There have been many attempts to rewrite the Ten Commandments for atheists. Every pseudo-intellectual pop-atheist — up to and including Alain de Botton — has had a crack at it over the years, and now we are resorting to crowdsourcing this buffoonery:
Lex Bayer, an executive at AirBnB, and John Figdor, a humanist chaplain at Stanford University, delivered their own 10 “non-commandments” in a book they co-wrote: “Atheist Heart, Humanist Mind.” Bayer said the book forced him to clarify and articulate his own beliefs, and he thought others could benefit from doing the same.
“A lot of atheists’ books are about whether to believe in God or not,” he said. “We wanted to consider: OK, so you don’t believe in God, what’s next? And that’s actually a much harder question.”
Enter the “10 ‘Non-Commandments’ Contest,” in which atheists were asked to offer modern alternatives to the famous Decalogue. And, to sweeten the pot, the contest offered $10,000 in moolah to the winning would-be Moses. (If it helped boost atheists’ public image and drum up publicity for his book, all the better, Bayer said.)
The contest drew more than 2,800 submissions from 18 countries and 27 U.S. states, according to Bayer and Figdor. The proposed “non-commandments” ranged from the quizzical (“Don’t follow your nature”) to the quixotic (“Thriving in space is the ultimate goal”). [Source]
New Atheists have always been a confused lot. To mock an idea that he didn’t like, Hobbes imagined a class of people who popped up out of the ground — like mushrooms — fully formed with the ability to engage in economic transactions. This group of mushroom-men were devoid of culture, family, society, and (most importantly) history. Of course, no such creatures can exist and we have to form our political views in response to an existing social framework.
That said, a lot of the rhetoric of New Atheists suggests that we might have found our mushroom-men. Culture is something that happens to other people. Their intuitions are the default rational ones. Everybody should be a straight, white male or at least not talk about deviations from this norm.
It doesn’t strike any of them as odd that they just happen to share common views about things. Enlightenment calculus just happened to direct them all to the same conclusions. Rejection of religion was intuitively obvious. Indeed, it would have been easier to just go along with the religious beliefs of their society! They had to strive to be better. They had to transcend the superstitious ways of the past in order to become Atheists. Indeed, atheism is nothing more than merely the lack of belief in God, so therefore all of the common slogans, mantras, and orthodox pop-atheist rhetoric makes perfect sense.
New Atheists have been criticised for this inane bullcrap for the better part of a decade. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s incoherent and intellectually bankrupt. It exists only because of market forces (pandering to the egos of adolescents turns out to be profitable; a lesson we’ve learnt from video games which allow you to bash to hooker to get your money back).
After the brouhaha of the weekend in which we discovered that no reasonable person could vote for Wikileaks or the Sex Party, it seems the next contender for the ‘Alternative Option’ vote is the Secular Party.
This could go one of two ways. Either it could be a party really engaged with the deep questions of what a post-religious society could look like, or it could be a party trying to capitalise on the Dawkins-inspired derpfest of New Atheism. I haven’t read their policies yet, so I’m hoping for the former. Hoping.
Once upon a time, I was reviewing the individual entries in the Australian Book of Atheism. After I discovered that the essays were just making me grumpy due to the poor reasoning, wild assertions, and general awfulness of the tone, I gave up writing all these down. But I still have my notes. Oh, yes. I still have my notes…
My criticism of her article in The Australian Book of Atheism, however, was so scathing that I refrained from uploading it to this blog. As was fairly evident, I wasn’t the intended audience for the book in general. Despite being an atheist and interested in the history of atheism, this was a book for the happy-clapper atheist. The sort of atheist who happily repeats everything they’ve heard that conforms with their prejudices, biases, and intuitions. The sort of atheist who describes religion as the source of all social evils in the world in one breath, then ignorantly attacks Islam and its adherents in the second.
But reading Caro’s contribution to For God’s Sake made me remember the horribleness of her entry in The Australian Book of Atheism. It seems obvious that terrible things happen when intelligent people say nothing.
Following my post about Dawkins’ strange take on what constitutes racism, a friend asked me why Islam was a major target of New Atheists. The answer is strangely complicated but, fortunately, overlaps with one of my projects to map out a history of New Atheism.
Before jumping to the complicated answer, we have to show why we should reject the simple answer: Islam is a major religion; New Atheists criticise all religions; so therefore New Atheists criticise Islam.
Of the four largest world religions, Islam and Christianity are the two which are routinely attacked by New Atheists. The next two largest religions, Buddhism and Hinduism are rarely mentioned. This isn’t an equal opportunity hosing down of religions. There’s something else that is making Islam and Christianity the major targets.
Christianity is easiest to explain: historically, it is the religion which has attracted the opposition from atheists. Indeed, it’s difficult to understand the centuries-long history of atheism without reference to Christianity. (SPOILERS: By the end of this blog post, we’ll see that New Atheism isn’t actually engaged in this history.)
But Islam doesn’t have a similar history. From the example of Christianity (the reasons are socio-political and historical), we should expect the reason for New Atheism’s response to Islam.
To uncover that reason, we need a solid understanding of what New Atheism is and how it works. We can then see what features of Islam cause it to be of particular interest to New Atheists.
Working in an office one day, a conversation was taking place down the corridor. A sharp difference of opinion was under discussion in which various people were advancing various viewpoints. One of the participants left the conversation and walked up the corridor towards my desk. Overhearing a bit more of the discussion behind him, he turned around and shouted clearly: ‘Yeah, but he’s such a poof!’
I was rather shocked at the outburst. Prior to it, the conversation had been heated but on point. This random homophobia came entirely out of left field and was entirely out of place. How did the conversation get to this point? How did this person think it was appropriate to make that comment? What the hell is wrong with this person that they’d think this was an appropriate thing to say?
It would be a while before I was this thrown by out of place prejudice again (yay, privilege). Fortunately, Richard Dawkins was on call to provide such an experience over Twitter. This time, it was his weird and entirely unprovoked declaration that hatred towards Muslims isn’t racist.
‘The burden of proof is on you to prove your claim!’
Just about every conversation about atheism ends up with somebody asserting the other person has the burden of proving their claim. The most commonly asserted ‘rule’ is that the person making an assertion has the burden of proving the assertion true. ‘After all,’ they say, ‘You can’t prove a negative!’
I have lost count of times I’ve had to patiently explain to the other person that it’s a bogus rule. Oddly, instead of having anybody engage in the question of whether it’s a reasonable rule, I’m almost immediately dismissed as a theist (which is quite strange, given that I’m an atheist).
So I’ve written this entry so I can just link to it and call it a day. Feel welcome to do the same. Also: a shout out to BL who first encountered me when I was an insufferable atheist undergrad who could parrot all the standard pop-atheist lines and knocked them out of me. Being an atheist who can defend their views is difficult work, something our current generation of megaphone atheists simply do not appreciate.