February 20, 2010 by The Mormon Worker
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.
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