I recently came across this interesting post by decorated atheist blogger, P.Z. Myers. He related a rather disturbing lecture that was given recently by Christopher Hitchens, in which he definitively wed militant atheism to American imperialism at its worst. Here is a lengthy quote from his post:
[Hitchens] told us what the most serious threat to the West was (and you know this line already): it was Islam. Then he accused the audience of being soft on Islam, of being the kind of vague atheists who refuse to see the threat for what it was, a clash of civilizations, and of being too weak to do what was necessary, which was to spill blood to defeat the enemy. Along the way he told us who his choice for president was right now — Rudy Giuliani — and that Obama was a fool, Clinton was a pandering closet fundamentalist, and that he was less than thrilled about all the support among the FFRF for the Democratic party. We cannot afford to allow the Iranian theocracy to arm itself with nuclear weapons (something I entirely sympathize with), and that the only solution is to go in there with bombs and marines and blow it all up. The way to win the war is to kill so many Moslems that they begin to question whether they can bear the mounting casualties.
It was simplistic us-vs.-them thinking at its worst, and the only solution he had to offer was death and destruction of the enemy.
This was made even more clear in the Q&A. He was asked to consider the possibility that bombing and killing was only going to accomplish an increase in the number of people opposing us. Hitchens accused the questioner of being incredibly stupid (the question was not well-phrased, I’ll agree, but it was clear what he meant), and said that it was obvious that every Moslem you kill means there is one less Moslem to fight you … which is only true if you assume that every Moslem already wants to kill Americans and is armed and willing to do so. I think that what is obvious is that most Moslems are primarily interested in living a life of contentment with their families and their work, and that an America committed to slaughter is a tactic that will only convince more of them to join in opposition to us.
Basically, what Hitchens was proposing is genocide. Or, at least, wholesale execution of the population of the Moslem world until they are sufficiently cowed and frightened and depleted that they are unable to resist us in any way, ever again.
This is insane. I entirely agree that we are looking at a clash of civilizations, that there are huge incompatibilities between different parts of the world, and that we face years and years of all kinds of conflict between us, with no easy resolution. However, one can only resolve deep ideological conflicts by the extermination of one side in video games and cartoons. It’s not going to work in the real world. We can’t simply murder enough Moslems to weaken them into irrelevance, and even if we could, that’s not the kind of culture to which I want to belong.
A clash of whole civilizations is a war of ideas. The way we can ‘conquer’ is on the cultural and economic level: the West should not invade and destroy, but should instead set an example, lead with strength, and be the civilization that every rational citizen of the other side wants to emulate. Yes, there will be wars and skirmishes, because not everyone on either side is rational, but the bloodshed isn’t the purpose. Hitchens would make it the raison d’etre of the whole Western effort.
This whole last third of his talk had me concerned about the first part. He had just told us in strong terms about the failures of religion and its detrimental effect on our culture, and now he was explaining to us how the solution in the Middle East was to simply kill everyone who disagreed with you. He didn’t relate the two parts of his talk, which was unfortunate. I’d like to know whether he thinks the way atheists ought to end religion in America is to start shooting Baptists, or whether he sees other ways to educate and enlighten … in which case I wonder why he doesn’t see any virtue in applying those same methods to Islam. I didn’t ask the question since the line for the microphone was long, and I had a depressing feeling that the solution would involve sending the Baptists over to Iraq to kill and be killed. This is not my freethought movement.
The Hitchens solution is not my solution.
While I applaud Myers for at least having some moral backbone in the face of Hitchens’ ridiculousness, I can’t help but think that Htichens’ perspective is a bit more perversely logical. It may be impractical, and almost certainly is unachievable, but I can’t fault Hitchens’ logic – if in fact he’s correct that it is religion that “poisons everything”. And at this point I’ll cede the floor to some experts who have far more precedent to speak to such cultural issues: Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
In the most recent season of South Park we have been given a wonderful two-part episode dedicated entirely to atheism, and particularly to Richard Dawkins (though you could substitute Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens and the story would remain absolutely the same since these guys are all pretty much clones of each other).
Anways, upon learning that s/he has to teach evolution in class, the 4th grade teaching, Mr. Garrison (technically now Ms. Garrison, I suppose) throws a moral fit and will only relate evolution to his/her students as a long process of “retarded fish-frogs” having “butt-sex with a monkey”. So, to rectify the problem, Richard Dawkins is brought in to do some proper scientific teaching. In the process, Dawkins, inexplicably attracted to the now-female Garrison ends up convincing him/her of atheism and the two join forces to rid the world of religion using Dawkins’ brilliance and Ms. Garrison’s “balls” (i.e. he’s an asshole to anyone who questions atheism).
Meanwhile, Eric Cartman, unable to wait for the Nintendo Wii to come out has Butters help freeze him up in the mountains so he can be thawed out three weeks later when the most awesome gaming system in the history of the world is made available to children everywhere. Well, naturally a freak avalanche buries him where he lies frozen in the ground from som 500 years, only to be thawed out in the future – a future in which all the world is atheist thanks to the brilliant Dawkins and the ballsy Ms. Garrison.
However, it does not take long before the Wii-stricken Cartman finds himself embroiled in the vicious wars which are currently raging between the various factions of atheists who war of which answer to the “great question” (which turns out to be what atheists should call themselves) is more scientific. So, as the United Atheist League, the United Atheist Alliance and the Allied Atheist Alliance (this one made up entirely of the now-sentient atheist sea-otters) war with one another and seek to annihilate each other completely, all the while rejoicing joyously at the absence of the foolish religions of the past.
As they war against each other with battle cries of “Our science is great!”, “Science dammit!”, and “Oh, my science!”, Cartman seeks a way to get back to his time so as to finally be able to play the Wii. In so doing he gets hold a of timephone with which he can call the past and ends up letting it slip to Dawkins that Ms. Garrison wan’t born a woman, at which point Dawkins runs vomiting from her bedroom with his jilted tranny lover yelling after him that he’s a going to “burn in hell.” And so the future is saved, with all humans and sea-otters living together in zen-like harmony without the tyrany of atheism!
Peppered throughout are razor-sharp lines like when Stan Marsh questions Dawkins, asking genuinely if evolution might be the answer to “how” and not the answer to “why”, only to be slapped in the dunce chair by Garrison with the dunce cap reading “I have faith.” Or likewise, when Garrison, prior to being converted to atheism by the eloquent Dawkins states that he’s not an atheist because “you can’t disprove God.” Dawkins then responds “Well, you can’t disprove that there’s a flying spaghetti monster either, so should I believe in a flying spaghetti monster?” To which Garrison (channeling the writers, I assure you) responds, “Oh WOW, you’re right! THANK YOU, RICHARD! It’s so simple! God’s a spaghetti monster! Guess what everyone? I’m an atheist!!”
The point, both of all this fun rambling, and this particular episode of South Park should be painfully obvious. The common throwaway line that religion is the source of all violence in the world and atheism would lead to a great era of peace is pure fantasy. So, as Hitchens’ goes on advocating the genocide of religious “fanatics”, I’ll continue to watch South Park and the Daily Show. In an age where all political posturing is nothing more than theatrics, at least we’ll never be short on entertainment.