Richard Dawkins Does Not Speak for All Atheists

I’m an atheist.  And I like Pope Francis a hell of a lot more than I like that jerk Richard Dawkins.

There is a widespread perception that Dawkins, the God Delusion author and reputable evolutionary biologist, is the pope of atheists, speaks for all atheists, and is somehow infallible.  He’s not.

My disillusionment with Dawkins started when he began to put his misogyny on display by defending the attackers of Rebecca “Skepchick” Watson over Elevatorgate.  All Watson did was write a piece suggesting— gently!— to male skeptic convention goers that not all women are looking to hook up and that the guys should keep themselves a little bit in check so that women can feel more welcome and comfortable going to skeptic conventions.  A perfectly reasonable request in my estimation.  What followed was a barrage of misogynist attacks and insults against Watson from all the slimy corners of the male skeptic community, but primarily from the part of the skeptical/atheist community that is white, male, libertarian and privileged.

So in wanders Richard Dawkins into the controversy, who writes this scathing reply:

Dear Muslima,
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and…yawn…don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with. Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so…And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Here, while appearing on the surface to be championing the rights of Muslim women around the world to have their genitals remain intact, what Dawkins is actually doing is putting both his misogyny and his Islamophobia on the table in one magnificent fell swoop.  First, misogynist in its complete dismissal of the misogyny that Watson herself experienced, by suggesting that all misogyny that women in privileged countries experience is trivial.  Just because a woman lives in a privileged country and herself enjoys privilege does not invalidate the observation that misogyny occurs.  Misogyny indeed transcends class lines, and occurs in all cultures and nations.  Plus, and Dawkins, the eminent scientist and logician, should know better: he commits the fundamental logical fallacy of false dichotomy.  You can actually be in favor of ending the worldwide poverty that begets class privilege and misogyny both.

His missive is Islamphobic because he thinks that all Muslim women can be summarized (“Muslima”— stereotype much?), and he carelessly suggests without any all-important caveats to the contrary that all Muslims everywhere mutilate genitals, forbid women from driving cars, force women to be accompanied by men, and, most importantly, beat women.

(There is a whisper campaign that suggests that perhaps Dawkins is so vehement because he was the man who approached Rebecca Watson on the elevator and was rebuffed.  I don’t give any credence to that speculation without hard evidence, but that speculation is out there.)

Since then, Richard Dawkins has been competing hotly with Sam Harris to see which of the so-called Four Horsemen of New Atheism can be the greater Islamophobe.  His Islamophobia and misogyny both have increased calls from various atheist corners for Dawkins to STFU.

So Dawkins’s most recent embarrassment to the New Atheist movement came in this past week when he chimed in (see what I did there?) on 14-year-old Ahmed Mohammed’s clock, which was mistaken for a bomb by racist teachers and administrators in his home town of Irving, Texas.  Dawkins questioned the lad’s motives, and questioned whether it was really a clock, even though pretty much everybody has at last come to the conclusion that yeah, it was a just a clock.

See, in Dawkins’s mind, Islam equals backwardness.  It could not possibly be that a 14-year-old Muslim boy could build a homemade clock, because what do Muslims know?  (They only invented mathematics, but whatever.)  A Muslim boy engineering a homemade clock is inconvenient to Dawkins’s meme (see what I did there?  Dawkins coined the term “meme”) that Muslims are especially ignorant in the panoply of religious ignorance that plagues the modern world.

Where is John Cena when you need him?  Because somebody really needs to slap an STFU on Dawkins in short order.  (Metaphorically speaking, of course.)

Of the four so-called Four Horsemen of New Atheism, only Daniel Dennett is worth a damn (and, to be honest, given the shortcomings of the other three, I have my eye on him).  Dawkins is showing year in and year out that he is just BSC; Sam Harris has his own little cottage industry of Islamphobia; and the late Christopher Hitchens never recanted his view that Saddam Hussein really, really, really did have weapons of mass destruction and the Iraq war was really, really, really justified.  No, they really, really, really didn’t and no, it really, really, really wasn’t.

My colleague, progressive Christian Ken Downey, likes to go after the Pat Robertsons and Jim Bakkers of the Christian world.  Likewise, I think the atheist movement is poorly served by the public perception that Dawkins is its face.  Ken and I go after the captains of our own teams so much that we rarely get around to debating each other.  Which is probably just as well.

At any rate, please, please, please understand that Richard Dawkins does not speak for all atheists.  Nobody elected him Atheist Pope.  He’s just a guy with a big mouth and a big platform.  You know, like Pat Robertson or Jim Bakker.

We don’t all think, like Richard Dawkins, that ridicule is the best way to approach people who believe in God.

We don’t all think, like Richard Dawkins, that all people who are religious are ignorant.

We don’t all think, like Richard Dawkins, that religion has never done any good in this world.

We don’t all think, like Richard Dawkins, that one particular religion is especially violent and especially ignorant, and deserves particular ostracism.

We don’t all think, like Richard Dawkins, that you can summarize all believers of religions with stereotypes.

We don’t all think like Richard Dawkins.

-Robert Gross