Adventures in False Equivalence

Yes, you.

What the fuck, Chris Hedges? Seriously, what the fuck? And you, Salon. What the fuck? It’s bad enough you continue to inflict Camille Paglia on us, you gotta have an interview with this dick, too?

So Chris Hedges has a new book about the “New Athiests.” You know, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. What about them? Well, you see, Mr. Hedges claims that they are “preaching a fundamentalism as dangerous as the religious fundamentalist belief systems they attack.”

Uh, dude? Shut the fuck up. Really.

I’ll believe that these “New Atheists” are as dangerous as Christian fundamentalists when the President holds regular meetings with them, when they speak at political conferences and urge attacks on other countries, when millions of people pledge blind allegiance to atheism, when atheist apocalyptic movements influence military officers and policy, when they hold disproportionate influence on domestic policy, when thousands upon thousands of gullible young people attend “Atheist Camps” each year, when political candidates for high office have to schmooze with atheists to prove their secular bona fides, when atheists are able to designate entire swaths of the population as second-class citizens, when atheists are bombing church facilities and intimidating people coming to and going from services, and when the Congress grandstands and produces a bill–AND the President rushes back from vacation to sign it–to cater to a vocal atheist protest group in Florida. I’m sure you can come up with dozens more examples, but the ghost of William Faulkner appeared to me and told me to end that sentence or he’d break his celestial bourbon bottle over my fuckin’ head.

Until then? Fuck. You.

Hedges’ interview is sloppy and disjointed, to boot. He just makes a lot of assertions, lumps Dawkins in with Hitchens and Harris, and generally doesn’t make a lot of sense. Dawkins has really become a boogeyman for people who like to complain about secular intolerance, hasn’t he?

Also, I’d like to point out that I’m an atheist (I grew up with a Catholic father and a Southern Baptist mother, so I’ve had plenty of exposure to religion). I’d like to think I’m a rather well-informed atheist, too. And I’ve never evenheard of Sam Harris. Some champion of atheism he is. 

As for Hitchens, it seems like the general consensus among us evil secularists is that the man is a sad drunk and a contrarian without a cause. Yeah, he provided some cover for the Iraq invasion, but if he’d appeared on TV loudly denouncing the impending war (fat chance, as almost no one who did was allowed in front of a camera from 2002-2003), it would’ve happened anyway. Jeebus himself could have appeared to us all, said “thou shalt not go to war with the Babylonians,” and that wouldn’t have mattered, either. Bush’s religious cronies would’ve come up with some explanation (not really Jeebus, it’s the anti-Jeebus, it’s Bizarro Jeebus, it’s Opposite Day, etc., etc.), everyone would’ve nodded and agreed, and the Very Serious March to War would have continued apace.

And Dawkins? The man’s a biologist, not a US citizen, and not at all involved in American politics. How the fuck did he get thrown in with those other two schmucks?

False equivalence: FAIL.

17 thoughts on “Adventures in False Equivalence

  1. Sam Harris largely uses atheism to push a neocon agenda, i.e., Mooslimofascists are teh suck and we have to kill them. (I’m being slightly hyperbolic.)
    That said, I read the Hedges piece and simply thought, here we go again. I generally like Hedges but this is jackassery at its finest.

  2. Jude: And Dawkins? The man’s a biologist, not a US citizen, and not at all involved in American politics. How the fuck did he get thrown in with those other two schmucks?
    Uh, because Dawkins put himself there?
    Dawkins is a douchebag who routinely smears decent, thoughtful religious people using the very worst examples of theology and practice. He has a very specific idea of how religious people think and act, and when we do not fit his examples, he acts like we are simpletons. Why, it would be like me smearing atheists because Stalin or Mao, two atheists, committed mass murder.
    Jude: when atheists are able to designate entire swaths of the population as second-class citizens,
    Please see aforementioned example. Atheists HAVE done that. Not in the U.S., but do not be acting like atheism is a squeaky clean approach to life.
    FWIW, Terry Eagleton’s review of The God Delusion discusses the problems of Dawkins on religion far more eloquently than I can. It can be found here:

  3. The danger is in the self-righteousness. The danger is the “Utopian belief system that is as self-delusional as that offered by Christian fundamentalists.” I think he’s speaking of the buffoonery of the amoral, b.s. American “new athiests” in this so-called movement.
    “[T]he New Atheists are peddling [their fundamentalism] under the guise of enlightenment and reason and science in the same way that the Christian right tries to peddle it as a form of Christianity.”
    As for some of your points, he doesn’t really speak about Dawkins in the interview, although the Salon interviewer keepts trying to get him to. He’s talking about the “American strain” of this New Athiesm and it’s fundamentalist aspects. Salon and others like to put every new book on athiesm into this category. I don’t think that’s what Hedges is doing. And as for disjointed, who knows what he fully said as part of what Salon actually printed. And the Salon writer is the person who put the words “preaching a fundamentalism as dangerous as the religious fundamentalist belief systems they attack” into his mouth. Hedges didn’t say that.

  4. Okay, Andrew. Here are a few thoughts:
    1) Just because Dawkins is a douchebag, don’t be claiming that all atheists are douchebags.
    2) Jude is in no way suggesting that atheism is a “squeaky clean approach to life.” That’s a straw man.
    3) The false equivalence charge stands. Yes, there are douchebaggy atheists out there–nobody is surprised by that. But those douchebaggy atheists have nowhere near the kind of power and influence in America *right now* that the equally-douchebaggy fundamentalist Christians have. 4) I find it hard to understand how you can, in one sentence, suggest that it would be inappropriate to smear atheists because Stalin or Mao committed mass murder, and in the next smear atheists because Stalin and Mao designated entire swaths of their populations as second class citizens. Either the smear is appropriate or it isn’t. Make up your mind.
    Bottom line: douchebags are douchebags, be they atheist or Christian. The issue is less their douchebaggery than what they DO with that douchebaggery.

  5. Perhaps I was not as clear as I should have been. The false equivalence I meant to talk about was the “atheists are just as dangerous as fundamentalists!” bullshit.
    Atheists have, basically, zero power in this society. To say that they are somehow equivalent in capacity to cause harm as fundamentalist religious types is not only a logical fallacy–it’s fucking stupid.
    And just what straw man did I create? I posted a link to an interview with a man who claims the aforementioned false equivalence. Yes, it’s the reporter’s summary of that claim, but–and this is the funny part–other articles, book reviews and even the report on the debate Hedges had with Sam Harris all back up that summary.

  6. Jude:
    You equated believers with the nutcases advising the Chimpy. Not all of us are. All I was trying to do is demonstrate that Hedges is not off base, and that Dawkins is a douchebag.
    If you are atheist, fine. Some of us are not, and are no threat to you or your right to believe in anything, nothing, or the FSG.
    As for issues of power in this society, I am not sure what if anything can be done about that except to hammer at the frames the media has put around issues of belief. Belief = Good Person is a genuine problem, and like so many things related to the media, I am not sure what can be done about it.

  7. Any harm Hedges did here is probably balanced out by the good done byWar is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

  8. I’m not sure that I equated all believers with advisers to President Bush–if that’s what you took from my writing, I apologize.
    What I was trying to say is that many Christian fundamentalists wield considerable power in this country. Even if you accept Hedges’ argument that there is such a thing as a fundamentalist atheist (which is really a contradiction in terms, as fundamentalism is premised on a rejection of modernity and a reinterpretation of an ecclesiastical tradition), those “fundamentalists” have absolutely no power, and therefore cannot be said to be just as dangerous as Christian fundamentalists. That’s where the false equivalence lies.
    Of course, not all fundamentalists are involved in politics, and many disagree with the coupling of Christianity and the Republican party. However, there are many powerful fundamentalists and evangelicals, and they are a danger to the republic and to all of our freedoms. You can’t just say “these people are inflexible; so are these people; ergo, they are equivalent in their motives and capacities.”
    Hedges should know better.

  9. Oh, and for the record, I don’t think Richard Dawkins is a douchebag. He elicits a strong response from many people because he challenges cherished, though illogical (and sometimes downright cruel) beliefs. He doesn’t apologize for his stance, and he shouldn’t have to. Think about this: Pat Robertson and John Hagee are certifiable maniacs. Yet no one argues with the substance of what they say, because, as a matter of “faith,” it’s beyond discussion in our society. That’s ridiculous. If you can, as a clergyman, argue for the use of nuclear weapons against people, you shouldn’t be able to hide behind the veil of faith. You’ve just said something outrageous, cruel, criminal, and horrid. I don’t give a happy monkey fuck if it’s an article of your faith or not. Faith without examination leads easily (note I do not say inevitably) to atrocities.
    So bully for Richard Dawkins for questioning the substance of people’s beliefs. That shouldn’t be beyond investigation. If that makes some people uncomfortable, too bad. Maybe they should examine why they believe what they do, rather than attacking someone who questions those beliefs.
    Hitchens, however, is a douchebag. J

  10. I’m not at all familiar with the folks you mentioned, so I’ll steer clear of that.
    OTOH – I have been rather struck that Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant), Judaism (in this case is a move of the more liberal groups towards the Orthodox and towards particular groups within the Orthodox), and Islam have all appeared in the last 2 decades to move towards what I call a “take no prisoners, exclusionary” flavor of religion. I’ve seen extremely devout Catholics take on a personae allowing them to blend inconspicuously with the deep fundamentalist Christian groups which are known for equating Catholic with AntiChrist.
    If this happens in these disparate religions, is it so totally inconceivable that the same forces that shaped this in the religions has also shaped this within the athiests?

  11. I think, Maple Street, that you’re missing what ties those fundamentalisms together (and it also applies to Hindu fundamentalism). That common bond is the rejection of modernity and the perceived return to the, well, fundamentals of the religion in question. The advent (if you will) of a world view based on rationality (however imperfect) and scientific materialism, that questions the authority and claims of religious traditions is the modernity to which fundamentalists object. That objection is the force that shapes fundamentalist dogma, irrespective of religion.
    Of course, those fundamentals are not the same thing as the original version of the religion. They’re a reaction to the insecurities of the modern, post-Enlightenment world.
    So you can see that there’s no possibility of a fundamentalist atheism–there’s no rejection of modernity, and there’s no “original atheism” to which to return.
    I’m not claiming that atheism is superior to theism; I’m just saying that the force that has driven fundamentalism in religion doesn’t apply when talking about non-belief.

  12. Fundamentalism may not be an appropriate term to use when dealing with atheism, but there are extremists. And it is certainly worthwhile to be concerned about the activities of extremists in *any* sphere.
    The problem I have with Hedges (and to a certain extent, with Andrew’s comments) is the equating of those extremists with the whole. Just as the vast majority of Christians bear no resemblance to James Dobson or that crazy woman in Oklahoma, the vast majority of atheists bear no resemblance to Hitchens (for which I am eternally grateful).
    The concern that I have with the Christian extremists is that they seem to exercise a disproportionate influence, both within their religion and in the secular sphere. The atheist extremists? Not so much. Therefore, I tend to spend more of my energy being concerned about the Christian extremists.

  13. But Jude, while there isn’t an “original” atheism (which I’ll have to think about as there have been atheists in history also), are not there also atheists who avoid modernity?

  14. To all who have posted comments:
    I’ve read all of Chris Hedges’ books, and I can tell you that he has a fascinating and intricate way of looking at the world. I find it quite brilliant. Many of you attack him out of passionate rhetoric, and should remember that lucid thoughts come through when you are disinterested in a subject.
    To put it simply, he argues in both American Fascists and I Don’t believe in Atheists that any groups of people that believe in absolutes, “us and them”, don’t acknowledge life’s inconsistencies. Life does not pose a solution. The “new atheists” and the Christian right are similar in that they believe that evil is external and can be quelled. The Christian right proposes that we follow God’s word (although they pervert it) and the atheists believe in progress through science and reason. The main difference is what they call their supernatural being. One calls it God and the other reason/logic. But they forget that humans do not progress morally with time. Humans may evolve with new technologies but they do not advance ethically. In this sense they believe in utopias. They believe that we can create a society that has exiled evil. Mr. Hedges correctly points out that “evil is in the human heart”.

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