Monday, July 31, 2017

Excommunicating the New Atheists

Those who enjoy reading about hypocritical ideological foibles will never find themselves short of good material to peruse.

Especially is this true of those interested in exploring the inconsistencies of those who claim to be for peace but frequently resort to violent "protest", who claim to be for tolerance but seek to silence those who disagree with them, who claim to be for the little guy while running big corporations which put little guys out of business, who claim to abhor oppression while supporting tyrannies all around the globe, who claim to be advocates for the poor but who support policies which ensure that the poor will remain so, who want to make it difficult for parents to send their children to private schools while they send their own children to private schools, who insist that we should all happily pay higher taxes while they themselves shelter their money and punctiliously take every tax deduction to which they're entitled, who deplore the use of carbon fuels while flying around the globe in their private jets, and on it goes.

Well, the National Review's Elliot Kaufman has presented us another fine example of such muddled, inconsistent thinking. Kaufman points out how the Left has essentially disowned many of the so-called New Atheists because, although these folks - people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Bill Maher, et. al. - were feted as long as their barbs were directed at Christians, especially Catholics, they could no longer be abided once they began to include Islam among the targets of their religious critiques.

Scoffing at religion is fine, indeed socially meritorious, as long as the religion isn't Islam.

Just as a lefty forfeits his membership card and risks excommunication if he insists on applying the same standards and expectations to blacks and Hispanics as he does to whites, just as one can freely criticize whites with the most baneful rhetoric but risks committing grievous heresy if she applies the same criticisms to minorities, so it is with religion. There are some religions, such as Christianity, upon which there is year-round open season for ridicule and derision and, on the other hand, there are religions, such as Islam, so sacrosanct that it's almost blasphemy to even politely question them.

There are plenty of gems in Kaufman's essay and I encourage you to read the whole piece, but here are a few excerpts:
Organized religion’s shallowest critics made the mistake of blasting Islam along with Christianity, and the Left crucified them for it. On Friday, it became official: The New Atheists are no longer welcome on the left. Battered, condemned, and disinvited, these godless and once-favored “public intellectuals” are now homeless, spurned by their erstwhile progressive allies. Richard Dawkins, the famously skeptical evolutionary biologist, was the last shoe to drop. He was disinvited from a speaking engagement at Berkeley because his “comments about Islam” had “offended and hurt . . . so many people,” according to the event’s organizers.

Dawkins is in good company. His New Atheist compatriots, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, had already been expelled from the party. In both cases, insufficient deference to Islam was the proximate cause. Hitchens was denounced as a “neocon” for his support of the Iraq War. This was nonsense; he remained a committed socialist, but felt a war on Islamic terror and autocracy was needed.

Harris is a liberal, straight and true, but drew the ire of Reza Aslan for refusing to except Islam from his broad critique of religion. “Islam is not a religion of peace,” Harris often says. In fact, he thinks it’s just the opposite. For that, everyone from Glen Greenwald to Ben Affleck has cast him as an Islamophobe and a bigot.

That means that three of the much-acclaimed “Four Horsemen” of New Atheism have been turfed from the left for extending their critique of religion to Islam. The fourth is Daniel Dennett, who also criticizes Islam. The only actual philosopher of the bunch, he is far too boring and ponderous to be noticed, let alone denounced, by anyone.

In his place, one can add Bill Maher, a popularizer of New Atheism who has also been barred from Berkeley over criticism of Islam. One by one, these men have been excommunicated from the Left.

What has happened? Why did the Left delight in seeing these men ignorantly mock and vilify Christians, but denounce them when they treated Islam the exact same way? Confirmation bias deserves at least a part of the blame. The New Atheists have long harbored an irrational fear of Christianity, but Christophobia doesn’t worry the Left. Combatting Islamophobia, however, is a progressive priority, and so it is noticed and addressed when it strikes. None of this New Atheist silliness bothered the Left so long as it flattered the right tribes and battered the wrong ones.

[On the left] the defense of Islam becomes a defense of Islamic radicalism and intolerance. Slavoj Žižek sees in Islamism “the rage of the victims of capitalist globalization.” Judith Butler insists that “understanding Hamas [and] Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important.” These voices cannot just be dismissed as aberrant: They are prominent, fiercely secular left-wing intellectuals who find common cause with Hamas — which pushes gays off of buildings and stabs children in their sleep — and with Hezbollah, the “Party of God.”

In fact, they join a long line of left-wing apologists for murderous anti-Western regimes. Eric Hobsbawm, the renowned historian, refused to abandon the Soviet Union, even after the tanks rolled through Prague. Professors Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman spent years dismissing and minimizing reports of a genocide in Cambodia as Western propaganda. Michel Foucault, the postmodern philosopher, defended the indefensible cruelty of the Iranian Revolution by claiming that Iran doesn’t “have the same regime of truth as ours.”
What really lies at the bottom of this tendentiousness, it seems, is not principle, nor is it genuine concern for people, it's rather an aversion to being applauded by people one holds in contempt:
In conversation with the Polish anti-Stalinist dissident Adam Michnik in 1993, the liberal philosopher Jurgen Habermas admitted “he had avoided any fundamental confrontation with Stalinism.” Why, asked Michnik? He did not want “applause from the wrong side” replied Habermas. You have to read that twice, and then think about the enormities of Stalinism, to realise just how appalling it is. But Habermas was only expressing a piece of liberal-left common sense.

In short, the New Atheists have won applause from the wrong side: the anti-Muslim, crusading Right. Christopher Hitchens, an endlessly entertaining writer who could give it to Saddam Hussein as good as anyone, was every right-winger’s favorite radical. Sam Harris started finding agreement with the likes of Douglas Murray and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Rich Lowry’s defense of Harris from Ben Affleck appeared in the New York Post. Bill Maher now delights the Right as much as he infuriates it. And the Left, smelling traitors in its midst, simply cannot tolerate this sort of transgression.
The strange love affair between leftists and radical Islamists was documented over a dozen years ago by liberal scholar Paul Berman in his book Terror and Liberalism (2004). Many on the left have always had a perverse fascination with violence and that, combined with the conviction that the capitalist West is an evil enemy, goes a long way toward accounting for their fulsome apologies for terrorism, terrorists, and tyranny throughout most of the last century.

Kaufman goes on:
Why must ardent secularists from the Islamic world like Ayaan Hirsi Ali — the type of people the Left looks to for inspiration in the history of Western secularism — be deemed bigots, while Sharia-supporting conspiracy theorists like Linda Sarsour are cherished? Why has criticizing Islam caused the New Atheists to cross a red line in the progressive imagination? These positions make no sense if one thinks of the Left as seriously secular, convinced of the need to end the reign of superstition.

New Atheism pleased the Left as long as it stuck to criticizing “God,” who was associated with the beliefs of President George W. Bush and his supporters. It was thus fun, rather than offensive, for Bill Maher to call “religion” ridiculous, because he was assumed to be talking about Christianity. Christopher Hitchens could call God a “dictator” and Heaven a “celestial North Korea,” and the Left would laugh. Berkeley students would not think to disinvite Richard Dawkins when he was saying “Bush and bin Laden are really on the same side: the side of faith and violence against the side of reason and discussion.”
We might wonder what would liberal progressives would say were it common to find among white, male Christians a significant number who advocate executing gays, who call for the extinction of Jews, who wish to deny women the same civil and human rights as men, who wish to remove from the Constitution freedom of press, speech, religion, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments, who favor banishing the separation of church and state, who desire to base civil and criminal law on the book of Leviticus in the Bible, and so forth?

A Christopher Hitchens would properly say that they're advocating for a version of North Korea, and liberal pundits would smirk and offer emphatic "amens" in response. Late night liberal comedians like Stephen Colbert would subject such people to withering, relentless public derision and obloquy until they finally retreated in abject humiliation back into obscurity.

But switch the description of the promoters of those retrograde ideas from white, male Christians to swarthy, male Muslims and progressives rapidly reverse gears, censoring the voices of anyone who publicly disapproves of those religious beliefs while disdainfully sniffing that the complainers are themselves intolerant bigots and racists.

It's as amusing as it is amazing.

Perhaps you've seen this on Viewpoint before, but it's worth showing again. With apologies for the vulgarity, it serves as a pretty good summary of this post: