So the piece is doing well, especially for a weekend, and I really want to use this blog in a more bloggy way from now on. So, a few more thoughts on the piece. First off, I think the first paragraph is throwing people off. I wrote it poorly. On Twitter, Kevin Freeman gets to the crux of the issue:
@SeanMcElwee maybe you’re misunderstanding. New atheists major issue with religion is the suspension of critical thinking in name of faith
— Kevin Freedman (@MBKev) December 7, 2013
He’s right. This is the big disagreement. I don’t think religion requires you to suspend critical thinking, and this what that little syllogism gets at. Sam Harris seems to believe that Atheist totalitarian regimes count as religious because religion by definition is the suspension of rationality and critical thinking. Does Aquinas not think deeply and critically? Dante? Augustine? Gandhi? Tagore? Religion does not ipso facto require you to suspend critical thinking.
A lot of people also think that I see NA as a bloc. I don’t. I know they disagree. And although they all misunderstand religion to differing degrees (In order of best to worst: Hitchens, Dennett, Dawkins, Harris) they all share in that misunderstanding. There are also lots of other atheist philosophers out there, but the NAs have made their name for anti-theism. In my opinion, it’s taken away a lot of breath that could have been spent elsewhere. Steve Ollington argues that,
— Steve Ollington (@SteveOllington) December 7, 2013
I think this is a misreading of Hitchens. He clearly believes that religion is a force for evil. If he didn’t want to abolish it, then he is allowing an evil to continue. A big part of his critique of religion, especially Christianity, was a Nietzsche argument that it was too passive, too weak, especially in the face of evil. Obviously, given Jesus’s mission and Bonhoeffer and Wilberforce, this argument is rather absurd. Ollington also thinks I created a straw man. Bullshit. Yes, the first paragraph is overstated for rhetorical flourish. But does anyone who reads NA seriously think they see any redeeming factors here? I mean, watch this video. With the possible exception of the Hitch, they show utter contempt for religious belief. And is anyone going to seriously argue that they aren’t waay too fast to give religion credit for evil that is due to deprivation? That’s my argument in the piece:
I have to wonder if Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris truly believe that eliminating religion will also make the Islamic world forget about centuries of colonization and deprivation. Without religion, will everyone living in Pakistan shrug off drone strikes and get on with their lives? If religion motivated 9/11, what motivated Bill Clinton to bomb the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory and leave millions of Sudanese people without access to medicine?
Liberals who once believed that the key to understanding hate and violence is deprivation now have embraced the idea that religion is the culprit. Religion is both a personal search for truth as well as a communal attempt to discern where we fit in the order of things. It can also motivate acts of social justice and injustice, but broad popular movements of the sort generally indicate a manipulation of religion, rather than studied reflections on religious doctrine. Shall we blame Jesus, who advocated “turning the other cheek,” for Scott Philip Roeder, or more plausibly his schizophrenia?
Finally, I want to note that I have an incredible respect for Hitchens. He has shaped my economic and political views. I love No One Left to Lie To and The Trials of Henry Kissinger. Get them. Devour them. But that’s what makes his crusade against religion so sad. We lost a lot of time that could have been dedicated to exposing the powerful. We’re losing more awesome books like The Selfish Gene from Dawkins. Religion is consuming their time and energy, which is a damn shame.
I’m waiting for a call from Bill Maher.