“The noble title of ‘dissident’ must be earned rather than claimed; it connotes sacrifice and risk rather than mere disagreement.”
― Christopher Hitchens
In response to various and repeated criticisms of how and to what degree the New Atheists' (I still dislike that label) critiiques of religion are conducted, I just wanted to make a short statement. FYI: this particular issue popped up on my radar while talking with a friend about Chris Hedges who, if you aren't aware is a pretty good journalist; but has a seemingly irrational perception of atheists. That is old news, but I and several others have written recently about the religionists (even the liberal ones!) need to silence atheists via false equivalency or outright demands to stay silent.
This seems pedantic and simple, but it apparently it needs to be overtly stated: The religious believer's moral outrage/righteous indignation at criticism of (a) religion hinges on whether the criticism is justified or not. If it is not justified—if there is nothing to criticize—then we atheists are in the wrong. However, if there are aspects of religion, or within the core concepts of religion, that warrant(s) an honest discussion and subsequent criticism; then the claims of “atheist fundamentalism”, immorality, bigotry and racism are not only unjustified by the religious, but they are pathetic attempts to deflect any criticism.
These accusations leveled at atheists by believers are straw men and thought terminating clichés. To build up an opponent’s position to such a ridiculous caricature of itself while inserting accusations of bigotry is not actually arguing for your position. It is obviously not defending a position. It is simply painting a false and warped version of an opponents’ position to diminish it without actually having to address the issues; of which there are many. That is intellectually dishonest and it is rampant in the religious community.
Yes, we need education to combat the rampant ignorance that fundamentalist religion feeds off of. Yes, we need charitable humanist organizations to help people without their having to adhere to religious doctrine. Yes, we even need dialogue with faith groups (but it is not “inter-faith”) to ensure the gap isn’t so far that it turns truly ugly. We also need to confront and argue. Preferably in the most rational way possible, but this doesn’t mean it has to be always friendly. There is a lot of religion that is unfriendly. And just because it is religious does not automatically grant it respect.
We already know that the fundamentalists are not our friends and have no qualms about using whatever power they can gain to silence anything that doesn’t fit their worldview. So Chris Hedges and the liberal Christians that passive-aggressively argue straw men can tell us to be quiet all they want. Alain de Botton and the accomodationist atheists that think critical atheism is counter-productive can continue to live in their fog where no one is out to instill their religion on others either through politics or violence. No, we need to normalize the open, unfettered discussion of religion. Nothing must be above reproach.
Whenever something is beyond reproach, it has become oppressive.