In “Where Have All The Progressive Atheists Gone?” Jeff Sparrow laments the Islamophobia of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Hitchens and Harris have both made a number of Islamophobic remarks. Both supported the American invasion of Iraq, and Harris has supported torture. Jeff Sparrow knows what that means: The New Atheists are basically a bunch of neo-fascists. Because, you know, it’s wrong to make negative generalizations about large and diverse groups of people, the way those New Atheists do.
Besides Sparrow’s obvious hypocrisy, he makes some rather puzzling assumptions about atheism. To Sparrow’s mind, an atheist should not oppose superstition and religious bigotry. It’s not the job of the atheist to challenge religion at all. It is, rather, the atheist’s job to embrace left-wing politics and “build the kind of society in which religion no longer seems necessary.” I won’t speculate here on whether that’s an effective strategy. Instead, let’s look at his conflation of atheism and leftism.
As someone who is both an atheist and a leftist, I also see atheism and leftism as complementary, since both are challenges to systems of oppression. But that doesn’t mean atheism is inherently leftist. There’s nothing illogical or inconsistent about being a right-wing atheist, except of course to the extent that right-wing parties are identified with oppressive religion, as they are in the United States. But Sparrow assures us that “the Christian Right is increasingly irrelevant to real power in Australia in the 21st century.” If, as Sparrow claims, religion isn’t politically relevant in Australia, then why would atheists automatically align with a particular political view? If all political parties are comfortably secular, why wouldn’t we expect to find comfortable atheists in all parties?
An atheist convention is not a leftist political rally, and that bothers Jeff Sparrow. But why?
I agree that Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris both have a lot to answer for. Their political views have often been reprehensible in their bigotry and their cruelty. Decent people should challenge them on those views. Unfortunately, being an atheist doesn’t automatically make you a decent person. It doesn’t automatically make you a leftist, either.
As Sparrow calls for atheist groups to purge themselves of right-wingers, I have to wonder whether he’s similarly called for leftist groups to purge themselves of theists. Or is he really not so confused after all?