An interview with Chris Hedges from Salon.com

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February 20, 2010 by The Mormon Worker

I don’t believe in atheists

Foreign correspondent and intellectual provocateur Chris Hedges explains why New Atheists like Christopher Hitchens are as dangerous as Christian fundamentalists. By Charly Wilder Mar. 13, 2008 |

Many charges have been leveled at foreign correspondent Chris Hedges over the years, but shrinking from conflict isn’t one of them. Hedges spent nearly seven years as Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times, covered the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, and was part of the New York Times team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of global terrorism. He took on the American military-industrial complex with his books “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” and “What Every Person Should Know About War,” and provoked the rage of the Christian right by likening them to Nazis in last year’s “American Fascists.” Hedges now cements his reputation as an intellectual provocateur with the charmingly titled “I Don’t Believe in Atheists.” While speaking out against the Christian fundamentalist movement and its political agenda, Hedges noticed another group — this one on the left — conspicuously allied with the neocons on the subject of America’s role in world politics. The New Atheists, as they have been called, include Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and bestselling author and journalist Christopher Hitchens — outspoken secularists who depict religious structures and the belief in God as backward and anti-democratic.

Though Hedges, a Harvard seminary graduate and the son of a Presbyterian minister, considers himself a religious man, his quarrel with the New Atheists goes beyond theological concerns. In “I Don’t Believe in Atheists,” he accuses Hitchens and the others of preaching a fundamentalism as dangerous as the religious fundamentalist belief systems they attack. Strange bedfellows indeed — according to Hedges, the New Atheists and the Christian right pose the greatest threat facing American democratic society today.

Hedges spoke to Salon by phone from his home in New Jersey.

You say that “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” is a product of confrontations you had with Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. How did those debates inspire the book?

In May of 2007 I went to L.A. to debate Sam Harris, and then two days later I went to San Francisco to debate Christopher Hitchens. Up until that point, I hadn’t paid much attention to the work of the New Atheists. After reading what they had written and walking away from these debates, I was appalled at how what they had done for the secular left was to embrace the same kind of bigotry and chauvinism and intolerance that marks the radical Christian right. I found that in many ways they were little more than secular fundamentalists.

Although I come out of a religious tradition — I grew up in the church, my father was a Presbyterian minister, I graduated from seminary — I’ve spent my life as a foreign correspondent, mostly for the New York Times, and I have a pretty hardheaded view of the world. I certainly understand that there is nothing intrinsically moral about being a believer or a nonbeliever, that many people of great moral probity and courage define themselves outside of religious structures, do not engage in religious ritual or use religious language, in the same way that many people who advocate intolerance, bigotry and even violence cloak themselves in the garb of religion and oftentimes have prominent positions within religious institutions. Unlike the religious fundamentalists or the New Atheists, I’m not willing to draw these kind of clean, institutional lines.

Read the rest of the article here

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8 thoughts on “An interview with Chris Hedges from Salon.com

  1. Forest Simmons says:

    Great interview. I wrote an email to Bill Moyers encouraging him to read the book and interview Hedges. If you think that’s a good idea, please go to

    http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/about/feedback.html

    and add your voice to mine.

  2. J. Madson says:

    I am particularly fond of this line

    I write in the book that not believing in God is not dangerous. Not believing in sin is very dangerous. I think both the Christian right and the New Atheists in essence don’t believe in their own sin, because they externalize evil. Evil is always something out there that can be eradicated. For the New Atheists, it’s the irrational religious hordes. I mean, Sam Harris, at the end of his first book, asks us to consider a nuclear first strike on the Arab world. Both Hitchens and Harris defend the use of torture. Of course, they’re great supporters of preemptive war, and I don’t think this is accidental that their political agendas coalesce completely with the Christian right.

  3. Forest Simmons says:

    It turns out that this book is somewhat disappointing because Hedges gets off on a tangent: he asserts that the reason that both religious and atheistic fundamentalists are dangerous is that they are both seeking to establish utopias, theocratic on the one hand, and technocratic on the other.

    Then he wastes most of the book arguing that utopianism is an intrinsically dangerous doctrine, and that furthermore there can never be a human utopia; humankind cannot be perfected in any significant degree.

    I think he is barking up the wrong tree. Are utopians necessarily intolerant bigots? No.

    Utopianism is not the problem. Intolerance is the problem, and thinking that the ends justify the means is the problem. Hedges doesn’t seem to know this.

    The Book of Mormon has an antidote to this: the last half of chapter 26 of 2nd Nephi which says that the means and ends must be consonant in establishing Sion.

    The Lord syas that Sion must be established in his own way or it cannot be done. The way is not the intolerance of Israeli Zionism. It is put forth in chapter 26 of second Nephi.

  4. SUNNofaB.C.Rich says:

    religion is just one political axis that can develop totalitarianism on either extreme end of the spectrum.

  5. Forest Simmons says:

    Nibley called it “zeal without knowledge.”

  6. Stephen says:

    This is all a pretty weak straw man version of new atheism. Not to mention unoriginal. P.Z. Meyers and other new atheists have responded to the fundamentalism charge more times than anyone can count.

  7. Hey stephen, feel free to provide a link of a New Atheist response to the fundamentalism charge. I’d be happy to post it. thanks for reading.

  8. Stephen says:

    Sure. Here’s a link to an Intelligence Squared debate between Hitchens/Grayling and Harris/Moore on the topic, “Atheism is the New Fundamentalism.”

    A couple moments of searching on PZ Meyers’ blog (Pharyngula) will turn up several posts on the topic.

    Tangentially, Mr. Deity is a hilarious satire of Christianity, including Mormonism. Here’s the link: http://www.mrdeity.com/ (click on episodes). The actors who play Mr. Deity and Lucy (Lucifer) are ex-Mormons.

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