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+4 votes
Do anarchists see any reconciliatory viewpoints of the so-called new atheists - Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens -- with that of the anarchism's critique of religion?

Personally speaking, none of the viewpoints as expressed by the aforementioned individuals come even close to answering the struggles of the daily life. This maybe a biased conclusion, but I do believe blaming religion for almost all the ills of society, the way these individuals do, as we see today isn't quite an accurate viewpoint when we can clearly point out to bigger evils of the society: state, capitalism, sexism, etc.

And as Voltairine de Cleyre said that, "the paramount question of the day is not political, is not religious, but is economic," I think atheists could take a cue.

4 Answers

+5 votes
Similar to dot, I am unfamiliar with a couple of the named "new atheists" (Harris & Dennett to be particular), but yeah, the trend amongst outspoken atheists in recent years has been the wholesale embracing of science as a tonic to the ills of religion. While I am not the sort of anarchist who embraces any sort of spirituality (as many other greenish types are), to embrace science so uncritically simply creates another form of domination - that of "objective truth." Anarchists would do well to avoid that spook as well. So far as I know, this isn't merely a new problem, but has been the case with many atheists (and many anarchists) for quite some time.

On the other hand, I think that focusing merely on the economic, or privileging that over the ways in which social interactions reinforce and recreate domination in our lives is also a dead end. While I reject the political (as politics are understood by mainstream society, as opposed to, say, anti-politics), I also think it is crucial to maintain open dialogue about why politics are a dead end. Similarly, religion (especially Christianity, but the whole Abrahamic tradition more broadly) is not something I have time for, but it still needs to be attacked for it's role in enforcing complacency and domination.

Ultimately, my issue with atheists (as someone who is one), is that there is a tendency to only attack god, while ignoring the state, capital, and other forms of domination. It is exactly the same problem I have when anarchists don't want to talk about patriachy or racism because they distract from the "paramount question." We have to attack all of it.
by (22.1k points)
edited by
edited this slightly for clarity.
is this part of the danger of the 'ist'?
By wrapping one's whole existence into a single tiny idea, we collapse inward unto meaninglessness?
The economist, the atheist, the feminist, the cellist,  -  each presses their single eye upon a single tree, while the forest sways around them.  (While the bear taps them on the shoulder and inquires if he could please shit in his forest in peace.)
+1 vote
The "new atheists" label tends to be used on these anglo contemporary atheists intellectuals. I have read them and tend to agree with them on some things. On the other hand their views have been used by liberals for justification of "humanitarian intervention" by NATO powers againts muslim countries and movements since, from a particular liberal irreligious reasoning, those things are undemocratic and "oppressive of women" and western countries are paradises of freedom of expression and, well "freedoms" in general.

If someone wants to find an argument similar in its contemporary atheism to that of the anglo New Atheists but coming from a non-liberal anarchist perspective, better check Michel Onfray┬┤s "Atheist Maniesto" (see Onfray is aware of Stirner and declares himself a "leftist Nietzschetian" and so it comes more as philosophical atheism instead of the anglo liberal "New Atheists" who do it from ultra rationalist, scientistic and liberal perspectives.

On the other hand i am an advocate of freethought ( and anti-religious activism. This particularly for countries like the USA where religion is an important form of political manipulation and where religious institutions do have an important influence in public opinions. This has been a constant within anarchism and was advocated by important anarchists theorists such as Emma Goldman, Mikhail Bakunin and Sebastian Faure.

Now an anarchist atheist reasoning is going to be different from a liberal reasoning. As such here is a nice compilation of anarchist atheists texts:

Some nice texts to consider include:

Mikhail Bakunin. "God and the State".

Emma Goldman. "The Philosophy of Atheism"

S├ębastien Faure. "Does God Exist?: Twelve Proofs of the Nonexistence of God

A more contemporary one and an interesting one since it also distances itself from scientism and ultrarationalism while embracing a freethought position which also criticizes recent cults of New Age and other origins.

Robert Anton Wilson
"In Doubt We Trust: Cults, religions, and BS in general"
by (3.3k points)
edited by
+2 votes
Many of the prominent members of the New Atheists are upfront apologists from the War on Terror. This is especially true of Sam Harris whose anti-Islamic fervor is reminiscent of extreme Christians: "It is time we admitted that we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam." The political worldview basically boils down to rational, enlightened Westerners vs. irrational brown people. Tho Harris would surely deny being racist he has stated that Muslims "must tolerate, advocate, and even practice ethnic profiling" Harris demonstrates how easily atheism can fall back into many of the reactionary positions advocated by Christianity.

Hitchens' politics were a weird hodge-podge of various liberal notions, but he was also an advocate of the invasion of Iraq. Hitchens at one time claimed waterboarding was not a form a torture, but then underwent the procedure himself and immediately reversed that position. But from what I can tell he's never come close to questioning state power itself, only concerning himself with how it could be used.

Another prominent atheist is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She should really be much more prominent considering that she was actually grew up in Islamic countries. Her background informs her current feminist critiques of Islam, especially genital mutilation. But despite being critical of (a) religion for being "totalitarian" she also has no problem with the state itself. She has been a career politician in the Netherlands since 2001. She is also a member of the US economic think-tank American Enterprise Institute.

Though i agree with the classical anarchists that Church is one of the structures of domination (along with Capital and State), it has become clear that Atheism writ large can assume many of the classic roles of religion. Above all, these individuals show that there is nothing inherently revolutionary about atheism itself. The main difference i would note is between the "secularization" phenomenon in Europe as opposed to the prominent role religion still plays in the USA. In Europe the right-wingers talk about Islam vis-a-vis "traditional Enlightenment values" rather than the more religion-vs-religion manner that it can play out in the USA. I suppose the challenge for contemporary anarchists is to demonstrate how the structures of oppression still reinforce one another, even without the spook-religions. One could even argue that Captial and State are more streamlined and less susceptible to distrust when they shed themselves of classical religions and adopt of the Religion of Science.
by (6.1k points)
"One could even argue that Captial and State are more streamlined and less susceptible to distrust when they shed themselves of classical religions..."

I find it amusing that the (current) Pope issues a stream of pronouncements decrying the rapaciousness of western business and the indifference to the destitute.  As if his predecessors didn't have their hand in the cookie jar.  As if the vatican bank wasn't laundering money for the mafia, among other thieves.

While certain evangelical factions adopt the position that judgement day is just around the corner, so they can strip mine for all they are worth since they won't be around to suffer the enviromental consequences (that whole rapture thingy.)
+3 votes
i suggest a reading of the brief piece titled "the pious atheists" in the most recent edition of "my own" (apio ludd).  it generally reflects my own perspective, and i think answers this question, quite well.

one point the piece makes is that these new atheists are dogmatic believers in "no god", rather than rejectors of any idea of god (or any moral authority, which is clearly the role they place themselves in, imo). their god is rationality, plain and simple. now, i have nothing against rationality as a tool in my toolbox (one of many); but some of these supposed brainiacs hold it up as the ONLY tool - their god - and they do it just as proudly and piously as any christian holds up god, or any moslem allah.

i recently was talking to a friend who referred to richard dawkins. i had heard the name, but had no idea really who he was, other than a famous scientist. after our discussion i did a bunch of online research. holy fucking shit! these "new atheists" (the ones i read about at least - dawkins, hitchins and harris) are complete bigots and moralists, not to mention the extent to which they massify and generalize (eg, all moslems are evil, just read the koran). their self-righteousness and condescension is on par with the worst far right religious wingnuts (which makes sense given their level of common ground).

yeah, i guess i have an opinion on this.
by (13.4k points)