Militant Atheism

August 12, 2009

From an interview with Richard Dawkins by Laurie Taylor:

“We have to consider the advancing technology that made it so much more possible for a Hitler or a Stalin to do the horrible things they did. If you planted Hitler or Stalin back in the middle ages, would they have stood out as they do to us now, or would they have seemed par for the course in terms of their nastiness? I would still suggest that they were temporary setbacks. There is general progress. We don’t now have slavery. We have equal respect for women. A universal revulsion against Hitler. Nobody can now say what Hitler once said without being instantly shouted down.”

Was he really happy to describe a planned policy to exterminate an entire race of people as “a temporary setback”?

“But that belief in the extermination of an entire race, you can say that it was a last gasp.”

Richard Dawkins on Sam Harris:

Every word zings like an elegantly fletched arrow from a taut bowstring and flies in a gracefully swift arc to the target, where it thuds into the bullseye.

Various extracts from Harris’s The End of Faith:

We are at war with Islam. It may not serve our immediate foreign policy objectives for our political leaders to openly acknowledge this fact, but it is unambiguously so. It is not merely that we are at war with an otherwise peaceful religion that has been ‘hijacked’ by extremists. We are at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran.

No amount of casuistry can disguise the fact that the outer of “lesser” jihad – war against infidels and apostates – is a central feature of the faith. Armed conflict “in the defence of Islam” is a religious obligation for every Muslim man.

Islam, more than any religion humans have ever devised, has the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death

Is Islam compatible with a civil society? Is it possible to believe what you must believe to be a good Muslim, to have military and economic power, and not to pose an unconscionable threat to the civil societies of others? I believe that the answer to this question is no.

What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe.

Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.

I love the smell of progress in the morning. Smells like fascism.

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11 Responses to “Militant Atheism”


  1. […] is what makes the militant atheism of Dawkins and Harris so insufferable: they metonymically replace the true offender with one of its […]

  2. Carl Says:

    Yeesh! This ‘Islam’ is another of those reified entities, like ‘marxism’ or ‘capitalism’, tricked out once again as the inevitable target of righteous criticism….

    I wonder why none of these ‘clash of civilization’ guys want to talk about the Crusades, a time in history when it was self-evidently the case that Islam was the religion of tolerance and inclusion, Christianity that of murderous fanaticism.

  3. duncan Says:

    Oh, you’ve got something against crusades, now, Carl?

    I sent you an email in response to some of your comments at Nick’s, btw.

  4. N Pepperell Says:

    Yeah – I’ve had to take over a course for a colleague who’s away on research leave – sort of at the last minute, and so I’m playing catchup each week to prepare myself for teaching. Discovered to my dismay last week that the course includes a lot of material like this – and not as an object lesson in problematic arguments… 😦 I found myself not knowing what else to do last week, but to start class with the statement: “Look, I don’t know how you guys reacted to this stuff, but personally it really pissed me off…” ;-P And then we went on from there… It’s an enormous problem teaching this stuff when students don’t themselves have any history or anthropology background, and so don’t have the background to go after the authors for the authors’ own lack of background in this area. It’s not just that they don’t talk about the crusades – they don’t talk about much in the 20th century either… I spent much of the session lecturing on 300 years of intellectual history of science and the critique of science, just to provide some framework for assessing this stuff… (I’m a bad person, to be honest, to take over other people’s courses… 😦 I was given the course with the express instruction that I not tinker with the readings or assignments – I’m following the letter, but probably not the spirit, of that injunction…)

  5. Carl Says:

    Lol, NP, you and your saying yes to stuff. Well it’s your course now, if colleague wanted it she could have figured out how to teach and research at the same time like the rest of us. Oh, and the thing about using you as a sock puppet, nah. Subvert away!

    It’s not just lack of background, is it? There’s a disposition of generosity that treats unknowns as fields for discovery, not screens to project prejudices onto. It’s one thing to have a hypothesis, another to have a dogma.

  6. Nate Says:

    The only possible good these cats can do is divide other conservatives. The anti-Islam stuff – aside from being just plain fucked – is disconcerting because it’s a possible grounds for right wing rapprochement. Ugh.

  7. duncan Says:

    Yeah, good point Nate.

    From here:

    In their analyses of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, liberals can be relied on to overlook the most basic moral distinctions. For instance, they ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so.

    Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right

    Good old secular Enlightenment values.

  8. roger Says:

    We are at war with Islam is so amazingly dumb. Not only on the dumb level – of whether we should be at war with Islam. Even on the I’m a racist Hitchens-Harris level, of whether other racists are in for this war on Islam. Because when those racists look to their heroes, the Cheneys, the Bushes – have they never noticed the trips to Saudi Arabia? Have they never noticed the war that was conducted for Kuwait, so that it can islamically chug along? Have they never noticed that the soldiers of the U.S. of A plus ten soldiers from Micromicroia or whereever have been dying for a government in Iraq headed by the Da’wa party?
    It is one thing to be a disgusting racist, but a racist who also cons other racists, what kind of thing is that? Is there no honor among bigots?

  9. duncan Says:

    Honor among bigots – what a great rallying cry, Roger! I think there’s the chance to build a big-tent, values-driven coalition here…

  10. chabert Says:

    “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.”

    … such a sort of blockbuster comedy adventure straight line whose punchline has to be someone earnest in the audience where he is doing his reading and book signing, attentive and persuaded, just stepping forward and shooting him between the eyes.

  11. duncan Says:

    yes, the working title for the movie could be Cult of Death. I see a sort of Mr & Mrs Smith affair, with clear-eyed, convinced, consistent acolytes of Harris plotting how to murder one another, with farcical and action-packed results.


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