Saturday, November 26, 2011

"New Atheism"- As new as your great-great-great-great grandfather

I've seen more and more things talking about the "New Atheists" spring up, and since I have a blog and opinions and things like that, I figured I might as well take a stab at it.

"New Atheism" is perhaps the most misleading term I could possibly think of to describe this movement. By New Atheism, I guess I'm going to mean the post-2000's marketing ploy that includes such illustrious old white dudes as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Dennett (always forget his first name). It seems to be a remarkably British phenomenon in terms of leadership, but it has recently had a large upswing in rhetoric from around America, so I guess that's cool? But the reason why it is misleading is because these are honestly not only the same arguments that we've been hearing for the past 500 odd years, but because they are seriously outdated, and problematic in many other ways.

First, I can see that people with no belief in a God have a lot of erasure in society, but can we back up a bit from the oppression olympics that is the "people wouldn't vote for an atheist President" thing?  First- since I've heard many times the argument that our Founders weren't 'really' theists, it seems like we have already had atheists in governmental power, which undermines this argument. When arguing for systemic oppression, presidential leadership might show that you are coming from a very privileged place when discussing what your oppression is. Second, if you are going to argue for being super Oppressed (TM), I think it's funny to leave out a multitude of oppressed groups (trans* people, convicts, the mentally ill) in the survey. I guess that is a bit off topic, but just something I feel like deserves a little notice.

The more frustrating aspect of this whole "New Atheist" thing that makes the name of it even more ironic is it's complete dependence on the cultural precepts, narratives, and memes (see, I know Dawkins too) of Modernism. If we were going to call anything the "New Atheism" it should have been the post-modernists! But no, the New Atheists are the same people trotting out the same old tired arguments and committing the same problematic colonialist attitudes and using the same Protestant idea of secularism. You can see this because many of these New Atheist leaders (and they are leaders since they are profiting immensely from the capitalistic orgy of book selling that comes from disseminating their ideas) are, aside from their Atheism, rather conservative in most other areas.

Richard Dawkins, King of the 'Atheists', recently told a woman that she should not complain about sexism because of (what amounts to) scary brown people in other countries. Christopher Hitchens is a neo-conservative who is down for the whole "deposing other governments to spread democracy" kind of culturally imperialistic foreign policy. Sam Harris is arguing that morals can be taken from science, which is basically how the entire 'eugenics' thing happened. I don't know anything about Dennett, so whatever. And also, do you remember the last time that a book on this subject got published by a woman or queer person or person of color, or non-Westerner? How oddly coincidental that the same people propagating modernist, colonialist ideas would continue to be from the same privileged groups!

And it's really not only from the leaders of this movement that I hear things like this. I mean, since I have worked in radical politics/queer whatevers, I am many times the minority insofar as I am a theist. Luckily, queer activism has read (or pretended to read) post-colonial authors like Fanon and Said; I mean, most of our theory is based on Foucault and that kind of thing. But I have worked, and hung out a lot with people who are from this ideological position, and it seems to not only adhere to, but to revel in its problematic modernisms that have been questioned for the past 50 years.

Examples: at my old undergraduate school, the atheist group had a major event called "Reasonfest." Now, I think that is indicative of an uncritical adoption of the 'Enlightenment' (but also medieval) concepts of Reason, progress, and other things like that that have been used to culturally imperialize a large amount of the not Western world. Look at how these groups treat the idea of Islam! It is one that is completely in line with the historical view that had been held by Christians/Protestants, and one based in the idea that we should just go over to other cultures and enlighten them with our wonderful white knowledge. Excellent.

The fetishization of Reason and Science (with capitals) is part of the reason that many of these people I have talked to have the most difficulty dealing with my gender identity. They don't question what Science says, it is simply true, and therefore there are two sexes, two genders, and you don't have the right or reason to cross from one to the other. Usually, the 'non-religious' problems people have with the idea of gender-queer are much more loudly given.

I'm not saying that this makes them bad people, because they are only being the same as the mainstream society. My problem is that somehow, they feel like they have only rational knowledge that is indisputable, which is completely ridiculous. Everyone makes unfalsifiable faith claims about many things, most of them having been donated to us by our culture. I will talk about this later, probably, but how much more provable is it that we have "natural rights" or that people are in some metaphysical sense "equal" than that there is a God who created everything. Believe whichever one (or collection) you want, but that is not some sort of objective fact. Even the idea of personhood is a faith claim. So please stop acting like you're better than everyone else.

No comments:

Post a Comment