Noam Chomsky's atheist morality makes more sense to me than the atheist non-sense of 'Richard Dawkins & his Merrie Men'
This article has focused on the New Atheists and the betrayal of the Enlightenment. In part II, we will explore legitimate heirs of the Enlightenment, focusing especially on Noam Chomsky and on how the praiseworthy goals of the Enlightenment can be accomplished in the modern world.
The New Atheists and the real faith
Since 2001, a group of scholars and intellectuals (for simplicity, and in line with current labels, we will call them the “New Atheists”) have become college campus celebrities for assailing the “irrationalism” of religious belief; some, like Daniel Dennett,1 Christopher Hitchens,2 and Richard Dawkins,3 already possessed laudable resumes, and some, like Sam Harris,4 rose in fame primarily because of their passionate pleas against faith in the immediate post 9-11 milieu. Although these thinkers differ in their analyses, their main theme is similar: religious faith is irrational and should eventually be discarded like a child’s toy by mature citizens in a modern, secular era. Although their arguments have not gone without criticism (see Atran5,6; also, see Hedges7 ), a healthy number of self-designated “free thinkers” have praised their work and continue to impugn the supposed benefits of belief. At times, this criticism can be healthy and productive; at others, it can be destructive and can devolve into ugly and uninformed attacks against Islamic civilization. At bottom, however, the most egregious problem with such attacks is that they ignore the real veil that distorts most people’s perceptions of reality, diverting attention from real political issues that affect millions of lives and convincing many intelligent college students that the chief problem in the world today is irrational religious conviction.
The New Atheists believe that they are carrying out the once stalled project of the enlightenment (See Richard Dawkins Foundation For Reason and ScienceMission.8 ), of freeing minds from the shackles of religious fundamentalism and superstition so that they can perceive the unadulterated “scientific” truth about the nature of reality. This is a noble desideratum; the problem is that the real shackles of the mind–at least in the Western world–are not chained to religion but rather to mainstream political narratives. During the enlightenment, thinkers like Jefferson, Diderot, and Voltaire assailed religion and the churches that propagated it precisely because it was a dense and powerful curtain that was drawn over the eyes of humans. In the contemporary United States, however, the church is no longer an inordinately powerful institution and religion, even among believers, is not the most potent mythology. The most potent mythology is neoliberal nationalism9,10 and the most powerful institution is the corporation. In other words, the New Atheists have retained the outdated substance of the enlightenment but have left its vital spirit behind, have, as it were, mistakenly dragged a 200 year old corpse into the modern world. This would not be lamentable were it not for the profound influence that the New Atheists wield among intelligent and open minded students and intellectuals, the very students and intellectuals that progressives require to form a broad and effective coalition that can challenge the unprecedented power of corporations.
In this article, we will argue that that New Atheists are not heirs of the enlightenment and do not fundamentally challenge existing power structures and narratives in modern American society; instead they distract attention from important issues and scurrilously attack narratives that provide meaning for millions of people.11 We will first look at the interaction between human nature and political structures and how that necessitates the development and propagation of political/religious narratives. We will then trace the decline of religious narratives and the rise of secular narratives, focusing on the modern American political narrative. We will end by criticizing the New Atheists–particularly Sam Harris–for contributing to the West’s growing Islamophobia while ignoring issue of much greater political significance. In part II, we will examine the true legacy of the Enlightenment and those who continue its mission.
Please expand on why Dawkins is a voice of war and division. You seem well-versed in your Chomsky: have you read Dawkins' work as assiduously, or are you responding to others' characterizations of his work?
Chomsky's atheism is non-aggressive, based on humility and compassion. Dawkins atheism is the opposite.
Hmmm... Not really a reply; just a repetition of your position. Perhaps you could give us a citation in Dawkins works or words that justify your opinion. Frankly, I don't think you can.
This is a complete false choice. There is no reason the ideas of Chomsky and the New Atheists should be seen to be in conflict; even the fact that they have had public disagreements is rather irrelevant. They may argue loudly over some things, but those things are relatively minor points.
I primarily want to discuss why Chomsky's atheism and that of the Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris/Dennett crowd are neither mutually exclusive nor contradictory, as far as I understand them. The New Atheists, admittedly, have taken the more direct approach in attacking religion. It is easy to see why, since religion and religious thinking still do so much harm in the world, both directly and via the inhibition of beneficial social progress. They have, however, also recognized that religion is often used as a justification for things people want anyways; land, oil, power etc. While no one would ever argue that conflicts over such things would end with the abolition of religion, a world without people who could resort to God as a justification for reprehensible action would be a much more peaceable place.
Enter Noam Chomsky's preferred area of focus. Yes, the waning churches and monarchs created a gap which is now filled largely by corporations. And yet, recognizing their place in the historical spectrum in this way, what keeps us from further comparing them to religion. We are constantly hearing stories of inhuman actions taken by a corporation in the service of their bottom line, from neglecting safety standards to outsourcing and dividing work in ways that allow them to pay workers practically nothing, to refusing to help victims of disasters they create. I am always morbidly curious, hearing this, to imagine what person would be able to personally make such decisions, to demonstrate such callousness towards other people. Of course, there is probably no single person making these calls; rather, it is the way the corporation has been set up, everything with an eye towards cutting losses, maximizing returns and expanding output, which leads inevitably to such situations.
The comparison should be obvious; irrational or immoral decisions stem from blind, uncritical and unmoderated adherence to ideas. In the case of religion, the idea is to be saved, go to heaven, please God etc.; a believer thinks he has a personal stake in it. Regarding corporate entities, their entire reason for existence is to make a profit, so it's only natural for them to work as if that's their only guiding principle. It's not, as in the case of religion, an idea that's necessarily bad or flawed on its own. You can't really compare a nonsensical, vacuous idea like 'Jesus died for my sins' with a practical idea like making money in terms of validity; they're simply different kinds of ideas. What can be compared, however, is the results of adhering dogmatically to those and other ideas. There are striking parallels; the religious nuts who refuse to vaccinate their kids, because measles are part of God's plan, are behaving just as irrationally as a corporation that fights against environmental standards that might hurt its output in the short term, but will eventually contribute to keeping the planet habitable.
The long and short of it is that, whether you prefer the emphases of the New Atheists or those of Chomsky, you must recognize that they are essentially fighting the same problem.
Let's talk too about the phrase 'Heirs of the Enlightenment'. What reason can possibly be given for seeing the Enlightenment as a predetermined progression of ideas and advances, such that it can have legitimate and non-legitimate heirs? If there was truly a 'right' direction to take the ideas of enlightenment thinkers, why didn't they go there themselves? What I'm getting at is that our concept of this period is an historical reduction, and that the Enlightenment thinkers went precisely as far as they wanted to go, and probably would have disagreed on many points with those who are now considered their intellectual heirs. There is a perfectly legitimate argument to be made that both Chomsky and the New Atheists are attempting to follow some of the ideas of the Enlightenment to their logical conclusions, or to apply them as broadly as possible where they are relevant today, so let's not confuse the fact that you personally prefer Chomsky's conclusions with the notion that one person or school of thought has a monopoly on correct modern applications of Enlightenment thinking.
...Also, Chomsky's (and others') claim that the New Atheists are islamophobic is well-debunked nonsense, and no one who has understood their arguments can conscionably continue insisting on it. The New Atheists are opposed to any sort of irrational, dogmatic thinking, religious or otherwise, and Islam happens to be the particular brand of dogmatic thinking we should be most concerned about; the marriage of a recent history of violence with massive destructive potential should be worrisome, no matter what ideology is informing it. It makes no difference to a New Atheist whether the person threatening civilization is the stereotype of an Islamic terrorist, a Christian anti-vaxxer, or a bunch of eastern Europeans who adhere to some brand of communism religiously. Recognizing the fact that Islam is palpably the most dangerous ideology informing people's behavior today is not bigoted, though it may seem so to those stepped in the disgusting and uncritical tradition of faux-liberal false equivalency.
Chomksy is old hat. He has lost all credibility in accusing Harris and Hitchens of being as fundamental as religious fundamentalists. Give me a fucking break!
He is an accomplished scholar and linguist but is completely blind to the harms of religion and particularly Islamic fundamentalism.
"Old hat" or not, Chomsky is right : Harris & Hitchens (& Dawkins) are secular fundamentalists of a very fanatical, idealogically-motivated, aggressive kind.
I've often remarked that Chomsky would try to blame the 30 Years War (1618-1648) on the United States (1776-present) if he could get away with it.
That's because there is a moral equivalence.
To the extent that is true, it is only because the U.S. is dominated by religious fanatics. They and their aggressive gangster tribalism have been driving the United State's imperialistic policies over the last century or so.
Other than that, it isn't true at all.
The US is dominated by religious and non-religious fanatics whose ultimate aim is control and power. 'Full Spectrum Dominance' just comes in different forms.
"Non-religious fanatics"?!! Name one.
I don't think you can because the only person who even remotely fits that description is Chomsky himself and his influence on the course of the United States policy has been almost non-existent.
This whole discussion is just a dressed up version of the "poverty made them do it" argument. The events of 9/11 made it clear that this is a lie. The perpetrators were well off, educated, relatively successful people most of whom came from very wealthy countries. They were motivated by a hateful ideology--their religion.
This is because the hateful dogmas of the desert are nothing more or less than narcissism and psychopathy claiming to be morality. They are so sick and twisted that Orwell and Kafka working together couldn't match their reality.
'"Non-religious fanatics"?!! Name one'
Richard Dawkins, to name but one, especially with his "God Delusion":
It is not the vast majority of people Richard Dawkins disagrees with who are fanatically delusional - but Dawkins himself.
I mean "fanatically delusional" in the sense that the fanatically clever people in Galileo's time - who built a vast, monolithic body of knowledge on the (false) assumption the Sun went round the Earth - were delusional...and deluded countless millions of the fanatically not-so-clever in that false belief.
Professor Richard Dawkins - and his fanatically clever ilk - have built a vast, monolithic body of knowledge on the (false) belief that human beings are just animals - not unique moral beings - and are deluding countless millions of the fanatically not-so-clever in that false belief.