I think of them as H2D2 — not the name of a techno-punk band, but the two H’s and two D’s of the ‘new atheism’ quadrumvirate (that’s a triumvirate plus one, or at least it is now) consisting of Hitchens and Harris, Dawkins and Dennett. One of my first posts here on The AT was Is Christopher Hitchens Running for Pope? and I’m far from the only one to suspect his evangelical fervor.
Now Reza Aslan, author of Beyond Fundamentalism and No God But God, by far the best general introduction out there to the history of Islam, is tackling both the fervor and the astounding simplicities of H2D2 thinking. In a post over at the Washington Post’s ‘On Faith,’ he starts by talking about an atheist ad on the side of a London bus (what is this thing with buses and religion?), but quickly gets to the point. The H2D2 movement, he says, is:
… a new and particularly zealous form of fundamentalism–an atheist fundamentalism. The parallels with religious fundamentalism are obvious and startling: The conviction that they are in sole possession of truth (scientific or otherwise), the troubling lack of tolerance for the views of their critics (Dawkins has compared creationists to Holocaust deniers), the insistence on a literalist reading of scripture (more literalist, in fact, than one finds among most religious fundamentalists), the simplistic reductionism of the religious phenomenon, and, perhaps most bizarrely, their overwhelming sense of siege — the belief that they have been oppressed and marginalized by Western societies and are just not going to take it anymore. This is not the philosophical atheism of Feuerbach or Marx, Schopenhauer or Nietzsche (I am not the first to think that the new atheists give atheism a bad name). Neither is it the scientific agnosticism of Thomas Huxley or Herbert Spencer. This is, rather, a caricature of atheism: shallow scholarship mixed with evangelical fervor.
Read Aslan’s full piece, posted on the Washington Post’s ‘On Faith’ blog, here.
Meanwhile Hitchens’ new book Hitch-22 is, to quote the Hitch himself, Not Great. I opened it expecting an extended fireworks display of wit, and instead found a self-conscious memoir written in the pompous style of a member of some musty gentleman’s club in St James’ Square, musing aloud while nursing a glass of port and a gouty foot. All the “good bits” had already been quoted in the reviews (yes, all of them — that’s how many there are), which obligingly glossed over the far more extended sophomoric sections. But he did finally get me to laugh out loud when he makes the belated discovery that one of his grandmothers was half-Jewish (the shock! the awe!), impelling the great atheist to go haring off to eastern Europe in sentimental search of his Jewish roots. Oy vay.
Okay, I’ll work harder to read some of these people; maybe if I sit up I won’t fall asleep so quickly.
Medear, your post and your take on Hitchens’ “shock&awe” discovery caused an orgasm of delight in this corner. Don’t never quit your spot-on good bits.
Hi Lesley, the pedant in me feels bound to point out that the atheist proclamation on London buses was not actually Dawkins’s idea, although he usefully offered to match the money raised to fund it in other UK cities too. It was in fact the creation of the prominent secularist Ariane Sherine, a witty young writer and journalist, London-born of Iranian and American parents and incidentally, raised as a Christian.
A couple of years ago, offended by a particular Christian tagline, she wrote in the Guardian newspaper: ‘Now, if I wanted to run a bus ad saying “The ‘bits’ in orange juice aren’t orange but plastic – don’t drink them or you’ll die!” I think I might be asked to back up my claims. But apparently you don’t need evidence to run an ad suggesting we’ll all face the ire of the son of man when he comes, then link to a website advocating endless pain for atheists.
‘When I called the Advertising Standards Authority, the nice lady said they’d only received two complaints about the bus ads, neither of which had been investigated, because the quotations used are clearly from the Bible and there’s nothing in the code to prohibit advertising a religious message.’
Two years on from the bus campaign, Sherine remains a staunch member of the British Humanist Association but she has resumed comedy writing, saying she’s no longer ‘involved in any atheist stuff’. And who can blame her when atheism is regularly misrepresented and conflated with fundamentalism in such articles as Aslan’s ‘On Faith’? As an atheist for over forty years, I’m truly tired of hearing what religionists have to say about non-believers – and so-called New Atheism doesn’t mean our critics’ counter arguments are either new or better reasoned.
Mainland Britain has become a secularised society (the established Church of England loses credibility at every turn) nor is there discrimination against anyone wishing to run for local council office or parliament; their religious affiliations or otherwise are not considered relevant. Any disparagement directed at atheists comes from those who profess an all-powerful God of infinite love and understanding – how weird is that?
Dawkins and company are currently high-profile thanks to modern media coverage. As a ‘private’ atheist who doesn’t engage in polemics ( full-on RC education did for me as far as any kind of apologetics is concerned) I’m not always happy with this but if that’s what it takes to offer an alternative to the virulence of God’s children – chosen, born-again, self-mortifying, whatever – then better stand by for more of the same!
Not pedantic at all — full of good information. I like your terminology too: secularist/religionist instead of believer/nonbeliever, as in fiction/nonfiction, the latter being entirely determined as the absence of the former. Might post exactly this. Thanks.
Off on a tangent:
‘Fiction/nonfiction, the latter being entirely determined as the absence of the former’ – an intriguing semantic point. What might we use as alternative pairings?
creative / factual
conceptual / representational
fabrication / actuality
inventive / derivative
Whatever you do, don’t go near TRUTH (hornet’s nest, ton of bricks etc)
Challenge accepted! Stay tuned…