Civil Rights Violations

civilrightsAtheist Stephen Bond has written a wonderful critique of the New Atheists as a social movement. He points out many of the flaws with their “oppressed supporter of science” narrative:

That’s right: the nerds won [the struggle for power], decades ago, and they’re now as thoroughly established as any other part of the establishment. And while nerds a relatively new elite, they’re overwhelmingly the same as the old: rich, white, male, and desperate to hang onto what they’ve got. And I have come to realize that skepticism, in their hands, is just another tool to secure and advance their privileged position, and beat down their inferiors. As a skeptic, I was not shoring up the revolutionary barricades: instead, I was cheering on the Tsar’s cavalry.

While I’m sure that this doesn’t apply to all, I think the idea of New Atheism appeals to many from the comfortable classes who want to see themselves as part of a put-upon minority. The group has been completely unable to point to any real oppression being directed at them.

Setting footage of the followers of Martin Luther King Jr. or Ghandi being beaten by police next to an image of Richard Dawkins grinning beside a snippy anti-religious billboard ought to give us some perspective. It bothers me that a group of privileged people draw on the mythos of real suffering in order to demand the right to be rude to others without being called mean-spirited.

Looking to that which is noble in our culture means more than pinning a name on our banner. It means having enough respect and empathy to be grateful for what one has. Gratitude for their immense amount of power and wealth is definitely not a common trait among the New Atheists.

It seems that, to them, atheism is mostly a handy label one can stick on in order to declare oneself oppressed. Of course, this is human nature. Some have rightly pointed out that some Christians in wealthy and tolerant nations have a tendency to do very similar things, but I hope that both groups will come to have more respect for those who have actually suffered than this.

Indeed, I’m beginning to suspect that this is so close to the emotional core of the New Atheism that, if we could make their privilege obvious to them, the movement would simply dissolve.

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4 responses to “Civil Rights Violations

  • jmrgrs9

    Being new to blogging I am amazed at what I am discovering is out there – your’s is one of them. I just hope there’s not too, too many of them like this, only because I’m going to hit the “overload” button pretty soon…
    In the meantime, so much richness to devour.
    This feeling must be a bit of what it felt to sit at Jesus’ feet while He spoke.

    • Debilis

      I know the feeling. There’s so much out there to learn that the more I know, the more aware I am of how much is left to discover.

      Thank you for the kind words, and best to you out there.

  • Chris

    This is actually a non-problem for atheism…atheism is not a social movement, it’s a philosophical position…I’m getting so tired of having a simple label hijacked for purposes other than what the label is for…I’m a skeptic, I’m an agnostic, I’m an atheist, I’m a humanist, etc., etc. these labels are not mutually exclusive. Of course, I’m not calling you out for this, Debilis. Like the criticisms against religion, you are simply going with what is given to you…I can’t fault you for that. It’s the fault of the people who encourage the use of these labels for other things…

    • Debilis

      I have heard this argument before, so I suppose that means I’d be to blame if this were a problem.

      The main thing I would say in my defense, however, is that I wasn’t discussing atheism. I was discussing New Atheism, which is most clearly a social movement. They have campus organizations, schedule conferences, have a clear leadership, talk about “raising awareness”, and held a rally in Washington.

      I completely agree, however that atheism isn’t a social movement any more than “religion” is. Rather there are movements which happen to be atheist; New Atheism is one of them, and I take moral issue with the way in which they compare themselves to civil rights activists.

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