It looks like Chris Hedges has a new book called I Don’t Believe in Atheists. He does not like what Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris has to say, and seems to think that they speak for all atheists. Why else this title? If he is not over-generalizing, then wouldn’t a more accurate title be I Don’t Believe in Harris or Hitchens. Hedges also has a interview in Salon Magazine. PZ Myers has a review of the article as well. Bruce Wilson over at Talk2Action also has a reply to the interview with Hedges. These reviews give opposing views to what Hedges has to say. I left this reply over at Talk2Action.
Chris Hedges does not seem to be very familiar with the atheist community or with some elements of American Christian fundamentalism. I have read American Fascists and his analysis of the Religious Right seems very incomplete. He almost exclusively covers the Dominionists, but barely mentions the Reconstructionists who have heavily influenced them as well as the white separatist churches and militias who are at the very right-wing fringes of the Christian community. In that book, he treats atheists and secular humanists as the boogymen of fevered right-wing paranoid nightmares, not as people who actually exist and feel threatened by “organized” religious extremism.
In the Salon article, it is obvious he is reacting to Hitchens and Harris, but does not seem to bother differentiating these two individuals with atheists in general. The atheist community does not have leaders with organized followers, unlike the Christian fundamentalist community which does. If he does realize that Harris and Hitchens only speak for themselves and not for anyone else, he does not make it clear in the interview. Not being personally acquainted with Hedges, I can only read what he has written and said in the Salon article. I have not read his new book.
I say that Hedges is not familiar with the atheist community because he seems to equate atheists with neocons. This is patently ridiculous. Polls have shown that about 76% of atheists and agnostics voted for Democratic candidates in the last election, with atheists and agnostics having one of the highest rates of voter participation (about 80%). The remaining atheists and agnostics were libertarian with only single digit percentages voting for conservative or Republican candidates. This doesn’t sound very hawkish or conservative to me. Compared to the average Christian, atheists are fiercely pro church-state separation. We realize that freedom to believe and practice one’s belief, where it does not interfere with another’s freedom, is the very cornerstone of American democracy and our voting patterns reflect this.
And in the Salon interview, Hedges says “Not believing in sin is very dangerous.” He is conflating sin with ethics. Sin is a religious concept. Lets take the example of female genital mutilation. I am firmly against the practice of forcing this horror on innocent children. If one wants to have this done on oneself as an adult, its fine with me, but not on a child. According to the parents of these children, not having the procedure is a sin. Is it? I don’t believe in the concept of sin because, as the old saying goes “One man’s sin is another man’s sacrament.” Actions are either ethical or unethical based on some socially agreed upon standard. As times change, the standard changes.
I, like most of the atheists I know are firmly against the Iraq war and have been so before it started. Perhaps Hedges needs to spend time in the company of more atheists instead of a couple of obnoxious authors. He’ll find that we are a very diverse and individualistic community.
I don’t agree with some of the things that Hitchens or Harris have to say, I am an individual and have my own opinions. I certainly am not some sort of follower. That is the beauty of being a freethinker, unlike a religious follower. I think that Hedges needs to get out and talk to various people in the non-believing community. The atheist community is not consisted only of Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins, and no atheist speaks for another, everyone speaks only for themselves.