New Atheism has nothing to be sorry for

New Atheism has nothing to be sorry for February 21, 2015
Photo: Steve Jurvetson
Photo: Steve Jurvetson

There seems to be a new breed of atheism going around that feels honey is their best tool for catching fools. Atheist apologists aren’t of themselves a novel thing, but there can be detected within the community a violent backpedaling from the New Atheism that was made so popular by rightfully-vitriolic writers like Hitchens and Harris. The evidence of this mentality can be seen in the words and support of people like Glenn Greenwald and Reza Aslan.

But these people and others have gone one step further: in a wild effort not to offend anyone, and to distance themselves with what they see as the “atheist ISIS” of New Atheism, they have been repeatedly and toothlessly referring to anti-theism as a violent movement, one of vindictive objectives that infringes on the civil liberties of others.

CJ Werlemen even went so far as to say that Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have the blood of Chapel Hill on their hands. Reza Aslan (whenever he’s not trying to convince the world that he doesn’t care about Sam HarrisYOU HAVE TO BELIEVE HIM!) made similar posts about Chapel Hill on Twitter trying to pin inherent motives of violence and discrimination in the New Atheist “ideology”. I’ve already written why these claims are ridiculous and that an act of atheist terrorism is more likely going to result in books than bullets.

But more troubling to me is the feeling that atheists (particularly those who follow the opinions of those mentioned above) feel that New Atheism has something to apologize for, or that the general idea of its evolution is no longer valid.

The sad truth still remains that religion demands an infuriated response–the Woodstock mentality of giving peace a chance ended when the Islamic State beheaded James Foley, Stephen Sotloff, Peter Kassig, and numerous others–not to mention the myriad heads of Syrian soldiers mounted on poles in Raqqa; it ended when the Taliban threw acid in the faces of innocent women and disfigured Bibi Aisha; it ended when cartoonists were shot in Paris, and when Danish Embassies in 2006 were razed to the ground; it ended when Anders Breivik gunned down people in Oslo and when abortion clinics were bombed. People like myself have dedicated entire sections of their lives and written work in vainly attempting to paint a complete picture of the evil for which religion is responsible: the result has been a litany of terrors so heinous that they nearly defy description.

Criticism for these events does not require apology. To denounce these actions and the faiths that inspire them in writing is not some kind of violent, politically incensed, jingoistic frenzy. Anti-theism–the belief that religion is a negative force in this world–is really what atheist apologists and moderates want to represent but lack the courage to embody: humanism.

Anti-theism is the outspoken belief that the ideas that make the bombing of the Bamiyan Buddhas and the flying of planes into skyscrapers possible are worth fighting. As of yet, the form of that fighting has been in the terribly radical presentation of publishing new books and giving new lectures. Those of us that support the liberation of oppressed peoples under the thumb of a cruel faith and tyranny do not immediately ally ourselves with the lies of either the Bush administration or the private sectors that profit off such liberation–so talk of anti-theist neoconservativism is equally puerile. Anti-theists can be vocal, loud, vitriolic–absolutely: but when did the criticism of the above events stop becoming worth being vitriolic about? 

Atheists on the less critical spectrum want to be passive (or even oblivious) in regards to the negative impact of religion: to live and let live. By all means, let them do it. But anti-theists pulling their heads from the sand to speak candidly about the dangers of faith does not make us progenitors of violence. The real accusation to be made is to our atheist brothers and sisters who so placidly define themselves: where is your outrage? Where is your indignation? Perhaps not offending others–especially those whose sacred tenets are themselves the height of offensive–is simply in vogue.

No, New Atheism has nothing to be sorry for. We respect the rights of those who don’t want to be in this argument to refrain. But we will not stop loudly scrutinizing ideas of murder, rape, discrimination, sexism, racism, bigotry, genocide, tyranny, and terrorism simply because they embody faiths whose faithful refuse to recognize the connection.  If this is an offensive position, then I am, in the words of Henry V, “the most offending soul alive.”


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