Monday, December 29, 2008

Chris Hedges Misses the Point Entirely

I read Hedges's book American Fascists and found it a really useful and informative guide to the American religious right, and I still highly recommend it. In fact this book is exactly why I'm so puzzled and disappointed at Hedges's vitriol against Harris and Hitchens, first and foremost because he misses the point entirely. For one thing, he characterizes the new atheist thought leaders as "culturally and linguistically illiterate". Can he possibly be talking about the same Christopher Hitchens that the rest of us know? Has he seen the quality of the prose that Sam Harris puts out?

Hedges keeps returning to the old saw that "organized atheism is fundamentalist atheism", as if such a thing hadn't been repeatedly shown to be an oxymoron. His quarrel seems to be not with the conclusions so much as the approach of the new atheism, and if his inability to distinguish evidence-based argument from ad hominem attacks is any indication, his objections stem from distaste at the methods. In fact I'm not sure what Hedges is arguing for.

What's most confusing is that, if Hedges wants to prevent the corrosion of secularism in public life (as was manifestly obvious in American Fascists), he's not doing a good job of it by entering public debates with nonbelievers, and writing books telling us we're wrong to speak our minds. Possibly Hedges disagrees with the new atheist approach. Fine; but I can't imagine that his distaste therein would overwhelm his practical aims, which he shares with the Four Horsemen. He is certainly right in asserting that if we woke up tomorrow morning, and religion was gone from the world, paradise wouldn't automatically follow; the exploiters and users of the world would still have other tricks to subjugate other humans. True enough. But to conclude it is therefore misguided to speak truth to faith is like saying that you shouldn't take sharp objects away from imprisoned felons, because they'll still try to make some other weapon out of the materials in the jailhouse.

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