Noam Chomsky on the “New Atheism”

Noam takes on the atheist fundamentalists.

As an atheist myself, I’ve found these “new atheist” writers to be an embarrassment. First, none of the prominent ones are genuine religious scholars, historians of religion, or cultural anthropologists who can, for instance, examine  the cultural, historical, literary, or linguistic contexts in which the varying parts of the Bible were written to provide an explanation of why fundamentalist biblical literalists are, well, mistaken and ignorant. There are plenty of genuine scholars of religion whose work examines religious beliefs and sacred texts within their proper framework, such as Robert Price, John Loftus, Daniel Barker, Hector Avalos, Bart Ehrman, and D.M. Murdoch. These are the skeptics who are worth paying attention to.

Second, they typically conflate atheism with stereotypical liberal or radical left-wing politics when there’s no inherent relationship whatsoever. See Machiavelli, Hobbes, Hume, Nietzsche, and Mencken.

Third, like the late Madalyn Murray O’Hair, they come across as narrow-minded and ill-informed bigots whose only purpose is to antagonize religious people.


I haven’t been thrilled by the atheist movement.  First, who is the audience?  Is it religious extremists?  Say right-wing evangelical Christians like George Bush (as you rightly point out)?  Or is it very prominent Rabbis in Israel who call for visiting the judgment of Amalek on all Palestinians (total destruction, down to their animals)?  Or is it the radical Islamic fundamentalists who have been Washington’s most valued allies in the Middle East for 75 years (note that Bush’s current trip to the Middle East celebrates two events: the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel, and the 75th anniversary of establishment of US-Saudi relations, each of which merits more comment)?  If those are the intended audiences, the effort is plainly a waste of time.  Is the audience atheists?  Again a waste of time.  Is it the grieving mother who consoles herself by thinking that she will see her dying child again in heaven?  If so, only the most morally depraved will deliver solemn lectures to her about the falsity of her beliefs.  Is it those who have religious affiliations and beliefs, but don’t have to be reminded of what they knew as teenagers about the genocidal character of the Bible, the fact that biblical accounts are not literal truths, or that religion has often been the banner under which hideous crimes were carried out (the Crusades, for example)?  Plainly not.  The message is old hat, and irrelevant, at least for those whose religious affiliations are a way of finding some sort of community and mutual support in an atomized society lacking social bonds.  Who, in fact, is the audience?
Furthermore, if it is to be even minimally serious, the “new atheism” should focus its concerns on the virulent secular religions of state worship, so well exemplified by those who laud huge atrocities like the invasion of Iraq, or cannot comprehend why they might have some concern when their own state, with their support, carries out some of its minor peccadilloes, like killing probably tens of thousands of poor Africans by destroying their main source of pharmaceutical supplies on a whim — arguably more morally depraved than intentional killing, for reasons I’ve discussed elsewhere.  In brief, to be minimally serious the “new atheism” should begin by looking in the mirror.

Without going on, I haven’t found it thrilling, though condemnation of dangerous beliefs and great crimes is always in order.


from Hacker News