By Dylan Sahlin
No doubt you have heard of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Harris’ 2004 work The End of Faith and Dawkins’ 2006 The God Delusion paved the way for how many in the West view faith. Their books outlined an effective critique of organised religion and were both best sellers. To simplify their diatribes, Harris looked at the social and cultural effects of religious faith while Dawkins examined the science behind spirituality.
Integral players in the growth of new atheism, one could maybe venture as far as labelling them ‘martyrs’ of the movement. They are immensely popular among atheists. And immensely popular in broader Western intellectual discourse.
But their vitriol and their rhetoric, music to the ears of the already converted, speaks the language of arrogance. Their work condenses religion into its most basic form. They prey on technicalities and dispute the subtleties of religious texts. As any person of faith knows, spirituality is a more complex matter. It is not literalist, it is not always rational and it is not confined to the popular understanding of a holy text.
In different contexts around the world it acts as a guide to morality, an aesthetic, a guide to legality, a cultural practice, even a lens through which to view history. It is a deeply personal matter and that is something that Dawkins and Harris just can’t seem to get. Not everything can be categorised, dissected and disproven.
They are, quite simply, toxic know-it-alls.
A cursive look on Dawkins social media presence gives an understanding of this ignorance and thick-headedness.
Pursuing 14 year old Ahmed Mohamed, a Texan humiliated at his school after authorities mistook his homemade clock for a bomb, Dawkins attempted to smear the teenager with an almost zealous intensity. Dawkins tweeted to his over a million Twitter followers that “assembling a clock from bought components is fine” while “taking a clock out of its case to make it look as if he built it is not fine”. Putting the technicalities of the clock aside, the fact Dawkins took time out to intervene in a cut and dry case of racial stereotyping typifies everything toxic and jerkish about Dawkins’ online presence.
In much the same vein as Dawkins, Harris slices up the technicalities of delicate racial cases to work in favour of his anti-religious fervour. Siding with Ted Cruz’s proposal to screen Syrian immigrants according to their religious views, Harris argued that since “some percentage of Muslims will be jihadists inevitably” they should all be subject to intense scrutiny. Playing to the very generalisations and simplifications he contends are significant tenants of organised religion, Harris has become a walking clone of the xenophobic, religious right. As blogger AZ Myers puts it, he is full of “paranoid, racist shit”.
This is not religious criticism. This is Harris and Dawkins using their intellectual pedestal to disseminate their pro-Western xenophobia. That is what the New Atheism movement has morphed into: no longer a considered criticism of a popular belief system, it has become an all-out trashing without an ounce of respect for people, their cultures and their history.
What chance is there of the religious actually listening to a message drowned in holier-than-thou arrogance? None.
What chance is there of Dawkins and Harris spearheading a more inclusive, tolerant and popular atheism? None.
That says all that needs to be said about Dawkins’ and Harris’ position as mouthpieces of the New Atheist movement.