Antony Loewenstein meditates, ‘as a Jew’, on whether religion causes conflict

On July 2 ‘Comment is Free’ published a piece titled ‘Doesn’t religion cause most of the conflict in the world?’, representing an edited extract from the book, For God’s Sake: An Atheist, A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim Debate Religion‘ – by co-authors Antony Loewenstein (a Jew and previous ‘CiF’ contributor), Jayne Caro (an atheist), Simon Smart (a Christian) and Rachel Woodlook (a Muslim).  

Lowenstein, as we’ve noted before, is a secular, anti-Zionist Jew who previously has advanced antisemitic narratives about the alleged danger to Western governments posed by the power of organized Jewry.  

Here’s what he wrote in the July 2 CiF essay:

Alain de Botton, philosopher and author of Religion for Atheists, is worried about fundamentalism. “To say something along the lines of ‘I’m an atheist: I think religions are not all bad’ has become a dramatically peculiar thing to say,” he told British journalist Bryan Appleyard in 2012. “If you do say it on the internet you will get savage messages calling you a fascist, an idiot or a fool. This is a very odd moment in our culture.”

Neo-atheism, the belief that science is the only path to truth and all religions are equally deluded and destructive, has taken hold in much of the debate over atheism. The movement, whose keys figures include Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, is an ideology that arrogantly celebrates an understanding of everything through supposed reason and proof. It allows little doubt or questioning about the unknown. It also happens that some of these key figures, including Ayaan Hirsi Ali, are backers of state violence against Muslim countries since 11 September 2001.

It’s clearly an exaggeration to suggest atheists are rampaging through the streets demanding the end of religious belief but the last decade has seen an ever-increasing number of atheists feeling the need to ridicule or damn people who do believe in a god.

Dawkins, at a dinner with de Botton and others in London in 2012, recounted a conversation he’d had with Hitchens. “Do you ever worry,” Dawkins asked, “that if we win and, so to speak, destroy Christianity, that vacuum would be filled with Islam?”

It’s a curious question that reflects both the vicious hatred of Muslims by many so-called new atheists but also a creepy utopian nightmare that is apparently idealised by them. Destroy Christianity? Because the Catholic Church has committed innumerable crimes, opposes abortion and birth control, refuses to accept female priests and hides sex offenders in its midst? To be sure, the institution is dysfunctional, but wishing for its disintegration reflects a savagery that will only inflame, not reduce tensions.

None of this is to excuse the undeniable barbarity unleashed by religionists over the centuries. The misogyny, beheadings, terrorism, killings, beatings and cruelty are real. They continue. Today we see a growing battle in the Middle East between Shi’ite and Sunni; a Jewish state unleashing militancy against Christian and Muslim Palestinians; and an anti-gay crusade led by some Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders that threatens the sanctity of life itself.

I’ve been guilty of claiming religion is the source of the world’s evils, but it’s a careless comment. It’s far too easy to blame the Muslim faith for honour killings. I’m under no illusion about the fact that religion is routinely used to justify the more heinous crimes. But the 20th century is filled with examples, namely Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China, that didn’t need God as an excuse to commit genocide against a state’s own people.

A few thoughts:

  • Though Loewenstein touches on Atheism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, the only country mentioned by Lowenstein as guilty of ‘state violence’ against specific religious communities today is Israel. He of course ignores the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab lands, as well as the ongoing persecution of Christians in the Muslim Middle East – a problem so severe that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (and other groups) have warned that Christians may become extinct in the Middle East within our lifetime.  
  • Loewenstein risibly suggests a moral equivalence between Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders on their treatment of gays, ignoring the state sanctioned violence and oppression against gays in Islamist governed countries in contrast to the freedom enjoyed by the LGBT community in the Jewish state.
  • Though Loewenstein notes the “barbarity” of “beheadings”, “terrorism”  by “religionists”, he strenuously avoids singling any one religion as guilty of these crimes.
  • Loewenstein takes a gratuitous swipe at Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, the brave Somali-born writer who was forced to flee the Netherlands due to death threats by Islamists following a film she helped produce which criticized the treatment of women in Islamic countries, who he accuses of supporting state violence against Muslim countries. It’s unclear what he’s even referring to, but he seems to be employing the Glenn Greenwald method of characterizing those who support the U.S. war against Islamist terrorists as guilty of endorsing violence against Muslims qua Muslims.

One of the signature ideological ticks of the Guardian Left is again evident in Loewenstein’s staggering obfuscation regarding the the very real threat to pluralism and religious tolerance posed by radical Islam.  Whilst folks should of course reject essentialist characterizations about Islam and racist views about Muslims as such, political correctness can’t get in the way of acknowledging that political Islam, as it is practiced in countries around the world, is fundamentally at odds with the liberal values we hold dear. 

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