By Scott Pryor
Richard Dawkins was all over media this week promoting the second volume of his biography, Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science. He was a guest on The Daily Show, The Alan Colmes Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, and several news outlets. He was also at George Washington University in DC where he was interviewed by CFI’s podcaster, Josh Zepps. My wife and I attended the interview at the Lisner Auditorium and got a book autographed afterwards. A few weeks earlier, we had mentioned to someone that we had tickets to see him and they told us that they didn’t like Richard Dawkins since he seems to be a misogynist. I completely understand this, some of the things he says are quite offensive. In addition to the misogyny he’s downplayed pedophilia, supported aborting fetus’s with Down syndrome, talked about rape as being natural. These statements are not quite as awful as they seem when they are read in their full context but they are still controversial.
I was involved in an online conversation once where someone posted a quote from Dawkins and claimed that atheism was invalid because of it. I don’t remember what the claim was anymore, it’s not really important. I pointed out to them that Richard Dawkins isn’t the Pope of Atheism, his opinions are his alone. This is a strange thing about atheism. See, if someone tells you that they are an NRA member, then you can make a few assumptions about them. They might be a hunter, they probably take home security seriously, they are probably on the right side of the political spectrum, etc. If someone tells you that belong to a group that opposes GMOs then you might be safe to assume that they are also hesitant about vaccines, maybe they like to smoke pot once in a while, and lean to the left politically. This doesn’t mean that ALL NRA members or anti-GMO people are like this, there will be a lot of variation to be sure and you have to be prepared to update those assumptions when they don’t hold up as you get to know the person better.
In contrast, if someone tells you that they’re an atheist then the only thing you really know about them is that they aren’t religious. The variety of atheists I’ve met and talked to online is incredible. Politically from liberal to conservative and statist to anarchist, from obviously very intelligent to not so much, from arrogant and obnoxious to thoughtful and quiet, from granola-loving hippie to uptight business person. It’s funny how there is so much religious propaganda that has stereotyped us as “militant atheists” who hate any mention of God in a pop song or yell at families that say grace in public or protest religious gatherings. I know there are atheists like that but they seem like the minority from my experience. I always try to comment on posts online that start with “Atheists are REALLY going to hate this!” and ask why we would hate that. The replies usually say that I must be the exception since most atheists are angry at God and worship Satan. In reality, knowing that someone is an atheist doesn’t tell you much at all about the person.
- Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz released the book they co-authored, Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue.
- Seth Andrews interviewed three ex-muslims in The Thinking Atheist podcast: Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider of Ex-Muslims of North America along with Armin Navabi, the founder of Atheist Republic.
- Matt Dillahunty’s co-host on The Atheist Experience was ex-muslim Heina Dadabhoy who writes the Heinous Dealings blog on Freethought Blogs.
One of the things that they all talked about was confusing criticism of Islam with bigotry towards Muslims. An ideology, whether it’s religious or political or socio-economic, can be (and should be) criticized and even ridiculed. A class of people with a common race or creed or economic status, should not. In most cases this is easily done:
- The Catholic child abuse scandal drew criticism of Catholicism but no one accused reporters of being bigoted towards Catholics.
- The North Korean dictatorship is criticized for their human rights violations but no one is accusing Amnesty International of being racist towards Koreans.
So why do so many people handle Islam with kid gloves? When a tragedy like Charlie Hebdo or the Westgate mall in Nairobi or the Boston Marathon bombing occurs, reporters often refer to the attackers as “terrorists” or “extremists” even though their motives were quickly revealed to be based on Islamic dogma. It’s likely that the reason they don’t say “Islamic terrorist” is because they don’t want to be thought of as Islamaphobic. Don’t get me wrong, bigotry towards Muslims is real and a serious problem but we should be able to separate that bigotry from genuine criticism of Islam.