The Bill O’Reillys, Rush Limbaughs, Keith Olbermanns and Ed Schultzes of the world certainly have had a vast platform for their rhetoric. After all, punditry is a key ingredient in maintaining an audience for advertisers in the world of big media. On the shows that claim to “provide an angle” on topics, discussion with guests is usually brief – which requires pigeonholing the “opposing argument” right out of the gate. It coaxes us, the audience, with reinforcements of our sometimes warped assumptions and cracked worldview.
On the web, YouTube has made it possible for many to share their point of view, and many young and old create their own shows or simply flip on the camera when an idea or reaction arises. The far more niched punditry of the web brings many more perspectives to mass media. Interaction through opposing videos has created an ease of discourse never seen before the last decade. Naturally, it holds assumptions more accountable than the big three news channels.
Preaching on the web is often from an ideological or religious platform. Creationists like Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron can whip up videos any way they want, and like big media, reinforce beliefs. But are we getting anywhere when the “opposition” falls victim to the same dogmatic structure?
Underneath the heavily promoted, more superficial videos are channels devoted to Atheism. Often, a particular emphasis in this community is on reason, skepticism and science. In many cases, these videos pick apart the assertions of Creationism, broader religious beliefs and general disinformation about science. Many give references to popular authors of “New Atheism,” such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. A good portion of the channels identify as “Atheist” in the names themselves.
But even Sam Harris has stated, “Attaching a label to something carries real liabilities, especially when the thing you are naming isn’t a thing at all, and I would argue to you all that ‘Atheism’ is not a thing. It is not a philosophy, just as ‘non-racism’ is not one. It is not a worldview and it is regularly construed as one, and attacked as such, and we who do not believe in god are collaborating in this misunderstanding by consenting to be named and by naming ourselves.“
The social stigma attached to “Atheism” in our mental environment may be of complete misunderstanding, but the usage of the word by the self-described is worthy of discussion. There is no real weight to referencing the word as a source of reason, sanity or enlightenment. There is nothing exceptional about not believing in unicorns (but maybe the zombie apocalypse). If Christianity and other theistic religions didn’t exist, neither would Atheism. As such, the value of not believing in god is only relative to theistic impediments to certain societal goals.
The assumptions that come packaged with many assertions, religious or not, can be the same. Just spin the wheel of ideologies or belief systems, and odds are that it will align with another dogma on a given issue. Case in point: take YouTube pundit Pat Condell, author of Godless and Free. In his latest video, A word to rioting Muslims, he states, “All week, we’ve heard Muslims telling us that we in the West need to understand how important the prophet is to them. We do understand, and we don’t care. That’s the point. We don’t care now, and we’re never going to care. Get used to it. We don’t give a damn about your feelings. Our feelings are more important.“
Juxtapose Condell with Pat Robertson of the Christian 700 Club. He stated on September 12, “You wonder what it is in these Muslims that causes them to go crazy because somebody says something about Mohammed, most of which happens to be true… …Why do they riot? Why do they kill people?“
Not only are both pundits operating in the same old retreaded “Muslims vs. freedom” paradigm, they both assume the rational high ground while dealing in complete generalities. Condell already “understands” Muslims, and Robertson uses a rhetorical question to “understand” them. While one assumes “Atheism” as the intellectual and moral high ground, the other assumes “Christianity.” But in effect, both assert themselves as bastions of reason without considering other factors that provide a fertile environment for Muslim resentment of the West and the mindless violence that results. Examination of an issue through a wider scope is the de facto attribute of reason, and neither’s talking points do that.
Ideologically, both Pat Condell and Pat Robertson regularly argue for more authoritarian measures in the “war on terror,” and often place nearly 100% of the contributing factors on the shoulders of Palestinians and various Arab nations. Both also reference the same right-wing figures for their talking points, such as global warming denier David Horowitz (Condell/Robertson). Yet, Condell’s videos have been featured on Richard Dawkins’s Foundation for Reason and Science website, while Robertson routinely derides the goals of Dawkins and other oft-cited “New Atheists.”
This Atheist angle fills a previously gaping hole in the world of punditry: the “market” for something that resembles the righteous fury of A.M. talk radio, but without “all of the god.” It’s disassociation by technicality.
Many would consider the Atheist/organized religion dilemma as an overarching issue today, but when we look more deeply past abstractions, the specific, concrete issues exhibit a great number of similarities between the “religious” and “Atheist.” We just happen to not call ideologies “religion,” even when they are often treated with the same kind of dogma and assumptions. This makes both pro- and anti- assumptions about “Atheism” all the more invalid.
When we look at seemingly 100% secular aspects of society in the West, even many of those things were influenced by religion along the way. Thus, we are all influenced by religion in some shape or form – whether we admit it or not – in the way we approach the realities of our existence in Western culture and abroad. Condell’s talking points certainly exhibit this.
Some of us are daydreamers, dishwashers, drivers, walkers or litter box cleaners. We choose not to describe ourselves as these things, yet we actually do them every day. Ideology and dogma, however, are belief-based, and if what is “true” cannot change with growing knowledge, awareness and a changing world, they are implausible. Sticking to a belief system, labeling it and slapping the word, “reason” onto it is as unreasonable as it gets.
Whether it’s “god” or “reason,” it can be dogmatic righteousness.