posted on 5/11/2015 by the Salt City Sinner
One year that I attended college in Arkansas, my girlfriend at the time and I used to hang out in Little Rock with friends of hers, including one friend we'll call “Rob.” Rob was ex-military, and politically on the conservative side, so needless to say he and I spent a good deal of time arguing about politics. We also spent a a not-insignificant amount of time arguing about religion, because Rob was definitely a God person, whereas I, since the last time I attended mass as a tween, have decidedly not been a God person.
Our political arguments were often heated but there was a certain amount of mutual respect. When Rob talked about Jesus, on the other hand,his lips would curl into a gloating little smile and his voice would take on a condescending timbre as he said, for the hundredth or three hundredth time, “you'd understand if you'd ever been in the military or seen combat. There are no atheists in foxholes.”
This would come as interesting news to my maternal grandfather, who celebrated his 90th birthday recently. He pursued a career in the military, serving in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He has seen the inside of more foxholes than most people alive. He is also a hard-core, lifelong atheist, having self-identified as such since the days when atheists were some of the most reviled people on planet Earth (and, yes, atheists are still to this day some of the most unfairly maligned folks around). “No atheists in foxholes” my pap-pap's wrinkled ass.
|"I used to be a believer, but your eloquence and compassion have convinced me!"|
I mention Rob because the same smug, irritating tone that he favored in our little chats is no longer the exclusive province of sanctimonious churchgoers: in the last decade and a half, an entire movement of equally smug, equally arrogant atheists has sprung up like a toadstool after a spring rain.
Starting with the publication of Sam Harris' 'The End of Faith' in 2004, New Atheism (as this movement is known) has produced public debates, books, films, internet fora and just about everything else you can imagine except for a theme park (unless you count Disneyland, for truly, it is a godless place). There is even an ongoing attempt, started by a former biology teacher named Peter Geisert, to re-brand atheists as “Brights,” I guess in contrast to religious people, who, I'm sure we can all agree, are dim-witted morons.
A lot has been written about the New Atheist leaders who can't seem to have an opinion about any subject whatsoever without finding, as though it were some kind of mutant superpower, the most horrible opinion possible (thinkers who fall into this category include Richard “It Is Unethical Not To Abort A Fetus With Down Syndrome” Dawkins and Sam “I Just Got My Ass Handed To Me In A Debate With Noam Chomsky” Harris), but every left-of-center publication or website these days seems to have to have at least one New Atheist on retainer whose job it is to shit out the same tired, done-to-death “thinkpiece” once a week: only the mentally deranged think the Bible is literally true (I and I'm sure even many people of faith agree), Islam is to blame for terrorism (see the above link where Chomsky makes a complete fool out of Sam Harris for a representative sample of the strength of that argument), religion is the cause of all the world's ills (huh?), blah blah blah, and on and on and on.
Alternet has Valerie Tarico, she of “HAW HAW MITT ROMNEY WEARS MAGIC UNDERPANTS HAW HAW” fame. The Raw Story has Greta Christina, and Slate, as befits their nature as obnoxious contrarians, usually runs the other direction and publishes pieces about how atheism is actually totally bogus. The website I personally read that is the most hellishly shrill in thumping the non-Bible of New Atheism is hands down Salon.
Salon is more than happy to give a platform to anti-Islam activist, Fox News contributor, and former American Enterprise Institute fellow Ayaan Hirsi Ali (probably the one thing that AEI and Salon have common ground on). Salon also re-prints the latest “zingers” from misogynistic bigot Bill Maher with the same breathless sycophancy that I've previously only seen in WND's weekly re-hashing of the best of Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage (in Salon's defense regarding Maher, they also ran a piece calling Maher out on his bigotry -- more on that ina moment -- but that was a drop in the bucket in comparison to the space and attention given Maher's views overall).
|I'm sorry, was that mean?|
For my money, the crowning pinnacle of New Atheism's shit mountain is Jeffrey Tayler, who is also a frequent Salon contributor in addition to being a Russia correspondent for the Atlantic and a contributor to NPR's “All Things Considered.” While Tayler's opinions on matters of public policy are nowhere near as awful as those of the movement's more prominent figureheads (i.e., Dawkins' views on disability and rape or Sam Harris' support for the Iraq war and State torture programs), Tayler more than makes up for it in condescension, elitism, and a profoundly annoying writer's voice that is equal parts Thomas Frank and Ignatius J. Reilly.
|Jeffrey Tayler, looking *almost* as smug as his hero Bill Maher|
Take Tayler's April 19th column for Salon, in which he variously describes believers as “faith-deranged,” “God-fearing clowns,” "irrationalists" and “unwashed crazies.” After flaying Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul for their religious conservatism (and absolutely deservedly so), Tayler constructs what he obviously views as a very clever “gotcha” question:
Here are some questions journalists might ask the candidates. They might begin with a preamble, though. As a Christian, you believe the Bible is, as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 proclaims, the word of God, “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” You accept the New Testament, of course, which includes Matthew 5:18’s pronouncement that every last bit of the Bible shall be implemented …If any of the candidates have boned up on their Reza Aslan and laugh off your questions, telling you they don’t take the Bible literally, you might ask what scriptural authority they can cite that permits them to disavow some parts of their holy book but accept others. Answer: there is none.
In other words, “The premise of my question demands that you accept the premise of my question. How dare you not accept my premise, when my premise demands that you do?”
The childish little slap at Reza Aslan, in case you haven't been following the New Atheist holy wars, is a reference to an ongoing debate between Aslan and Bill Maher over whether Islam as a religion is the primary and/or sole motivating factor behind Islamist terrorism. Salon, again to their credit, has published a few articles dealing with Maher's (and Tayler's) take on Islam, my favorite of which begins:
You know what you call someone who makes sweeping generalizations on billions of people based on the extreme actions of a few? A bigot. Bill Maher, for example, is a bigot. And if you’re a fan of his smug, dismissive shtick, you’re a bigot too.
Tayler is a bigot, pure and simple – albeit one who is smart enough to try to move the goalposts. Tayler, in columns like this pile of shit, doesn't just deny that he is an Islamophobe; he repeatedly denies that Islamophobia exists, or maybe asserts that if Islamophobia does exist, it's totally rational and justified (he is never very clear on this point, dismissing questions about Islamophobia out of hand in his trademark “let this upper-class white guy drop some knowledge on you, Muslim peasants” tone).
This is not a particularly novel approach to addressing the accusation that one is Islamophobic (or anti-Semitic, or racist, or misogynist) – hell, I read WND, remember? Still, for the benefit of New Atheists everywhere, I feel the need to point out that, “Hate Crimes Against Muslims In [the] US Have Skyrocketed During 'War on Terror'”:
Hate crimes against Muslims in the United States jumped after the September 11, 2001 attacks and remain high more than 13 years later... In the last few years, specifically anti-Muslim crimes have made up about 13 or 14 percent of hate crimes considered to be committed with a religious bias. That amounts to nearly 100 anti-Islam hate crimes each year from 2011 to 2013, according to FBI data. More broadly, since September 11, 2001, anti-Muslim hate crimes have consistently stayed anywhere from 100 to 150 in number per year. In 2001, that number reached nearly 500
What a relief it will be to Muslims – and other “unwashed crazies” – to hear that Jeffrey Tayler has discovered that there's no such thing as unfounded anti-Muslim hatred!
|nonexistent Islamophobia in action (five were injured in this mosque arson in Sweden)|
Look, I'm all for a robust and even rowdy discussion of the role that religion should or should not play in politics and culture, and hell, I'm even in favor of marginalizing hateful and extreme views during that discussion.
The thing is, I'd definitely classify the New Atheists as hateful and extreme.