How to Fight Extremism with Atheism

Sep 19, 2016

By Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Phil Torres

The world isn’t ending, but we face a tremendous problem from people who believe it is. The beliefs of many radicals have become increasingly apocalyptic over the past decade. They’re convinced the end of the world is imminent and that they have a special role in bringing it about. Whether or not you’re interested in the apocalypse, terrorists who believe it’s coming are interested in you.

Solutions are hard to come by. But there is a way to counter extremism that’s potentially as effective as it is unpopular. It’s a social and intellectual strategy that aims to undermine the religious beliefs that motivate jihadists—and one of the most controversial set of ideas to emerge in the West in the last quarter century: New Atheism.

New Atheism emerged in direct response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks executed by al-Qaeda, which demonstrated that acting upon certain religious beliefs could lead to catastrophe. The movement offered a heretofore unwelcomed perspective: That every religion has negative consequences, and that even religious moderates contribute to the problem because, by affirming that faith is a legitimate reason to hold beliefs, they enable religious extremists.

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10 comments on “How to Fight Extremism with Atheism

  • The next chapter in New Atheism will require a more nuanced, if not gentler, pen…

    Forgive my skepticism, but I am not so sure a ‘gentler pen’ alone would make much of a difference, unless it were carefully orchestrated as some kind of counterbalance to ‘not-so-gentle’ pens like Prof. Dawkins’, Maestro Hitchens’, Dr. Harris’ and the like.

    The sheer amount of fear, anger and related noise produced by the dominant theist section of culture would easily trump (geez, what a poor choice of word…) any feeble ‘tut tut’ and gentle waggling of the finger.

    To cut through the nonsense so loudly proclaimed and proudly sponsored these days even in non-theocratic countries, we need bold and irreverent pens more than ever.

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  • @OP – But there is a way to counter extremism that’s potentially as effective as it is unpopular.

    Atheism and scientific materialism is unpopular with deluded theists BECAUSE it is effect, causes them to lose support from weaker, more rational believers, and makes them think about issues they wish to deny or don’t want to look at!

    It’s a social and intellectual strategy that aims to undermine the religious beliefs that motivate jihadists—

    So naturally , it provokes a fierce response from the defensive deluded with their weak intellects and unevidenced views.

    and one of the most controversial set of ideas to emerge in the West in the last quarter century: New Atheism.

    The fact that well informed atheists are no longer intimidated into submission by posturing theists, now the power of theist domination has diminished in countries which value rational thought and science education, means that these people regard the challenging of their fantasy assertions and indoctrinated preconceptions threatened, to be “controversial”!

    As with the age of the Earth, the age of the Universe, and the non-existence of the Garden of Eden, being no longer able to impose these views as in the past, they now assert that there is a “controversy to debate”, long after the scientific and historical evidence has debunked has their claims!

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  • I was active in the gay rights movement in the 1970s. People were always upset at me or my group. They wanted us to conform to say what they wanted to say. My thinking was you needed thousands of DIFFERENT voices. Some will resonate with some people. Some will resonate with others. If you confine yourself to one way of being, you are limiting your effectiveness. Further, one of the key points I hammered was that gays were extremely varied, not some narrow stereotype. The more they saw that for themselves the better.

    I would like to tell Mr Bhoghossian to stop being such a power tripper. That is his approach, not the only approach.

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  • I take issue with the assertion that the ‘End Days’ or ‘Apocalypse’ motivates Islamic terror.
    Yes, Daesh blathers on about Dabiq and the battle where moslem forces will defeat
    the infidels but the truth is that Jihad has been one of the real ‘Pillars of Islam’ since
    632 and the Riddah wars; nothing has changed- it is incumbent on all ‘true’ moslems
    and the only way to guarantee immediate entry to jannah.
    First- western leaders must acknowledge this and stop the appeasement- mainly
    because as Chamberlain found out, it does not work; [Churchill’s crocodile].
    whilst ‘America will never be at war with Islam’ [as someone once said] Islam is most
    certainly at war with America & ALL non-Islamic nations.

    It is the ideology that must be countered but this is difficult- madrassas make it near
    impossible and the brainwashing continues 5 times a day, all their lives. It should start
    with the dhimmi leadership we have- get rid of them ASAP; for a POTUS to make the
    outrageous statements that Obama has is unprecedented- ” The future must not
    belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam”?? At the United Nations, no less!

    Islamophobe- the ‘najis kafir’ [filthy unbeliever] who knows Too Much
    about Islam

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  • Roedy is right — the more varied the approaches to living without recourse to the supernatural the more people trapped by their fears can be reached. It is really sad to see intelligent people cowed by fears of deities, demons and the prospect of ‘judgement’ in death. The more their fears can be undermined the better for everyone.

    The notion that life is just some minor preamble that can be wasted and frittered away seems to grab the attention of supernaturalists of nearly every persuasion. The idea that you only have one shot at making a difference, your mistakes lie like litter in your wake until you pick it up and repair the damage yourself, and that one day you just ‘wake up dead’ and that’s that is easy to introduce and seems generally far more effective than heavyweight discussions and ‘rational’ arguments.

    There is not a religion that makes sense even in its own terms so the door is easy enough to open with a bit of humour. There is no need to shout but every demonstration that other people see life as is too short to waste on the supernatural excuses undermines the virtue-signalling that characterises so much religion.

    Treat believing in the supernatural at all as weird and it increasingly will feel so to the other party.

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  • Kay, I don’t believe the religious can be convinced by science or rationality. It takes generations to rid ourselves of religion. Attrition is the only factor we can really depend on. The old will take old ideas with them. The only thing we can do is bring attention to the illogical and hope the young generations will see through the fantasy island glasses.

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  • “To that end, New Atheists have begun reaching out to collaborate with
    moderate Muslims and, arguably more importantly, ex-Muslims.”

    What that means is that we atheists must mollify some of the Muslim religious leaders by giving in to their deluded ideas. Yes, it would be a good idea to associate with ex-Muslims but not to cave into Muslim religious leaders or philosophies just to get their support. I refuse to get all crazy over a woman in a bikini and condemn her bodily exposure !

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  • The “religion of peace”, can’t handle criticism, has no sense of humour, and where it dominates, the choice is from milder theocratic extremism and murderous extreme extremism!

    A Jordanian writer charged with offending Islam after allegedly sharing a satirical cartoon on his Facebook page has been killed.

    Nahid Hattar was hit by three bullets outside the court in the capital Amman where he was standing trial.

    Police have arrested the suspected shooter, Riad Abdullah. Jordanian media said he was local imam who had been upset by the cartoon.

    Nahid Hattar was detained in August for 15 days on charges of insulting God after he published a cartoon depicting a bearded man lying in bed with two women and smoking, asking God to bring him a drink.

    Mr Hattar was born a Christian, but considered himself an atheist. He was attacked on social media for being anti-Islam.

    He said he had not meant to cause offence and wanted to expose radical Islamists’ view of heaven.

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  • Extremism is about holding extreme views. Religion holds extreme views; gods, hell, virgin births, resurrections, afterlife. These views advocate extreme actions; worship, sacrifices, exorcisms, martyrdom, holy wars. To pass on these extremisms, indoctrination is an effective recruiter. The more credulous the mind, the easier it is to instil extremist views and guarantee their succession. This coercion by fear haunts civilisations, causing more problems than it solves. I think it will take a clear strong pen in an age of evidence to write the abolition of religious indoctrination.

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