13 December 2014

Kaveh Mousavi on firebrand atheism

We've all seen the latest tactics for attacking "New Atheism" -- the uncompromising rejection of and attack upon religion exemplified by writers like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Hirsi Ali.  You're too extreme!  You offend people and hurt the cause!  "Moderate" religion is harmless and shouldn't be attacked!  Et cetera.  Iranian atheist blogger Kaveh Mousavi has written a must-read response to this kind of sniveling, one which puts into words a lot of my own reactions.

First off, as Mousavi's title emphasizes, effectiveness at "deconverting" religious people isn't the only criterion by which atheist argumentation should be judged.  There's also honesty.  If religion is truly evil -- which it is -- the honest thing to do is to say so plainly:

I think Abrahamic religions are a very poisonous influence, tyrannical systems that are inherently tyrannical, I think faith as defined by these ideologies is an evil thing, and I find moderate religious people’s arguments less convincing than any other argument I have come across. So when I’m talking about religion I have two choices: (1) Be firebrand (2) lie. I have always valued honesty more than being convincing.

Look at how our liberal allies argue on other issues where they are convinced of the evil involved, like racism.  They don't pull their punches for fear of offending racists.  They don't worry that racist beliefs are sometimes a "comfort" to the people who hold them (which they surely are, by the way).  They don't decide that "moderate" racism is harmless and go after only the extreme form.  No, having recognized an evil for what it is, they attack it in plain language and without cavil.

(The main critique I have of the liberal anti-racist polemic is that it tends to see racism everywhere, even where it's really a strain to claim it exists.  But I don't see any equivalent problem of New Atheists accusing people of being religious when they really aren't.)

There's also the point that a forthright and honest argument can be more effective than a mealy-mouthed, watered-down one.  Mousavi says he has deconverted quite a few fellow Iranians from Islam to atheism.  Perhaps people in a country like Iran, which has been tyrannized by a theocracy for a third of a century, are more primed by experience to embrace a total rejection of religion -- but in the US, too, it's noticeable that the really dramatic growth in numbers of non-religious people seems to have begun in the first decade of this century, when New Atheism started to spread its uncompromising message.  There is such a thing as moving the Overton window.

Another point Mousavi makes is that religion has a special, untouchable status not given to other types of ideology, and that we need to erode and break down that untouchability so that religion can be critiqued and debated just like any other set of ideas -- which is why the use of ridicule and mockery is so important, and why religionists especially object to it:

You can criticize religion, of course – just don’t trivialize it, or ridicule it, or treat it harshly.....A moderate Iranian Muslim had said “religion can be argued against in academies, but ridiculing it and dismissing it as a joke is unethical.” Why not? Comedians ridicule everything. People dismiss all ideas.

Firebrand atheism may or may not change people’s ideas, but it will slowly and gradually change the atmosphere, break the taboo of touching religion, and will bring religion down from its heavenly throne. Desecrate something enough and people will start to realize it isn’t that holy.

There's also the issue that a harsh and forceful response can be more effective at getting the bullies to back off:

Usually when religious people try to force their religion down my throat (which obviously doesn’t include rational debates which aim to convince me which I welcome from them) my reaction is not to try and convince them that they are wrong, my reaction is to demonstrate that they can shove their beliefs up their asses. So, to the person who has stopped me in the street preaching me, Islam forbids me from taking this girl’s hand in mine? That’s awesome! And Islam can go fuck itself! And you too!

Generally, I think setting up boundaries is a more worthy thing to do than changing minds.

This speaks to me more than anything. I am absolutely sick to death of being told to make nice with people who want to turn me into a second-class citizen in my own country, who have no hesitation in denouncing me as immoral and dangerous because I don't believe in their imaginary friend, and who support reams of laws designed to force me to conform to their random and idiotic taboo systems.  The belief system that drives this behavior is vicious and totalitarian, it has declared war on me, it deserves nothing but hatred and ridicule and counter-attack, and that's all it will ever get from me.

Finally, there's this:

Maybe I'm not addressing religious people at all. Maybe my audience is other atheists. Maybe I’m happy with that. Maybe I want to influence the atheist movement. Maybe I want to increase ex-Muslim presence in the atheist movement. Maybe I feel atheists need to hear an ex-Muslim version of things. Maybe I want atheists to stop saying particular things about Islam. Maybe I want atheists to support reformists and nuclear talks with Iran. Maybe I want other atheists to have a more accurate picture of Iran.

Religion -- Islam -- has hurt me a lot. And I've got a story to tell.....And I have my own opinions about religion. They may be wrong, but they’re genuine, well thought out, and reflective of who I am. And I deserve to be heard. I deserve to be a part of the debate.

Always remember this!  Not all atheists live in places like Boston or Portland where religion has become so watered down that we can delude ourselves that it's harmless.  I'm not surprised that nowadays some of the most forceful and clear-thinking atheists come from an Islamic background.  They've confronted religion without its veil, at its full bloodthirsty strength, reminding us, "Just because religion has grown weak in the West, never forget what it's really like when it has power, and never, ever allow it to regain power."


Blogger mendip said...

Bravo! An excellent posting and link - Thanks!

14 December, 2014 05:34  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Thanks for your interest!

14 December, 2014 09:47  

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