble nebulas... I like Nile songs about ancient death rituals... I like blood drinking ceremonies and sacred dandies in matching embroidered robes chanting over smoke. I don't think any celestial presence is taking actually listening to anyone's songs and prayers, but part of me truly loves that people keep doing it!
posted by SharkParty at 9:18 AM on April 4, 2013 [28 favorites]


Here's Jerry Coyne on the subject: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/playing-the-islamophobia-card/

He is responding to the Salon piece and to the Al Jazerra article.

He says: "There is a double standard at work here—one enacted in a misguided defense of multiculturalism and moral relativism. Those who accuse others of “Islamophobia” are, I suspect, a bit bigoted themselves, for underlying it is the notion that we’re supposed to hold adherents of Islam to behavioral standards lower than those we expect from adherents to other faiths. It’s patronizing."

sorry for not being able to figure out how to link it.
posted by feste at 9:19 AM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


And now we've written the story outline for The Producers 2.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:20 AM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


I am more worried about violence committed by anti-government conspiracy theorists, or by right-wing Christian militias, or anti-abortion activists. They are much more common in the US, and thus we should worry about them more.

How many Americans have been killed in the last 15 years by these groups that we should worry more about?

Anyway, the whole, "more people are killed by X and therefore we should focus on it" is a bad argument. It would mean everyone cares about heart disease and nothing else. People should be concerned about low-probability, high-impact events, like flu pandemics or terrorist attacks or meteor strikes, as well as everyday causes of death.
posted by Dasein at 9:22 AM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


It's weird, despite claims from PZ and other capital-A Atheists, most of the atheists I know don't despise religion so much as think it's not for them, and deplore the abuses that occur under its rubric.

This just seems like a bit of a jackass honeypot to me, honestly, where people with immoderate views propound them forcefully. I will say that Harris accomplished the rare feat of making me side with Greenwald, but that only really emphasizes how big an asshole Harris is.
posted by klangklangston at 9:22 AM on April 4, 2013 [32 favorites]


for underlying it is the notion that we’re supposed to hold adherents of Islam to behavioral standards lower than those we expect from adherents to other faiths.

Whuh???? Yes, equating all 'adherents of Islam' with Muslim terrorists is Islamophobic, just as equating all Christians with anti-abortion terrorists would be Christophobic or whatever. Note that the former is way more common than the latter. Refrain from asking if race has anything to do with it. That would be some form of white liberal guilt.
posted by muddgirl at 9:22 AM on April 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


If you're anti-theist (not atheist alone) then you're wanting to attack the most "perfect" example of religion and its evils to make your point. It's hard to knock the wishy-washy Anglican do-gooders for being crazy religionists. But Islam is sometimes almost medieval in its expression, mutilating criminals, oppressing women, murdering non-Muslims, of a kind that Christians and most religions don't get up to anymore. Even though most Muslims aren't like the archetype, it is still so easy and so tempting to attack. There's very little that measures up to a Christian Taliban, or even a Christian Saudi Arabia. They are so far out of the norm that they're going to be chosen as examples, and that's going to bleed through onto Islam as a whole.

In short, some Muslims are seriously batshitinsane in their religious beliefs, so don't be surprised if the opponents of religion pick up on that.
posted by Jehan at 9:23 AM on April 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


This debate with Bruce Schneier on whether we should do extra screening on people "who look Muslim" in airports is particularly revealing.

Yes, Harris is idiotically wrong on that, and it's a fantastic demolition of his proposal. That doesn't mean he's wrong about everything.
posted by Dasein at 9:24 AM on April 4, 2013


"Yes, why on earth would someone worry about violence committed in the name of Islam? It seems totally irrational. It's not like tens of thousands of people (most of them Shia Muslims) have been murdered by Islamist (mostly Sunni) terorrists in the last decade and a half. Anyone worrying about that must be a racist."

Is it straw man time already?
posted by klangklangston at 9:26 AM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'll be upset if The Book of the Prophet doesn't feature a rousing rendition of "Springtime for Osama."
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:26 AM on April 4, 2013


There's very little that measures up to a Christian Taliban, or even a Christian Saudi Arabia.


Hey, Tennessee is working on it! Give them a bit of time! Rome wasn't built in a day!

durned constitution
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:26 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Yes, Harris is idiotically wrong on that, and it's a fantastic demolition of his proposal. That doesn't mean he's wrong about everything."

Well, no, but it does mean that his claims about Islam should be treated as of dubious truth value, and that bias can be assumed. Which is kind of the point of the criticisms leveled at him. I mean, you read the articles, right?
posted by klangklangston at 9:27 AM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I saw this from Dawkins this morning, which had me rolling my eyes at the sheer disingenuousness of it

@RichardDawkins: If you think criticising Islam is racist, you must think Islam is a race. And if you think Islam is a race you are a racist.
posted by TwoWordReview at 9:28 AM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: "PZ Meyers: Atheists don’t like Islam. We also don’t like Catholicism, Episcopalianism..."

I'm an atheist and I don't dislike any religion. Just because I don't believe in the supernatural aspects of them doesn't mean that I can't appreciate their positive qualities and their contributions to culture.
posted by octothorpe at 9:28 AM on April 4, 2013 [34 favorites]


In short, some Muslims are seriously batshitinsane in their religious beliefs, so don't be surprised if the opponents of religion pick up on that.

Well, sure, but it's not just batshit people who are the issue. Take, for example, Islam, not as the lunatic fringe of religiously-motivated bombers (presuming that there even are such things), but as the state religion of Saudi Arabia, or Iran if you prefer that version. It's harmful to individual liberties, and to women specifically, in a way that no Christian state is today.
posted by tyllwin at 9:29 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Slightly related, Harris' HuffPo column about torture was an embarrassment to logic.

Can you imagine a scenario in which you would forgive someone for accidentally killing a man? Then you're a hypocrite if you oppose torture! If rules for a special situation exist, they must be applied to all situations!

He's been an interesting speaker on a couple of topics, but his atheism hasn't done him any favors in the logic or consistency departments. When trying to justify positions he holds, there seems to be a lot of rhetorical thrashing around fundamentally emotional beliefs.
posted by verb at 9:30 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


in a way that no Christian state is today.

The US doesn't have a problem with Christian political groups attempting harm individual liberties, especially for women? It is not a question of motivation to harm, merely of the degree that they've been able to get away with it.
posted by muddgirl at 9:30 AM on April 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


Well, no, but it does mean that his claims about Islam should be treated as of dubious truth value

Sorry, that just doesn't follow. He's wrong about how to run airport security, so he's wrong about the nature of Islam? This is a classic way to avoid actually taking on his arguments, which people do a lot with Harris/Dawkins/Hitchens: find one area where they go too far, act as if all their arguments are therefore invalid. It's lazy and partisan.
posted by Dasein at 9:30 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


If you think criticising Islam is racist, you must think Islam is a race. And if you think Islam is a race you are a racist.

Dawkins then threw a smoke bomb at the ground and disappeared, leaving a crowd of bystanders awed as they began to realize they had been the real racists the whole time. "My work here is done," said Dawkins, from his cool car that everyone was jealous of.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:31 AM on April 4, 2013 [62 favorites]


I'm an old atheist, and I think the primary problem with the New Atheists is their rejection of humanism. You can't hate religion when you start from the premise that people are pretty neat and religion is one of the neat things about them. You can, however, worry about the not-so-neat parts, which includes both parts of Islam and parts of Christianity. But since there's a lot of not-so-neat atheists out there, I don't see that religion is really the problem.

Sure, Muslims are wrong about a lot of stuff. But so am I, if maybe slightly less. It may even be slightly more because while I'm busy congratulating myself on getting the god question right, I end up cultivating dozens of even more irrational beliefs because my attention is elsewhere.

It seems to me that the new atheists are literally self-refuting: God questions aren't interesting questions, they're not even remotely the reason that nation-states abuse their people, SO WHY KEEP TALKING ABOUT THEM?
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:31 AM on April 4, 2013 [40 favorites]


Look if I can't lump a third of the world's population into one basket marked 'crazy' then I might have to think about things for an instant and who has time for that.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:32 AM on April 4, 2013 [33 favorites]


As an atheist, I'd revise Myers statement to say atheists think tenets of religion X, Y, and Z are incorrect.

As an atheist, I also long for the day when there's substantive discussion of the range of non-theistic viewpoints that doesn't get sidetracked every few months into a discussion of What Sam Harris Gets Wrong (which is a lot, thus the conversation springing up perennially).
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:32 AM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


"Atheists Ignore Islamophobia at their Peril" - Chris Stedman, who seems seems amused by Greenwald's sudden involvement in the issue
posted by brundlefly at 9:33 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why is it more okay to paint "new atheists" with a broad brush than to paint Muslims with one? Seems like a No True Scotsman fallacy in both directions.
posted by callmejay at 9:34 AM on April 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


tyllwin,

There is no comparable Christian state to the Islamic state that is Saudia Arabia. If you think that is largely because of religion you are mistaken.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:34 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


[Make your points here without resorting to calling huge swaths of people "whack jobs" and we'll all be better for it.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:34 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


To be honest, most complaining about atheists sounds to me exactly like the "don't shove it down our throats" stuff people used to say about gays.
posted by DU at 9:35 AM on April 4, 2013 [16 favorites]


I am beginning to think New Atheism is its own religion.
posted by parmanparman at 9:35 AM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


How many Americans have been killed in the last 15 years by these groups that we should worry more about?

This, of course, depends on how you define your terms. The 2011 Tuscon shooting is labeled an "attempted assasination" - if it had been perpetrated by a Muslim adherent, with a death toll of 6, it would make the list of terrorist attacks on US soil. What about the failed Columbine bombing (and successful Columbine shooting?) Shouldn't we include attacks that have failed due to the tireless efforts of law enforcement, like the failed MLK Jr parade bombing in Seattle?

These sorts of micro-attacks on US soil simply aren't grouped in our national conscious, because they aren't as shocking. Worrying about "the next 9/11" means that we're more likely to miss the next OKC.
posted by muddgirl at 9:36 AM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


If you think criticising Islam is racist, you must think Islam is a race. And if you think Islam is a race you are a racist.

Dawkins then threw a smoke bomb at the ground and disappeared, leaving a crowd of bystanders awed as they began to realize they had been the real racists the whole time. "My work here is done," said Dawkins, from his cool car that everyone was jealous of.


Yeah, I think Dawkins trotting out the tiredest of tired lines from every Islamaphobic internet troll ever as if its some brilliant new slam-dunk argument is just about the most disillusioning thing I've ever heard him say.
posted by yoink at 9:36 AM on April 4, 2013 [18 favorites]


I am beginning to think New Atheism is a kind of moth.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:37 AM on April 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


"Sorry, that just doesn't follow. He's wrong about how to run airport security, so he's wrong about the nature of Islam? This is a classic way to avoid actually taking on his arguments, which people do a lot with Harris/Dawkins/Hitchens: find one area where they go too far, act as if all their arguments are therefore invalid. It's lazy and partisan."

Yes, it does follow, if you're honest. He's wrong about how to run airport security for the same reason that he's wrong about Islam in general. Both are predicated on the premise that Muslims pose an outsized threat and that their threat demands disproportionate state action to correct. So, no, it's not an ad hominem fallacy — it's a recognition of his through-going bias.
posted by klangklangston at 9:41 AM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I like to think of the New Atheism as a mischievous badger.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:41 AM on April 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


(Or rather, worrying only about the next 9/11).

We can't solve the geopolitical causes of radical Islam by treating the majority of Muslims as terrorists. In fact, such an approach has traditionally only made the problem worse. If Harris truly worried about the victims of Islamic terrorism (often other Muslims!) he could consider helping to strengthen the political position of liberal/moderate Muslims in predominately-Muslim countries that we have some diplomatic influence in.
posted by muddgirl at 9:42 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


"If you think criticising Islam is racist, you must think Islam is a race. And if you think Islam is a race you are a racist."

Dawkins ignores that historically, at least in the US and in the UK, anti-Catholicism has served as a proxy for racist sentiments (though not toward people Americans recognize as a distinct race anymore, namely Irish and Italians, mostly).
posted by klangklangston at 9:43 AM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Comments about the subject on Hemant Mehta's blog, The Friendly Atheist.

This is one of the main things many theists don’t understand about New Atheism (or, as the rest of us refer to it, “atheism”): We’re not against your god. We’re not against your religion. We’re critical of belief in all gods and all religions. We’re equal opportunity unbelievers.
posted by feste at 9:43 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Somegreybloke on Islamophobia: "The reason Islamophobia is so fashionable is that it's very inclusive... it's a very unifying form of prejudice that brings all kinds of people together."
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:44 AM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


If you think that is largely because of religion you are mistaken.

I do not think so. I think religion contributes, but largely to serve as the intellectual underpinnings of a culture of sexist oppression. I think that if you could magically take away the oppression of women, Saudi Arabia could be quite as thoroughly Islamic. I think if you could magically take away the belief in supernatural Gods, Saudi Arabia would be just as oppressive as it is now.

I see their belief in religion as a guiding force and their patriarchal oppression as two intertwined but separate problems. Both are bad, and both support the other.
posted by tyllwin at 9:44 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Why is it more okay to paint "new atheists" with a broad brush than to paint Muslims with one? Seems like a No True Scotsman fallacy in both directions.

I'm not sure how it would be an NTS fallacy (a kind of ignorance of the exception) but it might be a hasty-generalization. Depends on how you use the term. When I use "New Atheist" I mean: Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Myers, and anyone who is a follower or hanger-on. Otherwise, we wouldn't be talking about "New Atheists" but rather just atheism, secularism, humanism, skepticism, etc.

I take it that New Atheists are part of a secular movement that espouses:
a) disdain for religion
b) refusal to differentiate among the religious (b/c of complicity claims)
c) acceptance that religious rationales given for cruelty or injustice are the real reasons/causes for those acts
d) a commitment to secular evangelism and the charisma of the particular New Atheist leaders I named

I think I can say this in the same way that all Muslims believe that there is no God but Allah and that Mohammed is his prophet. It's a tenet of the movement.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:46 AM on April 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


To be honest, most complaining about atheists sounds to me exactly like the "don't shove it down our throats" stuff people used to say about gays.

Then why respond with the same poor logic? People complaining about atheism are equivalent to homophobes from x years ago? That should help.

Is this a defining characteristic of New Atheism?

I think it's a defining characteristic of New Things in general. To be totally self-focused because:

A. I am
B. It's the only metaphor I have right now

I see this a lot in software development: someone smart comes up with a new idea/ language/ approach and people start to pile on. Pretty quickly it turns from "Check out this interesting thing" to "Oh, you don't know about THAT? You're an idiot then." And it invariably comes from the moron bandwagon jumpers who don't understand the pros or cons of their particular position. Some people like to take sides in a fight and they tend to be the most vitriolic.

Also, people who say "Let's stop and think about it" don't get headlines in the Huffpo, etc.
posted by yerfatma at 9:47 AM on April 4, 2013


I'm an Atheist. It doesn't make much difference to me what theists believe, I don't go looking for fights on facebook or silently protesting when people want to say grace. God is like the Loch Ness Monster or ghosts to me, you want to believe in the Loch Ness Monster go right ahead. I won't even ask you to prove the Monster exists.

You think the Loch Ness Monster hates me and will somehow punish me by sending me to Big Foot's cave for all eternity it really doesn't bother me. I do sort of mind when you start trying to pass laws taking away my kittens because you think the Loch Ness Monster hates kittens. That is really all that atheists care about, kittens.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:48 AM on April 4, 2013 [50 favorites]


Yes, it does follow, if you're honest. He's wrong about how to run airport security for the same reason that he's wrong about Islam in general. Both are predicated on the premise that Muslims pose an outsized threat and that their threat demands disproportionate state action to correct

But his ideas about how to run airport security are also predicated on the assumption that you can identify whether someone is muslim or not just by looking at them. Which is irrational and definitely, 100% racist and contradicts the (also wrong) argument that this anti-Islam shit isn't racist because Islam isn't a race.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 9:48 AM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


We’re not against your god. We’re not against your religion. We’re critical of belief in all gods and all religions. We’re equal opportunity unbelievers.

Which is directly refuted when you then turn around and focus on one religion far in excess of others. And as anotherpanacea pointed out, atheism with little or no humanism to balance it out isn't really atheism, it's more like antitheism. Big difference.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:49 AM on April 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


I am interested to learn who or what is driving this trend to define a group as New Atheists inject them into the same old tired geopolitical debates.
It seems like it's Harris, who strikes me as a Glen Beck type, just in another guise.
I'm an old atheist and this just strikes me as a massive publicity gambit. these guys have books/magazines to sell and have found a new way to do it, knowing that there are some tried and true buttons to push without really adding anything substantive to the debate.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:49 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea:

a) not necessarily "disdain"
b) more like grouping of belief systems with similarly mythological underpinnings together
c) I would say "among the causes" for these acts
d) I sure as hell don't
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:52 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did you see that prejudiced atheist? Why are atheists so prejudiced?
posted by Navelgazer at 9:53 AM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


And as anotherpanacea pointed out, atheism with little or no humanism to balance it out isn't really atheism, it's more like antitheism. Big difference.

You know I don't go in much for New Atheism Is A Big Bad Thing discussions especially because as a theist it puts me in the uncomfortable position of worrying whether I have unseen motives, but I do like this summation here.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:54 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I used to hate the term New Atheism because I thought it sort of meant "modern Atheism" (it's how it's often used in the atheist blogosphere) and articles about it don't describe me - anotherpanacea's definition makes a lot of sense, and it is quite hypocritical for us atheists to reject the idea of a defined Sect of atheism that can be criticized as a whole. Sort of like how we feel we can criticize all the bad stuff the Pope advocates without also mentioning all the good the Catholic church does (because the good can't balance out bad). The same should be true for atheist leaders.

Personally I've been disengaging from New Atheist thinkers recently without realizing that they form sort of an atheist sect. Probably not coincidentally, New Atheist leaders have been involved on the wrong side of another big question in atheism - whether intersectional issues have a place in the atheist movement (such as feminism, anti-racism, etc). The overlap isn't 100%, but it's disturbingly similar.
posted by muddgirl at 9:55 AM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


klangklangston: It's weird, despite claims from PZ and other capital-A Atheists, most of the atheists I know don't despise religion so much as think it's not for them, and deplore the abuses that occur under its rubric.

I think the A/a distinction is even more clunky, ambiguous, and vulnerable to overgeneralization and abuse than "New." But then again, I just came across another terrible editorial attempting to critique atheism by equating Dawkins and Rand and going on through a whole mess of unattributed claims about atheism as a philosophy. The whole discussion could do with a bit more rigor in both on the side of qualifying ones own statements as such, and properly attributing ideas rather than generalizing.

Dasein: He's wrong about how to run airport security, so he's wrong about the nature of Islam?

He was also wrong about the nature if Islam with his whole argument that it would be people like him being searched. Half of muslims in the U.S. alone are African-American or African, and about 1/3rd are South Asian.

klangklangston: Dawkins ignores that historically, at least in the US and in the UK, anti-Catholicism has served as a proxy for racist sentiments (though not toward people Americans recognize as a distinct race anymore, namely Irish and Italians, mostly).

And the problem that race is largely socially constructed around political and cultural differences.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:55 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I do not think so. I think religion contributes, but largely to serve as the intellectual underpinnings of a culture of sexist oppression. I think that if you could magically take away the oppression of women, Saudi Arabia could be quite as thoroughly Islamic. I think if you could magically take away the belief in supernatural Gods, Saudi Arabia would be just as oppressive as it is now. "

A good example is female genital mutilation, something that's often associated with religion — specifically Islam — despite the fact that many Christian and animist tribes in the same region also practice it. I think that the religion reinforces the existing power system, but is not an inherent cause of many of the abuses you see in Muslim countries.
posted by klangklangston at 9:55 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


TheWhiteSkull, do you call yourself a New Atheist?
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:55 AM on April 4, 2013


“Radical Muslims fly planes into buildings. Radical Christians kill abortion doctors. Radical atheists write books."
posted by lazaruslong at 9:56 AM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


When I use "New Atheist" I mean: Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Myers

This is interesting to hear, because I'm always curious what body of people is meant when someone invokes the group "New Atheists," and anotherpanacea's four criteria are a useful proposal, though I don't know how well they hold up as coherent tenets across those four men or their "hangers-on" (which is another group I'd be interested to see defined in more detail: who are some of these people that contribute to the ostensibly coherent community of New Atheists? Which bloggers, for example, on Free Thought Blogs would fall into the "New Atheists"?).

Even among the four named men, Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Myers, there's an interesting difference in their approach to social justice and its relationship to atheism, with Dawkins on the resistant side and Myers on the strong advocate side, which would seem to link Myers more closely to a fuller humanist articulation of atheism than Dawkins. To what extent are the New Atheists are definable group beyond the big named authors (I note Dennett didn't make anotherpanacea's list but he's often grouped with the others), or even among those authors, beyond the criterion of sold-a-lot-of-books?
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:57 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Domestically in the US, right-wing Christianity in its more virulent forms (like the Christian Identity mumbo-jumbo embraced by many white supremacists) poses a much more immediate and pressing threat to the stability and integrity of Western society and to the continuing advancement of the secular ideals the New Athiests claim to champion.

I mean, for fuck's sake, we've got one state in the US actively considering legislation to adopt an official state religion, and vastly more domestic terrorism carried out by right-wing and Christian extremists (especially once you factor in abortion clinic violence) in the US than by Islamic extremists.

Also, it might be fair game to criticize specific beliefs and institutions of Islamic faith. But to tar "Muslims" generally with a broad brush is racist, in the same way it would be racist for me to call all people who identify as Christians Nazis just because the Third Reich embraced its own perversion of the Christian faith to justify its agenda of ethnic genocide.

There are many diverse cultural variations on Muslim belief and practice. And a lot of people are ethnically Muslim, but not necessarily hardcore, dyed-in-the-wool absolutist true doctrinal believers, in the same way that many European nations have historically been identified as "Christian" nations, while in reality, many in the population aren't particularly committed to the specific tenets of Christianity so much as using faith as a pretext to share in certain common social and cultural practices that foster a sense of belonging to a broader community or tribe.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:00 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't know who's in charge of terms, but instead of calling them New Atheists, it would make more sense to call them "radical atheists" or "extreme atheists" or the like. They're opinions aren't particularly New.

To what extent are the New Atheists are definable group beyond the big named authors (I note Dennet didn't make anotherpanacea's list but he's often grouped with the others), or even among those authors, beyond the criterion of sold-a-lot-of-books?

The irony is that Dawkins would reject these as valid questions to ask of Christianity or Islam before criticizing it. Dawkins has often argued that he doesn't need to master all the nit-picky differences between various theologians before criticising Christianity as a whole. There's a name for it - something like the Courtesan's Rebuttal.
posted by muddgirl at 10:01 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Radical atheists write justifications for torture, racial profiling, and misogyny. See Dawkins' comments on ElevatorGate and Sam Harris' aforementioned discussion with Bruce Schneier.

I was happier when us atheists found arguments for acting rightly without the need for a god to provide a moral compass. This new atheist project of developing sans-god arguments that match the violence and hatred of religious zealots is disappointing.
posted by daveliepmann at 10:02 AM on April 4, 2013 [17 favorites]


I don't know who's in charge of terms, but instead of calling them New Atheists, it would make more sense to call them "radical atheists" or "extreme atheists" or the like.

Athevangelicals.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:02 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


It was PZ Meyers who developed the term Courtier's Reply.
posted by muddgirl at 10:04 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just realized I would totally buy a Lucky Astrology Mood Watch.
posted by whuppy at 10:05 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I didn't know there was such a thing as a New Atheist until I read the Greenwald piece yesterday. I'm just a lower case atheist.

I'm more concerned about the current and potential impact of certain sects of Islam - for example Wahabis or fundamentalist Shia - on the world I live in than I am about the impact of, say, the Baha'i, or the Methodists. I don't think that's racist or islamaphobic. It reflects the empirical observation that those groups within Islam are frequently engaged in activities that have significant negative impact on others - ie promotion of terrorism, suppression of rights of women, denial of liberal education, etc - and generally exist in political and cultural environments that promote rather than constrain them. Certain Christian sects would be just as bad if given free reign, but fortunately for the most part are constrained by historical, political and social forces that limit their ability to promulgate their ideas and practices on others.

I despise the Westboro Baptists, but I'm not overly worried that one of them is a suicide bomber, or that they are likely to gain significant political control over their own country any time soon.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 10:05 AM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


something like the Courtesan's Rebuttal.

Myers calls it the Courtier's Reply, though it might be more recognizable as moving the goalposts, which is something that troubles a lot of arguments made by both theists and atheists.

I still think it is worth while to define the particular set of principles or arguments one is criticizing instead of relying on vague groups titles, whether they be "Christian" or "New Atheists."
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:05 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Arguing about what atheists believe is a bit like arguing about the ethnic traits characteristic of people who mark "other" on their census forms.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:06 AM on April 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


I miss Kurt Vonnegut so much sometimes.
posted by Cookiebastard at 10:07 AM on April 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


I despise the Westboro Baptists, but I'm not overly worried that one of them is a suicide bomber, or that they are likely to gain significant political control over their own country any time soon.

You must not live in the South. There are very serious movements underway in this direction down here.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:07 AM on April 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


And you'd be worried if you ever had to escort your wife to a clinic for a medically necessary abortion here as well, trust me.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:08 AM on April 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm an atheist and I don't dislike any religion. Just because I don't believe in the supernatural aspects of them doesn't mean that I can't appreciate their positive qualities and their contributions to culture.
posted by octothorpe

For all intents and purposes I'm an atheist, and yet I have fond memories for growing up Catholic. At the same time it's getting more difficult to appreciate the positive qualities of almost any religion when the negative seems to be far greater, and growing.
posted by justgary at 10:08 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hollywood scion who has sought to build up a reputation as a disinterested scientific genius while concealing his origins as the son of Golden Girls creator Susan Harris.

WT ever-loving F? Seriously, WHUT?
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:09 AM on April 4, 2013


I still think it is worth while to define the particular set of principles or arguments one is criticizing instead of relying on vague groups titles, whether they be "Christian" or "New Atheists."

Yeah, it's an ironic requirement to put on a discussion about Sam Harris, because Harris refuses to extend the same courtesy to Islam.
posted by muddgirl at 10:10 AM on April 4, 2013


Okay, that was inarticulate as hell, but I don't know where to begin. What steps has he taken to conceal this shameful parentage, which so clearly damns him as an intellectual, apparently?
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:11 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Arguing about what atheists believe is a bit like arguing about the ethnic traits characterstic of people who mark "other" on their census forms.

I am so fucking sick of this bit of rhetorical misdirection. There are obviously cultural commonalities and shared beliefs among a large, vocal segment of atheists in a fashion comparable to other groups organized around religious and political beliefs.
posted by mobunited at 10:11 AM on April 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


New Atheist seems to be the current collective term for belligerent know-it-all atheist who goes out if their way to be a asshole, I am happy to use it even if that isn't a particularly new thing - what's annoying is when non-asshole atheists get lumped in with them.
posted by Artw at 10:11 AM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


TheWhiteSkull, do you call yourself a New Atheist?

I agree with some things that Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Myers, et al. have said, and disagree with others.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:11 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]



“Radical Muslims fly planes into buildings. Radical Christians kill abortion doctors. Radical atheists write books."


Should we discuss USSA and Communist China? They should did kill a lot of people.
posted by KaizenSoze at 10:12 AM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm an agnostic: Fuck every religious or non-religious person who uses any means - whether interpreted from a holy book, or a constitution - to diminish our collective right to certain freedoms...the main freedoms being as follows:

1) Freedom to speak our mind

2) Freedom from ignorance - to be educated to the best of our potential

3) Freedom to be properly fed and sheltered.

4) Freedom from debt slavery and manipulation

5) Freedom from sexual, work, and/or slavery of any kind.

6) Freedom to be one's sexual selves, with margins of behavior that protect those unable or unwilling to give consent.

7) Freedom from physical/emotional violence

8) Freedom to be included in the decisions (by vote) in all decisions that impact one.

9) Freedom from religion, if so desired.

10) Freedom from automatic control by elites, of any kind.
posted by Vibrissae at 10:12 AM on April 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


I am an atheist, little "a". I got that way by getting a degree in religious studies and then going to rabbinical school.

I find that being a relatively passive atheist is difficult enough already without arguing with people about their beliefs. I'm happy to do it if you want a confrontation, but I'm not going to start it.

I also find that being pleasant to people who believe in a deity gets me as far as being kind to people who like habaneros. I'm not going to eat it, but I'm perfectly happy to sit here while you sweat it out.

Also Classic Southern California lunacy.
This is a super-tired characterization.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:13 AM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Why is it more okay to paint "new atheists" with a broad brush than to paint Muslims with one? Seems like a No True Scotsman fallacy in both directions.
posted by callmejay at 9:34 AM on April 4 [3 favorites +] [!]


Because there are about 1.8 billion Muslims all across the world, and maybe like a couple hundred "new atheists".

Muslim is a far less specific demographic than "new atheist" in the same way that "Pine green" is a much more specific color than "green".

And when you use more narrow classifactory schemas, you're allowed to say more about the group than you can with broader schemas. I can say animals are made up of cells... and maybe a few other things, but I can say that humans are made up of cells, have hearts, diaphgrams, have a neocortex of a such structure... and so on.

Not to mention, "New Atheism" is a different sort of classification than being a Muslim. One you're more or less born into and one in which has some common ground in broad terms, but varies greatly in terms of the specifics, whereas the former is a rather new concept, is created a priori, and is focused on certain specific attitudes.
posted by SollosQ at 10:15 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Previous on the blue.

Atran, an atheist, taking the new atheists to task for their poor data.
http://www.metafilter.com/57620/Beyond-Belief

Atran and Harris had a long running battle over Harris's facts from, End of Faith.
posted by KaizenSoze at 10:17 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was happier when us atheists found arguments for acting rightly without the need for a god to provide a moral compass.

I'm always a little baffled by this. Atheism is a proposition about the actual state of the universe: "the existence of a god or gods has not yet been proven; and in the absence of such proof, there is no reason to assume that a god or gods exist." That's pretty much it.

I can't see how on earth one is supposed to get from a proposition about the nature of the universe to any propositions of any kind about what is "right" or "wrong." Nor do I see how the existence of a god or gods changes this equation in any way. The argument that it is morally "right" to do what (a) god tells me to do is a circular one ("How do we know it is right to follow God's instructions?" "Because God tells us it is!"). Indeed, none of the religions of the Book make a moral argument for obeying God's strictures; they threaten us with punishment for disobedience and promise us rewards for compliance; and we've known for a very long time that morality simply leaves the equation if we act either out of fear of punishment or hope of reward.

Atheism implies no moral or political consequences whatsoever. I've been an atheist my whole life and in a general "I think it is on the whole better if people believe things they can rationally support" I tend to think it would be better if there were more atheists and fewer theists around; but I'm pretty confident that a world of atheists and a world of theists would generate roughly equivalent amounts of wrong, misery and suffering as well as roughly equivalent amounts of good, joy and redemption. Religion clearly doesn't make people "bad" in any simple sense: we all know thoroughly decent, kind, brave, loyal and loving people who are committed believers. And it clearly doesn't make people "good" in any simple sense. I think almost all the arguments down this particular rabbit hole are starting from false premises.
posted by yoink at 10:17 AM on April 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


I also find that being pleasant to people who believe in a deity gets me as far as being kind to people who like habaneros. I'm not going to eat it, but I'm perfectly happy to sit here while you sweat it out.

My problem is that lots of people won't extend me the same courtesy. In the US, most of those people are Christians. YMMV if you live in Saudi Arabia.

My problem with back-handed cristicisms of non-passive atheists is that they tend to ignore that the US is not neutral towards atheists. Atheists are one of the least trusted groups in America. The majority of Americans (over 60%) look unfavorably on atheist political candidates. There are tons of other studies that show the same thing - atheists (and Muslims, btw) are not considered the same as Christians in US culture. No amount of polite religious tolerance on my part can change that fact.
posted by muddgirl at 10:20 AM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


RandallPatrickMcMurphy?

Where do you live? because if its anywhere other than say, Riyadh, your statement makes little sense.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:21 AM on April 4, 2013


“Radical Muslims fly planes into buildings. Radical Christians kill abortion doctors. Radical atheists write books."

As nice as this would be to believe, it is manifestly not the case.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:24 AM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, it's an ironic requirement to put on a discussion about Sam Harris, because Harris refuses to extend the same courtesy to Islam.

I am talking about when people speak about "New Atheists" in general, which I find to be a troubingly vague group. I have no problem with (i.e. I don't wish to put any "requirement" on) a "discussion about Sam Harris," because it follows precisely my stated desire for specificity: it's a discussion about a named indivdual quoting his actual words.

I find the vagueness of "New Atheists" troubling is because it makes it difficult to recognize, let alone discuss, complex, contested viewpoints. For instance, Artw says above that "New Atheist seems to be the current collective term for belligerent know-it-all atheist who goes out if their way to be a asshole," but perceptions of belligerence differ. Sometimes simple public expressions of atheist identity (e.g. "I'm an atheist") can be perceived as belligerence (like the "good without God" bus ad that one person characterized as a "blatant disrespect of our faith."
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:25 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


As nice as this would be to believe, it is manifestly not the case.:

an atheistic and antireligious organization of workers and intelligentsia that developed in Soviet Russia under the influence of the ideological and cultural views and policies of the Communist Party

Oh, so they were working to destroy belief in the God of creation in favor of the God of the State? Yeah, not actually atheism.
posted by grubi at 10:27 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Annoying as New Atheists are I wouldn't actually accuse then of genocide. Glenn Greenwald either, for that matter.
posted by Artw at 10:28 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It would be neat if this thread didn't turn into another round of 'Which gigantic and heterogeneous demographic has been quantifiably worse through history.'
posted by shakespeherian at 10:30 AM on April 4, 2013 [23 favorites]


But again, Harris has no problem talking about "Christians" or "Muslims" without specifying what he means by those terms. That's what I find problematic when what I'll call evangelical atheists object to loosely-defined terms like "New Atheist" - we don't want to get into arguments about cultural Christianity vs. the WBC. Why do we expect other people to get into arguments about New Atheists vs. lower-case 'a' atheists vs. Secular Humanists?
posted by muddgirl at 10:30 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Christianity is generally more "relaxed" than say, 500 years ago. If an atheist gets into an argument with a Christian today, some substantial precentage of the time the argument is going to devolve into the "the Bible is a metaphor", or some semi-gnostic stuff, and now you're arguing in semantics. Islam, at least in the popular imagination, tends to have a more robust expression these days. (Historically, the opposite was the case, with Christian Europe loving that ol' time religion, while Islamic societies were more open. Funny how people are less serious about religion when they have money and power.)

So, if you are a writer that makes money by having loud, public, arguments over atheism, it's just easier to engage with Islam. You get a cleaner argument with better contrast. That doesn't mean you get more illuminating argument, of course.
posted by spaltavian at 10:31 AM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


It would be neat if this thread didn't turn into another round of 'Which gigantic and heterogeneous demographic has been quantifiably worse through history.'

Seconded.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:31 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you bring up the government of North Korea to dispute the idea that radical atheists write books instead of murdering people, maybe that should be a clue that the term "radical" isn't really all that appropriate for the atheists who it has been applied to in this very thread.
posted by Flunkie at 10:31 AM on April 4, 2013


Many religions -- most major religions -- have intolerant and fundamentalist sects. Christianity. Judaism. Islam. Hinduism. etc. Islam is not unique in that regard.

You know, I've always found it odd that the New Atheism writers very, very rarely attack Judaism, and when they do, the attacks usually concentrate on the hardest-core Haredi and never in a general "Judaism is ruining the world" way the way it does with Christianity or Islam.
posted by griphus at 10:32 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know who else thought It would be neat if this thread didn't turn into another round of 'Which gigantic and heterogeneous demographic has been quantifiably worse through history.'...
posted by Cookiebastard at 10:34 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


and never in a general "Judaism is ruining the world" way

Probably because they are Mel Brooks fans.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:34 AM on April 4, 2013


You know, I've always found it odd that the New Atheism writers very, very rarely attack Judaism, and when it does, the attacks usually concentrate on the hardest-core Haredi and never in a general "Judaism is ruining the world" way the way it does with Christianity or Islam.

Is it maybe because there are and have been far more radical Muslim and Christian groups and governments than Jewish ones? Is it possible that there are more people writing anti-Semitic manifestos to justify their murder plans than there are pro-Zionist examples of the same?

It's not to say there aren't *any*, but which way does the trend go?
posted by grubi at 10:34 AM on April 4, 2013


And another thing: I miss atheists like Carl Sagan who made it more about the wonder of the universe, not about hatred and suspicion. One of my fondest memories is reading his book "The Demon-Haunted World" on a train during college.

Sagan tries in that book to lead our eye from angels and demons to galaxies and DNA, but Harris wants us to pre-emptively nuke Islamic countries and discriminate against Muslims. Some pitch.

And then there were atheists like Voltaire and Mark Twain, whose entire deal was opposing torture and cruelty. Atheists shouldn't worship these other petty weirdos claiming to speak for them.
posted by steinsaltz at 10:35 AM on April 4, 2013 [19 favorites]


You know who else thought It would be neat if this thread didn't turn into another round of 'Which gigantic and heterogeneous demographic has been quantifiably worse through history.'...

It would be neat if this thread didn't turn into another round of "You know who else thought It would be neat if this thread didn't turn into another round of 'Which gigantic and heterogeneous demographic has been quantifiably worse through history.'..."...
posted by grubi at 10:35 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm going to mount a Broadway musical called The Book of the Prophet

[singing] Assalamu 'alaykum! My name's Imam Abdul, and I would like to share with you the most amazing book!
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:36 AM on April 4, 2013


And why is profiling "idiotic" exactly? It's wrong to develop a scientific profile of terrorists? The 9/11 terrorist were Saudis. The London Underground bombers were Pakistani. Why should we exclude they fact that these people were Saudis and Pakistanis from their respective profiles?
posted by Brocktoon at 10:37 AM on April 4, 2013


It's not to say there aren't *any*, but which way does the trend go?

Right, but in the "Atheists don’t like Islam. We also don’t like Catholicism, Episcopalianism..." sense -- I'm quoting from the Meyers quote above directly, although I'm completely aware this attitude obviously doesn't extend across all of atheism, or maybe even most, but it's a loud attitude -- you'll never see Judaism (not Zionism, not Ultra-Orthodox attitudes, but Judaism as homogenous entity) as a target.

Mind you I'm not at all complaining angry people are leaving Jews alone. It's just a little odd the New Atheism writers can dismiss Islam or Christianity as a whole, but take care to never do likewise with Judaism.
posted by griphus at 10:38 AM on April 4, 2013


I'll call evangelical atheists object to loosely-defined terms like "New Atheist" - we don't want to get into arguments about cultural Christianity vs. the WBC. Why do we expect other people to get into arguments about New Atheists vs. lower-case 'a' atheists vs. Secular Humanists?

I can't speak for evangelical atheists, but regarding my own objections to loose definitions, I think we can talk about nuanced differences among both religious and non-religious groups. If I'm calling for more recognition of complexity and engagement with detail on all sides, is that a problematic position for me to take as an atheist? I desire more complexity because I think it makes for more productive dialogue in a topic where productive dialogue is often very difficult.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:38 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, Brocktoon, we shouldn't, necessarily, but we should keep in mind whether such information is in fact more probative than prejudicial.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:39 AM on April 4, 2013


There are very serious movements underway in this direction down here.

True, right-wing in the US is not to be underestimated. Peter Bergen seems to think so.

Yes, we need to continually defend and strengthen the political and cultural institutions that counterbalance those forces of evil, but they still exist in the US and are pretty healthy overall. (I'm more worried about corporate control of the political system than religious, though recognize they're often connected.)

On the other hand, the political and cultural institutions that might defend the rights of individuals and minorities in many Muslim majority states are very fragile or non-existent. Iran and Saudi Arabia are the most obvious examples, but look at Pakistan's unrelenting history of state-sponsored efforts to destroy any non-Sunni Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities (don't even think about athiests). It's not all countries with Islamic majorities or Islamic governments and it certainly happens recently and through history in secular states and states with other religious majorities - Russians in Chechnya, Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, radical Hindus in India, or Nazi Germany for that matter. But on the whole I stand by my contention that right now political Islam (in both state and non-state manifestations) is driving that kind of violence and degradation of human rights more frequently and more aggressively than any other religion.

And you'd be worried if you ever had to escort your wife to a clinic for a medically necessary abortion

Fortunately I haven't, but I have lived in five (politically and culturally very different) majority Muslim countries, including Pakistan, in the last decade or two, and in that time I've personally witnessed and had to deal with the consequences of religiously motivated acts on people I cared about that were just as or more more disturbing, damaging and pervasive throughout the culture.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 10:40 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


And now I am sad about the prosoect of losing Iain Banks all over again.
posted by Artw at 10:40 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


muddgirl: That's what I find problematic when what I'll call evangelical atheists object to loosely-defined terms like "New Atheist" - we don't want to get into arguments about cultural Christianity vs. the WBC.

I don't the term "evangelical atheist" either for a variety of reasons. And I also object to overgeneralizing among Christian groups. (I also think that "radical" is being abused in this context as well. But that's likely a matter of linguistic meaning that's a lost cause.)

griphus: Mind you I'm not at all complaining angry people are leaving Jews alone.

You probably missed out on the big shitstorms over circumcision laws then.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:43 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am beginning to think New Atheism is its own religion.
it's a marketing term, duh, and it's an incredibly handy tool for theists who wanna consolidate some power, the way 'political correctness' is a right-wing caricature to rail against.
posted by waxbanks at 10:43 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


You know, I've always found it odd that the New Atheism writers very, very rarely attack Judaism, and when they do, the attacks usually concentrate on the hardest-core Haredi and never in a general "Judaism is ruining the world" way the way it does with Christianity or Islam.

If I had to hazard a guess, it's at least partly because there are distinct schools of Judaism that generally apply to level of commitment to ritual, which is different than most religions, especially Abrahamic ones.

And why is profiling "idiotic" exactly? It's wrong to develop a scientific profile of terrorists? The 9/11 terrorist were Saudis. The London Underground bombers were Pakistani. Why should we exclude they fact that these people were Saudis and Pakistanis from their respective profiles?

Because, short story, in practice, profiling is less "comes from a violent sectarian background" and more "brownish dude with weird name/facial hair/hat/clothes/accent." If you want the long story, there's plenty of good articles on it, start with Bruce Schneier and work your way through Google.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:43 AM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


And why is profiling "idiotic" exactly? It's wrong to develop a scientific profile of terrorists? The 9/11 terrorist were Saudis. The London Underground bombers were Pakistani. Why should we exclude they fact that these people were Saudis and Pakistanis from their respective profiles?

Correlation does not mean causation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:44 AM on April 4, 2013


"And why is profiling "idiotic" exactly? It's wrong to develop a scientific profile of terrorists? The 9/11 terrorist were Saudis. The London Underground bombers were Pakistani. Why should we exclude they fact that these people were Saudis and Pakistanis from their respective profiles?"

Great! Lets start with white Christian men, as they commit the most number of terrorist acts on US soil.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:44 AM on April 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Huh --
I take it that New Atheists are part of a secular movement that espouses:
a) disdain for religion
b) refusal to differentiate among the religious (b/c of complicity claims)
c) acceptance that religious rationales given for cruelty or injustice are the real reasons/causes for those acts
d) a commitment to secular evangelism and the charisma of the particular New Atheist leaders I named
OK this group is tiny, and sucks, and they take each other very seriously but no one else does, and if this is all you mean by 'New Atheism' then please let's move on to a group that has a number of people in it not statistically equivalent to goddamn zero.
posted by waxbanks at 10:46 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


@ MisantropicPainforest --
Great! Lets start with white Christian men, as they commit the most number of terrorist acts on US soil.
are you in favour of profiling muslims in other countries, then? i ask 'merely for information.'
posted by waxbanks at 10:47 AM on April 4, 2013


would be Christophobic or whatever

It's worth noting, that for all the Fundamentalists' complaints of oppression, there's not actually a word for this.
posted by aught at 10:49 AM on April 4, 2013


No, that was facetious, I'm against profiling.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:49 AM on April 4, 2013


"It is not islamophobia to recognize reality." - PZ Myers
posted by Chuffy at 10:50 AM on April 4, 2013


Brocktoon: The London Underground bombers were Pakistani. Why should we exclude they fact that these people were Saudis and Pakistanis from their respective profiles?

Oh FFS. Three of the London bombers were born and raised in Leeds and Bradford, in West Yorkshire, the fourth was born in Jamaica and moved to West Yorkshire when he was five.
posted by Len at 10:52 AM on April 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


It's really kind of a lose-lose situation for atheists. Acting purely as individuals in your own society prevents the sort of mass actions that tend to be needed to stand up and defend your rights. It also doesn't do as much to change any societal status quo that needs correcting.

However organizing requires at least a few shared principles, even for such a wildly divierse group. That isn't too bad, but the natural tendency for an organization is to acquire more "shared principles" as people take charge and begin making pronouncements. (Just ask the Republicans. Originally their only real shared principle was, "No slavery in the western states.") But atheism isn't like a religion or culture where a shared set of values is the whole point and the "group" as its perceived begins to meander and lose its way, even if what the "group" is doesn't truly represent anyone who was supposed to be a member in the first place.

tl;dr - Grouping atheists is less useful than grouping cats but sometimes it needs to be done anyways.
posted by charred husk at 10:56 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Brocktoon: "And why is profiling "idiotic" exactly? It's wrong to develop a scientific profile of terrorists? The 9/11 terrorist were Saudis. The London Underground bombers were Pakistani. Why should we exclude they fact that these people were Saudis and Pakistanis from their respective profiles?"

Have you read the debate between Harris and Schneier? It's an interesting read, and I think Schneier makes a pretty compelling case for profiling being ineffective. (MeFi self-link)
posted by brundlefly at 10:56 AM on April 4, 2013


The London Underground bombers were Pakistani.

Actually they were three British citizens with parents orginally from Pakistan and one British resident, originally from Jamaica.
posted by biffa at 10:57 AM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh, and only 15 of the 19 9/11 bombers were from Saudi Arabia, so maybe we should exclude the fact that these people are Saudis and Pakistanis because, well, some of them aren't.
posted by Len at 10:57 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


RandallPatrickMcMurphy?

Where do you live? because if its anywhere other than say, Riyadh, your statement makes little sense.


You mean my statement that fundamentalist Islam has more of an impact on my life than the Westboro Baptists? Well, lets see, on the Islam side I'd start with: I was in DC on 9/11; that certainly had some impact on my life. I've worked in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan; fundamentalist political Islam in those places had a profoundly negative impact on people I was very close to, including a couple who were killed. And I don't think its wrong to be concerned about the rights and well-being of people who do like in Riyadh who do not want to live in a fundamentalist state. On the Westboro side of the ledger: There was a guy in a tree at the inauguration who kept yelling stupid shit about abortion. That really bugged me. More seriously I recognize that they are the vanguard of a deeper threat of the religious right, and they scare and worry me, but they are not the same kind of immediate threat to us that the Pakistani government is to my Ahmadi Muslim friends in Islamabad.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 10:57 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think the common thread underlying both our experiences has much more to do with what anthropologists call "Honor Culture" than with Islam or Christianity, RandlePatrickMkMurphy. That's why there are similar tendencies in the deep south (which anthropologists have long noted is be more dominated by traditional honor culture values than the north).

Some Christian organizations in the US are actually very consciously into promoting the idea of Honor Culture as a way to sustain religious faith in the US, but its links to violence and social instability have long been discussed in anthropology circles, and its role in contributing to violence in Muslim countries is well known.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:58 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Metafilter - The place to go to identify which gigantic and heterogeneous demographic has been quantifiably worse through history.
posted by Chuffy at 10:59 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


anytime you extrapolate to the general from the specific you run the risk of ignorance, malevolence or stupidity. The result is always the same.
posted by edgeways at 11:01 AM on April 4, 2013



Wait, now I'm confused. Dawkins is saying it's absurd to call Islamophobia "racism", because Islam isn't a race. And people think Dawkins is making an obviously ridiculous argument.

But... it's true, right? Inasmuch as one believes that race exists, there are Muslims, including radical Muslims, of every race, from Indonesia to Somalia to Orange County. And while many people foolishly treat "Arab" and "Muslim" as synonyms, there are lots of Arabs who aren't Muslim, many of whom are quite badly persecuted by Muslims.

So while Islamophobia could be treated as religious or ideological prejudice, it does seem foolish to call it racism, and calling Islamophobia a form of racism means either assuming that all Arabs are Muslims, which is, if not racist, at least way ignorant, or assuming that the person you're addressing thinks all Arabs are Muslims, which is certainly not true in Dawkins' case.

So why is this "the tiredest of tired lines"?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:04 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mind you I'm not at all complaining angry people are leaving Jews alone. It's just a little odd the New Atheism writers can dismiss Islam or Christianity as a whole, but take care to never do likewise with Judaism.

To be fair, not a lot of Jewish doctrine contains directives to convert. This could be a part of it: an aggressive belief that instructs you to be aggressive to get believers. From what I know of Judaism, it doesn't actively seek any converts.
posted by grubi at 11:06 AM on April 4, 2013


So why is this "the tiredest of tired lines"?

Because it's the rhetoric equivalent of "I know you are, but what am I?" with a bit of inapplicable formal logic thrown in.
posted by griphus at 11:06 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


[The London Underground bombers] were three British citizens with parents orginally from Pakistan and one British resident, originally from Jamaica.

So, again, around to Islamaphibia and support of profiling being "not racist"...
posted by Artw at 11:07 AM on April 4, 2013


To be fair, not a lot of Jewish doctrine contains directives to convert.

Then they must absolutely despise Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses and single them out all the time.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:07 AM on April 4, 2013


Dawkins is right, if his detractors actually bother to stop and think for a second. Most people assume (wrongly) that Muslims are all from the Middle East, which is where the silly idea comes from, that criticizing Islam is racist. But then theists need a strawman to attack, of course, and Dawkins is as good a target for their bullying as any other.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:09 AM on April 4, 2013


Back when I had PZ Meyers in my RSS feed he would complain about stupid Jewish-religous stuff with infrequent regularity.
posted by rosswald at 11:09 AM on April 4, 2013


Then they must absolutely despise Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses and single them out all the time.

If you don't know about these writers' essays on those very two sects, then I don't know what to tell you beyond "Google it." I've read plenty from PZ Myers on both of those.
posted by grubi at 11:10 AM on April 4, 2013


griphus: "It's just a little odd the New Atheism writers can dismiss Islam or Christianity as a whole, but take care to never do likewise with Judaism."

Measured against Christianity in particular, we're probably considered kinda inoffensive. Except for a small subset of our fundamentalists, Jews don't particularly care if non-Jews follow our religious beliefs or not. We're not supposed to proselytize or do missionary work. We don't impose our beliefs on others or involve ourselves in other people's religious beliefs. Our religion is supposed to be for us and us alone. Everyone else can do what they want, as long as "what they want" doesn't extend to infringing on us.

Most Jews probably aren't trying to lobby the government to impose our religious beliefs on the masses. At most, some of us are probably lobbying for Israel and Zionism. But religious craziness over the middle east notwithstanding, we don't really have a religious imperative to censor science education, demand that the Torah be taught as fact, dictate to LGBT's that they can't get married or a ban woman's right to choose. Etc.
posted by zarq at 11:10 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Islamaphibia

"Submit to the will of Allah! And also walk on land."
posted by grubi at 11:11 AM on April 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


My problem with ethnic profiling (which is what would happen with the "looks like" standard posed by Harris), is the needle in a haystack problem. You waste too much time investigating false positives. And when those false positives involve a different standard of probable cause on the basis of ethnicity, you've just violated the Equal Protection Clause.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:11 AM on April 4, 2013


Does it matter if the label for it is cultural bigotry or racism? Either way, to generalize about all the various forms Islamic belief and culture can take without acknowledging there are substantial differences between them is wrong.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:11 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wait, now I'm confused. Dawkins is saying it's absurd to call Islamophobia "racism", because Islam isn't a race. And people think Dawkins is making an obviously ridiculous argument.

I think because it's the equivalent of saying 'It isn't racist to despise women, because women aren't a race. Therefore there is no problem despising women since it isn't racist.'
posted by shakespeherian at 11:12 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Can we just agree that Sam Harris is the Ron Paul of New Atheism?
posted by The World Famous at 11:12 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think because it's the equivalent of saying 'It isn't racist to despise women, because women aren't a race. Therefore there is no problem despising women since it isn't racist.'

No, it's the equivalent of "Hating women isn't racism, because women aren't a race." And even THAT is absurd, because he's not calling out these folks because people are not BORN with a belief system.
posted by grubi at 11:13 AM on April 4, 2013


If you think criticising Islam is racist, you must think Islam is a race. And if you think Islam is a race you are a racist.

If you think criticizing black people for being lazy is racist, then you must think laziness is a racial trait. And if you think laziness is a racial trait you are racist.

Yep, this is dumb.

If you feel comfortable drawing conclusions about billions of people from the actions of a few dozen, I don't think you're a paragon of logical reasoning. You're much more likely to be racist.
posted by leopard at 11:14 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Belief systems are not genetic traits. If you keep trying to force an equivalence otherwise, you look silly.
posted by grubi at 11:15 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, it's the equivalent of "Hating women isn't racism, because women aren't a race."

Wait isn't that what I said?
posted by shakespeherian at 11:16 AM on April 4, 2013


Measured against Christianity in particular, we're probably considered kinda inoffensive.

Yeah, I can grasp that part and the fact that a lot of Judaism/Jewish culture rightly concentrates on making sure gentiles leave Jews alone (whether that's by invisibility, inoffensiveness or earning genuine respect) and this can be seen as a success of that.

But I don't like the idea of Religions X and Y being on New Atheism's bad side and Religion Z being on New Atheism's good side. Because, at that point, it's not atheism that's being championed, but prejudice. Which brings us back to the very point of this FPP -- Islam is on New Atheism's bad side, and a constant target (whether New Atheism's attacks are anything more than a fly buzzing in Islam's ear is a different matter.)
posted by griphus at 11:18 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The whole "you can't be racist against Muslims because Muslims aren't a race" is similar to the argument that is trotted out sometimes that "Palestinians are a semitic people, so Hezbollah can't be ant-Semetic." In both cases it relies on linguistics and etymology and ignore the plain intent how the words are being used. Its a lazy cop-out that substitutes language games for actual engagement with ideas.
posted by Falconetti at 11:18 AM on April 4, 2013 [17 favorites]


I don't think I'm extrapolating from the general to the specific. Or arguing about who has been worse through history. I think that Sam Harris and other who do are idiots who do more damage than good. (Not to mention the crazy-ass Pam Gellers of the world.)

I'm saying that at this specific point in history there are fundamentalist forces and movements within Islam who have significant political power in a number of Muslim-majority states and are using that power to impose their religious values and use violence and other means to repress those who do not share those values. From those specific cases I hypothesize that those movements will have similar objectives and use similar strategies in other contexts. There are also forces and movements within Islam that do not have those objectives. At other points in history and in other countries today the same could be said for Christianity or other religions; in fact it may be true now to some extent at state and local levels in the US. However, in the past couple of decades the quantity, intensity and prevalence of cases that involve movements associated with Islam has been higher than that of other religions.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 11:19 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I see all the people who want to call Dawkins 'racist' have decided to redefine language as much as misrepresent his position. Okay, then.
posted by grubi at 11:19 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wait, now I'm confused. Dawkins is saying it's absurd to call Islamophobia "racism", because Islam isn't a race. And people think Dawkins is making an obviously ridiculous argument.

He's taking the term at face value which ignores a long history of racist, ethnocentric attitudes that the West had adopted towards Muslims because it's easier to reduce things to pithy absolutisms and all Dawkins really ever needs is the crowd. He should know better, I think, about the institutions that influence this kind of thinking and why this kind of attitude ultimately places him on the same ideological grounds as rabid nationalists and conservatives but he doesn't care. He doesn't care because because his audience doesn't care and that's what matters. In the end, if you can bring more people into the fold by spewing forward disempowering ahistorical frameworks because you absolutely know you're right then it's an issue where the ends justify the means and he becomes like every Machiavellian evangelist without, as anotherpanacea has noted, the grounded humanism of Rousseau.
posted by dubusadus at 11:19 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]



Can we just agree that Sam Harris is the Ron Paul of New Atheism?


Actually, I think he's more the Ann Coulter.
posted by KaizenSoze at 11:21 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Belief systems are not genetic traits. If you keep trying to force an equivilant otherwise, you look silly

Most people immersed in a culture dominated by a particular religion don't in any practical sense have the option not to identify with it, whether they would otherwise give two shits about the beliefs behind it or not. It's not especially fair-minded or realistic to think the average Joe or Jane in a Muslim country ever made a conscious choice to adopt Islam as their belief-system or is necessarily motivated by their faith to behave in the ways that are often criticized. Honor killing traditions in many of those parts of the world, for example, aren't even Islamic in origin but date back even further in history and are common to non-Muslim populations in nearby regions. People of European descent for a significant chunk of history were lumped in together as Christian, whether they were or not. The situation for many so-called Muslims probably isn't much different.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:23 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hating women isn't racism. That's not the problem with Dawkins's dumb-ass statement. The reason "Islam isn't a race so nyah nyah nyah I can't be racist for hating Muslims" is that racism is clearly a powerful motivator of Islamophobia. The fact that there are white, yellow and brown Muslims doesn't suddenly sweep away centuries of "Aieeee, the filthy Saracen hordes are coming to rape our wimmins!" The negative stereotypes peddled by Islamophobes are powerfully racialized. The "fanatic muslim" they are picturing in their mind's eye when they witter on about terrorism and other atrocities is not a blue-eyed blond.
posted by yoink at 11:24 AM on April 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


racism is clearly a powerful motivator of Islamophobia.

Is that clearly a powerful motivator for HIS Islamophobia?
posted by grubi at 11:25 AM on April 4, 2013


If you think criticising Islam is racist, you must think Islam is a race. And if you think Islam is a race you are a racist.

The biggest flaw there is his incorrect assumption that if someone thinks criticizing Islam is racist, they "must think Islam is a race." I hate to be presumptuous and tell Dawkins how to go about analyzing things, but it might be a good idea for him to try an evidence-based approach instead of accepting and basing his analysis of reality on founding premises that are both false and invented from whole cloth without any evidence.
posted by The World Famous at 11:25 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wait, now I'm confused. Dawkins is saying it's absurd to call Islamophobia "racism", because Islam isn't a race. And people think Dawkins is making an obviously ridiculous argument.

I think because it's the equivalent of saying 'It isn't racist to despise women, because women aren't a race. Therefore there is no problem despising women since it isn't racist.'


That "therefore" is precisely what no one is saying but you. All of the above answers are basically saying "It's a sucky thing to say" without any more insight, engaging in weird swapping of subject and object, or furiously building strawmen like "if you say it isn't racism, you're saying it's okay."

The problem with saying Islamophobia is racism is that it's a way of shifting terms instead of engaging with arguments. Everyone agrees that it's wrong to assume a person's personality and beliefs based on the color of their skin. Which is why Dawkins and others aren't saying anything vaguely resembling that; they're saying that a person's beliefs can lead to terrible actions. Pretending– or insisting– that people making the latter argument are really making the former is the very definition of bad faith.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:26 AM on April 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


The "fanatic muslim" they are picturing in their mind's eye when they witter on about terrorism and other atrocities is not a blue-eyed blond.

I guarantee you that when many witter on about terrorism, they are in fact picturing John Walker Lindh.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:28 AM on April 4, 2013


grubi: Is that clearly a powerful motivator for HIS Islamophobia?

This is basically a pointless distinction, given that functionally speaking, the end result is indistinguishable. It's not the intent, it's the effect.
posted by Len at 11:28 AM on April 4, 2013


This is basically a pointless distinction, given that functionally speaking, the end result is indistinguishable. It's not the intent, it's the effect.

No, not really, not if the major point of contention is "Richard Dawkins said/did something racist and here's how." What motivates HIS issue is the entire point, or else why bring him up as an example? I understand intent vs effect, but you're straying from the original charge.
posted by grubi at 11:30 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Belief systems are not genetic traits. If you keep trying to force an equivilant otherwise, you look silly

Sports aren't genetic either, so it's not racist of me to think that football and basketball are brutish games of low intelligence while hockey and golf are true challenges of finesse and discipline, that track and field are displays of freakish luck-of-birth while skating displays talent and dedication, and that boxing hasn't been worth a damn since the 1960s.

Put another way, Dawkins is being willfully ignorant, which isn't very attractive in someone who brands himself as the pinnacle of rationality.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:30 AM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


The biggest flaw there is his incorrect assumption that if someone thinks criticizing Islam is racist, they "must think Islam is a race."

Quite. It's like saying "I'm not a racist for portraying Obama with a bone through his nose stirring a pot with a white missionary in it while smacking photoshop enhanced lips; lots of people of all races sport pierced noses, and cannibalism has been practiced by people of all races--just think of that soccer team in the Andes!--and, heck, all kinds of Hollywood people get their lips plumped up these days! You're clearly the racist for making the accusation!"
posted by yoink at 11:30 AM on April 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


And why is profiling "idiotic" exactly? It's wrong to develop a scientific profile of terrorists?

Profiling isn't necessarily idiotic, but it doesn't fare well in a cost-benefit analysis compared to other security measures, provided you factor in the distributed social cost of creating second class citizens.

Consider the outcomes of a test based on "looking Muslim" as a proxy for terrorism:

(a) False positives: Non-terrorists who look Muslim. These are the people who are hurt by profiling, and they will account for the vast majority of profiling targets, like 99.9999% of those who are stopped and searched. They will be subjected to public humiliation, delays, discrimination, and detainment, despite being innocent.

(b) True positives: Actual terrorists who look Muslim. A vanishingly small number of people, but catching them saves lives.

(c) False negatives: Actual terrorists who do not look Muslim. Knowing that profiling is a policy, smart terrorists will do everything in their power to avoid "looking Muslim" (whether or not they actually are Muslim). This reduces the number of true positives (b) significantly.

The social cost and financial cost of (a) is tremendous, and the benefit of (b) is tiny in comparison, even though it involves saving lives.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:31 AM on April 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Dawkins is awful.
posted by colie at 11:31 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think that one of the things that bothers me about New Atheism, at least espoused by the four thinkers associated with it, and people who are parroting their arguments is that it sets up a straw man about what a spiritual life is and then knocks it down. It is almost entirely self-contained.

There are many varieties of religious and spiritual experience, and practitioners change them up all the time. I go through all kinds of phases in my spiritual life because I am a thinking man. I don't think I have ever believed in a white robed man in the sky waiting to send me down the proper chute at the end of my life. But when I get into conversations with some vitriolic atheists lately, they project that belief on me and then proceed to tear it to pieces. In every case I feel like I am just a bystander watching a car wreck. At the end of the day it feels like their thinking hasn't moved me at all, and I feel a little sad by it. the chance for a real conversations evaporates.

I enjoy people challenging me on my beliefs because I learn new things. But it's helpful if you ask me what I believe before you challenge me. And it's helpful if you show some willingness to be as vulnerable in your world view as you want me to be in mine.
posted by salishsea at 11:31 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Navelgazer: Sports aren't genetic either, so it's not racist of me to think that football and basketball are brutish games of low intelligence while hockey and golf are true challenges of finesse and discipline, that track and field are displays of freakish luck-of-birth while skating displays talent and dedication, and that boxing hasn't been worth a damn since the 1960s.

colie: Dawkins is awful.

KaizenSoze: Actually, I think he's more the Ann Coulter.

Oh, I get it now: there is literally no talking to any of you at all. Why didn't you just fucking say so instead of pretending this was a discussion?
posted by grubi at 11:34 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I guarantee you that when many witter on about terrorism, they are in fact picturing John Walker Lindh.

Which is why arguments for profiling center around people who look like John Walker Lindh, right? Or, in other words, no--that is demonstrably untrue.

Look, the point is not that Islamophobes are unaware of the existence of non-arab or non-asian muslims. The point is that a large part of the stew of inherited and acquired cultural prejudices that animate their hatred are profoundly racialized. This is why, for example, "turbans" figure so prominently in the iconography of Islamophobia.
posted by yoink at 11:36 AM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Put another way, Dawkins is being willfully ignorant, which isn't very attractive in someone who brands himself as the pinnacle of rationality.

Based on everything of his that I've read and seen, I think you're giving him far too much credit.
posted by The World Famous at 11:36 AM on April 4, 2013


No, grubi, I think almost everyone here is up for discussion, but we're not agreeing with Dawkins' premise that racism is all about genetics and that anything else is fair game.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:38 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


All of the above answers are basically saying "It's a sucky thing to say" without any more insight, engaging in weird swapping of subject and object, or furiously building strawmen like "if you say it isn't racism, you're saying it's okay."

It's weirdly ironic, isn't it, when his detractors are openly and unashamedly using such an obvious logical fallacy.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:39 AM on April 4, 2013


grubi: No, not really, not if the major point of contention is "Richard Dawkins said/did something racist and here's how." [emphasis mine]

The point is not that Dakwins is or isn't racist. The point is, did he say/do something racist, and if so, what happened as a result of that? It doesn't really matter why he reasoned his way into saying/doing what he said/did, at least to me. The man is not stupid. And as dubusadus said upthread, he's not ignorant of centuries of racial stereotypes, prejudices and justifications, many of which have fuelled support for colonial expansion and violence at the expense of the lives of millions of non-white people. He knows exactly what he's saying and doing. I don't really care if he believes that he's making his "hating Islam isn't racist because Islam isn't a race argument" because he truly believes it or because he knows it will fire people up. It's disingenuous nonsesnse. If he wants people to believe he's not racist, he shouldn't say stuff which is functionally equivalent to racism. If he does want to be racist, he should have the gall to come out and admit it. But then that would do him a lot of damage.

Basically, he wants to have his cake and eat it. And for that, he can fuck off, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Len at 11:40 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Navelgazer: you haven't actually addressed Dawkins' premise once. You've repeatedly ignored his premise. And then you assign cultural racism to his premise and then get mad at *him* for it.

And as for "someone who brands himself as the pinnacle of rationality", I think one would be hard-pressed to see where Richard Dawkins branded himself as any such thing. Heaven forbid one advocate taking a rational position! If we ever catch them being irrational, then that makes it easier to call them awful! Just as no person who has ever corrected another's punctuation has ever made a punctuation mistake.

Jesus wept.
posted by grubi at 11:41 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's disingenuous nonsesnse.

Says the person who hasn't read what Dawkins actually said. Right.
posted by grubi at 11:42 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The semantic soup in this thread is giving me a headache. I'll check back later.
posted by Kokopuff at 11:44 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's the problem I have right now:

PERSON ONE: I don't like such-and-such.

PERSON TWO: That's racist!

PERSON ONE: Not really. I don't hate such-and-such because of race.

PERSON TWO: You can't ignore cultural racism!

So... it's impossible for someone to dislike something for reasons OUTSIDE of cultural baggage others have placed on it?
posted by grubi at 11:45 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not any particular religious sentiment but zombie-like reanimated medieval concepts like honor, might makes right and great-chain-of-being that are at the root of the problems the New Athiests misattribute to Islam and/or other belief systems. Those things are what pose the biggest threats to secularism around the world, and they're on the rise in Christian culture now, too, in no small part as a direct consequence of the neoconservative militaristic agenda so many of the New Athiests bought into. At the time of the Iraq invasion, the New Athiests were practically leading the charge of the new Christian Crusaders in the US (which latter group wholeheartedly embraced their analyses of Islam and enthusiastically employed it for propagandistic purposes throughout that time even if the authors were godless heathens who would have sneered at their own Christian faith), and in the process, I'd argue they potentially did deeper and longer lasting harm to modernity and secularism in the West than any jihadist could do with a bomb. We need our Atheists to defend us from our own tendencies to backslide into barbarism, not to urge us into battle with others on religious grounds--which, if you think about it, could only have the effect of reinforcing our own more medieval and tribal identification oriented tendencies, as those are precisely the impulses periods of military conflict tend to reinforce.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:50 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Grubi: I have no idea what Dawkins's tweet was responding to. There's not a lot of context for a tweet. My read-- and I could be wrong-- is that Dawkins is attempting to deflect criticisms that he is prejudiced against 1.8 billion people because of the actions of a few who share a single characteristic with them by saying that Islam isn't a race, and calling him prejudiced is the REAL prejudice.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:50 AM on April 4, 2013


Criticism of Islam isn't automatically racist. But it so frequently is coupled with racism that we can't ignore racism against non-European immigrants and their descendants as a big part of anti-Islamist rhetoric.

The same is true of historical nativism and Catholicism BTW. The Know Nothings and Klan attacked Catholicism because it was the religion disproportionately practiced by undesirable immigrant and minority groups (some of whom have a longer history in North America than my Puritan ancestry). And it's that intellectual heritage that's behind things like people attempting to use zoning laws to prevent Muslims from holding religious services in their community.

grubi: So... it's impossible for someone to dislike something for reasons OUTSIDE of cultural baggage others have placed on it?

Of course not. But you shouldn't dismiss the big role that racism and nativism have in this discussion either. Sometimes criticism of Islam is about race. Sometimes it's not.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:51 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


grubi: Says the person who hasn't read what Dawkins actually said. Right.

The tweet under discussion is right there, in his timeline. It says: "If you think criticising Islam is racist, you must think Islam is a race. And if you think Islam is a race you are a racist."

grubi: So... it's impossible for someone to dislike something for reasons OUTSIDE of cultural baggage others have placed on it?

Again, in capital letters, NO. But it's impossible to dislike something for reasons outside of cultural baggage other have placed on it and not look like you're disliking because of all the cultural associations other people have with such statements. I don't get why this is so hard to parse.

I mean, if I said "god, women who wear short skirts and high heels are such tarts" and you said "that's a load of misogynist bollocks" and I replied with "oh, no, I love women, I just think that the ones wearing short skirts and high heels are just cockteasers", that wouldn't make me sound like anything less of a misogynist dickhead, would it?
posted by Len at 11:51 AM on April 4, 2013


I mean, for fuck's sake, we've got one state in the US actively considering legislation to adopt an official state religion,

The bill is stupid, but that's not actually what the bill says (pdf).
posted by Jahaza at 11:52 AM on April 4, 2013


shakespherian: I agree his deflection is wrong -- and he'd be incorrect to ignore the cultural racism. But why he felt the need to respond was correct: don't go assuming he's racist because he doesn't like something when the very something he dislikes isn't disliked for any reason pertaining to race.
posted by grubi at 11:52 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, I get it now: there is literally no talking to any of you at all. Why didn't you just fucking say so instead of pretending this was a discussion?
I'm sorry that people don't agree with you -- perhaps you should get over it? I think Sam Harris : Ann Coulter is a bit over-blown -- but I don't think it's unreasonable to say that the "New Atheists" are in love with their own rhetoric.

My impression is that the most popular ones aren't very self-aware, which is a *huge* problem with this recent movement. Part of the whole "rationality" they are trying to push is to be self-critical. But as far as I've seen, none of the popular spokesmen for this movement have ever been wrong in any significant way since they've "seen the light" of rational areligious thought. That makes no sense. You're trading one version of super-humanity for another.

This is a warning sign. Sam Harris, in particular, is well spoken, but not very smart. Smart people don't sit on absolutist positions and crap all over people who know more than they do. He's done this multiple times. As an atheist, I've gone from "perhaps he's being misread, like he says" to "ok, he seems a little bit crazy right wing for me -- and what are his qualifications anyway?"
True, right-wing in the US is not to be underestimated.
See: "New Atheists." Every other word from Mr Harris is about wishy-washy liberals and the soft handling of muslim extremists.
posted by smidgen at 11:53 AM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I mean, if I said "god, women who wear short skirts and high heels are such tarts" and you said "that's a load of misogynist bollocks" and I replied with "oh, no, I love women, I just think that the ones wearing short skirts and high heels are just cockteasers", that wouldn't make me sound like anything less of a misogynist dickhead, would it?

So his deflection is the same as misogyny? Really? "You guys are the real racists!" = "the ones wearing short skirts and high heels are just cockteasers"?

Are you just fucking with me or do you sincerely believe this? I ask because I have this inherent flaw that makes it hard to distinguish these things sometimes. I have a hard time believing an otherwise intelligent person would make a leap like that.
posted by grubi at 11:54 AM on April 4, 2013


Right, Jahaza. Technically it only affirms the "right" of NC to adopt its own official state religion and nullify the establishment clause at some point in the future should they deign to do so.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:54 AM on April 4, 2013


holy hell can we all calm down?

grubi, what are you so sure we haven't read? We're responding to the tweets he wrote.

The first one calling Islam the greatest force of evil in the world... okay, whatever, that's his opinion and he's an educated man of letters without any seeming external bias to be more threatened by one religion over another one. Benefit of the doubt and all of that.

The second one saying that he doesn't need to read the Koran to have an opinion on Islam, much as he doesn't need to read Mein Kampf to have an opinion on nazis. This seems to be referring to the "Courtier's Reply" mentioned above, though without context (and this one isn't the part of any specific conversation) it appears to be a gross misapplication of that argument. While, no, you don't need to read a geneology of unicorns to argue that unicorns are fictional, of course it is sensible to read the central cultural artifact of a religion in order to have an educated opinion of that religion beyond "disagree with your premise." So he's started being fallacious now, and while I don't believe he's racist, per se, I think he's certainly becoming disingenuous in defending himself.

And then the third one that we're talking about, where he at the very least uses linguistic games to dismiss cultural racism, puts the stopper on it. He is at that point deliberately bullshitting in order to dig himself out.

Did I miss something? Point me to it so that we can discuss.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:55 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm sorry that people don't agree with you -- perhaps you should get over it?

I'm asking for an exchange of information and both sides to genuinely listen to one another. And you go and prove my fucking point: you have no interest in listening.

Show me where I insist people agree with me.
posted by grubi at 11:56 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think any celestial presence is taking actually listening to anyone's songs and prayers, but part of me truly loves that people keep doing it!

Duh. Then you're not a "New" atheist.

I take it that New Atheists are part of a secular movement that espouses:
a) disdain for religion
b) refusal to differentiate among the religious (b/c of complicity claims)
c) acceptance that religious rationales given for cruelty or injustice are the real reasons/causes for those acts
d) a commitment to secular evangelism and the charisma of the particular New Atheist leaders I named

OK this group is tiny, and sucks, and they take each other very seriously but no one else does, and if this is all you mean by 'New Atheism' then please let's move on to a group that has a number of people in it not statistically equivalent to goddamn zero.


Good lord, again, read the Wikipedia article to start. These are the good guys.

You know, I've always found it odd that the New Atheism writers very, very rarely attack Judaism, and when they do, the attacks usually concentrate on the hardest-core Haredi and never in a general "Judaism is ruining the world" way the way it does with Christianity or Islam.

Yeah, that's awfully suspicious (GIANT EYE ROLL). Must be a Jewish conspiracy.

# of Christians worldwide: 2.1 billion
# of Muslims worldwide: 1.5 billion
...
# of Jews worldwide: 14 million

I don't hear New Atheism writers railing against Baha'i either.

I'm actually a bit surprised how pro-religious the crowd is here.

"All things considered, religion’s blessings are outweighed by the harm they do."
posted by mrgrimm at 11:56 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


So his deflection is the same as misogyny? Really? "You guys are the real racists!" = "the ones wearing short skirts and high heels are just cockteasers"?


You...you are aware of that Dawkins has made some pretty horrible misogynistic comments in the past, yes? So using this comparison isn't beyond the pale.
posted by Kitteh at 11:57 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like a lot of this is coming down to defensiveness over the word 'racist' which sort of tends to put me on red alert.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:57 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


You...you are aware of that Dawkins has made some pretty horrible misogynistic comments in the past, yes?

Ah, we're shifting scope. Got it.
posted by grubi at 11:59 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


grubi: So his deflection is the same as misogyny? Really? "You guys are the real racists!" = "the ones wearing short skirts and high heels are just cockteasers"?

Are you just fucking with me or do you sincerely believe this? I ask because I have this inherent flaw that makes it hard to distinguish these things sometimes. I have a hard time believing an otherwise intelligent person would make a leap like that


Well, maybe I'm not that intelligent, but that aside, no, his deflection isn't the same as misogyny. I'd just like to note that you completely ignored the central point of my comment in response to you, so here it is again:

But it's impossible to dislike something for reasons outside of cultural baggage other have placed on it and not look like you're disliking because of all the cultural associations other people have with such statements. I don't get why this is so hard to parse.

And with that, we're going round in circles here, so I'm pretty much done. Thanks for the conversation.
posted by Len at 11:59 AM on April 4, 2013


I'm an atheist, and more of an anti-theist.

Do I think Islam is a poisonous philosophy? Yes, I do. I think the same thing of Christianity, Judaism, Scientology, and any other supernatural claptrap you want to present me with. I'm not afraid of Muslims more than I'm afraid of Baptists (the latter of whom have a much better chance of affecting my everyday life). I think we'd be better off without the entirety of religion. I suppose I'm a "New Atheist" because I'm not going to sit quietly and not make a fuss while people do a lot of stupid, hateful, and violent shit in the name of religion.

Islam doesn't get some kind of free pass so I can prove to someone I'm not an Islamophobe. It's as much dangerous nonsense as all the rest.
posted by Legomancer at 12:01 PM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


I feel like a lot of this is coming down to defensiveness over the word 'racist' which sort of tends to put me on red alert.

"I'm not racist but... [INSERT ENOCH POWELL SPEECH] and remember that's because they believe a bunch of mumbo jumbo not because of the ethnic heritage of the majority of them, though that's how we'll profile them" simply does not pass the smell test.
posted by Artw at 12:01 PM on April 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


People get their backs up because it seems to say "no critic of Islam is motivated by racism" - which would be demonstrably wrong. Had he said "criticizing Islam is not necessarily (or "always", etc.) motivated by racism", he'd be in the clear. Now, is he guilty? Perhaps given the sensitivity of the issue and given the huge numbers of critics in fact being motivated by racism (or xenophobia), it seems like it's insensitive at the minimum to not acknowledge that, and willful at worst.

Having said that - Dawkins is flawed - I do find the "Dawkins is the devil" posture of many to be ridiculous. He does far more good than bad. If you want only saints in your corner, well, there will be nobody there. Should we judge, f.ex. MLK by the same standards of sainthood? Is MLK "awful"?

Nobody should be an object of a personality cult, but whenever I read over the top attacks on Dawkins it always strikes me that there is some other agenda there, than merely a rational criticism of his shortcomings... sort of like many critics of Islam seem to have another agenda and are using the flaws of Islam as a mask for much more unsavory motivations.
posted by VikingSword at 12:01 PM on April 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think there is a case of certain arguments becoming tainted by association with people who have other, possibly unrelated, objectionable beliefs. The "you are the real racist" argument is so common among certain types that it becomes impossible to say it without getting lumped in with horrible terrible awful people. Even if Dawkins is correct, and being perfectly reasonable, he shouldn't use that argument because he is now mentally linked with vast hordes of Internet trolls and basement dwellers. I mean, you gotta argue with him now, or reddit wins.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:01 PM on April 4, 2013


"shakespherian: I agree his deflection is wrong -- and he'd be incorrect to ignore the cultural racism. But why he felt the need to respond was correct: don't go assuming he's racist because he doesn't like something when the very something he dislikes isn't disliked for any reason pertaining to race."

I'm not racist. I just like whites only swimming pools because they're less crowded. Who are you to assume I'm racist?
posted by klangklangston at 12:02 PM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


But it's impossible to dislike something for reasons outside of cultural baggage other have placed on it and not look like you're disliking because of all the cultural associations other people have with such statements.

I think you can. It's possible to say, "I disagree with Islam because ... , but I oppose discrimination against muslim practices or communities."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:04 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeaaah, I should probably stay out of this. Other than to say that Greenwald is being an utter prick and disingenuously misrepresenting Harris's intent, for the most part. We're used to this sort of arsehole behaviour from the religious and their apologists. And yeah, we have a big problem with Islam, just as we do for all the other varieties of religious nonsense. That isn't going to change no matter what people like this call us.
posted by Decani at 12:05 PM on April 4, 2013


I'm not racist. I just like whites only swimming pools because they're less crowded. Who are you to assume I'm racist?

Really? Does this help at all? You're either being willfully obtuse, have an agenda, are a troll, or some other way I can word "you're fucking with me". You are now all but literally saying "any criticism of Islam is racist and that's all there is to it".
posted by grubi at 12:05 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, judging "atheists" by Dawkins, Hitchens, or Harris is like judging "geeks" by Kevin Smith, Frank Miller, or Harry Knowles.
posted by Legomancer at 12:05 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


People who get up in arms about receiving pushback after they criticize Islam need to understand that in the US and Western Europe, criticizing Islam has been deeply implicated in state actions that have killed millions of Muslims. There is a reason people are sensitive.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:05 PM on April 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Also, judging "atheists" by Dawkins, Hitchens, or Harris is like judging "geeks" by Kevin Smith, Frank Miller, or Harry Knowles.

I totally agree, which is where (I think? Hope, maybe?) the term 'New Atheists' is supposed to be a useful distinction, although I don't know the origins of the term and agree that it's probably overvague.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:08 PM on April 4, 2013


Well, the majority of the world Muslim population is from the developing world. Living in a region extending from North Africa to Indonesia. Most of those people are not white. I don't think that's in dispute.

There are a lot of criticisms of Islam. Some of them can be racist, particularly if they start by saying it's barbaric or primitive.

I think this is kind of similar to calling people who eat dogs (or other exotic meats) uncivilized or barbarians. Since eating exotic meats is usually associated with Asians, then it is culturally insensitive or maybe even racist.
posted by FJT at 12:08 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Obviously Islam isn't a race. But Islamophobia, in practice, generally aligns with racism. In my lived experience, Islamophobia generally only gets leveled against brown people. I don't look especially brown or especially Middle Eastern or Muslim (what with not veiling or wearing hijab), so I don't get stopped all the goddamn time in airports, and I'm never the target of racist comments. While waiting for a relative to get through airport security, I have actually been told by airport security that I should be the one to ask for an update on when they would be finished, because I looked the whitest.

My dad, with an obviously Middle Eastern name, but who looks more or less vaguely European what with the pale skin, dark hair and light eyes and no beard, is almost never the target of racist/Islamophobic comments. My brother or cousins, who are darker skinned and more obviously Middle Eastern looking? Guess what, they get stopped all the damn time at airports, get called terrorists (jokingly or not), etc. Any number of other Muslims or Middle Eastern people have similar stories to tell. To me, saying Islamophobia isn't racist or linked to racist ideas about Muslims is disingenuous in the extreme.

I guess it's possible to be Islamophobic without being racist, but in practice, Islamophobia is going to be linked to all its racist baggage, and Dawkins' attempts at sidestepping that are not convincing. And Dawkins isn't exactly coming off well here what with saying he doesn't even have to read the Quran, or I guess presumably to know much of anything at all about Islam, to validate his opinions of it.
posted by yasaman at 12:09 PM on April 4, 2013 [23 favorites]


Really? Does this help at all? You're either being willfully obtuse, have an agenda, are a troll, or some other way I can word "you're fucking with me". You are now all but literally saying "any criticism of Islam is racist and that's all there is to it".

By this standard Dawkins is arguing that *no* criticism of Islam is racist, and that in fact the real racists are the people who think that *some* criticism of Islam is racist. Why you want to go down defending his tweet while complaining about the debating tactics of others is beyond me.
posted by leopard at 12:10 PM on April 4, 2013


griphus: "But I don't like the idea of Religions X and Y being on New Atheism's bad side and Religion Z being on New Atheism's good side. Because, at that point, it's not atheism that's being championed, but prejudice. Which brings us back to the very point of this FPP -- Islam is on New Atheism's bad side, and a constant target (whether New Atheism's attacks are anything more than a fly buzzing in Islam's ear is a different matter.)"

I'm not convinced it's prejudice. In fact, I believe Islam and Christianity are "constant targets" because their collective fundamentalists are loud and intransigent and condemning and very vocal and obnoxious about their need to impose their beliefs on people who do not agree with them. And they're also huge majorities. Heck, when it comes to Christianity it's not only the fundamentalists who are that way. Plenty of dominionists don't seem to be fundamentalists. But they still want to legislate their beliefs in the secular sphere.

They're "constant targets" because they're threats.
posted by zarq at 12:10 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I live in the U.S. Being a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Mormon, SDA, etc. can get you opposition to your faith ranging from serious criticism of your practices and institutions to childish ridicule. Being (just mistaken for) a Muslim can get you killed.

I generally think most religious beliefs are pernicious, but I know who needs my protection.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:10 PM on April 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Nobody should be an object of a personality cult, but whenever I read over the top attacks on Dawkins it always strikes me that there is some other agenda there, than merely a rational criticism of his shortcomings... .

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Dawkins one of the fellows who accuses theists of being "willfully ignorant" or is otherwise dismissive of their intelligence and/or sanity?

If he is, maybe the other agenda is simply that people don't like it when you call them stupid.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:11 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


By this standard Dawkins is arguing that *no* criticism of Islam is racist, and that in fact the real racists are the people who think that *some* criticism of Islam is racist. Why you want to go down defending his tweet while complaining about the debating tactics of others is beyond me.

1. No, Dawkins is arguing his criticism of Islam isn't racist. And as I said before, his deflection of it is wrong.
2. I'm not defending his tweet -- I'm trying to get people to understand it. It's not a good tweet, nor a particularly lucid stance. But that's no reason to misrepresent what he actually said or meant.
posted by grubi at 12:13 PM on April 4, 2013


CBrachyrhynchos: I think you can. It's possible to say, "I disagree with Islam because ... , but I oppose discrimination against muslim practices or communities."

Actually, yes, you're right, it's totally possible to do it that way. But I don't think that that was what Dawkins was doing in this particular instance.
posted by Len at 12:13 PM on April 4, 2013


" Guess what, they get stopped all the damn time at airports, get called terrorists (jokingly or not), etc. "

Fuck, I'm a white dude who learned Arabic as an adult and I get called a terrorist, jokingly, just for knowing Arabic.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:15 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not defending his tweet -- I'm trying to get people to understand it

So we agree that Dawkins is both wrong and insulting in his tweet. I hadn't realized that it was generally important for people to understand wrong and insulting tweets. Dawkins is a professional writer and public intellectual, he should take better care of expressing himself if he doesn't want to be misunderstood.
posted by leopard at 12:16 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, judging "atheists" by Dawkins, Hitchens, or Harris is like judging "geeks" by Kevin Smith, Frank Miller, or Harry Knowles.

This is an especially apt comparison, because these were all people who I admired (to varying degrees) in my twenties, but find insufferably embarrassing now that I'm in my thirties.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:17 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Grouping atheists is less useful than grouping cats but sometimes it needs to be done anyways.

Just to be clear on my position: I'm not arguing that grouping is wrong or unnecessary. Generalization based on inductive evidence is inevitable in any discussion of cultural phenomena. Groups obviously exist. My concern is that the criteria for defining those groups be as coherent and stable as possible, which is why I invited responses as to the criteria that should define "New Atheists."

As for the issue of islamophobia and racism, I think complexity (and lack of recognition thereof) plays an important role there too. Given Harris' context of past arguments about torture and profiling and his prominence arising after the 11 Sept. attacks (where xenophobia was not uncommon), and given Greenwald's specific criticisms, I think a concern about xenophobia toward Muslims on Harris' part is warranted.

Extending that to "the New Atheists" is more problematic, because that group can include people like Maryam Namazie whose activist work addresses specific theocratic government policies that infringe human rights. She is harshly critical of Islamic religious government, and her critics have accused her of islamophobia.
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:18 PM on April 4, 2013


"Really? Does this help at all? You're either being willfully obtuse, have an agenda, are a troll, or some other way I can word "you're fucking with me". You are now all but literally saying "any criticism of Islam is racist and that's all there is to it"."

No, that's not literally what I'm saying. I'm saying that when his repeated pronouncements on Islam mirror centuries-old Orientalism, that simply the possibility of another, innocent motive is the same sort of special pleading that gets us to, "Well, you can't prove that God isn't simply the universe manifest…"

And I'm also saying that if your interpretation is so far off in terms of what I wrote that you're ascribing to me absolutes that I neither said nor implied, you're probably not a very good defender of Dawkins, Harris et al. regarding what constitutes a reasonable interpretation.
posted by klangklangston at 12:18 PM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


[Hello, you are starting to behave badly in this thread. Dial it back at this point, don't make it about you, don't call people names. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 12:21 PM on April 4, 2013


"1. No, Dawkins is arguing his criticism of Islam isn't racist. And as I said before, his deflection of it is wrong."

His argument is bullshit. That "Islam" is not a race does not preclude some criticism of Islam from being racist. Just like while Catholic is not a race (and neither, any more, is Irish), that doesn't mean that the Klan's anti-Catholic stance wasn't rooted in racism.
posted by klangklangston at 12:22 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow...lot of strawmen lying around here. *quickly stubs out cigarette*
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:23 PM on April 4, 2013


His argument isn't that any criticism of Islam precludes racism. His argument is HIS criticism of Islam does.
posted by grubi at 12:23 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


> So... it's impossible for someone to dislike something for reasons OUTSIDE of cultural baggage others have placed on it?

Not at all. The thing to avoid is what Robert Anton Wilson called "fungible conspiracies" - where you lump everyone in some demographic together - "the Jews control banking" for example.

What bothers you is that there are a lot of violent, oppressive people who use Islam as an excuse for violence and oppression. That bothers me too. But the fact is that the majority of Muslims are regular guys and girls who just want to live their lives and not bother anyone.

And when it comes to killing, the Arab world is distinctly third- or fourth-rate compared to Europe, Asia, even Africa. Here's a pretty list of top killers, more or less accurate - the first Arab on the list is Saddam Hussein at 12th, and the first "Islamist" is Mullah Omar at 15th.

Or, if you want to look at state sponsored terrorism, I'd say that the US's secret bombing of Laos and Cambodia dwarfed the Saudi's Al Qaeda attacks on the United States in 1993 and 2001.

If you're worried about "murder by depraved indifference", the death and injury toll from Bhopal, caused by the most grossly and knowingly negligent behavior conceivable, is also much greater than that of 9/11.

No matter how you slice it, the vast majority of the havoc has been caused by two groups: white Christian males, and males who believe in centrally planned Communism.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:25 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


klangklangston: "ust like while Catholic is not a race (and neither, any more, is Irish), that doesn't mean that the Klan's anti-Catholic stance wasn't rooted in racism."

Um... the Klan's anti-Catholic stance was religious and political in nature. Most Klan members were Protestants who had serious issues with and distrust of the Church. If their anti-Catholicism was rooted in racism that was likely an afterthought, not a primary motivation.
posted by zarq at 12:26 PM on April 4, 2013


No, if someone says something stupid, it's perfectly acceptable to criticize him for saying something stupid.

Not if you're going to be intellectually honest. Good criticism shouldn't include misrepresenting what someone said to make the point.

For what it's worth, I've not once said what he said was good. I don't agree with his basic argument. I don't agree with his deflection. But I'm not going to jump to a conclusion and then get mad at *him* for that conclusion. It's important I get the criticism right -- and that starts with understanding the premise.
posted by grubi at 12:27 PM on April 4, 2013


No matter how you slice it, the vast majority of the havoc has been caused by two groups: white Christian males, and males who believe in centrally planned Communism.

Yes. I agree. And I understand that. Nothing I've said contradicts that.
posted by grubi at 12:29 PM on April 4, 2013


"His argument isn't that any criticism of Islam precludes racism. His argument is HIS criticism of Islam does."

Bullshit. "If you think criticising Islam is racist, you must think Islam is a race. And if you think Islam is a race you are a racist."

If he meant to write a more reasonable, less absolute argument, he's bright enough (no pun intended) to have done so. You can think that criticisms of Islam are racist without considering Islam a race. He's wrong, and it's baffling to see you dig your heels in here to conjure up some more reasonable quip from Dawkins that he did not actually write.

"Um... the Klan's anti-Catholic stance was religious and political in nature. Most Klan members were Protestants who had serious issues with and distrust of the Church. If their anti-Catholicism was rooted in racism that was likely an afterthought, not a primary motivation."

The Klan's anti-Catholicism came out of Nativist and Know-Nothing anti-Irish prejudices that surged immediately prior to and during Reconstruction. Their Protestantism was explicitly racist Protestantism, ascribing to Catholics the same stereotypes (drunken, brawling, etc.) that were held of the Irish at the time.
posted by klangklangston at 12:29 PM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Please somebody tell me that Daniel Dennett hasn't said (and stood behind) anything as fucked up as some of the things Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris have said (and stood behind). Because I'm pretty well on board with a principled "New Atheism" as non-passive enough-of-this-shit atheism and it would really suck if all four of its best-known proponents took it in a direction it does not need to go, sullying it for reasons that have nothing to do with its intrinsic properties.

And that goes double for those smirking halfwits the "Rational Response Squad". They actually make me wonder if they're in the pay of an evangelical organization, so committed are they to alienating even other atheists, let someone else who might otherwise be persuadable.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:29 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bullshit. "If you think criticising Islam is racist, you must think Islam is a race. And if you think Islam is a race you are a racist."

So you don't think the first sentence is accurate? That if you assume any criticism of Islam is, was, and ever shall be based on racial prejudice, then your assumption requires the notion that Islam is a race?
posted by grubi at 12:32 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually, zarq, it may have been more of a subconscious thing, at least, rather than an afterthought.

At the time the Klan first got going, the most visible Catholic population in the US consisted of recent immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Poland. And, those groups were very definitely unliked; have a look at how Thomas Nash expressed himself about Irish immigration in his cartoons.

If you asked a Klansman directly, they probably would have indeed said it was about a difference in dogma. But I'm betting that the image of "a Catholic person" in the back of their head wouldn't have been someone who looked much like them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:32 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


[grubi, you specifically should give this thread a little breathing room for a short while. People can follow up with you over MeMail.]
posted by jessamyn at 12:35 PM on April 4, 2013


Dawkins is a professional writer and public intellectual, he should take better care of expressing himself if he doesn't want to be misunderstood.

On the other hand, if Dawkins was careful in how he expressed himself to make sure he was never misunderstood, he almost certainly would stop being invited to be on talk shows and people would stop arguing about him on the internet, leading to the rapid decline of his status as a public *ahem* "intellectual." He is a public figure precisely because he is a classic caricature of a very smart person who is so smug and arrogant that he cannot express an intelligent opinion without ruining it with illogic, bad assumptions, and buffoonery.
posted by The World Famous at 12:36 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


jessamyn: all I'm trying to do is understand. And hopefully communicate my point. But, fine. Message received.
posted by grubi at 12:36 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"So you don't think the first sentence is accurate? That if you assume any criticism of Islam is, was, and ever shall be based on racial prejudice, then your assumption requires the notion that Islam is a race?"

No, it's not accurate, and neither is your recasting of it. Again, you can think that some criticisms of Islam are racist without thinking that Islam is a race. Your bit about assuming any criticism of Islam is based on racial prejudice is also bullshit. Literally not one single person here has argued that every criticism of Islam is racist.
posted by klangklangston at 12:38 PM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


His argument isn't that any criticism of Islam precludes racism. His argument is HIS criticism of Islam does.

That may be the argument in his head, it's not what he wrote in his tweet. And what he wrote in his tweet is what every moronic Islamaphobic internet troll--the kind who are at the basest, most despicable level--automatically and reflexively claims when you point out their racism. I'm not saying anything one way or the other about whether or not Dawkins is racist--I haven't a clue--I'm saying he made a stupid, hackneyed and false argument that is much cherished by people who are flagrantly racist. He should have thought a LOT harder before he posted that tweet.
posted by yoink at 12:38 PM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


klangklangston: " The Klan's anti-Catholicism came out of Nativist and Know-Nothing anti-Irish prejudices that surged immediately prior to and during Reconstruction. Their Protestantism was explicitly racist Protestantism, ascribing to Catholics the same stereotypes (drunken, brawling, etc.) that were held of the Irish at the time."

It was not all racism. And it all stemmed from something deeper. Their 'America for Americans' campaign in the 1920's (I think?) specifically attacked all Catholics for their allegiance to Rome and the Pope, which they said Catholics would follow instead of being faithful to American authorities and institutions. This same criticism was perpetuated in Protestant communities for decades before the 1870's when the Klan first emerged, and continued well past the 1960's, when a concerted fearmongering campaign by American Protestants against John F. Kennedy portrayed him as someone who was untrustworthy -- who would put the Pope and American Catholics above the will and rights of the American people. The same criticisms were lodged against presidential candidates John Davis in 1924 and Al Smith in 1928. Read "One Hundred Percent American." It's a very interesting history of the Klan.
posted by zarq at 12:39 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


What bothers you is that there are a lot of violent, oppressive people who use Islam as an excuse for violence and oppression. That bothers me too. But the fact is that the majority of Muslims are regular guys and girls who just want to live their lives and not bother anyone.

But that is precisely the opposite of what Dawkins is saying. Dawkins is saying, as the old joke goes "Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But getting good people to do bad things, that requires a religion." What Dawkins and many other New Atheists are saying is that the most politically powerful form of Sunni Islam has many terrible messages, which impel people who might otherwise behave decently to do terrible things. This has nothing to do with the race of the Indonesians, Arabs, Africans, and Caucasians who hold with the more expansionist and oppressive forms of Sunni Islam, and everything to do with their religious beliefs.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:40 PM on April 4, 2013


"It was not all racism."

No, it wasn't all racism. And I don't think all criticism of Islam is racism. However, both are definitely shaped and share a large overlap with racist ideology.
posted by klangklangston at 12:40 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: " If you asked a Klansman directly, they probably would have indeed said it was about a difference in dogma. But I'm betting that the image of "a Catholic person" in the back of their head wouldn't have been someone who looked much like them."

Ah. That makes sense.
posted by zarq at 12:42 PM on April 4, 2013


And you go and prove my fucking point: you have no interest in listening.
Show me where I insist people agree with me.
Sigh. I can play this stupid game too. Show me where I said you insisted people agree with you. I merely mentioned that you need to get over people disagreeing with you. Different.
Oh, I get it now: there is literally no talking to any of you at all. Why didn't you just fucking say so instead of pretending this was a discussion? [...]

Are you just fucking with me or do you sincerely believe this? [...]

I see all the people who want to call Dawkins 'racist' have decided to redefine language as much as misrepresent his position. Okay, then. [...]
This is not "listening". This isn't even addressing other people's views in good faith. You literally seem unable to look past the slight irregularities in the language of the analogies to the arguments underneath without insulting people or pretending they aren't "listening" if they don't change their point of view immediately.

What people are trying to say I think is pretty straight-forward: no one uses stupid rhetorical gotchas unless they have no larger point. It doesn't make sense. To call people who criticize you for being racist... racist is just a language parsing logic game -- it's not a real point. I can buy that being called racist makes one hot under the collar, but I can't buy that a person whose sole popularity is based on being "rational" can't count to 10 before writing such (frankly, dumb) things.

I'm sorry your idol is flawed, but such is life.
posted by smidgen at 12:43 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Today on Metafilter: Argued that the Klan weren't COMPLETELY racist. *fail*
posted by zarq at 12:43 PM on April 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


Look, atheists may view all religions as equally nonsensical, but it doesn't necessarily follow that all religions are equally a threat, and obviously rational people prioritize the elimination of threats over the elimination of nonsense. I think Ad Hominem phrased it very well here.

You think the Loch Ness Monster hates me and will somehow punish me by sending me to Big Foot's cave for all eternity it really doesn't bother me. I do sort of mind when you start trying to pass laws taking away my kittens because you think the Loch Ness Monster hates kittens. That is really all that atheists care about, kittens.

If I may build on that metaphor a little, I think that most (but not all) Islamic societies are much more threatening to my "kittens" because unlike most other governments, Islamic societies are both theocratic and proselytizing. This is a dangerous combination because it means that not only do they pass laws hurting kittens but they think that the Loch Ness monsters wants them to actively force the rest of the world to accept their doctrine of kitten hatred. Such a mindset needs to be stopped by any means necessary because it is irreconcilable with a love of kittens.

I think Sam Harris is mistaken in some significant ways because he conflates Islamic religion with Islamic societies. The religion can be tolerant, and many American Islamic communities are an example of that. In fact, I think that "pacifist Islam" should be actively cultivated so that it can fill the void left after kitten lovers have eradicated fundamentalist Islam. Otherwise we risk other radical religions rising to take its place.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:47 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


And another point, zarq, (after reading your subsequent comment) - from a cultural standpoint, the definition of "whiteness" has sorta-kinda shifted; the perception was that okay, yes, technically Irish and Poles and Italians were white, but "they aren't really white like us other white folk are white, amirite?". There was indeed a fuzziness about whether they were "of the same race" at that time.

And if you think that's ridiculous, then ask yourself - why is it that on most forms today, there are two separate boxes for "caucasians of Hispanic/Latino descent" and "caucasions NOT of Hispanic/Latino descent"? Why make that distinction?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:48 PM on April 4, 2013


It seems like the people that want to say that Dawkin's quote is "fucked up" just really want an excuse to keep accusing public intellectuals of being racist who point out that there are a lot of violent islamists. Catholocism happens to be my least favorite religion because I was raised with it, so what?

Why is there an imperative for public Atheists to shy away from saying what they think are the most dangerous religions?

Whenever these "New Atheists," or whatever you call them, come out to defend Biology textbooks from being destroyed by right wing zealots in Texas, or gay rights, or Women's rights to their own bodies, the leftist-politically-correct-sensitivity crowd applauds them. But when they say they dislike Islam more than Buddhism because there are fundamentalist nations with that religion as the ruling party that have a recent history of violent revolution and terrorism, not to mention the most repressive society, all of a sudden these Atheists are stupid arrogant jerks that shouldn't be so mean.

He is a public figure precisely because he is a classic caricature of a very smart person who is so smug and arrogant that he cannot express an intelligent opinion without ruining it with illogic, bad assumptions, and buffoonery.

He isn't a caricature, he -IS- actually a very smart and educated person (his credentials and work speak to this point) who speaks his beliefs directly and without equivocation. What he is doing is called intellectual honesty and not being a coward.

This kind of "I'm more politically correct and sensitive than you" posturing is a waste of thread space and doesn't get anywhere.
posted by hellslinger at 12:50 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


So you don't think the first sentence is accurate? That if you assume any criticism of Islam is, was, and ever shall be based on racial prejudice, then your assumption requires the notion that Islam is a race?

So in summary:

1. Dawkins argues with a strawman (no one has ever argued that any criticism of Islam is by definition racist).

2. People get upset that Dawkins is using a shitty rhetorical trick and call him out on it.

3. grubi gets upset that people don't seem to realize that Dawkins is arguing with a strawman, and is bewildered that the actual people that Dawkins is arguing with seem to think that Dawkins is arguing with them. Hey guys, he's just arguing with a strawman! Don't misrepresent him by pretending that he's arguing with you! Don't you want to understand where's he coming from? Don't you have any intellectual honesty?
posted by leopard at 12:51 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whenever these "New Atheists," or whatever you call them, come out to defend Biology textbooks from being destroyed by right wing zealots in Texas, or gay rights, or Women's rights to their own bodies, the leftist-politically-correct-sensitivity crowd applauds them. But when they say they dislike Islam more than Buddhism because there are fundamentalist nations with that religion as the ruling party that have a recent history of violent revolution and terrorism, not to mention the most repressive society, all of a sudden these Atheists are stupid arrogant jerks that shouldn't be so mean.

That's because there's a difference between trying to stop someone from doing a definitively wrong thing, and trying to stop someone from believing something before you know how they're going to act upon that belief.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:52 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's because there's a difference between trying to stop someone from doing a definitively wrong thing, and trying to stop someone from believing something before you know how they're going to act upon that belief.

Indeed. These New Atheists might believe that living and believing in fundamentalist religion makes a person more likely to become a misogynist terrorist than, say, Buddhism. Kind of like the way smoking increases your risk for lung cancer.

Of course, you may not agree with their ideas about cause-and-affect, but it doesn't make them jerks or stupid.
posted by hellslinger at 1:00 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Indeed. These New Atheists might believe that living and believing in fundamentalist religion makes a person more likely to become a misogynist terrorist than, say, Buddhism. Kind of like the way smoking increases your risk for lung cancer. Of course, you may not agree with their ideas about cause-and-affect, but it doesn't make them jerks or stupid.


Wait, so your actual complaint is being called "jerks" or "stupid"? How about just "flat out wrong like whoa"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:02 PM on April 4, 2013


Actually they were three British citizens with parents orginally from Pakistan and one British resident, originally from Jamaica.

Actually there were 4 of Pakistani descent, and if you were to ask them, "are you Pakistani?" they would probably say yes.
posted by Brocktoon at 1:02 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


What Dawkins and many other New Atheists are saying is that the most politically powerful form of Sunni Islam has many terrible messages

In which we find Richard Dawkins claiming that Christianity is superior to Islam and in which we also find reductive portrayals these two different religions as vast totalities that all believe the same thing.

Note how he doesn't differentiate between different sects nor does he take to time to explain why there's a very peculiar sort of 'close-mindedness' that seems to only be endemic to Muslims (instead of Christians).
posted by dubusadus at 1:03 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm an atheist. I'm not really sure how you define New Atheist, but I was an atheist before I had ever heard of Dawkins, Dennett, etc, though I have sometimes found their arguments useful. I think Islam is a problem only in as much as religious belief itself is a problem. But here is the most recent, powerful image I have of Muslims: peacefully kneeling and praying in Cairo as the secular government attacked them with water hoses, tear gas and bullets.

To single out Islam as being singularly threatening and violent is to be completely ignorant of both history and current events. Yes, there are aspects of it to be concerned about, but there are with any totalizing belief system, including atheism and secular humanism.
posted by empath at 1:04 PM on April 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


Brocktoon: Actually there were 4 of Pakistani descent, and if you were to ask them, "are you Pakistani?" they would probably say yes.

So if 100,000 drunk Americans, all holding American passports, tell you during the St Patrick's Day parade in New York that they're actually Irish, does this actually invalidate their citizenship?

This is nonsense.
posted by Len at 1:07 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


But when they say they dislike Islam more than Buddhism because there are fundamentalist nations with that religion as the ruling party that have a recent history of violent revolution and terrorism, not to mention the most repressive society, all of a sudden these Atheists are stupid arrogant jerks that shouldn't be so mean.

One large part of the reason for that is that these sorts of "clash of civilizations" type arguments are typically wildly underinformed when it comes to history. If you think there is something inherent in Islam that pushes it to violence and fundamentalism far more than, say, Christianity, then you will struggle desperately to explain why in the entire history of Islam Islamic societies have typically been rather more tolerant and pluralist than Christian societies. In other words, you've almost certainly spectacularly failed in your attempt to discover the root cause of the difference between, say, contemporary France and contemporary Saudi Arabia.

Oh, and you might want to look into the history of, say, Tibet if you think Buddhism somehow protects you against becoming a violent, repressive theocracy.
posted by yoink at 1:07 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "There was indeed a fuzziness about whether they were "of the same race" at that time."

Yes. I'm aware.
posted by zarq at 1:08 PM on April 4, 2013


And, you know, I think it would be a good thing to recognize that the flame of scientific advancement and rational thought was nurtured by the Islamic world for centuries before it was relit in Europe. His whole world view wouldn't have even been possible but for Islam and the Islamic empire violently conquering the dying remnants of the eastern Roman Empire and protecting its knowledge.
posted by empath at 1:09 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Today on Metafilter: Argued that the Klan weren't COMPLETELY racist. *fail*"

Y U LUV KKK ZARQ? Y U LUV?
posted by klangklangston at 1:12 PM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm an atheist (mostly) and a liberal (mostly)...but one of the few columnists that I think is worse than Sam Harris is Glenn Greenwald, about whose vices I could go on and on...but won't.

I don't care about defending Harris, I just want to make a general point about what counts as being right in this discussion.

Thinking that Islam is a "unique" threat does not make you an Islamophobe, nor a bigot, nor any such thing. What makes you prejudiced is, roughly, believing that x on the basis of clearly insufficient reasons, and because you have some antecedent/irrational dislike of Islam. Believing something bad about a group because of an antecedent dislike is bigotry; believing something bad about a group because you have good evidence for it is not.

If I think that typical Asian IQ is higher than the typical white IQ, and I do so because I've read studies to this effect, that does not make me a racist. If I believe it, however, on the basis of some combination of insufficient evidence and a dislike of whites, then that's racist.

So one important question is: does Harris think that Islam is uniquely dangerous because he dislikes Islam? Or does he have good reasons to do so?

Personally, I think one could easily conclude that Islam is more dangerous than other major religions on the basis of the available evidence, though I myself am not sure.

I think that Christianity is more dangerous than Buddhism, and I do so on the basis of a fair amount of evidence, but evidence which is non-conclusive. But I can't reasonably be called an anti-Christian bigot, so far as I can tell.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 1:15 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've never read or heard Sam Harris before today, so I figured I'd go straight to his Web site to see his response to his critics. I didn't see this exchange with Greenwald posted (although it must have been somewhere up there, so apologies if a dupe link)...

Dear Fellow Liberal: An Exchange with Glenn Greenwald

That seems like a much more straight-up presentation of the argument than Greenwald's editorial. (I think I like both these guys, fwiw.)
posted by mrgrimm at 1:17 PM on April 4, 2013


Just as a note to the generalizers: there are Buddhist terrorists. Not caring about Buddhist terrorists is a function of where you live, not religion.
posted by klangklangston at 1:18 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think that Christianity is more dangerous than Buddhism, and I do so on the basis of a fair amount of evidence,

Here's a link that might make you rethink that position.
posted by yoink at 1:19 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


klangklangston: "Y U LUV?"

*shrug* I look good in white, man. :D
posted by zarq at 1:19 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


*shrug* I look good in white, man. :D
posted by zarq


I don't know, dude. Using a white pointed hood to hide the yarmulka's gotta have some serious blowback some day.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:24 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"So if 100,000 drunk Americans, all holding American passports, tell you during the St Patrick's Day parade in New York that they're actually Irish, does this actually invalidate their citizenship?"

I'm sure I could find you 6.4 million actual Irish with strong feelings about how actually Irish drunk New Yorkers are.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:24 PM on April 4, 2013


Is Islamophobia a defining characteristic of New Atheism?

No, b/c Daniel Dennett is routinely grouped among "The Four Horsemen" of New Atheism and hasn't said anything like what Harris and Hitchens have said about Islam.

Re: Dawkins, I haven't yet seen an adequate basis for calling him 'Islamophobic'. Greenwald doesn't pretend to be familiar enough with Dawkins' work to make the charge stick, and the two main articles he linked to don't sufficiently back up the charge either.

If somewhere between 1/4th - 1/2 of a movement's central leaders don't share a trait, it's not a defining one.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 1:26 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


But then all of the people who committed IRA terrorist atrocities between 1969 and 1999 were Irish, so it's not as if that group's blameless, either.
posted by Grangousier at 1:29 PM on April 4, 2013


I'm sure I could find you 6.4 million actual Irish with strong feelings about how actually Irish drunk New Yorkers are.

I think the questionable veracity of said New Yorkers' Irish ancestry was precisely Len's point.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:29 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


benito.strauss: " I don't know, dude. Using a white pointed hood to hide the yarmulka's gotta have some serious blowback some day."

Oy Vey. What tsurris at shul!
posted by zarq at 1:30 PM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm sorry your idol is flawed, but such is life.

Weird. I say that Dawkins is wrong, but he's my "idol"? Really?
posted by grubi at 1:32 PM on April 4, 2013


I took Fists O'Fury's point to be about the relative threat Buddhism represents as a religion. So, not so much the claim, Buddhists are never violent like adherents of other religions as they aren't violent as often.

For example, some percentage of motorcycle clubs have been closely associated with violent behavior. Football fan clubs, too, sometimes inspire their members to violence, but probably not quite as often. Bridge clubs may be even less prone to inspire violence, but even they may not be immune.

If you look at the raw numbers across all of history, I seriously doubt you'd be able to support the claim that Islam is any more likely to incite large-scale violence than Christianity. It'd be nice if that data were out there somewhere.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:33 PM on April 4, 2013


Oy Vey. What tsurris at shul!

What? We're boycotting Kugelman's Kosher Kreplach now?
posted by yoink at 1:34 PM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Re: Dawkins, from the Salon piece linked by Greenwald:

Dawkins’ quest to “liberate” Muslim women and smack them with a big ol’ heaping dose of George W. Bush freedom caused him to go berzerk over news that a University College of London debate, hosted by an Islamic group, offered a separate seating option for conservative, practicing Muslims.

From Dawkins' "On the Eve of War":

Osama bin Laden, in his wildest dreams, could hardly have hoped for this. A mere 18 months after he boosted the United States to a peak of worldwide sympathy and popularity unprecedented since Pearl Harbor, the totality of that international goodwill has been squandered to near zero. Bin Laden must be beside himself with glee. And, Allah be praised, the infidels are now walking right into the Iraq trap
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 1:35 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the questionable veracity of said New Yorkers' Irish ancestry was precisely Len's point.

We are all everything here. We are Irish for St Patrick's day, Italian for San Gennaro, KKK members cuz we look good in white, atheists because we like kittens, etc. I have a Jewish last name but was baptized catholic, but nobody knows that, so 4-5 different people tried to explain Easter to me this year. So most of us may not really be Irish, but we are Irish in spirit.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:37 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, not so much the claim, Buddhists are never violent like adherents of other religions as they aren't violent as often.

I see no historical evidence to support this claim. So far as I can see, if you take a long enough historical survey, adherents of every religion have seized roughly the same number of opportunities to demonstrate a capacity for ghastliness, as well as a capacity for goodness. Being raised Buddhist didn't stop the Khmer Rouge leadership, any more than being raised Christian stopped the Nazi leadership. Being raised Buddhist didn't stop Myanmar's leaders from turning that country into a repressive hellhole. Being Buddhist didn't stop Tibet from being a brutally repressive theocracy for centuries.

I think any statement to the effect: "Such and such a religion has an inherent tendency to make its followers into bad people" needs to meet a very high evidentiary bar. In my experience virtually all people who peddle such claims have barely bothered to even glance at comparative historical evidence.
posted by yoink at 1:40 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


zarq: It was not all racism. And it all stemmed from something deeper.

Certainly. Racism primarily is the social construction of biological difference around social, cultural, and political prejudices. There was no inherent biological justification to advance the argument that the higher birth rate of European immigrants threatened the Anglo-Saxon culture of the United States. Or for the same argument to apply to Hispanic-Americans in the 21st century. Race in the United States is a political, economic, and cultural reality, one that has little justification in human genetics. The mDNA data points to three groups in sub-Saharan Africa and one group everywhere else.

The immigrant groups were repeatedly described as biologically less moral and intelligent, and more violent and prone to alcohol abuse. These stereotypes were associated with exaggerated phenotypes that are largely cosmetic. American eugenicists posed that the poverty of immigrant communities were due to these racial flaws, and proposed limiting their populations. So yeah, I call that racist.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:40 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is Hispanophobia a defining characteristic of the New Immigrationist?
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 1:43 PM on April 4, 2013


Here's a link that might make you rethink that position.


Not relevant.

As saulgoodman noted, I neither said nor suggested that there were no violent Buddhists. I didn't even use the claim that Christianity is more dangerous than Buddhism except as an illustration.

The point is that, if one believes that x on the basis of good evidence, and not because of antecedent animosity, one is not a bigot.

Of course, even beliefs based on good evidence can be false.

But that's not relevant.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 1:44 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The point is that, if one believes that x on the basis of good evidence, and not because of antecedent animosity, one is not a bigot.

Of course, even beliefs based on good evidence can be false.


This is pretty much what I've been trying to say. I wish I had worded it that way.
posted by grubi at 1:47 PM on April 4, 2013


We are all everything here. We are Irish for St Patrick's day, Italian for San Gennero, KKK members cuz we look good in white, atheists because we like kittens, etc. I have a Jewish last name but was baptized catholic, but nobody knows that, so 4-5 different people tried to explain Easter to me this year. So most of us may not really be Irish, but we are Irish in spirit.

Ad hominem: that particular train of thought began with Len's observation that the London Underground bombers were from Leeds, so it made no sense to profile "Pakistanis" as a result. Brocktoon retorted that "if you asked them if they were Pakistani, they'd probably say yes," and that's what made Len point out that the hordes of drunk New Yorkers claiming to be Irish on St. Patrick's Day didn't permanently alter their citizenship to the point that they should be regarded as Irish for the purposes of demographic profiling.

Which is ultimately what the thrust is here; while you're right that a person can believe themselves spiritually aligned with whichsoever group they choose, the way they look on the outside frequently will not match what they believe on the inside. Which, actually, kind of proves the point that profiling based on national allegience is inaccurate at best.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:48 PM on April 4, 2013


The point is that, if one believes that x on the basis of good evidence, and not because of antecedent animosity, one is not a bigot.

Yes, and? I'm providing you with evidence that shows that your particular example doesn't actually hold. I'm not trying to disprove the self-evident truth that a belief grounded in good evidence is not the same as bigotry. I will also note, however, that a deep resistance to examining evidence that goes against ones preconceived ideas is a very strong hallmark of bigotry.
posted by yoink at 1:49 PM on April 4, 2013


Yes, and? I'm providing you with evidence that shows that your particular example doesn't actually hold. I'm not trying to disprove the self-evident truth that a belief grounded in good evidence is not the same as bigotry. I will also note, however, that a deep resistance to examining evidence that goes against ones preconceived ideas is a very strong hallmark of bigotry.

May I request that you be very clear about what you intend to imply here?
posted by Fists O'Fury at 1:51 PM on April 4, 2013


CBrachyrhynchos: " Racism primarily is the social construction of biological difference around social, cultural, and political prejudices."

True. Quite true.

I've read up on this subject a bit over the years, and still do recommend that book I suggested upthread to klang.

Honestly, I don't disagree with you, Empress or klang. I do however, feel there's a disconnect between what the Klan said in their propaganda campaigns and overt displays of racism towards all Catholics. Perhaps it just served their purposes to be less overt in their hatreds. Or as Empress said, perhaps it was subconscious. Perhaps I'm just wrong about the whole thing. I don't know.
posted by zarq at 1:57 PM on April 4, 2013



If you look at the raw numbers across all of history, I seriously doubt you'd be able to support the claim that Islam is any more likely to incite large-scale violence than Christianity. It'd be nice if that data were out there somewhere.

Some people might be interested in comparing atrocity of religions "across all of history." I'm not. I'm interested in what has happened in the past few decades. And in that period, there is a strong association between fundamentalism Islam and things like violence and repression of political and human rights.

I don't believe that there's anything in Islam - much less genetic in Muslims - that makes it inevitably prone to inciting violence and promoting repression, and its an association not a correlation, and its not unique to Islam, but its a pretty strong connection that it would be unreasonable to ignore.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 1:58 PM on April 4, 2013


May I request that you be very clear about what you intend to imply here?

That people who like to think that the bigoted opinions they hold are based in "evidence" (take, for example, the one you yourself referenced above: that "Asians" have higher IQs than "Caucasians") are also often very selective about the evidence they choose to absorb. That is, they greedily read articles that conform to their prejudices, but they dismiss out of hand articles that call into question the validity of IQ tests in general.

In other words, to demonstrate that someone is "not a bigot" it is not sufficient to demonstrate that their beliefs are grounded in some body of "evidence." You also have to show that they fairly and impartially examine the evidence that is available to them.
posted by yoink at 1:58 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which, actually, kind of proves the point that profiling based on national allegience is inaccurate at best

Oh sure, how much funding did the IRA get from American nationals.

About a week after 9/11 a friend of mine, who happened to be from the Dominican republic, went to get get his hair cult. While she cut his hair the lady said in Spanish to the woman cutting hair at the chair beside her "This guy looks Arab, do you think he is Arab?" the other lady relied in Spanish "yeah I think he's Arab, but he looks like one of the good Arabs"

Profiling is kinda futile in a place where half the population could look Arab if you squint and a not insignificant portion of us are Arab. It always seems to be people who are surrounded by a sea of white that want to profile.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:59 PM on April 4, 2013


I see no historical evidence to support this claim. So far as I can see, if you take a long enough historical survey, adherents of every religion have seized roughly the same number of opportunities to demonstrate a capacity for ghastliness, as well as a capacity for goodness.

To be clear, I wasn't making it, either. Just saying that's what I took Fist O'Fury's point to be. And I'd have to see actual hard statistics before venturing a guess myself. My gut tells me humans are pretty much equally violent on average regardless of whatever funny hats they do or don't wear while seeking salvation or enlightenment.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:59 PM on April 4, 2013


And in that period, there is a strong association between fundamentalism Islam and things like violence and repression of political and human rights.

You might want to take a look at whatever religion they've got going in China, too, if that's what worries you.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:00 PM on April 4, 2013


I'm interested in what has happened in the past few decades. And in that period, there is a strong association between fundamentalism Islam and things like violence and repression of political and human rights.

Fine: but then you clearly can't use that evidence as a warrant for claims about the inherent qualities of "Islam." Nobody is arguing that you shouldn't deplore Islamic terrorism or that you shouldn't deplore the oppression of women in some fundamentalist Islamic countries etc. etc. They are saying that lazy, simplistic attributions of causation to some generic, unexamined boogeyman called "Islam" is unhelpful and bigoted.
posted by yoink at 2:02 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: That's because there's a difference between trying to stop someone from doing a definitively wrong thing, and trying to stop someone from believing something before you know how they're going to act upon that belief.

So what? We're not allowed to try to convince people to think different things now?

yoink: I think any statement to the effect: "Such and such a religion has an inherent tendency to make its followers into bad people" needs to meet a very high evidentiary bar. In my experience virtually all people who peddle such claims have barely bothered to even glance at comparative historical evidence.

I think it's fair to draw a (dotted) line between proselytizing creeds and others. "Abrahamics" arguably stand out in regards to personal mores. Just like all systems of government have allowed/been used for violent ends, we still can note general differences and outcomes of fascism, democracy, monarchy, etc.

To an atheist, religions are all equally incorrect, but they aren't all equally bad.
posted by spaltavian at 2:02 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]



Also, its worth pointing out that the vast majority of those who are attacking Islam as a whole and making sweeping generalizations about Muslims are NOT atheists - new or old - but come out of the various neo-conservative and Christian movements. The "New Atheists" that we're arguing about are relatively small in number by comparison.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 2:03 PM on April 4, 2013



Profiling is kinda futile in a place where half the population could look Arab if you squint and a not insignificant portion of us are Arab. It always seems to be people who are surrounded by a sea of white that want to profile.


I had the hood part of my hoodie pulled up while traveling a few weeks ago, and had my winter coat on over the hoodie. I noticed people were giving me some funny looks, and had the possibly-paranoid feeling that maybe they thought I was Muslim or something. I sort of pulled the hoodie on and off a couple times just for show. And felt sort of weird and horrible about the whole thing, which may have just been in my head, but I'm the sort of brown person who is usually mistaken for just about anything (usually Hispanic, which I am not), so I'm never sure.
posted by sweetkid at 2:03 PM on April 4, 2013


I think it's fair to draw a (dotted) line between proselytizing creeds and others.

It is fair if and only if you have historical, comparative evidence to support the claim. Otherwise it's just (in the most literal sense of the word) prejudice. So...got any evidence?
posted by yoink at 2:05 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


That people who like to think that the bigoted opinions they hold are based in "evidence" (take, for example, the one you yourself referenced above: that "Asians" have higher IQs than "Caucasians") are also often very selective about the evidence they choose to absorb. That is, they greedily read articles that conform to their prejudices, but they dismiss out of hand articles that call into question the validity of IQ tests in general.

In other words, to demonstrate that someone is "not a bigot" it is not sufficient to demonstrate that their beliefs are grounded in some body of "evidence." You also have to show that they fairly and impartially examine the evidence that is available to them.


So, let's be clear. You seem to be trying to suggest that I am a bigot. Would you please clarify this one way or the other.

You are right that one characteristic of bigots is to treat evidence in a selective fashion. Just as, for example, one characteristic of irrational people who like to falsely accuse people of bigotry is to seize on some controversial issue, such as the validity of IQ tests, and pretend that no one but a bigot could disagree with them.

Still, what you point out is irrelevant, really, with respect to Harris unless you mean to suggest that, though his opinion is reasonable, you have some knowledge that he did not responsibly seek out evidence against the view in question.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 2:09 PM on April 4, 2013


Weird. I say that Dawkins is wrong, but he's my "idol"? Really?
Sorry, that was an unfortunate remark, but I still stand by the rest of comment you ignored.

Yeah... I think we're done here.
posted by smidgen at 2:14 PM on April 4, 2013


Glenn Greenwald: still a shit journalist.
posted by wrok at 2:15 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think any statement to the effect: "Such and such a religion has an inherent tendency to make its followers into bad people" needs to meet a very high evidentiary bar. In my experience virtually all people who peddle such claims have barely bothered to even glance at comparative historical evidence.

Historical evidence becomes sort of meaningless is you expand out far enough, though. For quite a long time, fundamentalist American Protestants eschewed voting, and had no beef with birth control. So if someone says "Fundamentalist Christians are trying to take over the American government and ban abortion," will you shake your finger at them and lecture about history?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:20 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Greenwald has never been and is not now a journalist.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:29 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, let's be clear. You seem to be trying to suggest that I am a bigot. Would you please clarify this one way or the other.

I have no idea one way or the other--how could I? One way you could show me that you are not would be to read up on the history of violent repression in Buddhist societies and revise your previously stated erroneous belief that Christianity is a more dangerous religion than Buddhism. That would be an example of the kind of willingness to take new information on board and revise one's opinions that bigots don't show. But, of course, an unwillingness to do so now could just as easily be due to a lack of free time as anything else.

Still, what you point out is irrelevant, really, with respect to Harris unless you mean to suggest that, though his opinion is reasonable, you have some knowledge that he did not responsibly seek out evidence against the view in question.

Nothing I said had any bearing on Harris's beliefs whatsoever. You made an assertion about Christianity and Buddhism and you explicitly claimed that this assertion was evidence based. I thought that your assertion was incorrect and provided you with what I thought was helpful and interesting evidence to support my contention. You dismissed that evidence out of hand for reasons I do not really understand. I think mostly you misunderstood the nature of my engagement with your post--you thought that I was somehow attempting to disprove your larger claim about beliefs based on evidence not being bigoted--when in fact I was merely engaging with a subsidiary claim that was part of that larger argument.
posted by yoink at 2:32 PM on April 4, 2013


No, EmpressCallipygos, they're not flat out wrong. If you think that violent totalitarian theocracies (and their religious guidelines) can't or shouldn't be held responsible for the violence and repression that just -happens- to come from them, you must be super-enlightened to see how circumstances actually have no effect on people and there's a deeper cause.

I also would like to believe that if I was a 16 year old German boy in 1938, somehow I would be impervious to the pressures of becoming a Nazi, but that's foolish.

No one is arguing that theocracy is the only cause of suffering, only if it is one.
posted by hellslinger at 2:35 PM on April 4, 2013


Just as a side point, in his dialogue with Bruce Schneier, Sam Harris comes out with this gem:

Go to a public place—a restaurant, coffee shop, shopping mall, or an airport—where you can unobtrusively watch people go about their business, and see how much you can know about them just by looking. Ask yourself, what are the chances that those 20-year-old girls in yoga pants, buying frappuccinos, are taxidermists?

Amusingly, this is a beautiful illustration of why profiling is dangerous. Sam Harris thinks, with very high confidence, that 20-year old girls are not into taxidermy. This is because he's completely unaware of the hipster taxidermy trend. A couple of Halloweens ago, I went with my sister to a packed, overbooked taxidermy workshop full of 20-year old girls, many of whom may have been wearing yoga clothing, and at which tiramisu marshmallows were served. If Sam Harris were looking out for a killer taxidermist, the knowledge he thinks he has would be extremely dangerous.
posted by Acheman at 2:38 PM on April 4, 2013 [18 favorites]


Some people might be interested in comparing atrocity of religions "across all of history." I'm not. I'm interested in what has happened in the past few decades. And in that period, there is a strong association between fundamentalism Islam and things like violence and repression of political and human rights.

Ah, if someone drops bombs from planes and imposes policies through corporations and state-based strong-arming it doesn't count. Islamic repression has the bad taste to be carried out by poor people on foot.
posted by mobunited at 2:39 PM on April 4, 2013


. And in his first book he pushed fringe ESP pseudoscience and babbled about "the search for the sacred" as a replacement for religious culture.

What's wrong with the second part of that?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:40 PM on April 4, 2013


By the way, I think this discussion about which religion is superior to the rest, but whose adherents must still be judged as abjectly inferior to atheists, to be representative of the finest secular values and bound to increase mutual understanding and respect. Really!
posted by mobunited at 2:43 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Historical evidence becomes sort of meaningless is you expand out far enough, though. For quite a long time, fundamentalist American Protestants eschewed voting, and had no beef with birth control. So if someone says "Fundamentalist Christians are trying to take over the American government and ban abortion," will you shake your finger at them and lecture about history?

Once again, you are missing the point. It is the attribution of causation that is the problem. If someone said "Fundamentalist Christians are trying to ban abortion and that proves that Christian fundamentalism is inherently prone to make its adherents adopt extreme positions on reproductive rights" then, yes, I would "wag my finger" at them and point out that the US fundamentalist crowd was actually late to the anti-abortion game and used to regard it as one of those silly Catholic obsessions.

I have no argument with someone who says "there is a dangerous and disturbingly widespread vein of violent fundamentalism in contemporary Islam"-- my argument is with people who say "Islam is an inherently dangerous and violent religion." The first claim is not refuted by pointing to the historical record; the second claim is.
posted by yoink at 2:46 PM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


If Sam Harris were looking out for a killer taxidermist, the knowledge he thinks he has would be extremely dangerous.

I bet he wouldn't even go to the right Ambrose Chapel.
posted by The World Famous at 2:46 PM on April 4, 2013


Let's for a second imagine how different the world would be today had the Mongols not destroyed Baghdad at the height of Islamic civilization, and had the scientific revolution occurred there, where all of the pieces were basically in place, instead of in Europe several hundred years later. How the world would have been different if the militarily, scientifically and culturally advanced Muslims had brought civilization to the backwards and ignorant Europe of the late Middle Ages via colonization and force rather than through universities in Spain.

I wonder if secular Muslims right now would be tut-tutting about backwards christianity and European savagery and ignorance.
posted by empath at 2:48 PM on April 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


(Which is not to imply that Sam Harris knows too much. Quite the contrary, really.)
posted by The World Famous at 2:48 PM on April 4, 2013


I'm an atheist - I don't believe in any god or the supernatural. But I think that whatever gets you through the night is alright. Violence and mysogony and hatred are caused by humans, not religions. Reddit Atheists engage in slut-shaming and hatred of women while some outspoken Christians are huge promoters of tolerance. Within the humanism, as others have said, atheism is just a way to say. 'I'm smarter than you'.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:50 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


An interesting point, Empath. But Islam wasn't the only culture that wasn't caught up to European technology and science that has since modernized. Islam does seem to be the only one that clings tightly to Theocracy though. There are exceptions, certainly.
posted by hellslinger at 2:53 PM on April 4, 2013


But Islam wasn't the only culture that wasn't caught up to European technology and science that has since modernized.

What does this mean? I am having trouble understanding it.
posted by sweetkid at 2:55 PM on April 4, 2013


Within the humanism, as others have said, atheism is just a way to say. 'I'm smarter than you'.

I've always thought of my atheism as a way to say "I don't believe in deities" and my humanism as describing an approach to life and values based in naturalism, empiricism, tolerance and compassion.
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:56 PM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


But when they say they dislike Islam more than Buddhism because there are fundamentalist nations with that religion as the ruling party that have a recent history of violent revolution and terrorism

Muslims vanish as Buddhist attacks approach Myanmar's biggest city

posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:01 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Hi! Make your posts without calling other commenters names. Period. Full stop. There is absolutely no reason people can't have this discussion civilly.]
posted by jessamyn at 3:04 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Islam does seem to be the only one that clings tightly to Theocracy though.

Not really, no. How many Islamic countries do you know that are actually ruled by clerics? There's Iran . . . and that's pretty much it. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. Even the Taliban were run according to Pashtun tribal codes, not by clerics -- and it was a buffer state created by Pakistan, anyway.

Most of the world's Muslims actually live in Southeast Asia, a part of the world notable for having no Islamic theocracies. The biggest populations live in Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh -- all democracies. So let's be clear that this "clinging to Theocracy" comes from popular, wrong impressions of a region where most of the world's Muslims don't live.
posted by mobunited at 3:06 PM on April 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


Amusingly, this is a beautiful illustration of why profiling is dangerous. Sam Harris thinks, with very high confidence, that 20-year old girls are not into taxidermy. This is because he's completely unaware of the hipster taxidermy trend. A couple of Halloweens ago, I went with my sister to a packed, overbooked taxidermy workshop full of 20-year old girls, many of whom may have been wearing yoga clothing, and at which tiramisu marshmallows were served.

Really? Man, I have clearly been looking for dates in the wrong place. Thanks a lot, anti-taxidermy bigots. Thanks a LOT.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 3:07 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Or you can read Zen at War about the role of Buddhists in Japan in WWII.
posted by empath at 3:08 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of the commonly found links between taxidermists and serial murders, Star Trek and sex offenders, mass shootings and white guys, and something terrible and that thing you like, or that your perfectly decent friend is into.
posted by mobunited at 3:10 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Islam forbids alcohol, so I'm pretty much thinking "the enemy of my friend is my enemy..."
posted by ShutterBun at 3:18 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I'm an atheist - I don't believe in any god or the supernatural. But I think that whatever gets you through the night is alright. Violence and mysogony and hatred are caused by humans, not religions. Reddit Atheists engage in slut-shaming and hatred of women while some outspoken Christians are huge promoters of tolerance. Within the humanism, as others have said, atheism is just a way to say. 'I'm smarter than you'."

Something you might be interested in is reading about Rousseau's "Civil religion." I think his tenets were very much of his time (and not a little to avoid censure and jail), but it's an interesting concept and easily returned to a secular underpinning.
posted by klangklangston at 3:22 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


something terrible and that thing you like

If you're trying to turn this into a discussion about Van Halen, I'm all for it.
posted by The World Famous at 3:29 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another thing about popular perceptions of Islam is that many of the economic problems of Arabs, North Africans and Egyptians have more to do with the long slow decline of the Ottoman Empire, which was built around constant territorial expansion and didn't adapt its economic system when the empire reached its apogee. It was strangled by feudalism and regressive taxation, not religious fundamentalism and ignorance. Fundamentalism was a reaction to the cultural collapse of the empire, not the cause of it.
posted by empath at 3:30 PM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


I was strangled by feudalism and regressive taxation

But I got better.
posted by yoink at 3:33 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know how kittens got dragged into the discussion, but Muslims sure like cats.

According to the legend, Muhammad awoke one day to the sounds of the Adhan, the Muslim daily call to prayer. Preparing to attend, he began to dress himself; however, he soon discovered his cat Muezza sleeping on the sleeve of his prayer robe. Rather than wake her, he used a pair of scissors to cut the sleeve off, leaving the cat undisturbed. When he returned from the Mosque, Muhammad received a bow from Muezza in gratitude. He then stroked his beloved cat three times.

They also count "the Father of Kittens" amongst their number, so atheists had better paw carefully on this subject.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:39 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Y'all realize we'd all have a great time together at a meetup, right? There's no good reason to get all riled up. None.
posted by The World Famous at 3:41 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


If someone said "Fundamentalist Christians are trying to ban abortion and that proves that Christian fundamentalism is inherently prone to make its adherents adopt extreme positions on reproductive rights" then, yes, I would "wag my finger" at them and point out that the US fundamentalist crowd was actually late to the anti-abortion game and used to regard it as one of those silly Catholic obsessions.

I have no argument with someone who says "there is a dangerous and disturbingly widespread vein of violent fundamentalism in contemporary Islam"-- my argument is with people who say "Islam is an inherently dangerous and violent religion."


That's a valid distinction, and certainly gets at the heart of Harris' error. And yet... Neither of us is a Muslim, or a fundamentalist Christian (right?) And though I basically believe in history over belief, it still feels weird to me to assert that we should get to say What Your Religion Is, and our historical evidence outweighs the definition of someone who is actually an adherent of the religion.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 3:48 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


[folks, I think it's best to chill out a bit on this topic and stop calling out individual users]
posted by mathowie at 3:54 PM on April 4, 2013


A bigger problem with the New Atheists' reasoning is their laying the blame for just about everything on organized religion. Organized religion is crap, yes, it's absolutely to blame for a lot, but is it really the driving force behind genocide, war, colonialism, etcetera? Or is it just a useful tool in the imperalist toolkit? And singling out any one religion for special criticism is especially problematic, especially when that religion just happens to be Other-y. Harris' fixation on Islam is telling here, absolutely.

Where is his concern for aboriginal North America, still suffering under the weight of centuries of colonial Christian oppression? What about the disproportionate & discriminatory targeting of young black men in America under the Drug War and its associated Prohibition-era policies rooted in religious, anti-scientific, and historically racist thinking?
posted by mek at 3:57 PM on April 4, 2013


And though I basically believe in history over belief, it still feels weird to me to assert that we should get to say What Your Religion Is, and our historical evidence outweighs the definition of someone who is actually an adherent of the religion.

I think you are mixing up two different meanings of "religion" here. One is someone's personal belief system ("my religion is...") but the other is the bundle of historical institutions, theological pronouncements etc. that constitute the religion as a total social fact. If someone says "I'm a Catholic and we Catholics believe that the Pope is infallible about everything: no matter what he says on any subject, that is the inerrant word of God!" then that may well be a central tenant of that individual's religious belief--but it is clearly a mistaken claim as a claim about what Catholic doctrine on Papal infallibility actually claims.

There are lots of True Believers out there who are amazingly ignorant about the history and the central beliefs of the religion they profess. So while I think you are right that we can't tell someone what they believe, we have as much right to make claims about what the available evidence tells us the history of a given religion as social practice and as body of doctrine is as any believer does. We are right or wrong about that insofar as the evidence supports us, not insofar as our beliefs are deeply felt.
posted by yoink at 4:01 PM on April 4, 2013


Fundamentalism was a reaction to the cultural collapse of the empire, not the cause of it.

And, y'know, colonialism. British, French and U.S. colonialism particularly. The radicalisation and ratcheting-up of violence of the Islamists in North Africa through the fifties, sixties and seventies seems to coincide neatly with the Islamists' torture in the Egyptian jails of a repressive regime that was very friendly with the dominant western powers. Coalescing around Islam can be seen as primarily a political act - a rejection of secularism, which was associated with the Colonial powers. It also represented a way of living which expressly rejected those values. I much prefer living under secular law, personally, but I'm not sure how I'd feel if it were associated with a government which was the puppet of foreign business interests, and working to assist those interests in extracting the wealth from my country and expatriating it while subduing and pauperising the general population.

(Although that's a pretty good description of the current British government, now I come to think of it.)

I would suggest that the appalling Islamist bloodbath in North Africa in the 90s had a lot less to do with the manner and frequency of the terrorists' prayers, or where those prayers were directed than it did to the political pressures of the previous decades. The Islam in Islamism might have represented a flag or an ethos to rally under, but the prayers in themselves didn't cause the violence, which was a response to political factors - state violence and repression.

And (on preview) - it's "tenet", isn't it? A tenant is someone who rents a property. (That doesn't mean anything, other than that it's one of my pet language niggles.)
posted by Grangousier at 4:07 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


And (on preview) - it's "tenet", isn't it? A tenant is someone who rents a property.

Yes, that's one of those errors I just can't seem to train myself out of.
posted by yoink at 4:18 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a popular substitution. Drives me mad. I suppose in time, the word "tenant" will just come to mean that, and we'll discard "tenet" or use it for something completely different. I need to be less prescriptivist.
posted by Grangousier at 4:23 PM on April 4, 2013


It's a popular substitution. Drives me mad. I suppose in time, the word "tenant" will just come to mean that, and we'll discard "tenet" or use it for something completely different. I need to be less prescriptivist.

I don't know--for me it is purely a finger-error; for some reason my fingers just type "tenant" even when my brain is thinking "tenet." Mind you the word used to be "tenent"; "tenet" was a newfangled addition to the language in the C17th.
posted by yoink at 4:39 PM on April 4, 2013


I suppose in time, the word "tenant" will just come to mean that, and we'll discard "tenet" or use it for something completely different.

Man I hope not.
posted by sweetkid at 4:39 PM on April 4, 2013


In other news: Topless protests against Islamism staged across Europe

Femen Stages a 'Topless Jihad' (NSFW)
posted by homunculus at 4:42 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Profiling is kinda futile in a place where half the population could look Arab if you squint and a not insignificant portion of us are Arab. It always seems to be people who are surrounded by a sea of white that want to profile.

Precisely.

If you think that violent totalitarian theocracies (and their religious guidelines) can't or shouldn't be held responsible for the violence and repression that just -happens- to come from them, you must be super-enlightened to see how circumstances actually have no effect on people and there's a deeper cause.

Violence coming from the people within themselves, as opposed to religious scripture, is precisely what I think. In a totalitarian theocracy, the problem is the totalitarianism, not the theism. If you have a small group of people enforcing their will upon a greater number of people and leaving them no other outlet or chance to walk away, it really doesn't matter what it is that will is supporting, be it Islam, Christianity, atheism, or My Little Pony Fandom.

So while I agree that the leaders of violent totalitarian theocracies should absolutely be held accountable for their actions, I do not hold the religion they adhere to itself at fault. Only the yutzes that decided "I like this so much I'm going to make everyone in the world like it too".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:37 PM on April 4, 2013


I think it's interesting - and a little revealing - how a very compelling testimony from Yasaman about the myriad ways in which Muslims - or perceived-Muslims - suffer from discrimination, harrassment and stigma in the broader 'West' has essentially been ignored in favour of semantics.

To my mind, that testimony is a powerful indicator of why we should consider statements that attempt to generalise and unify "Islam" into a monolithic entity - and that broadly align to the dominant discourse about Islam in the west (indisputably racist and discriminatory) - very carefully. And also, that people making those kind of statements should do so with great caution, context and diffidence, as opposed to blithe arrogance and ignorance.

I swear, Frantz Fanon just never gets irrelevant, does he?
posted by smoke at 5:51 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


So let's be clear that this "clinging to Theocracy" comes from popular, wrong impressions of a region where most of the world's Muslims don't live.

I believe I still have the right impression:

Islamic Theocracies

Christian Theocracy

So the Vatican is the only Christian theocracy left. But there are still many in the Muslim world.

But let's be clear here: this has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with the religion here right?
posted by hellslinger at 5:52 PM on April 4, 2013


But let's be clear here: this has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with the religion here right?

Quite frankly, no. It has to do with money and guns, and who owns how much of each in which nation.

Reducing the root causes for the decline of theocracy in Europe and North America, and the root causes for the persistence of theocracy in the Middle East, to "Christians are like this and Muslims are like that" requires one to conveniently ignore quite a range of other political and economic and historic factors.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:56 PM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


So the Vatican is the only Christian theocracy left. But there are still many in the Muslim world.

This is due to the fact that the Catholic Church considers itself a supranational authority, making every Catholic country a theoretical theocracy "ruled" by the pope. This is how clerical and state power worked together in Europe and parts of the Americas for a long time, until they were challenged by socialism. Do you want to take credit for Marxist-Leninism? We can have some fun there, dude.
posted by mobunited at 6:00 PM on April 4, 2013


And anti-Semitism seems much more common in the Muslim world than in the Christian world. Surely there must be something about Islam that makes its adherents much more receptive to anti-Semitism. This is especially compelling if you know nothing about history.
posted by leopard at 6:11 PM on April 4, 2013


So the Vatican is the only Christian theocracy left. But there are still many in the Muslim world.

But let's be clear here: this has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with the religion here right?


Yeah, and the Christian clergy didn't exactly give that up without a fight. Europe and the America's are soaked in blood from the struggles to free itself, and keeping Christianists out of power is a constant struggle.
posted by empath at 6:17 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


And anti-Semitism seems much more common in the Muslim world than in the Christian world. Surely there must be something about Islam that makes its adherents much more receptive to anti-Semitism. This is especially compelling if you know nothing about history.

Heh. Yeah, some kind of "Mystery Factor" at work there...
posted by Artw at 6:17 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


And anti-Semitism seems much more common in the Muslim world than in the Christian world. Surely there must be something about Islam that makes its adherents much more receptive to anti-Semitism. This is especially compelling if you know nothing about history.

Did you mean to refute yourself there? Because its not a coincidence that most of the great Jewish thinkers and philosophers lived under Islamic rule.
posted by empath at 6:19 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought the "if you know nothing about history" was a giveaway.
posted by leopard at 6:22 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Reducing the root causes for the decline of theocracy in Europe and North America, and the root causes for the persistence of theocracy in the Middle East, to "Christians are like this and Muslims are like that" requires one to conveniently ignore quite a range of other political and economic and historic factors.

Islam isn't the only root cause, but it's certainly one of them. Islamism--the mandate for a religious state--has been an important principle in Islam since Mohammed swept his conquering armies across the Arabian peninsula.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:23 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing that bothers me most about Richard Dawkins is not his withering scorn for condescension as much as that he was once best friends with Douglas Adams, a brilliant atheist who was fascinated with religion and ignorance, and wrote frequently about the wonders of the world and the hilarious tragedies of human delusion without once descending to the shittiness Dawkins engages in frequently.

And, as always, Steve Martin sums up the problem brilliantly and 35 years before the rest of us got around to it. There are, by empirical science's nature, places it cannot touch, places which require an understanding of the subjectivity of the human experience. Here religion dominated for millennia; as subtler and newer forms of "spirituality" emerge, they will gradually displace religious faith, and eventually the only deities that remain will be far harder to disprove than the ones which are currently worshipped.

But deities will remain, of course. They are a by-product of the fact that language cannot accurately depict the strangeness of reality without becoming incomprehensible – and if it ever becomes truly incomprehensible, then it becomes a deity in its own right, which is why I dedicated my first ritualistic murder to Finnegans Wake.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:32 PM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Islam isn't the only root cause, but it's certainly one of them. Islamism--the mandate for a religious state--has been an important principle in Islam since Mohammed swept his conquering armies across the Arabian peninsula.

Except, of course, for the majority of Muslims, who keep living in democracies and messing up these ideas.
posted by mobunited at 6:33 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most of the world's Muslims actually live in Southeast Asia, a part of the world notable for having no Islamic theocracies. The biggest populations live in Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh -- all democracies.

These nations do have serious religious liberty problems that are similar to the abuses of a theocratic state even if the governments are not theocracies, most prominently blasphemy laws as in the case of Sanal Edamaruku in India and Alexander Aan in Indonesia. Bengali exile Taslima Nasreen blogs on religious liberty violations in her home country, including the recent arrests of atheist bloggers (she also discusses her cat).

I wonder whether Nasreen would fall within the group identified as "New Athiests." She does say:
But I do not think Muslims will take infinite amount of time to be secular or liberal if Muslim rulers instead of talking action against the people who criticize Islam, take action against the religionists who violate other’s human rights and the right to freedom of expression. Christians were not less violent than Muslims. If Christians can change themselves, Muslims can. They are all humans.
A bigger problem with the New Atheists' reasoning is their laying the blame for just about everything on organized religion. Organized religion is crap, yes, it's absolutely to blame for a lot, but is it really the driving force behind genocide, war, colonialism, etcetera?

I find it somewhat discouraging that, in a thread where people have (correctly) advocated for nuanced understanding of complexity among religious groups in the face of some atheists' over-generalizations, there are also arguments that over-generalize the "New Atheist" position(s). "The New Atheists' reasoning" attributes one position to a large and undefined group, and I think the arguments circulating in ostensibly "New" atheist communities are more complex than this. For one, some, like Greta Christina, argue that religion is not the "driving force" behind immoral actions but that the deference traditionally afforded to religious institutions and beliefs can provide cover for bad acts thus requiring criticism.

Where is his concern for aboriginal North America, still suffering under the weight of centuries of colonial Christian oppression? What about the disproportionate & discriminatory targeting of young black men in America under the Drug War and its associated Prohibition-era policies rooted in religious, anti-scientific, and historically racist thinking?

"Newer" atheists like Christina (who also discusses cats from time to time) and Sikivu Hutchinson cover social justice issues, even as they get a fraction of the attention paid to Harris and Dawkins.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:53 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Islamism--the mandate for a religious state--has been an important principle in Islam since Mohammed swept his conquering armies across the Arabian peninsula.

It was also an important principle in Christianity from the time of Constantine, and in Judaism since the time of King David.
posted by empath at 7:22 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


If Taslima Nasreen can say "They are all humans" about Muslims, Christians and atheists, she clearly has a very different view of the world and other people than Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins. (Not that these three guys are representative of everybody that gets labeled as a "New Atheist" ‒ which can include almost any atheist who has a blog.)
posted by nangar at 7:40 PM on April 4, 2013


"So if 100,000 drunk Americans, all holding American passports, tell you during the St Patrick's Day parade in New York that they're actually Irish, does this actually invalidate their citizenship?"

Jesus. I hadn't realized the St. Pat's Day parade in New York was that weird.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:03 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although I'm an Atheist, I like & respect Muslims because I feel that they're being unfairly oppressed in this country & I feel that as atheists we're in the same boat as they are. I don't like Christians because as the majority, they're the ones oppressing us.
posted by mike3k at 9:35 PM on April 4, 2013


Islamaphobia, the most unifying prejudice. Some Grey Bloke.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:03 PM on April 4, 2013


I get that some of the accusations Greenwald approvingly linked are questionable at best, but I was glad to be reminded by Greenwald that Sam Harris was vehemently against the Muslim community center proposed near Ground Zero:

Should a 15-story mosque and Islamic cultural center be built two blocks from the site of the worst jihadist atrocity in living memory? Put this way, the question nearly answers itself.

Yeah, Sam, it does, but not in the way you think. The answer is clearly "Yes. What better way to demonstrate the strength of democracy than to show its ability to integrate moderate Islam into the American fabric?"

But Harris doesn't see it that way at all, instead using the most awful, ignorant, known-nothing kind of rhetoric while trying to claim the banner of reason, comparing the folks behind the community center to a mosque in Germany that had become a central gathering point for jihadists, without bothering to offer any evidence. I'm sorry, but that's just awful behavior. To me, Harris' furiously wrong reponse to the Ground Zero Muslim community center debate tells me very clearly there's a problem with his assumptions and conclusions about Islam and Western society. The question remaining is "how deep does the problem run?"
posted by mediareport at 10:12 PM on April 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm gonna say some real shit now here on MetaFilter that I may regret but I've been mulling this thread over in my head all night at work and I just need to get some of it out of my head and move on.

I'm an atheist, yes. I haven't been presented with suffiicient evidence to believe in the existence of any of the myriad gods our species has worshipped over the years.

To some extent, I'm also an anti-theist. That's kind of tricky, yeah. I guess it's more direct to say that I'm anti-theism. I don't like theism. I think that the belief in god is deleterious to the human condition. I think it is a form of magical thinking that prizes revealed truth above discovered truth. I think that this form of magical thinking causes direct harm in human society. I think that many, not all but many, of the people that believe in these revealed truths allow this belief to influence the way they think about and help to shape social policy, and that this effect is a net negative in the way we treat each other, and especially marginalized groups.

I really don't like religion and most of everything it stands for.

I do not agree with every single thing Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens or PZ Meyers or any other prominent atheist says. Shit, I don't agree with everything I've said over the years, how the hell would I ever give someone else that honor?

But I'm really, SERIOUSLY fucking grateful that these (and many, many others) thinkers and writers and speakers exist and are helping to generate this conversation.

I don't make some pretense of excusing comments or ideas that I disagree with, but I DO cut atheists / skeptics / freethinkers a little bit more slack because, well, we don't have the power. We're not oppressing anyone, because we don't control the systems of oppression. In many if not most circumstances, the precise opposite is true. Yes, atheists are an oppressed group. This is a fact.

So I don't know about the whole New Atheist label. It sure does get thrown around a lot, and usually as a derogatory comment. The only things I feel sure of are as follows:

1. No, atheism is not a religion.
2. Yes, religion is a net evil in the world.
3. No, magical thinking of any sort is not great for an individual, and when amplified in groups is seriously shitty for society.
4. Yes, the sooner we stop prizing revealed truth above discovered truth, the better we will all be.

A couple of years ago I sort of shifted gears from talking about these issues in the lens of atheism and moving towards the lens of skepticism.

I tend to think that belief in god is sort of....an output, the downstream effect of a fundamentally flawed function.

It's a conclusion based on faulty premises.

And it's really, REALLY fucking hard to change anyone's conclusions. The best hope I have is to start earlier in the process. To help, through education and communication, the individual to re-evaluate the premises before we get to the conclusion stage. I think that the tools of skepticism and science, when brought to bear on these questions, will usually end with the person being at the least agnostic.

It's an easier conversation to have, that's for sure.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:20 PM on April 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


The best hope I have is to start earlier in the process. To help, through education and communication, the individual to re-evaluate the premises before we get to the conclusion stage.

If you're constantly challenging foundations, you're never going to get any actual work done. You can argue metaphysics all day long, but it ultimately isn't going to feed the hungry or do anything else that could actually make the world a better place.

It's often better to 'find common ground', which means to find common shared beliefs (for example: a belief in the fundamental dignity of the human individual), and work upwards from there.
posted by empath at 10:31 PM on April 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


That's an interesting point. I think about these things in a horizontal framework. Perhaps the vertical is more appropriate. I'll have to think on that for a bit.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:34 PM on April 4, 2013


mediareport: Sam Harris was vehemently against the Muslim community center proposed near Ground Zero. ...

Oh, that's good to know. It makes the whole problem very simple. Fuck him.

lazaruslong: I do cut atheists / skeptics / freethinkers a little bit more slack because, well, we don't have the power.

By that standard you should be cutting American Muslims a bunch of slack too. Are you?
posted by benito.strauss at 10:52 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I broadly agree with Glenn Greenwald on this. I think it has something to do with our tendency to perceive patterns in things: I've seen a number of bloggers start by defending the authors of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons and end up ranting about every bad thing committed by every Moslem anywhere. They're like conspiracy theorists, but instead of ascribing things to a cabal of malefactors they blame it on a bad religion.

I do want to raise one error of his: Glenn Greenwald cites what he calls a "claim often made by anti-semites based on highly selective passages from the Talmud" and links to an antisemitic website that purports to present those passages. Many or most of those passages are actually fictitious [debunking] not merely (as he seems to think) presented out of context. This actually reinforces his point: racists and bigots are not innocent participants in a public debate, and skeptics have a duty to apply heightened scrutiny to claims that advance their narratives.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:52 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


benito.strauss: "By that standard you should be cutting American Muslims a bunch of slack too. Are you?"

Yes, I do. I am capable of holding more than one thought in my head at a time. I recognize that American Muslims are disempowered and oppressed. I also recognize that this is due to their religious belief. Like I said in my earlier comment, religion is frequently a tool used to oppress marginalized groups. I don't like that the religion of majority uses its power as a cudgel to browbeat and other the religious minorities. If I had my way, we'd do away with them all.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:43 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


benito.strauss: "Oh, that's good to know. It makes the whole problem very simple. Fuck him."


That's...lazy. If one position is all you need to write off another person, well, that's your right. But it's pathetically lazy.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:44 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


It might be. But I don't need to hear Hitler's position on Horst Wessel or Judenrate to know he's an anti-semite.

Or: The Courtier's Reply applies to that too.
posted by klangklangston at 11:48 PM on April 4, 2013


me: you should be cutting American Muslims a bunch of slack too.
lazaruslong: Yes, I do. I am capable of holding ...


Glad to hear it. I think we're on the same team.

lazaruslong: That's...lazy.

Possibly. But that issue is one that strikes me as so simple, and so easy to know what the right thing to do is, as an American devoted to freedom of religion and freedom of association, that I don't feel bad not spending to much effort on it. Maybe there is a subtle explanation that would change my mind, or some new facts about the people creating the mosque/center — I didn't do that much research about them, but I never did hear the opponents cite anything damning. But that article is junk. All he says is "Islam is different".

Now of course Islam is different. Different religions in different places and times are going to be more or less violent, more or less divisive. But what he pretends that he's proved, but never comes out and says, is that Islam is so different that we should deny American Muslims their fundamental rights. I'm pissed when Christians try to make their religious beliefs over-ride American law, and I'm pissed when this Atheist tries to make his distaste for religion over-ride American law too.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:50 AM on April 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm an atheist, but after many years of pondering I don't have any big problem with religion as a general concept.

At a basic level I believe a large proportion of humans are amoral fuckwits (see: Nazi Germany, Rwanda, Srebrenica, etc) and need some kind of belief framework to tell them how to behave. Unfortunately, that implies that (a) there are large masses of people ready to be led in dangerous directions and (b) a mentality of us-vs-them is fostered between these groups, promoting this natural human/animal instinct of living in packs and competing for resources.

I am unsure what the solution is but I'm sure it's not to be found in strengthening these metaphorical walls by attacking them.
posted by dickasso at 2:08 AM on April 5, 2013


Aren't most anti-Islamic positions taken by westerners fundamentally just painting Christian and Islamic fundamentalists with the same brush? You've merely revealed your own prejudices if you believe that equating Christian and Islamic fundamentalists necessarily paints all of Islam in between.

There is another atheist position that all (abrahamic) religions provide cover and support to their most extreme elements. Imho, we should only argue this position within the context of a single religious culture because that's where the cover and support occurs. Atheists usually adopt the simplistic cross-cultural variant when they're just trolling, ala Sam Harris, or just being intellectually lazy, ala Pen & Teller, but..

An awful lot of outspoken atheists are recovering from either harmful religious experiences during childhood or attacks by religious people later in life. Dawkins dealt with both. I'm fine with people painting all religion as harmful because doing so helps more recovering religious people than it hurts currently religious people.

As for Islam, I've numerous atheist friends from/in Turkey, including some who lost friends and family in the Sivas massacre. I largely accept hold their positions on Islam as gospel because they've lived it. Islam is bad bad news, much worse than Christianity. I applaud efforts to challenge Islam or denigrate it's harmful practices, ala "Bare Breasts Against Islamism". Yet, Christianity remains the only religion that harms me directly, while Islam can only impact me by impacting friends.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:27 AM on April 5, 2013


(Not that these three guys are representative of everybody that gets labeled as a "New Atheist" ‒ which can include almost any atheist who has a blog.)

Which is why I find questions like "Is the 'New Atheism' movement Islamophobic?" and "Is Islam inherently violent?" problematic. There is no one essential New Atheism just as there is no one essential Islam. Essentializing contributes to stereotyping of and prejudice toward atheists and Muslims.
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:10 AM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aren't most anti-Islamic positions taken by westerners fundamentally just painting Christian and Islamic fundamentalists with the same brush? You've merely revealed your own prejudices if you believe that equating Christian and Islamic fundamentalists necessarily paints all of Islam in between.

Can you clarify what you mean by this? Because I equate Christian and Muslim fundamentalists - because of the fundamentalist bit. Islam itself isn't the issue - nor is Christianity, nor are the moderate believers of either. When you encounter a Christian or a Muslim fundamentalist, it is their fundamentalism that's driving them to be a fuckwit.

So can you clarify what you mean by "paints all of Islam in between", because I have no idea what that phrase means.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:13 AM on April 5, 2013


Regarding the "are people amoral fuckwits rather than actually good people?" line of inquisition, I was immediately reminded of something that Roger Ebert wrote about a moment in Kids:
Early in "Kids," there is a scene where Telly and his friend Casper are walking along a Manhattan street. Telly, who is about 15 or 16, is describing his latest sexual conquest, which we have just witnessed in heartless detail. Casper is swigging beer from a bottle, which he has probably stolen from a convenience store. Telly's language is like a series of ugly blows; he talks about his enthusiasm for "de-virginizing" young girls, Casper cheers him on, and it becomes clear that neither one of them has any interests, any curiosity, any values, any frame of reference, beyond immediate animal gratification.

Then a curious thing happens. Casper pauses casually, in plain view of passersby on a street corner, to urinate. That is not what is strange. What is strange is that Telly chooses to stand around the corner from his friend, to lend him privacy. If you study this body language, you realize that these kids live entirely in a world of their own. Other people - adults - simply do not exist.
I don't know many people that strike me as thoroughly amoral. What people are is limited: they have a worldview that doesn't encompass, well, most of the world. Which is why some people fear dark-skinned Muslims simply because that's a type of person they don't know very well, and why some people are not only willing to let horrible things happen to others, but are callous enough to make jokes about their suffering (witness prison rape jokes, among countless other examples). It is hard and even somewhat draining to treat other human beings like they're human beings. It's hard even with people we love and spend most of our time with. So we dedicate our energies to caring about the people near us we think most deserve our care, and the rest of the world? It can go burn pretty much. Dunbar's Number and all that.

All the major world religions I've read anything by talk about this quite incessantly, in fact. Talk about the importance of treating other people like they matter as much as you do, tell stories about showing immaculate kindness to those who are foreign to you, maybe even actively repulsive. They will at least make stabs at explaining that believers are those who serve their community, and who want to make their community larger (by accepting strangers as brethren, not specifically through conversion), and that ultimately you must accept that the world as a whole is more important than your own tiny little life. What was it Jesus said about giving up your parents and siblings if you want to love him? Or something in that vein, anyway?

Of course, plenty of religious people read that and do try to live by those guidelines. Many of them succeed, which is why I know so many believers who are truly wonderful people and who credit their faith for making them that way. I'm still envious of some of them for their seeming grace. But then you have believers who just don't fully feel the importance of those teachings, who speak them but haven't used them for self-inquiry and doubt. And that's understandable, because doubt is a difficult and unpleasant process in many ways, but it does mean that those are the believers who are doing it the most wrong.

Which is why you shouldn't place your hopes for becoming a better person in a single book or even a single faith, but that ought to be common sense. Hopefully religious faith becomes more complex and introspective as time goes on; I believe that it will, because that's how culture evolves and I don't think religions are stupid or stubborn enough to let themselves die out entirely. At the same time, I hope that more nonsecular avenues for pursuing doubt and growth pop up, and that more atheists recognize the value of those pursuits. Plenty of atheists already do, but I think the New Atheist movement in particular has spawned a lot of insensitive, even bigoted thinkers, and it's frustrating to see atheism become an intolerant "movement" in its own right.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:21 AM on April 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


EC: When you encounter a Christian or a Muslim fundamentalist, it is their fundamentalism that's driving them to be a fuckwit.

Actually, most of the fundamentalists I encounter are fairly well disciplined in speaking softly. Few are jihadists, crusaders, or fuckwits.

Rory: Plenty of atheists already do, but I think the New Atheist movement in particular has spawned a lot of insensitive, even bigoted thinkers, and it's frustrating to see atheism become an intolerant "movement" in its own right.

It's frustrating to see calls for tolerance repeatedly ignored, especially on places like metafilter where those calls represent the majority of atheist voices.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:51 AM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually, most of the fundamentalists I encounter are fairly well disciplined in speaking softly. Few are jihadists, crusaders, or fuckwits.

I assumed most people took it as read that I was referring to the fundamentalists who were jihadists, crusaders, or fuckwits. I was using the general definition of "fundamentalist" - that is, "a person who believes in the strict adherance to a specific religion" - rather than using the informal definition which seems to be circulating, where "Fundamentalist" refers to the various charismatic Christian denominations. As you note, many such practicioners may themselves believe in strict Christian orthodoxy, but do so without attempting to force that upon others.

However, my larger point still stands - that when you meet one of these aforementioned jihadists, crusaders, or fuckwits, that it is their drive to enforce their will upon others that is at issue rather than what it is they believe.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:59 AM on April 5, 2013


but I think the New Atheist movement in particular has spawned a lot of insensitive, even bigoted thinkers, and it's frustrating to see atheism become an intolerant "movement" in its own right.

I'll reiterate my concern about oversimplification with regard to a nebulously defined "the New Atheist movement," especially when the libertarian variety of atheism prone to racism, misogyny and general obliviousness to privilege has motivated a community of atheists dedicated to social justice (a few of whom I've mentioned above).
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:07 AM on April 5, 2013


Just a factoid that I would like to throw out there:

There is absolutely no correlation between lack of support for democracy and religiosity in Islamic societies. In other words, being a Muslim and being more or less religious has no bearing on your support for democracy.

You can find this data in Amaney Jamal's latest book.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:07 AM on April 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is there any reason to keep conflating "New Atheism" with "new atheism"? There's clearly a small publishing and speech-tour industry surrounding certain popular atheists, and they've allowed themselves to be branded in this way as part of their work, so it's not simply a rhetorical jab. The world will keep creating new atheists every year, but this industry in atheists guarantees we'll all have to contend with the squalling provocations of a few attention-seekers whose only claim to fame is that they happen to deny a particular set of propositions about the existence and attributes of the divine. That's like spending your life refuting chiropractors.

Aim higher, is all I'm saying: a disenchanted world should have more in it than disenchantment.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:31 AM on April 5, 2013


The world will keep creating new atheists every year, but this industry in atheists guarantees we'll all have to contend with the squalling provocations of a few attention-seekers

There is no reason to conflate "New Atheism" with atheism, but people keep doing it. If people are concerned with particular arguments made by Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris, they should focus those concerns on Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris and stop gesturing toward "the New Atheist movement" (a movement must include more than three or four well-selling authors), because "the" movement doesn't exist as a homogeneous group and is instead of complex collection of groups and subgroups (just like Islam and Christianity).

Well-promoted publications can only distort the conversation to the extent that we all refuse to actively seek out a greater diversity of voices. I think it would only help the conversation if people with a large audience like Greenwald wrote about Sikivu Hutchinson's work on racism or Taslima Nasreen's work on religious liberty instead of continuing to give attention to already prominent (and wrong) arguments.

So yes, I would agree with "aim higher" as a goal.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:41 AM on April 5, 2013


But my question is: why call all the contemporary atheists "New Atheists"? It's clearly a marketing term, like "Impressionism" or "Hair Metal." Let the self-promoters keep it. Why not just call ourselves atheists, rationalists, skeptics, etc.?
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:50 AM on April 5, 2013


This thread has been a really interesting read. I consider myself an atheist, and I've read both Dawkins and Harris. For a long time I haven't been able to articulate my dislike for Dawkins -not that it's something I think about that much- but still it was a grey area for me. I warmed to Harris more, but I also had trouble with the black-and-white conclusions that he draws and the virulently anti-Islam thing that started to ring alarm bells for me. Anyway, I think that they're both suffering from being scientists and trying to solve a problem. In their case (as others have said) they see the problem as religion, whereas, whilst this may be a problem, the problems of the world run much deeper than that, and they are blind to these things. They also cannot fathom the fact that there might be some grey areas, so they just headlong into so pretty ridiculous and dangerous conclusions. This isn't to rag on scientists, far from it, but it seems like they cannot see beyond the idea of solving something, and I think we all know that humanity is much messier than that.

My last point is that I feel strongly that, as an atheist who was brought up in religion (in my case Catholicism) you're not truly free of this until you make your peace with religion. I certainly have huge problems with organised religion, but I don't feel the need to rant about religion every day or every week. Nor do I think of the existence or non-existence of God very often either. It strikes me as weird to have to keep on about these things all the time, but then, as I've learnt from this thread, I'm most likely an old-school atheist. Anyway, thanks all, I've learnt a lot here.
posted by ob at 6:52 AM on April 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I certainly have huge problems with organised religion, but I don't feel the need to rant about religion every day or every week. Nor do I think of the existence or non-existence of God very often either.

You've reminded me of a throwaway bit that the cartoonist Larry Gonick worked into one of his issues of the Cartoon History of the Universe, where he was discussing the history and origins of Hinduism. He claimed it was a Hindu fable about an atheist who spent his whole life reminding himself, over and over, that "there is no God." No matter what this guy did - walking to market, eating lunch, swimming, taking a dump, whatever - he would think to himself over and over, "there is no God, there is no God, there is no God."

And when he died, much to his great surprise, he went straight to Nirvana - but before he got there, God welcomed him warmly. "But, wait," the guy asked, "I spent my whole life reminding myself you didn't exist, and you're happy to see me?"

"Well, yeah," God said. "because even though that's what you were saying about me - dude, you were always thinking about me."

(I've paraphrased Gonick some, but only because I don't have the ability to draw fun pictures like him in here.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:03 AM on April 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


audi: There is no reason to conflate "New Atheism" with atheism, but people keep doing it. If people are concerned with particular arguments made by Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris, they should focus those concerns on Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris and stop gesturing toward "the New Atheist movement" (a movement must include more than three or four well-selling authors), because "the" movement doesn't exist as a homogeneous group and is instead of complex collection of groups and subgroups (just like Islam and Christianity).

I'm not even certain there's much coherence among Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris. Something I found to be a bit refreshing about the linked articles BTW is that I didn't see many points where they made the generalization jump.

EC: Thank you for your clarification.

anotherpanacea: But my question is: why call all the contemporary atheists "New Atheists"? It's clearly a marketing term, like "Impressionism" or "Hair Metal." Let the self-promoters keep it. Why not just call ourselves atheists, rationalists, skeptics, etc.?

Agreed, which has led to the cringe-worthy "New, New Atheists." It's not remotely new much less "new, new."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:08 AM on April 5, 2013


Ha! Absolutely. I find atheists going on about God all the time a bit creepy. A "New Atheist" friend of mine (who, thankfully has since dialed back his views) once told me that he attended atheist meetings on a Sunday morning, at which point, I'm pretty sure, part of my brain exploded.
posted by ob at 7:10 AM on April 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


OB, there is something to be said for the community-sustaining elements of organized religion; there's actually even been a few askmes in here from people who've basically said "I'm atheist, but I miss the regular gathering-as-a-community-with-likeminded-people part, how can I have that bit back?"

I do agree, though, that that kind of symmetry is a bit odd. (I mean, if you have the chance to start your own group, why not pick a time that lets people sleep in?)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:26 AM on April 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


ob: I find atheists going on about God all the time a bit creepy.

I find this idea to be annoying because I think there's a fair bit of confirmation bias involved, and this is something more frequently said about atheists than theists. But that's probably a derail.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:40 AM on April 5, 2013


But my question is: why call all the contemporary atheists "New Atheists"?

Those who wish to label themselves "New Atheists" are welcome to the term. I don't use the term myself because I've yet to find any coherent definition that applies to the three/four horsemen let alone any wider movement (I agree with CBrachyrhynchos' point quoted below). I would describe myself in different contexts and to different audiences as a Humanist, an atheist, and an Ethical Culturist among other terms, and I agree with you that a variety of terms can and should be pursued. My issue is with arguments that use the phrase to identify others, not as self-identification, and to identify them in a way overlooks nuance among atheist perspectives.

I'm not even certain there's much coherence among Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris. Something I found to be a bit refreshing about the linked articles BTW is that I didn't see many points where they made the generalization jump.

Agreed. And, I've found the conversation in this thread refreshing for the most part for the same reason, though I still think it worthwhile to call into question the generalization move when it is applied to atheism, especially when over-generalization is one of the problems Greenwald has with Harris' argument.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:58 AM on April 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Atheists don’t like Islam. We also don’t like Catholicism, Episcopalianism, or whatever jelly-like dribble Karen Armstrong is peddling today."

... and yet, our dislike is largely a personal one; they simply aren't the right choices for *us*, because they aren't based upon that which is observable and provable.

As a group, Atheists largely hold back further criticism until these faith/non-reason based belief systems try to force their beliefs on others, or actively hurt, persecute, or psychologically abuse other people.

Everyone has lots of choices they don't like or want for themselves, whether they follow a faith-based belief system, or attempt to guide their conduct and conscience by following the voice of reason.
posted by markkraft at 2:19 PM on April 5, 2013


And anti-Semitism seems much more common in the Muslim world than in the Christian world. Surely there must be something about Islam that makes its adherents much more receptive to anti-Semitism. This is especially compelling if you know nothing about history.

Maybe that seems true at this particular vantage point in history (or, as you say, if you "know nothing about history"), but it can't be emphasized enough that the Nazis viewed themselves as Christians, and among the chief popular justifications for their virulent Antisemitism were slanders blaming the Jews for the persecution of Christ, as represented in public statements like this one:
And the founder of Christianity made no secret indeed of his estimation of the Jewish people. When He found it necessary, He drove those enemies of the human race out of the Temple of God; because then, as always, they used religion as a means of advancing their commercial interests. But at that time Christ was nailed to the Cross for his attitude towards the Jews; whereas our modern Christians enter into party politics and when elections are being held they debase themselves to beg for Jewish votes.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:37 AM on April 8, 2013


But my question is: why call all the contemporary atheists "New Atheists"? It's clearly a marketing term, like "Impressionism" or "Hair Metal." Let the self-promoters keep it. Why not just call ourselves atheists, rationalists, skeptics, etc.?

Isn't it just shorthand for atheists who are also assholes? I mean, I really wish their own self-selected marketing term "Brights" would catch on, including the quotation marks (and air quotes when spoken, ideally with an accompanying eyeroll and maybe a fart noise). But the term "New Atheists" pretty unambiguously refers to a very specific strain of atheism and its accompanying philosophy. Yes, it's a marketing term, but it's a marketing term that doesn't apply to all atheists, rationalists (which, again, should probably be in quotes because lol), skeptics, etc.
posted by The World Famous at 11:23 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sam Harris: "It is Always Now"
posted by mrgrimm at 12:31 PM on April 8, 2013


Playing The Islamophobia Card
Sam Harris is peeved, and rightly so. Two recent articles, one in Salon by Nathan Lean and the other in Al-Jazeera online by Murtaza Hussain, have mounted nasty (and misguided) attacks on New Atheism because of its perceived “Islamophobia.” I’ve previously dissected Lean’s piece (see the first link), and Hussain’s is just as bad.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:00 PM on April 9, 2013


That Coyne article evidences the same problem that seems to connect a lot of the atheists critical of Islam, that they really are ignorant of the nigh two-thousand-year old tradition of Western bigotry regarding Islam, and how easily they fall into the same tropes that have been employed by racists for a long time. They're also unable to sort religion from culture, and end up complaining about a lot of cultural problems under the rubric of Islam in a way that is paternalistic and frankly plays into a lot of negative stereotypes that foreign Muslims have about Westerners, especially Americans.

That means that folks who do legitimately need help from Westerners and atheists — like the Egyptians still demonstrating for a secular government — are less able to get it as well as less able to accept it.

All for some bullshit like profiling people who "look Muslim."
posted by klangklangston at 10:30 PM on April 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


Yes, it's a marketing term, but it's a marketing term that doesn't apply to all atheists

Then it'd be helpful if people didn't use "the New Atheism" as an over-generalizing label and instead focused on specific people and criticisms. For example, if your beef is with "assholes," then talk about the behavior you find assholish, though don't forget that perceptions of asshole behavior vary. Frank disagreement with ideas that have enjoyed relative isolation from public criticism can be perceived as and labeled indecorous in an attempt to protect those ideas from criticism.

rationalists (which, again, should probably be in quotes because lol)

Saying a group's self-identified name is laughable seems to me just as problematic as the kind of language that some theists on Metafilter have objected to, namely derisive phrases used to describe the Christian deity and the garments associated with the LDS Church. "Rationalism" is somewhat rare in US English but more common in British English, especially in its influence in post-colonial India where groups with pro-science missions critical of supernatural claims often take the Rationalist name. Rationalist Sanal Edamaruku, for example, is currently abroad fleeing blasphemy charges for his debunking of an alleged miracle at a Catholic church.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:02 AM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Then it'd be helpful if people didn't use "the New Atheism" as an over-generalizing label and instead focused on specific people and criticisms.

I'm not sure why it needs to focus just on specific people and criticisms. New Atheism is basically a genre of atheism, just like hair metal, glam rock, emo, stoner rock, and others are genres of rock music. Discussing a genre necessarily involves a generalizing label. There may well be a valid argument that New Atheism itself - as a genre - is not islamophobic, in spite of the undeniable islamophobia of certain prominent members of the New Atheism movement. But I also think the burden has been met to show that the most prominent icons of New Atheism are, in fact, islamophobic, and the burden then shifts to those who would counter the assertion to show that those individuals' islamophobia is merely part of their own viewpoints and not a characteristic of New Atheism itself.

For example, if your beef is with "assholes," then talk about the behavior you find assholish, though don't forget that perceptions of asshole behavior vary.

I was using "assholes" as a jokey shorthand for New Atheism's defining characteristic of being intentionally confrontational and smugly intolerant. My apologies if I offended. If there's someone who thinks the word "asshole" is not technically correct when describing someone whose guiding principles include intentional intolerance and a belief in the superiority of their own intellect and analysis above all others, I guess I will have to respectfully disagree with them on that point. I'm sure it won't be the only thing I disagree with them on, particularly if they are a New Atheist.

Saying a group's self-identified name is laughable seems to me just as problematic as the kind of language that some theists on Metafilter have objected to, namely derisive phrases used to describe the Christian deity and the garments associated with the LDS Church.

The ridiculous term "Brights" is an actual term that specific people actually propose using to describe themselves because they believe they are, in fact, bright. The analog to the Christian deity and LDS temple garments would be if those religions used the titles "Invisible Sky Giant" and "Magic Underpants" as the actual names of those two things, in spite of the fact that those names do not actually reflect the beliefs of those groups. The real-world (non-hypothetical) analog with Mormonism, for example, would be where Mormonism refers to itself as "the only true and living church," which is smug and self-satisfied and at the same time ridiculous on its face to anyone who thinks Mormonism's tenets are obviously and laughably wrong.

The fact is that many self-proclaimed "Brights" really are bright people in many respects. For example, to use an icon of New Atheism, the only times I've seen Richard Dawkins say something just completely boneheaded and idiotic are when he gets so caught up in his own sense of smug self-satisfaction that he goes off the rails. For him to then get so smug that he - in complete seriousness - proposes adoption of the word "Bright" as an actual title for himself is just incredibly poetic. The notion of one of the most well-known smug, self-satisfied intellectuals in the world proposing - with a straight face - adoption of the term "Bright" to describe himself is so ridiculously stupid that, if it were in a novel, it would be dismissed as too facile.

I mean come on. The term "Brights" as a self-selected name of a group of people whose defining characteristic is smug intolerance and a belief that the world is in desperate need of the intellect and cultural participation of its own members is laughable.
posted by The World Famous at 12:48 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


show that the most prominent icons of New Atheism are, in fact, islamophobic

The "most prominent icons" being Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris? As I've said repeatedly in this thread, I've no problem with criticisms of specific people (I even agree with many criticisms of these three authors). If there's a genre label needed, then I would still be interested in finding out what the criteria for the genre are and who fits in besides the big three (are both Dawkins and Myers New Atheists despite their opposite positions on social justice issues? Do Taslima Nasreen or Ophelia Benson count as New Atheists), etc. The problem I'm drawing attention to is when an ill-defined general label is used in ways to over-generalize large populations of people.

I was using "assholes" as a jokey shorthand for New Atheism's defining characteristic of being intentionally confrontational and smugly intolerant. My apologies if I offended.

My concern is not offense but the potential such language has for perpetuating stereotypes about atheists (e.g. they're angry, they're spiteful) that have real-world, negative effects on atheists.

The analog to the Christian deity...

The comparison I was making was to the derisive and dismissive way the language is being used, not the actual nouns being compared. You'll note I said nothing about the term Bright, which I do not find a useful term. I did object to your derisive dismissal of the term "rationalist," which you did without apparently being aware of the real-world (non-hypothetical) meaning the term holds for people, and which I read to be in the same vein of smugness and confrontation as that which you attribute to some atheists.

"Intentionally confrontational and smugly intolerant," moreover, are contested values that differ according to one's point of view. If someone says publicly, "I'm an atheist," some people will perceive that as being smug and confrontational because that statement goes against the deference traditionally afforded to dominant religious views. Yes, writers like Hitchens are provocative (no surprise there coming from a polemicist), but there's also a more generalized (and stereotyped) double-standard operating where intentionally non-provocative expressions of atheist identity are misread as provocative (like this bus ad which said simply "Atheists" and was rejected for being too controversial).

As an atheist, I've enjoyed learning details about religious beliefs and practices that I previously knew little or nothing about in these conversations. I've also listened to my theist interlocutors when they've said that they find certain atheist expressions smug or overly confrontational and how they've described such smugness impeding understanding and productive dialogue. I'm sharing my personal view of a similar experience with the hope of the same goal. I'm not saying that there's never a time for smugness or laughing at views one finds ridiculous, but if that's going to be an option, then both theist and atheist views will need to be equally open to derision, and I don't think that option best serves a dialogue such as we have here
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:52 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The "most prominent icons" being Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

Together with Dennett, they referred to themselves as the "Four Horsemen of New Atheism." So yes, that's correct.

If there's a genre label needed, then I would still be interested in finding out what the criteria for the genre are and who fits in besides the big three (are both Dawkins and Myers New Atheists despite their opposite positions on social justice issues? Do Taslima Nasreen or Ophelia Benson count as New Atheists), etc.

The Wikipedia page on New Atheism is a good starting point for that inquiry. Short answer: Yes, both Dawkins and Myers are New Atheists because of their aggressive, active stance of intolerance, which is the defining characteristic of New Atheism.

My concern is not offense but the potential such language has for perpetuating stereotypes about atheists (e.g. they're angry, they're spiteful) that have real-world, negative effects on atheists.

I understand the concern, particularly where there seems to be confusion as to the distinction between New Atheists on the one hand and atheists on the other.

I did object to your derisive dismissal of the term "rationalist," which you did without apparently being aware of the real-world (non-hypothetical) meaning the term holds for people, and which I read to be in the same vein of smugness and confrontation as that which you attribute to some atheists.

I'm well aware of the real-world meaning of the term "rationalist." That doesn't change the fact that I find the term self-congratulatory and necessarily dismissive of other views as irrational.

"Intentionally confrontational and smugly intolerant," moreover, are contested values that differ according to one's point of view.

In the context of New Atheism, they are not contested values, but core, defining principles that are explicitly stated. An atheist who is not intentionally confrontational and smugly intolerant is not, by definition, a New Atheist.

If someone says publicly, "I'm an atheist," some people will perceive that as being smug and confrontational because that statement goes against the deference traditionally afforded to dominant religious views.

I agree. And it would be unfair to judge someone as smug and confrontational just because they say that they're an atheist. One need not be smug and confrontational in order to be an atheist, and the vast majority of atheists I've known are neither smug nor confrontational. On the other hand, if they say they're a New Atheist, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that they are using the accepted definition of that term, which includes explicit value placed on intolerance and confrontation as a core defining principle of the movement.

Anyway, I think I agree with you about 99%, audi alteram partem, particularly your last paragraph. I think the only real issue here is the distinction between the general descriptor "atheist" and the specific term "New Atheist," which refers to a very specific genre or movement.
posted by The World Famous at 2:24 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does anyone describe themselves as a 'New Atheist,' though? I think the closest I've seen is Jerry Coyne responding to attacks on New Atheism which pick out individuals (and sometimes himself) but if the term isn't self-applied I'm leery of trying to codify it too well.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:32 PM on April 10, 2013


Does anyone describe themselves as a 'New Atheist,' though?

Yes.
posted by The World Famous at 2:39 PM on April 10, 2013


Ah okay, thank yew.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:40 PM on April 10, 2013


I'm well aware of the real-world meaning of the term "rationalist." That doesn't change the fact that I find the term self-congratulatory and necessarily dismissive of other views as irrational.

How do you feel when Christians describe themselves as "saved", or "forgiven".
posted by benito.strauss at 4:13 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Y'know, that was a bit of a knee-jerk response on my part, and really a derail, so go ahead and ignore it. Apologies.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:15 PM on April 10, 2013


Yeah gonna have to disagree with you TWF on 'rationalist' because otherwise we get into 'well it's not just humanists who like people' and 'I took a science class so I am a scientologist maybe.'
posted by shakespeherian at 4:16 PM on April 10, 2013


How do you feel when Christians describe themselves as "saved", or "forgiven".

I find those terms presumptuous and inappropriate. But that's thanks at least in part to the fact that my personal theology differs from theirs, I think.

Yeah gonna have to disagree with you TWF on 'rationalist' because otherwise we get into 'well it's not just humanists who like people' and 'I took a science class so I am a scientologist maybe.'

There's certainly a spectrum of self-congratulatory or presumptuous self-proclaimed titles. The term "humanist" doesn't strike me as on the same part of the spectrum as "rationalist," and certainly not as far to one end as "Bright." The term "scientologist" seems like a bit of a red herring in your example. Reasonable people can disagree as to where on that spectrum various terms lie. But let's not adopt the term "reasonables" to describe ourselves collectively just yet.
posted by The World Famous at 4:30 PM on April 10, 2013


In my opinion, Matt Smith did more for atheism on TV this week than Dawkins has in a year of increasingly cranky tweets. (I used to disagree with but defend Dawkins against arguments I thought were deeply stupid and in bad faith. Sadly, he seems to be sinking to expectations.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:03 PM on April 10, 2013


"I mean come on. The term "Brights" as a self-selected name of a group of people whose defining characteristic is smug intolerance and a belief that the world is in desperate need of the intellect and cultural participation of its own members is laughable."
Even as someone who describes themself as a Christian, I am keenly aware that even the Scott-Adams-esque certified genius IQness of the term 'Brights' doesn't even approach the self-entitled conceit of us referring to ourselves as being anything like Christ. Even from a secular perspective, a Dude who, despite growing up in the boondocks of a backwater of an unimportant and generally forgotten hole, gave his life setting an example of extremist love and humility and generosity that dramatically toppled one of the most horrifically evil Empires the world has ever known, established the essential siblinghood of human kind as the moral center of the Western world uniquely preaching the personhood of women children and the poor, and reserved his strongest words for religious hypocrisy – a term his immediate followers coined in Greek for him.

Besides, you’re not going to sit here and claim that you don’t feel the world is in desperate need of the intellect and cultural participation of our religious tradition are you? Sure the term ‘Brights’ does seem awfully indicative of falling head first into the Dunning-Kruger effect, mistaking puzzle solving skills for intelligence and elitism for evangelism, but that general concept is almost a defining characteristic of an awful lot of religious traditions.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:22 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Rude Pundit is a New Atheist:

"Yesterday, the Rude Pundit was on The Stephanie Miller Show, discussing a piece he wrote where he says, flat out, if you oppose same sex marriage, you're a bigot. It doesn't matter where you got that belief, be it church or political organization or your parents. You are intolerant and a bigot. A caller was outraged, outraged, damnit, that we would dare say that he is a bigot because he follows his church's teachings on gay marriage. The Rude Pundit wouldn't back down, telling the caller that his church was bigoted against gays and lesbians. "You're persecuting me," he said. "You're persecuting me for my beliefs." No, the Rude Pundit said, he wasn't being persecuted. He's allowed to belong to any hate group he wants. But the rest of us are allowed to say it's a group of bigoted fucks."
posted by mrgrimm at 10:21 AM on April 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris face Islamophobia backlash
But now Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris are on the receiving end of stinging criticism from fellow liberal non-believers who say their particular brand of atheism has swung from being a scientifically rigorous attack on all religions to a populist and crude hatred of Islam.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:52 PM on April 14, 2013


CBrachyrhynchos: "In my opinion, Matt Smith did more for atheism on TV this week than Dawkins has in a year of increasingly cranky tweets."

Matt Smith, as in The Doctor? What's the context for this?
posted by brundlefly at 10:18 PM on April 14, 2013


Rings of Ankhaten ended with a nice little angry-speech paraphrase of Carl Sagan.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:00 AM on April 15, 2013


Whoops. I think it's important because the bulk of the speech is, "why and what do we value" rather than "what's wrong with those values." The moral is that the unique combinations of cosmic history in deep time makes individual lives worth fighting for. As Mieville would point out, these abstractions are reified in the current Who narrative as something concrete, but the moral point remains.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:11 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


How Skeptics and Believers Can Connect - actually kind of interesting piece from the NY Times.
posted by Artw at 8:33 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Richard Dawkins Has Lost: Meet The New, New Atheists
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:11 AM on April 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Laurie James: A New Atheist for the New Millennium
Laurie let me know that we have something in common because she’s also a feminist and a socialist who cannot see the role of the atheist disconnected from the promotion of social justice and human rights. I think we must do more than declare that there are no gods. We must demonstrate what disciplined, compassionate, and rationale human beings can do by boldly creating new systems which focus on the eradication of injustice, poverty and war, and which utilize humane methods for reversing the devastation perpetuated by corrupt, oppressive leaders along with ignorant priests, rabbis, imams, swamis, etc.

I encourage Laurie and other atheists of color to consider writing their own stories in their own words. This is one way we may be able to combat stereotypes especially those which wrongly conclude that all black people have identical theological experiences and that we all experience atheism in the same way....

Besides, every community including the black community has its own self-appointed authenticators! People receive their identity primarily from their families and often that identity comes with inflexible boundaries. Stretching and/or refusing to be defined, confined, and contained by those boundaries is part of the very complex process of self-discovery as well as self-improvement. However, I’ve yet to find any atheist with a religious background who regardless of their ethnicity, didn’t anger, annoy, disappoint, antagonize, or enrage at least one family member, friend, and/or loved one.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:03 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


What Martial Arts Have to Do With Atheism: An interview with Sam Harris about self-defense and the seduction of faith
posted by homunculus at 10:47 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


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