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Noam Chomsky on "New Atheists"

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I don't think it's worthwhile to review Hitchens. On "moral equivalence," to my knowledge the concept was concocted, or at least popularized, by Jeane Kirkpatrick, as a way of slandering anyone who dared to raise some objections to the murderous terrorist wars that she was helping to implement as Reagan's Secretary of State, and as an apologist for state terror and repression. It's a term of vulgar propaganda, which should be dismissed with contempt. The same is true of the analogies of the kind you mention.

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.


I disagree, at least holistically, on both Chomsky's points and the principle of which he is driving at.

Perhaps it is his disdain for Christopher Hitchens which induces this contempt against the whole of the "new atheists"; in spite of this abhorrance for Hitchens however, it does not seem like Chomsky has read much about these "new atheists", let alone material from them.

What do you think?



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