Don’t worry, this is one is not about Trump, socialism, or racism. It’s time for an old-fashioned religion post.
So, Richard Dawkins has been banned from speaking at Berkeley because of his negative statements on Islam. I could do a whole post on that issue alone, but again I want to avoid politics on this one. At the end of the day, Berkeley is legally permitted to ban whoever they want from speaking on their campus. Whether or not it’s a good idea is where the debate would come in.
Anyway, I want to talk about the relationship between atheism and Islam. Things seem to be a bit tense right now for both sides so I want to attempt to inject some sanity into the discussion. Look, atheists are never going to agree with most of the tenets of Islam. Muslims are never going to agree with most of the tenets of atheism. I am not here to provide some magical solution that enables the two sides to co-exist, though. I don’t have one. There is certain to be disagreement between the two groups as long they both continue existing.
What I do know however is that atheists in particular need to be a lot more careful and thoughtful in their critiques of Islam. Not necessarily for legal or moral reasons, but for academic reasons and credibility. Famous atheists like Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris are all excellent at reasoning and logic for the most part, but their arguments tend to fall apart from a rational perspective whenever they start talking about Islam. They seem to be capable of separating Christians from Christianity and Jews from Judaism, but they seem to be incapable of separating Muslims from Islam. This is problematic, as those guys tend to be the ones people think of when people think “atheism.” I’m especially displeased with Dawkins these days, as he is supposed to be the one with special skills in communicating with people. He says that he’s misunderstood by people a lot, and while that is possible, he needs to realize that if he’s the one being perpetually misunderstood then the problem lies with him and not everyone else.
Is there plenty to criticize within the doctrines of Islam? Absolutely. There’s plenty to criticize in the books of all major religions. That’s what atheists do, for the most part. We criticize and try to spur others into critical thinking as well. What is particularly annoying though for me is that many atheists, along with the 3 mentioned above, subconsciously revert to the logical fallacy that just because someone follows or adheres to a religion that means they believe everything presented by the religion. Of course, this is simply not true. While some religious folk do believe that the Bible/Koran/Torah/whatever is literally true, many more do not. Many Christians for example view the story of man’s creation in the Bible as a parable, not a factual accounting of how it all happened.
The same is true of Muslims. There are over 1 billion of them in the world. They are not a hive mind and it is guaranteed that no two Muslims view Islam in the exact same way. When Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris go in on some of the more backward tenets of Islam, what they do is they end up offending the whole religion because of their mysterious inability to put nuance to their arguments. It comes across to me like they view all of Islam as being like ISIS or Saudi Arabia, when of course it is much more complicated than that. Just because those groups are hostile to human rights doesn’t mean every Muslim thinks that way. I can’t believe I have to say this to 3 men with advanced degrees from prestigious universities, but not every Muslim is out to kill or convert you! You thinking that is ironically exactly what groups like ISIS want you to think. They want a radicalization of the entirety of Islam, and you guys spewing your asinine criticisms is only going to contribute to that.
Go to the cities in America and Canada with a large Muslim population. Go to the UK, France, and Germany. Meet the Muslims in those places. You will find that the overwhelming majority of them love the places they live and want nothing more than to practice their religion in peace. Even if you still don’t agree with their individual values, you’ll still see that they aren’t interested in harming anyone.
Is it wrong for ISIS and for countries like Saudi Arabia to force people to follow their religious beliefs? Yes. Islamo-fascism is evil and it must be stopped. Simultaneously however, the atheist must be able to realize that the government of Saudi Arabia and Khaled down the street do not share the same views. After all, Muslims would not live in the West if they did not like at least some of the values of this society.
Why is the burden on atheists though? Atheists aren’t out here forming paramilitary groups and nation-states based on atheism. Atheist’s aren’t forcing people to adhere to their view of the world through violence. Why do we have to be the ones who are careful with what we say? Well, because atheists are supposed to value reason and logic above all else. Atheists are supposed to criticize based on fact, not emotion or belief. Whenever an atheist starts saying things like “Islam is _______” or “Christianity is ______”, he seems to be stating more what he believes instead of what is objectively true. No atheist should be able to support such stereotypical thinking.
What really pisses me off most though is when atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens play the victim when they are criticized for their statements. Dawkins acted like he was personally offended that Berkeley cancelled his speaking gig, and when Hitchens was alive he always complained about being attacked for his “free speech” whenever he made his sometimes-bigoted arguments against Islam. Well, what did you think was going to happen? If you come out and attack over a billion people, those people and friends of those people are going to get pissed off. I might be more on the atheists’ side if they were simply making valid criticisms, but too often those valid criticisms are wrapped in layers of fear-mongering and xenophobia. It’s incredibly off-putting. It gets even worse when those who actively dislike Muslims hear these arguments, and then they start using those arguments from Dawkins and Hitchens to bolster their own bigoted beliefs! While this is incidental and not intended, they still need to realize what the full consequences of their statements are.
Atheists can and should criticize organized religion as much as possible. However, atheists need to be clear in their criticisms and must, at all costs, avoid slipping into logical fallacies. Separate the people from the religion. Otherwise, people won’t take atheism seriously and the movement will suffer.