Chris Hedges claims that Dawkins, Harris and others are Secular Fundamentalists. What does that even mean?

Read this article, and pay particular attention to the comments for a dive into deep depression. The gist of it is that a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer (appeal to irrelevant authority) refers to New Atheists as secular fundamentalists.

Is it so easy to impress those who so desperately want to believe? The comments on that site that support Hedges almost physically sicken me. Even if I wasn’t an atheist, I’d still surely know the definition of fundamentalism. I’m not going to look it up and paste a definition here, but really, fundamentalism is about taking literalism in belief, typically religious belief, to extremes. Thus we can reject this strange made up term out of hand immediately.

In a nutshell, Hedges’ claim is a verbose rephrasing of “atheism is also a religion”. Fundamentalists are in politics and governments. Some of them even lead armies, and kill people in the name of their god, their belief. (Terrorists.) Atheist activists are intellectuals, scientists… often some of them like Dawkins turn to it full-time after successful careers spanning decades in science. They are thinkers who promote critical thinking without anything in it for themselves. Atheism is so far from fundamentalism, it isn’t even a false equivalence. There is nothing to compare.

Actually I had to look up the term “New Atheism”. It appears to be a combination of atheism with secularism, where secularism is nothing more than the separation of church and state. New Atheists also often fight for equality. So I’m not so much a “new atheist” as simply an atheist, although I do agree with them. I prefer to introduce myself as simply an (anti-theist) atheist, not a secularist or even a humanist. (It’s about my disbelief in all theistic gods and about my negative impression of religion, especially when it comes to the indoctrination of children.) However, it is fair to say that new atheist activists are not fundamentalists. They are also certainly not imperialists, as Hedges would have us believe.

Of course he goes further than just this:

“Having debated members of the Christian Right, I ran into exactly the same mindset,” Hedges said in reference to New Atheists he had debated, like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. “It’s a binary view of the world, between black and white. It’s a sanctification of violence against “the other” – the Christian Right sanctifies violence against Muslims because they’re satanic, Hitches and Harris do because they are barbarians.”

In the quote above, he’s making it into a fallacy of composition. Some atheists are naturally opposed to Muslims of late, as are many others, but they don’t lead armies committing atrocities. He’s comparing a few harsh words and criticism with barbaric acts and human rights violations; then imposing that derived straw man view onto all “new atheists”. I don’t buy it, and neither should you.

Is it so easy to fool the faithful? Just throw together some terms – damn their meaning, and allow the verbosity to be soaked up by those who are enthusiastic about being impressed by ideas that agree with their own biases. The man has a way with words… So what? As eloquent as he may be, his words amount to no more than sophisticated nonsense, and are easy to see through. Why don’t we all see through them though?


About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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