Reza Aslan and the (non)toxicity of New Atheism

Reza Aslan and the (non)toxicity of New Atheism March 24, 2015

Photo: Roanoke College / WikiMedia
Photo: Roanoke College / WikiMedia

My friend Dan Arel recently got into a little spat with CJ Werleman and author Reza Aslan over anti-theism, or New Atheism. It is interesting to watch people fall victim to name-calling, belittling, and intellectual dishonesty (some of which can be seen in the thread here) rather than having an honest discussion.

Arel has been involved in dispelling a lot of the myths thrown at New Atheists, or anti-theists (which seem to be synonymous with one another), by demonstrating the need to call out Islam and the beliefs of Muslims (not Muslims as a people or individuals). Instead of legitimate criticisms, he, and others advocating for similar positions, are unjustly called bigots and “toxic“.

Aslan has been, very recently posting and referencing an article stating that anti-theists, or more specifically, the anti-theist section of Reddit as “the third most toxic” site. What Aslan and people in similar mindsets do not want you to see is the section that states, very matter of factly, that 85% of those surveyed are “more or less your ‘average Joe’ when it came to being ‘angry, argumentative, and dogmatic’, they fall in line with current societal norms…sorry non-believers, you’re pretty normal when it comes to being psychologically well adjusted.”

Also, when it comes to the small minority (one in seven) that are anti-theist, the author of the study says they have good reason to be upset or argumentative.

For example, many of the Antitheist typology had responded as recently deconverted from religious belief or socially displeased with the status quo, especially in high social tension-based geographies such as the Southeastern United States…it may be easy to see how this small sub segment is, and perhaps deserves to be, angry and argumentative after having previously accepted a worldview at odds with their current beliefs, or lack there-of, especially in areas of the country where high social tension exists between believers and non-believers in general.

What is even more questionable about Aslan’s, and others, decision to quote such a study is that it does not take into account the fact that it was a rather small study outside of the context of being within a religious environment. As the author writes,

It is very important to recognize that these comparisons are being made only within “non-belief”. In other words, these results are not juxtaposed alongside “believers” or any subset of population that identifies as “religious” and therefore no conclusions or empirical inferences can be currently draw as to how the two groups, or rather sub segments of the two groups might stack up against each other. Certainly additional research should explore these typologies in relation to believers to see if such conclusions can hold true for outside perceptions.

So, Aslan and others, before we start jumping down the throats of the anti-theist, or New Atheist, why not take a step back and say more research needs to be done?


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