Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Reality Check: A Few Things Atheists Are Not Doing

The critics of "new atheists" paint quite a grim portrait of their adversaries. Here's John Gray:

Evangelical atheists never doubt that human life can be transformed if everyone accepts their view of things, and they are certain that one way of living - their own, suitably embellished - is right for everybody.
Chris Hedges goes further:
They [the "new atheists"] argue ... that some human beings, maybe many human beings, have to be eradicated to achieve this better world. They see only one truth — their truth. Human beings must become like them, think like them, and adopt their values, which they insist are universal, or be banished from civilized society. All other values, which they never investigate or examine, are dismissed as inferior.
It sounds terrible. One question, though: where on planet earth are atheists (new or old) carrying out such horrors?

This is not to say it is difficult to find people eager to eradicate contrary ideas and to degrade or destroy the people holding, or perceived as holding, threatening ideas. If you're an American, this is your tax dollars at work:
[T]he abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was de facto United States policy. The authorization of torture and the decriminalization of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of captives in wartime have been among the defining legacies of the current Administration; and the rules of interrogation that produced the abuses documented on the M.I. block in the fall of 2003 were the direct expression of the hostility toward international law and military doctrine that was found in the White House, the Vice-President’s office, and at the highest levels of the Justice and Defense Departments.

The Abu Ghraib rules, promulgated by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of ground forces in Iraq, elaborated on the interrogation rules for Guantánamo Bay, which had been issued by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; they were designed to create far more license than restriction for interrogators who sought to break prisoners. [more images here]
The hideous depredations of Abu Ghraib, Guantanimo, and the rest don't come from Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or even Christopher Hitchens, but from George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and General Sanchez. These are Christians, not book-peddling atheists, behind these actually-occurring atrocities.

The 9/11 highjackers were acting from faith in god, not killing thousands fresh from reading Michel Onfray. Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and assorted Danish newspaper editors and cartoonists live under the threat of death for expressing the wrong opinions about god, not about Dan Dennett's books.

Religious motives are behind ongoing efforts to kill journalists, kill homosexuals, force people into marriages, and outlaw freedom of conscience and speech.

There are very real assaults on human rights in the world today. Many can be traced directly to religious motives, others to the cynical maneuverings of the vocally religious (and good luck separating the two). To lay these violations, in either degree or kind, at the feet of atheism is a shockingly stupid lie.

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