When Contrarians Become the Rear-Guard – Why New Atheism is (still) Terrible

Prepare to cringe…

 

Paddy: In the early 21st century the new Prophets graced us with their presence. Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennett (for we are always in Their debt) led a ferocious charge against the Forces of God and gave all non-believers a bad name in the process.

For a teenager with a religious background the “Four Horsemen” were a marvel, brilliantly dismantling – in the case of Hitchens totally eviscerating – Christian dogma at a time I was just about capable of flirting with agnosticism. They not only clinically diagnosed the problem – the exact inconsistencies and hypocrisies of religion – but provided its young emigres with an alternative: science and capital r Reason.

Little did I know that Reason was a euphemism for something just as dogmatic.

Goya’s Sleep of Reason

 

Pole: It’s ironic for a sworn atheist to use religious symbolism like that but it is a good analogy: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, bringing an end to a world of religious ignorance and usher in one of Reason. Angry atheists which keep trying to tear religion to pieces and prove that its adherents are delusional idiots holding humanity back:

 

They’re treating atheism as an ideological agenda rather than an idea, inflating their egos in the process. In fact, this ‘new atheism’ bears some similarity to a new religious movement. It’s based on a belief in the non-existence of god; its members claim to have a monopoly on truth; and they are trying to conver-… I mean enlighten others to their way of thinking. Not long before we see them going house to house, clutching a copy of The God Delusion, telling those impatient few who open their door about life, morality and how to cleanse themselves of superstition.

Paddy:  Although I agree in principle, you’re setting your sights far too low. As the Spanish militia leader ordering lead to be fired down upon spineless, fascist clergymen may have said, “aim for the head, Jose!” The head of this movement, of course, consists largely of pseudo-intellectuals who have long exhausted their use to the academy.

The Disasters of War, and a shameless attempt to shoe-in more Goya

 

Admittedly, I still have a grudging admiration for at least two of the original quartet but, still, they make it difficult. Dawkins, a brilliant popular science writer, has resorted to Grade B Twitter trolling while Dennett saw to naming his insufferable followers “brights”, and the Hitch crudely conflated politics, anthropology and religious studies to carry out a dangerously convincing crusade against Islam.

None of the above, however, is as slimy and smug as the Ben Stiller look-alike. No one else encapsulates the unsettling ideological overlap between American liberals and the traditional far-right quite like Harris. (Wasn’t it he who claimed Europe’s fascists were the most clear-headed about immigration policy?) His talking point is this: religion is thought crime of the highest order.

Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them

Despite this he somehow manages to maintain a love affair with Buddhism. It may be imperfect but its principles and teachings, Harris drones, correlate strongly with the objective innate moral system he both claims to have uncovered and adhere to (details of which can be found in The Moral Landscape, available at fine book stores across Seculardom). This unusual admiration aligns with his abandonment of logic in claiming that mind and body are non-dependant entities (this view is something neuroscientists, among others, have thoroughly discredited, so surely he knows this?). And perhaps plays a role in his excursion into realms normally associated with New Age yah-yah types, when he argues that a metaphorical society whose only reading material is Buddhist texts – as opposed to the actual ones clogging up the Himalayas – would be a peaceful, enlightened one. A stranded group granted nothing other than Islamic texts however, would degenerate into a savage death cult within the same time it would take Sam’s buds to occupy Rousseau’s dreamscape.

This hogwash is on the same level as the stupid Sapir-Whorf hypothesis – Harris, that’s simply not how the mind works! Any first year Psychology undergrad could tell you that you’re tacitly – if not overtly – rejecting basic truisms about the human mind. Spelled out: single source of potential inspiration is not capable of changing a group’s entire nature, you tit. I hesitate to call this pseudo-science, in the words of Wolfgang Pauli, it’s not even wrong.

Harris claims religious texts are man-made except when he spots an opportunity to support American interests – then, and only then, it’s the other way round. It’s the Qu’ran that maketh the man.

With this cognitive leap, the rest of the New Atheist agenda becomes easy to embrace. And so we see the flock regurgitate lines about the inherent incompatibility the Muslim psyche has with Progress. So too, we are bombarded with excuses for the need to maintain a boot firmly atop that burnished head of theirs – for their good as well as ours. Ignorance (or perhaps I should pay them the compliment of saying deception) lead them to omit that it was Our enlightened side which, not so long ago, helped to quash that region’s secular left – going as far as to bankroll Saddam’s cull of inconvenient free thinkers within his borders and overthrowing Iran’s reformers – no doubt postponing that Islamic Reformation Harrisbots rant tirelessly for. But back then, of course, Harris’ intellectual forebears were arguing that godless socialism was the great enemy of civilization…

Boy, I guess geo-politics is complicated huh?

Harris’ contribution to philosophy is about as sophisticated, although not nearly as entertaining, as this seven minute bit by Charlie Brooker

Returning to an earlier point: you’d have to be a special sort of sheltered to have missed just how unreasonable Buddhist reading groups can be. There’s people around today for whom the swastika is still a terrifying sight. Unfortunately for them, because Harris and his followers do not seem to care, they’re Muslims.

 

Oh Hitch…

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