The "New Atheists" and right-wing foreign policy

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contrarianna
The "New Atheists" and right-wing foreign policy

by Robert Wright
Author of The Evolution of God

Quote:

Why the "New Atheists" are Right-Wing on Foreign Policy

....
After all, with atheists an overwhelmingly left-wing group, what were the chances that the loudest infidel in the western world would happen to be on the right?

Actually, the chances were pretty good. When it comes to foreign policy, a right-wing bias afflicts not just Hitchens's world view, but the whole ideology of "new atheism," especially as seen in the work of Hitchens allies Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

Atheism has little intrinsic ideological bent. (Karl Marx. Ayn Rand. I rest my case.) But things change when you add the key ingredient of the new atheism: the idea that religion is not just mistaken, but evil -- that it "poisons everything," as Hitchens has put it with characteristic nuance.

 Consider Dawkins's assertion, in his book The God Delusion, that if there were no religion then there would be "no Israeli-Palestinian wars."...."

see complete article here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-wright/why-the-new-atheists-are_b_2...

500_Apples

This is a silly article.

There's nothing new about considering religion wrong in itself. Both Marx and Rand, the author's example of old atheism, did so.

Kaspar Hauser

Actually, Marx saw religion as the expression of the heart in a heartless world. He believed that it needed to be made irrelevant by changing the class structure that made the world a heartless place.  In other words, he saw religion as a symptom of the class structure. That's quite a bit different than what the New Atheists are proposing. In fact, Harris, for example, explicitly rejects any causal explanation for religion.  Marx never demonized religion, which is what the New Atheists are prone to doing.

 

Here's a good piece by Chris Hedges on the subject of the New Atheists: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20070523_chris_hedges_i_dont_believe_in_atheists/

 

And here's a good interview with Hedges on the subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6rIEWrLJ1g

Jingles

I wouldn't lump Dawkins in with those other two. Hitchens and Harris use atheism as a bludgeon to beat Islam. They aren't too concerned about, for example, the zionist settler movement as an example of dangerous fundamentalism. For those two uselss eaters, only the Palestinian resistance is the problem because "Islam is violent".

Unionist

Religion is bad news, but it isn't the root of evil. I would agree with Jingles' distinction between Dawkins and the others. And anyone that spends more time dissing Islam than religion in general should be viewed with extreme prejudice IMO.

 

Sven Sven's picture

Unionist wrote:

I would agree with Jingles' distinction between Dawkins and the others.

Me, too.  I think Dawkins is brilliant -- and seems quite apolitical.

_______________________________________

Eleutherophobics of the World...Unite!!!

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Michael Nenonen wrote:

Here's a good piece by Chris Hedges on the subject of the New Atheists:

Hedges doesn't "believe in atheists" because he believes in God. He's a Harvard seminary graduate and the son of a Presbyterian minister.

His approach is quite different from that of Robert Wright, who is an atheist. Wright does not defend religion against the right-wing atheists, but Hedges does.

Hedges's analysis of world conflict is just as flawed as the new atheists' - he thinks it's the "inherent capacity for evil of humankind" that is responsible. Not religious dogma, and not oppression, exploitation, poverty and inequality. It's just that we're all the flawed sons of Adam.

Kaspar Hauser

I'd love to see where, in Hedges work, he refers to anyone as "sons of Adam." And his concept of God has very, very little to do with the straw man set up by the New Atheists. For Hedges and for many, many theologians, God is an expression of mystery--of the abyss beyond the comprehension of the human mind. It's certainly not any kind of anthropomorphic deity. I mean, Hedges argues that we live in a "morally neutral universe", for Christ's sake.

Cueball Cueball's picture

I think Spector's point is that an arguement based on "Humankind's inherent capacity for evil", is just as "essentialist" as the idea that all persons are "born into sin", and that is analysis is not founded in a "materialist" view of social relations, but a moral one. I haven't read Hedges so I wont broach a guess, but that was my read on the "adam" comment.

Kaspar Hauser

Ah.

ceti ceti's picture

Terry Eagleton also has a critique of what he calls Ditchins:

 

http://www.salon.com/books/review/2009/04/28/terry_eagleton/print.html

Unionist

ceti wrote:

Terry Eagleton also has a critique of what he calls Ditchins:

Don't you mean Hairy Pigglebum?

Oh sorry, here I am inadvertently adopting his school of criticism...

M. Spector M. Spector's picture
Unionist

Good memory, Spector - and don't forget we started this discussion [url=almost">http://www.rabble.ca/babble/humanities-science/richard-dawkins-quotthe-g... 3 years ago[/url]. We put paid to Piggleton!

 

Sven Sven's picture

M. Spector wrote:

[url=http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/the_courtiers_reply.php]The Courtier's Reply[/url]

Very good.  Thanks for that link.  Much of the commentary following the Courtier's Reply is worth reading as well.

_______________________________________

Eleutherophobics of the World...Unite!!!

Kaspar Hauser

Good lord, you call that a rebuttal?

Anyway, here's a good lecture by Eagelton on the subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mdt0GBQu6SY&feature=PlayList&p=CC3BC8CD61...

contrarianna

To return to Wright for a minute.
I agree that Dawkins does not have the political agenda of Harris or Hitchens, and Wright in the OP article fails to make the necessary distinction.  
Yet, Dawkins' naive explanation of the Israel-Palestine conflict as primarily religious reinforces the much less benign political agenda of the others.
Wright:

Quote:

The Israeli and American right join Dawkins in stressing religious motivation in the Middle East, and there's a reason for that. The people there whose political grievances are most conspicuously caught up with religion are Muslims. If the problem is that Muslims are possessed by this irrational, quasi-autonomous force known as religion, then there's no point in trying to reason with them, or to look at any facts on the ground that might drive their discontent. And there are facts on the ground in the West Bank that the Israeli and American right don't want to talk about. They're called settlements.

And so too with discontent throughout the Muslim world: If religion is the wellspring of radicalism, why bother paying attention to any issues in the actual material world? Why, for example, would you do what President Obama has done, and address a longstanding Iranian grievance by admitting that the US played a role in a 1953 coups that replaced Iran's democratically elected leader with a dictator?

In order to further political goals, figures such as Hitchens, (often cynically Wright fails to mention,) cloak themselves in the moralistic "truths" of distorted reports of "enlightenment values" in battle with an overstated causation of evil religion, the mirror image of how others cloak themselves in the moralistic "truths" of religious dictate to further bolster their political goals.
In other words, the "new atheists" causality of evil (and the polemics are often every bit as much mono-dimensional moralistic demonology as fundamentalists) is often a  calculated and convenient myth to subvert examination of alternative causes.

Wright:

Quote:

"People are survival machines built by natural selection. (This Dawkins gets.) When they sense threats to their interests, they can not only get violent, but wrap themselves in a larger cause that justifies the violence. Here they're as flexible as you'd expect well-built survival machines to be: that larger cause can be religion, yes, but it can also be nationalism or racialism. Hitler whipped up more fervor with the latter two than the first. Whatever's handy."

====
A side issue.  When Wright uses the quasi-metaphor of the "Evolution of God", he is not equating "evolution" with "progress" but with reversible adaptive response in accord with group needs.
He sees the social and political construct of "God' as reflecting the adaptive objectives of cultures--which may mean cooperative accommodation with other societies-- or bloodthirsty genocide.
See his piece here:
Decoding God’s Changing Moods
http://evolutionofgod.net/time

Unionist

Terry Eagleton is on CBC Radio's Tapestry right now (eastern time).

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

Michael Nenonen wrote:

Ah.

Ah?

I think Hedges has been entirely misrepresented here. I don't recall Hedges blaming humanity's inherent evil. I believe he has, in fact, blamed capitalism's inherent evil but he has also offered the most secular solution of socialism as the antidote. Until very recently, anyway. Now he thinks, I believe, that we're irretrievably on the path to ruin having failed to halt the rapacious appetite and destructive nature of capitalism.

Lachine Scot

I like the overall sense of this article, as someone who has always been an atheist and in recent years have found myself in arguments with friends and relatives over these New Atheist books and their "solutions" to conflicts around the world. 

However, I find this paragraph of the article leaves a sour taste in my mouth:

the article wrote:

Anyway, the question is how to reduce the number of suicide bombers. And I have to wonder: If some Jihadists are motivated partly by fear that the west threatens their religious culture, is the optimal counter-terrorism strategy to have know-it-all westerners tell them their God doesn't exist?

The question when discussing religion and politics is how to get rid of suicide bombers and "Jihadists"?  Wow, so we're back to the same imperial assumptions about running the world ..

milo204

I think Dawkins is certainly better than hitchens etc.  But i think he puts too much emphasis on the religion of so called terrorists and ignores the other non-religious motivations for what they do.  

He also ignores that a lot of the original nationalist strains in the middle east were secular.  It was after they were crushed or rendered useless that new movements sprang up, often encouraged by the west, that used religion as a motivator and propaganda tool.  a good example being hamas, whose creation was encouraged by israel as a opposition force to the secular PLO which was gaining popularity....seems dawkins etc don't take this into account.

But he is right that religion is indeed a principle factor in the conflict.  Would israel be obsessed with that particular piece of land if not for religion?  Part of the reason israel wants jerusalem so bad instead of some territory somewhere in egypt let's say, is because of the "holy" sites like the wailing wall/temple mount and it's purely religious significance.  

 

Tommy_Paine

 

 

As much as I tend to agree with much of what Hitchen's wrote in "God is not Good", my personal view of Hitchens (from afar) is that there's more than a little of the "true believer"  in this man, and when you combine that with his need to be a contrarian, I would not doubt that one day Hitchens will find some small imperfection in the Athiest Way and end his days in Opus Dei.

 

But Hitchens is right, religion does poison everything.    No, it doesn't cause world conflict (usually) but it sure allows an evil twist to them which we could all do very well without.

Which leads to Dawkins central point, in that religion does not deserve any quarter or special consideration in public discourse.

The reason religion poisons everything is because we grant religion way, way too much privelege in public discourse, and elsewhere.

 

 

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

We allow? We encourage. When men and women can't be moved by King or Flag, there remains God.

absentia

I'm not sure who these "New Atheists" are, apart from a handful of well-publicized authors, who lead no congregations and organize no movements. I, as an atheist, have neither pope nor lama, neither guru nor grand poo-bah. As Dawkins says: "Atheist simply means I don't believe in a god or gods." That's not political. Any particular atheist may belong to any political party or faction, may espouse any philosophy; may be racist, sexist, ageist; pro- or anti-whatever; may practice activism or pacificsm or plumbing or surfing or none of these... So, where is the power base for this new atheist right?

What's happened, with Hitchens and a few other (not necessarily similar) articulate people is that they've grown alarmed at the recent, very successful political power-grab by religious forces. When life is hard and the world is scary, people tend to turn to magic. That creates fertile ground for charlatans who claim a hot-line to some supernatural power. It breeds fanaticism. Popular movements come under the leadership of unscrupulous priests, who then begin to dictate rules of behaviour to the entire society. These rules become ever more intolerant, restrictive, ruthless.  

Atheists, as a general observation, are a tolerant bunch; little concerned with what their neighbours do or believe. As long as the secular republic was doing reasonably well in the service of all the citizens, rational thinkers were content to leave the religious to their own devices, even show them respect. But the religious never reciprocate. They force their ideas into the science classrooms and the courthouses, the maternity clinics and legislature. The Christian right is pushing western society backwards to the middle ages. At this point, atheists begin to feel taht they had better speak out, before the witch-hunts start in earnest.  

Atheists do not speak with a single voice, nor have a single, coherent agenda. Mostly, we just want laws, made on a rational basis, that work for our society now, rather than laws based on a tradition that may have worked for a middle eastern tribe 3000 years ago.

milo204

absentia:  that's a good point.  Often i assume if someone is atheist and admits it that they must be somewhat progressive.  I think in north america we're so used to the religious=conservative thing that we forget how many conservative atheists there are.

And if you add in all the conservative folks who claim to believe in a god, but under the surface really don't believe any of that stuff it's even more true!

absentia

Oh, fer sure. Most of the leadership can't possibly believe a word of what they preach, or they'd be trembling in constant fear of lightning bolts and hellfire. The followers refuse to see their preacher's second face, even as he molests the orphans and robs the widows. On the other hand, i have great admiration for true Christians who do what Jesus told them to. They are not politcal consevatives: they are - necessarily, by the tenets of their faith - socialists, communists and peaceniks.