Chris Hedges the Nihilist

Earlier this month, I chastised the theologian John Haught for falsely claiming that atheism leads to nihilism. Now the journalist Chris Hedges has launched his own attack on modern atheists, and the bizarre part is that he attacks us for possessing precisely the opposite failing: because, in his eyes, atheism does not lead to nihilism, and he considers this far more dangerous.

Hedges is one of the last people I’d expect to feel this way. He’s written books with titles like American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America. So far, so good – but now he’s veered off in a totally unexpected direction by publishing a new book, I Don’t Believe in Atheists. If his introductory essay is any guide, the entire thing is one mad, fuming geyser of accusations and insults. I haven’t the slightest idea what could have given him the motivation for this spitting, furious rant.

Despite numerous sweeping condemnations, Hedges’ essay fails to offer any quote, citation, or any other evidence that atheists actually hold the views he accuses us of holding. In his distorted portrayal, today’s atheists have “a naïve belief… in [humanity's] innate goodness and decency”, “fail to grasp the dark reality of human nature [and] our own capacity for evil”, and “support the imperialist projects and preemptive wars of the United States”. Worst of all, we believe in “moral and material progress” – the holding of which belief is “an act of faith”, “a form of the occult”, and causes its holders to “inevitably turn to force to make their impossible dreams and their noble ideals a reality”, “inflict[ing] suffering and death in the name of virtue and truth”.

As I said, I don’t know what provoked this torrent of blind fury. (Did Richard Dawkins run over his dog or something?) Still, let’s deal with Hedges’ criticisms one at a time.

First: atheists possess a distorted view of human nature. Here’s how he phrases it:

These atheists share a naïve belief with these fundamentalists in our innate goodness and decency. They, like all religious fundamentalists, fail to grasp the dark reality of human nature, our own capacity for evil, and the morally neutral universe we inhabit…

The New Atheists misuse Darwin and evolutionary biology as egregiously as the Christian fundamentalists misuse the Bible. Darwinism, which pays homage to the final and complete mastery of our animal natures, never posits that human beings can transcend their natures and create a human paradise. It argues the opposite.

Hedges’ tactic, used throughout this essay, is to invent a severely distorted or outright fictitious viewpoint, assert that all atheists hold it exactly as he describes it, and then attack them savagely for supposedly doing so. This is a good example. I would very much like to know which atheists “fail to grasp” humanity’s capacity for evil; predictably, Hedges gives not a scrap of confirmatory evidence. To anyone with even a passing familiarity with modern atheist arguments, our acknowledgement of humanity’s dark side is all too obvious. All the authors he excoriates spend ample time describing the horrors that humans have committed, often in the name of faith. Who does he fantasize is denying this? The lethal danger that unchecked faith can wreak, and has wrought, is very much the centerpiece of our arguments. (Sam Harris, if I recall, writes that The End of Faith was conceived in the first days after 9/11.) It is the primary reason we believe decisions must be made on the basis of reason and compassion, rather than on dogma or tribal instinct.

Second: atheists support war and imperialism. Yes, he actually says this:

Most of these atheists, like the Christian fundamentalists, support the imperialist projects and preemptive wars of the United States as a necessity. They see the war in Iraq and the greater conflict in the Middle East as an attack on irrational religion and a fight for the civilizing values of western culture.

…They urge us forward into a non-reality-based world, one where force and violence, where self-exaltation and blind nationalism go unquestioned and are considered good.

Who on earth is saying these things? Is Hedges attacking the imaginary atheists that live inside his head? These are some of the most blatant lies I’ve ever heard about the atheist political position (insofar as there is any such thing). Yes, I grant that Christopher Hitchens has voiced his support for the Iraq war; these views are not shared by any other prominent atheist I know, and they are very much in the minority among atheists as a whole. And even Hitchens’ views bear little resemblance to the cartoonishly evil fantasies indulged in by Hedges. If anything, the vast majority of atheists recognize that the Iraq war is an ill-conceived misadventure that has only strengthened the hand of belligerent fanatics around the world, and that the battle against fanaticism and fundamentalism can only be won by reason, not by meeting violence with violence. Hedges’ accusation is a contemptible and pathetic slander with no relation to reality.

Third: atheists are intolerant and want to take over the world and kill everyone else.

They argue… that some human beings, maybe many human beings, have to be eradicated to achieve this better world. They see only one truth — their truth. Human beings must become like them, think like them, and adopt their values, which they insist are universal, or be banished from civilized society. All other values, which they never investigate or examine, are dismissed as inferior.

Given Hedges’ own blinding ignorance of what atheists actually believe, he’s in an extremely poor position to say that we dismiss other views without examination. On the contrary, we have extensively examined these views and explained at length why we reject them. As for “eradicating” others who believe differently, this is another delusion on Hedges’ part. Again, as far as there is a battle, we expect it to be fought on the battleground of ideas – with force used only where self-defense necessitates it for protection. We expect that religion will dwindle gradually as our ideas take hold, not that it will be wiped out in some sudden, overwhelming surge. Hedges’ views are like those of a reporter who listens to a government official or charity worker talking about eradicating poverty, and then panics because he’s leaped to the conclusion that this must mean killing off poor people. His determination to distort our views as far as he possibly can only makes him look uninformed and ridiculous.

Finally, Hedges’ central criticism is that we atheists believe in moral progress. This is a dangerous fantasy, he says, because the dream of utopia inevitably leads to the slaughter of those who do not share it. Instead, he argues that the only safe route is to accept that humans are incurably evil, that human nature cannot be changed, and that there neither is nor has there ever been any moral progress of any kind, and the sooner we accept this the better off we’ll be. I am not making this up. Here it is in his own words:

The utopian dream of a perfect society and a perfect human being, the idea that we are moving toward collective salvation, is one of the most dangerous legacies of the Christian faith and of the Enlightenment.

… They peddle the alluring and enticing fantasy of inevitable moral and material progress. This vision is not based on science, history or reason. It is an act of faith. It is a form of the occult.

…There is nothing in human nature or human history to support the idea that we are morally advancing as a species or that we will overcome the flaws of human nature. We progress technologically and scientifically, but not morally. We use the newest instruments of technological and scientific progress to create more efficient forms of killing, repression, and economic exploitation and to accelerate environmental degradation as well as to nurture and sustain life. There is a good and a bad side to human progress. We are not moving toward a glorious utopia. We are not moving anywhere.

Now this is true moral nihilism: the belief that moral progress is impossible, and that all our ingenuity has only invented new forms of evil for us to inflict on each other. I consider it a compliment, coming from a genuine nihilist, to say that he views atheists as dangerously optimistic. But as for the substance of his remarks:

First, moral progress, though it may be slower than we would like, is real and it is undeniable. A glance over human history would offer as examples the abolition of slavery, the granting of equal rights to women and minorities, the emancipation of state from church, the flowering of democracy worldwide, the increasingly greater efforts at avoiding war through diplomacy, and many more. This is not to say that there aren’t many evils remaining, nor that no new ones have arisen. But Hedges’ bleak and embittered views about the futility of moral progress are totally contradicted by the available facts. Missteps are possible, and no one is preaching the inevitability of a glorious future, despite Hedges’ straw-man assertions on that point. But we as a species have overcome great challenges before and have improved the world by our successes. There is every reason to believe that further advancement is at least possible. We are not guaranteed success, but that is only a reason to work harder – not a reason to give up, as Hedges calls on us to do.

In our history, there have been evil tyrants who slaughtered millions in the name of their own twisted visions of utopia. But this does not mean, as Hedges thinks, that anyone calling for any moral progress whatsoever must have the same ends in mind. Believe it or not, it is possible to want things to get better without being a mass murderer! The “new atheists” are calling for the eradication not of people, but of beliefs – the beliefs that hold us apart and cause us to inflict inhumanities on each other. None of them that I know of think this will immediately lead to a perfect world, but it will eliminate at least one common cause of inhumanity, and in that respect would be an improvement.

It’s not ultimately clear what Hedges is demanding, unless it’s that we should all be as bleak and nihilistic as him, and abandon any hope of moral improvement or otherwise changing our situation for the better. Whatever the reason for Hedges’ irrational fury, the fact remains that today’s atheists are offering people reasons to hope and to work for the better, while he is only offering reasons to despair and surrender. This view has proven to be false every time it has come up in the past. If he wishes to cling to it, he’s welcome to fall by the wayside. The rest of us will be working to loosen the grip of dogma on the human mind and, by bringing about a viewpoint of reason in its place, to gradually change our world for the better.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Stacey Melissa

    It looks like Hedges got his ideas about atheists from the sea otter atheists in that South Park episode a couple seasons ago. So atheists are, quite literally, cartoonishly evil in his head.

  • velkyn

    From what I can read about Mr. Hedges, I think he has hit that age where his mortality is staring him in the face and he thinks he must have a foot in the door of the Christian heaven. So, he does this by attacking atheism and doing it badly. So much for someone who supposedly has several degrees (including a Masters of Divinity) and should know better. It also seems that he’s yet another “one true Christian” and happily attacks other Christians who dare not agree with him. In all, SSDD.

  • mikespeir

    There’s a lot I could say about this, but it will be said by others, probably better.

    I’d like to turn it around and just remind everyone that we have to fight this perception. The best way to do that is to very consciously, very deliberately not be the kind of people Hedges imagines us to be.

  • Steve

    Great post. I hadn’t heard of this book prior to reading your post, but it once again makes me wonder whether or not there are publishing standards these days. It seems as though any mindless, inflammatory drivel someone churns out is publishable material.

  • durandal_1707

    I have seen this rather lazy condemnation of atheists elsewhere on the internet: the thinking seems to follow that because atheists’ hatred of all religion appears much akin to a religious zealot’s hatred of other religions, that atheists and religious zealots are one-in-the-same.

    My question here is what Hedges considers to be “good”? What values does he want to promote? I can’t say I’ve read any of his work so I can’t say for myself, but to see him attack both fundamentalists and “new atheists” makes me wonder what he thinks is ideal. What troubles me is that his sentiments echo that of a wide-spread epidemic of twisted thought that I see a lot of in my generation (I’m 23 years old): a passive, weak-willed, “center-seeking” cynicism that merely paints anyone with strong feelings towards anything as “evil” or “extremist”. In this election season I know for sure that we’ll be hearing the phrase “the lesser of two evils” quite frequently and to this end it will be another excuse by members of my generation to avoid committing to anything and will cause them to stay home on election day.

    What I think it reduces to is that my generation has somehow adopted non-confrontation and neutrality as virtues; we are weary from the too-publicized “culture wars” of the past few years. I think you covered this eloquently, Ebon, in your article “The Golden Mean”. Except, I fear, that this epidemic has spread beyond the media (which has been trying to cast itself as “fair” and “unbiased”) and has infected the minds of nation’s and world’s upcoming generation of power.

  • http://www.johnnysstew.com/cool/coolwet.html J

    I want to say something clever and trenchant about this but I can’t. Hedges’ book is just so off the deep end, so blithely ignorant of what nonbelievers do (or don’t believer). He’s making it up, whole-cloth. Suddenly this sane and sober NYT bureau chief has decided that, where reality fails, he will make up a new reality in which unbelievers are complete monsters who believe completely monstrous things. I’m staggered. It’s like learning that your beloved uncle, whom you’ve always completely admired and looked-up to, is actually a pedophile or a holocaust denier or something.

  • An Atheist

    It is always bothersome when the religious attack atheism when they know nothing about atheist, or are lying. As easy as it is to refute, very few people ever hear a refutation or care to. Very unfortunate.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Christopher Hedges has lost whatever remaining respect I had for him. I don’t know what is going on in his head, except perhaps he fears that the “New Atheism” might end up strengtening the fundamentalist Christianity that he deplores, so he feels he has to tear us down so that liberal Christianity can remain relevant.

  • Samuel Skinner

    You just read his American Facism where he declares the right has distorted Christianity and that he practices a sophisticated version and you won’t be surprised (I don’t read it literally/full of deep knowledge, etc).

    It is moral relativists like him who are the reason why have such a screwded up responce to the Christian and Muslims who are arrayed against us. Is he even capable of realizing that their is only one right answer for certain questions? Or does it have to be more nuanced and layered than an onion?

  • Steve Bowen

    Seems we can’t win! Either we’re complete nihilists or gooey eyed idealists (who never-the-less want to annihilate anyone who doesn’t agree with them. I suspect Hedges is playing to the crowd a bit here. Considered and rational atheists don’t make news or sell books and real arguments tend to be much less interesting than watching straw men fall, at least for much of the general population. I agree with mikespeir though, we should not let this idea of “fundie atheists” become a stereotype that sticks.

  • Karen

    These atheists share a naïve belief with these fundamentalists in our innate goodness and decency.

    What?!? Fundamentalists believe that human nature is inherently filthy, sinful and hellbound. Without intervention by blood sacrifice – god sending his son to earth to be crucified – all of humanity is doomed due to original sin. Where in the world does he get the idea that fundamentalists believe people are innately good and decent? That’s totally wrong. He doesn’t understand fundamentalism any more than he understands atheism.

    You know, my gut reaction to this book is that it is Hedges’ version of throwing a public temper tantrum. He debated Sam Harris a couple of times after his “American Fascism” came out (and perhaps Hitchens, too, I’m not sure) and got his clock cleaned. There’s nothing worse for a powerful intellectual with a big ego than being publicly embarrassed. His version of moderate Christianity – and I suspect he’s a postmodernist due to his criticism of the Enlightenment, a trademark – would be particularly vulnerable to Harris’s sharp thinking and debating skills.

    So he takes a few comments Harris makes about torture (comments that are among the most controversial in his books) and then picks up on Hitchens’ widely-criticized support for the Iraq war and projects those fringe ideas on all atheists. He hasn’t even done his homework on the subject, and it’s very obvious.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    You’re right Karen, a bruised ego might be at work here too. I recall reading from someone who blogged about the Harris/Hedges debate that afterwards a lot of people lined up to get copies of their books signed by Sam, while Chris Hedges was pathetically going up to people and asking them if they wanted him to sign their books.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ Spanish Inquisitor

    There is an interesting interview with the man here, where he refers to the debates with Sam Harris and Hitchens. Obviously, he doesn’t admit that his “clock was cleaned” by them; indeed, he implies the opposite, and since I didn’t see or hear them, I can’t say, but he clearly indicates he’s responding to them and atheists like them.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Damn it, Karen, you stole my thunderous response. Anyone who thinks fundies think of man as good, or even perfectible, is missing the entire point of their theology. Is it true his next book will address the cruel industrial farming of skunks by the perfume industry?

  • Karen

    indeed, he implies the opposite, and since I didn’t see or hear them, I can’t say, but he clearly indicates he’s responding to them and atheists like them.

    Okay, that makes sense then. It may very well have been that he held his own intellectually in the debates, but the audience was heavily atheist/skeptical (drawn by the star power of Harris and Hitchens) and he felt scorned or humiliated by the response he got. I was all ready to attend the UCLA debate (though I was derailed at the last minute) and I know there was a lot of enthusiasm in atheist circles about it.

    Is it true his next book will address the cruel industrial farming of skunks by the perfume industry?

    Oh, the shame! ;-)

  • Alex Weaver

    Jesus Fictional Christ, as just one example, doesn’t the fact that we now have a concept of “war crimes” indicate to fools like Hedges that we’ve morally progressed?

  • Shawn Smith

    And during the middle ages, the French used to put cats in bags, and burn them alive to have crowds entertained by the cat screams. Nope, we haven’t made any social progress since then.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    I think Karen’s comment clears a lot up: if Hedges felt that he was trounced in a debate, it makes a lot of sense that he would lash out by trying to paint all atheists as deranged fanatics. I read in the Pharyngula comment thread that there was a similar debate with Hedges and Christopher Hitchens, with a similar outcome. I think his essay makes a lot more sense if one assumes he took a distorted view of Hitchens’ political beliefs and assumed that all atheists believe the same way.

    I suspect that this essay also comes in part from a rallying-around-the-bandwagon impulse. If Hedges is a liberal-to-moderate Christian attacking his fundamentalist brethren, it’s not too surprising that he would feel threatened by atheists – he just wants to tweak the religion around the edges, fix up a few of the dark spots, but we want to knock down the whole thing. Small wonder he’d feel upset and view us as interfering in what he’s trying to accomplish. It just goes to show what Sam Harris says about moderate believers instinctively defending the virtues of faith, rather than allying themselves with atheists.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    Many ancient modes of thinking, Christianity included, thought of history as a cyclical process that always repeated itself. They didn’t have the concept of progress as we know it today. To come up with a revolutionary idea, you would actually be rediscovering an ancient secret or going back to a purer, closer interpretation of the original thing. There’s a number of different reasons for this and many examples… but one of the side effects of this type of thinking is that you can claim that the Bible contains all the knowledge needed by mankind.

    So even though his ideas seem inexplicable and insane, I think they may have a very real cause. If morality can be studied and improved upon then there is no reason to believe that by necessity a perfect moral being had to pass this knowledge down for humans to discover and re-discover throughout the course of history. Might as well throw that Bible away and move on to newer and better things. So this man’s religious beliefs push him to believe that nothing new in morality is possible, hence the folly of atheists. So, convinced that he’s right, he then must feel justified in manufacturing evidence of the evil consequences of atheism – it must be a logical outcome of a world without some sort of god in it to dictate morality.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    To be honest, reading that, I assumed Hedges was an atheist. He’s got a lot in common with ‘believers in belief’. The idea that all atheists are as he describes is just ridiculous — although I could understand someone falsely coming to such conclusions after paying too much attention to Christopher Hitchens and only cursory attention to anyone else who happens to be atheist.

    He’d do better to talk to us than jump to the conclusion that we’re as rigid as fundamentalists. We’re a lot more open to reason than he thinks. I could compound the problem by calling him a ‘fundamentalist moderate’ — but I won’t. Unlike him, I’m willing to assume that what he actually believes is not that same as the strongest, most unreasonable interpretation of his most strident statements.

  • Valhar2000

    I think there is only one concept that can encapsulate the sheer magnitude of the catastrophee that is Chris Hedges’ ramble: he is fractally wrong.

  • Pingback: Let Nihilism Reign Supreme! | Way of the Mind

  • LindaJoy

    Ebonmuse- you may want to send a copy of your essay on Hedges to Bruce Wilson over at Talk2Action (I can’t get through since I am a troll). He is defending Hedges, totally bashing Sam Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins, and then, with Fred Clarkson’s help, is denying that he is bashing atheists (just the bad ones, I guess). I have noticed that the comment section on this article is the longest the site has had in quite awhile. Probably because Clarkson is so single minded on keeping any theistic discussions off the site. Of course, Christian theistic conversations are OK, but if a non-theist jumps in- watch out! Love this site- thanks Ebon!

  • Christopher

    Alex Weaver,

    “Jesus Fictional Christ, as just one example, doesn’t the fact that we now have a concept of “war crimes” indicate to fools like Hedges that we’ve morally progressed?”

    No, only that our society has a different “morality” than that of the one that came before – not that this new “morality” is “better” than the last one. I think hedges is out to lunch on many of his claims, but he does make a point: many of the “new” Atheists do hold on to the concept of some type of intrisic “good” – much like the religious people and Enlightenment era thinkers (you interpret this idea of “good” differently than them, but nonetheless have it).

    I think that he’s absolutly right on this point and that the time has come for us to leave the whole concept of absolute “morality” behind us – let the weak-willed religionists and post-Christian intellectuals of society take it…

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    BBK, actually where Christianity, Islam and Judaism differ from most other religions is that they have a linear view of history rather than a cyclical. All three of the Abrahamic faiths believe that there was a beginning in which their god created everything in our universe, and that ultimately it will end.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    On the topic of the New Atheists being dangerously utopian dreamers, I’d like to bring forward another of their critics: Brendan O’Neill, writing for The Guardian last December. Here’s what he had to say about our naive utopian delusions:

    Where old atheism was driven by a passionate belief in progress, new atheism springs from today’s crisis of secularism. It is because new atheists have lost their own belief in progress and Enlightenment that they turn harshly against those who still cling to visions of a better society or “kingdom”.

    Does anyone else get the feeling that most critics of this movement are simply projecting whatever philosophical or political beliefs they dislike the most onto us?

  • Alex Weaver

    Christopher, what WOULD you accept as proof of moral progress?

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Right on Ebon. It is precisely because we have a vision of how society can be better that we challenge the obstacles to that progress that we see posed by dogmatic religious belief.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    Tommykey, I see how you could see it this way. But take a further look at it.

    The beginning is thought to have been a perfect world, only to be adulterated by original sin. Humans then lost the qualities they possessed in the ideal world and must struggle to get them back. Humans should look to the past and to their sacred texts to try to emulate great men who had direct contact with god and lived to be hundreds of years old. But nevertheless, things will get worst until the devil himself takes over the world. The end is that final moment when humans return to the perfect state that they had at the beginning. Another neat thing about this view is how we’re always so far away from the pure beginning and yet so close to the end of times.

    Now, I understand that Christians take pride in theirs being a “linear” view of history, but we don’t have to take their word for it. It actually resembles any other cyclical view of history with the one difference being that there is just 1 cycle versus an indefinite number of cycles.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    Does anyone else get the feeling that most critics of this movement are simply projecting whatever philosophical or political beliefs they dislike the most onto us?

    What do “old” atheists have invested in their way of life that they find New Atheism so dangerous to the status quo?

    I keep thinking of my own father, who is an atheist but in his prenup agreed to take us children to church and never reveal to us that he is an atheism. Only 28 years into my life did I find out about this, only when my Christian mother admitted it to me herself. This after I had openly been an atheist for over 15 years. My father and I had since had the arguments about whether or not religion is “overall good” or “overall bad” for society. Arguing that it’s destructive forces him to have to make a moral decision as an atheist to actually stand up for atheism and I don’t think he ever wanted to do that because it could have been social suicide. I don’t think he ever bargained on his kids becoming atheists. It actually soured our relationship greatly when he and my mother tried to force us kids to go to church as teenagers and we had to fight both of them in order to refuse. I think he sees it now that we finally connected as atheists and he must regret that he had never stood up for his own atheism his entire life. So this shapes my whole perception of the difference between old atheism and new atheism. I think the criticism against New Atheism has a very large element of denial from people who have lived their whole lives in a certain way.

  • Karen

    Does anyone else get the feeling that most critics of this movement are simply projecting whatever philosophical or political beliefs they dislike the most onto us?

    Yes, exactly!

  • Christopher

    Alex Weaver,

    “Christopher, what WOULD you accept as proof of moral progress?”

    In order for their to be any objective standard of “moral” progress, there would have to be a standard of “morality” that exists independent of our individual or collective perspectives of “right” or “wrong.” Unless the existence of such a thing is demonstrated, it’s absurd to speak of “moral” progress in any absolute sense – as “progress” to one “moral” system can be a “regress” to another – as there would be no means to determine what “morality is superior.

    As of yet, I have heard no convincing argument for such a standard and don’t believe it even exists…

  • Christopher

    bbk,

    “Now, I understand that Christians take pride in theirs being a “linear” view of history, but we don’t have to take their word for it. It actually resembles any other cyclical view of history with the one difference being that there is just 1 cycle versus an indefinite number of cycles.”

    Now that you mention it, I have noticed the similarities between Christianity and most other religions (not this one though, “good” catch in pointing this one out) – and I’ve often wondered if that, somewhere deep in our primitive roots, all forms of religion that we have today are actually decsendants of one “mother faith” that got reinvented over and over again as mankind migrated throughout the earth.

    This is just a thought, but one worth pondering…

  • mikespeir

    “I’ve often wondered if that, somewhere deep in our primitive roots, all forms of religion that we have today are actually decsendants of one “mother faith” that got reinvented over and over again as mankind migrated throughout the earth.”

    That’s a common teaching in Christianity. They’ll often say that God established the true faith early on and it was later corrupted by men. I imagine it really started with a kind of rudimentary shamanism that slowly evolved as our experience of the world broadened. Even now the immensity of the universe doesn’t daunt believers as evidence against their faith. They simply make God big enough to accommodate even that.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Rodney Stark posits the same thing in “Discovering God”. He makes a case that the early humans were monotheistic and that polytheism followed after that. I don’t know enough on the subject to say if he is right or wrong. I sense though that Stark, an admitted former agnostic, might be getting scared in his later years and is trying to formulate an intellectually sound case for himself to embrace Christianity. He sets up these goal posts, then declares that only Christianity achieves them, thus, voila, Christianity msut be true!

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    Christopher is right; we like to believe in “moral progress” but it’s very hard to make the idea mean anything. I certainly prefer my morals to the morals of, say, the Inquisition, but then I would, wouldn’t I? And they’d feel the same way about me.

    I suspect the idea can be salvaged – the practical relationship between morality and belief is more complex than our philosophical model of it, and so progress in our understanding of the world can in practice lead to better moral judgements, for example – but it’s far from straightforward.

  • lpetrich

    Rodney Stark holds a common view among Xian apologists; I’ve seen his views on humanity’s early religions elsewhere. However, it requires some very imaginative interpretation, because all the older religions feature an abundance of gods and spirits and so forth. Monotheism is always a later invention, and it can take several forms:

    • The gods are all aspects of a single big one (Hinduism)
    • The gods are lesser beings compared to the big one (Stoicism)
    • The gods are either fictional or evil devils (the Abrahamic religions)
  • mikespeir

    I’ve actually argued that Christianity isn’t monotheistic at all. No, not the Trinity thing, which has problems all its own. I mean, by what definition of “god” is Satan not a god? In fact, placed in, say, the Roman pantheon, he would rank rather high. That he was a created being means nothing. All the Greek gods were created. That Satan isn’t worshiped? Well, Satanists worship him. Besides, as far as I can tell Nergal wasn’t worshiped by the Babylonians. Still, he is one reason we call the Babylonian religion polytheistic. Christianity really does seem to have two gods, one greater and one lesser.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    I don’t think there is any difference whatsoever between a monotheistic and a polytheistic religion. Even if they did believe in nothing but one god, which Christians are hardly content with, it wouldn’t make them one lick better than those who believe in many gods. You know, you can be an atheist surrounded by pagan gods, just as Lucretius was, or you can be an atheist surrounded by Abrahamic gods. It is no more or less difficult to draw the same conclusions from either one. Neither one introduces anything that is any more real than the other. Both equally fake.

    I actually think that monotheism is the more stupid one. Polytheism never had the problem of both sides in a great war claiming that the one and only true god was on their side. They only had to claim that their side’s god was a more powerful god. Moreover, ALL religions probably start out as monotheistic, anyway. I don’t see it as an advancement in religion but rather a type of starting over from scratch. We can all very easily see how Christianity has adorned itself with more and more supernatural figures as the centuries have gone by. From angels to saints to apostles with supernatural powers… from praying to God to praying to Jesus to praying to the Virgin Mary to invoking the Holy Spirit. Polytheistic religions also added new gods over time, no differently than Christianity.

  • Christopher

    Paul Crowley,

    “Christopher is right; we like to believe in “moral progress” but it’s very hard to make the idea mean anything. I certainly prefer my morals to the morals of, say, the Inquisition, but then I would, wouldn’t I? And they’d feel the same way about me.”

    It’s true that the two “moralities” are incompatible, thus when two opposing “moral” systems clash the one that which is stronger comes out on top (in this case, the Inquisition “morality” gave way and Enlightenment “morality” took over). But one can’t say that the victorious “morality” is “progress” over the other in any objective sense – all this result means is that one proved more able than the other, not that the prevailing one is necissarily “better.”

    “I suspect the idea can be salvaged – the practical relationship between morality and belief is more complex than our philosophical model of it, and so progress in our understanding of the world can in practice lead to better moral judgements, for example – but it’s far from straightforward.”

    “Better” by what standard?

  • Crotch

    Blech. Just heard an absolutely abysmal interview with Hedges on the radio earlier today. I have no godly idea how people – the interviewer especially – take the man seriously. It’s like… it’s like he would start an a point, and start making sense, then get over-excited and throw random words out in the hopes that they formed coherent sentences. My favourite bit was when, attempting to prove that atheists are warmongers, he dismissed Dawkins by saying “He’s British”. Apparently, only American atheists count these days.

  • Peter

    Hi Everybody, I’m just passing through, while I was looking for info on Chris Hedges. I noticed that most of the comments here are pretty negative. I don’t want to defend Hedges wholesale condemnation of atheists, however, to the extent that he is responding to anyone represented by Sam Harris, I’m very sympathetic to what he says. Harris’s book, End of Faith, is a thinly veiled attack against the part of the world that is currently considered to be an enemy of the United States. The book is pathetic in parts. If anyone has read the book, for an example of particularly bad “reasoning” I would point to the thought experiment Harris asks of his reader, in which we wonder what would happen if Muslim invaders occupied an American city and killed innocent Americans. Harris draws lessons from his own beliefs about what fictional muslims would do, to make wholesale condemnations of islam . . . it’s really terrible stuff.

    The dangerous thing about what Harris writes is that it will be used as an excuse, by secular folks, to attack parts of the muslim world—and it fits in neatly with the religious extremist view, that also (for different reasons) seeks to go to war with parts of world that are predominantly muslim.

    If I understand Hedges, that is one of the things he is worried about.

    On a somewhat different note . . .

    Frankly, I don’t understand how any atheist could be offended or bothered at all by what Hedges has to say. I never seen any reason to “believe in” any kind of god or whatever offered up by any religion I know about, and thus am happy to be called an atheist, but I don’t identify with other people who also don’t believe in whatever it is they don’t believe in. It’s kind of hard to talk about, I guess. Suppose you had a christian who isn’t a fundamentalist . . . presumably you wouldn’t expect that guy to get to riled up about Hedges book condemning fundamentalists. Another way of making my complaint – why is your definition of “atheism” better or more appropriate than the one Hedges uses. (And does Hedges use the term in a completely unqualified way?) To clarify I don’t mean this to defend Hedges (who may not be nuanced in his use of the term “atheist”), but instead to criticize some of the posts here that seem to take offense because some guy besmirched the good name of atheism.

    All the best,

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Hi Peter,

    If anyone has read the book, for an example of particularly bad “reasoning” I would point to the thought experiment Harris asks of his reader, in which we wonder what would happen if Muslim invaders occupied an American city and killed innocent Americans.

    I don’t recall offhand what part of Harris’ book you’re talking about, but your criticism isn’t very specific. You say it’s bad reasoning, but you didn’t explain what the error is. Can you explain this comment?

    Another way of making my complaint – why is your definition of “atheism” better or more appropriate than the one Hedges uses.

    Because Hedges’ definition is inaccurate. He attributes to atheists positions and beliefs which we do not actually hold. He accuses us of advocating things we do not actually advocate. When he then condemns and attacks us on the basis of those inaccurate claims, it’s difficult not to get annoyed.

  • Peter

    Hello Ebonmuse,
    Thanks for responding to my post. Here is my response to your question and your comment.

    Regarding the example I gave from Harris’s book. I’m not sure I would characterize what Harris does as an error of reasoning, or even bad reasoning. I put quotation marks around the word in my first comment to indicate that I think Harris’ work does not even rise to the level of reasoned argument. In any case, I’ll mention what I think the problem is, in general, with some parts of Harris’ book, and then provide two examples. Following that I’ll provide another example based on an analogy with Harris’ method, and suggest that it shows the utter bankruptcy of Harris’ example.

    Harris, on several occasions (two provided below), presents a thought experiment which consists of little more than a contrived fiction about what *he* thinks muslims feel and do. The scenarios that he provides can only be accepted if you take a simple and one dimensional view of muslims, that is, I think, based on current western prejudices about how awful and terrible islam is. The thought experiments are used in his book to persuade the reader that islam is a lousy religion, which fills people with hate and irrationality. So, the problem, or “error”, is starting with corrupt, simplistic ideas, disguised as rational within a thought experiment. (I’m not defending Islam, I’m just attacking Harris.)

    I don’t have the page numbers for the first example, the one I referenced in my previous post. As I mentioned Harris asks the reader to consider what would happen IF Iraqis invaded the U.S., and then took over Washington D.C., and then set up check points/road blocks, and then some republican guards shot an innocent american family driving toward their check point. According to Harris the Republican Guards wouldn’t cry, unlike American soldiers in Iraq who, according to Harris, do cry when they shoot innocent Iraqi families. From this, Harris asks the reader to consider the differences between our culture and theirs. I feel like I’m being a bit condescending by describing what is wrong with this . . . why on earth should I think that in the circumstances concocted by Harris that Iraqi Republican Guards wouldn’t cry? This isn’t explained by Harris, and it is hardly self evident. Nor is it clear why I should believe that American soldiers cry when they shoot Iraqi civilians. Presumably it happens. Do Americans cry every time they shoot civilian families? What exactly does this tell me about American culture, anyway?

    The second example comes from page one of the book, which is available online. Harris makes up a story, about the inner feelings of a suicide bomber, his family and his neighbours. The story also involves the suicide bomber smiling before he blows himself up. The utterly ridiculous thing about Harris is that after making up a story, which includes a man who worries that a new refrigerator chosen by his wife will be too expensive, he writes “these are the facts” and “this is all we know for certain about the young man,” referring to the suicide bomber. What facts? I thought facts had to refer to *specific* things that actually happened or exist. If Harris has in mind some actual event – why should I believe that the young man smiled before he blew himself up? Why should I think his parents are happy? or that his neighbours are happy? Why should I think that the couple that was killed were thinking about a refrigerator . . . and what does this have to do with learning anything about islam, let alone religion in general?

    Even though I shouldn’t need to point it out, this story of Harris’ is too simplistic and too tenuously connected to reality to serve as an example of the problems with religion.

    Here’s an example based on Harris’ “reasoning”. A young man enlists in the marines to fight in Iraq. While he’s there he gets angrier and angrier, and eventually he ends up killing a few civilians, by shooting them in cold blood – at the time he is proud of what he’s done. Later he gets “fuck you” tattooed on his wrist so that Iraqis can see it when he chokes them. At home in American, people talk about supporting the troops; and his family is very proud because he is serving his country. Many people refuse to talk about what this marine has done, even though they know about it. And his neighbours are proud having a service member live beside them. Oh, and just for good measure the first Iraqi he shoots is on his way to pick up his daughter from school & he leaves the body lying in the street for other Iraqi civilians to pick up and carry away. One, this is not completely made up, nor is it simply an isolated incident. If you follow news on Iraq, you may recognize the story. Two, what can this story possibly tell us, in general about American culture, or american values? Aren’t there other people who consider themselves patriotic who don’t endorse this? Doesn’t the young man feel remorse about what he’s done? Yes and yes.

    Please imagine what you would think if you found stories, analogous to the one introducing Harris’ book in an Islamic work talking about the decadence of American society, the violence that it creates and how irrational people in America are for supporting the behaviour exhibited by this guy.

    Regarding the notion that Hedges’ definition of atheism is inaccurate. I don’t sympathize with atheists who take offense at being mischaracterized. Maybe the reaction is not purely reasonable on my part, but it is exactly the same feeling I get when a christian takes offense because christianity is mischaracterized. I think Hedges is one of these types. He thinks that faith is a good thing, and people who criticize it, inevitably have an inaccurate view of what “faith” is really about. You probably know what I’m talking about . . . Like the person who says faith isn’t about blind devotion to the point of overriding good moral sense, its actually about blah blah blah. Well, I guess I have the same feeling about atheists who respond to some Christian critics by claiming that atheism is *really* about blah blah blah.

    Anyways, I don’t pretend my attitude is completely coherent towards either self-proclaimed christians or atheists. In my original post I was trying to clarify what bothered me, by asking why Hedges’ definition of atheism (which by the way, I think is qualified with the term “new” or something similar) is worse than your definition. You didn’t say why your vision of atheism is more accurate than Hedges’ by the way.

    Ciao,

    Peter

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Peter, Ebonmuse explained that Hedges ascribes to atheists positions the majority of us don’t hold, and then attacks us for holding these positions that we don’t hold. For instance, he seems to think that we all favor the neocon foreign policy in the Middle East that Christopher Hitchens holds. The majority of atheists I know of in the atheist blogosphere, including myself, were and remain opposed to Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

    As has been noted by others above, Hedges seems to have a chip on his shoulder regarding Hitchens and Sam Harris. So, he caricatures us all as clones of Hitchens and Harris when we are not. While we are grateful to them for raising the profile of atheism with their books and public speaking, we don’t let them do our thinking for us.

  • Peter

    TommyKey, Thanks much for your response. I would note that Hedges uses the term “New Atheists”, and then “these atheists” and so forth. If you notice, in the quotes above in the original post, there is only reference to “new atheists,” which I take it is defined by Hedges. So to be fair, Hedges has not made a claim about Atheists in general (at least not as represented above).

    As a non-rhetorical question: are you sure that the majority of atheists (in the blogoshere) oppose the Iraq war? And more to the point, addressing Hedges concerns, are you sure that the majority of atheists (in or out of the blogosphere) oppose preventative war? My guess, in case you are interested, is that the distribution of religious folk who support the Bush doctrine mirrors exactly the distribution of non-religious folk. I admit I have no evidence one way or the other for this guess.

    As a rhetorical question: don’t you think it is a little weird that you and Ebonmuse refer to atheists with the first person plural, “us” or “we”, as though you are part of some kind of movement? With all due respect, it reminds me of religious folk who talk in the same way about their religious group.

    Anyways, seriously, thanks for responding. The only reason I wanted to make a comment, here, in the first place, is that I’m sympathetic to what you all are discussing. I expressed my feeling about what bothers me above, so I won’t go into it again.

    Peter

  • OMGF

    Peter,
    You seem to be doing to Sam Harris what you claim we are doing to Hedges. Your complaint about his thought experiment of the young man who blows himself up on a bus is simply a lack of understanding on your part. Simply put, you didn’t get his argument, and you’re criticizing it because of your lack of understanding. When he says, “These are the facts,” what he means is that those are the facts given in the thought experiment. Given those “facts” that he has provided, he goes on to ask questions and tries to make a point that we treat faith as if it is good and we must keep our hands off and not criticize it, but he’s saying that that is the wrong approach. You might not agree with him, but it is not the argument you claim it is, nor is it a tirade against Muslims in particular. It’s an argument against faith and the monstrous things that people who believe hard enough are capable of doing to other people.

  • Peter

    Hi OMGF,

    Thanks very much for responding. I don’t agree w/ you about your interpretation of Harris’ use of the sentence, “These are the facts.” However, for the sake of argument let’s stipulate that that is what is going on. Harris has given us a set of hypothetical details, and then asked up what we can learn about religion from them.

    I assert that the hypothetical scenario of Harris’ suicide bomber, tells us nothing more about religion then the following hypothetical scenario tells us about atheism: A thoughtful man who believes strictly is things depending on whether or not he has evidence, undertakes to solve a problem during World War II. Being an empiricist, he is familiar with statistical techniques, which are often necessary as a tool to examine observations. He looks at the effectiveness of bombing runs being conducted over Japan. Using the data available to him, he discovers that if he lowers the altitude at which bombers are to fly over their targets to the right level, he can achieve an optimal casualty to bombing coverage ratio. He instructs this to be done. In the coming weeks thousands more Japanese civilians, women, children, and men going about their daily lives (buying appliances, even) burn horribly, dying in greater numbers, as their cities are torn apart. The man does this from an air conditioned office in Washington, and finds his work quite satisfying, especially solving the difficult optimization problem. This man considers himself a scientist, an atheist, and overall a good person. He is treated as a great servant of his country, and rewarded with wealth and privilege. “These are the facts,” in the sense we have agreed to.

    Now, if I were to go on to use these “facts” to argue about the horrible nature of the modern scientific man, the modern atheist who has no connection to other human beings, who has so little concern for anything but optimization problems and data that he can happily increase the slaughter of innocent people, what would you say? I take it, that you (and I) would call this totally absurd. Again, like the example I gave of the marine, this is based on a real guy. And there are many more examples.

    My hypothetical example is as good as Harris’.

    Regarding comparisons between some of the people who have posted on this thread and Chris Hedges, I do think there are some valid points of similarity. The one I expressed before goes like this: (A) Sam Harris doesn’t accurately understand islam, that religion is fundamentally about love, tolerance and learning about the natural world, there is a long tradition of science in Islam. He mischaracterized islam, and sets up a straw man. You can’t criticize islam by presenting a completely inaccurate view of what it is about. As as muslim, I am offended (B) Chris Hedges’ “definition [of atheism] is inaccurate. He attributes to atheists positions and beliefs which we do not actually hold. He accuses us of advocating things we do not actually advocate. When he then condemns and attacks us on the basis of those inaccurate claims, it’s difficult not to get annoyed,” (in the words of Ebonmuse, earlier).

    I think (A) and (B) are parallel. In the case of Hedges, you could experiment, in fact. Consider this: if you think Hedges’ portrayal of “christian fundamentalism” as he uses the term is relevant to the world, and his criticism is apt, even though lots of christians take issue with it, saying claim he is setting up a is straw man; what is it about Hedges’ portrayal of “new atheists” that distinguishes it, such that the the portrayal is not relevant to the world and the criticism is baseless?

    Thanks for this interchange with everybody. I appreciate it. Best, peter

  • OMGF

    Peter,

    I don’t agree w/ you about your interpretation of Harris’ use of the sentence, “These are the facts.”

    What else could it be? If you read the full section, it’s pretty obvious that this is what he means.

    I assert that the hypothetical scenario of Harris’ suicide bomber, tells us nothing more about religion then the following hypothetical scenario tells us about atheism…

    Except for one thing…In Harris’s hypothetical, he doesn’t tell you the man is a Muslim, yet you knew that he was descrbing one. In your hypothetical, can you tell the man is an atheist without being told? That’s the point he was making that you so sorely missed.

    Now, if I were to go on to use these “facts” to argue about the horrible nature of the modern scientific man, the modern atheist who has no connection to other human beings, who has so little concern for anything but optimization problems and data that he can happily increase the slaughter of innocent people, what would you say?

    I would say that due to your faulty understanding of the actual argument being made that you are yourself making a poor counter-argument.

    My hypothetical example is as good as Harris’.

    Actually, it’s not, for the reasons I pointed out.

    (A) Sam Harris doesn’t accurately understand islam, that religion is fundamentally about love, tolerance and learning about the natural world, there is a long tradition of science in Islam. He mischaracterized islam, and sets up a straw man. You can’t criticize islam by presenting a completely inaccurate view of what it is about.

    It’s apparent that you haven’t actually read the book that you are using to condemn the man, because if you did you would know that he addresses these specific points. If you disagree with his reasoning, that’s fine, but don’t present his arguments in the inaccurate way you are. Do your research first.

  • Peter

    Thanks again for responding OMGF,

    I didn’t fully carry through the analogy, with Harris’ opening question, and his attempt to play on the reader’s prejudices about muslims. I’ll address your other points, but first I want to note that my answer to Harris’ questions would be the following: because suicide bombing is a tactic that is currently in use in the middle east, and I have heard many stories in the news about Palestinians using suicide bombing to terrorize Israelis—and I happen to know that many Palestinians are muslim, thus I would probably guess muslim. Nothing in my answer would depend on properties of the islamic religion. And I’d be a fool to bet my life on my answer . .

    When you read this question, did you figure out the man’s religion because you actually know something about islam, or did you “figure it out” because you have preconceived notions about Islam?

    Also, why did you not wonder if the man was secular or hindu? According to one Sri Lankan website the tamil tigers have been carrying out suicide bombings for more than twenty years. They aren’t known for being muslim. Thus, given that the man in Harris’ example could be muslim, hindu, or secular and I imagine if we did a little more thinking about it, many others, it would be a little risky to bet your life on the answer.

    To be fair to me, I’ve tried to provide relatively detailed discussions of what I think is wrong with Harris. And all I’ve received back is short statements about how I don’t understand something, with no real engagement of the examples I’ve provided or the points I was trying to make, even if they did not perfectly analogize to Harris’ opening pages. Nor have I admonished anyone for not doing research.

    Regarding the stuff about Islam really being a religion about love, and all that. I think you need to really take a better look at the evidence that’s out there. From what I know about Islam (and Christianity) as doctrines, they both strike me as self-contradictory garbage. Thus, I don’t think it makes any sense to try to engage with the nonsense in itself, like the gospels or whatever. This means we have to look at the practices of people who claim to get inspiration from these things. And when we look at the practices things get a lot more complicated.

    I take it that no one seriously claims to have figured out (1) the true islam; and (2) good things stemming from Islam

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Hello Peter,

    As I mentioned Harris asks the reader to consider what would happen IF Iraqis invaded the U.S., and then took over Washington D.C., and then set up check points/road blocks, and then some republican guards shot an innocent american family driving toward their check point. According to Harris the Republican Guards wouldn’t cry, unlike American soldiers in Iraq who, according to Harris, do cry when they shoot innocent Iraqi families. From this, Harris asks the reader to consider the differences between our culture and theirs.

    We can quibble about specific examples if you like, but there’s a larger point here which I think is entirely valid.

    For all its faults, America is a nation of law. U.S. soldiers who’ve murdered Iraqis in cold blood have been tried and convicted. U.S. soldiers who’ve tortured Iraqi prisoners have been tried and convicted. One could say that not all the offenders have been swept up (such as employees of private security firms like Blackwater that operate under no laws). I would agree with that. One could say that not all the instigators of such policies have been fairly punished. I’d agree with that as well. But however tattered they may be, we as a nation still have laws, and we strive to abide by them.

    Now, consider this behavior as compared to those we’re fighting. We routinely find bodies in Iraq that have been shot execution-style, with signs of extensive torture. We routinely see jihadists who post videos of themselves executing captives as propaganda tools. We routinely see suicide bombers whose explicit mission is to kill as many civilians as they possibly can. We routinely see insurgents and militia members seeking to impose Islamic-style theocracy through force and terror. Witness the recent incident where gunmen invaded a women’s school in Iraq, lined up all the students and teachers, and warned them that they would be killed unless they wore the hijab.

    Despite all its faults, and despite all the terrible chaos it’s brought about in Iraq, America is nothing like this. Through incompetence, we’ve created a power vacuum where jihadists can move in, but we didn’t create the jihadists themselves. The Bush administration has done their best to obscure it, but there is a difference – an important and fundamental difference – between us and the groups we’re fighting. In that respect, I agree with Sam Harris one hundred percent. That difference is not intrinsic to either of our natures, nor is it ineradicable, but at this moment in history, it is there.

    You didn’t say why your vision of atheism is more accurate than Hedges’ by the way.

    I have already explained this. Hedges attributes to atheists in general positions which we do not hold, and then attacks us on the basis of that faulty attribution. You – or he – may object to atheist characterizations of Christianity, but I think the key difference is that we criticize Christians for things they actually believe and things that they have actually done. I consider that a reasonable stance to take and I will stand by it.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    A further comment:

    Also, why did you not wonder if the man was secular or hindu? According to one Sri Lankan website the tamil tigers have been carrying out suicide bombings for more than twenty years. They aren’t known for being muslim. Thus, given that the man in Harris’ example could be muslim, hindu, or secular and I imagine if we did a little more thinking about it, many others, it would be a little risky to bet your life on the answer.

    You may be surprised to know that I agree with you. In fact, Harris himself points out in an endnote that the Tamil Tigers have carried out a great many suicide bombings, and I wrote in my review of his book that this fact undercuts his point, such that he’d have been better off leaving it out. Still, the underlying point is valid: Muslim terrorist groups have made suicide bombings targeted at civilians a regular feature of their warfare. Even if this tactic is not unique to them, that does not change the fact that it is abhorrent and evil on multiple levels. Harris is completely right to point this out and to criticize them on that basis.

  • Peter

    Ebonmuse,

    I’m not surprised that you agree w/ me about one aspect of Harris’ work. I don’t presume to know anything more about your thinking than what you have written in response to my initial post.

    Just to be clear – I didn’t make comments here in order to debate with, and “score points” against other commentators. I posted on this thread because I’m sympathetic with folks who call themselves atheists, and I wanted to have a conversation.

    Regarding your comment that “America is a nation of law,” I’d like to discuss this, but it doesn’t appropriate to get into here. If it is OK with the people who administer this website, then I will answer, if it isn’t, perhaps you can suggest another site where I could address your comments. I think the answer (to the question, Is American a nation of law?) is quite complicated.

    Regarding the other stuff, I assume Hedges would say that he provides evidence of things the “new atheists” have actually done and actually believe. I neither know if the evidence is compelling, or if he extends the conclusions to all people who identify as atheists.

    Thanks for responding,

    Peter

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Regarding the other stuff, I assume Hedges would say that he provides evidence of things the “new atheists” have actually done and actually believe.

    I think it is far too charitable to simply assume that someone can supply evidence backing up their point. Until Hedges does support his point with evidence, which so far I’ve not seen him even attempt, the reasonable thing to do is to consider his attack unsubstantiated – especially in light of the numerous denials from actual atheists that we feel the way he seems to think we do.

    P.S.: Peter, I’m also interested to hear your views on Hedges’ viewpoint that believing in the possibility of any kind of moral progress or improvement is a dangerous delusion.

  • Pingback: Black Sun Journal » The Misanthropic Fury of Chris Hedges

  • OMGF

    Peter,

    Nothing in my answer would depend on properties of the islamic religion.

    And your answer would miss the bigger point that Muslims do this sort of thing, and it very well may be faith that helps them decide to do such things, and we have to get rid of the assumption that faith is a good thing because it very well might not be.

    When you read this question, did you figure out the man’s religion because you actually know something about islam, or did you “figure it out” because you have preconceived notions about Islam?

    I know less about Islam than Xianity simply due to the fact that I was brought up in a Xian culture, but I am and was aware that Islam has many suras that advocate all kinds of barbaric deeds. I know/knew enough to not be surprised that people that are convinced that they will be martyrs and in heaven for their actions would be willing to do such things. If anything, the Muslim suicide bombers are more consistent than their Xian counterparts that fear death.

    To be fair to me, I’ve tried to provide relatively detailed discussions of what I think is wrong with Harris. And all I’ve received back is short statements about how I don’t understand something, with no real engagement of the examples I’ve provided or the points I was trying to make, even if they did not perfectly analogize to Harris’ opening pages. Nor have I admonished anyone for not doing research.

    It must be nice to be so cavalier about tearing down a man’s argument without even bothering to read it or understand it. I can’t believe that you would criticize me for telling you to actually read the argument that you are arguing against. Further, I did put effort into engaging your arguments. You can find my responses above, which you claim to have read. I showed why your analogies were faulty, I explained why your characterizations of his arguments were wrong and I suggested you actually read the source material. You smuggly brushed away my arguments with an, “I don’t agree with you,” and then you criticize me for being too short with you? The funny thing is that you totally disregarded my rebuttal to your first comments and plowed ahead as if I didn’t say anything. You are still arguing as if Harris is somehow unfairly attacking Muslims when he argument is against a larger foe, one which was pointed out to you and you ignored.

    Regarding the stuff about Islam really being a religion about love, and all that. I think you need to really take a better look at the evidence that’s out there.

    Are you claiming that Islam is a religion about love? Please back up your claims. The actions of Muslims speak against this particular claim and the holy books don’t support it either. But, hey, maybe you actually have some evidence to the contrary?

    This means we have to look at the practices of people who claim to get inspiration from these things.

    Wrong. The practices of the people who proclaim themselves to be of any religion don’t necessarily denote what the religion is about. Take Xians for example. Most Xians are good people. They are not that way because of their religion, but because of the cultural evolution that has happened in their culture, which pulled religion along in most cases kicking and screaming. For examples of this simply look at slavery, women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, etc. Also, look at the moral code of the Bible that tells people to stone others, etc.

    I take it that no one seriously claims to have figured out (1) the true islam; and (2) good things stemming from Islam

    Actually, quite a few people have claimed to have figured out the true Islam, and it’s usually right before they blow something up. To be fair, others may claim the same thing and be perfectly peaceful, but the point is that every Muslim probably thinks they know what the true Islam is. As for the good things stemming from Islam, I’d like to know what they are. Perhaps some nice music and art might have come from Islam, but really, what good things stem from a belief in Allah?

  • Peter

    Ebonmuse – I don’t know what moral progress means. I think faith is dangerous. And by faith I mean believing in X when you have—personally—convincing evidence that X is wrong. So I would agree with someone who says that having faith in moral progress is dangerous. But that’s just dependent on my view that faith is bad. If you believe that we have choices, and if we choose we can make the world a more humane place, I agree and I think it is far from dangerous.

    On the other hand, if you are completely convinced that, say for example, U.S. society has gone through something called moral progress and is now much better . . . I think that is trickier. It is certainly COULD be dangerous if you believe that U.S. culture is morally superior to others, and as a consequence you and your group policy planners in Washington should get to decide the fate of people you deem less worthy. I think there are too many examples from history to have any serious doubts about this.

    I think a good thing to remember is that moral progress is not inevitable, and moral regression is possible.

    Thanks Again,

    Peter

  • Peter

    OMGF,

    The reason I said I didn’t agree you, earlier on, was because I wanted you to know exactly where I’m coming from. I didn’t mean to smugly brush away anything you said. Roughly, I’m just trying to be straight up w/ you. Like I said before I’m not really here to debate, so I don’t feel any need to engage with everything you say. Some things we are not going to agree about, and debating without rest won’t go anywhere. Reasonable people can disagree. If I seemed rude, I hope you’ll believe me that it wasn’t my intention.

    Yes, Muslims do “that sort of thing.” Secular atheist policy makers also figure out ways to torture and maim people. Non-religious administration officials launched an illegal war of aggression in 2003.

    I think suicide bombings targeted at civilians are horrendous crimes, but what about the guy who sits in an air conditioned office somewhere in Washington, who decides to raze Fallujah. Or the State Department official who knows that there are two million Iraqi refugees, but refuses to do anything to help Iraqis fleeing the violence enter the United States or another safe country, causing the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.

    What about the secular members of the Reagan administration who cheered on “freedom fighters” (the mujahedeen) in Afghanistan, militant islamic radicals, who burned down schools, tortured teachers before hanging them, and committed all sorts of other crimes. Back in the 1980′s remember, we openly supported and funded people we knew were committing murderous and horrendous crimes. It was done with quite a lot of pride, in fact.

    Remember also, we supported islamic radicals when we knew what kinds of horrendous things they were doing in afghanistan, and we weren’t screwed up kids, grown up in a savage refugee camp, with nothing to do but read the Koran.

    These things don’t say to me that we have the moral authority to cast judgment on muslims.

    Actually, quite a few people have claimed to have figured out the true Islam, and it’s usually right before they blow something up. To be fair, others may claim the same thing and be perfectly peaceful, but the point is that every Muslim probably thinks they know what the true Islam is. As for the good things stemming from Islam, I’d like to know what they are. Perhaps some nice music and art might have come from Islam, but really, what good things stem from a belief in Allah?

    I don’t know the answer to this, because I don’t know what “stem from” means. Like, if some guy sets up a charity to help the poor because he thinks that’s what a devout muslim who believes in Allah is supposed to do, does this mean that the charity stems from a belief in Allah. I see arguments both ways.

    I have heard some christians suggest that the good work done by liberation theologists down in latin america “stems from” their belief in jesus, and more specifically because they believe jesus taught people to help the poor. I usually argue that whatever good came, it was because the priests in the movement IGNORED the gospels and developed their own notions of what was right, that “stemmed from” human moral capacity. But I don’t know . . . I’m really not a cavalier guy, I don’t think I have figured out once and for all that religion or belief in god is dangerous, or even bad overall.

    I heard an interview with a suicide bomber on the radio program “This American Life.” The woman had been captured in Israel and was in jail. An Israeli official went to talk to her, and she told him about how her boyfriend had been killed by Israeli soldiers, and she was angry, and vengeful, when she was recruited to do the bombing. She was influenced by religious leaders, but she was also influenced by her anger about losing a person she loved . . . religion seems to have played some role in what she did, or was going to do, and her sense of loss seemed to play a role too. The world is pretty complicated and I don’t see any reason to believe that the suicide bombers we are so concerned about don’t have complex lives with many motivations for the things they do.

    Peter

  • OMGF

    Peter

    Non-religious administration officials launched an illegal war of aggression in 2003….What about the secular members of the Reagan administration who cheered on “freedom fighters” (the mujahedeen) in Afghanistan, militant islamic radicals, who burned down schools, tortured teachers before hanging them, and committed all sorts of other crimes.

    What? Bush and his cronies are non-religious? What?

    The Reagan admin was non-religious too now? What? Make no mistake, the enemy of their enemy was their friend, and they were fighting not just against the Communists, but the Godless Communists.

    Yes, secularists and atheists can do terrible things, no one is debating that. But, you are still missing the larger point. Harris isn’t solely going after Muslims, nor is his thought experiment simply an attack on Islam. He’s going after what most people simply accept is a virtue – faith – and pointing out that faith is a factor that leads to people suicide bombing others. We can’t simply sit back and leave the role that faith plays in such things out of it and treat it with kid gloves when it’s obvious that people are motivated by faith to do horrible things at times. It’s not always a good or even innocuous thing.

    These things don’t say to me that we have the moral authority to cast judgment on muslims.

    Speak for yourself. I have the moral authority and even the obligation to speak out when I see instances of immoral behavior, especially when it is widespread. But, again, you don’t seem to realize that you are arguing against a non-issue and not even addressing the main thrust of Harris’s argument. You wish to claim it’s a bad argument, yet you won’t even address what the argument is? How odd. (And, you didn’t even read it, did you?)

    I have heard some christians suggest that the good work done by liberation theologists down in latin america “stems from” their belief in jesus, and more specifically because they believe jesus taught people to help the poor. I usually argue that whatever good came, it was because the priests in the movement IGNORED the gospels and developed their own notions of what was right, that “stemmed from” human moral capacity.

    And I agree with you that they are ignoring the gospel. I’d also argue that if they are doing this because big brother is watching or because god has commanded it, then they are not acting in a moral way, but simply following orders.

    The world is pretty complicated and I don’t see any reason to believe that the suicide bombers we are so concerned about don’t have complex lives with many motivations for the things they do.

    And no one is arguing that there aren’t complex factors at play, that’s a line that you’ve thrust on Harris without understanding his argument. What he’s saying is that we discount the role that faith has in it because we automatically assume that faith is a good thing. Do you understand now? You should read the next couple paragraphs after his statement about the facts to start to get a feel for it.

  • Peter

    OMGF,

    Are you making a claim that on the whole, or “on average”, atheists are less violent, cruel, and immoral that religious folks? To let you know where I stand, and admit at the same time I may be wrong, I don’t believe anyone has come up with a way to quantify the deeds of X group such that we can make an interesting comparison – i.e. a comparison that is not just based on our personal feelings but has some empirical teeth, so to speak.

    I sort of got the impression that you take the position that atheism, or a religion like Islam, can be judged independently of what its adherents do. Well, I guess I would respond that it is cold comfort to the child getting fired bombed by an atheist planner that atheism is better than Islamism.

    What? Bush and his cronies are non-religious? What?

    The Reagan admin was non-religious too now? What? Make no mistake, the enemy of their enemy was their friend, and they were fighting not just against the Communists, but the Godless Communists.

    I don’t know for sure, but my impression is that in the less visible players, like Cheney (in Reagan’s admin), Rumsfeld (also there), Paul Wolfowitz, Negroponte and other guys who got away while Ollie North took the hit on Iran-Contra, are not at all religiously motivated (North might have been, but he was a patsy). They are the ones that set a great deal of Am. foreign policy, and they are pretty much secular. These guys (and importantly guys just like them) are a continuing presence throughout many postwar administrations, including Bush 43′s. In their internal writings there is no discussion whatsoever about religion, it is all about power and control for so-called real-politque concerns. I have read some early postwar internal documents that mention religion, or the absence thereof in commie Russia, but it didn’t strike me as a big deal at all – MAYBE I’M WRONG, of course. I think though, if you go to the New American Century website and look at some of their working papers, there’s not much about religion. (I haven’t done the full research project that you demand :) , yet.)

    Maybe, if you define faith in the right way, you can say these guys are not true atheists . . . but I don’t know what that gets you.

    Speak for yourself. I have the moral authority and even the obligation to speak out when I see instances of immoral behavior, especially when it is widespread. But, again, you don’t seem to realize that you are arguing against a non-issue and not even addressing the main thrust of Harris’s argument. You wish to claim it’s a bad argument, yet you won’t even address what the argument is? How odd. (And, you didn’t even read it, did you?)

    I definitely only speak for myself, and all I can say is that I have *never* done enough to stop massive violence, and the contribution to horrible violence carried out by my government to get up in some religious guys’ faces to pass judgment on them. That’s all I’m saying.

    My impression, clearly one you don’t share, is that Harris is overly focused on Muslim extremism, and while he nominally extends his arguments to western society, he thinks that Muslim society is the great danger to the world. Well, I was trying to give some examples of massively violent and dangerous actions taken by our western governments that suggest otherwise.

    On this note, you(=one) might want to consider the Anti-ballistic missile treaty, and the controversy surrounding that. Ask who is crazier, the muslim suicide bomber, or the (I allege) most secular guys that tore apart that treaty.

    Best,

    Peter

  • OMGF

    Peter,

    Are you making a claim that on the whole, or “on average”, atheists are less violent, cruel, and immoral that religious folks?

    No. I’m claiming that you’ve misread Harris and that his argument is that faith helps lead to attrocities in many situations and is not always a good thing.

    I sort of got the impression that you take the position that atheism, or a religion like Islam, can be judged independently of what its adherents do. Well, I guess I would respond that it is cold comfort to the child getting fired bombed by an atheist planner that atheism is better than Islamism.

    From the standpoint that religions teach hatred and violence, I think you can judge religions independently of what their adherents do. Xians could be the nicest people in the world, but I will still find their doctrine of original sin and the inherent fallibility of man to be hateful and beneath contempt. Considering that atheism has no teachings about how bad people are or people who believe other things, I would say that atheism certainly has a leg up, but that’s not really fair considering that atheism is simply a denial of gods/supernatural/etc. Do you not understand that? There is no doctrine of atheism with which to convict someone of.

    In their internal writings there is no discussion whatsoever about religion, it is all about power and control for so-called real-politque concerns.

    They stay on topic when they write, so they aren’t motivated by their religious convictions? Please.

    (I haven’t done the full research project that you demand :) , yet.)

    The only research I “demanded” is that you actually read Harris’s book before you trash it. Did you really not get that? I guess I can take it that you didn’t read his book then too, right? So, where do you get off trashing his book without reading it? I don’t agree with everything he says, but I would not stoop to trashing someone’s work without even finding out what their arguments are.

    I definitely only speak for myself, and all I can say is that I have *never* done enough to stop massive violence, and the contribution to horrible violence carried out by my government to get up in some religious guys’ faces to pass judgment on them. That’s all I’m saying.

    And, what are you supposed to do? Have you personally gone and bombed anyone? Are you really going to stand here and tell me that you don’t feel like you have any standing to tell a suicide bomber that what he/she is doing is wrong?

    My impression, clearly one you don’t share, is that Harris is overly focused on Muslim extremism, and while he nominally extends his arguments to western society, he thinks that Muslim society is the great danger to the world. Well, I was trying to give some examples of massively violent and dangerous actions taken by our western governments that suggest otherwise.

    Which is a logical fallacy; you’re suggesting that Muslims and Islam are not dangerous because other people are dangerous too.

    On this note, you(=one) might want to consider the Anti-ballistic missile treaty, and the controversy surrounding that. Ask who is crazier, the muslim suicide bomber, or the (I allege) most secular guys that tore apart that treaty.

    Both were driven by faith, which is the central argument, so both are pretty dangerous.

  • Peter

    OMGF,

    According to your last post you are *not* making the claim that on average, or overall, atheists are less violent, cruel, and immoral that religious folks, right? Thus, you are either saying you think that atheists are worse overall, or that you don’t know on way or the other.

    From the standpoint that religions teach hatred and violence, I think you can judge religions independently of what their adherents do. Xians could be the nicest people in the world, but I will still find their doctrine of original sin and the inherent fallibility of man to be hateful and beneath contempt.

    Ok. So what exactly is a religion independent from what its adherents do? This is kind of a tough question, right? Is a religion, *independent* of what its adherents do, just text? or what? Clearly you can’t make a moral judgment about a physical object with a bunch of pages and ink. Please tell me what you think a religion is, when totally separated from the people who say that they follow it.

    Can you do your analysis of other “systems”? For example, in the news recently Article II of the constitution has been mentioned frequently, specifically the so-called Commander-in-Chief clause, ” . . . the President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of the army and navy . . . when called into . . . service “.

    Can this text, a procedure for organizing a system of government, be judged — in a parallel way to what you do with the doctrine of original sin — independently of what presidents, and congresses, do?

    What is the point of this? Is it purely “academic”? We analyze religious texts, and say they are bad, although the “followers” are good and decent people, perhaps doing much more than a bunch of guys and gals chatting on a blog to make the world a better and more humane place to live.

    There is no doctrine of atheism with which to convict someone of.

    So what’s the big deal with Hedges criticism of “New Atheists”? You should be asking whether Hedges identifies a real group of people, and whether this provides us a useful category with which to understand the world. What is pointless, is criticizing Hedges for giving the wrong definition of “atheists”. The point applies in the same way to a christian. A moral christian should not be blogging about how Hedges definition of “Christian Fundamentalism” is so wrong, and he’s just a jerk who projects whatever misconceived notions he has about christians onto them. The christian should be asking whether Hedges has identified a real phenomena, and then whether there is some truth to his criticism. We don’t admire the christian who sits around blogging about how Hedges got the meaning of “Fundamentalism” wrong.

    In their internal writings there is no discussion whatsoever about religion, it is all about power and control for so-called real-politque concerns.

    They stay on topic when they write, so they aren’t motivated by their religious convictions? Please.

    You’re saying that it is possible Paul Wolfowitz or someone like that is actually religious and we don’t know it. I gave you a list of people, off the top of my head, who I believe, probably correctly, are not religious in the slightest. They are secular, and they have ultra-violent views. I don’t have ANY evidence from what these guys write, that they are religious. Maybe you have faith that they must be, because that would confirm your world view.

    And, what are you supposed to do? Have you personally gone and bombed anyone? Are you really going to stand here and tell me that you don’t feel like you have any standing to tell a suicide bomber that what he/she is doing is wrong?

    No, I don’t have any standing. Maybe you are an activist desperately trying to stop your government (if you are American) from killing more Iraqis. Current estimates say we have breached killing more that one million Iraqis. Before that, the State Department admitted that 500,000 CHILDREN died because of the sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990′s. If you are an American, for example, you live in the freest country in the world, and consequently have the most responsibility to stop violence carried out by the government. There are basically no penalties for speaking out against the violence, and insignificant penalties for resisting the violence. Once you have really and honest DONE SOMETHING, not just talked about it, to try to prevent senseless killing, then maybe you can start condemning other people.

    It’s pretty pathetic to sit around saying how bad suicide bombing is. A basic moral principle is focusing on YOUR crimes and the actions YOU are responsible for, and trying to do something about them.

    Which is a logical fallacy; you’re suggesting that Muslims and Islam are not dangerous because other people are dangerous too.

    What I was saying which is clear – is that I was providing examples that muslim extremism is not “the great danger to the world.” Not that it is not dangerous. You are too quick to try to show logical inconsistencies in what I’ve been writing. I then provided an example of breaking a treaty, which was designed to prevent first strike nuclear attacks, by removing the incentive. Nothing about breaking seems to have been driven by faith.

    If there is any question I would really appreciate you answering, it’s Why do you think scrapping the anti-ballistic missile was driven by faith? Also, driven by faith in what?

    Peter

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Clearly you can’t make a moral judgment about a physical object with a bunch of pages and ink. Please tell me what you think a religion is, when totally separated from the people who say that they follow it.

    A religion is a set of beliefs. The fact that not all people who profess to belong to a given religion actually follow the beliefs it theoretically teaches does not mean that those beliefs cannot be evaluated in regard to the effects they are likely to have on people.

    Can this text, a procedure for organizing a system of government, be judged — in a parallel way to what you do with the doctrine of original sin — independently of what presidents, and congresses, do?

    Yes, absolutely! We can study a proposed system for setting up a government and judge how likely that system is to produce good governance or bad governance. We can do this before that system is actually enacted in reality.

    You’re saying that it is possible Paul Wolfowitz or someone like that is actually religious and we don’t know it. I gave you a list of people, off the top of my head, who I believe, probably correctly, are not religious in the slightest. They are secular, and they have ultra-violent views. I don’t have ANY evidence from what these guys write, that they are religious.

    Peter, this is an astonishingly bad argument. So, you’ve read some political essays written by Paul Wolfowitz. You don’t find any mention of religion in those writings. And from this, you conclude that he and those like him are not only not actively practicing religious believers, but that they are atheists? Do you really consider that to be a valid chain of reasoning? I could use the same logic to prove you’re a communist, because none of your comments in this thread so far have endorsed capitalism. If you have actual evidence one way or the other in regard to the religious views of Wolfowitz and the neoconservatives, feel free to present it. If not, you should quit speculating on the attitudes of people you know little or nothing about.

    Before that, the State Department admitted that 500,000 CHILDREN died because of the sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990′s.

    The sanctions enacted against Iraq were entirely justified. Saddam Hussein was a genocidal dictator who had used poison gas against his own people and invaded other countries without provocation. His regime’s power needed to be restricted, and international sanctions and arms inspections were by far the most effective way to accomplish that. Going to war just to remove him would not have been an effective policy – as the results of our most recent war have all too sadly demonstrated. Hussein could have ended those sanctions if he had been willing to cooperate with the international community.

  • Peter

    Ebonmuse,

    Regarding Wolfowitz and the other people I mentioned. I’m saying that they present arguments and appear to act on those arguments, & as far as I’m aware, nothing involved in the realist school of international relations is religiously motivated. I’m not *arguing* that Wolfowitz is not religious. You are right that I’m speculating he is not. However, you are the one that has to show he (or one of the other people I identified) is actually religious. You don’t think I have to go through EVERY possible religion and show that he isn’t an adherent to that religion, do you. What makes you think any of the people I identified is religious.

    Do I have to prove to you that Wolfowitz isn’t buddist, before I can use him and other people like him of secular folks, sophisticated highly trained Western secular technocrats, as an example of a certain segment of secular (non-religiously motivated) society?

    You aren’t making the right parallel in your criticism of me. I didn’t say because Wolfowitz doesn’t endorse religion he must be an atheist. I said I have no evidence to believe that he is motivated by religion. What evidence do you have that members of the so-called “neo-conservative group” like some of the one I mentioned are religiously motivated? Do you have any evidence at all?

    So what you are saying is that if I have read fairly detailed explanations of motivation for taking realist international-policy positions, and none of this reasoning involves religion, I should still assume that religion might lie behind it . . . until when? When do I have to stop looking for evidence of religious belief?

    By the way, you can, if you want link to an article or something that indicates that any of the people I mentioned is religious.

    Right, with U.S. approval in the 1980′s Saddam Hussein gassed the Iranians and “his own people” people, like the Kurds who have a bit of a different opinion about whose people they are. Likewise, the U.S. was shipping money and arms to Saddam as he tortured his own people, threw them in dungeons and executed them, special care was even taken to make sure that no action was taken against Iraq when an Iraqi jet missiled the U.S.S. Stark killing 37 (I think) American sailors. He was a rotten guy, a criminal. So given that, because Saddam was a brutal dictator, we should should make more children suffer. Take a look at the way the sanctions regime was run, by the UN committee. By your logic, if a dictator terrorizes his own people, we should make the people suffer some more. That’s nice. I’m really starting to understand now how evil suicide bombers are. We choose a policy that kills Iraqi children, and that’s ok, because it is for their own benefit. It’s little like torturing someone. You want them to do something, and you torture them – but it’s not really your responsibility for the pain they suffer – because after all they could just do what you want. I hold a gun to your head and say, “it’s your choice, give me your money or you’ll die.” Hey, I’m not responsible, right?

    According to your reasoning, since the U.S. went against the world community when it invaded Iraq, and continues to go against the international community by occupying the country, it would be “entirely justified” to impose sanctions against the U.S., that would kill children, until the U.S. pulls out of Iraq.

    Or maybe the West is so morally superior to the rest of the world that the same standards shouldn’t apply to us.

  • mikespeir

    Peter asked, “What makes you think any of the people I identified is religious.” I think it’s a fair question, Ebonmuse? Now, maybe you do have good evidence. I just think you ought to trot it out. I, personally, don’t assume evil men always have a religious motivation. I suspect you don’t either. Am I right?

    But, Peter, speaking for myself, yes, I do believe we’re morally superior to the most of the rest of the world. But that’s not the same as saying that the same standards shouldn’t apply to us. On the contrary, we try to live by the standards we expect of others. That we don’t always succeed doesn’t drop us to the level of everybody else. (Although it could if we abandoned them.) It just means we’re human like everybody else. Furthermore, the real world is a place where no ideal can ever survive long intact. We’re sometimes forced to choose between evils. We don’t always make the right choice. (Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t learn better from our failures.)

    But let me ask you this: What would you have done to bring Saddam to heel? If 500,000 children died, I see it as his fault. He could have used the money he spent on an arms build-up to feed them instead. Why didn’t he? Because he was an evil man who valued his stranglehold on a country and a people more than he did the people themselves. Something had to be done, and we were the ones in a position to do something. What would you have done instead? I mean, considering you don’t have the gift of prophecy and could only take a best guess at what might work.

  • OMGF

    Peter,

    According to your last post you are *not* making the claim that on average, or overall, atheists are less violent, cruel, and immoral that religious folks, right? Thus, you are either saying you think that atheists are worse overall, or that you don’t know on way or the other.

    False dilemma. I’m saying that atheists are no worse or no better on average than Xians (an obvious possibility that I note you missed). One doesn’t need a holy book in order to be moral.

    So what exactly is a religion independent from what its adherents do? This is kind of a tough question, right? Is a religion, *independent* of what its adherents do, just text? or what?

    Like Ebon said, it’s a set of beliefs. The beliefs as espoused by Xianity are hateful. The fact that most Xians don’t actually follow the beliefs of Xianity does not absolve those stated beliefs of their immorality. Is it really that hard?

    So what’s the big deal with Hedges criticism of “New Atheists”? You should be asking whether Hedges identifies a real group of people, and whether this provides us a useful category with which to understand the world. What is pointless, is criticizing Hedges for giving the wrong definition of “atheists”.

    Sigh, no it’s not, and I’ll once again note that you criticized Harris for exactly what you seem to letting Hedges off the hook for. As has already been pointed out, Hedges is NOT providing us with a useful category for anything. He’s painting all atheists with a wide brush in order to condemn us all for imaginary crimes or thoughts or ideas or whatever. That might be hunky dory with you, but us atheists don’t like to be stereotyped any more than any other group like to be stereotyped, and with the current level of vitriol and hatred towards atheists in this country, we don’t need any more of it.

    You’re saying that it is possible Paul Wolfowitz or someone like that is actually religious and we don’t know it.

    No, I’m saying that YOU don’t know it simply because it’s convenient for your argument. You wish to assert that very religious leaders like Reagan and Bush have all atheist members of their cabinet and staff? Your drinking the Kool Aid for sure now. Bush was well behind the invasion of Iraq as was Ashcroft and both of those are well known as religious kooks. Wolfowitz is a Jew and has many sympathies toward Israel, which helps explain his want to go after rouge Arab states (mostly Muslim). But, it’s simply mind-blowing that you seem to think that there are so many atheists in the government. Studies show that atheists make up 10% of the population at most, yet according to you it must be much, much more.

    Maybe you have faith that they must be, because that would confirm your world view.

    Whatever. You can bury your head in the sand and ignore the religious right’s and religion’s persuasion over politics in this country and especially the Republican party, but don’t condescend to me about your inability to understand anything in politics. Far as I can tell, you are the one making arguments of convenience, from forgiving Hedges for his faux pas to attacking Harris for the same thing, while not reading Harris’s book to even know what his argument is, to acting like the government is completely non-religious and run by atheists….Please.

    No, I don’t have any standing.

    Then you are immoral. Your position is one of shrugging your shoulders and saying that you can’t do anything, not unless you can force Washington to not do anything? Sorry, I’m not buying it. Even though Bush launched a war of aggression and killed all those people, I can say that his actions are immoral just as I can say that a suicide bombers actions are immoral. Simply because the suicide bomber is Palestinian or Iraqi doesn’t mean that I’ve ceded my right to speak out against immoral acts, injustice, or evil.

    It’s pretty pathetic to sit around saying how bad suicide bombing is.

    No, what is pathetic is your attitude.

    What I was saying which is clear – is that I was providing examples that muslim extremism is not “the great danger to the world.”

    It’s the same thing and still logically fallacious. Islam isn’t a great danger to the world because there are other great dangers? Please. You’ve already demonstrated your lack of intellectual integrity by attacking books you haven’t even read and now you are insisting in your logical fallacies. What’s going to be your encore?

  • Peter

    Hello MikeSpeir,

    But let me ask you this: What would you have done to bring Saddam to heel? If 500,000 children died, I see it as his fault. He could have used the money he spent on an arms build-up to feed them instead. Why didn’t he? Because he was an evil man who valued his stranglehold on a country and a people more than he did the people themselves. Something had to be done, and we were the ones in a position to do something. What would you have done instead? I mean, considering you don’t have the gift of prophecy and could only take a best guess at what might work.

    There are a lot of pretty good answers to this. First, in 1983/84 when the U.S. reopened the embassy in Iraq, and started supporting Saddam in his war against Iran, it would have been better to negotiate with him, to open the country up to weapons inspectors, instead of supplying dual use technologies that allowed him to manufacture chemical weapons. It would also have been a good idea at that time to put some pressure on the international companies selling the chemicals and means to make them to Iraq. I know for example that German companies participated in this. (If anyone has questions about Iran . . . I would have advocated support for the mostly pro-western mostly secular Mossadaq.) Let’s say, though, that wasn’t done. Putting pressure on Saddam while he was an ally would have been so much easier. He was getting weapons and money from the U.S., so I would have advocated NOT giving him those things if gassed “his own” people. Then when Saddam threatened to destroy Israel in 1990, I would have supported Congress that wanted to sanction him. I would not have supported Bush 41, who defended Saddam up until four! days before Iraq invaded Kuwait. Remember, Iraq blew up a U.S. frigate and continued to get support from the U.S. He probably thought he could get away with grabbing Kuwait and valuable coast line along the gulf. When you blow up and American vessel and threaten to destroy Israel with Presidential support . . . I imagine you start to get a big head. So to sum up, (1) negotiate with Hussein, while an ally in the 1980′s. (2) Try to support, indirectly, democracy movements in Iraq as well.

    If that wasn’t done, I would have supported the Shia uprising after the “first” gulf war, instead of *letting* Hussein gas people in the South, and then later the Kurds in the North. Remember, the U.S. enforced no fly zones over Iraq in the 1990′s and did nothing to stop attacks against the Kurds.

    Regarding the sanctions: the sanctions stopped medical and other humanitarian supplies to “his people”. The effect of this was to weaken the Iraqis who hated Saddam, and would have overthrown him after the 1991 war, maybe even sooner if we had not supported Hussein during the 1980′s. Yes, Saddam is responsible for making people suffer during the sanctions. All we did was make things worse. Did we think that Saddam was going to evenly distribute resources while the sanctions were on, or consolidate his power while the population who hated him, were torn apart by the sanctions. The sanctions didn’t just stop money going to the regime, it also stopped medical supplies that would have gone directly to the population. So, an easy answer here, is design the sanctions better. Allow medical supplies into the country, and make sure they get to the people who want to overthrow Saddam. Exactly the opposite was done.

    There were a lot of pretty conservative things that could have been done to decrease support of Saddam. Another thing would have been to listen to Iraqis, and find out what they want.

    Regarding the other comments directed at me (I’m looking in your direction OMFG): right! I’m “drinking the kool aid” because (1) I think morality should be judged based on actions, not lofty rhetoric, and (2) I *try* to apply stricter standards to myself, and my community, than to others (I’m sure I don’t succeed.)

    There’s nothing morally good about talking about how lousy catholicism is, or whatever. I’m sorry to tell OMFG but there is nothing honorable to being a blog-warrior who denounces suicide bombings & comes up with textual, academic reasons that islam is a terrible religion.

    OFMG said,

    Wolfowitz is a Jew and has many sympathies toward Israel, which helps explain his want to go after rouge Arab states (mostly Muslim).

    That’s pretty good, OMFG, because you KNOW he is jewish. And I guess that means he’s religiously motivated, because no one has ever heard of a culturally-jewish atheist.

    My goal here wasn’t to beat OMFG in a debate, so I happily concede that he or she is the best blog warrior, and maybe I can get back to having a conversation with someone else, while s/he exposes the textual inconsistencies of christian doctrine from the mighty keyboard. Onward atheist blog warriors!

    All the best,

    Peter

  • Peter

    OMFG,

    On a more serious note. Sitting here telling me how immoral I am (on an atheist website!) is going to do absolutely NOTHING to prevent future suicide bombings. However, right now as we speak, a lot of Iraqis who have helped translate for the U.S. or do other things for the administration are under threat of death, and the U.S. WILL NOT allow them to come to the United States. This is also the case for many, many other Iraqis who have become refugees. If you aren’t doing something already, you might actually be able to help save someone from being killed in a suicide bombing, by helping some of these people get into the states.

    Check out:

    http://www.thelistproject.org/

    Maybe you can actually do something. Hey, maybe even WE could do something. [[handshakes]] OK?

  • OMGF

    Peter,
    You aren’t here to discuss anything. You’re here to prove how smart you are and try to get others to stroke your ego. That’s why you condescend at the drop of a hat and why you tailor reality to fit your overly simplistic arguments.

    Regarding the other comments directed at me (I’m looking in your direction OMFG): right! I’m “drinking the kool aid” because (1) I think morality should be judged based on actions, not lofty rhetoric

    And you are only partly right. The morality of an idea is based on the idea, not on whether people who claim to follow that idea actually follow it or not. Xian ideology is not moral simply because people who claim to be Xian and act morally don’t actually follow it. That you can’t even understand that certain ideas are immoral and downright vile is beyond me. I’m sure that you think the ideas of the KKK are just fine and dandy so long as they don’t go out and actively lynch blacks anymore? That’s what you are saying.

    (2) I *try* to apply stricter standards to myself, and my community, than to others (I’m sure I don’t succeed.)

    Nice shifting of the goalpost, but that’s not what you were arguing. You argued that you can’t apply any standards to others who are outside your community because someone in your community probably did something bad. Your argument boils down to your inability to criticize the morality of anyone for anything, which is defeatist and too apathetic for my tastes. You can call me a “blog warrior” all you like, but I’d rather stand up and state my position and try to reason with people about what morality is and should be than throw my hands up in the air and say, “Well, some people that I know did some bad things, so go and do whatever bad thing you want to do because I sure can’t say anything about it.” That attitude is disgusting.

    That’s pretty good, OMFG, because you KNOW he is jewish. And I guess that means he’s religiously motivated, because no one has ever heard of a culturally-jewish atheist.

    You’re right, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he is religiously motivated. Yet, you don’t have support for your position and the reality of the situation is that the religious right holds a lot of power and prestige in the republican party. Bush holds regular conferences with religious leaders and has done many things to weaken the walls between separation of church and state. You are simply burying your head in the sand when you assert that they are not religiously motivated at all.

    Sitting here telling me how immoral I am (on an atheist website!) is going to do absolutely NOTHING to prevent future suicide bombings.

    Nor will your position of sitting back and saying nothing. Actually, my position has the chance that you might wake up and pull your head out and realize that by speaking out we might make a difference. So, I take it back. Denouncing immoral attrocities, even to someone like you, can make a difference, while your idea of shrugging your shoulders and complaining about those damned ‘atheists’ that run our country definitely won’t.

    [[handshakes]] OK?

    Is what OK? Is it OK that you are belittling me for disagreeing with you? Is it OK that you think that we aren’t allowed to denounce attrocities like suicide bombing? Is it OK that you are a condescending so-and-so? Is it OK that you shift the goal posts at will, create false dilemmas, and make other logical fallacies and then call me names for pointing them out? No, none of those things are OK, even if Bush did illegally invade another country. Just because Bush does something that I don’t agree with which is highly immoral doesn’t mean that I can’t tell you how much of an ass you are being in attacking me personally.

  • OMGF

    BTW Peter,
    What standing do you have to criticize a federal leader of the US? Using your logic, you have none, so all this pontificating on what the US should have done is all useless, since you have no standing to make such criticisms. Why? Well, by your own logic, you can’t criticize federal leaders if any leader in your state has ever done something bad. And, I’m sure that has happened, regardless of which state you live in. And, really, you can’t criticize that person if anyone in your local community has ever done anything bad, and I’m sure that’s happened too. Heck you can’t even criticize that person if anyone in your local neighborhood has done anything bad. And you can’t criticize that person if anyone in your household has ever done anything bad. And you can’t criticize someone in your household if you have ever done anything bad. So, how about it, have you ever done anything immoral? If so, then you have no standing to criticize the morality of anyone else according to your logic. So, how can you speak up against the actions of the government and claim they are immoral?

  • Peter

    OFGM, I think the idea is to try to say and do things that have an effect on your own community. Denouncing suicide bombing in the U.S. is pretty much useless. Would you be very impressed by an Imam in Iran who spends all his time talking about how hateful christianity is?

    From an interview with Hedges at Salon:
    [interviewer says:] A lot of the book is devoted to making this comparison between Christian and what some call secular fundamentalists, but you are pretty hands off when it comes to fundamentalist Islam.

    [Hedges answers:] The only reason I go after Christian fundamentalists and New Atheists is because they’re here and I’m an American. Fundamentalism — whether it’s Hindu fundamentalism or Jewish fundamentalism or Christian fundamentalism or Islamic fundamentalism — is the same disease. Karen Armstrong has explained that brilliantly. Fundamentalists, no matter what their religious coloring — bear far more in common with each other than they do with more enlightened members of their own religious communities. I’m an enemy of fundamentalism, period. And if I’m not going after Islamic fundamentalism in this book, it’s because what I’ve tried to do is talk about these two very dangerous ideological strains within American society, although the New Atheists are peddling this under the guise of enlightenment and reason and science in the same way that the Christian right tries to peddle it as a form of Christianity.

    so all this pontificating on what the US should have done is all useless, since you have no standing to make such criticisms.

    Sheeshe! You are a sensitive one. :) MikeSpeir asked me what I would do, so I responded.

    If I seem a little insulting or condescending it is only because it seems to bother you. I’m just messing with you.

    But I was being serious, after that, I think it would be a good thing to help out some of the folks who have had to flee Iraq. If we don’t, they really may end up being killed by suicide bombers.

    Check out the website, I mentioned.

  • OMGF

    OFGM, I think the idea is to try to say and do things that have an effect on your own community.

    And what standing do you have to do so?

    MikeSpeir asked me what I would do, so I responded.

    And I pointed out how it clashes with your views using your logic.

    If I seem a little insulting or condescending it is only because it seems to bother you. I’m just messing with you.

    Ah, so it’s OK to be an a-hole so long as you’re just messing with me? Instead of “messing with me” why don’t you deal with the gaping holes I’ve poked in your arguments? Also, you could try and repair the gaping holes in your intellectual integrity. You could start by actually reading the arguments and books of the people you are trashing instead of simply knowing they are wrong.

    But I was being serious, after that, I think it would be a good thing to help out some of the folks who have had to flee Iraq. If we don’t, they really may end up being killed by suicide bombers.

    According to your logic, you can’t criticize suicide bombers, so how can you pass judgement that it’s a bad thing for them to kill these people?

  • lpetrich

    It gets worse.

    Chris Hedges was interviewed in Salon magazine: I don’t believe in atheists, inspired by his debates with Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. He claims that “New Atheists” are hardline against the Islamic world, that they have some utopian concept of human perfectibility, etc.

  • OMGF

    Is it just me, or does Hedges look like Bill Dembski?

  • MisterDomino

    Is it just me, or does Hedges look like Bill Dembski?

    I think that he looks a bit like Wolf Kahler, the guy who played the creepy Nazi agent in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

  • Peter

    OFMG,

    My “logic,” as you call it, is to try to talk about, examine, and fix what is wrong with myself and my community before I start criticizing others. What I’m saying is that we need to think about what we can actually do to lessen the amount of violence in the world. Frankly, I have no idea what given you the idea that I think it is OK that people are murdered in Iraq, by suicide bombings. Everything I’ve said goes against that. I have, however, criticized myself: I don’t feel that I’m so righteous that I can judge other people, even suicide bombers. Why don’t I feel righteous? Because as I pointed out, Iraqis are going to die, because, among other things, we won’t let them come into this country. If you look that the website I mentioned you can find out about what is actually happening there. The gentleman who runs the website is specifically trying to help Iraqis that have worked for the Am. government, who are under threat of death and have had to flee Iraq, or are in Iraq and on the run. The U.S. government refuses to let these people come to the U.S. Inevitably some of them are going to die, while waiting for asylum claims.

    If you are an american citizen you have some say in what the policy towards asylum seekers is going to be. You have a choice as to whether you will simply allow 31 Iraqis into the U.S. and let the rest languish as refugees, eventually to return to Iraq and die. Or try to do something to change that, and hopefully get more people to a safe place.

    I criticized myself, by saying that I haven’t done enough to make things like this happen, and therefore don’t feel like I am righteous enough to judge people who commit suicide bombings. If you notice, I have always said that suicide bombings are terrible and criminal. In the U.S., surely, the vast majority of people think —correctly— that suicide bombing are a horrendous crime. On the other hand, it is also a crime to allow Iraqis to languish as refugees and refuse to allow asylum seekers into the U.S. This is a crime that is done by us. And we have some control over it.

    The approach Hedges takes is the moral one — to try to focus on the problems in his community and that he might have some say over.

    Lots of American citizens are outraged about what is happening to the asylum seekers on the list, and many more would be outraged if they new that there government is going to effectively kill people, because it refuses to grant them asylum. However, people like Hitchens and Harris don’t tell people about that . . . in fact Hitchens justifies making a Iraq a hell-hole. They just say the easy thing, what everyone agrees, suicide bombing is atrocious.

    Do you honestly think that by telling me what an “a-hole” I am, and rightly condemning suicide bombing on an atheist blog, you will do more good than trying to get the word out about Iraqi asylum seekers, or doing something else to lessen the violence and death caused by the “multi-national” force in Iraq?

    On March 27th I said

    I think suicide bombings targeted at civilians are horrendous crimes, but what about the guy who sits in an air conditioned office somewhere in Washington, who decides to raze Fallujah.

    I’ll add . . . what about Peter sitting around blogging with OMFG when he could be doing something to help an Iraqi not get killed by a suicide bomber. I also said, on March 28th,

    I definitely only speak for myself, and all I can say is that I have *never* done enough to stop massive violence, and the contribution to horrible violence carried out by my government to get up in some religious guys’ faces to pass judgment on them. That’s all I’m saying.

    Frankly, I don’t think this is too controversial.

    OMFG wrote:

    According to your logic, you can’t criticize suicide bombers, so how can you pass judgement that it’s a bad thing for them to kill these people?

    You are really, really missing the point. I was not talking about “criticizing” suicide bombers for killing “these people”, I was talking about us, you and me, for NOT helping “these people.” If an Iraqi comes to the U.S. asking for asylum, we turn him down, and he goes back to Iraq and is murdered. We have a role in that guy’s murder.

  • Peter

    OMFG,

    Since were on the topic of morals, I thought I would quote from an Op-Ed that appeared more than a year ago in the LA times, it is by Kirk Johnson, and can be found on the website I mentioned:

    President Bush and Congress bear a moral responsibility to those Iraqis whose lives are imperiled because of their willingness to help us. We need to move swiftly to expand the special immigrant status beyond the military translators to permit these Iraqis asylum in our country. . . . In closing a despairing message to me last week, he wrote, “Maybe I will be forced to go back to Iraq to lose my life.” He has only a few weeks left before he and his wife will likely be made to return to Iraq, to the death threat that awaits them.”

    NOTE: “President Bush and Congress” are at least formally accountable to american citizens, including atheists.

    I think gentlemen like Mr. Johnson are honestly trying to do something to lessen the amount of violence in the middle east. Importantly, Johnson is not yelling and screaming about the evils of suicide bombing, but trying to help people that will actually be victims of suicide bombing or worse.

    At least Hedges is trying to speak out against the kinds of ideology he sees driving the decision to keep occupying Iraq, among other things, whether it is the christian kind of the, as he calls it, “New Atheist” kind.

  • OMGF

    Peter,

    My “logic,” as you call it, is to try to talk about, examine, and fix what is wrong with myself and my community before I start criticizing others.

    And, I pointed out what is wrong with it.

    What I’m saying is that we need to think about what we can actually do to lessen the amount of violence in the world.

    And I’m sure that not speaking out against suicide bombers is a good strategy.

    Frankly, I have no idea what given you the idea that I think it is OK that people are murdered in Iraq, by suicide bombings.

    Maybe your fallacious arguments about how we can’t criticize anyone for their lack of morals because of the evil things that our “community” – especially all the wicked atheists, because theists never do anything wrong – has done?

    I criticized myself, by saying that I haven’t done enough to make things like this happen, and therefore don’t feel like I am righteous enough to judge people who commit suicide bombings.

    And I pointed out the logical conclusion of your thinking. Thank you, come again.

    The approach Hedges takes is the moral one — to try to focus on the problems in his community and that he might have some say over.

    No, the approach Hedges takes is to paint all atheists with a broad brush so that he can knock down the straw man. That might be fine for you, but lying for Jesus is still a lie.

    However, people like Hitchens and Harris don’t tell people about that . . . in fact Hitchens justifies making a Iraq a hell-hole.

    And I don’t agree with Hitchens’ stand on the war, but this is all an exercise in moving the goal posts. Just because Hitchens says he supports the war doesn’t give Hedges an excuse to tar all atheists with the same brush. You defend Hedges for doing this, while simultaneously go after Harris for allegedly tarring all Muslims with the same brush. You are a hypocrite. Maybe you don’t see the difference because Hedges is going after atheists, and we are fair game to most theists, but that just means that you are blinded by your ideology, whether it is theism or simply faith in faith.

    Do you honestly think that by telling me what an “a-hole” I am, and rightly condemning suicide bombing on an atheist blog, you will do more good than trying to get the word out about Iraqi asylum seekers, or doing something else to lessen the violence and death caused by the “multi-national” force in Iraq?

    False dilemma. Do you really think that I can either point out your personal attacks and logical fallacies OR I can be a moral person and do something good? It’s not an either/or.

    I definitely only speak for myself, and all I can say is that I have *never* done enough to stop massive violence, and the contribution to horrible violence carried out by my government to get up in some religious guys’ faces to pass judgment on them.

    And I’m sure you’ve never been a suicide bomber either. It doesn’t mean that you can’t say that suicide bombing is immoral.

    I was not talking about “criticizing” suicide bombers for killing “these people”, I was talking about us, you and me, for NOT helping “these people.” If an Iraqi comes to the U.S. asking for asylum, we turn him down, and he goes back to Iraq and is murdered. We have a role in that guy’s murder.

    If this was your point from the beginning, you had a strange way of getting there. You stated that you have no standing to call suicide bombing immoral and to criticize those that do it. This is quite a separate issue from whether you and I are doing enough to help people in need. I’ll also point out that your pet project is not the only project out there, nor is it the only way to help people in need. Yes, it would be nice if we could all do something, but even if we don’t do what you consider to be “enough” that doesn’t mean that we have to turn a blind eye to attrocities done that are immoral. How can I speak out against my government not allowing these Iraqis into the country by your logic? I’ve done things in my life that were less than moral, and by your logic, until I am beyond reproach, how can I criticize anyone else? Your way leads to paralysis. I am quite content to continue to speak out against suicide bombings and wars of aggression, and I don’t need your sermonizing about how sinful I am and telling me that I have no standing to speak out against injustice.

  • OMGF

    Peter,

    I think gentlemen like Mr. Johnson are honestly trying to do something to lessen the amount of violence in the middle east. Importantly, Johnson is not yelling and screaming about the evils of suicide bombing, but trying to help people that will actually be victims of suicide bombing or worse.

    Yes, by all means, let’s treat the symptoms instead of the actual problem.

    At least Hedges is trying to speak out against the kinds of ideology he sees driving the decision to keep occupying Iraq, among other things, whether it is the christian kind of the, as he calls it, “New Atheist” kind.

    No he’s not. He’s speaking out against atheism and tarring us all with the brush that we are a bunch of blood-thirsty imperialists simply because he found one or two atheists. He even admits as much with Dawkins (who opposes the war) but brushes it away by claiming that Dawkins is different simply because he’s British, as if that has anything to do with it. He’s not speaking about atheist ideology, he’s speaking about neocon ideology. What part of disbelief in god leads one to the conclusion that we are all lovers of death and destruction and want the world to end? This is ludicrous. And you STILL haven’t addressed the fact that Hedges is doing exactly what you incorrectly criticized Harris for doing. I guess it’s OK when the target is atheists, right? Tell me, what is it about atheists that makes people like you want to hate us so much and want to believe the worst things about us?

  • Peter

    OMFG said

    Tell me, what is it about atheists that makes people like you want to hate us so much and want to believe the worst things about us?

    (1) What makes you think that I hate atheists? If you choose to respond please go back over what I’ve written here and find examples of something that would give a reasonable person the idea that I hate atheists. I think you won’t be able to, if you stick to actually trying to quote things I’ve written above. I really have no idea where this is coming from, especially since I have said exactly the opposite a couple of times for example

    (2) Who are “people like me”? Again, please don’t respond with one line, that associates me with Hedges or something. What is the group, whether organized or not, that you are claiming I’m a part of?

    (3) Hedges, as I’ve noted many times, refers to a group of people he calls “New Atheists.” I don’t think he’s saying anything about you.

    OMFG wrote

    Yes, by all means, let’s treat the symptoms instead of the actual problem.

    Where did the “instead” clause come from? Clear you don’t think that while treating the “actual problem” of suicide bombing Iraqis like the ones Johnson is helping should be left to be murdered. I’m not sure what point you are making. I’m not saying that we should try to stop the source from which violence flows in Iraq, but that at the same time, people like Johnson are trying to lessen the amount of violence.

    OMFG, do you feel like you are being criticized or attacked when Hedges makes claims about people he calls “New Atheists” like Hitchens or Harris?

  • Peter

    Sorry everyone, besides being an “a-hole,” I’m a horrible typist, I meant to write

    Where did the “instead” clause come from? Clearly you don’t think that while treating the “actual problem” of suicide bombing, Iraqis like the ones Johnson is helping should be left to be murdered. I’m not sure what point you are making. I’m not saying that we should NOT try to stop the source from which violence flows in Iraq, but that at the same time, we should act like people like Johnson who are trying to lessen the amount of violence.

    Yup, I definitely shouldn’t criticize anyone for their writing flaws!

  • OMGF

    Peter,

    (1) What makes you think that I hate atheists? If you choose to respond please go back over what I’ve written here and find examples of something that would give a reasonable person the idea that I hate atheists.

    Easy, your uncritical acceptance of the characatures that people paint of us, and your tendency to paint all those in the government that you disagree with as atheists.

    Who are “people like me”?

    I’ve met many people that simply hate atheists and ascribe all kinds of nasty postions to atheists for no good reason. Perhaps you have a reason, I’m just trying to inquire as to why you have animosity towards atheists.

    (3) Hedges, as I’ve noted many times, refers to a group of people he calls “New Atheists.” I don’t think he’s saying anything about you.

    If he’s simply talking about Harris and Hitchens, then he should say so. Instead, he’s using a well-known phrase in the modern lexicon that often refers to people exactly like me. Whether I have chosen the moniker or not, the label “New Atheists” is applied to me and to Ebon and to all the other atheists on this forum.

    Where did the “instead” clause come from?

    It comes from YOUR logic. We can’t say boo about suicide bombing, we can only hope to get a few select people out of harm’s way, according to you.

    Clear you don’t think that while treating the “actual problem” of suicide bombing Iraqis like the ones Johnson is helping should be left to be murdered.

    No, I don’t, but the problem is that after you remove those people, others will simply die in their places. And, it is because your immoral stance that we can’t speak out against the actions that will kill these people.

    OMFG, do you feel like you are being criticized or attacked when Hedges makes claims about people he calls “New Atheists” like Hitchens or Harris?

    As explained above, yes. Of course, I’m not too worried about it, since Hedges is nothing more than an egotistical person whose had his poor wittle ego hurt by not being as famous as Hitchens and Harris, but still. Atheists have to deal with this crap all the time, and when someone comes on and defends this sort of sterotyping, it’s a bit aggravating to say that least. This is magnified when the person accuses others of doing the same thing and wishes to crucify (not literally) them for it, all the while not even bothering to read the source to find out if the criticisms are proper or not. This lack of intellectual honesty is also rather aggravating to be honest.

  • OMGF

    I’m not saying that we should NOT try to stop the source from which violence flows in Iraq…

    Actually, that’s exactly what you said in one sense. You think that you have no standing to criticize the tactic of suicide bombing, so how do you think you’ll stop the violence of suicide bombings? You’ve staked out an immoral position and you’ve also not bothered to answer any of the other criticisms of your position. Your position is morally bankrupt and intellectually bankrupt as well.

  • Peter

    OMFG, you can’t actually find any evidence in anything I said that I hate atheists, or that I condone suicide bombing. I haven’t said either, and I’ve said several times that suicide bombing is a horrendous crime.

    You need to look at what you say a lot more carefully, listen to yourself

    No, I don’t, but the problem is that after you remove those people, others will simply die in their places. And, it is because your immoral stance that we can’t speak out against the actions that will kill these people.

    I think the people that Kirk Johnson has helped may have a different appreciation of their lives. What are you actually advocating? That we just leave people to die in Iraq, because other people will die in their place? First of all that isn’t true, the people Johnson are helping are being targeted because they helped the U.S. . . . other people who didn’t help the U.S. are not killed, at least for that reason.

    You actually said that my “immoral stance” stops you, OMFG and other atheists, from speaking out against actions that will kill “these people.” This is so far removed from reason that I can’t respond.

    OMFG, I think you should ask someone else, that you trust, to read what I’ve written and see if they agree with you. Perhaps, someone else who posts on this blog.

  • OMGF

    Peter,

    OMFG, you can’t actually find any evidence in anything I said that I hate atheists, or that I condone suicide bombing.

    I already gave you evidence of what you said that makes me suspect that you hate – maybe that’s too strong a word – atheists. But, just like all the other problems that I’ve pointed out with your arguments, you don’t address anything, you simply plow forward as if I’ve said nothing.

    You actually said that my “immoral stance” stops you, OMFG and other atheists…

    I misspoke. What I should have said was that if we followed your immoral stance, then we would be helpless to speak out against the violence, due to taking your stance to its logical conclusion.

    Either way, I’m done with you. You’ve proven that you don’t care about intellectual honesty in that you’ve done nothing to counter the arguments against you, you’ve shifted the goal posts many times, you’ve come here under false pretenses (I suspect), and you’ve trashed a book that you haven’t even read, don’t understand the arguments contained in it, and turn a blind eye when your hero Hedges does the exact same thing; apparently you have no problem with stereotyping when it is aimed at atheists, which I’ve already commented on and you would know if you actually read/engaged what I wrote.

  • Peter

    OMFG said

    you don’t address anything, you simply plow forward as if I’ve said nothing.

    This was OMFG’s response to my comment (above)

    I think the people that Kirk Johnson has helped may have a different appreciation of their lives. What are you actually advocating? That we just leave people to die in Iraq, because other people will die in their place? First of all that isn’t true, the people Johnson are helping are being targeted because they helped the U.S. . . . other people who didn’t help the U.S. are not killed, at least for that reason.

    And my simple request to quote me saying say something that indicates I hate atheists, or condone suicide bombing, let alone suggest that it should be tolerated.

    Let me quote OMFG, again:

    . . . the problem is that after you remove those people, others will simply die in their places . . .

    What exactly are you saying? I’m sure you don’t mean that we should just leave “those people” to die. Think about what you are saying. What are you actually proposing that someone do?

    I think you mean that the violence will continue, even though we might be able to save some people. Yes, that’s absolutely true. But it is also not a reason not to try to do something to get asylum status for people who are under threat of death. Every human being possesses inherent worth, and every human life is equally valuable.

    I can’t respond to most of your “criticisms” because they are just insults, or sometimes they don’t make sense. Let’s review:

    You’ve proven that you don’t care about intellectual honesty in that you’ve done nothing to counter the arguments against you

    Ok, you’ve made the claim. But I fail to see anywhere that you’ve carefully elaborated on why this is true. As I mentioned you can’t find anything I’ve said that indicates I hate atheists, or even dislike “them” in general, nor have you found and quotes or text that indicates I condone suicide bombing. This isn’t all that surprising, since I don’t dislike atheists, I don’t personally think there is much of a group coherent enough to like or dislike—and as I have explicitly stated several time, suicide bombing civilians is a horrendous crime.

    You think that you have no standing to criticize the tactic of suicide bombing, so how do you think you’ll stop the violence of suicide bombings?

    One way, that I’ve suggested several times, is to remove the targets of suicide bombing, that is, help people who are trying to flee Iraq to find refuge. Another way would be to work to stop the occupation of Iraq. Besides being false, since I never said anything about “criticizing the tactic of suicide bombing”, there is no logical necessity that you criticize the tactic, in order to defuse a bomb or advocate for someone to get asylum in a safe country.

    As explained above, yes. Of course, I’m not too worried about it, since Hedges is nothing more than an egotistical person whose had his poor wittle ego hurt by not being as famous as Hitchens and Harris, but still.

    Let’s suppose he is exactly what you say. I didn’t respond to this because I don’t care. This claim about Hedges’ psychology is totally irrelevant to anything I’ve said, anyways. Please explain why it is relevant if I’m wrong.

    It comes from YOUR logic. We can’t say boo about suicide bombing, we can only hope to get a few select people out of harm’s way, according to you.

    Please find actual quotations from what I have written that suggest this. I don’t think I’m under any obligation to respond to things that you say about my position which are completely incorrect. When did I say “only hope to get a few select people”? I never said anything remotely like this. QUOTE ME SAYING SOMETHING LIKE THIS. We can hope for a lot more, given the political climate it might be foolish to expect to much, but it is certainly worth trying to do something practical. Again, I’m sure you are suggesting that if the world can’t be perfect then there is no point to trying to make things a little better for some people, where “some people” means whoever we can.

    How can I speak out against my government not allowing these Iraqis into the country by your logic? I’ve done things in my life that were less than moral, and by your logic, until I am beyond reproach, how can I criticize anyone else

    You can criticize people all you want. You can criticize the witch burnings and serial killers, & if this makes you feel good, then by all means, go ahead and do it. I feel that criticizing things over which I have no control is pretty much useless. And as a rule, one aims to criticize those things which you have some chance of effecting.

    I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you if we were on a pro-life website criticizing abortion clinic bombers. Harris and Hitchens criticize islam — which is excellent if you are a neo-conservative hawk in the administration, because the more we all hate islam and see it as “the greatest threat to the world” the more likely we will be able to go one causing the misery and destruction in islamic countries like Iraq. After all, doesn’t Harris, at some point say that in some cases people should be killed for what they believe. “Human beings possess fundamental rights and freedoms upon which no one may infringe. Among these are freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of association, the right to privacy, the right to an education, the right to live in peace and safety, and the right to seek happiness,” unless they have beliefs that I determine are . . . in which case they should be killed.

    Here’s what I said at one point:

    My “logic,” as you call it, is to try to talk about, examine, and fix what is wrong with myself and my community before I start criticizing others.

    There’s nothing confusing about this. I said that I haven’t done enough to stop violence that is carried out by my community. One thing I could try to do is to fix this by doing more. This is completely clear. Notice I’m quoting things I have actually written. You never picked out any holes in my logic. I didn’t respond to a lot of the things you said because they were nonsensical, or they were not based on my position.

    OMFG, I’ve tried to be straight with you; I’ve tried to joke with you; I’ve tried to respond in good faith to what you write, and I’ll I’ve got back are insults. You are rude and insulting. And in my humble and fallible opinion you often talk like a zealot, identifying *us* and *them* splitting the world between atheist and non-atheist, accusing me of hating you (and your group), doing all of this without any evidence or reason.

  • old atheist

    Wow, this is a couple years old.

    How does everyone feel about what they wrote?

    I am an atheist who really tends to agree with a lot of what Hedges writes.

    Here’s an audio interview. It’s great.

    http://static.salon.com/mp3s/2008/mar/conversations_hedges.mp3

    Enjoy.

  • Laura

    These very liberal “religious” people like Hedges, who don’t seem to actually have any supernatural beliefs – act like closet atheists. They bash atheism, and the real purpose may be to distance themselves from a despised identity, just like a repressed gay man trying to prove they aren’t that terrible thing, a homosexual. After all, the upbringing of a religious person would usually involved much indoctrination on how bad it is not to be religious.
    It’s too bad they can’t just call themselves atheists, because they would have a lot to contribute to atheist circles, coming from their religious tradition. They could change the things they dislike about atheism from the inside; challenge whatever hubris they see in atheists, etc.

  • http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/ SocraticGadfly

    I think Hedges, in part, conflated atheism and Kurzweil-type futurism. Blame a Michael Shermer for that.

    OTOH, if one looks at Sam Harris, rabid in his Islamophobia and “informed” by neocons (tho P.Z. Myers claims Harris’ isn’t conservative), one could argue that Harris is also influenced by Pop Evolutionary Psychology to some degree. Long before “The IMmoral Landscape,” I saw Harris as a baleful influence on the PR of atheism.

    Second, not all atheists are “Gnu Atheists.” Gnu Atheism does, speaking as a non-gnu who rarely uses the word atheist in part due to them, have quasi-religious aspects at times — not “beliefs,” but “praxis” and organization. Actually, Gnu-ism as a movement reminds me of AA.

    That said, even the most strident Gnus, like the quasi-Stalinist P.Z. Myers (what else can you say of a man who wants to form “cadres”) aren’t the straw man Hedges makes out.

    And, certainly, non-gnus aren’t.

    ===

    At the same time, Hedges’ beliefs are so mushy — even more, the real-world application of whatever he may believe religiously — that I don’t know why he calls himself religious.

  • http://forums.penny-arcade.com/ Jeep-Eep

    quasi-Stalinist P.Z. Myers

    StoppedReadingThere.gif

    Seriously, if you cannot tell the difference between him and an actual Stalinist, then you cannot be called anything but either ignorant or stupid.

  • Jormungundr

    “quasi-Stalinist P.Z. Myers”
    Huh? Could you elaborate on this a little? I’m pretty sure that Myers’ beliefs don’t match up with Stalinism at all. I’m pretty sure he has written about his support of pacifism, for instance. From what I know of him off the top of my head, this claim doesn’t make sense.

  • http://forums.penny-arcade.com/ Jeep-Eep

    #91-The highest possibility is that he is some form of Libertarian. As anyone who actually deals with the creatures outside of their more rarefied haunts can tell you, they are generally wont to describe most things that they do not like as being some form of Socialism or Communism (Taxes, welfare, age of consent laws, taking out the garbage to name a few common choices).


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