A piece on the New Atheist movement, written by Robert Wright, appeared this past week at Foreign Policy’s website:
[T]he New Atheists’ main short-term goal wasn’t to turn believers into atheists, it was to turn atheists into New Atheists — fellow fire-breathing preachers of the anti-gospel. The point was to make it not just uncool to believe, but cool to ridicule believers.
And the result?:
Though the New Atheists claim to be a progressive force, they often abet fundamentalists and reactionaries, from the heartland of America to the Middle East. If you’re a Midwestern American, fighting to keep Darwin in the public schools and intelligent design out, the case you make to conservative Christians is that teaching evolution won’t turn their children into atheists. So the last thing you need is for the world’s most famous teacher of evolution, Richard Dawkins, to be among the world’s most zealously proselytizing atheists. These atmospherics only empower your enemies. So too with foreign policy: Making “Western” synonymous with “aggressively atheist” isn’t a recipe for quelling anti-Western Islamist radicalism. And there’s a subtle but potent sense in which New Atheism can steer foreign policy to the right. Axiomatic to New Atheism is that religion is not just factually wrong, but the root of evil, which suggests that other proposed root causes of the sort typically stressed on the left aren’t really the problem. Sam Harris, in discussing terrorism, wholly dismisses such contributing factors as “the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza,” “the collusion of Western powers with corrupt dictatorships,” and “the endemic poverty and lack of economic opportunity that now plague the Arab world.” The problem, Harris states, is religion, period. Most New Atheists aren’t expressly right wing, but even so their discounting of the material causes of Islamist radicalism can be “objectively” right wing (as in George Orwell’s assertion that pacifists were “objectively pro-fascist” regardless of their views about fascism).
Ideas have consequences, and I don’t think that Wright is engaged in an unfair characterization of New Atheist rhetoric. On November 28th, for example, one prominant New Atheist, Jerry Coyne, could be found, at his website, sounding for all the world like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck:
Well, I’m not in favor of stereotyping individual Muslims, but as for Islam, well, it does seem to be an intrinsically belligerent religion. Read the Qur’an — you’ll find plenty of belligerence there. And if you object that the Old Testament is belligerent, too, look then all the imams calling for jihad. And how many Muslims stood up to protest the widespread jubilation in the Middle East that ensued after 9/11, or stood up to defend the right of Danish newspapers to publish cartoons mocking Mohamed?