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Christopher Hedges doesn’t believe in atheists

Somehow I missed this really good interview with Christopher Hedges the author of American Fascists, a scathing attack on the Religious Right in America, about his new work I Don’t Believe in Atheists.

Christopher Hedges has debated by Dawkins and Hitchens,

I haven’t read the new book but it’s now on my evergrowing and seemingly never shrinking list of books to read. In his debates, watch the youtube video to see an example of this, his primary criticism is that there is this belief among the New Atheists, or Secular Fundamentalists as he calls them, is that once you remove religion the world will be great and that Religion was holding us back. And I have to agree that that criticism is legitimate in the sense that that does seem to be the way many of the New Atheists arguments seemed to get boiled down to. In addition, if you simply replace Religion with Atheism as the new set of “moral” standards you have essentially replaced something (religion) with a nothing (atheism) and therefore that criticism stands as well.

What I think perhaps Christopher Hedges best illustrates is that many of the New Atheists arguments are “against” religion but not specifically “for” anything and therefore leave a whole that must be filled. I personally think that is a legitimate criticism. There is a basis for morality or at least a basis for how we determine that morality.

What I anticipate happening in the coming years is a flood of books by authors whole we be dubbed as the New Moralists or New Philosphers. These books will actually put forward in laymen’s terms the basis for a new morality which anybody who reads this stuff will recognize as simply Humanism or some variant of it. These books will also come under attack as well but for different reasons. These new books will actually make “positive statements of belief” that can be directly attacked as opposed to the current batch of books whose “negative statements of belief” are really just attacks themselves. Of course, you will also have these new beliefs attacked as being morally relativistic however the current books by the New Atheists do a pretty good job of showing religions, particularly Christianity, are morally relativistic as well, although the phrase “subject to interpretation” is more appropriate, such as the rights of women, slavery and racism.

I think Hedges makes some great arguments that I hope some of the New Atheists and others will take to heart and  move the debate forward away from the irrational basis of religion and towards this so called “New Enlightenment”.

Filed under: Atheism, Internet, Politics, , , , , , ,

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel, A Review

Now that my work and a number of side jobs have slowed down in the last week or so I have been able to work my way through the backlog of books that I have been itching to read. My latest book was Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel.

Wow, wow, wow. I am utterly blown away about this book. I read it in two evenings and obviously couldn’t put it down. I was so engrossed in this other world. And let’s be honest she came from an entirely different world that Westerners like myself could hardly dare imagine.

There are a zillion reviews of the book so I’m not going to bore anyway with the same review, here’s the NY Times review. I actually don’t want to talk about the usual things that a reviewer might such as genital mutilation, refugees, immigration politics, islamic fundamentalism or honor killings.

I do want to talk about something that stuck out to me, the almost total lack of coverage in the U.S. of what was happening in the Netherlands over the last 5-7 years. We have been wall-to-wall coverage of WMDs and Iraq and Iran and Iraq and Britney Spears and Iraq and Eliot Spitzer and Britney Spears and Iraq and the 2008 elections. During all of this there was this major shift in Dutch politics, political upheaval surrounding Islam and a significant and growing muslim population in the Netherlands.

For years, the Dutch supported (and continue to support) a large refugee population, many from muslim populations. The Dutch went out of there way to accomodate the muslim faith of these refugees, but in that accomodation and tolerance they also facilitated the same isolation and lack of integration that inevitably plagues a large immigrant population. Even worse this immigrant population harbored a cultural hatred for the very country and Western culture that was signing their welfare checks. Here’s a rather lengthy quote from the book,

In those days, especially in Labor Party circles, people were always positive about Islam. If Muslims wanted mosques and separate graveyards and ritual slaughterhouses, such things were built. Community centers were provided. Islamic fundamentalist ideas were swelling in such centers, but Labor Party people usually dismissed this as a natural reaction. These immigrants had been uprooted, they said; they were clinging temporarily, to traditional ideas, which would gradually fade away. They forgot how long it had taken Europe to shake off obscurantism and intolerance, and how difficult that struggle was.

When Somalis told me they didn’t want to live in gaalo neighborhoods, I knew they wanted to avoid contact with the ungodliness of Holland. But Dutch officials always saw it as a natural desire to form a community. When Muslims wanted their own school, I saw it as forcing children to obey ideas unquestioningly; the Dutch saw no harm in funding them. When satellite dishes began bristling from every apartment in municipal housing projects, tuned to Moroccan and Turkish TV, my Labor Party colleagues saw this as a natural desire to maintain contact with home.

But with the dishes came preaching, indoctrination. There were door-to-door preachers passing out cassettes in most Dutch cities… Most migrant neighborhoods had shops selling traditional clothes and carpets and tapes, DVDs, and books on how to be a good Muslim in infidel territory. When the number of women wearing headscarves on the street became impossible to ignore, my Labor Party colleagues thoght it was only recent immigrants, who would soon abandon the practice. They failed to realize that it was the second generation, who were rediscovering their “roots,” brainwashed by jargon I recognized: tawheed, kufr, the evil Jews.

Unfortunately at the same time that the U.S. was bombing Iraq back into the Stone Ages, the Dutch people were being confronted with a culture seemingly still stuck in the Stone Ages right in their backyards. And Ayaan Hirsi Ali played a significant role in bringing this other culture into the light, and to borrow the metaphor, evil cowers from the light.

I won’t go into the details but Ayaan tried to convince the Labor Party that there were things happening in this muslim population that were completely and utterly outside of the moral values of the Dutch culture that harbored them. Ayaan eventually got herself elected to the Dutch parliament where she was able to bring these issues into the public square.

One issue that Ayaan wanted to bring to the light were the honor killings that were taking place in Holland every year. And here’s the important lesson, instead of posturing, politicking or going on an endless “trust me it’s happening” campaign she did what any good scientist or skeptic would do. She was able to get 2 of the 25 Dutch police precincts to simply document how many murders were considered “honor killings”. This was significant because previously the police weren’t allowed to document that information for fear of “stigmatizing” a population. After a mere 6 months or so, 11 girls, many teenagers, were documented as having been killed as a result of an honor killing. 11 girls in 6 months from only 2 of 25 precincts. This horrified the Dutch people.

The Dutch people were being confronted with the reality that their religious tolerance which had worked so successfully with the native Catholic, Protestant and Secular populations was utterly failing them. In one respect they were maintaining the value of religious tolerance while unwittingly withholding the value of individual liberty and freedom from women and children.

Ayaan Hirsi realized that the only way to bring freedom to half this immigrant population was for the Dutch to actually pursue integration. Not necessarily forced integration but at least stop funding so many of the self-segregationist policies that the Muslim community was creating, such as separate Muslim schools. She also later on convinced the Liberal Party (which could be loosely compared to Republicans here in the States but that would be unfair to the Liberal Party) to provide separate residence papers to women brought to Holland by legal immigrants, it wasn’t easy but she sold it by,

“…talking about the women themselves brought to Holland by men they barely know, after arranged marriages, beaten until they ended up in the hospital, but who cannot file for divorce because if they did, they would have to leave Holland and return to their families, where they would be punished. The motion was passed by a majority of the parties in Parliament, although we had to do without the Christian Democrat’s vote. (So much for brotherly love.)”

Ok so that last part might have been a cheap shot but they so deserved it. I admire her restraint.

 And perhaps most disturbing of all is that there was little if any coverage of any of this here in the States. I remember Pim Fortuyn being shot and killed but he was portrayed as some kind of xenophobic, right-wing, neo-fascist. That guy was more liberal than Hillary Clinton. I am sorry I didn’t know any of this was going on. I am the typical Ameri-centric citizen after all.

I could go on and on (and it looks like I already have) but I did want to leave you with some more information.

Here’s Christopher Hitchens thoughts on the Dutch treatment of Ayaan (her citizenship was revoked while still serving in Parliament, seriously, I couldn’t possibly make it up)

Interview with Ayaan at ReasonOnline.com

Lengthy article over at the Washington Post

and, of course, her personal website.

Filed under: Atheism, Politics, Religion, , , , , , ,

Atheism: The Case Against God

I have FINALLY finished reading George Smith’s seminal work Atheism: The Case Against God. I say finally because this book is a very substantial work and I don’t recommend you read it while you are sleepy because I could barely get 3 pages into it before nodding off.

When you read this you will clearly see that a lot of the ideas captured in this book have found there way into the books of the “New Atheists”. What isn’t touched on in this book is fundamentalist Islam (I think that might be redundant). Clearly this book is a product of it’s time 1978 I believe. Christianity is clearly the default theistic religion that George Smith atheistic beliefs attempt to counter.

I have spent several weeks chewing through this book which is unusual for anyone who knows me since I am a very fast reader. It took so long becuase I had to reread several sections to really understand what he was trying to say or how he was attempting to connect several different concepts together. The book is clearly written by a philosopher and I think he does a good job of writing this to the lay person but there’s only so much you can do with the subject matter.

If you are looking for the philosophical underpinnings of Sam Harris’ book End of Faith or a more in-depth treatise on atheism that Dawkins or Hitchens’ books don’t go then this is your book.

Filed under: Atheism, Religion, Reviews, , , , , , ,

Dawkins reviews Hitchens

Richard Dawkins reviews Christopher Hitchens’ book god is not great

Filed under: Atheism, Reviews, ,

Top 5 Atheist Books

ChristianityToday.com contributor, John Wilson, proposes his Top 5 Books on Atheism, some of which I have never heard of. Damn, my reading list gets longer all the time.

I don’t normally ask for comments since I am content with disseminating information and letting those who stumble upon my blog wander off through the various links.

Having said that I am curious of what other books on atheism or even humanism (for or against, or simply about) you would recommend.

Here are the obvious big ones but what other more “obscure” ones would someone suggest. If I get enough responses I might start a new page for atheism/humanism reading suggestions.

Richard Dawkins [RichardDawkins.net]
The God Delusion

Daniel Dennett [website?]
Breaking the Spell

Sam Harris [SamHarris.org]
Letter to a Christian Nation
The End of Faith

Christopher Hitchens [HitchensWeb.com (Not sure if this official)]
god is not great

Eric Hoffer [EricHoffer.net]
True Believer

Joan Konner [AtheistBible.net (not sure if this correct, seems outdated)]
The Atheist’s Bible

Nicca Lalli [NicaLalli.com]
Nothing

Hemant Mehta [FriendlyAtheist.com]
I sold my soul on eBay

Technorati Atheism

Filed under: Atheism, Religion, Reviews, , , , , , , , ,

Hitchens YouTube Trolling

I just posted on Hitchens recent talk and noticed the following debate between Hitchens and Marvin Olasky. Hitchens opening arguments are very well rehearsed but there are always interesting arguments brought up by the other speaker and during the Q&A periods.

Provided in convenient 10 minute nibbles.

Part 1/8

Part 2/8

Part 3/8

Part 4/8

Part 5/8

Part 6/8

Part 7/8

Part 8/8

Technorati Skeptic Atheism

Filed under: Atheism, Internet, Religion, , , ,

What I would have answered

Christopher Hitchens gives another great talk. This time @Google, see it here at YouTube.

When you get to about the 37:10 mark he is asked a question where someone questions the accuracy of some of his observations, specifically (here’s the leadup and the question, this is not an exact quote but it’s pretty close),

“You say that religion feeds into an innate human nature for being told what to do or not having as much freedom. Well, in the United States you have one of the most freedom loving countries in the world… yet you have one of the most arguably religious nations in the world. How do you explain this contradiction?”

Hitchens goes on to answer in his own rather rambling manner however he never gives the answer I was hoping he would make. I think the best answer to that question would have been,

“There really is no contradiction in fact I think you can see that your statement actually goes towards proving my point about religion. Our country was founded as a secular government with separation of church and statement and specific prohibitions against the establishment of religion as some of its founding principles. [insert pithy remark about “sounds to me like the founding fathers were afraid of religion”]. Anyway, look at today and you say that we are one of the most religious nations and yet we now have some of the most egregious assaults by our current very religious administration and the erosion of some of those very basic freedoms. You could argue this is only coincidental however I think any reasonable person would fit the two trends together. In fact, this is why I think you are seeing a certain resurgence in atheism today.[insert joke about what would the constitution have looked like if Jerry Falwell were one of the founding members]”

Anyway that concludes today’s “What I would have answered”

Also at about the 48:00 minute mark he is asked the question that I frequently hear and that is. How can you say atheism is better than religion when the Stalinist regime did many of the same things in the name of atheism. I think he answered it well.  

Technorati Skeptic Atheism

Filed under: Atheism, Internet, Religion, , , ,

Hitchens and Iraq

Christopher Hitchens has written an article, Fighting the “Real” Fight, over at Slate.com regarding the “foolish myths about Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia”. Mr. Hitchens is an incredibly smart man unfortunately he still holds on to this foolish belief in the validity of the War in Iraq.

I can’t help but cringe when I read this article. Maybe I don’t understand the issues the way he does but some of his arguments seem to confirm what he is trying to deny and either way I have to wonder who the hair-splitters really are. He complains of

“hair-splitting secularists who cannot accept that al-Qaida in Mesopotamia is a branch of al-Qaida itself.”

Umm… Ok. He continues with the following of which I definitely subscribe to #2 and #1 is arguable.

Objections to this self-evident fact take one of two forms. It is argued, first, that there was no such organization before the coalition intervention in Iraq. It is argued, second, that the character of the gang itself is somewhat autonomous from, and even independent of, the original group proclaimed by Osama Bin Laden.

He spends a considerable amount of the time talking about Al-Zarqawi (the recently deceased leader of al-Qaida in Iraq). He attempts to discredit the #1 argument above by explaining that after our intervention in Afghanistan, Al-Zarqawi fled to Iraq and then was granted the “local al-Qaida franchise” by Bin Laden/Zawahiri. I don’t mean to be a hair-splitter here but if your argument was that al-Qaida existed in Iraq prior to our invasion I wouldn’t try to explain your argument without out at least… um… some actual dates. Nowhere in the article does he give any dates just a story.

You could lay this story out in two ways but without dates we have no idea which is correct. The scenario descibed by Hitchens could be laid out to confirm or refute his own argument.

Confirmation
#1) We invade Afghanistan
#2) Al-Zarqawi flees to Iraq
#3) Al-Qaida franchise granted to Al-Zarqawi
#4) We invade Iraq

Refutation
#1) We invade Afghanistan
#2) Al-Zarqawi flees to Iraq
#3) We invade Iraq
#4) Al-Qaida franchise granted to Al-Zarqawi

I suggest you re-read his article and tell me why I can’t refute his own argument with his own story. I understand that the purpose of this article is not to be a full dissertation on the Iraq War and that he is attempting to address certain criticisms of this war but I think the bigger question should be, “Were we morally justified in attacking Iraq?” and more pressing, “How do we end the suffering and death and bring peace back to the region?”

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Politics, Religion, , , , , ,

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