Old Testament Atheism and the debate between Ben Affleck and Bill Maher
Being North American (Canadian), my experience is limited to who experiences more prevalent to what is common with western culture. That said, I have never met an atheist who was once Buddhist or Muslim. I have only met Atheists who came up from a Judeo-Christian background or lived through a Judeo-Christian environment. Hence the west. I’m sure they exist but this is only coming from this perspective.
I lost my faith at a very young age. Growing up in a household where my dad didn’t believe in a god and my mother thought there could be gods but humans haven’t figured it out yet, it was a pretty welcoming household for that. However I did go through the Roman Catholic school system from kindergarten until the end of high school and I received every Roman Catholic sacrament up to Confirmation. My grandmother was once Jewish until that thing called the Holocaust and afterwards converted to Roman Catholicism. That’s how my father was raised. When I was quite young, they tried to send me to Sunday school. I asked too many questions about Noah and was bumped up to regular church. My father and I attended mass for quite a while, until one day we showed up early. The priest noticed and mentioned it in the sermon. We rarely went again.
I was a pretty vocal Atheist, even in grade school. Despite this, I still participated in school plays and even played Jesus Christ in eighth grade, mostly because I was the only eighth grader with long hair and hair on my chest. I wanted to play Pontius Pilate because he was more interesting and actually got lines. Nope, I was Jesus. Confirmation meant going to a random person’s house to listen to Jewel’s “Hands” and talk about our faith. The first or second day I went, a classmate confronted me on being Atheist. I stopped going to the “get together’s” until the last day, where I showed up, denounced my Atheism and said I could get my Confirmation sacrament. It’s the only way my eighth grade teacher would allow anyone to graduate.
As a vocal Atheist, anything anti-Religion attracted me. Whether it be Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Nine Inch Nails or Voltaire, I ate up anything that took shots at organized religion. Mostly of the Judeo-Christian nature because that’s all I really experienced growing up in a very white town. Hinduism seemed like something out of Final Fantasy. Buddhism seemed… simple. Islam I rarely heard about. I knew more about Wiccanism than I did Islam. Even after 9/11 I didn’t know much. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s Gerudo Valley was probably all I knew about the Muslim faith at some point (I know, videogames again!?). Point being, the focus of my Atheism was always Judeo-Christianity.
I don’t know when my viewpoints on Atheism softened, but I do recall only a few years back feeling like the world would be a better place if we merely removed anyone who believes in an unprovable, fanatical, ridiculous faith and started fresh with a society of people who don’t believe in ridiculous, mind controlling things. I honestly think it was around the time I watched Bill Maher’s Religulous, where he ended it with this over the top, “THE WORLD WILL END IF WE DON’T STOP RELIGION” speech. He had me rolling in laughter and agreement through most of the piece but then ended it talking about the end times and the destruction of the world. His concept that people who believe in End Times will bring the End Times (and that somehow he wasn’t a person saying the End Times will come) sort of jolted me into a bit of a realization when it came to the prominent anti-religious speakers of my time.
They were Old Testament.
Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, even Richard Dawkins always came at an intellectual superiority angle (which I don’t necessarily blame) and discussed their opinions by championing science and reason. Except, of course, when it came to their own reason. Sam Harris for example handles paranormal discussion the way a Christian would handle discussion about finding pieces of Noah’s Ark. Light skepticism that is trumped by heavy intrigue. Yet you’d never hear Harris discuss Noah’s Ark the way he expects people to approach his own feelings on paranormal activity.
What’s more important in their “Old Testament” approach, and the Old Testament approach of many Atheists comes from their handling of the subject of Islam. There’s an interesting level of inherent bias in the subject that comes from where their Atheism sprouted from. This came most apparent to me when watching the debate on Muslims last night on Real Time with Bill Maher between Ben Affleck and Bill Maher, as well as Sam Harris, Michael Steele and Nicholas Kristof The inherent bias comes from the fact that because they came from Judeo-Christian upbringings, they don’t see their own country’s actions as being the actions of Christians. They do, however, see the actions of governments in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to being the actions of Islam. Because Christians are no longer holding Salem Witch trials, they don’t really notice their own country’s actions as being considered rooted in “Religious terrorism”, the same way it would be when a Muslim country leader expresses themselves. In the Middle East, it’s common to speak your actions in tune with your religion. In Western culture, we don’t do that as much anymore. It went over the heads of many when George W. Bush expressed it (Maher did catch it during his documentary, but he doesn’t seem to think it’s continuing for some odd reason). None of the actions of Christian men and women in the Western governments (prominent in Canada and the United States more than the United Kingdom) is treated as religiously motivated, despite the fact that declaring yourself an Atheist in especially America is considered political suicide. But when it happens in the Middle East? It’s an act of religion, not so much government or individual. So says people, “One Nation Under God.”
I applauded Ben Affleck during the debate initially. Afterwards I recognized he seemed like a bit of a shouting Bill O’Reilly using strawmen and logical fallacies to try to reflect the points of Maher and Harris. The reason is because Affleck didn’t have much of a point around the statistics they repeated. The problem with their statistics, of course, is much of it came from polls. You know, the same thing Bill Maher or Sam Harris would immediately call into question if the polls made points they disagreed with. You’d immediately hear about date of study, sample size and data manipulation if it was about the peacefulness of Muslims. But Affleck as well looked exhausted, beaten down, and that I understood. It’s a feeling I’ve felt ever since I stopped being so militant about my lack of faith. When you don’t act militant, or “Old Testament” as I’m preferring to call it, you get labeled as being soft on extremists. To quote Bill Maher, “Liberals need to stand up for Liberal principles”. Maher feels that not being harsh on Islam is a support for Islam. Or a blind eye to the atrocities.
It’s, funny enough, the same rhetoric he mocks every night from the right.
When Affleck and Kristof spoke about American involvement, or this article spoke on the amount of money the U.S. government still funnels into Muslim extremist countries, their point was that Muslim extremism is only considered a threat when it doesn’t coincide with the financial interests of Americans. More importantly, that Bill Maher doesn’t see his own country’s actions as the actions of a militant, extremist Christian Nation. He only sees it as the Obama administration, because he has the context and perspective of an American focal point. When looking at ISIS and Afghanistan, he sees a blurred, simplified sense of enemy. He sees us (rational) versus them (irrational).
The reason? Atheism hasn’t made it beyond their Old Testatment.
Atheism has yet to find their saviour.
I say that because Atheism has prophets like Harris and Maher and Dawkins but they don’t exactly have anyone to take them from their persecution and lack of rights (as I stated before, it’s unacceptable to have political power as an Atheist in America) to a world of universal acceptance. While Atheists are by no means a minority that has been abused, it is an untrusted minority in the western world. And folks like Harris and Maher, to go after Islam, is almost their way of trying to connect to the Judeo-Christian they used to root against. To create a common enemy they can both fight. If they can topple Muslim extremism together, maybe the Judeo-Christians will accept them far more than the Mediterranean brothers of Jesus and Moses? Maybe I’m stretching there, but it doesn’t feel like the Old Testament Atheists of today have a New Testament written. They don’t have a person of peace. And when Affleck or even Reza Aslan tries to open the eyes of Atheists that you can separate an extremist from their faith, they are attacked as being wrong and ignorant of the dangers in front of them. Even though they themselves have no issues separating the extremisms of other Western folks with themselves.
It’s interesting to me, and tend to agree with Aslan on the concepts of “New Atheism” or “Scientism”, but prefer the term Old Testament Atheist. I don’t see anything new or scientific about their arguments or rationality. I just see the old mentality of us versus them. It’s something that used to appeal to me and something I used to love. Today? I guess I’m ready to understand the nuance of human beings. I guess I’m ready not to think everyone is against me. I guess I’m ready for a saviour.