My recent exchanges with Jerry Coyne and one of his followers eerily reminded me of previous exchanges I have had with a few biblical scholars: Larry Hurtado, Chris Keith, James McGrath, and others, as well as follows of Acharya S / D.M. Murdock.
Then last night I happened to read the following:
The American Family Foundation says the following attributes are characteristic of a cult:
- The group members display an excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment to an individual.
- The group members are preoccupied with bringing in new members. Members are expected to devote inordinate amount of time to the group.
- Members are preoccupied with making money.
- Members’ subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family and friends, and to give personal goals and activities that were of interest to the group.
- Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
Most of these attributes, as we will see, are characteristic of the cult of New Atheism.
[There are other lists of characteristics. Understandable since “cult” covers a wide range of groups in the common usage of the term. I wonder if some of the less overtly authoritarian types are better described as “tribalism” — but we know what we don’t like when we see it, however we define it, I guess. The above characteristics are closer to what I meant by describing D.M. Murdock /Acharya S’s astrotheology advocates as “cultish”.]
Brown lists a collection of comments that were collected by one of Dawkins’ followers at a book signing. Dawkins tweeted to his followers the list:
“You’ve changed the very way I understand reality. Thank you Professor.”
“You’ve changed my life and my entire world. I cannot thank you enough.” “I owe you life. I am so grateful. Your books have helped me so much. Thank you.”
“I am unbelievably grateful for all you’ve done for me. You helped me out of delusion.”
“Thank you thank you thank you thank you Professor Dawkins. You saved my life.”
“With this kind of incense blown at him, it’s no wonder he is bewildered by criticism,” writes Brown. Like any religious text, Dawkins’ book The God Delusion contains contradictions that are ignored by his followers:
In The God Delusion itself he moves within 15 pages from condemning a pope who had baptized children taken away from Jewish parents to commending Nick Humphrey’s suggestion that the children of creationists be taken away because teaching your children religion is comparable to child abuse. So believers can always find a scripture where he agrees with them, which naturally cancels out the one where he doesn’t.
[Isn’t that what we’ve seen in some of the recent exchanges here over what Coyne and Harris are supposed to have said.]
Whether he means that religious believers are despicable ‘stumbling, droning inarticulate, yammering fumblewits’ who are ‘likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt’ (that’s from a 2009 blog post) or ‘I don’t despise religious people. I despise what they stand for’ (from a 2012 speech) can lead to arguments as interminable as those over the peaceful or otherwise character of the Prophet Mohammed.
Werleman, CJ (2015-09-07). The New Atheist Threat: The Dangerous Rise of Secular Extremists (Kindle Locations 548-572). Dangerous Little Books. Kindle Edition.
I continued my reading this morning and came across this (I’ve added the links and bolding):
A 2014 survey conducted by the University of Tennessee found that New Atheists (anti-theists) scored highest out of any other non-believer when measured in terms of anger and dogmatism. In another survey, Gawker revealed how anti-theists rated as “the third most toxic group on Reddit,” the online blog aggregator. “Toxicity” was measured on the following basis:
What is Toxicity? Before we could do any analysis around which subreddits were the most Toxic, we needed to define what we would be measuring. At a high level, Toxic comments are ones that would make someone who disagrees with the viewpoint of the commenter feel uncomfortable and less likely to want to participate in that Reddit community. To be more specific, we defined a comment as Toxic if it met either of the following criteria:
- Ad hominem attack: a comment that directly attacks another Redditor (e.g. or otherwise shows contempt/disagrees in a completely non-constructive manner).
- Overt bigotry: the use of bigoted (racist / sexist / homophobic etc.) language, whether targeting any particular individual or more generally, which would make members of the referenced group feel highly uncomfortable.
The echo chamber is not only toxic; it is also devoid of subject matter expertise. Actual foreign policy experts, scholars of Islamic studies, long time residents, journalists and war correspondents of the Middle East, or any data point or individual that clashes with the idea that “Islam is one of the world’s great evils” are routinely ignored and silenced. In fact, there is almost no intellectual support of celebrity New Atheists outside of the echo chamber. Many of the West’s leading thinkers, from Finkelstein to Chomsky, from Gray to Hedges, have publicly denounced New Atheism as “idiotic,” “imbecilic,” and “racist.” Max Blumenthal told me, “I think they’re become more isolated now. They’ve been sufficiently exposed.” Hedges said, “I started Harris’ book when it was published but put it aside. His facile attack on a form of religious belief we all hate, his childish simplicity and ignorance of world affairs, as well as his demonization of Muslims, made the book [End of Faith] tedious at best, and often idiotic and racist. His assertion, for example, that the war in the former Yugoslavia was caused by religion was ridiculous.”
Werleman, CJ (2015-09-07). The New Atheist Threat: The Dangerous Rise of Secular Extremists (Kindle Locations 584-602). Dangerous Little Books. Kindle Edition.
Now why does the definition of toxicity remind me of my other current postings on the response of a mainstream biblical scholar towards “mythicists”? Maybe it’s because I’ve had more exchanges with biblical scholars but I do think there are, amidst the many toxic ones, those who are professional (meaning civil and respectful) in their exchanges with those raising radical viewpoints. So I can never say that all biblical scholars are toxic or tribal or cultish.
What atheism means to me
To be an atheist has the same meaning for me as it does for the author of The New Atheist Threat, C.J. Werleman:
Atheism is a non-positive assertion. Wholly and solely atheism means non-religious belief. It’s not anti-anything or anyone.
Werleman, CJ (2015-09-07). The New Atheist Threat: The Dangerous Rise of Secular Extremists (Kindle Locations 42-43). Dangerous Little Books. Kindle Edition.
Whenever I use the label “New Atheism,” I’m invariably asked, “What is that and what is old atheism?” So allow me to clarify.
New Atheism is evangelical atheism. Nay, it’s not even atheism. Wikipedia defines New Atheism as a “social and political movement” that advocates the view religion should not simply be tolerated, but should be confronted and criticized. The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy says it’s specifically the anti-religious views ascribed by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. So, are any of these Internet based definitions doing anything for you? Me neither.
Werleman, CJ (2015-09-07). The New Atheist Threat: The Dangerous Rise of Secular Extremists (Kindle Locations 96-101). Dangerous Little Books. Kindle Edition.
It’s important to discern between atheism and New Atheism, because atheism, on its own, is a non-positive assertion. My atheism, for instance, means I believe there are no gods. Atheism is indifferent to whether or not gods and religion are bad or good. Once an atheist steps outside of that prism, however, and embraces the aforementioned definitions of New Atheism, then one ceases to be a mere atheist. One is then an anti-theist.
The emergence of Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris as household names has allowed atheism to be entirely hijacked by anti-theists. The media refers to the aforementioned as both atheists and voices of liberal reason. They are neither. They are anti-theists who are as equally hostile to any piece of new information that contradicts their worldview as the religious fundamentalists they scorn. Amusingly, Dan Harmon, the creator of television’s ‘Community,’ chided New Atheists in a tweet, “You’re confusing atheism (I have no god) with antagonism (you have no god).” Stand up comic and television star Patton Oswalt said in a 2015 interview, “It’s ok to be an atheist, but it’s not ok to be a jerk.” He told Salon’s David Daley, “I feel, as an atheist, about people like Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher the way that Christians must feel about Fred Phelps. Look, being an atheist means you don’t give a fuck about what anyone believes in. I don’t think any of it’s real, but you can go ahead and do it. I’m not trying to destroy religion. I just don’t care about it.”
Werleman, CJ (2015-09-07). The New Atheist Threat: The Dangerous Rise of Secular Extremists (Kindle Locations 114-125). Dangerous Little Books. Kindle Edition.
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143 thoughts on “Atheism, Cults and Toxicity”
>> Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
That’s the way I see New Atheist blogs – or at least three that I have been to – if you start rebutting parts of their article, they simply will not allow your posts through. So what we’re left with is a bunch of people singing from the same hymn sheet, all agreeing with one another, it is almost as if they are getting comfort from the fact that if x number of people all praise the article, and no one criticises it, then it must br true, which is exactly what happens in cults I believe when they do not socialise with the outside world.
It reminds me of my experiences on the white supremacist site, Stormfront. The site maintains an “opposing viewpoint” forum but anyone with an opposing view who posts there will eventually get banned as a “troll.” It actually serves as a group hate forum to gang up and belittle anyone who ventures in challenging the alternate reality they have created. I lasted a week or so, but descriptions of this reddit site sound eerily similar.
Oh, I know exactly what you are on about. I ended up there by chance earlier this year, and had the same experience – only certain opposing views are allowed, but opposing views that directly challenge their propaganda and rebut it using logic and reasoning, nope.
I find none of these cult characteristic points to be in any way applicable to the New Atheist movement.
If your beliefs are true, you should want them to be contagious. The idea that you shouldn’t care what other people think is laughable. Every belief should be critically examined.
Certainty is not dogmatism. The non-existence of gods is pretty much as certain as anything else in the world.
“Actual foreign policy experts, scholars of Islamic studies, long time residents, journalists and war correspondents of the Middle East, or any data point or individual that clashes with the idea that “Islam is one of the world’s great evils” are routinely ignored and silenced.”
-No, they’re criticized. Different thing entirely.
“Many of the West’s leading thinkers, from Finkelstein to Chomsky, from Gray to Hedges, have publicly denounced New Atheism as “idiotic,” “imbecilic,” and “racist.””
-No toxicity, ad hominems or overt bigotry here, no sirreee. And Gray and Hedges are some of “the West’s leading thinkers”? I need do nothing but point and laugh.
“In The God Delusion itself he moves within 15 pages from condemning a pope who had baptized children taken away from Jewish parents to commending Nick Humphrey’s suggestion that the children of creationists be taken away because teaching your children religion is comparable to child abuse.”
A Christian fundamentalist recently said the same thing to me.
I have no desire to try to talk my octogenarian mother out of her faith and to become an atheist instead and I am pleased she does not try to change my views. I do not appreciate religious peddlers coming to my door to try to change my beliefs and I don’t try to change theirs. I would be wasting my time and not respecting them any more than they are respecting me.
We are all where we are at as a result of our own unique experiences and genetic makeup. I have no right to try to change someone else’s viewpoint — unless I can see that it is indeed seriously harmful and that any blowback from my efforts would not result in a worse situation.
That doesn’t mean I don’t try to argue for certain beliefs. Obviously I do, but in a venue where people are free to engage as they wish.
It makes no differnce that a christian fundamantalist said the same thing to you. What’s your
argument? Are truths to be defended and falsehood kindly pointed out, or maybe its just ok to teach just a little bit of ID in place of science. Maybe its ok for a few priests to bugger a few hundred boys without justice.
Two things apply. Lies are taught as if they are true and evil is practiced in the place of reasonable ethics.
At least Hitch and Dawkins have sounded a warning and not engaged in armchair theological nitpicking.
Do they make theological and sociological errors? They sure do. So what is the best solution – stoning or crucifixion?
That’s not what I said.
I was talking about atheism. I don’t care a whit if someone believes in a god or many gods. That’s how the world is. We are all where we are at, etc etc, as I said.
If someone is a fundamentalist or a Catholic or a Muslim etc then I’m not going to try to change their thinking. Do you really try to argue with everyone about their beliefs? Only jerks do that.
At the same time I am very dedicated to social justice causes. I will be among the first to protest if public schools make religious instructions compulsory.
Defending a truth is not the same as trying to change other people’s views. There’s a big difference.
Your reference to child abuse is irrelevant for several reasons. Stop and think and/or re-read what I said. No-one’s religion teaches them to “believe” they should abuse children. That’s not a belief. That’s a behaviour that needs to be prevented and/or punished.
The problem is when people like Dawkins and Harris say things that contradict all current research into human behaviour and political and religious facts well established by the research. When they use their popular status to speak ignorantly of things outside their field they only fan public ignorance and bigotry. I happen to think that that’s dangerous. So I and others express our views and try to point out where they are wrong and why.
I have done so civilly and with attempts to point to the actual research data to Coyne. His response has been hostile.
I cannot change his views but I can try to share information I think is important as widely as I can.
Coyne is an anti-theist. I’m not going to change his views on that. I think he misunderstands (is ignorant of) the nature of religion and human behaviour — and certainly he is ignorant of the role of religion in the Middle East according to research — so I will try to point out what I believe are the research findings that contradict his or Harris’s or Dawkins’ etc publicly expressed views.
It’s called public debate and is a substitute for stoning or crucifixion. What I’m hoping to do is to raise a slightly more widespread awareness of the research/facts — especially among undecided or wavering bystanders.
But no, I’m not going to go around trying to convince people to give up religion and become an atheist. That would be a complete waste of time and do more harm to others and myself than any good.
Maybe we need a series of essays about the difference between dogma and belief.
-He was right.
-I understand. High cost; low benefit.
The bizarre – and costly – cult of Richard Dawkins.
Hedges is one of the strongest critics of the New Atheists. Read I Don’t Believe in Atheists. His views on the Middle East and Islam are not “engaged with” by Dawkins, Harris and co as far as I am aware. (I don’t know off-hand who your Gray is.)
After citing a section of a debate with Harris on the Middle East and what propels Islamic extremists and all fundamentalists, Hedges comments:
You ask for a quotations when a 15 page movement is cited:
You haven’t read the book? I recall the passages clearly. I thought everyone had a copy. Chapter 9, the one about child abuse, starting from page 311 in my edition.
Do you believe in atheists, Neil? And it’s not “your Gray”, it’s CJ’s Gray.
-That’s not true. I’ve always found Harris to be a very careful thinker. All the points in this quotation are totally baseless. Harris is too prone to dialogue with his fleas.
I started the book, but I never finished. It seemed too boring for me as an atheist who understands God’s a delusion to read a book on God being a delusion.
But if you haven’t read the works of the New Atheists then I’m not sure you know what we’re talking about.
Merely asserting is not advancing your case. I can point to recent posts referencing Dan Jones’ analysis of Harris’s fatuous nonsense about religion and human behaviour for starters. I offered my own take when I first reviewed End of Faith. Have you not read Harris’s book, either? Can you really say he demonstrates any awareness of the anthropological or sociological or psychological research into religion and human behaviour? Can you really say he is a careful thinker if he ignores all of this research and says stupid things that completely contradict it all?
Do you know what we are talking about or are you just disagreeing because you don’t know anything about any of this discussion so we’re all wrong for claiming to have read what we’ve read — but that you’ve found too boring to read?
I read Coyne’s and Harris’s blogs for years; I’ve never read their books. I’ve found little objectionable in their blogposts. I have always found Coyne’s reasoning to be typically clear as day, and Harris’s reasoning to be varied in quality, but usually pretty good. I just don’t see much to complain about in these people’s writings.
As for your emails to Coyne, I understand why Coyne took offense to them: you begun with accusations first, and then turned to your evidence. I have some advice for you: start with your best evidence first. Letting accusations of “willful ignorance”, being “not informed” and “visceral responses” come before any specific examples of such behavior is simply asking to be treated as confrontational and domineering. This sounds annoying as heck, like a mosquito buzzing around your ear for several minutes. If you started with
1. Starting out by pointing to Coyne’s specific problematic conclusions, and what specific evidence contradicts these conclusions.
2. Describing some of the research in this area that you know of, its basis in evidence, and the specific ways this evidence supports and contradicts Coyne’s conclusions.
I don’t think you would have gotten the same reaction, and would probably have gotten on a much better start. The perception of a reply as a character assassination is often a great impediment to understanding. This is why you should avoid cultivating that perception by pushing claims about people first or by being overly vague about the nature of the evidence you’re referring to. There are ways to sound convincing, and there are ways to sound annoying. Scott Alexander (a great blogger) uses the former of these very well.
Thank you for your well-intentioned and richly contextualised advice, E. Harding. Perhaps you would like to forward your analysis to Jerry Coyne and show him why he completely misunderstood his own reasons for taking such deep offence such that not even the subsequent exchanges were able to mollify him.
New Atheists respond to their critics all the time. There is no ground to what you are saying.
If Jerry Coyne is an example of a New Atheist we have recently seen him demonstrate his refusal to respond to critical ideas apart from ad hominem attacks, blatant misrepresentation and censorship. Yes, Jerry Coyne does indeed respond to his critics — toxically.
We are not talking about “responding to critics” as much as we are about engaging seriously with ideas and research that dispute their own beliefs.
Don’t insult the host or anyone else on the site, and you won’t get banned.
The normal method of preparation for offering sound advice is to inform oneself of the issues before pontificating. Perhaps if you bothered to read some background (or even ask first) and not dive in with your gratuitous presumptions you would know that I am not the only person who has been banned from Coyne’s site and it has nothing whatever to do with civility. You can read my emails to Jerry and judge for yourself how “insulting” I have been. See http://vridar.org/2015/08/12/on-how-to-be-completely-wrong-about-radicalisation-the-curious-case-of-jerry-coyne/#comment-72453
You can yourself ask Jerry for confirmation that those emails are exactly what I sent to him and all that I sent to him.
I did ask Jerry Coyne for permission to post his replies — which were indeed grossly insulting — but he declined my request. You may ask Jerry yourself how he replied.
The problem is Jerry is so egotistical that he takes disagreement on his blog to be rude.
This… sorta reminds me of some strains of mainstream feminism. Psychiatrist Scott Alexander sometimes writes about it.
(Sorry for the multiple replies; typing on my mobile phone led to a premature submit…)
I think that the fact that this sort of behavior happens with the “good guys” (feminists/atheists) and also the “bad guys” (Christian fundamentalists) probably speaks to some sort of universality in our cognitive architecture; especially if your ingroup is premised of some sort of persecution narrative.
As I wrote on Jerry Coyne’s blog, the new atheist movement left we wanting because it ignores the science of belief. I think if that was the focus instead of just not treating religion with kid gloves, it might minimize this sort of behavior.
That’s the problem, though. It is the science of belief that Coyne and co won’t engage with. They approach the entire topic as if populated by “lefty liberal apologists for Islamic extremism” etc.
Psychologists usually avoid the label cult because of it’s derogatory connotation and rather describe what would commonly be called a cult as a “high control group” or the affect of being associated with a high control group (“thought reform”). There are different criterias for identifying a HCG, the simplest is is the BITE model of Steven Hassan. It considers the group in terms of what type of control it asserts over its members:
> Grooming, marriages, living conditions. What you are allowed to say. Work or proselytizing which is monitored; contact to family or friends. Shunning. The group have rules and a power hierarchy in place to handle these issues.
> Group members not allowed (i.e. strongly discouraged and members who violate the rule pay social or cosmic consequences) not to read outside information. Group members possible live on a compound. Outside information is considered satanic, demonic, bad or evil, especially information which may be critical of the group.
> Members are instructed on how to think about certain issues. “We must hate what is wicked”. The most pronounced effect in my experience is the use of cliches in conversation and in-group presentations and literature. Members are trained to shut down potentially critical information using thought-stoppers such as chanting or particular phrases.
> This is practiced in different ways. Firstly, there is usually a clear “us vs. them” mentality and “them” (the rest of the world) is considered bad. This is instilled in using sacred language with special phrases for “us” and “them”. Secondly, group members are often given the idea their thoughts and emotions are not private. They are usually encouraged to tell on other group members to group authorities. Thirdly, bad behavior is monitored by God(s), demons, aliens etc. and transgression against the groups norms (even very minor) is given a cosmic significance. Fourthly, group members are often given vivid mental imagery of certain horrible punishment and learn this punishment awaits if not for the group (former group members will often report phobia and anxiety over insignificant things like attending a foreign church). Group members often engage in magical thinking where minor things are thought to be signs and mystical manipulation where cosmic powers or forces are thought to interfere in members lives. For instance the group will often be full of horror stories about how so-and-so know someone who left the group and ended up as a prostitute because she was no longer under the groups protection.
Nearly all these criteria apply *to a low degree* to groups which we would not call cults or HCGs, for instance the military. Most anti– anti-cult information (The monies and Scientologists have produced quite a lot of this) involves applying these criteria to all sorts of groups. This is missing the key requirement the HCG must have a power network in place to assert influence on the members lives. It is for instance impossible to practice (enforce) shunning, grooming requirements, confessions and tell-tale behavior without authorities who are present in the members lives. In my experience, the best litmus test is to ask if there are thought to be legitimate reasons to leave the group.
New atheists cannot be called a cult under any reasonable definition. What influence does Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennet assert in the life of a member? Do new atheists think they end up as junkies if they do not post on the forums? Does Sam Harris dictate new atheists sex practices or maintain a list of books which are supposed to be read and those which are supposed not to be read? Can a new atheist be reported to Richard Dawkins for impure thoughts or actions?
I think you rightly point out toxic internet culture found in new atheism, as well as certain double standards with respect to how criticism is supposed to be handled when it is dished out vs. when others are voicing it and the use of hyperbole and inflating the significance of fairly minor issues (such as calling a person deluded, crazy or insane over disagreements). However isn’t that pretty much what Werleman is doing by a book with a scary cover of a hand and a title that deliberately compares so-called new atheists to religious extremism (beheadings, gays being thrown off buildings, suicide bombings, etc.) (Daniel Dennet is that you?)?.
Agree that there are cults and then there are cults. Cultish behaviour is my own preferred term and I tried to make that point. I know the authoritarian religious cult well enough and have spoken of my own experiences and the damage these totalitarian types of cults wreak. What is of interest are the ‘characteristics’ of a cult — as opposed to a formal definition — and what constitutes cultish behaviour. I have no problem using another word so long as the meaning is clear; just as I tried to make it clear what was meant by the use of the term ‘cult’ in this instance.
Whatever term we use I certainly do detect a similar mentality among Acharya S’s/Murdock’s followers as to what I see among supporters of Harris, Dawkins, and co — and I see some of the same attributes in Harris and Dawkins and Coyne as I see in Acharya/Murdock — and they remind me too much of a certain mentality that was all too familiar from my own years in a religious cult. One does not need a formal authoritarian organisational infrastructure to produce cultish behaviour.
Thanks for making the clarification on cult/cultist behavior. As I said, I completely agree there are many dysfunctional aspects to the atheist/sceptic community which is also why I don’t participate in blog/forum discussions (and asides, who have time for that and what on earth are you supposed to discuss?). Perhaps that mean I am missing out on all the badness?
The things you call the atheists out on are also things I see in Werlmans writing. Consider the following quote:
“Like all cults, New Atheists believe that “the best human beings, as defined by them as ‘rational’ and ‘enlightened’ should become powerful enough to dictate to the rest of the planet a new way of being…they not only espouse white supremacy but they also speak in a language that is every bit as crude and racist as fascist, neo-Nazi, movements”
I don’t think it is unfair to say that in this quote:
1) Werlman are talking about all atheists
2) Werlman calls new atheists a “cult”
3) he attributes to all new atheists the belief they should rule the world
4) he claim all new atheists esposes white supremacy
5) he claim they “speak in a language” (what does that mean, exactly?) which is comparable to that of the neo-nazis.
Since werlman is talking about all new atheists, supposedly this should apply to all new atheists. What about Daniel Dennet? is he a cult member or a cult leader? how does he espose white supremacy? (what is the evidence for this assertion?) how is Daniel Dennets language comparable to that of the neo-nazis?
I think the quote is an example of hyperbole, misrepresentation, deliberately either making up facts or grossly and deliberately mis-representing common terms (such as what is usually considered the language of neo-nazis). It is also an example of black and white thinking.
Here is another quote:
“This 21st century era religious eradication ideology is hardly a new way of thinking, given it’s the same ideology that drove the anti-religious genocides of the Soviet Union, Cambodia, Albania, and North Korea over the course of the last 100 years. And it’s the ideology that indeed drives the New Atheist movement in America today.”
So to summarize the quote, the new atheist movement in america is using a “21st century era religious eradication ideology” which also drove the genocides in the soviet union. What is the exact evidence that this ideology is found in someone like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennet? What is this “religious ideology” exactly supposed to be? Are we supposed to believe they actually call for eradication (where?) and if not, is this not an example of thought-reading?
“New Atheists believe evil is embodied in lesser breeds, in lesser human beings, and, therefore, must be eradicated,”
It is difficult to imagine the racial aspect of the phrase “lesser breeds” is unintentional when new atheist’s language has already been compared to that of the neo-nazis and they are thought to follow an “eradication ideology”. What is the evidence Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennet believe there are “lesser breeds” of humans? What is the evidence they think these lesser breeds should be “eradicated”?
Whilst I do like a lot of what CJ writes, I agree that he often presents things in a black and white manner, ignoring the complexities. Strangely enough, this is exactly what most New Atheists do.
New Atheism doesn’t have a universally accepted definition – the Wikipedia entry states that New Atheism advocates the view that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises”. I don’t think many people who criticise New Atheism would have an issue with it if this is all it was, even though most of them themselves aren’t bothered about religion themselves. Their problem with New Atheism is that a lot of what New Atheists argue is anything but rational, or unbiased. Therefore, what New Atheism is in practise is very different from what New Atheists say it is, and therefore, when people attack New Atheism, they are attacking what it is in practise.
Coming back to CJ, I think he is making a general point about New Atheists – I am sure he realises that there are differences amongst New Atheists, I believe his point is a more general one. I haven’t read his book, but from one review that I did read, he hardly attacks Dennett.
As for your original post, well, first of all, again, there is no universally accepted definition of the word “cult”. I am not an expert in this field, but I think for many people, in contemporary every day language, a cult is something where the followers join a movement, either because someone told them “this movement is cool” or because they were attracted to what that movement preaches, and then follow that movement and it’s leaders with such fervour that they stop thinking rationally and blindly repeat whatever the leaders say, are no longer interested in being objective, and are unable to accept any criticism of their leaders, and the leaders meanwhile have narcissist tendencies, and are not interested in encouraging their members to think for themselves, but instead want to bombard them with as much propaganda as they can. According to this every day definition, New Atheism is a cult IMHO.
It is evident werleman is making general points about new atheists — such as:
“New Atheists believe evil is embodied in lesser breeds, in lesser human beings, and, therefore, must be eradicated,”
In the interest of science, try to substitute muslims for new atheists in that quote. Also notice the quote would be factually true if you substituted nazis for new atheists, hardly a coincidense when you consider the other quotes.
Now, i agree with the point a lot of nuance is often lost etc. But using a pherases such as new atheists along with very general and very senere accusations is not helping at all.
Well I can’t answer what CJ meant – why don’t you contact him and ask him for yourself and then come here and post his reply?
I was curious about the quotation marks that lacked any source reference.
Then I found the following passage in Chris Hedges When Atheism Becomes Religion
He forgot to cite Hedges there.
Though Harris has come pretty close to calling for a nuclear wipe out of whole Muslim nations I take your point that Dawkins and others have not called for the eradication of “lesser breeds”. The quote you cite does not call for that but for the eradication of “evil” – viz religion.
I’m thinking of the ideas that preceded the terror of the French Revolution and the ideas that preceded the rise of Nazism and even those that preceded the rise of nationalism throughout Europe. The preceding ideas did not specifically call for the decapitations or the eradication of races of for wars but there were elements that led to those consequences. What disturbs me is the intolerance, the ignorance, spewed by some of the anti-theists — the social bigotry they are fanning. It’s not good.
I am confused — you wrote:
“I take your point that Dawkins and others have not called for the eradication of “lesser breeds”. The quote you cite does not call for that but for the eradication of “evil” – viz religion.”
I take it you are referring to this quote by Werleman:
“New Atheists believe evil is embodied in lesser breeds, in lesser human beings, and, therefore, must be eradicated,”
I think the above quote is really saying that new atheists believe evil[possibly simply religion; but why then not say religion?] is embodied in lesser breeds, unless I am missing something very important in the context.
That must assume new atheists believe there are breeds of humans which can have characteristics like being “evil” or have a particular “religion”. The quote also says that new atheists believe these lesser human breeds must be eradicated. That is, the quote attributes to new atheists the worst aspects of Nazism; it simply boggles my mind to believe that is unintentional, especially as aspects of new atheists are elsewhere lumped together with neo-nazis. Don’t you agree?.
It is also factually inaccurate insofar I cannot think of a single “new-atheist” who has ever said there are evil[or religious] lesser breeds of humans who must be eradicated. I think it is justifiable to call this a lie.
Now, I agree with you that what Werleman is properly referring to is that some/many/most new atheists (I am not sure what he is referring to by the phrase) call for the end of religion as a set of ideas which are taken serious, but he *choose* to write something very different — something which in my mind is a horrible misrepresentation.
That’s what I think is so depressing about this book. I think the overall point you are making is that that some(many?) new atheists are properly not the polite, rational and throughout thinkers they think they are and they should be more open to nuanced debate about their own views. Also they ought to think more in terms of practical solutions. But the book delivers that critique by lying, by propaganda, by black-and-white thinking and demonization. In other words, he criticize new atheists for defects he himself exemplify in the very critique.
I see your point about the quote (which was from Chris Hedges speaking in conversation with the author). You call it a lie; I see it as an interpretation of an often heard theme coming from Harris, certainly. I don’t take the statement as an absolute applying to every single person who identifies with the New Atheist movement but I do see it as an (arguably justifiable) interpretation of the message that comes across.
You have probably read much more of the book than I have at this point so at this particular point I can only discuss the points I have cited in the post. If Werleman is guilty of the same things as he sees in the New Atheists as you believe — I can’t comment on that yet — then that’s not good obviously. But after our recent fiasco with Jerry Coyne and spin-off comments from that I have no problem standing by everything I wrote in the post.
I have not read the book and are relying on quotes I have found in reviews. That’s why I don’t know what he means by the phrase new atheists. If the context of the quotes somehow completely changes the meaning (I find that very difficult imagine) I am sorry for mis-representing Werleman.
I think it is dangerous to rely on interpretations of what people say when they are interpreted to say something completely contrary to what they actually say. Sam Harris, for instance, time and time again differentiate between religion and the people who practice it. In his most recent book with Maajid Nawaz they differentiate between Muslims, fundamentalists Muslims and the Jihadists ideology for instance ISIS adheres to; the entire premise of the book is there is no Muslim “breed”. This form of negative mindreading is very damaging in any sort of conversation, especially when it is used to attribute all the evil properties of the Nazis to those one disagree with.
I have just gone back and read your interaction with Jerry Coyne and I want to point out I completely agree with you with regards to his behavior.
Coyne more recently went to greater pains to say he was not conflating every Muslim with the evils of Islam but he was struggling. His message was still that beliefs generate behaviour and the implication was clear. All Muslims are certainly potentially time-bombs because of their religious beliefs. I am getting bottlenecked with the range of posts I’m keen to do, but hopefully one of them soon will include psychological research evidence that very often the reverse is the actual fact: people modify their beliefs to justify their behaviour.
Here’s New Atheist Ben Goren on religion:
And here he is further down in the discussion (emphasis is mine):
So when you say …
… you might want to consider what some New Atheists think about religion.
We need to spell out the detailed specifics to which people object. Pejorative labels based on generalizations are not good enough.
But New Atheists generalise all the time.
AU: So what your argument amounts to is that if you have a group of people (New atheists), and some members of that group express a very unhealthy idea (that religion is synonymous with evil), then you are justified to say that the entire group (new atheists) hold that idea or are characterized by that idea (that religion is synonymous with evil) and it therefore follows they (the entire group of people) are a “threat”.
Because if that is your basic point then I have to disagree. I don’t think for instance it is healthy to say that Muslims (the group of people) believe people should be stoned to death for apostasy just because some Muslims believe so. I think it is an example of a smear.
Do you see the problem?
AU: “But New Atheists generalise all the time.”
Are you joking or are you really not aware of the irony?
A movement is defined by what it’s most prominent members advocate. If the leaders of the Labour Party here in the UK started saying they believe in the privatisation of the National Health Service, then even though the majority of it’s members will be against this privatisation, people would be right to say Labour is against privatisation.
What happens in cases like these is that the members of that movement either speak out against that movement to try and get the leaders to change what they are advocating, or, the members leave that movement. This is why you will find that many people who identified as New Atheists have now left – they still believe in the basic idea of New Atheism i.e. promoting secularism and making sure when religion tries to infringe into the public sphere it is countered with rational arguments, but they do not label themselves as New Atheists because of what the movement has become.
I think this is where you are confused – when people say New Atheism is this or that, they are not referring to every individual who identifies as a New Atheist, they are referring to the ideas that are promoted by prominent members within the movement such as Dawkins, Harris, Coyne, Stephen Knight etc.
AU: I completely agree that a movement is defined by what the leaders say. However in that case it should be easy to dig up quotes where new atheist leaders say things consistent with:
“New Atheists believe evil is embodied in lesser breeds, in lesser human beings, and, therefore, must be eradicated,”
however that’s exactly the opposite of what e.g. Sam Harris says — he obviously does not believe there are special evil “breeds” of humans. I don’t think Werleman either believes e.g. Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins believe such a thing, which makes it all the more puzzling why the quote is in the book.
If you believe religion is evil – as many New Atheists do (Dawkins: “Islam is the greatest evil in the world today”, Ben Goren: “religion is synonymous with evil”), then you believe people who follow religion are following evil. If someone is following evil, then they are evil.
In fact, I have had a debate recently with a “moderate” New Atheist – she still maintains overall, atheists are better human beings than people who follow religion, and people like Dawkins, Harris et al also believe this.
Therefore, the New Atheist position is that religious people are generally lesser human beings. It should be obvious CJ Werleman is using “breed” as a figure of speech and not literally.
Now, I haven’t seen any New Atheist saying religious people should be eradicated, but I have seen many argue religion should be eradicated. And when you demonise a group consistently as following evil, it is only natural you will ultimately influence the perception of those people that others have.
This is why in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, a democratically elected government was overthrown, and more than 800 demonstrators killed by the Egyptian Army in what Human Rights Watch described as a massacre on the scale of Tiananmen Square, yet so many supposed liberal people were indifferent to this.
Why? The answer was that they thought it isn’t good to kill civilians but the Muslim Brotherhood is evil and therefore the attack was justified.
Ultimately, Dawkins, Harris, Coyne are not stupid. They know that atheists tend to be liberal, so they will try not to come out with pro-war statements that might alienate some of their base. However, their rhetoric, where they simplify things, where they demonise the religious people as evil, is IMHO intended to support Western intervention in other countries and export “secularism” to them. So, yes, if you believe in exporting secularism by force, then you do actually support killing religious people who stand up against it.
That’s how I read what CJ Werleman is saying – New Atheists look down on religious people as being lesser human beings than atheists (which they do), and support war against them to export secularism (which I believe they do too, though not explicitly for the reasons cited).
Of course, this might not be what CJ Werleman is on about, as I said to you before, why don’t you actually try asking him to elaborate?
I’m beginning to wonder if this forgotten citation is not restricted to this one-off instance. If not, Werleman is a liability in this debate no matter how much potential good he has in his work.
I am not sure if you are aware, but Werleman was involved in a scandal regarding plagiarism – and Coyne did make sure he did not let this pass!
I don’t think after all that happened, Werleman would do something that might suggest he is plagiarising again – in fact, I recently read him say everything in his book has citations (I think this was on Twitter), but it seems this apparently isn’t the case?
I was not aware. A point I did not spell out when I posted the above two passages was that the section in quotation marks is not the only portion from Hedges. It reads like a first draft, not even a first draft but more a set of notes for a draft — that should have been entirely acknowledged or re-written.
It’s probably better for me to steer clear or at least treat anything he says very cautiously — friends with records like this can too easily be less than helpful in the long run.
>Look, being an atheist means you don’t give a fuck about what anyone believes in.
Accoring to this the “new atheists” aren’t atheists! And you agree with this use of the word “atheism”?
I think you’re getting confused. Things can diverge so much from their original meaning that it isn’t appropriate to refer to them using the original term.
New Atheism is a subset of atheism. Of course they are still atheists, but because their behaviour is so different to simply not believing in a God/deities, referring to them as New Atheists is much more appropriate than simply calling them atheists.
“Of course they are still atheists”
Not according to Werleman – “…The media refers to the aforementioned (Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris) as both atheists and voices of liberal reason. They are neither.”
I think you missed the point of my post.
Would you say a right-wing nationalist who wants to kill all non-Brits is a nationalist? No, you wouldn’t. Of course, technically speaking, he is a nationalist, because he shares behaviour which nationalists share – being proud of their nation etc. However, his belief encompasses so much more than nationalism, that it is simply wrong to refer to him as a nationalist – therefore, when referring to him, you would refer to him as a nationalist extremist, and not a nationalist.
Similarly, people who belong to groups such as KKK are referred to being far-right, and not right.
So what CJ is saying that New Atheists behaviour and conduct is so different to that of atheists, that it is wrong to classify them as atheists. Yes, technically speaking they are atheists, but they are so much more, and therefore, they should not be referred to as atheists, just as someone who is a nationalist will not want a nationalist extremist to be referred to as a nationalist.
All of which just goes to show the truly remarkable resilience of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy.
He is calling them anti-theists as opposed to a-theists. The difference is significant, it’s the basis of the entire concern that there’s something awry with the “New Atheist” movement. Anti-theists are actively hostile and campaigning to rid the world of religion, sort of. I have quoted a few times the words of Tamas Pataki who said we don’t know if religion might be like the pests in our gardens. Sure we “hate” them but if we get rid of them who knows if we will upset the whole ecosystem and lose our garden too: http://vridar.org/2010/08/15/would-the-world-really-be-better-without-religion/
I suppose I would characterise myself as a New Atheist, as it is only since reading the God Delusion whatever it was years ago, that I started doing things like emailing my elected representatives to force the police to become involved in investigating child abuse by the RC church, or to allow inspectorates to monitor jewish and muslim faith schools because of the stories of physical beatings of children. I’ve also attended rallies in support of M.E bloggers and writers who have been sentenced to extreme corporal punishment, and attended plays and films in the UK that religious groups have tried to ban or have picketed on the grounds of offence, in order to show support for the producers.
So what I’m saying is I’ve got the chops.
There is a problem however, and its with a small bunch of mostly American ideologues, whose extremely visible (on social media) in-fighting has served to make online Atheism a pretty poisoned patch right now.
One big criticism that has been made of them by Michael Nugent (Atheist Ireland president I think) is that every single one of their chew toys is a first world, even more an American atheist issue (and was called a “creepy xenophobe” in response by one of the most prominent shit stirrers).
I haven’t read Werleman’s book and probably wont as I have other issues with his journalistic credibility outside of atheism, but I suspect that this might just be his revenge after dipping his toe in the shark pool about two years ago and getting it savaged. However, I am prepared to make an internet bet that other than Dawkins (who makes his money from the American audience), every single quoted “secular extremist” will be an American.
I read their blogs now and again , after all Carrier blogs on the most extreme network, but its mostly with a big bucket of pop corn and a sense of superiority.
I don’t think anyone has a problem with atheists who speak out when religion is interfering with the freedom of other people or when religion is influencing policies. If New Atheism is only what you described above, I doubt it would have many critics amongst secular people.
Are you referring to PZ Myers? Michael Nugent launched a very vicious attack on him, quoting him out of context before.
I haven’t read CJ’s book either, but I’ll take you up on the bet.
Nothing wrong with social activism and campaigning against criminal activity. If New Atheist books have spurred us in that direction then that’s great. It’s the “anti-theistic the movement” and the intolerance cum ignorance of what religion really means in people’s lives that is the worry for me.
Lately on your site we have had substantive articles and discussions on the multi-varied causes of Muslim terrorist acts with one of the causes (but not the only one) being harmful theological interpretations of Muslim scripture and tradition. The clear indication of those discussions is that over emphasis on that one cause is detrimental to creating long term solutions to the problem.
In contrast to that nuanced view of terrorism, the thrust of Werleman’s position appears to throw the discussion about atheism toward a brute division of non-believers into opposing camps of old or new atheists; of live and let live atheists or anti-theists; non-cultish vs. cultish. The reality, however, is that there exists among non-believers a spectrum of views on religion. I assume that Werleman agrees but he is falling into the same trap into which Harris has been ensnared. The attempt to define the broad group who have favorable views of Harris and Dawkins or even just a minority of such as a cult or cult like is a prime example this unhelpful over reach.
“Look, being an atheist means you don’t give a fuck about what anyone believes in. I don’t think any of it’s real, but you can go ahead and do it. I’m not trying to destroy religion. I just don’t care about it.”
It’s hard to imagine this being written by anyone who has first hand knowledge of the destruction that religious institutions or individuals can create.
That particular line was quoted from a comedian to make the rhetorical point.
Naturally I am opposed to religions that trap people in mental and emotional bondage — I have spoken about them on this blog. I just don’t see it as helpful to go around condemning entire religious groups on the basis of “as a man believes so he will act” nonsense. Where we speak out based on knowledge, research, and are addressing specific harms and causes then that’s fine. If Harris and Coyne were doing that we’d be having a very different sort of discussion.
“Anti -theist who are equally hostile to any piece of new information that contadicts their worldview as the religious fundamentalists they scorn” is a non-sequetor and an unsupported assumption.
Although I agree that we must not follow these men as cult heros, we must also be alert to the very dangerous ideas that religions have brought into this world. I don’t think that your readers are unaware of over 1K years of evil done in the name of loving Abrahamic and Contempative religions.
I live in midly religious Germany. They have taken a few 100K emmigrants in recently. Every day I I hear “They are good people that need our help. But they are Muslims.
What concerns me is when Harris and Dawkins (and Coyne) fan ignorance instead of researched knowledge and information about the different people who are currently impacting our lives. We all deserve better than repeats of sound bytes from the gutter press and its online equivalent — or the dangerous oversimplifications fueled by Huttington’s “clash of civilizations”.
Humans, being primates, tend to toss a lot of poop around to get attention.
And though secularists lie along a very wide spectrum and are harder to heard than cats, it is apparently big news that some of them advocate the “eradication” of religion via taking their atheism to the streets or to message boards and newsgroups. Many of the latter are teens or young adults whose energy and excitement has to go somewhere, not just video games. Hopefully once their hormones calm down and if they continue to read more widely they will learn more and speak more wisely.
But right now in the U.S. how many Congresspeople are there who fear/hate Islam/Muslims? And are they mostly atheist or Christian Congresspeople? It would seem that there are far more Christians who are leaders in government and in the armed forces who fear/hate Islam or Muslims.
“But right now in the U.S. how many Congresspeople are there who fear/hate Islam/Muslims? And are they mostly atheist or Christian Congresspeople? It would seem that there are far more Christians who are leaders in government and in the armed forces who fear/hate Islam or Muslims.”
You are missing the point. Having secular humanists along for the genocide ride simultaneously (1) legitimizes the End Times anti-Islamic military policies fundamentalist Christians advocate and (2) undermines any moral high ground other secular humanists hope to maintain to advocate a wiser, more humane course of action. We should find no solace in the fact that more Christians than secular humanists advocate policies that are antithetical to secular humanism. At least the End Times Christians are being consistent with their belief system instead of betraying every aspect of it.
You also inadvertently make the point that New Atheism is pointed directly at Islam and studiously away from Christianity and Judaism. While it is easy to rationalize why that may be so, I suggest you don’t. Rather, consider how consent is manufactured in our nominally democratic society.
I agree the Coyne, Dawkins and Harris are currently pointing more at Islam than the other big two WMRs–but certainly not exclusively. Coyne regularly cites the activities of the FFRF which operates (exclusively?) in the US aimed at separation of church/state issues which are almost exclusively Christian. This new atheist (me) is much more concerned with neutering christian ideology in public policy, public life and child welfare then pointlessly ascribing portions of blame to various sources of terrorism promulgated in the name of Islam.
God Almighty, Neil – what an ugly post!
Demonizing intelligent folks who happen to disagree with you by aligning yourself with the uninformed ramblings of the despicable American Family Foundation and the toxic vomitus of the vile C.J. Werleman is injuring YOUR reputation, not Jerry Coyne’s.
Between your petty feuds with Coyne and your borderline anti Semitism (“Israel is engaging in genocide” [!]), you really are throwing away your legitimacy as a reasoned thinker.
For heaven’s sake – stop being such an asshole and stick to your strength – Christian origins.
Ironically, your post just illustrates the “cultish” behaviour Neil is talking about. You have lost all objectivity and rationality, you are dismissing someone showing the flaws in Coyne’s arguments as a petty feud without actually rebutting the argument, you are calling people who attack your heroes names such as “vile” and “asshole”, and in fact, you are so upset, that you even try and slander Neil by suggesting he is borderline anti-Semitism. However, the best part is that you think that Christian origins is Neil’s strength and he isn’t qualified to speak about religion, so, pray, do tell me, exactly what qualifications do Jerry Coyne or Richard Dawkins have that make it ok for them to speak about religion?
Well, if you can’t see that the AFF and Werleman are indeed vile and despicable, then perhaps you shouldn’t be telling others they are not objective.
I made no judgement on AFF. CJ Werleman is no more vile than Jerry Coyne who smears people like Max Blumenthal.
You called Neil an “asshole” – he clearly isn’t. You called him that because he has criticised your hero, but it’s ok, you keep telling yourself that Jerry is a great human being and can do no wrong, tell yourself that a thousand times and who knows, you might actually start believing it.
For your information, I defended Neil several times on Coyne’s thread about him. Try a new talking point.
“you are calling people who attack your heroes names”
You are assuming that “vile” wasn’t well deserved. Dan Arel is a former friend of Werleman, who actually was a hero to him, making this particularly difficult. So i still have a glimmering of hope you won’t be able to easily rationalize him away as another “cult member”.
So where was Dan Arel when CJ Werleman was attacking Muslims and Arabs and calling them terrorists? Where were any of the New Atheists when he was doing this.
His claim that speaking out against New Atheism is a profitable business and that’s why people do it is laughable – if anything, everyone knows attacking Islam and Muslims is much more profitable – just ask Maajid Nawaaz or Quilliam.
The best bit is when he talks about taking quotes out of context – New Atheists do this all the time when it comes to Islam, they take a verse of the Quran out of context, yet when it happens to them, they cry about it!
As for the Chapel Hill shootings, again, New Atheists are happy to label anyone who has an affiliation with Islam as being motivated and driven by Islam, ignoring all the complexities, yet when CJ Werleman does the same and accuses someone who has a strong association with atheism of killing 3 Muslims of being driven by atheism, there is uproar amongst New Atheists. Again we see this double standard, so although I don’t agree with CJ Werleman regarding the Chapel Hill shootings, I have no sympathy for New Atheists because CJ Werleman is simply playing New Atheists at their own game.
“As for the Chapel Hill shootings, again, New Atheists are happy to label anyone who claims to be motivated and driven by Islam as being motivated and driven by Islam, ignoring all the complexities, yet when CJ Werleman does the same and accuses someone who never claimed to be driven in his killings by atheism of killing 3 Muslims of being driven by atheism, there is uproar amongst New Atheists.”
-FTFY. 🙂 “Again we see this double standard” -LOL. It’s a single standard.
You’re making the point of Neil’s article for him 😉
Baseless claims lead not to improvement.
Gingebaker took the trouble to enter my “petty dispute” with Coyne by posting his vile slander that I’m somehow “border anti-semitic” on Coyne’s blog and lifting the same quote of mine from its context just as he has done here. So “petty” was the dispute that Coyne refused to allow me to post the following defence that I sent him on 25th July:
Gingerbaker demonstrates the very toxicity I address in this post. He has no apparent wish or ability, to engage with the evidence and rationale of the arguments that offend his propensity to fall into the trap of which Edward Said spoke in Orientalsm when he observed how anti-semitism since WW2 had flipped and bifurcated into seeing both semitic branches as something other than fully human: Jews as represented in the State of Israel as unrealistically good, Arabs [now Muslims] unrealistically bad.
Gingerbaker will not reference the official definition of genocide to which I explicitly referred: http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html My own nation-state, Australia, has also been guilty of genocide given that definition that I applied to the State of Israel and I am not “anti-Australian” nor do I accuse all Australians of being criminally guilty. But Gingerbaker’s capacity for a reasoned discussion of the actual claims made and the evidence advanced deserts him — just as it does Coyne and Harris when the same topics surface.
Glad you put me in such good company. That your argument depends on the U.N. definition of genocide as if it is an objective or commonplace interpretation speaks for itself. As I pointed out previously on one of your posts on the topic, if Israel indeed WAS prosecuting a program of genocide, why are they doing such a piss-poor job of it that the Palestinian population is growing, not declining? One might conclude that you don’t have a very high opinion of the capabilities of Israeli Jews?
Now, I don’t pretend to have complete knowledge of all the posts you have made here on the topics of Israel, Palestine, and the origins and ethics of Islamic terrorism, but my experience is that your record is NOT one of balanced impartiality. Not even close. Hence, “border-line antiSemitism”. But perhaps you would like to do an objective tally of your own.
You’re not one of those Americans who thinks the UN is some sort of an anti-semitic conspiracy plotting to take over the world, are you?
Your own US government ratified that definition of genocide in 1988. It was ratified by most of the rest of the world much earlier so I tend to think it’s a pretty fair and reasonable way we should understand the term. Unless you think the UN is a scheming conspiracy to take guns away from all Americans before taking over your entire country.
If you stop to actually read the definition and also what I myself have actually said you will see that genocide does not at all necessarily involve killing everybody. Australia is a culprit when it is on record of having implemented policies designed to rob the aboriginal peoples of their identifying culture — to turn them into non-aboriginals over time. That’s another way of destroying a people. My reference in this context was to Israel’s policies and actions aimed at destroying a distinctive Palestinian culture so that a Palestinian identity is lost, so that Palestinians are no longer a people with an identity of their own. This involves removing them from their land, robbing them of their cultural heritage as preserved in their libraries, literary works, banning certain cultural institutions, etc etc
If you don’t like that definition then at least have the honesty to acknowledge that that is how I have used the term. Imposing your own ignorance into my own words is not an honest way to present my claims or beliefs to others.
I reject your accusation of “border-line antisemitism” and request you quote me to support that accusation or withdraw your remark with an apology.
So I got the book and read 1/2 so far. Probable won’t read the rest. This book is filled with half truths untruths and a lot of unsupported opinion stated as fact. What a waste of time. When the new atheists need to be critizied, and they do, please let it be done by someone who can tell the truth, support it and be at least reasonable. I’m disappointed that this book is recommened by this blog.
The problem is not with atheists who seek to present their case with the same freedom granted to theists and who engage in rational debate, or who seek to prevent by law human abuses encouraged by religions.
The problem would arise with obsessional fanatics who seek completely to destroy all trace of belief in God or religion from the human universe, including its positive impacts on philosophy, ethics, music, art and literature, and to silence and penalize all its believers. A first stage, following an early Soviet example, would be to make worship a matter confined solely to temporarily licensed private buildings that do not contain any external signs “offensive” to others, and to outlaw as abuse all religious instruction of children. Then to prohibit religious propaganda or attempted conversion of any type, and to introduce strict penalties such as confinement without religious comforts to violators. A totalitarian globalized secular “rights”(!) ideology could then be imposed to erase all trace of “divisive”, “poisonous” or “retrograde” religious belief – past, present and future – from the human brain, as an extra bonus along with “sexism, racism, LGBTCIBDSM&c-phobia, elitism, nationalism, capitalism, &c”.
Does your heart good to think about, or does it?
Ayn Rand comes to mind when a cult forms around a figure that is supposed to be advocating rationality. I doubt if Leonard Peikoff could entertain the thought that Rand could ever be wrong.
Many of what we see today would fall into the category of the cult of personality.
Observe how commentators who are fond of a particular famous atheist handle the criticism of that leader.
To lighten the touch I suggest that readers look out Murray Rothbard’s hilariously satirical sketch about Ayn Rand as infallible guru, “Mozart was a Red”. As a qualified admirer of the lady myself I thought she failed to “check [all] the premises” on which she built her skyscraper which proclaimed e.g. that Mickey Spillane was superior to William Shakespeare. Along with Aristotle, Nietzsche, HJ and AH, she is one of the few people with whom conversations would be interesting for me to while away eternity in the “hereafter”, but that opportunity will not arise.
New Atheism seems to exist primarily (if not solely) to advocate Western militarism against (certain) Islamic countries to atheists. “New Atheists” use atheist credentials as bona fides to lure self-identifying “rationalist humanists” into agreeing with the pursuit of military policy that is irrational, if not antithetical to humanism. Think about it: atheists, End Times Christians and Zionists certainly make for strange bedfellows, but that is what we’ve had for a decade or more now.
Simply put, atheism is at most incidental to New Atheism, which is a political movement, not a belief or system of beliefs.
And how does “New Atheists” happily kicking non-Islam religions in the nuts fit into all this?
Wow. You think that is a rebuttal of some sort? Really?
Again, New Atheism uses atheist bona fides to advocate military action against (certain) Islamic countries. I can’s imagine one could establish atheist bona fides in the U.S. without complaining about Christians and Christianity. But critiquing a religion is not the same thing as advocating military action against it.
When you write “irrational military intervention” i think about 2003 Iraq, but I can’t think of any notable so called “new atheist” except Hitchens openly advocating for it, while i remember others flat out denying such charges, never having advocated, supported or excused it before it actually took place. What other irrational and immoral military intervention are you thinking about, past or hypotetical, who was actually openly and unambiguously advocated by several noteworthy “new atheists”? Can you provide hystorical or hypotetical examples of rational and morally sound military intervention by the west one might actually advocate for or even only openly discuss without being accused of being a genocidal maniac?
“Again, New Atheism uses atheist bona fides to advocate military action against (certain) Islamic countries.”
-. And you seem to be some kind of IS supporter. Wanna go join?
Wow. Really? Nice.
The current Middle East policy created ISIL/ISIS. For the past 15 years, with the exception of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the U.S. has only attacked or threatened predominantly Islamic countries that had nothing to do with 9/11. Iraq (secular), Iran (Shia, 9/11 terrorists were Sunni), Syria (secular), Libya (secular). ISIL/ISIS, like the 9/11 terrorists, is Sunni, and ISIL/ISIS would not exist but for the U.S. action to destabilize Iraq.
I am against U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East because I am against ISIL/ISIS. Unless you are an “some kind of IS supporter”, you should be against US Middle East policy, too.
“The current Middle East policy created ISIL/ISIS.”
-Zero disagreement. Didn’t I comment Obama was responsible for the IS several times on this blog? But, remember, U.S. East Asia policy built South Korea as well. What can be used for evil can oftentimes also be used for good.
Also, Libya was Sunni Islamic, not secular. Tunisia was, though, and still is.
The Libyan government under Gaddafi was secular, not Sunni.
“Zionists make for strange bedfellows”?!?
And poor AU, above, didn’t like it when I said Neil was borderline anti Semitic. Set this fellow straight, Neil! Show us how you will not allow such borderline antisemitism on your blog.
The full sentence was:
“Think about it: atheists, End Times Christians and Zionists certainly make for strange bedfellows, but that is what we’ve had for a decade or more now.”
I will assume that your reading comprehension is fine and that you were just trying to be funny. Keep on working at it. You may get there. Eventually.
Some constructive criticism: when you are trying to be funny, tagging somebody as engaging in “borderline antisemitism” for merely using the term Zionist pretty much kills the funny.
In any event, Judaism is not Zionism. The first is a religion. The second is a political movement.
By the same token, atheism is not New Atheism. The first is the absence of religious belief. The second is a political movement.
Thanks for helping me put a finer point on things.
“In any event, Judaism is not Zionism. The first is a religion. The second is a political movement. “
Zionism WAS a political movement, which achieved success in 1948 when the State of Israel was born. That you think that when you use the term today it implies nothing less than the advocacy of the abolition of the State of Israel, and that its use is not borderline antiSemitic, is incredible to these ears.
You sound like a Klansman.
Zionism remains a political movement to this day. Its goals have morphed with the establishment of the modern state of Israel, but Zionism has not gone away.
By the way, I am not implying through my use of the word Zionism that I seek the abolition of the state of Israel. As far as I am concerned, Israel is a legitimate state, and I have zero issues with it.
So, please stop projecting your ignorance onto my statements. Better yet, lighten up, Francis:
Gingerbaker, you are surely not equating Zionism with Jews collectively, are you? If so, you are insulting a good many devout and secular Jews who stand against Zionism.
And you will find the vast majority of Jews and Israelis questioning the patriotism if not the sanity of those “good many” Jews. They can get away with it, I suppose, as Jews. You can’t.
And, frankly, Neil, if you can not see that Anti-Zionism is not, at the very least, borderline antisemitism, then I suggest you seek opinions on the topic. Here are two:
President Obama in The Atlantic magazine;May15, 2015
And, Pope Francis, as reported during an interview with Portuguese-Israeli journalist Henrique Cymerman, a few months ago:
Gingerbaker, I am afraid you do not even seem to know what Zionism is.
No-one, well no sane person I know, is talking about killing all the Jews. Do you think somehow my opposition to Zionism means I am “against Jews” or don’t think the Jews have a right to exist???
I fully support the right of all peoples, Jews and Palestinians equally, to live and enjoy their cultural identities to the fullest. I see no alternative for the political state of Israel to continue in some form — but I would like to see it live subject to the same international laws and human rights conventions as we expect of others. I’d love to see an Israel where Jews and Palestinians are free to practice their religious and other cultural mores side by side. I’d love to see an Israel that recognized not only the right of Jews to “return” but also of the right of Palestinian Arabs to return, too — with both living side by side and respecting each others cultural and religious identities no matter who is a majority and who is a minority.
That’s my dream for Jews and Palestinian Arabs. So does that make me “border-line antisemitic” in your eyes?
What I oppose is an atavistic imperial and nationalist-racialist policy, a relic from the nineteenth century, that believes one race only has the right to the land and that that race’s destiny and right is to displace and subject the existing inhabitants, and the right to unilaterally move the existing inhabitants to wherever they see fit. Zionism is still opposed by many devout and secular Jews who have the same dream I described above and who believe, as I do, that Zionism is in fact an enemy of the Jews and Jewish interests and well-being in the long run.
You seem to be saying that you agree with Zionists who despise their fellow Jews who have a more humane dream.
Scott, that is nuts. Sam Harris supported the Iraq War 100% less than a certain Glenn Greenwald.
And what, you’re an Islamic State/Turkey supporter?
E. Harding — is everyone/every viewpoint either black or white to you? You mention these either/or dichotomies a lot.
What’s the gray option in this case? I certainly don’t see any. Obviously, not everyone and every viewpoint are either black or white to me. You could look at my various recent blogposts for evidence of this claim.
I thought I was looking at a full range of colours, not grey. But that aside . . . .
You can’t see it. You read right over it in the email I sent Coyne and you read right over it — ignoring it — in the comment by Dan Jones. We try to point out to you that the accusation that the side you oppose are “ideologically motivated, West-blaming liberals” is massively mistaken and you simply repeat the suggestion that “ideologically motivated, West-blaming liberals” are all there is on the opposite side to you.
None so blind as those who will not see.
No, I’m saying “ideologically motivated, West-blaming liberals” are a third side to the scholars you speak of and to the New Atheists. That’s pretty much the opposite of saying they’re all there is opposite to the New Atheists (& other people with similar beliefs about Islam). I’m not saying you’re them; I’m saying they exist.
So who are among this third group that so exercise the minds of Harris, Coyne, et al? Coyne includes Robert Pape among them (West-blaming liberals). Do you agree? Others?
Haven’t read anything by Pape, so I can’t really comment.
Come on E. Harding. I asked for Others — not just about Pape.
You can’t just say that there are all these people out there who Harris and Coyne and Dawkins etc are addressing and then not be able to identify a single one of them.
Otherwise I am left to conclude you do not know what you are talking about and that your “third group” really is a false label attached to those who are pointing to the scientific research to rebut the ignorance of the New Atheists on questions of human behaviour.
Come on, Neil! Pretending such folk don’t exist does no good!
I think John Esposito is one, Karen Armstrong http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/the-unctuous-and-dangerous-karen-armstrong/ is another.
Honestly, I find it difficult to find the relevant people because
1. Rebuttals attract even more popularity than the original claims, making them fill the Google search results.
2. I never actually saw much of a point in remembering the names of the various people Coyne lambasted in January.
My advice would be to go through the archives of how Coyne-Dawkins-Harris respond to their opponents on the topic of Islam on a case-by-case basis. But doing so would be mighty tiring, and I don’t see much of a point to myself doing the task. It’s hardly priority #1 to me. Or are you saying Coyne is attacking straw men?
Yes, he’s attacking straw men. You don’t read anything beyond what Coyne and Fox news or whatever say and have no idea who is involved or what the arguments are. You have made that very evident.
What Coyne says about Esposito and Pape and others proves he has no idea what they actually argue.
That “third group” you tell us about exists entirely in your own and Coyne’s imagination –it’s actually your straw man distortions of those addressing the ideas you’ve read here from Dan Jones and that I’ve posted on re Islam and terrorism — you should read them and learn a few things if you can’t be bothered reading the original books yourself.
When you’ve actually read a little more on the other side of Fox news you will be able to come back and tell Coyne a few things and have a reasonable and informed conversation about the issues here.
I’ve addressed Coyne’s nonsensical ignorance in several posts already (do a word search on Coyne) — I think I even know more about what and who he supposedly writes about than you do.
I just read that Coyne article on Karen Armstrong – all I can say is “wow”. He is citing a Danish psychologist who clearly is an Islamophobe (no, not because he criticises Islam, but because of other things he has said when I just searched on him), who no one has ever given any space to apart from sites like Robert Spencer (which Coyne actually links to) or FrontPage magazine, to claim “Islam creates monsters”. Even the book by this psychologist who Coyne refers to doesn’t seem to be available – it was apparently published by Trykkefrihedsselskabets, which itself seems like a hate-group, but there are no reviews, and it doesn’t seem available online.
This is probably as unscientific as you can get.
I don’t know Armstrong’s book on this subject but I do know Reza Aslan a bit better and while I disagree with Aslan’s slant Coyne goes totally over the top with denouncing him as an apologist for extremism. It would be interesting to take the time to do an analysis of these sorts of reactions but then what would be the point. Coyne’s defenders would only be antagonized. Better to keep on the positive arguments I guess.
Uh, Neil, if I read or watched any Fox news, I would cite it over at my blog. In fact, I don’t watch or read any Fox news, and when I do see it on (e.g., in hotel lobbies) I find it cringe-worthy. For the stuff I actually read, maybe you could look here:
If you look at my comments on the American Enterprise Institute’s foreign policy posts, which I assume mirror Fox News’s foreign policy stances, they’re generally critical.
I also read The Right Stuff and Gary North’s writings, but those are way to the right of Fox News (and have not affected my views on Islam much)!
I’m still confident those West-blaming liberals exist, and aren’t just straw men, but I don’t feel like going searching for fields of bad arguments at the present time.
If you knew more about what Coyne writes about than I do, I’d be very surprised you’d be ignorant of why Coyne refuses to use CJW’s name.
Assuming I read or watch something I don’t is poor form. It’d be like accusing you of being a frequent reader of the Grauniad solely on the basis of the style of your arguments here.
I freely admit to being no expert on the causes of Islamist militancy in the West. I have some vague understanding of the origins of Islam and the more or less peaceful and secular nature of its first conquests in the Fertile Crescent, Iran, and North Africa. The Rashidun Caliphate was quite different from today’s Turkish/North Iraqi/American one. My understanding of Wahabbism and its origins are pretty weak.
I used Fox News as a metonymy.
You began with strong insistence that there is a certain group of people “out there” who are often the targets of Coyne and Harris and co and that these people are NOT those to which Dan and I have been referring when we speak of the serious scholarship of trained specialists that contradicts Coyne’s and Harris’s assertions.
Dan was right. It is the trained specialist researchers, some of whom have risked their lives to interview terrorists and associates of terrorists, whom Coyne, Harris and co dismiss as “West-blaming liberals” etc.
Presumably their biology expertise and ability to read mass media makes them more reliable authorities on the causes of Islamic terrorism.
Well, it’s poor metonymy, as Coyne regularly disses Fox News.
What, exactly, would change your mind as to the existence of these people I speak of?
Sennels is a real anti-Muslim ideologue; of the same ilk as the likes of Spencer ad Geller. He came up with all kinds of Nazi esque pseudo science on Muslims; it’s all over the net. He recently founded a Danish branch of PEGIDA. It’s embarrassing that Coyne would endorse him.
So I saw. That’s what shocked me, I always like reading links to scholarly articles, so I was curious as to how this psychologist came to a conclusion that Islam creates monsters – when I went and read the article, and searched online for him and read what else he had written, I was truly shocked, this guy was saying Muslims are “retarded” because of “interbreeding” and all sorts of things which are extreme right-wing! It does make you wonder exactly how much of a liberal Coyne is, when he is often not only quoting neoconservatives, but also Islamophobes and extreme right-wingers.
If Sennels is the best scholarly source Coyne can come up with to show that Islam is the root cause of Islamic terrorism, then Coyne’s argument has serious problems.
You’ve been polluting your mind with right-wing web sites, haven’t you, E?
Greenwald did not support the Iraq War.
Stop accusing people of supporting IS. It makes you look like a fool.
Okay, I freely admit to reading a bit too much into
“…I still gave the administration the benefit of the doubt. I believed then that the president was entitled to have his national security judgment deferred to, and to the extent that I was able to develop a definitive view, I accepted his judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country.”
-But my claim that Greenwald supported the Iraq War is hardly a completely nonsensical interpretation of this quote. I was wrong, but I wasn’t totally unjustified in my incorrectness.
I do read plenty of right-wing websites, but that’s not where I first heard that claim. I think it was in the comments of some liberal or libertarian site.
Wow, I stirred up a hornets nest with this post. I will try to catch up with comments over the next few days.
Meanwhile, let me just say that this post followed on from earlier discussions about and a post by Jerry Coyne in which he mentioned Werleman’s book. I had never heard of Werleman till Jerry mentioned him. Curious, I picked up a copy and posted here a few points that I read from the first few pages that I have come to agree with. (I used to be very enthusiastic about the New Atheist “movement”, loved the idea of big bus ads, etc, and the way they promoted the idea that there was nothing wrong about not being religious or a believer. But I did start to worry when I read Harris’s and then Hitchens’s remarks on Muslims and terrorism — worried by their ignorance and dogmatism.)
Werleman’s book is clearly not a “scholarly” work but a polemic. Someone said they were disappointed I recommended the book. I should be more careful to make it clear that when I discuss works or ideas in works that I’m not necessarily recommending the works — everyone has different interests and each to his own.
If I find I have been mistaken about Werleman then I am sure I will find that out in time. Meanwhile, I think it is too often easy to misread what is actually said and jump in on what we feel has been meant.
And along comes Steve Wiggins (Sects and Violence in the Ancient World blog) with Doubting Dawkins.
It looks like this article was written by CJ W. I loved the godlessspellcheckers recent review of his book.
Well, well — this post has attracted a wider audience: Heather Hastie on Heather’s Homilies has posted in response Is New Atheism a Cult?
I have been debating New Atheism with her for almost a week, including whether it is cultish, so I am glad she devoted a whole post to it.
FWIW, Here is my response to her:
I was going to write a message to you last night saying I will not be commenting on New Atheism anymore as a) I have a LOT of things I am behind schedule with and really don’t have the time, and b) I don’t want to take your post off-topic, something which I had done. I was going to finish it by thanking you for allowing all my posts through, even though I had really attacked your views. I was however absolutely shattered when I got home, I answered an email, browsed a few articles at some other websites, and then went straight to bed. Then when I woke up this morning, typed in “Heather Hastie” in my search bar, and in the results I could see it said in your Twitter account “Is New Atheism a Cult?” !
So here I am, again, and I thank you for having a thread dedicated to this, as I have quite a bit to say. I will probably not have the time to write much, if anything, after Monday, so shall get my views across this weekend.
Now imagine the kid’s father had been an Imam, and Ahmed brought in an electronic Quran to show to his teachers. The reaction would be completely different – it would have been “yes, arresting a kid is really bad, but the school could be forgiven for taking caution as Muslims have used children as bombers before”, and I am sure Coyne would not have been decrying the appalling treatment of Ahmed. Nothing would have changed – Ahmed would still have done nothing wrong, he would still have been handcuffed, perp-walked, and interrogated without being allowed contact with his parents – in fact, I am pretty sure his treatment would have been even worse, and his parents too would have been arrested and interrogated. The only thing that would have changed would have been that his parents were religious Muslims and Ahmed had brought in a Quran instead of a clock. I would say that is Islamophobia, but I am sure many New Atheists would dismiss it and actually justify the treatment.
I think that is very unfair. I don’t know Neil personally, so I can only judge him on his posts, and he comes across as a pluralistic person – I am sure he believes that the people who identify as New Atheists are diverse in their outlook and behaviour, and therefore not all New Atheists are a horrible lot.
You are conflating – in fact, you’re doing the same as people who accuse Sam Harris of being “racist” do. More on that later.
He actually elaborates in the comments section:
“Agree that there are cults and then there are cults. Cultish behaviour is my own preferred term and I tried to make that point. I know the authoritarian religious cult well enough and have spoken of my own experiences and the damage these totalitarian types of cults wreak. What is of interest are the ‘characteristics’ of a cult — as opposed to a formal definition — and what constitutes cultish behaviour. I have no problem using another word so long as the meaning is clear; just as I tried to make it clear what was meant by the use of the term ‘cult’ in this instance.
Whatever term we use I certainly do detect a similar mentality among Acharya S’s/Murdock’s followers as to what I see among supporters of Harris, Dawkins, and co — and I see some of the same attributes in Harris and Dawkins and Coyne as I see in Acharya/Murdock — and they remind me too much of a certain mentality that was all too familiar from my own years in a religious cult. One does not need a formal authoritarian organisational infrastructure to produce cultish behaviour.”
Actually, you don’t know this. Maybe he thinks it is due to the way he has seen many NA conduct themselves over the years, and these recent interactions has just reaffirmed it. Instead of being so dismissive, you should try asking him how he has come to this conclusion.
Well I think we should first clarify what people (or at least some of us) who consider New Atheism a “cult” mean – how can we have a proper debate if you are arguing against a definition of a cult different to what others mean. So let me do this and lay out my case why I believe New Atheism is in some ways like a cult.
Before I do so, let me make it clear, I am no expert on cults, so nothing I say on cults is scholarly – I am more than happy to amend my opinions if someone can show me I am wrong. Ok, so here goes – of course I do not believe it is a cult like say the one David Koresh was leading – for example, there is no one who tells you what you should be reading, or what you should be thinking. That much should be obvious to everyone. However, “New Atheism” does display cultish behaviour.
Again, let me define New Atheism as what many of us take it to mean today. A movement is defined not by what it’s stated goals are, nor by what the majority of it’s members believe – a movement is defined by what the most prominent members of the party advocate and how they behave. Let’s take the Labour Party in the UK – the party has traditionally stood up for social justice – so it cares about things like worker’s rights, helping the poor and vulnerable etc. Now suppose Labour has a new leadership, and the leadership, and some of it’s most vocal supporters, stop following the core values – they start spending more on defence, they spend less on health and education, they take away the rights of unions etc. The question now is – “does Labour stand for social justice?”, and the answer is “No, it doesn’t”. Even though it’s leaders might still say they are a party for social justice, they are not. So when people criticise Labour, they’re not criticising what the party used to stand for, neither are they criticising how the majority of it’s members still feel. They are criticising what the party has become.
What happens in such a case is that either the members of the movement hit back – they take the fight back to those at the top who are betraying the values of the party, or they severe their ties with the party.
Coming back to New Atheists, many of the secular criticis of New Atheism also believe “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises” – after all, they believe in secularism, and they believe if religion is causing harm, which it on occasion does, then we shouldn’t tolerate it, but we should criticise it with rational argument. So they can’t actually be against what NA stands for – after all, they also share the same values. So what are they against? They’re against the “movement” because those at the top of the movement, those who have the most influence, are often arguing irrationally, dishonestly, and at some times, with bigotry (just because you’re not a bigot when it comes to gay rights or womens rights or race equality, it doesn’t mean you cannot be a bigot against religious people).
So to me, I think New Atheism is cultish because those at the top seem to be driven by narcissism, and prominent New Atheists like to portray people who disagree with them as lacking intelligence, often resorting to mocking others, they often try to stifle debate by not allowing legitimate criticisms of their posts, they can act disingeneously and even dishonestly, their followers are often irrational and not objective and simply repeat what the Great Leaders have said like a mantra, and there also tends to be a tendency to overlook and not criticise when memebers from within the community are clearly arguing dishonestly or with bigotry.
Dawkins didn’t “develop” anything – people have categorised their belief/lack of belief for centuries. Dawkins just wrote about this in his book. It’s just like the “selfish gene”, Dawkins didn’t develop this idea – it was developed by someone else, Dawkins just wrote about it in a book. Dawkins isn’t a great scientist, Dawkins is a great writer.
Actually, you’re wrong. It often brings the belief that religion is bad – and if you think something is bad, you will often work against it, and history has shown that when humans think something is bad and they want to work against it, often they will let bigotry come into play.
It is completely hypocritical to say “religion has caused so many wars and deaths”, and then get upset when someone says “atheism has caused so many deaths”. Of course you are right that just because people are atheists they don’t necessarily follow the same beliefs or have you what, but the exact same is true of religion. Yet New Atheists are happy to lump all religious people as one category when they make statements like “religion has caused so many wars and deaths”, yet cry foul when religious people lump them all into one category. Personally, I find both statements wrong.
I disagree with them. However, your criticism of them for their religious tribunals suggestion is unfair. They are talking about “minor” issues. They are not talking about things like divorce (major issue). The poster in reply to your posts talks about domestic violence and divorce, and you reply “Exactly”. That is highly disingeneous of you, as neither Uygar and Anna Kasparin are talking about religious tribunals for major things like that.
I do agree with you however that the scope of abuse against the vulnerable is very high in religious tribunals, and so we should not have them at the current moment, however, if in future we are at a stage where this is transparency and oversight, then I do not see why not on the condition that any ruling doesn’t breach any fundamental human rights.
It’s quite interesting that your website has a special category for “Islam”, but none for “Christianity” – I only noticed this last week. I personally don’t think NA have anything inherently against Islam.
You keep throwing around the term Far Left incorrectly. It seems you think that because people like you, Coyne, Dawkins, identify as being liberals, anyone who is “more liberal” than you is Far Left. That is simply not true. Most on the Far Left loathe religion. What the hell do you think Maryam Namazie (who Richard Dawkins loves) is? She’s a member of the Workers-Communist Party, who are Far Left! When the Muslim Brotherhood came into power, the Far Left in Egypt were criticising them and their policies, and were amongst the most vocal in working to get them overthrown. So you might want to correct yourself in future and stop dismissing those liberals who criticise New Athsists as being “Far Left”.
I don’t agree that they are “racist”. However, let us remember that race is a social construct – there is no such thing as “race” that everyone uniqely agrees on.
Now if someone hates, say, Pakistani people, and sits there making comments that they hate Pakistanis, they will get called racist. In British Law, they will be charged with racial hatred. Technically speaking, are they racist? No, Pakistan isn’t a “race”. Furthermore, some people from Northern India are the same race as some people from Pakistan – so if someone doesn’t hate people from India but only Pakistanis, then they are clearly not “racist”. The point I am making is, the meaning of words evolve, and racism has come to embody not just hatred against someone because of some “race”, but also hatred of someone because of the country/part of the world they are from.
Now say if tomorrow Donald Trump says that if he becomes POTUS, then he will increase the stop and search of black people, or people who look like they have been influenced by black cutlure, and reduce the stop and search of white people (unless it seems they have been influenced by black culture). Would you say his policy is racist? If you would, then you believe Sam Harris is racist when he suggests we should be searching people who look like Muslims (which mostly means brown people), and if you don’t, then you think Sam Harris isn’t racist. I don’t think Trump would be racist, and therefore, I do not think Sam Harris is either, but I can understand why he has been called that.
Furthermore, even Glenn Greenwald believes Sam Harris isn’t racist.
I love Chomsky, I grew up reading him, and, yes, he has his groupies – some people will blindly follow anything, just because Chomsky said it. And, if Chomsky was leading a movement, and he had hoardes of admirers who were supporting him even when he was wrong, I would call that cultish too.
BTW, you might want to read this (lengthy) correspondence between Monbiot and Chomsky.
I admire both of them, but I have to put aside my biases and agree with Monbiot here – Chomsky isn’t debating honestly in this instance.
No, you are wrong. Godfrey refers to a survey where anti-theists (and the research doesn’t present a 1-1 correlation between anti-theists and New Atheists but I think it is pretty close) scored pretty badly, not just in dogmatism, compared to other atheists. You have totally misunderstood what Neil is saying, the research is solely on non-believers, it isn’t comparing non-believers to theists.
You can see the research here:
I would probably agree with that. However, that research is about atheists. It isn’t about New Atheists. In the research Neil cited, it states:
Fortunately, one of the many questions our empirical research was able to address was, “are all atheists angry, argumentative and dogmatic”? Our results lead us to answer that question with a resounding “absolutely not”! If any subset of our non-belief sample fit the “angry, argumentative, dogmatic” stereotype, it is the Anti-Theists. This group scored the highest amongst our other typologies on empirical psychometric measures of anger, autonomy, agreeableness, narcissism, and dogmatism while scoring lowest on measures of positive relations with others.
So that research is in no way inconsistent with the one you cite, and is actually consistent with what I have been saying all along – there is a difference between atheists and New Atheists.
I personally would not take that Reddit survey seriously. Positions one and two were taken by “The Red Pill” and “Opie and Anthony.”
When people use the word anti-theist, they do not mean someone specifically against a theist, they mean someone who is anti-theism. This is how the authors of the research themselves defined anti-theist: “The fourth typology, and one of the more assertive in their view, we termed the Anti-Theist. While the Anti-Theists may be considered atheist or in some cases labeled as “new atheists,” the Anti-Theist is diametrically opposed to religious ideology. As such, the assertive Anti-Theist both proactively and aggressively asserts their views towards others when appropriate, seeking to educate the theists in the passé nature of belief and theology”
I don’t think he is “supporting” CJW’s book.
I disagree. You are using flawed data to support your claim that New Atheists are good people – the research Neil cites suggests that atheists indeed are good people (simplifying here), but that New Atheists are different to atheists. Of course, this is just one study, and more studies are needed, but it is consistent with my own personal experiences, and those of others.
For what it’s worth I have replied to Heather Hastie’s post with the following:
Most (I think all) of what you attributed to me in your post was actually quotation from Werleman’s book. If you read my own comment in response to other commenters (posted 4 days ago) you would have seen that I was not endorsing the book and in other comments that I had only read a few pages of the book.
I believe I made it clear in my post the reason i was quoting those sections from Werleman — that they were in direct response to recent exchanges I and a few others have had over specific topics under discussion with Coyne and related views of Harris and Dawkins.
That specific topic is one that I think you have avoided any mention of here.
I believe I also made it clear in my post that what I took issue with was the toxic nature of recent responses I have had from Jerry Coyne over this specific topic and that others have experienced from from supporters of Harris and Dawkins.
What concerns me — the reason for my post — is that Coyne, Harris, and their supporters fail to acknowledge, even denigrate, the serious scholarly research of anthropologists, psychologists, political scientists, and others into the root causes of terrorism, of Islamic and other extremist violence. Often they fan public ignorance and yes, bigotry, by nonsensical claims that fly against all the research — such as “as one believes so one will act”, etc.
My own background has been in a harmful religious cult and I know the damage that religion can and does cause. I have been responsible for establishing and running a support group to help victims of religion. I have also been outspoken against dangerous cults through publicity campaigns in my local area.
But I have also been active in seeking dialogue and understanding between religious groups and have been actively involved in arranging public meetings where local Islamic leaders have an opportunity to meet the public and where criticisms and understanding can flourish.
As for Werleman’s book, yes, I have read a little more of it since my post and he does present evidence that arguably does indeed support his claims about cultish behaviour. But that is for another post — or for simply reading his book. Simply dismissing the argument without bothering to hear it is not the way to a productive exchange. In fact, I did subsequently add a comment linking to Werleman’s justifications: http://vridar.org/2015/09/14/new-atheism-versus-old-atheism-and-what-is-a-cult/#comment-73039
What has come to concern me about the New Atheist movement after my initial enthusiasm for what they were doing is the actively hostile anti-theistic activism. Of course we cannot stand by while we see religion causing harm — but nor can we flippantly accuse religion of always causing harm with everything it touches. The reasons people turn to religion are complex and unfortunately Coyne, Harris, and co demonstrate a lamentable ignorance on the subject.
I have posted quite a few times on what the scholarly research specialists have had to say about the relationship between Islam and terrorism because I think this is more profitable than simplistically and often ignorantly blaming religion per se — and I have tried to post what the research has to say about religion itself and its relationship to human behaviour. It’s a little more complex than simply blaming Islam for extremist violence — but if we want to do our bit for encouraging evidence based understanding I prefer to go this way and try to show why Coyne, Harris, and Dawkins are sometimes flat wrong and dangerous — despite all the other good things they say and that I love them for. http://vridar.org/category/terrorism-politics-society/
I am curious to know why you put the Chomsky quote there — it’s one I also strongly believe in and have referred to repeatedly. Were you seriously intending to suggest I don’t believe New Atheists have a right to be heard because I believe I have a right to debate and criticise them? Seriously?
A minor comment please on a side issue: it is not easy to document in the space available and time required to show that some sections of the secularist political left have been indulgent towards some sections of Muslim politics, very noticeably in the UK and US student scene. This position arises largely from an anti-colonial stance, whereby Israel is regarded rightly or wrongly as a settler state, a humanitarian sympathy for the Palestinians, and other peoples subjected to US military attacks, an in-built sympathy for supposed underdogs, and less commendably in my view a species of western self-hatred. One can trace the train of thought, for example, from Said through Chomsky to the view that Muslims inside and outside western cities deserve reparation, in the form of encouragement or even coddling, notwithstanding various social moralities in their own societies at variance with “human rights” ideology. Nick Cohen is among those who have commented on this tendency in, for instance, the current “Spectator” (q.v.).
When I was a young teacher, years ago, at the start of “multicultural and ant-racist education” in British schools, I attended a set of introductory lectures at the London University Institute of Education. One speaker explained that we needed the maximum immigration from the third world combined with the maximum opposition to public resistance. When asked how an inflow from religious Muslims could advance the socialist egalitarian revolution, she explained that the first priority was to destroy “English racism” (national identity) and, after that, one would deal with “Asian sexism” (family values). It hasn’t quite turned out like that, but the situation in both the Middle East and western cities is not, shall we say, ideal.
Man, this Neil Godfrey guy sure did a great job of tearing me down.
I haven’t read all the comments, so others may have made this point, but the reason I consider myself a NA is due to what seems to be increased attempts in recent decades by American Christians to influence public policy in quite negative ways based on the factual untruths of their religions beliefs.
I don’t want to challenge someone’s *right* to believe something even where there’s ample evidence to the contrary, but as has been pointed out by some of the famous NAs, openly questioning religions beliefs is this context is not at all the same thing. Yet it is considered off limits in polite company to do so.
Just keeping quiet and pretending that private religious belief is the one set of ideas that shouldn’t be challenged just isn’t good enough. Speaking out certainly isn’t the whole solution either, but such dialogue, so long as it is respectful of individual’s dignity, has to be a part.
I fully agree that religious organizations trying to bend public policy and public education to their preferences should be firmly resisted, opposed, prevented. This is a political battle, though, don’t you think? We are not going to stop them by arguing against their beliefs — they know we disagree with them and that they won’t change our views etc. That’s why they are using all sorts of political pressure to gain footholds in public policies and institutions.
Believers don’t believe because of rational arguments (though they may think they do) and no rational argument alone is going to deconvert them. They are prepared to cast down all “human reasoning” that “exalts itself against God”. Attacking and ridiculing them publicly only cements their persecution syndrome and fans the potential for strife.
We need to pressure our political representatives and others in power to keep religion out of the public policies and curriculums.
Not saying we shouldn’t make the arguments against religion, too — but the audience is the wider public and those who are already questioning and wavering. The committed believers need to be confronted politically, I think.
It’s a good point. I think Dawkins work on evolution has more to offer, though, than his attacks on religion that won’t inspire anyone to give up their faith.
I think it is both political and religious. It’s hard to see where one ends and the other begins. The aim isn’t necessarily to convince the individuals making the erroneous case, but to win the public policy debate, which means not only countering the falsity of any specific argument or attempt to influence policy (including why is it false, which means not avoiding the religious aspects), but creating an environment where evidence based policy making is more highly valued, and faith based arguments, particularly when going against available evidence, will come to be expected to attract strong objection. This is much needed to create a stronger platform for reason to be the main influence on policy.
People believe things, and more importantly, allow things to happen, for all sorts of reasons. If this doesn’t include reason, then there’s little point in even debating the matter. People are on a spectrum of how likely they are to be swayed by reasoned argument. Those at one extreme end of the spectrum may never be reachable, but the goal is to gain enough support overall and it doesn’t have to come from everyone. We want an environment were it is easy for decision makers to make decisions based on evidence. I don’t expect we’re far apart on this.
I think your last point is too hard on Dawkins, though. He has stated he doesn’t expect to convert the hard core believer, but also relates many contacts with people for whom his writings on religion have made a difference. This can be about changing views, though may also be just reducing the sense of isolation a doubter feels, giving them strength to speak of their doubts and defend principles, knowing that there are many others who think as they do. Outspoken people like Dawkins do create space for people to act more forthrightly.
I hate to have to make the disclaimer, but I refer here to Dawkins books and many talks, which are mostly helpful, not his tweets, which are mostly not, particularly when they stray into specific political issues, for which he seems not to have a good feel for at all.
“I haven’t read all the comments, so others may have made this point, but the reason I consider myself a NA is due to what seems to be increased attempts in recent decades by American Christians to influence public policy in quite negative ways based on the factual untruths of their religions beliefs.”
To me, the fact that you focus on the actions of American Christians tells me you’re just a run-of-the-mill atheist, not a New Atheist. There is nothing new about American Christians influencing public policy. Is there any reason why you need to slap the “New Atheist” label on yourself when plain old “atheist” will do just as well? When I think “NA,” I think of the thought leaders, who tend to be virulent anti-Islam-pawn-of-the-neoliberal-neoconservative-clash-of-civilizations-agenda. NA leaders exist to drum up atheist support for American military adventurism in the Middle East. They have nothing to say about domestic policy (or has Sam Harris come out in support of some kind of pro-atheist legislation in the US?).
I may be too hasty, though. If somebody can point me to New Atheist legislation in the Western world that is intended to curb the influence of Christianity on domestic policy, I will read it with much enthusiasm. Good luck in finding that kind of thing, though. Thanks.
I have always used something akin to the definition of new atheism found on wiki that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises”. The difference between NAs and plain old atheists is that NAs aren’t quiet about their atheism. I admit that’s not as exciting as plotting war crimes with neocons, but that some have gone off the rails doesn’t change what it’s about for me, though I understand the confusion. Even so, really only Hitchens fits your neocon characterisation as both Harris and Dawkins were against the neocon’s Iraq war show piece.
Plain old atheists were not and are not “quiet” about their atheism, so I still don’t know why you self identify as NA.
You go a bit too far in mischaracterizing my conclusion about the fundamental nature of New Atheism and its political bona fides. Manufacturing the consent of a segment of society does not equate to “plotting war crimes.” It’s a con game, and atheists are the marks.
Google “sam Harris neocon”, and see what you get.
Well, you may think that, but it’s how NA started. The original NA best sellers focussed far more on Christianity as well. The authors were labelled “new” because of their outspokenness, not a focus on Islam/terrorism, which is more recent, except for Hitchens. That’s just history. That the well-known NAs are so involved with Islam now doesn’t make it part of NA’s “fundamental nature”. It’s just that those views are hugely controversial so attract all of the attention.
And while I think Harris is wildly wrong on crucial points that do in effect lend support to neocons, I don’t think that is his intention. So yes, he’s a mark in that respect.
Of course, there are “West-blaming liberals”. Spend six months just reading the editorials and letters in The Guardian, Independent and Observer to observe the phenomenon, although I suppose that West-blaming liberals who share the same outlook will not mind. On the faith, practices and history of Islamic states and movements, one can cite evidence of both war and peace, violence and submission, slavery and emancipation, clerical authority and sectarian division, science and anti-science; and those who like taking sides will pick and choose whatever they want. Same with the history of Jews and of Zionism, except that WW2 has outlawed certain negative assertions.
What most of us here can surely agree on is that Allah does not exist, and that Muhammad therefore was not his final prophet. Is that “Islamophobia”? Ditto, the divine origin and total credibility of the Tanakh. Is that “antisemitism”?
I am no paragon myself, but I do believe we need (a) precision in the use of labels, preferably new ones, or no vague pejoratives at all; and (b) factual exactitude, supported by evidence and presented with balance.
Can you help out E. Harding then? Who are the names that Harris and Coyne are declaiming against? Coyne has already said Robert Pape is one of them (and me, too) — even though Robert Pape is writing to advise the US government on how best to protect its interests in the Middle East.
In formal public discussion that tries to reach a broad audience it is best to avoid all labels altogether and just stick to observable facts/data/behaviours. One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter and all that. The labels don’t help except that they define what political perspective the user is coming from. I’ve been called a “West-blaming liberals” but I believe the descriptor is absurd and focuses on just one of many facets of my views and builds that one facet up to distorted proportions to misrepresent my argument. Coyne does the same with Pape who is actually very conservative in the interests he expresses in his final chapter of “Dying to Win”.
Uh, Neil, can you open the comments on your latest post on Plato and the Pentateuch?
I think you are confused regarding “West-blaming liberals” – in the majority of cases, these liberals are not saying the West is to blame for everything, I mean, I know this is what a lot of readers of the Daily Mail and Telegraph think these readers believe, but I feel this is simply them projecting their own simple-minded view of the world and conflicts onto others i.e. because Mail and telegraph readers tend to have a very simplistic view of the world, they assume everyone else must also, and therefore fall into the trap of believing West-blaming liberals are blaming the West for everything and fail to see this is rarely the case.
Chomsky actually elaborates why he is more concerned with violence caused by his side:
“My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it. So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. It is very easy to denounce the atrocities of someone else. That has about as much ethical value as denouncing atrocities that took place in the 18th century.”
I have never heard of someone being accused of Islamophobia or anti-Semitism because they do not believe in Islam or Judaism respectively – that’s just absurd.
What I notice about your reaction is its needless but nonetheless significant reference to what Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph readers supposedly think or believe. The “Daily Mail [reader]” has come a familiar knee-jerk cliche of a certain type of commentator in the leftist press or on TV chat shows for a newspaper that, for example, is constantly sniping at the Prince of Wales and other members of the Royal Family and runs regular anti-Nazi features. I also regularly read The Guardian, The Independent, The Times, The Observer, the New Statesman, the TLS and many other publications, and am quite capable of assessing what their editors and their correspondents generally think. As I say, we need precision in definitions and evidence.
I said “a lot” of Daily Mail and Telegraph readers, and not “all”. One just has to go to those papers and look at the comments and see which ones are most popular and ones which are least popular to get a feel of what their readers think.
Anyway, this discussion is going off-topic, I could sit here all evening writing about The Daily Mail, so I’ll end it here.
As someone who has subscribed to The Guardian and Daily Mail (and a large number of publications daily, weekly and quarterly) for some years past, I would say that letters in the former sometimes almost attain a self-parody in bien-pensant protest-leftism, whereas the Mail gives a fair spread of opinion not just political but of general interest, the latter being shorter in length on average though not as brief as the snippets in The Times.
After reading through this thread, I’d have to say that I can certainly see their point. You have definitely not been honesty or accurate about most of your claims about Acharya S, Neil:
“Neil Godfrey at his standard M.O. again ‘poisoning the well’ and marginalizing Acharya S/Murdock while creating a caricature of her of his own making:
“This thread exposes many intellectually dishonest statements by Neil Godfrey intentionally smearing Acharya S but, apparently, Godfrey believes that he is above reproach no matter how low he stoops. Neil acts as if we have no right to respond to his false and inaccurate claims. We need people to grow a pair and call him out on it. It’s pretty obvious now that Neil Godfrey is on his smear campaign again and is just going to spread these lies at every opportunity.”
They have many valid points.
Saw this and laughed a little.
Even the unworldly hare krishnas are on the lookout to make money. Years back I attended one of their sessions advertising a free meal with the free talk. Meal was far more interesting than the talk but before we left we were hit on for a donation “for the meal”. I pleaded I had no cash and besides it was advertised as free upon which the orange-clad bare-footed beggar advised me they accepted credit card.
Again in Cambodia while visiting some holy spot a monk made friendly contact with me and told me his life story in our conversation — and naive me was not anticipating him putting the bite on me for a donation as I was leaving. Hate being tricked like that so I had double incentive to give him nothing and part with the friendship broken as quickly as it started.
Re the “krishnas” &c I well remember my Brahmin teaching colleague commenting with a sad smile on Lennon’s “Maharishi” – “You westerners are absolute suckers for these old frauds”.
Without which Sexy Sadie would not have been created.