The Rising Anti-Intellectualism of Atheism

If you’ve been following the trends in the Atheist subculture of the West, you’ll probably begin to notice just how far its fallen from the stated goals back during the early 2000s. A once strong movement has petered out after the death of Christopher Hitchens. Richard Dawkins has lost much of his positive public image as a man of science thanks to his patently discriminatory and unsavory comments on twitter. Worst of all, Sam Harris has shown himself to be a dogmatic and paranoid bigot towards both Muslims and anyone who disagrees with Harris on anything that he says. Whether it’s about freewill, his arguments against lying, his dogmatic hatred for Muslims, his advocacy of racial profiling, his arguments in favor of a nuclear first strike on Muslim majority countries, or anything that he strongly advocates; Sam Harris goes on ad hominem tirade after tirade about how everyone else is simply too dumb to understand his arguments and displays just how much of an intellectual charlatan that he truly is.

A movement once touting better social norms for minorities and women, a pro-science stance, and arguments for a world without war has fallen apart in the wake of massive sexual abuse crimes and rapes occurring at Atheist conventions, a pathological fixation on Islam and growing hatred for all Muslims, defense of thoroughgoing right-wing lies, defense of torture, and explicit racism. Atheist violence towards Muslims and Christians have reached more national scrutiny, as gunmen and self-described anti-theist Christopher Stephen Hicks murdered three Muslim college students in execution style. Followed soon after by Christopher Harper-Mercer’s mass murder of Christians in Umpque community college because of his own deluded fantasy about becoming famous by murdering innocent people. He was found to have an overwhelming amount of hatred for all forms of organized religion from his online diatribes. The shootings seemed to coincide with a tonal shift in atheist propaganda campaigns. The movement has gone from touting the social benefits of atheism to arguing that atheism isn’t really about social values and the chief goal is to convert people to atheism. Therefore, atheism has shifted from arguing progressive social values to functioning as a semi-nihilistic religious cult that provides no hope for people who miss their dead loved ones, provides no help for people suffering in poverty, argues for “equality” by insulting the faith of rescue workers and self-sacrificing soldiers who died in service to the US, creates mocking billboard signs meant to insult all religious faiths, and mocks feminist atheists while ignoring the rampant sexual assaults and rapes of feminists happening in their own organized events.

Beyond the pathological hatred for religious people for the crime of independent thought and community values, the most striking shift  is that a strong faith in critical thinking has given way to uncritical acceptance of everything New Atheist and neuroscientist Sam Harris says about virtually anything. Any dissenter, on either political spectrum, who points out any flaw in Sam Harris’s arguments is automatically deemed by Sam Harris’s fans as deceitful, hiding the “truth” from the public, ridiculed as a “liar” because the dissenter doesn’t automatically agree with Sam Harris on everything that Sam Harris says, or the dissenter is seen as out to slander Sam Harris for some vague career bonus. Moreover, this behavior has been duly encouraged by Sam Harris himself, Harris has gone on record to say that if he could wave a magic wand to end either rape or religion then he would end religion. Evidently, anyone who honestly disagrees with Sam Harris must be one or all of those accusations because – in their own words – Sam Harris is “too smart” for the general public to understand and anytime someone points out a flaw or discrimination in Sam Harris’s language then they must not understand the “nuance” of Sam Harris’s arguments. Evidently, overt racism and self-contradictions are what accounts for “nuance” in the male atheist communities. The level of patronization and hate for religious people in these online forums is palpable. One need only browse the numerous atheist forums on reddit to see the increasing levels of malevolence towards honest, hardworking religious people.

However, one of the surprising aspects in all of this is just how much of a pathological liar Sam Harris actually is. For those who are familiar with his arguments, consider these contradictions:

Harris has stated more recently that Islam isn’t a race and that the accusations of racism against him are ignorant. Yet, in his own words, he has argued for racial profiling for people who look Muslim in his own words. Do you see the contradiction? How can he argue for racial profiling against people who look Muslim but then admit that Islam isn’t a race? Incidentally, Islam is actually one of the most racially diverse religious faiths both in the US and outside of it. Therefore, Harris never fact-checked before making his bigoted arguments.

He has argued that the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, an Islamic monarchy, is due to the religious conservatism of the country and used it as proof that Islam preaches misogyny. He has systematically ignored the fact that Saudi women protested this and went driving around the country as a peaceful protest. If you strictly read Harris’s accounts of what Muslims are like as people, you would expect the women to have been viciously beaten and raped. Surprisingly, or not for those who know that the Saudi people have protested for improved human rights for years, men who saw the women driving appeared surprised at first but then continued their usual activities. No harassment, no violence, and none of the nonsense that Harris espouses happened. Where were the uncultured savages bringing violence against women? Where were the irrational Islamic uprisings and misogyny? Where was the so-called “reality” of Islam? Keep in mind, this is from the most conservative and religious Islamic country in the world; also known for its close partnership with the United States.

If Harris’s arguments are truly as nuanced as he and his supporters claim, then why does he constantly need to argue that everyone who denounces his arguments – Chris Hedges, Reza Aslan, Glenn Greenwald, Cenk Uylger, Ben Affleck, and Ben Norton – are all taking him out of context? Furthermore, why does he obsessively claim that they’re liars , charlatans, or always frame the argument to imply that these people are somehow hiding the “reality” of Islam because they disagree with his premise that Islam is the central cause of the violence in the Middle East? Why doesn’t he make any effort to address their criticisms instead of going on spurious ad hominem rants about their character traits? Why assume the worst of his critics instead of simply accepting the very reasonable fact that his critics simply disagree with him?

There is also his flagrant deceitfulness in using the audio clip of the shooting in the Netherlands to continue spreading fear and paranoia during his podcast addressing the Chapel Hill shootings. While declaring Islam the prime culprit, police in the Netherlands found evidence that the shooter did it for the same reasons that Mercer committed his atrocities. Chiefly, the desire for world fame from committing atrocities. It had nothing to do with religious background. Harris used the clip to try to downplay the growing racism towards people of Arab lineage and the overall contempt for Muslim people in the atheist community. He went so far as to blame Glenn Greenwald and Reza Aslan by insisting they have “mad men” as viewers; this is on a podcast meant to address the fact that the shooter of 3 innocent Muslims was an atheist who was found to be a fan of the New Atheist movement from the material discovered on his facebook profile. The fact this podcast was praised by his viewers ultimately shows their level of abject racism, cognitive dissonance, and hatred for all Muslims.

Finally, Harris’s “debate” with Noam Chomsky shows the depth of his commitment to being a pathological liar. He admits in their email exchange that he never read anything Chomsky wrote before having criticized Chomsky in his books. Previously Harris argued for “honest debate” against people and shows rudeness towards religious people who agree to debate him, yet if someone is rude to him? Then they’re denigrated for being rude. Never mind the fact that Chomsky was simply complying with Harris’s wishes for honesty. After the debate, Harris changed tune on what he was wrong about regarding Chomsky’s focus on moral dilemmas in international relations. Harris stunningly decided that he wasn’t wrong about Chomsky after all; in fact, he was correct all along despite still never having read any of Chomsky’s writings and having been proven thoroughly wrong about Chomsky taking basic moral questions about international politics into account. In fact, despite Harris’s claims, it was clear that he never intended to have any sort of honest discourse with Noam Chomsky about any topic. He went into nonsensical thought experiment after nonsensical thought experiment when Chomsky proved him wrong using facts about the bombing of a Sudanese pharmaceutical building. The whole purpose of the exchange was so Harris could argue that Chomsky was being mean to him so he could self-aggrandize himself further, as he has done so with everyone else who criticized his arguments.

Sam Harris has thoroughly proved himself to be a pathological liar, narcissist, racist, and entirely devoted to the task of worshipping himself as infallible. Instead of simply accepting the fact that making views public subjects oneself to thorough criticism (because that’s simply how democracy works), he’s gone on rant after rant about the “regressive left” for the crime of disagreeing with his pathological obsession with Islam. It’s apparently “regressive” to argue for social justice, cultural inclusiveness, and to denounce discrimination based on religious faith and skin pigmentation.

If you’re interested, I have written a book available on amazon in more detail about the problems of the New Atheist movement.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens

This will have spoilers

Star Wars Episode 7 has proven my negative expectations wrong. I honestly thought this movie would be mediocre or that I would find glaring plot holes despite an otherwise good performance.

I was entirely wrong. The film does quite a masterful job at creating new, believable, and compelling characters in the Star Wars universe. Each of them having their own motivations and reasons for their actions. Moreover, unlike the previous films, there was a shocking lack of plot stupidity. In fact, the plot stupidity is entirely absent.

Finn becomes hit with grief and immediately becomes troubled by being forced to kill civilians in a massacre on Jakku. The new recruits aren’t clones but kidnapped children indoctrinated to follow the First Order, a fledgling empire that has grown in power over the years after Return of the Jedi. His aid in the escape of the resistance fighter who was captured shows that he’s the exception that proves the rule. Not only are they forced to shoot down the bracer that’s holding the X-wing securely onto the larger ship to escape but the Storm Troopers display a higher degree of competence in chasing after and being efficient in their damage of others. Throughout the film, we see him being able to express his repressed emotions impulsively by joking in tandem with Han and Rey throughout their journey. If this seems overly excitable, it’s likely intentional. A repressed child soldier is finally being allowed self-expression but in a comforting and humorous way for the audience. It definitely adds to the positives of the film.

Rey, seemingly a damsel in distress, is proficient enough to beat down her enemies without any need of help. Her rejection of her destiny, after being given horrifying and confusing images of Luke Skywalker’s ultimate failings and Ben Solo’s rise to become Kylo Ren before being left stranded on Jakku, is then kidnapped by Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren doesn’t kill her right there, not simply because he thought that she had information of the droid’s contents, but because he probably knows the backstory that has been implied in the film (as well as the significance of the First Temple of the Jedi being able to control the Force itself, which will probably be elaborated in the sequel films). She is shown to slowly grow her force powers after being beaten down by challenges and is eventually able to escape by herself after using the jedi mind trick several times on a Storm Trooper to encourage him to release her restraints with the first two attempts failing miserably. She reunites with Han and Finn on her own without any real need of being rescue and is slowly being groomed as the main character of the series with Finn fulfilling the makeshift role of Han and Leia by comparison to the original trilogy.

Kylo Ren’s mannerisms in the beginning already give depth to his character, his boyish face is shown to continue to confuse audiences. Kylo Ren claims that he wishes to succeed in his grandfather’s legacy – a paradox in and of itself, how did this boy come to admire Anakin Skywalker when it’s clear that Leia couldn’t and probably wouldn’t have anything positive to say about him? It implies another failing on the part of Luke Skywalker – but Rey, who is deeply intuned to the force to a degree that is apparently unheard of, is able to eventually throwback the Jedi mind trick (spectacularly, this is only after several sessions in which Kylo Ren uses the Jedi mind  trick to subdue or take information from her thus showing a logical manner in which she eventually learned to fight back) and is able to unveil what it is that Kylo Ren truly wishes to do: Kylo Ren wishes to surpass Darth Vader. Yet, it’s probably not in the context of simply surpassing Vader himself. Anakin Skywalker’s initial dream had been to become the greatest force user in the galaxy. Kylo Ren is achieving that dream. He is fast in his saber fighting, he can freeze a blaster fire with the force and then let it complete it’s trajectory at will, he can mindrape people as he wishes, and he is shown to be deeply conflicted with the Light constantly yearning for him to return to the good side because he has the perfect balance of Dark and Light side of the force.

The world-death star’s fatal flaws have two thick layers of defense that gives compelling reasons for the main protagonists to possibly sacrifice themselves. The early reveal of Kylo Ren’s ancestry is important. Many fans may question why that information was revealed in that manner, it provides better context for what happened between Leia, Han, and Luke in the events between films and the filmmakers are then able to extrapolate upon Leia and Han’s own grief over the issue. Leia encouraging Han to try to bring their son back to the Light Side is symbolic to the ultimate theme of Star Wars, self-redemption from evil. Anakin Skywalker’s ultimate story of finding redemption, Luke Skywalker’s seemingly successful ability to reject the Dark Side, and this conversation piece serves to elicit those memories and hopes of Kylo Ren finding redemption to return to being Ben Solo to fight the Supreme Lord.

The critical point of the film. The Super planet destroyer is ready to be blown up. The heroes are reunited at last and everything seems to be going according to plan. It seems like the perfect set-up for a New Hope style ending. Han, after agreeing with Chewbacca to set-up bombs on the lower location (Chewy taking the upper locations) sees his son walking by a deathly platform. His son is on the manhunt for Rey because she has escaped and the Supreme Lord wished to see her.

The parallels and symbolism of this scene between father and son is crystal clear. Han calls his son by his name, Ben, and refuses to acknowledge the Dark Side that is Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren removes his mask and faces his father with his own face reminiscent of Vader’s final scene with Luke before becoming one with the force. Han asks his son to return to the Light, to seek redemption, and to return to being his son and points out, fairly logically, that Kylo Ren’s master will simply use him and then kill him and that his son is smart enough to recognize it. Kylo Ren reveals that he is scared of being unable to do what is right and asks for Han’s help. For my part, it seemed to mean that Ben felt trapped in the darkness and was simply too scared to break away because of either the terrifying consequences from the Supreme Lord or his own inner turmoil and terror. Han assures that things can change for the better, we’re left thinking that this would be another rendition of the redemption story. The very essence of the Star Wars’ themes. Yet, in the next moment, Kylo Ren turns on his lightsaber and allows it to burst straight through Han’s stomach. The film has built itself upon this one moment in which the ultimate theme of Star Wars itself is shaken to the core and not merely subverted but intricately and methodically destroyed as we’re left to analyze the far reaching effects of what this permanent decision ultimately means.

This character, Kylo Ren, has shaken the very foundations of Star Wars by virtue of his existence and choices. The backstory shows just how weak and fleeting it all was. Luke dreamt of rebuilding the Jedi Order, he evidently failed because of his own character flaws (he was never able to prove the way of the Light side was better; despite resisting the temptation at the end, he used the Dark side to defeat his father), Han and Leia’s relationship fell apart because their son became enamored by and respected the heroics of Anakin Skywalker (yet another failing on Luke’s part, because he was clearly the only character to have given overemphasis on Anakin’s positive qualities and ignored the villainous qualities that turned him into Darth Vader), and after failing at his dreams and destroying the life of his best friend and beloved sister, he – like Obi-wan Kenobi before him – ran away from his problems and became an utter recluse. Abandoning his duty as a Jedi, abandoning his dream, leaving behind the lightsaber, and effectively giving up. And, if the implications prove true and Rey is his daughter, then he abandoned his duty as a parent too. Sterling hero Luke Skywalker, following the path of both his father and his Master Obi-wan/Ben’s training, becomes a complete failure. Why should we be surprised? Obi-wan failed at training Anakin properly, Anakin failed by falling into the dark side, and Luke, in his admiration of both men, followed them in their painful road to the follies of his own decision-making and beliefs. A more interesting question though, is what does this really say about the Skywalker family? Darth Vader helped commit massive planetary destruction with the wiping out of Leia’s home planet. Kylo Ren has helped a shockingly worse empire, that indoctrinates children and produces stronger death rays, to destroy five planets. Luke’s naivety and genuine idiocy is shown plainly when we consider the amount of lives lost thanks to the Skywalker’s being deeply intuned to the force itself.

Leia Organa, after spending so much of her life fighting against the Dark Side and rebuilding a Republic from the remnants of Empire, ultimately failed in preventing her son from falling to the Dark Side due to her own inexperience. She called on Luke’s help and Luke failed miserably and shattered her life. Dreams of collapsing an evil empire with horrifying death rays has brought upon a fledgling empire that has built an even stronger death ray that can kill five planets in one blow and had enough security that it cost significant human lives to effectively destroy. The Republic may have defeated the greater death ray but it was at the cost of five worlds full of flourishing civilizations. What is there to actually be proud of? She has fallen into the same follies as her parents, except worse because her son has defected and joined the Dark side; her passionate plea to Han has got him murdered by her own son, and the Republic has been shaken because freedom and democracy don’t translate to effective military power to stop a belligerent threat to the galaxy. She, like her brother, is a complete failure. What will defeating this new evil do? Create another and greater evil? Cause the ruin of galactic civilization? Cause her to be a martyr? She has failed on all accounts. They weren’t up to the task of building a flourishing galaxy and it has allowed another empire to grow into its own power. Is power, then, more important than the platitudes of the Light Side? And if so, then doesn’t the Dark Side prove to be more useful and pertinent to protecting the galaxy?

Han Solo has effectively become one of the most tragic heroes in all of film. The iconic character went from being a smuggler and shooting first to helping do good for a resistance that was working to save the entire galaxy from a typical evil empire. And what did all of those efforts throughout his life achieve? He and his wife likely had a harsh falling out because his son began to admire his grandfather, the same grandfather that had allowed Han to be tortured, and the best friend that he makes – after causing his son to fall into the dark side or, at the very least, being unable to prevent it – abandons him and Leia to become a recluse who ran away from his problems. Han returns to smuggling because his life has effectively fallen apart. When the call to do the right thing comes again, and later on a chance to reunite and bring his son back to the Light while being encouraged by his equally desperate wife in saving their son, he takes the risk and allows himself to hope for the best as he goes on a suicide mission to save the galaxy and possibly his son. The mission seems like it will be a success and he finally gets his opportunity. He takes it, calling out to his son by his name – ignoring the darkness that lurks within, begging his son to return – unable to accept his son’s terrible life choices, and feels a ray of hope as his son reveals his inner timidity and turmoil. The viewer is given a very touching scene between father and son. The lightsaber swish-flick is heard and the red saber goes straight through Han Solo’s body. The viewer is left gaping, silent, and confused as to what just transpired. Even at this moment, Han reaches out to his son as a last show of love before falling over and into a vast pit that incinerates his body, reminiscent of Darth Sidious’s death.  The symbolism of this scene is clear: the narrow skywalk in which father and son meet, the changing lights, and Han Solo’s plunge into utter incineration parallel Luke and Vader’s confrontations in episodes 5 and 6. Warped into a very dark and exhilarating comparison. Han Solo died because he tried to take the morally right course of action. If he had given-up on his son and remained a petulant smuggler for the black market, which he has much experience in dealing with, then he would have lived a happy and fun life. But because he made the right choice, he suffered for it. This point is significant, and made all the more tragic, because his son is his murderer.

Critics would be correct in describing Kylo Ren as the anti-Luke but he is a lot more than just that. He faces the same set of choices but in reverse. The reversal makes the scene, the ultimate theme of Star Wars, and the original trilogy all the more emphatic and the choice that Kylo Ren makes all the more sinister. He is a different and distinct Skywalker because of his choices. Instead of fearing or hating the Dark Side, he embraced it; instead of listening to his father or the light side or seeking redemption, he follows through the deed for the sake of his own goals. Perhaps even more pertinently, he does not act like a typical villain after making this choice. He feels remorse for killing his own loving father, he feels conflicted after making the choice, and the injury that he suffers from Chewbacca’s rage at his choice; he thumps as if quasi-triumphant, quasi-embracing the wrongfulness of his choice, and quasi-punishing himself for making such a terrible decision. Kylo Ren’s choice ultimately reflects upon the utter failures of Luke, Leia, and Han Solo’s characters and his decision to aid an ever more powerful empire represent the intrinsic character flaws and follies of the original trilogy. Instead of ignoring the ethical flaws, this film embraces them and expounds upon them through the existence that is Kylo Ren.

Kylo Ren fails to capture and kill Rey but only because his injury slows him down, he doesn’t seek to outright kill Rey, Finn’s near-death from trying to protect Rey, and the luck in the planet-destruction plan finally coming through.

As a side note, don’t believe the people who say they saw the twist coming. More than likely, they either spoiled themselves or they’ve fallen for retrospection bias, in which events feel more likely after they’ve happened. If this movie had been a flop, then the retrospection bias would have resulted in tons of fans tweeting “Jar Jar Abrams” to satisfy their sadistic tendencies.

Overall, this film has an absolutely wonderful cast, music, plot (better than anything Lucas made), and in all honesty, I think Kylo Ren has already surpassed Darth Vader in terms of villainy, tragedy, and so forth. If you count the prequels, then J.J. Abrams was able to achieve in one film, what George Lucas could never achieve utilizing three. A compelling dark side villain who has realistic motivations, displays ruthlessness in the direction of his ultimate goals, and yet is conflicted and creates divisiveness (of the positive sort) over what his character ultimately means to the series and what he truly is about as a person. People continue to argue whether he’s a total villain, a tragic character, an anti-hero, and so forth. As of this film, and barring any possible ruination by the next director, he is all of those things and he expresses himself chiefly through his actions and facial features. This film is a great addition to the Star Wars saga and it raises the bar.

10/10 film. Absolutely loved it.

If you want to promote Philosophy, challenge religion

Philosophy majors are having an increasingly more difficult time in protecting their major from scrutiny and outright vilification because philosophy is perceived as a useless endeavor that accomplishes nothing of value and provides nothing of value for others. Yet, a central issue that seems to remain unchallenged from those who attempt to remain politically correct, unlike the philosophers of old, is that the majority of people are led to believe that religion succeeds in fulfilling most of the ultimate questions about life. In fact, there are atheists who, despite breaking away from their religious orientation, believe that religious teachings are still a wonderful guide to live by because they presumably teach good morals.

Why don’t philosophy majors challenge these assumptions? How worthwhile can philosophy be perceived by the majority of people, if they implicitly believe that philosophy is secondary to religion in answering life’s most important questions? In fact, that’s exactly how religious recruiters try to convince people to join a specific religious faith. They promise to answer the most pertinent questions about life, morality, and meaning in life. Philosophy, a dynamic and broad subject matter, also tries to tackle these issues. How can it effectively do so when people are told that religion is all the understanding and meaning that they need in addressing such important questions?

I would argue that much of the backlash against philosophy is that philosophical questions too often tried to rationalize nonsensical religious assumptions and religious norms. It is religious teachings that gave philosophy a negative image and attempting to be complicit with these nonsensical religious values will result in philosophy’s self-immolation. Philosophy may become ridiculed until it no longer exists. And please consider this: the most famous philosophers were those that challenged religious norms and religious orthodoxy. Socrates in his apparent defiance of the Greek gods, Nietzsche for his challenge against Christian orthodoxy and values. and quite possibly the most successful philosopher of them all; the Buddha, for challenging the Caste system in ancient India. The Buddha was so successful that his philosophical underpinnings became both a religion and a philosophy. Philosophy, as an instrument of critical thinking and challenging life’s assumptions, must always bring an assault upon religious values to remain relevant to the public discourse. Those philosophers like Hobbes, Schopenhauer, and others that tried to rationalize religious values with philosophy formed idiotic concepts and systems that either had no basis in reality or led to logical extremes to stay consistent with worthless religious values. Ayn Rand is still celebrated by conservatives today; she was an atheist who denounced the belief in original sin as patently idiotic. Why do modern philosophers hesitate in continuing such traditions that make-up the backbone of philosophy?

Modern philosophers are simply being dishonest with themselves. Philosophical assaults upon religion, religious meaning and values, have produced the most intriguing and thought-provoking discussions on philosophy. It’s time to reignite that tradition!