Sunday, December 03, 2006

Kristof's Laziness and Lies

Nicholas Kristof's meek, predictable, unintelligent column in today's New York Times is headlined, unironically, "A Modest Proposal for a Truce on Religion." I say unironically, because whoever wrote the headline seems to be oblivious to the fact that "A Modest Proposal" was, in fact, an awful, hideous, stupid idea. As is Kristof's.

For one thing, the very concept of calling for a "truce" is disingenuous. A "truce" is generally something that benefits and harms both sides equally. Stop fighting, a truce says. But what Kristof is actually calling for is an end to the debate between those who argue that a truce is possible, and those who say it isn't. Which, of course, puts Kristof on the side of those who say a truce is possible.

Which side is that? The religious side, of course. There are three possible positions to take on atheism/reason/science vs. religion/faith/theism. You can argue that atheism/reason/science is right -- which some people do today. You can argue that both have their place -- which many/most people do today. Or you can argue that religion/faith/theism is right -- which virtually no one does today.


The idea that religion/faith/theism is right, without a place for atheism/reason/science, had a pretty good run. We now know it as the Dark Ages. Against religion's best efforts, the idea that humanity could/should rely on something other than faith to advance itself took hold in the Enlightenment.

That left religion two options: Give up, or start pushing the idea that, hey, it's a big world, there's plenty of room for our two contradictory epistemological systems to BOTH be right! With help from folks like Steven Jay Gould, eager to secure some safe territory for science, this view has come to predominate.

It has lots of appeal, because it LOOKS like moderation or compromise. Which may be fine things when you're not talking about determining objective truth. But it was a bogus compromise back when science needed it to survive, and it's a bogus one now that religion needs it, too.

Kristof exposes his bias, and agenda, in several lines. He cites both Richard Dawkins and a web site arguing that God hates amputees, to make the case that there is an "an increasingly assertive, often obnoxious atheist offensive...a militant, in-your-face brand of atheism that he and others are proselytizing for."

Assertive? Sure, Obnoxious? Compared to what? Pat Robertson? I'm not sure how Kristof defines obnoxiousness when he applies it to the side that uses sarcasm rather than to the side that says atheists are going to Hell.

Then he takes on the "acerbic" Sam Harris. What awful thing does Harris say?

Mr. Harris mocks conservative Christians for opposing abortion, writing: “20 percent of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. There is an obvious truth here that cries out for acknowledgment: if God exists, He is the most prolific abortionist of all.”

There's no mockery there. There's no nyah, nyah. There's no name-calling. There's an argument. Kristof has bought into the lie that applying reason or logic to religious claims is out of line somehow. But if we're supposed to accept Kristof's claim that the two can coincide, shouldn't we ALWAYS apply reason to religion, in order to determine which parts of the world fall into which jurisdiction?

After referring to fundamentalist religions, Kristof makes this comparison: "Yet the tone of this Charge of the Atheist Brigade is often just as intolerant — and mean. It’s contemptuous and even ... a bit fundamentalist."

Intolerant -- and mean. Contemputous...fundamentalist. Is Kristof saying that the (non-existent) Atheist Brigade's methods are all these things? Their legislative agenda? No. Their tone. Boo-fucking-hoo. Jesus, grow up.

Kristof overlooks the obvious question: Are they RIGHT? If they're wrong, hit them on that. But if they're right, then, duh, is there any reason their "tone" shouldn't be intolerant or contemptuous? Of course, dealing with whether they're RIGHT would be a lot tougher for Kristof. He'd have to deal with tough things like science and facts. Not to mention public outcry.

So he takes the classic easy-media-way-out: Call for a truce between two sides whose positions can and should, instead, be rationally debated and assessed. But Kristof is too focused on debating at the level of the average high-school sophomore:

Granted, religious figures have been involved throughout history in the worst kinds of atrocities. But as Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot show, so have atheists.

Moreover, for all the slaughters in the name of religion over the centuries, there is another side of the ledger. Every time I travel in the poorest parts of Africa, I see missionary hospitals that are the only source of assistance to desperate people.

Okay, maybe we can address these tired and moronic points once and for all. Zedong, Stalin and Pol Pot might or might not have been atheists. What's meaningful is not whether they as individuals were, but whether they as leaders were. They were not. To whatever extent they eradicated religion in their regimes (and Stalin let it back in when it served his ends -- proving that atheism was not his end), it was to the same extent that they eradicated, co-opted or seized control of every other social institution. Does anyone really think that if the United Atheist Alliance had been a powerful political force in Cambodia -- lobbying for legislation, pushing policies, endorsing candidates, whatever -- that Pol Pot would have said, "Keep up the good work, guys! I'll be over here oppressing everyone else if you need me!"

Atheism isn't right or necessary or valuable because it will eradicate all evil in the world. It's just as stupid to advance an anti-atheist argument on that basis as it is to argue against a cure for cancer because there will still be AIDS. And the fact that religious people in religious institutions do good certainly doesn't undermine the argument that the world would be better off without religion.

Who knows, maybe if more people understood that goodness doesn't come from god, we might make it easier for other people to join and form organizations devoted to doing good. We might even use the collective power of our governments to do so. And even if there were some good in the world that religion -- and only religion -- could bring us, that still doesn't justify propagating or even tolerating it. Without heroin we wouldn't have the works of William S. Burroughs. Kristof should not be in the business of weighing the relative benefits of believing in something, he should have the balls to assess whether that thing is true or not.

He doesn't, which is why he closes with this laughable observation:

Now that the Christian Right has largely retreated from the culture wars, let’s hope that the Atheist Left doesn’t revive them. We’ve suffered enough from religious intolerance that the last thing the world needs is irreligious intolerance.

For one thing, who knew that the Christian Right had largely retreated from the culture wars? You'd think that kind of thing would have merited coverage on the front page of Kristof's paper. No such luck.

But more importantly, Kristof closes with the lie that atheists are just as intolerant as the religiously intolerant. What Dawkins and Harris and others won't tolerate is the notion that we're supposed to treat religious beliefs as though they have passed the laugh test. Other than that, Kristof's implication that the intolerance of both sides is somehow equal is the kind of false, poisonous slur that's only tolerated by people unwilling to do the hard work of following the facts.

1 comment:

Peejay said...

Boy! Talk about late to the party!

Kristof displays what is clearly recognizable as a mode of behavior. It's very simply describable. If you've got nothing to hang your hat on, lash out at the other side because they are against hat racks.

Hmm, that'snot very good; let me try again. Let's say I have doubts that I can't overcome. I'm not secure in my faith. That makes me uncomfortable. So when someone raises a question about the very things I can't resolve, I'll go all into denial and attack the other guy because he had the gall to even bring it up. AAAHAHAHAA don't make me face my own doubts again! I can't take it!!!

You get the idea. Pure defense mechanisms at work.

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