Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Right-Wing New Athiests

Robert Wright has a great post dismantling the surprisingly hawkish foreign policy of the New Atheists. Wright begins:
It must strike progressive atheists as a stroke of bad luck that Christopher Hitchens, leading atheist spokesperson, happens to have hawkish views 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.
Wright then objects to how the New Atheists posit that religious is poisonous and how this understanding, negligent of the facts on the ground, necessitates a militant approach to the Middle East. To which Wright brilliantly concludes:
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 history of the Abrahamic faiths suggests not. Making Jews, Christians, and Muslims feel threatened by other cultures has often brought out the worst in their religions, whereas doing the the opposite -- putting them in "non-zero-sum" situations, where win-win outcomes are possible -- has brought out the best.

Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris should of course write what they want, even if it's likely to increase the amount of religious radicalism in the world. But if they're going to style themselves as soldiers in the war on terror, that will just go to show that the "God delusion" isn't the only kind of delusion.

Agreeing with Wright's conclusions, Matthew Yglesias offers this thought:

I think another way of thinking about it is that Dawkins has basically tried to reformulate atheism in the evangelizing and illiberal mode of illiberal evangelizing religion. Thus, much as right-wing Christians and right-wing Muslims can simultaneously loathe each other and have structurally similar views, so, too, can “new atheists” join the party. Elsewhere you have a liberal ethic adhered to by people who identify with different spiritual traditions and also by what I think are “normal” atheists, just people who don’t identify with a religious tradition, rather than people who want to construct a self-conscious atheist identity and go to battle over it.
I am actually shocked that the New Atheists employ such a hawkish worldview, as a non-purposive cosmology - especially without an afterlife - should, in my mind at least, engender a peaceful relational ethic. Not being an atheist, though, I cannot speak for the New Atheists, but Bob, an agnostic, judiciously corrects their error.

1 comment:

Matt F. said...

Hitchens is very hawkish on the Middle East. However Both Harris and Dawkins, oppossed the Iraq war and, while they clearly desagree with Islam and believe that religious disagreements are in large part responsible for the instability in the Middle East, are in no way advocating war as the means to solve any problem. This post is kind of bizarre to anyone familiar with their writings, although he is certainly correct about Hitchens' politics. The new atheists do not all agree on foreign policy, nor would I expect them to. Just a strange post by Wright.