The so-called alt-right white nationalists have seemingly infected every fabric of American culture, no thanks in part to the media insistence on normalizing such a movement. Unfortunately, the atheist community, one that readily prides itself on rational thought, has not been immune to such infection, and many of the loudest voices have fought to not only normalize but also help amplify the voices of white nationalism.
Host of the online talk-show The Rubin Report, Dave Rubin, an outspoken atheist, invites the likes of former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro, or Breitbart’s controversial Milo Yiannopoulos to speak for hours without offering counter arguments or forcing them to defend their white nationalist and xenophobic ideologies. Instead, Rubin looks for points of agreement and forms bonds. The alt-right, in turn, enjoys Rubin’s large audience to spread their message of hate. Rubin has stated his choice of guests help him push his own agenda, so if one is confused as to why he brings on such voices, it’s because Rubin himself is pushing this same agenda.
Rubin claims to be a champion of the free exchange of ideas, but you’d be hard pressed to find a guest he disagrees with. He goes as far as to blame the left for the election of Donald Trump, accusing the politically correct culture of rallying the right around Trump’s message.
What Rubin ignores is the fact that he gave a megaphone to many of Trump’s loudest supporters, giving rise and credibility to their ideas, empowering the white nationalist movement and bringing them to new audiences. It’s not the left that helped elect Trump, it was racism, sexism, anti-Muslim bigotry, and those who helped raise those voices above the rest.
Recently, University of Colorado students began gathering signatures to urge the university to cancel an appearance by Yiannopoulos in the wake of his harassment of a transgender student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Professor-emeritus and author of Faith vs. Fact, Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago attacked this petition and accused the left of suppressing Yiannopoulos’ free speech rights. Of course, Yiannopoulos has a right to his hate speech, but he does not have a right to a university stage, and the school has a responsibility to protect its students. Had the government shown up and arrested Yiannopoulos for such speech, Coyne would have a case. Instead, Coyne and others on his side are only giving rise to voices like Yiannopoulos’ and doing nothing to defend the people being harassed.
Coyne was satisfied with Yiannopoulos merely agreeing to not mock students again and not actually paying a price for his actions. Yet those students who feared the damage Yiannopoulos to other students was brushed off by Coyne as regressive and anti-free speech. This view is hypocritical.
These community appointed leaders argue for a further centrist, or a right-of-center libertarian model of government, one they cling to as “classic liberalism.” They break from the right only by supporting women’s rights, same-sex marriage, and a wall between the separation of church and state, yet the join the right in fighting against feminism, progressive social justice, and go as far as to mock gender-studies. Instead of embracing the political left and the strides it has made in those areas of social justice, Rubin, Coyne, and the like, lambaste the left as extremists, while aligning closely with white nationalism.
They give voice to the worst humanity has to offer and work to silence and shame those who stand up against such bigotry. This is because they accuse the entire left of being “regressive.” The regressive left, a term coined by Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, is meant to describe liberals that refuse to hold the Islamic religion accountable for any part in Islamic terrorism.
A reasonable argument can be made that both are wrong and both political policy and religious ideology play a role in breeding the kind of killers we see in groups such as ISIS, however, this brand of classicist-atheism is not interested in that discussion. This point of agreement is where classic liberal atheists and alt-right collide. Nationalism doesn’t allow them to question their own countries role in fueling extremism, only serving to make the problem worse.
In this radical view, all leftist ideals are now regressive, rendering the original meaning of the term useless. It is now a pejorative, much of the way this same group uses SJW to dismiss the concerns of social justice advocates.
They cling to anti-feminist propaganda dismissing gender studies inside universities, ignoring the gender wage gap, rape culture, and patriarchy. If not for the few social equality causes they stood for, their ideology would be totally indistinguishable from the right, a line they continue to blur.
They mock those who would benefit from warnings about sensitive content in their classes. As if a soldier suffering from PTSD should not have fair warning that a combat video could be shown in class, or a rape victim should not be aware that an upcoming class could discuss sexual assault in great detail.
They strawman the very idea of “safe spaces” claiming its leftist liberals begging to be coddled in school, refusing or caring not to listen that these are nothing but the same “spaces” we see in Alcoholics Anonymous, or even at private atheist meetings or gatherings.
Instead of listening to these reasonable demands, they attack and mock them. They welcome white nationalist speakers on campus and complain if students try and stop it, telling them to protest instead, and in turn, complain when they turn out in protest, accusing them of trying to live in a bubble and being an enemy of the free exchange of ideas.
When Yiannopoulos recently signed a $250,000 book deal with Simon & Schuster, many on the left, including celebrities such as comedian Sarah Silverman and director Judd Apatow called for the publisher to abandon the book deal. In response to this, atheist Michael Shermer called the duo “Milo haters,” and asked when they would be holding a “book burning.” All calls for boycotts became “regressive” leftist extremism and Yiannopoulos’ racism, bigotry, and hate was again defended the loudest by classic liberalists.
The classicists defend “free speech” at every turn unless it’s speech they disagree with. Yiannopoulos, in their view, must be given this book deal, a university platform, and be left to spread his hate without consequence. However, the second you speak up, using your own free speech, you’re attacked and silenced as the enemy.
This new hypocritical brand of atheism is void of critical thinking. It is void of compassion. It is completely void of any sense of humanism. It holds nothing but unquestioned contempt for the left while marching goose-step with the right, turning a blind eye to the bigotry they claim to disavow.
It would rather align itself with those Hillary Clinton referred to as “deplorables” simply because they share an equal hatred of Islam, and feminism, rather than align themselves with the left, which has been responsible for the decades of forward progress in the US.
The word atheism alone can be a powerful tool and a form of political activism. It is a message that rejects the social norm of mandatory religious belief that many on the Christian Right see for this nation. It is the antithesis of religious moral superiority. It’s the necessary balance to uphold secularism and stand for all religious freedom against the Christian majority.
All who lack a belief in god should use the word and normalize it out of existence. To borrow from atheist Sam Harris, another self-proclaimed classical liberal, we don’t have a word for those who do not believe in unicorns, so why one for those who don’t believe in gods?
The atheist community has a chance of being a movement, one that can wield great power in the reaffirmation of America as a secular nation, however, it got into bed with the wrong crowd and moved into the far-right landscape because of a failure to evaluate Islam at the same critical level they do all other religion. This is a sin both the left and right share, however, the classicist-atheists made the decision to defend right-wing, social Darwinist politics, and we have already seen where that leads us.
If atheism is to continue forward progress in the US, it must be a voice of reason, not a megaphone for racist white nationalism.