Friday, April 12, 2013

Atheism Islamophobia?

I came across an article, where the author took issue with "New Atheism" being Islamophobic, and focusing too much on the harm of religion without producing any ideas on how to be good.

I'l like to address some of the author's points. Sorry, but I'm going to get a bit social-political here.

The beginning of the article sets up some background information, but I'd rather focus on the author's points.

The biggest problem I see is that the author conflates the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitches with the whole of the "New Atheist" movement. They're well-known authors, and that's about it. No offense to those three, but it'd be like asserting that Glenn Beck is an accurate representation of Republicans.

The modern day atheism movement is very much grassroots, and both Harris and Hitchens have received a lot of flack (for example) from the movement about some of their positions. The atheist movement tends to be unique in that we have no problem taking the so-called "leaders" to task, on almost anything. Hitchens was criticized for his pro-Iraq war stance, and Harris has been reamed for his advocating of racial profiling at airports.

They say nasty things about Christians all the time, and, in fairness to them, countries that are governed by Islamic law have done horrible things (as have Christian nations and, it turns out, Buddhist countries too). If you are attempting to eradicate religion one New York Times bestseller at a time, like Harris and Dawkins are, maybe it makes sense to go after what you perceive as the “worst” belief system first, then the next-worst, and so on, until the only faith left in the world is a pacifist combo of Unitarianism and Jainism.
It's not unusual for people to address concerns within their proximity. It may not be a virtue, but the fact is, people will try to tackle problems which are "more at home" than those that are not. Christianity is more of a problem in the U.S. than Islam - so thus, Christianity gets more of our (in the U.S.) ire first.

The point of this article is to assert that atheists are overly "Islamophobic", and yet, we get accused of the opposite.

Just a quick Google search will dredge up numerous people who either equate atheism to Islam, or will accuse us of supporting them over Christianity.

It's not unusual for callers to call The Atheist Experience and ask why they aren't spending more time bashing on Islam over Christianity.

If we set aside the likes of well known authors, what you'll find is a level-headed support for secularism, fairness and equality among the atheist community.

We end up defending Islam, because, at least in the U.S., they're trying to live their lives within the law, and Christians frequently aren't - so guess who we'll defend, and who we'll fight.

The author rails against Harris's writings some more - most of which I could probably agree with.

One thing belief does is it gives you a guide to living your life. A certain kind of cynical atheist will scoff at that idea, note all the ways religions constrict freedoms and mistreat people, and reject the notion of morality coming from faith.
I take it he's equating "belief" with "religion" - I had to read that a couple times... but sure, living a life of lies can "guide" your life. Wouldn't it be better that the guide was honestly accurate? That can be accomplished without appealing to fairy tales.

The problem is, that while a lot of these people are busy having their lives guided by these "beliefs", they're also frequently either dragging their feet, or not promoting, for things like proper science education, complete sex education, stem cell research, etc.

The problem is that their beliefs, when incorrect, damage everything and everyone around them. The problem isn't only that they "beat up" on people... it's a question of erosion - the cumulative damage to society - every second we spend fighting about evolution is more time/money/energy we didn't spend on nuclear fusion research, cancer treatment research or green technologies.

And on morality... it cannot "come from faith" in any more of a meaningful sense than a stopped clock is "right" twice a day. Actual functional morality requires an assessment of reality - of harm and benefit done to other people. A primitive form of rules-obeying of a list from a group that pulled the ideas from the depths of their fantasies couldn't really be considered "morality" in any kind of meaningful sense.

They cannot produce morality. They produce obedience.

Those atheists are quick to attribute practically all violence committed in the name of God to religion while ignoring the acts of kindness done in the name of God.
Sure - in the sense that we might howl in rage at the father who beats his children, and ignore when he gives them ice cream later.

Also, it's only human. Considerably fewer people come out to cheer when things are correct, than when there's something to complain about. This isn't confined to atheists. While it'd be nice to get a pat on the back every time I did something good, I don't expect it, because I shouldn't be congratulated for being a decent human being - it should be normal.

Even if these New Atheists acknowledge that a faith like Islam teaches compassion and kindness to our neighbors (it does), they’ll claim that that’s counterbalanced by hatred and death on a much larger scale.
Yes, in the same sense that some sects of Christianity can twist their doctrine into being much more liberal, whereas the majority of Christians tend to be more conservative (my interpretation of the article, obviously) - and thus, more oppressive.

As skeptical atheists, we're bound to address all the claims, whether we're talking about dragons, UFOs or Saviors.

What I’m wondering, though, is what atheism puts in place of that morality and framework that religions provide. You don’t need God to be a good person, but you do need some way of differentiating good acts from bad, virtue from evil. The New Atheists have done a very, very thorough job of defining what evil is—it’s religion, and the hypocrisy it breeds, and the acts of oppression and blind hatred that are carried out under the cover of “obeying God.” I just wish they would turn their intellect toward questions of what “good” could be.
PZ Myers would disagree with me here, but I would say it doesn't - and shouldn't, and wouldn't make sense.

"I don't believe in any gods" shouldn't and couldn't be the basis for any kind of moral code. Humanism, on the other hand, would - or more specifically, secular humanism.

It's ironic he should bash on Sam Harris in this article, considering Harris recently published his book, "The Moral Landscape", which talks about just this.

Also, do a YouTube Search (link here) for Matt Dillahunty's advocation and lecturing tour on "Secular Morality".  The Atheist Experience has tackled this question for years (link to my own archive search results).

I'm afraid, on this part, the author is simply ignorant. He's probably a victim of availability heuristic - where, due to the media (or whatnot), he's only aware of every time we get angry about something.

Personally, I address Islam the same as I address Christianity. Both are unsupported belief systems which have dangerous doctrines. The key difference is that modern day Christianity, at least in the 1st worlds, has been mostly domesticated by secular culture. The majority of Islam hasn't yet been dragged into a more civilized world.

That's why when we address Christianity, it's more about politics, and when it comes to Islam, it's more likely to be about basic human decency.

Christianity is simply "further along" in this regard.

The accusation that this makes me "Islamophobic" is like saying that it makes me fearful/hateful of a toddler because my addressing of the toddler is different than if I were to address a teenager.

I don't think Islam is intrinsically worse than Christianity. It may be more of a question about cultural applications of the religions.

To recap - there's more to the "New Atheists" than a few authors. They don't define us all.

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