In the West, atheism has long ceased to be controversial. Marx’s pithy dismissal of religion as “the opiate of the masses” is now taught the world over in Sociology 101 courses. Aside from a few backward areas, few challenge the scientific method as the basis of a proper secular education. Hell, Charles Darwin’s face even graces Britain’s ten pound note!
But despite the relative lack of controversy, a veritable industry of combative atheist literature seems to have flooded the Western public in the last few years. According to September’s Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens counts his book, God is Not Great, among one of five “atheist best-sellers” in the last two years alone. The other four books include The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett, and two by the neuroscientist turned atheist crusader Sam Harris.
None of the philosophical arguments are new. None are more detailed or comprehensive than earlier atheist polemics, such as George H. Smith’s Atheism: The Case Against God.
So what accounts for the recent surge of what some call “militant atheism,” the movement of those who aren’t content with personal disbelief, but are set on the overall secularization of entire societies?
Paradoxically, the causes of the “atheist industry” have little to do with religion; they are fundamentally political. Stephen Jay Gould once noted how a seemingly coincidental but concerted offensive of a doctrine, in his case biological determinism, tended to have deeper roots: “The general argument is always present, always available, always published, always exploitable. Episodes of intense public attention therefore record swings in the pendulum of political preferences.”
And so it is with the atheist crusaders. As soon as the political pendulum swung against Islam, the hackademics were there to fabricate the pernicious influences of religion into the principal struggle in the world, postulating secularism versus Islam as the defining battle of our epoch.
The more honest ones will admit these political intentions. In 2005’s “Bombing Our Illusions,” Sam Harris freely reveals that whatever gripes he may have with Christian fundamentalism, he is still on its side in the “genuine clash of civilizations” with the Muslim world, which looks to be “unavoidable.”
Christopher Hitchens mirrors this sentiment, proudly declaring himself in The Nation to be a “single-issue voter.” The issue? Well, of course, his lofty secularism versus Islamic fundamentalism; or, as he phrases it, “military victory over the alliance between autocracy and jihad.”
Yes, that’s right, the “military victory.” Thus did the “militant atheists” call for the militarism that has scourged Muslims across the Middle East and South Asia. It is difficult not to notice an irony involved in their lack of critical examination of the implications of their rigidly dichotomized worldview.
In fact, it can only be described as a deep-seated faith-faith in the righteousness of their Western privilege.
Anyone without an a priori commitment to Western domination, in fact any first grader that can count, can demonstrate with a couple of newspapers that the deaths meted out to Americans in 2001 are miniscule compared with the atrocities we committed throughout the Muslim world in the few years since the attacks, never mind the few decades before them.
Therefore, unless blind faith in the omnipotent and benevolent West has obstructed one’s vision, it should be obvious that there are greater “single-issues” to take sides on than secularism versus Islam: namely, the cessation of the bloodbath that the West has intermittently subjected the Muslim world to for decades.
It might prove useful for our crusading atheists to critically examine their dogma and see this, especially with the media heating up over the possibility of attacking the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The violence of the oppressor should never be condoned under the banner of rationality; the violence of the oppressed should never be condemned because it offends the affected sensitivities of the ivory tower.
In the 1850s, a perplexed acquaintance questioned John Brown’s rationality. “Captain,” she reportedly asked, “you think that God uses you as an instrument in His hands to kill men?”
Brown is said to have replied affirmatively, adding: “if I live, I think He will use me as an instrument to kill a good many more!”
There is no room in progressive circles for those who would abjure such action as “religious fanaticism” in an ill-disguised effort to justify their own temporization, and thus complicity, as “rationality.”
Yet today’s intellectual bulwarks of slavery manage to present themselves as “progressives,” even “leftists,” as they categorically deride religion only to worship at the secular, but no less blind, altar of Western privilege.
To take secular Western democracy’s side against fundamentalist Islam is a political decision, not a religious one, and it’s a political decision that conveniently provides an intellectual pretext for aggression against the Third World.
I may be an atheist, but I’ll take the righteous devotion of John Brown over the “detached” rationality of Christopher Hitchens any day.