War on Christmas meets War on Terror

Before the end of 2010, one last story on the craziness involved with the so-called “War on Christmas,” which has apparently now started to overlap with the “War on Terror.”

From AlterNet comes an article by the Nashville City Paper describing how a letter sent by the Tennessee branch of the ACLU was placed on a Homeland Security map as “terrorism events and other suspicious activity.”

The ACLU had the audacity to remind schools that during the end of the year, public schools should not be celebrating Christmas to the exclusion of other religious observances because the First Amendment prohibits the government from endorsing religion. Tennessee Homeland Security’s website’s explanation for why it was placed in that category was exactly that: “ACLU cautions Tennessee schools about observing ‘one religious holiday’.”

So the ACLU reminding schools about what the Supreme Court has found in terms of state-church separation apparently puts them with Bin Laden and the shoe bomber. Browning, a spokesperson for Tennessee’s Department of Homeland Security, said it was a “mistake” to label the ACLU letter as a “suspicious activity”. When contacted about it, the spokesperson claimed that it had been reclassified into their website’s “general information category.”

The story doesn’t end there. The Nashville City Paper checked up on this though and found out the ACLU’s letter had now been classified as “general terrorism news.” The Homeland Security spokesperson explained that “That’s the general news category. It doesn’t have anything to do with terrorism.” (Why not just take the darn thing off the website, then?!)

So at first the ACLU sending out a letter about schools respecting the First Amendment was first described on Tennessee’s Homeland Security site as “terrorism events and other suspicious activity” and is now described as “general terrorism news.” Scary times we live in, especially since being associated with terrorist activity can get you on no-fly lists, among other things.

Hopefully 2011 will be a better year for freethought, atheism, and just all-around. Happy New Year!!

Robert Wright’s “new atheism” delusion

"The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins

Robert Wright , who I mentioned in a recent post is the author of The Evolution of God , has now gone on the offensive to attack in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post what he calls "new atheism."

His book, reviewed in episode 58 of the podcast American Freethought , gives a history of the evolution of the Abrahamic God (of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths). Wright reportedly gives an account of the historical reasons behind the development of these religions, leading up to the modern day. While not taking an openly theistic stance in the book, he does include some enigmatic references to notions such as a "greater purpose".

In American Freethought, Wright criticized some of the so-called atheist leaders (Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Dawkins, etc.), while co-host John Snider made it clear that atheism is not a unified movement and these people do not speak for all atheists. In the Huffington Post piece, however, Wright again depicts atheism (or at least "new atheism") as one voice. In the Huffington Post , Wright says:

When it comes to foreign policy, a right-wing bias afflicts not just Hitchens’s world view, but the whole ideology of "new atheism" […]

Atheism has little intrinsic ideological bent. (Karl Marx. Ayn Rand. I rest my case.) But things change when you add the key ingredient of the new atheism: the idea that religion is not just mistaken, but evil — that it "poisons everything," as Hitchens has put it with characteristic nuance.

This does not represent all atheists, and not even all the prominent he mentions. Richard Dawkins specifically counters such a notion in The God Delusion . In response to the title of a television program(me) on BBC 4 that was entitled "The root of all evil?" (the title of which he had reportedly fought against), Dawkins said on the very first page of the Preface:

From the start, I didn’t like the title. Religion is not the root of all evil, for no one thing is the root of all anything.

The Wright article is filled with mischaracterizations and overgeneralizations about both atheism and historical events. Does he truly think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is "basically" unrelated to religion? Does he know for a fact that most atheists agree with Hitchens’ right-wing views on the war on terror? Where is the proof that new atheists think religion is completely evil? It makes me wonder what his agenda is, but it does seem like he is more openly criticizing atheism when before he seemed to be straddling the fence. The fact that he would still present atheism as some organized mass conspiracy, with no proof of this, is disheartening.

For a more in-depth critique of the article, see John Snider’s post on the American Freethought website.