Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Atheists and Islamophobia

Religion needs the challenge of atheism. At least if we're going to have a democratic, pluralistic society where religious institutions continue to play a meaningful part.

Some atheists, I'm guessing most of those who think of themselves as atheists, have either rejected religion for some more-or-less rationalist, philosophically materialist worldview. Or they just feel no particular emotional attachment to religion. Sigmund Freud comes to mind as someone who consciously took a materialist worldview and was highly critical of religion but also took it seriously and treated it with more respect than many religious people do.

But some atheists are also creeps. And some of them are conservative creeps. That's the point that Frederick Clarkson makes in We Have A Better Story To Tell Talk to Action 03/31/2013, in which he discusses an article by Nathan Lean:

Lean's article for me, underscores the problem of a false narrative that continues to pervade our national discourse: The notion that being non-religious or secular is inherently progressive. This narrative continues in large part because the religious and political Right has been so heavily invested in it.

The narrative has been so powerful and pervasive that it can be hard to remember that the Left is not now, nor has it ever been entirely non-religious and the Right has certainly never been entirely religious. Never. There has always been a Religious Left, although like any other sector it has had its ups and downs. And there have always been non-religious conservatives. Always.
The Nathan Lean article to which he refers is Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens: New Atheists flirt with Islamophobia Salon 03/30/2013. Conservative polemical claims about the religion of Islam offer an obvious temptation to American atheists. They allow them to make arguments against Islam that resonate with many Americans and extend the criticisms of Islam to religion in general.

After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Lean writes, "The New Atheists had found their calling. The occasion was, for them, a vindication — proof that modernity, progress and reason were the winners in the post–Cold War era and that religion was simply man's play toy, used to excuse the wicked and assuage fears of a fiery, heavenless afterlife as the punishment for such profane deeds."

For [Sam] Harris, the ankle-biter version of the Rottweiler [Richard] Dawkins, suicide bombers and terrorists are not aberrations. They are the norm. They have not distorted their faith by interpreting it wrongly. They have lived out their faith by understanding it rightly. "The idea that Islam is a ‘peaceful religion hijacked by extremists’ is a fantasy, and is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge," he writes in "Letter to a Christian Nation."

That may sound like the psychobabble of Pamela Geller. But Harris’s crude departure from scholarly decorum is at least peppered with references to the Quran, a book he cites time and again, before suggesting it be "flushed down the toilet without fear of violent reprisal."

Dawkins, in a recent rant on Twitter, admitted that he had not ever read the Quran, but was sufficiently expert in the topic to denounce Islam as the main culprit of all the world’s evil: "Haven't read Koran so couldn't quote chapter and verse like I can for Bible. But [I] often say Islam [is the] greatest force for evil today." How's that for a scientific dose of proof that God does not exist?
This is an ecumenical ground on which the village atheist can ally with the backwoods bigot. Or, as Lean puts it:

Where exactly Dawkins gets his information about Islam is unclear (perhaps Fox News?). What is clear, though, is that his unique brand of secular fundamentalism cozies up next to that screeched out by bloggers on the pages of some of the Web’s most vicious anti-Muslim hate sites. In a recent comment he posted on his own Web site, Dawkins references a site called Islam Watch, placing him in eerily close proximity to the likes of one of the page’s founders, Ali Sina, an activist who describes himself as "probably the biggest anti-Islam person alive." Sina is a board member for the hate group, Stop the Islamization of Nations, which was founded by anti-Muslim activists Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer and which has designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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