Chris Hedges – I Don’t Believe in Atheists

May 02, 2008

Chris Hedges is a journalist and author who focuses on American and Middle Eastern politics and society. He is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York City and a Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University. He spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than fifty countries, and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, where he spent fifteen years. He is the author of What Every Person Should Know About War and American Fascists. His newest book is I Don’t Believe in Atheists.

In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, acclaimed foreign correspondent Chris Hedges shares his criticism of the New Atheists, calling them “fundamentalists” in their own right. He responds to their account of the origins of Islamic religious extremism, and he accuses the New Atheists of racism. He explains his view that the New Atheists are proponents of the Neo-conservative agenda and how the American Left does advance secular values in the Muslim world. He also criticizes what he calls the “utopianism” of the New Atheists, detailing his skepticism about moral progress for humanity.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, May 2nd, 2008. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry, I’m D.J. Growthy Point of Inquiries, the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason and science and secular values in public affairs. Before we get to this week’s guest, here’s a word from the show’s sponsor, Free Inquiry magazine. 

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Chris Hedges is my guest this week on Point of Inquiry. He’s a journalist and author and his focus is really American and Middle Eastern politics and society. He’s currently a fellow at the Nation Institute in New York City and a lecturer in the Council for the Humanities, and Ann Schulz, distinguished fellow at Princeton University. He spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He’s reported for more than 50 countries and has worked for the Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, where he spent 15 years. He was part of the team in 2002 that won the Pulitzer Prize at the New York Times for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. So he’s an expert on this topic. And that’s one of the things we’ll talk about today. Welcome to a point of inquiry. Chris Hedges, thank you. 

Chris, your new book is I Don’t Believe in Atheists in many ways. It seems just from your other books that you’d share the perspective of the show, science and reason and all that. I mean, you’re skeptical about religious extremism. And you wrote this previous book, American Fascists. Yet in this book, you take on the big name atheists, actually likening them to the very fundamentalists, religious extremists you attack in previous books. 

That’s correct. You know, I have nothing against atheists. It has an honored place in the Western intellectual tradition. I don’t think any serious student of theology or religion can walk away, you know, and consider themselves educated without studying Nietzsche, who was a mixture of brilliance and insanity. But to understand understood the moral consequences of the death of God. Saad Cummo and most of the great philosophical and theological reformers in their day were considered atheists, people like Spinoza or even Martin Luther. So I actually came at the New Atheists fairly predisposed to accept their position. And I was stunned to find that what they had done. Is replicate the belief system of Christian fundamentalists and, of course, secular garb and included with that is is a complete corruption and misuse of science. 

So your beef is not with a view some persay. It’s with this fundamentalist brand of Athie ism. That’s your argument. We all agree that fundamentalism is a bad thing. But answer for me, what exactly is fundamentalists about Sam Harris or Hitchens when they’re just being outspoken about their atheist? 

Well, it’s how they define themselves in the world view that they adopt in the system that they place it in, which, you know, along with the radical Christian right entails a fundamentalist mindset. What is that? It is a binary world view of us and them. It is elevating ourselves to a higher moral plane and relegating others to positions of moral inferiority. It is an embrace of catastrophic, even apocalyptic violence as a cleansing agent to remove human impediments towards, if not a perfected world, a world made more perfect in their vision. Sam Harris and in his book The End of Faith, asks us to consider carrying out a nuclear first strike on the Arab world. That’s not a rational opinion. That’s insanity. 

OK, so you disagree, obviously, with Sam Harris Hitchens. We’ll talk about. But just because you disagree with him doesn’t mean that they’re fundamentalist. If you label everyone you disagree with, the fundamentalists, the word kind of loses its meaning. 

But I’d disagree with a lot of people disagree with Nietzsche. I don’t think he’s a fundamentalist. It’s not a matter of who I disagree with. It’s a matter of the ideological structure that they embrace fundamentalists or people who, you know, let’s let’s take the Arab world. 

I mean, they’re linguistically, culturally and historically illiterate and make grand pronouncements about peoples cultures, ways of being. 

They know nothing about. And I think that when you you know, right before I wrote this book, I spent two years writing a book on the Christian right. The fundamentalist mindset is something, you know, I came into this very familiar with. 

So your charge of fundamentalism, is it just that folks like Harrison Hitchens, maybe Dawkins. Are you saying they’re intolerant? You use the word binary. Is that why you’re calling them fundamentalists? 

Well, you know, I mean, the book, I think, touches on many aspects of the belief system that coalesce with a fundamentalist viewpoint. For instance, the externalization of evil, the belief that evil is not something within us that we must battle against. But evil is embodied in human abstractions. People who no longer have human qualities but have been abstracted into visions or products of hate and violence that must be eradicated. I mean, I think that when you when you tear apart and dissect what it is they espouse, you find that there are, you know, not just one or two, but many points where they come together with fundamentalists. I mean, for fundamentalism does not have to be a religious phenomena. It is it is a way of viewing the world. It is a form of self exaltation. 

It is utopian. And that it believes and that human history is linear, that there is such a thing as more collective moral progress, which I don’t think either human history or human nature bears out. 

It embraces not science, but the cult of science. And by that, I mean, you know, these people talk about evolutionary biology and then use it to make a leap of faith to talk about collective moral evolution. 

OK. So you raised a lot of points there and maybe, well, we’ll try to get to as many as we can. But first, on this question of intolerance, you’re not charging them with intolerance. I don’t see them anywhere telling people they don’t have a right to believe stuff that they themselves think is nonsense. You’re you’re instead kind of arguing that they dehumanize or demonize those they disagree with, like with their critiques of radical Islam. That’s a fundamentalist trait. 

You’re saying the dehumanization of others is is very much part of the fundamentalist vision. You know, it is the elevation of us that is the adoption of our particular and narrow values as universal values, which must be accepted by everyone else. And if they don’t accept that, accept it, then they they must be silenced or eradicated. That that is part and parcel of how a fundamentalist views the world. 

I. Maybe unsurprisingly, given my background, I read them not as dehumanizing as as you would read them. It seemed that your your issue was the almost the intensity with which the new atheists criticized Islam. But there’s intensity in in debates all the time and intensity, you know, getting hot under the collar. I don’t see that as the indicator of having a fundamentalist mindset. 

Well, I would substitute the word intensity for racist. Mm hmm. These people don’t you know, I spent seven years in the Middle East. I’m an Arabic speaker. I was the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times. 

The Islamic and the Muslim world is something I know very, very well. And these people attack. 

A stereotypical racist, cartoonish vision and use it to describe one fifth of the world’s population who they know nothing about. 

But as someone doesn’t have to have the whole story about the Islamic world’s relationship with the West in order to have an interesting or important point about it, you’re not expecting them to be experts on geopolitics just to have an opinion. In other words, just because you think they’re wrong doesn’t make make them a fundamentalist. 

Well, I think that when one dehumanizes. Hundreds of millions of people and calls for, you know, right, that because of the Koran, which is an absurdity. People embrace suicide bombing and become, you know, uncontrollable fanatics who probably can only be restrained by force. 

Then you have what is, you know, a childish and and frightening vision of the world. I mean, you know, the world is a complex place. And what is it that goes into making up a suicide bomber? It has nothing to do with the Koran and a lot to do with a long, slow drip of repression, collective humiliation, abuse and dignity and foreign occupation. I spent a lot of time in Gaza and I and I, you know, it’s not a matter of, you know, branding somebody who doesn’t agree with me as a fundamentalist. That’s not what this book is about. And that’s not what I do. I you know, I spend, you know, a fair bit of time delineating their belief systems and matching it, you know, with the belief systems of the Christian right. And then I think that match works. You know, unlike them, I do accept plurality. I do understand that there is no absolute truth. I grasp that there are other ways of being believing and thinking that are just as legitimate as our own, maybe even in some cases, moral, legitimate. I don’t believe that. You know, I write in the book that we have nothing to fear from people who don’t believe in God. We have everything to fear from people who don’t believe in sin. And by that I mean people who don’t understand their own flaws and their own moral corruption. Of these people do not. 

Yeah, I want to get to that in a bit because that to me, that was the most interesting part of your book. But before we get there, let’s stay on Islam for a minute. I agree with you that we need to distinguish in a really big way between ordinary, everyday Muslims on the one hand and, you know, Islamists on the other. The suicide bombers. If Harris or Dawkins are saying that all Muslims are the same, of course they’re wrong. But I don’t read them as saying that I. I see them as making those distinct. 

Well, they certainly blame Islam. They believe that Islam, that suicide bombing and terrorism is a direct consequence of Islam. And I can tell you that that’s racist garbage. 

Do you seriously suggest that 9/11 would have happened even if the perpetrators didn’t have this blind faith in paradise, that that they were doing the will of all law? 

There are serious psychological studies by Pape or others on what makes up a suicide bomber. 

And those studies are extremely helpful because, you know, they instead of sort of blaming it on this force called religion or called Islam, that once we eradicate or if we can eradicate, will there therefore sort of ameliorate all of our problems? 

It is, again, a classic example of a fundamentalist who, number one, fails to see our own complicity in the repression that goes into creating acts of desperation. But also, you know, fails to understand that there are structural injustices and problems that go into creating fanaticism and that until we address those structural issues, you know, we will fanatics will will arise as they have in every culture and every civilization going back to, you know, solace account of the Jakobson wars. I mean, you know, if fanaticism and suicide bombing and terror are not the forces that are in any way exclusive to a religious belief system. So, you know, Naziism, Communism, Pol Pot, I mean, you know, the list goes on and on and on. The problem is the human heart. The problem is the human capacity for evil. It’s not religion. 

All right. Everyone concedes that it’s not just religion. But I think the distinction is that the new atheists are saying it’s mostly religion. And you’re saying it’s mostly what American empire or the sends in. 

It’s mostly the capacity for evil that we carry within us that that there are, you know, dark forces within human nature that, when unleashed, can result in. I know I was a war correspondent for 20 years. I watched it. And certainly religious institutions often enthusiastically sign on for the slaughter, as they did in the former Yugoslavia, where I worked as the Balkan bureau chief for The New York Times. But the war wasn’t caused by religion. And it’s just phenomenally naive to believe that religion causes war or religion causes evil, religion causes. You know, I’m not in any way trying to mitigate or deny the role that religious institutions and fanatic religious ideologies play in bolstering this kind of sacred terror. Yet I can tell you that that terror would exist with or without religion to the same extent. 

Yes, of course. I mean, we look at Stalin. You know, Stalin was not a religious system, right? 

Look at it, I look at Mao, right? I mean, you helped. I mean, I think the history of the 20th century bears it out. 

Chris, you say that the new atheists are actually pushing the neo con agenda. You’re almost suggesting that they’re puppets for American empire by getting people all terrified about supposedly impending armies of marching Muslims when in fact, that’s not the big threat. 

What is the big threat? 

Well, I’m really keen to get your take on that. You’re not saying there is no threat of radical Islam, but you’re kind of you take exception to the new atheists being cozy with the neocon agenda, right? 

Well, they advance an agenda that a political agenda that is. 

Not you know, not Dawkins, he’s British, but I mean, the you know, the certainly and most of the American new atheists who have a position of prominence. Advance a political agenda that dovetails with the Christian right. The neocons certainly within the Middle East. 

If I is a secularist, can disagree with the neo cons. Maybe a secular leftist call me that disagree with the neo cons on a whole host of issues. It doesn’t make the new atheists guilty by association. That doesn’t work in other contexts. I don’t know that at all. 

I’m only reacting to the prominent new atheists. Of course, there’s no shortage of atheist people, self-defined atheists who don’t embrace the neocon agenda and and don’t sort of belief that American imperialism and American capitalism is the highest good. 

But you’re making the new atheist, these prominent figures, guilty by their association with. 

No, I cannot draw. 

I know I quote them directly. It’s not guilty by association. It doesn’t matter that Sam Harris associates with Alan Dershowitz. Sam Harris of the last quarter of his book is a long defense of preemptive war and torture. I mean, he is not guilty by association. Those are positions he takes. 

I wanted to talk about the left’s position on this criticism of Islam. Let’s take Ian Hirsi Ali, for instance. She’s supported its right by the neo conservative American Enterprise Institute in the U.S. here. But that doesn’t mean that she’s wrong necessarily or that liberals shouldn’t also be supporting her. After all, she’s a black woman, a third world or a former Muslim. 

The charge that some on the left have made against her, that somehow she’s in authentic in her critique while she’s actually pushing the secular liberal agenda. Here’s the question. Why is it the American Enterprise Institute that supports her and not organizations on the left, some liberal organization now or is know National Organization for Women or something? She she’s here on the front line defending secular liberal ideals. 

Well, I don’t know her work. I mean, I lived and worked in the Middle East for a long time. I don’t need to. I mean, reported in a in a day in and day out all through the Middle East for seven years. I, I don’t need to look at somebody else’s opinion of what Middle Eastern society is like. I know it intimately and knowing it intimately. 

And as a liberal, aren’t you yourself. All about advancing secularism in the Muslim world, or do you have a different take on that? I mean, the question I guess I’m asking is, why does it seem like the left has retreated from that agenda and given it over only to these neo cons to push secular values in Islamic societies? 

Which Islamic society are you talking about? I mean, Bosnia, Turkey, Morocco, Sudan. 

I mean, what bothered you about Islam in Bosnia, where I spent three years of my life? The Muslims were the only people, by the way, in the war who practiced tolerance and didn’t engage in genocide and ethnic cleansing. And there were Jews and ethnic Serbs who remained in Sarajevo during the siege with the Muslim led government where I was right. I mean, which society are you talking about? What country you’re talking about Indonesia. 

Let’s talk about the theocratic Islamic societies. 

Do you splintered one? I mean, they’re all different. OK, so they’re different waters who like to talk about. I’ve covered all of them. You Saudi Arabia. Well, what what which do you want to talk about? 

Let’s talk about Saudi Arabia. Should the left in America be pushing secularism in Saudi Arabia or should it be hands off because of kind of resistance to my militarism? 

Do you mean human rights issues? 

Yeah, I mean secular leftist issues. You know, liberty of the individual, the the secular values that really the right and the and the left here in America. 

Of course they should and do. I’m banned from Saudi Arabia. You’re banned from Saudi Arabia for. 

I was I was I don’t know if I’m banned today, but as of the Middle East correspondent, I was finally banned from Saudi Arabia for the things that I wrote. Mm hmm. 

And so as someone on the left, you’re saying that the left does push secular values in Islamic societies. Yeah. You take your pick. But, well, I was talking about the theocratic you’re talking about on the left. 

I mean, that’s an amorphous term. I mean, I can speak for myself. 

Right. Let’s speak more specifically then, about you or I guess what I was getting at is the almost defensive posture, some on the left. And I’d give me some names and I and I could read you as having and I’ll get there. Let me flesh this out. When they think it’s wrong to criticize radical Islam because of the injustices perpetrated by American empire on on the in quotes Islamic world or aspects of it. 

I hate radical Islam. I’ve written. You know, reams of stuff about it. You know, these guys are necrophiliacs there. I mean, I’m I can’t. 

You’re asking me to talk about the left. 

I can talk about myself. Or if you want to talk about particular figures, I’m happy to do it. But, you know, what you’re throwing out is a canard. 

So you hate radical Islam, but you hate the new atheists who also hate radical Islam because they don’t hate it in the way they replicate the belief systems of the radical Islamists. 

They believe in the language of violence. They think that the way to solve the problem is through violence. And what you end up is too phenomenally ignorant, apocalyptic extremes. Destroying the possibility of dialog. And the more you dump or the more you use violence as a weapon to try and thwart radical Islam, the more you empower radical Islam. And if you don’t believe me, look at Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Do you think there is a real possibility of dialog with radical Islam? 

But will you know what percentage of radical Islamists are there in the Muslim world? 

I think it is likely a very small percentage, but it’s that strongly. Sure. But I read Harris or others of these figures arguing that it’s that small percentage that we need to be up in arms about literally or Florida. 

You drop a nuclear weapon on the Arab world or you’re getting rid of a small percentage. Is that an appropriate response to Islamic terrorism? That be a good way to turn the rest of the Muslim world into Islamic terrorists? 

All right. And in fact, that’s the left’s argument about our botched operations in Iraq right now. 

It’s true. Yeah. I mean, it’s not it’s not enough. We’ve been the best thing that happened to al-Qaida. 

I was in the Middle East after 9/11 covering al-Qaida for The New York Times. And we had garnered the empathy of not only the world, but the Muslim world who were appalled at what had been done in their name. 

Right. We had the moral high ground. We lost and we lost it. Right. 

And, you know, when you fight terrorism, it’s not a conventional war. It’s an intelligence war. The way to beat terrorists is to isolate them within their own societies, not drop either fragmentation bombs all over the Middle East. And we played right into their hands. And that’s the tragedy, because if we had built on that empathy, which was real and which we had in the Muslim world and in the Arab world, we would be far safer today. And that’s the tragedy of the new atheists. They don’t see distinctions. They don’t understand the society. 

They look at a small group of fanatics and use it to demonize, you know, a billion people. And that’s what the Christian right does. And that’s my argument. You know, it’s why I can’t stand the Christian right. It’s why I can’t stand the new atheists. 

Chris, I want to finish up talking about morality. You argue in I don’t believe in atheists that moral progress. Well, you suggest it’s a myth. I mean, you seem to deny in your book that there has been this steady march of social and moral progress in the West. 

Am I wrong? Have you read the history of the 20th century? I mean, what did the West how many tens of millions of corpses have been produced by industrial warfare? 

Right. Two points on that. First, of course, the genocides of the 20th century, I might say, weren’t carried out by religious fanatics. 

Absolutely right. I might be wrong about this, Chris, but I don’t see those genocides as being big, massive moral shifts growing out of secularism or Athie ism. 

They’re kind of more of a horrible technological innovation. I mean, I don’t see any reason to think that the ancient Romans wouldn’t have done the same thing had they had the technology for gas chambers or smell. 

That’s my whole point. OK. 

I mean, human nature doesn’t change that. The tools change. 

It’s the same old human evil with new means of destruction. 

That’s the fundamental argument in my book. 

Right. The second thing is going to mention is that I see your judgment of there being no moral progress as kind of self undermining, not to just do a caveat here. 

I never wrote that there was no moral progress. I said that individuals like society can make moral. 

Progression, but then they also make moral reverses. All right. And the notion that each generation is a culmination. A moral combination. And that we are driving towards somewhere. And that there is a more collective moral progression. Is untrue. 

It more than untrue. You really lambus that notion is being destructive. 

Well, because the problem is that it’s a short step. You know, as the Jacobins proved in revolutionary France to deciding, well, you know, we are headed towards a better society. But there are all these sort of human impediments that must be eradicated for us to get there. Right. You know, that fusion of utopian belief, of moral progress with the exercise of violence. And let’s be clear. I mean, the war in Iraq was a utopian venture has caused untold human suffering, and that has come in both religious and secular garb. 

So there have been both religious and secular utopian terrors. Sorry to combine both of those, but you get the point that I’m making. But the main thrust of your book is that the arguments by the new atheists or let’s just say atheists in general when it comes to morality, is that humanity can’t save itself from its problems. That’s your point. That’s the that’s what you’re arguing. You you say somewhere that human evil is not a problem. It’s it’s a mystery. It can’t be solved. But if, Chris, if you look at almost all the liberation movements of the past hundred twenty years, the movements that have one individual human freedoms, haven’t they almost all come from the kind of secular forces I’m talking about the liberation of women, of gays, of sexual minorities, Aboriginal peoples. You look at the labor movement, the history of the labor movement, the animal liberation movement, all of these came from the secular side of things here. 

It’s not true. I mean, you know, the look at Norman Thomas. Look at Eugene Debs. You know, this the socialist movement of the late 19th and early 20th century was fuzed with religious radicals like Rauschenbusch. The abolitionist movement came out of a segment of the church. The notion that it’s exclusive to secular ideology is just factually untrue. 

Sure. And I won’t maintain that if it’s exclusive, but that it has been fueled by it. Hebrew prophets didn’t have anything to say about all of these these liberation movements. It was the steady march of secular moral progress that brought these advances about. 

But it’s not that’s not true. I mean, look at the abolitionist movement itself. Look at the rise of the American Socialist Party, which had huge segments of the radical church behind it. That’s just not just factually not true. You know, I’m not dismissing the importance of progressive secular movements. I’m very clear in my book that people can lead exemplary moral lives without ever resorting to religion. I know that. But but you can’t dismiss the role of committed and conscientious religious leaders, you know, whether it’s Martin Luther King or whether it’s, you know, great abolitionist figures or Frederick Douglass. I mean, you know, that’s just it’s just factually not true to somehow claim this, as you know, all progressives coming out of secularism. 

Indeed, that’s one of your biggest beefs with the new atheists, where they say that everything good has happened because of science and reason and all of the ills of the world are coming from religion, which poisons everything, of course, because it’s just not true. 

I mean, Gandhi was a religious figure or they were. Well, you know, what about the monks in Burma? I mean, those were a religion, a force for evil in fighting the oppression in Myanmar. It’s just not true. 

It’s not one of the main thrust of your book is when you charge the new atheists, these prominent figures, you say that they don’t acknowledge the reality of human evil, of sin. Right. I think that’s true of enlightenment thinkers. They were kind of what they had this faith in the perfectibility of man. You know, this day is clockwork universe. You know, this impersonal God made us all we have to do is flourish into our best selves. But these neo enlightenment thinkers aren’t informed by Deism. They’re more informed by Darwin. Earlier in our conversation, you. You were decrying that there’s no morality kind of inherent in this new Athie ism. But these new atheists, or at least these neo enlightenment thinkers who are informed by Darwin, they say that human nature is designed by a blind watchmaker who didn’t have our best interests in mind, were products of Darwinian forces were naturally evil. Right. We’re naturally xenophobic or have sloppy thinking. We’re selfish. And many of these thinkers argue that just because something’s natural according to evolution, that we have the goods. We I mean, we’re equipped now to rebell against that nature. You seem to leave that out of the charge against a.e the form of self delusion. 

Yeah. You deny that we can improve ourselves. Human perfectibility is a problem for you, to say the least. 

Life is about a constant struggle and that struggle will never go away. And the belief that we can march towards any kind of utopia, self delusion. And I and I and I just don’t know how any serious student of human history can argue otherwise. 

My point was just that naturalist’s these atheists aren’t exactly Pollyannish Ilyasah when they talk about Meems. 

Mm hmm. You know, I mean, that’s not science. It’s that it’s the cult of science. You know, when they talk about moral evolution and Darwin didn’t write about moral evolution. 

Well, that’s true. But what I was getting at is that they do admit the reality of human evil. They’re just not right. 

They’re just more believe me, I know it better than they do. Sure. They’re just more optimistic about the ability to fix it. 

Well, it’s not fixed by massive social engineering. It’s fixed by piecemeal engineering. To take a line from Karl Popper. Mm hmm. You know, it is utopian visions that scare me. I’ve spent my whole life working, you know, in one way or another against against acts of barbarity and injustice. But I didn’t engage in utopianism and it’s utopianism, especially when it’s wedded to violence. That’s dangerous. And the new atheists are utopians like the Christian fundamentalists. 

So this timber of humanity that’s crooked, the new atheists say it’s fixable. Apply science and reason to human experience. We can figure out the best way to do things. We don’t need these ancient texts. We don’t need the wisdom of religions. 

You say hogwash science and reason done such a great job. I mean, you know, science is a morally neutral discipline that serves the ambitions of humankind. Good and bad. It is science and technology that is destroying the very ecosystem that sustains the human species. You know, the I put your blind faith in science and look reason are human beings reasonable and rational? You want to drag these people off to Freud one on one. We are driven by irrational politics itself. You know, it’s an enterprise that’s fitfully in contact with the rational. And, you know, positing ourselves as reasonable and rational is. 

You know, you actually think that’s part of the problem? 

Of course it is, because one has to understand those subterranean forces that propel human beings to act in ways that are not only irrational, but often contrary to their own survival and interest. 

That’s where I’d I imagine the you know, these the burgeoning field of evolutionary psychology or the cognitive neuroscientists and all of them really up your alley because they’re saying the same thing. They’re saying, hey, it’s not as simple as, you know, being a smart rationalist. We have these evolutionarily determined drives that stacked the deck against us being the civilized, humane selves we want to be. And and they’re just more optimistic about tinkering with human nature to overcome it. 

You know, I come out I spent 20 years as a war correspondent in societies that disintegrated and broke down. And I watched when there is no structure what human beings do to other human beings. 

And it’s it’s it’s appalling. So, you know, as long as you live within an ordered structure. That veneer of civilization which Conrad ripped apart, you know, when he went to the Congo into darkness as a kind of illusion. 

When asked if our society were to break down, we would react in the same Hobbesian manner. 

The social scientists show that this society would break down very quickly, too. 

It doesn’t take a generation. Is very fragile. 

Yeah. Just immediately, a breakdown. Take a few important elements out. Chris, hear. You’ve written a book criticizing the new atheists in these three areas about morality. We were just talking about their attacks on Islam. You have real problems with. And of course, your main charge is that they’re fundamentalists ever bit as fundamentalist as the Christian fundamentalists. Let’s say if you had your way, how would the roughly 10 percent of Americans who answer in polls that they are explicitly atheist or agnostic? I’m not talking about, you know, people who say they’re unchurched, but the ten point six percent or whatever who say explicitly atheist or agnostic, how how should they behave rather than behaving like a fundamentalist? What’s your advice to them if they also want to advance their rationalism in their atheist contravenes prevailing religious trends? 

Well, I think it’s the question has been in touch with your own capacity for atrocity, for, you know, our own myopia and forms of self-delusion. You know, it is you know, it doesn’t matter whether you’re an atheist or not an atheist. I mean, the secret, I think, is deep introspection and self-criticism rather than self exaltation. And I think that’s the problem with these new atheists, that what they’ve done is elevate themselves above others. And I think that anytime you do that and I don’t care whether that’s done in secular language or religious language, you create in theological terms idols, you know. And as the Bible correctly pointed out, idols ultimately destroy you. Mm hmm. 

Thank you very much for joining me on Point of Inquiry. Chris Hedges, thanks. 

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Point of is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer Paul Cook’s point of inquiry’s music is composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael. 

Contributors to today’s show included Debbie Goddard and Sarah Jordan. And I’m your host DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.