In it, you can read an interesting (although biased) analysis:
“Toxic Masculinity Is at the Heart of This Darkness”.
Why did Alek Minassian allegedly climb into a van on Monday and kill ten people in Toronto? It goes without saying that each and every crime like this is determined by a number of factors. The one silver lining in all of this is that since the alleged killer was arrested, we may have the opportunity to understand what led to Monday’s horrific events.
In the interim, all we have so far is reports that it appears Minassian is a high-functioning autistic man who made a Facebook post in the minutes before the killing invoking misogynist murderer Elliot Rodger and announcing the inauguration of the “incel rebellion.”
For those uninitiated into the heart of darkness called Extremely Online, incels or “involuntary celibates” are a group of sad men so upset at their lack of sexual activity that they fantasize about raping, murdering, and otherwise brutalizing all women as a kind of guerrilla anti-feminist warfare. They first came to media prominence in 2014 after Rodger killed six people in California in 2014 and issued a 100+ page “manifesto” where he crudely turned his personal history of social and sexual frustration into a political crusade against all sex-havers.
“Western hedonism is at the heart of this darkness”
This prompted me to post what follows:
Yes, the deed was driven by a hate of women but we need to dig deeper than that. What are the causes of the extreme misogyny of “involuntary celibates” (an awful phrase I just discovered by the way)? It is certainly complex but I think that one major factor might be VIRGIN-SHAMING and the capitalistic sex-industry that glorifies the idea that the value of a man is determined by the number of women he manages to seduce. And that, in turn, drives many mentally unstable or otherwise handicapped men to despair and gravely compounds their mental health condition. So NEO-LIBERAL sex-positive feminists should recognise they are part of the problem and not part of the solution.
My own title? “Western hedonism is at the heart of this darkness”
The post-factualism of triggered progressives
This has led to a flurry of reactions that were neither particularly constructive nor rational.
First of all, J. F. shot from the hip: “Women being part of the problem that these idiots think sex is owed to them. Wow. Get the fuck out!”
I was puzzled by that. Where on earth did I say that women are part of the problem?
I said that neo-liberal sex-positive feminists (i.e. adherents of that ideology who can be both male and female) contribute to this problem by fostering a climate where the worth of a man is defined by how often he can “get laid” and where unsuccessful males are regularly mocked and ridiculed by their peers. I might be wrong aboutthat but my position is clearly entirely different from the ignoble thing I’m accused of saying.
Another (somewhat more polite) commentator wrote this:
“Hugh Hefner is not the reason these men have a problem. For Fuck’s Sake! Nor is any woman who chooses to make money from sex, or her body.”
As a mantra, that sounds great. But progressives are supposed to look beyond that and to carefully consider the available evidence before making such statements.
So, is it really true that the pornofication of our society doesn’t contribute by any means to the objectification of women?
I think there is one hell of a difference between growing up in the belief that romantic love should be pursued and growing up in the belief that having hedonistic pleasure trough sex is all that matters in life.
I would like to see empirical studies showing this has no influence on the way young men see members of the opposite gender.
On another level, I find it disheartening to see self-proclaimed progressives passionately and uncritically defend a man such as Hefner while ignoring his dark sides.
Finally, I’d like to go into the comment of D. J., as it is so typical of the way outraged progressives stifle any reasonable conversation:
“It’s quite apparent you’re speaking from your own experience, having the privilege of being a white assumed (cis) male. In a progressive space trying to mansplain what is a feminist to justify toxic masculinity.”
So this man knows very little about me but he believes that my skin colour and gender are sufficient to attribute complex psychological motives to me (and to accuse me of justifying the mass slaughtering of innocent women!). That, folks, is the very essence of racism.
But more fundamentally, this totally misses the point. I can be a terribly flawed human being but that does not in any way, shape or form invalidate my ideas which stand on their own merit. While reacting to opinions they dislike, progressives constantly commit the genetic fallacy and the ad-hominem fallacy instead of challenging them with reasonable arguments.
I did not primarily write this blog post to argue for the truth of my position regarding the link between such hardcore misogyny and neo-liberal hedonism. I might be wrong about that and I wholly recognise it.
I rather want to illustrate how it is not possible to have a reasonable and mutually respectful conversation with “progressives” on a controversial topic based on facts and a careful reasoning.
Apparently, just holding such an unorthodox position automatically makes you a despicable bigot.
I think it is truly a pity. To people thinking outside the box, progressivism can be as harmful and unwelcoming as conservatism.
This, in turn, contributes to the polarisation of society and the culture war where people talk (or rather shout) past to each other instead of seeking a common ground and having a rational debate where the opponent’s views are fairly represented.
(I argued elsewhere that this principle stands at the very centre of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth).
This naturally entails trying to put yourself in the shoes of a person experiencing injustices and act as you would like one acts towards you if you were in his or her situation.
Pseudo-progressives, on the other hand, believe that moral progress is all about acting in accordance with politically correct dogmas nobody ought to question.
Currently, these alleged “sacred truths” can be summed up in the following way
“Oppression almost always stems from heterosexual white males who attack the right of women, homosexuals and non-whites.”
(Of course, “whites” and “non-whites” are artificial (and incoherent) constructions they more or less unconsciously uphold. This shall be the topic of another post).
Now, I certainly wouldn’t deny that misogyny, homophobia and systematic racism are still huge problems (especially in religious conservative or fundamentalist circles, at least as far as the first two ones are concerned).
But I think it is nonsensical and extremely offensive to pretend that poverty and unjust economical structures aren’t in and of themselves a significant cause of oppression.
I also believe it is wrong for these people to pretend to follow the teachings of Martin Luther King while ignoring an essential part of it.
Martin Luther King on poverty
While describing the way in which annoying aspects of the message of prophets are rewritten by the mighty of a society, liberal Christian scholar Thom Stark considered the case of Martin Luther King in modern America.
And we do this today. Martin Luther King Jr. was a notorious gadfly. He is remembered today solely for his role in the civil rights movement, but, especially in his later years, King was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, and spoke out often and dynamically against free-market capitalism. He said that the U.S. needs to honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society.
“There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question,
‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalist economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, “Who owns the oil?” You begin to ask the question, “Who owns the iron ore?” You begin to ask the question, “Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?” These are questions that must be asked.” King went on to call for a synthesis of capitalism and communism that involved nothing less than a total overhaul of the U.S. economic system. This is the King we don’t remember on Martin Luther King Day every year. And that is the purpose of Martin Luther King Day. King, whatever else he was, was an enemy to the power structures in the United States. The genius of declaring a national holiday in King’s honor is that the elites get to claim King as one of their own; they get to control, to a large degree, how we remember him. He was a dissenter from the establishment orthodoxy, but the establishment could hardly shut him out of the collective memory, and far less could they vilify him. So what they did was to call him “son” and thereby acquire the means to control howthe public remembers him.
In an article entitled “King’s final message: Poverty is a civil rights battle”, Stephanie Sieck further drives the point home.
King’s final message: Poverty is a civil rights battle
On Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, some will volunteer, some will attend celebrations of his life and legacy, some will do nothing at all. “I have a dream,” the title of King’s best known speech, will be repeated countless times, along with well-known stories about his commitment to nonviolence, his letters from a Birmingham jail, his marches against segregation and the bullet that ended his life on April 4, 1968.
But few will remember how King lived his last birthday, as he turned 39 on January 15, 1968.
According to accounts of the day retold by Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III, King spent the day working on a campaign that he hoped would force Washington and the American public to acknowledge and resolve the problem of poverty for people of all races, religions and backgrounds in the United States. The Poor People’s Campaign was the agenda for the day, with a short break for birthday cake.
While King’s dream, the march on Washington and fight against segregation are well-known to children and adults now, fewer are aware that King spent the last months of his life fighting poverty.
When he died in Memphis, he was there to support fair wages and union representation for Memphis sanitation workers.
Rebecca Burns, who wrote about King’s last days, death, and burial in “Burial for a King,” said King’s antiwar and anti-poverty legacy are overshadowed in part because their solutions are more elusive.
“It’s a much more complex issue – it’s not, pardon my choice of words, as black and white as voting rights or where you sit on a bus,” Burns said. “It’s harder to talk about that in sound bites.”
Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, said that King’s dreams of economic justice remain unrealized, but not because they are impossible to achieve.
“It is easier to celebrate King as a civil rights leader, because that was the easier part of his vision to realize,” Carson said. “The southern Jim Crow system was a regional anachronism rather than a national problem – the gulf between rich and poor – that we still prefer to ignore.”
The Poor People’s Campaign reached out to poor whites, many of whom felt most threatened by the civil rights movement’s successes in black equality, as well as impoverished migrant farm workers who harvested the nation’s food and Native Americans who languished on reservations. Injustice anywhere, King said, was a threat to justice everywhere.
Race-based and gender-based affirmative action
This leads me to the topic of affirmative action and its usefulness in addressing injustices.
In another post, I argued that affirmative action should first and foremost be based on the wealth and well-being of individuals.
Pseudo-progressive passionately disagree and believe it should always only be based on gender and race even if this leads one to privilege a wealthy woman over a poor man in quite a few cases.
Richard D. Kahlenberg is an American scholar having spent considerable time analysing affirmative action in higher education.
On the whole, university leaders much prefer the prevailing system of racial preference in admission, which ignores issues of economic inequality and instead focuses, as Walter Benn Michaels acidly observes, on “what color skin the rich kids have.” (One study found that almost nine in ten African Americans at selective colleges are middle or upper class— though the whites were even wealthier.)
Recruiting fairly privileged students of color is far less expensive than including low-income and working-class kidsof all races. While higher education’s vigorous defense of affirmative action on one level represents a sincere desire for greater racial equality, it has another less virtuous side to it, as racial preferences avoid the hard work of addressing deeply rooted inequalities and instead provide what Stephen Carter has called “racial justice on the cheap.”
Most notably, in the late 1960s, before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrestled with the issue of how best to remedy our nation’s history of discrimination. On the one hand, he argued in his 1964 book Why We Can’t Wait that compensation is due to black Americans. “It is impossible to create a formula for the future which does not take into account that our society has been doing something special against the Negro for hundreds of years,” he wrote.
In the book, and in subsequent testimony before the Kerner Commission in 1967, King called for “compensatory consideration,” noting, “if a man is entered at the starting line in a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some impossible feat in order to catch up with his fellow runner.” But instead of urging adoption of a special program for blacks, as some civil rights leaders had done, King called for a color-blind Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged:
“While Negroes form the vast majority of America’s disadvantaged, there are millions of white poor who would also benefit from such a bill.”
“It is a simple matter of justice that America, in dealing creatively with the task of raising the Negro from backwardness, should also be rescuing a large stratum of the forgotten white poor.”
King knew that class-based approaches would disproportionately benefit victims of historic discrimination without violating the color-blind ideal he had famously articulated in the 1963 March on Washington.
Given these political realities, it is perhaps not surprising that the father of racial preferences was not Lyndon Johnson or Martin Luther King and instead was Richard Nixon. In 1969, Nixon proposed the Philadelphia Plan that imposed racial hiring quotas on the city’s construction industry. Bayard Rustin, the great civil rights leader and friend of labor who planned the 1963 March on Washington, was suspicious: why would Nixon, who was no great supporter of civil rights, support a policy of racial preferences? Rustin charged that Nixon was using the Philadelphia Plan to “deliberately throw black and white workers at each other’s throats.”
I think this should give a pause to all of us truly interested in genuine social justice .
In 2015, the real victims of slavery and segregation are mainly those blacks living under the threshold of poverty.
Race-based positive discrimination overwhelmingly favours economically privileged blacks and latinos at their expense and that of poor whites.
Whites of lower classes, in turn, are all too easily lured into far-right movements such as the Tea-Party or the personality cult of xenophobic billionaire Donald Trump.
It seems clear to me that privileging wealth-based or class-based affirmative action over race-based affirmative action (without necessarily always giving up on the latter) would lead to a far more just and stable society, as Martin Luther King would have desired.
In 2016, in a Western secular context, it doesn’t demand any moral courage to stand for the rights of Afro-Americans unjustly killed, homosexuals being bullied or women victim of sexism.
For there is a large consensus that those things are egregiously wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated.
You probably don’t need to be a Christian in order to recognise the wisdom in the following words of Jesus of Nazareth:
46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
There is no great moral merit in defending values the large majority of your peers agree with.
It does require, however, a tremendous courage to criticise politically correct dogmas.
For many pseudo-progressives react like outraged religious fundamentalists and do not hesitate to resort to emotional bullying and unfair characterisations of the arguments of their opponents.
I know that it is very unlikely I could ever change their minds and I don’t even want to try it.
For all other readers, I think it might be worth considering what follows.
In 2016, the mighty of this world (i.e. the billionaires and millionaires governing Western oligarchies) can, by and large, cope with a black leader (such as Barack Obama) or a female leader (such as Angela Merkel and probably Hilary Clinton) who uphold neo-liberalism, Western imperialism and do not call into question their scandalous economic privileges.
“It’s not a radical concept that maybe the United States government should represent working families rather than a handful of billionaires.”
No, it isn’t a radical concept at all, indeed.
But it is a lot harder than posting pictures in favour of gay marriage or abortion on your facebook account, getting a lot of “likes” and thinking in turn you are a noble hero contributing to saving our world.
I guess that if I wrote such a long post, it is only because I am an evil heterosexual white man who takes pleasure in oppressing women, ethnic minorities and homosexuals (and devouring small children alive).
Therefore, you don’t have to bother about refuting my arguments, let alone trying to fairly understand and describe my actual positions.
“Here’s a fact, and I am sure the other people here will be mortified that I dare to talk about it. There are 7,000 diagnoses in this country every year for people who are HIV positive. It’s not a good place for any of them to be, I know.
“Sixty per cent of them are not British nationals. They can come into Britain from anywhere in the world and get diagnosed with HIV and get the retro-viral drugs that cost up to £25,000 per year per patient.
“I know there are some horrible things happening in many parts of the world, but what we need to do is put the NHS there for British people and families, who in many cases have paid into the system for decades.”
While he skilfully shaped his utterances to make them sound more respectable, I think that the content remains absolutely shameful.
Think about it for a while. Banksters plunge countless lives into an unspeakable misery through their reckless actions and they don’t have to give anything away from their wealth.
There’s little doubt that some of the foreigners taking advantage of HIV-treatments are abusing the system.
But the harm they (indirectly) inflict to British households is negligible in comparison to that stemming from immoral millionaires and billionaires.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said his criticism of ‘HIV tourists’ is not at odds with a Christian attitude and that Christians should put their countrymen before immigrants …. Nigel Farage has said his comments about ‘HIV tourists’ are perfectly compatible with a religious outlook, claiming that it is “a sensible Christian thing to look after your family and your own community first”. …. But asked on Saturday whether his views were compatible with a Christian outlook, Mr Farage said: “What good Christian would say to an 85-year-old woman ‘you can’t have breast cancer treatment because we can’t afford it’, whilst at the same time shovelling a billion pounds on foreign aid, allowing people from all over the world to fly into Britain as health tourists get an HIV test and drugs over £20,000 a year?” ….
Speaking to Sky News he added: “It is a sensible Christian thing to look after your family and your own community first.” …. Mr Farage said that he regarded himself as a Christian, despite attending church only a “few times a year”, and insisted Britain should maintain its cultural position as a “Judeo-Christian” country.
Here’s my response to his rhetorical question I emphasised.
What good Christian would prevent the weakest members of his society from taking advantage of a decent healthcare just for allowing a bunch of greedy people to get even richer?
I don’t know Nigel Farage deeply enough for judging him as a moral person.
But I strongly doubt he’s a real committed follower of Jesus of Nazareth who kept preaching against failing to feed and help the poor.
The return of Robin Hood
Nigel Farage is an impostor. He steals the money of the poor to give it to the rich.
What modern Britain really needs is the Robin Hood of the legend.
I recently stumbled across a thought-provoking picture I want to comment on.
I have mixed feelings here.
The landscape of racism has changed
On the one hand, I think that one cannot apply this quote straightforwardly to modern America (let alone to the modern Western world as a whole).
Luckily, horrendous discriminations against black people sanctioned by the law belong to the past. The large majority of modern-day Republicans believe in racial equality and the racist demagogy Johnson rightly decried isn’t very likely to be found nowadays.
There is no denial that black people are still suffering from revolting injustices, such as the consequences of the war on drug. But politicians demeaning them for getting white votes have obviously become much rarer.
In the modern Western World (at least in France and to a much more limited extent in Germany) one can clearly see the existence of an anti-white racism I have partially documented here.
There is a dangerous imbalance here: while racism against blacks and Arabs is (rightly!) as severely combated as it must be, anti-white racism is almost always swept under the carpet. This situation is one of the reasons why the fascist party “Front National” is progressively becoming the first political power of France. This can only foster a vicious circle of hatred.
This is why I consider it absolutely necessary to take all racisms seriously and combat them in the same manner.
The fact that white slave holders have committed atrocities during the course of history gives no justification whatsoever for bullying a young white boy in a schoolyard just because he appears to have the same skin color.
Many Western liberals (I prefer to call them Slaves of Political Correctness (SPC) ) are upholding the myth that white males can only be oppressors and never be oppressed by other groups.
This refusal to face reality promotes extremism and creates an explosive situation which has already taken a dramatic shape in France.
Even if this makes me extremely unpopular, I must urge my fellow progressives to become real impartial enemies of injustice wherever it is found.
Poverty in America and political manipulation
On the other hand, I think that Johnson is completely right that the lower classes (and actually even the middle classes) are manipulated in Western democracies, especially America.
I think there is overwhelming evidence that a society where the fight against poverty is limited to personal private donations is a fiery hell for the needy.
We need judicial laws instead of anarchy because we cannot count on all or even most people freely choosing to avoid evil.
Likewise, we need laws protecting the poor instead of economical anarchy because we cannot expect a sufficient number of wealthy people to make donations large enough for meeting the needs of all of those suffering from poverty.
A friend of mine called my attention to an article which made me shudder.
The coroner said that when David Clapson died he had no food in his stomach. Clapson’s benefits had been stopped as a result of missing one meeting at the jobcentre. He was diabetic, and without the £71.70 a week from his jobseeker’s allowance he couldn’t afford to eat or put credit on his electricity card to keep the fridge where he kept his insulin working. Three weeks later Clapson died from diabetic ketoacidosis, caused by a severe lack of insulin. A pile of CVs was found next to his body.
I’ll resist calling Clapson’s death a tragedy. Tragedy suggests a one-off incident, a rarity that couldn’t be prevented. What was done to Clapson – and it was done, not something that simply happened – is a particularly horrific example of what has, almost silently, turned into a widespread crisis. More than a million people in this country have had their benefits stopped over the past year. Sanctions against chronically ill and disabled people have risen by 580% in a year. This is a system out of control.
A petition for an inquiry into benefit sanctions, started by Clapson’s sister, Gill Thompson, is now on the verge of its 200,000th signature. This Thursday there will be a day of action against benefit sanctions across the country. If inspiration is required, you need look no further than the latest Department for Work and Pensions pilot scheme launched last week. The unemployed are set to have their benefits stopped if they don’t sign in at a jobcentre in the morning and spend the whole day there, every day. Breach the rules once and you’ll lose four weeks’ worth of benefits; twice and you won’t be able to feed your kids for three months.
Sanctions are a product of an attitude towards benefit claimants that says they are not people struggling to find work but suspects: lazy, stupid and in need of a DWP-kick to get them out of bed. The lazy are going hungry. Eight in 10 Trussell Trust food banks report that benefit sanctions are causing more people to need emergency food parcels. This, I suppose, is what Conservatives call motivation.
It doesn’t matter that sanctions are disproportionately hitting the most vulnerable. Nor that the DWP’s own commissioned report says that they are being imposed in such a way that vulnerable people often don’t understand what is happening to them, and are left uninformed of the hardship payments to which they are entitled. Six out of 10 employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants who have had their benefits stopped have a mental-health condition or learning difficulty. Are these the chosen victims of austerity now? By definition of being in receipt of ESA, many will struggle to do things such as be punctual for meetings or complete work placements with strangers in environments they don’t know. It is setting people up to fail and then punishing them for it.
Sanctions are not an anomaly. Rather, they are emblematic of the wider Tory record on welfare: one of incompetence and, at best, indifference. The work programme fails to find work for 95% of disabled people, but enforced, unpaid labour or loss of benefits is the DWP’s answer. More than a quarter of a million people are still waiting for PIP, the benefit needed to help cover the extra costs of disability. Seven hundred thousand people have been left waiting for an ESA assessment. Locking people out of their rightful benefits is becoming a theme for this government. The consequences are human; the response from the government is inhumane.
Clapson had only left his last job to care for his elderly mum, and before that had worked for 29 years. On the day he died he had £3.44 to his name and six tea bags, a tin of soup and an out-of-date can of sardines in his kitchen cupboards. Benefit sanctions are aimed at ending the “something for nothing” culture, as the DWP’s press release brags. I vote for ending the demonisation of the unemployed, disabled and poor.
What happened to him is truly gruesome and absolutely shameful.
This is why I reject free market capitalism for (Christian) socialism.
In the first system, MONEY is the measure of all things which naturally leads to a very small minority of incredibly rich people and an exponentially higher number of poor ones.
In socialism, free competition isencouraged AS LONG AS the welfare of human beings is not threatened, in which case the State intervenes.
Comparisons between the well being of poor people in hyper-capitalistic countries such as the United States and socialistic countries such as Sweden let us recognize a stark contrast which looks all the more tragic when glancing at children.
I think that the UK is drifting more and more towards wild capitalism and actually it has always hindered us from building up a “social Europe”. So we’d probably be much more successful if they had left us, presumably deprived of Scotland.
But their departure from the EU would likely have dire consequences on many sectors of British economy and employment as Obama himself pointed out.
Some implications for Christians
All Christians agree that a starving child is a horrendous evil. Actually this is agreed upon by the large majority of human beings regardless of their worldview.
So should we not work together towards constructing a society where this kind of evil is MINIMIZED?
While reading these lines, many Conservative Christians would doubtlessly answer me that while we are taught by our Master to care for the poor, the solution doesn’t have to be political.
But many of them couldn’t tell me that with a straight face, that is without either cognitive dissonances or a hypocritical tongue. When abortion and homosexuality are concerned, they certainly believe that a political solution is not only in order but also the most Christian thing anyone could do.
Let us suppose that we know that option A (status quo) will uphold the suffering of poor children whereas option B will considerably reduce it.
What kind of human beings are we if we refuse to engage B out of convenience or love for abstract political ideals?
I had the immense privilege to interview historian, sociologist and Christian apologist David Marshall on militant atheists and their arguments. I truly hope you’ll appreciate it!
Lotharson: Hello David, thank you very much for having accepted my invitation. Could you please sum up your background for my readers? David Marshall: Sure. I am from a Christian background, and grew up in Seattle. My academic background involves a lot of study of languages and research in history and Asian cultures, culminating in a PhD for which I offered what I believe is the best Christian model of religions, which I call “Fulfillment Theology.” I’ve written five books, edited another, and contributed to others, my most popular so far being “True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture” and “The Truth Behind the New Atheism.” (But the meatiest is Jesus and the Religions of Man.) I am presently writing two other books actively, and three more passively. Each is on a very big subject; I will try not to be glib. :- )
Lotharson: So, you seem to have quite a large field of interest 🙂 What rose your passion for the intellectual arguments between Christians and atheists? David Marshall: I was going to blame C. S. Lewis, in my misbegotten youth, but then a line from a country music song came to mind, “Heck it could be my fault.” There’s a little atheist inside of me, and it’s easiest to squelch him when the big atheists outside of me throw up such softball challenges to my Christian faith. Also I agree with Clement of Alexandria, who perceived that there was some truth in almost every school of thought — truth that is fulfilled best by Christ.
On militant atheism and religious fundamentalism
Lotharson: Your fascinating views on the relationship between God’s revelation in Christ and other religions will (hopefully) be the topic of a future interview. Right now, I’m interested by what you wrote on the New Atheists. Could you summarize what the “New Atheism” is? Is it (more or less) a synonym for “anti-theism” or “militant atheism”? David Marshall: Atheists themselves differ on whether or not to accept or even glory in the term “The New Atheism.” Some say there’s nothing new about their views, and in a sense, I agree: the tone adopted by Richard Dawkins is very like that of the Left Hegelians in your own native Germany back in the mid-19th Century, culimating with Karl Marx. But I see four factors as distinguishing this wave: (1) Reaction to 9/11, along the lines of “That nasty Taliban! Now how can we use revulsion against radical Islam to dump on Christianity as well? I know! We’ll lump them all in the same bag!” (2) Particular concern over the supposed threat American Christian poses to democracy. (3) Focus on or exageration of the dark side of Christian history, “Hitler’s Pope,” that kind of thing. (4) Drawing on radical “historical Jesus” material, from the Jesus Seminar and Bart Ehrman, to more fringe characters like Hector Avalos, Robert Price and Richard Carrier.
So, is it fair to say that the New Atheism (or anti-theism) can be summed up by the two following sentences:
1) Religious beliefs are false
2) Religious beliefs are bad and ought to disappear?
David Marshall: Quite so.
Belligerent secularism and nasty rhetoric
Lotharson: Okay. How does this play out in terms of rhetoric? David Marshall: I am trying to think of a prominent atheist who identifies with that movement, who is polite, and really listens to the other side. Is that what you’re wondering?
Lotharson: Yeah kind of 🙂 Do you know striking examples of rude and bullying behavior which are characteristic of the whole movement?
Or examples of famous New Atheists calling their followers to use an aggressive and nasty rhetoric? David Marshall: Sheesh. Read my blog post, “PZ Myers, Guru of Hate,” if you can stomach that sort of thing. That charts one internal conflict on their side — I take out all the swear words. It is tacitly assumed in many quarters that the real problem with such nastiness is that it is directed at fellow unbelievers, rather than the real enemy, us.
Lotharson: And by “us”, they mean ALL religious believers, right? Even progressive Christians opposing the Religious Right are viewed as their enemies, am I correct? David Marshall: Of course “Gnus” are a diverse lot, and not all are as vitriolic as Dr. Myers’ followers tend to be. But yes, Richard Dawkins, in his (relatively) more civilized way, goes out of the way to emphasize that liberal Christians are also a serious problem, as do such people as Greta Christiana.
Lotharson: Yeah, they argue that the existence of moderate and peaceful religious believers NECESSARILY cause the existence of nasty fundamentalists and Islamists.
So, according to them the evil has to be cut at the root.
Do they have strong historical and sociological arguments for backing up this claim? David Marshall: Well, of course not. The best they do is vaguely cite sociologist Phil Zuckerman, who is fond of Denmark, as who isn’t besides Hamlet? But Zuckerman himself is more careful, and shows (without meaning to) that a lot of the success of the societies he deems as most successful, derives historically from their Christian roots. (I challenged him on this in person, and he did not deny it, being an honest scholar.)
Lotharson: And there is one thing they don’t take into consideration: the greater happiness of Denmark in comparison to religious America might very well be due to factors unrelated to religion and atheism, such as their much more SOCIALIST economy and social system.
Is it fair to say so? David Marshall: I wrote an article some years ago in which I gave some 20-25 problems with such arguments. They are multiply flawed in too many ways to give a simple summation: the popular versions of such arguments are junk scholarship. As a Burkean conservative with a father who owned an apartment with welfare Moms, though, you’ll have to torture me to confess the superior merits of the Welfare State. :- )
Lotharson: Okay, I won’t insist then 🙂
On sociological studies on the benefits of “Religion”.
I generally find it pretty frustrating that in most sociological and historical studies comparing religion with lack of faith, religion (as a whole) is directly compared with atheism (as a whole).
Given the HUGE diversity of atheists and religious believers out there, I view these studies as providing us with very few useful information.
I think that a good study would compare a lot of groups of different believers with different atheists, such as:
1) Conservative Catholics
2) Liberal Catholics
4) Charismatic Christians
5) Mystical Muslims.
6) Godless communists
7) Secular Capitalists
and so on and so forth.
This would really allow us to learn more about the subject, and I’m sure that we could find out that certain religious groups fare much better than others, and that the same thing holds for the very diverse atheistic groups present in our world.
So the question should not be: “Is religion (ON AVERAGE) better than atheism (ON AVERAGE) in terms of societal happiness, but rather “What are the impacts of the many specific worldviews out there?”
Do you agree? David Marshall: Yeah. I also dispute the usual definition of “religion.” Peter Berger pointed out that the term is defined in functional as well as substantive ways: what Paul Tillich called an “ultimate concern” being to me the best definition. Everyone has an ultimate concern. And no, a few decades after the Marxist holocaust, we can’t just sweep those crimes under the rug, either. Nor do they seem to have been total aberrations.I also like the definition of Christianity as meaning, “We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.” Christianity PREDICTS evil by its followers. But I argue historically that the Gospel has in fact utterly transformed the world for the better — and the Bible predicts that, too.
The intellectual depth of anti-theism
Lotharson: The New Atheists also pretend we can know beyond any reasonable doubt that God does not exist, and most of them seem to also believe that we can be pretty sure that matter is the ultimate reality. What do you think of the intellectual depth of the arguments they deploy for showing this? David Marshall: Miracles happen. God works in the world. Deal with it.
Lotharson: Okay, so are they as mighty as a fundamentalist proclaiming these three sentences without any evidence? 🙂 David Marshall: Well, of course it’s hard to come up with evidence for a negative. And SOME New Atheists try fitfully to deal with the positive evidence for Christian miracles and God’s work in the world. (John Loftus‘ friends are examples.) But they tend to stay near the shallow end of the pool, and don’t seem to know much about that evidence, really. I’ve never seen one analyze Craig Keener‘s massive study of miracles around the world, for instance — not that it isn’t vulnerable in spots. Some do try to undermine the Gospel narrative, and arguments for the resurrection — though the more serious arguers seem to mostly predate the New Atheist movement, and don’t seem often to identify with it. Richard Carrier has just published a book trying to prove Jesus never lived — he wishes to make that position intellectually respectable. He does at least have a PhD in Roman history — the history of science — from Columbia, and reads a lot, even if he doesn’t always report what he reads very circumspectly.
Lotharson: Of course, this raises a lot of questions about miracles we don’t have the time to go into here.
The nature of “faith”.
But I think this leads us to wonder about how the New Atheists view “faith”. What are your own experiences with this and how does it relate to the way you (and most of your Christian friends) understand “faith”? David Marshall: They universally misunderstand it. Even those who know better. It’s a fascinating sociological phenomena. The most recent best-seller that does this is Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists — the whole ingenious work is based on the patently absurd notion that by “faith,” Christians mean “believing without any evidence.”
Lotharson: And why do you view this notion as “patently absurd”? David Marshall: Of course they don’t have any evidence for that, because they haven’t bothered to do any research. I have. (See our recent book, True Reason, including one chapter with Dr. Timothy McGrew, also the relevant chapter in The Truth Behind the New Atheism.)
It’s the height of irony — every single New Atheist bases his critique of Christianity on the objection that Christians demand faith without checking the facts first — but none of them bothers to check the facts about THAT first. Alister McGrath and I both highlighted this irony already in our books on the New Atheism, which were among the first to come out, but our objections haven’t stopped the flood or even quelled it a little.
Lotharson: How do you personally see “faith”? David Marshall: Christian faith means “Believing and acting upon what you have good reason to think is true, in the face of existential difficulties.”
Lotharson: It goes without saying it is a lot harder to argue against this than against the straw man they attack. Is it fair to say that the New Atheists PICK AND CHOOSE the worst and weakest examples of religious believers and describe them as if they were characteristic of religion AS A WHOLE? David Marshall: Dawkins is famous for this. Like the Pharisee Jesus spoke about who seeks the world for a convert, he flies across continents looking for the kookiest Christians he can find – founders of hell houses, terrorist wannabees, semi-literate spokepersons for obscure political fronts — then reports them as typical cases of the species. For a zoologist, he’s empirically lazy to a remarkable degree.
On Anti-theism and atrocities.
Lotharson: Lol. I think this should lead us to wonder whether HIS PARTICULAR brand of atheism is as harmless as he professes.
I don’t think that atheism (understood as the belief there is no supernatural world) has caused atrocities, in the same way I don’t believe that theism (the belief there is a God) has caused atrocities in and of itself.
BUT I do believe that anti-theism (the belief that all religions OUGHT to disappear) has plaid a major role in atrocities committed by secularist regimes in Russia and in China against religious people and clergy persons.
Do you think it is a balanced consideration of the situation? David Marshall:It’s a very complex question. I have a chapter giving my own analysis of “Why Marx went wrong” in Jesus and the Religions of Man. I think his rejection of Christianity and of God was very important, and it impacted his morals in complex ways — I argue that communists had THREE moral systems, for different sets of people. But I also argue that the most deadly facet of Marxism-Leninism was the god it worshiped — the self — even more than its rejection of God, perhaps. Though of course the two go together. As someone said of Tolstoy, I think, he and God in the same heart were like two bears in the same cave. Marx wanted the cave for himself, and so did his chief followers. The best work on this subject is David Aikman’s Atheism in the Marxist Tradition. Unfortunately it is an unpublished doctoral dissertation, but can be obtained by interlibrary loan.
Lotharson: When I present anti-theism in this way, some of its proponents get completely infuriated.
They say that the New Atheism does not seek to destroy religious beliefs but only to put an end to “religious privileges”.
Could it be really the case?
David Marshall: Again, I fundamentally disagree with the assumed definition of “religion” here. But many New Atheists are quite outspoken in saying they want to rid the world of religion — though not violently, through “education” in various senses. I could give numerous quotes, especially if I were in my library in the US, rather than in central China, right now.
But no doubt many atheists hold more modest ambitions. They however tend not to identify themselves as Gnus (New Atheists).
John Loftus and The Outsider Test of Faith
Lotharson: Okay. What else is there to be said about the New Atheism? David Marshall: I’m glad for the challenge. Anything they say that is true, is useful. I am presently writing a book entitled, “How Christianity passes the Outsider Test,” turning a popular Gnu argument — promoted by John Loftus — on its head, to offer four more or less new arguments for the Christian faith, some of which I think have a great deal of force. I’m so glad John brought the subject up again.
Besides which, we need our critics. Hug a New Atheist, but also figure out why he’s wrong and tell him. (Most Gnus are men, sorry.)
Lotharson: Before I’ll stop stealing away your precious time 🙂 could you please briefly explain what the Outsider Test of Faith is and what is your own personal take on it? David Marshall: Oh, Gee, that’s the book! But you can get an abridged version in a chapter of True Reason.
The basic idea is, we should look at Christianity from an objective, outside perspective and stop being hoodwinked by our (assumed) Christian conditioning.
The truth — the real, “inside” story of Christianity — is amazing, and I don’t think has ever been told quite like this. To put it in the vernacular, I am totally pumped about this book.
Lotharson: Thanks for this and for everything David! I wish you all the best for your next endeavors and am looking forward to your new book.