My Discontent with the New Atheist Movement
For the past decade, the new atheist movement has been gaining steam with noted anti-theists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris selling wildly popular books explaining the pitfalls of religion. However, recently, a number of articles have come out criticizing those leaders for racism. I’d like to step into the ring to give my own two cents on the various problems with the new atheist movement.
My first problem with the movement is that it is in no way progressive. The movement puts forth the idea that they are trying to free people from the suffering that religion brings. They say that religion is the cause of suffering in Iran and Afghanistan and other societal ills. While some of this is true, it ignores the real causes that brought fundamentalist religious movements to power. Looking at Afghanistan, the need to depose communist leaders and get rid of USSR-influence on the country, the United States funded fundamentalist religious groups and turned them into armed militias. This led to a twenty yearlong civil war in which those fundamentalist militias, the Taliban and al queada took over large swaths of the country. This is the ultimate cause of the violent repression in Afghanistan. This is the ultimate cause of the September 11 hijackings. Religion didn’t fly into those buildings, decades of geopolitical conflict did.
And what is the new atheist response to this? I’m not too sure. Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens all support the ‘war on terror.’ They all support it if not because of the political situation, then because it will bring secular democracy to the heathen Muslim nations. Not only does the New Atheist movement fail to understand the actual political situation that has put dangerous groups into power, they stand on the side of the same American imperialism that is the source of these conflicts. The New Atheist movement parrots the same secular humanist rhetoric spouted by American neoliberals as justification of its regime destabilizations and warmongering. At best, the New Atheist movement reinforces the discourse around imperialist notions on ‘liberation’ and at worst it provides justifications for invasions and torture.
It’s not as if the New Atheist movement can’t make any other allies. They could just as easily reach out to the more progressive segments of religions. There are real struggles being waged within liberation theology in Latin America and in the Middle East. But the New Atheist movement does not see these struggles because they essentialize religion into a bloc of pure evil. It doesn’t matter that the church is the weapon of liberation for many people. It only matters that the people believe in god. And that shallow analysis is what dooms the movement from embracing anti-capitalist and truly liberational struggles and what leads them to side with a force that has killed and continues to kill millions.