Home > Atheism, Foreign Policy, Karen Armstrong, Religion > Karen Armstrong needs to Think Clearer

Karen Armstrong needs to Think Clearer

In a sloppy “Think Again” article in Foreign Policy, obscurantist Karen Armstrong leads the way in making excuses for religion. Not inspiring much confidence in the rest of her piece she begins with an error. “By the time The Economist did its famous “God Is Dead” cover in 1999″ Well, sorry Karen, The Economist never did a “God is Dead” cover. Are you thinking of Time’s “Is God Dead” cover? Or maybe she blended that with The Economist’s obituary of God.


She also uses the point to imply that the “new atheists” such as Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris argue that religion is on its way out. Wrong. I’m not 100% sure about Dawkins but Hitchens thinks that religion is ineradicable and Harris is worried that his battle against faith is possibly quixotic.

Her critique of secularism is a bizarre one. She concedes that “in the West, secularism has been a success” and is “essential”, but goes on to blame “overly aggressive secularization” as having potential to cause a rise in religious extremism. First of all, in those cases, religion is still the problem not secularism. Furthermore, Sam Harris remarks on many occasions that he probably isn’t the best messenger for secularism in Islamic countries and religious moderates probably play an important role for that. But that doesn’t mean his critiques of religion are somehow incorrect.

In the next section of her defense of religion she makes excuses for the role religion plays in causing violence while celebrating it for the good it does. Not really a sober dispassionate judgement. Religion doesn’t breed violence , she writes, but violence itself. Seems like a satisfying answer only for someone that doesn’t understand the problem of infinite regress. She also notes that human nature helps cause violent behavior… really? You don’t say? Who would argue otherwise? She lies, of course, and writes, “In claiming that God is the source of all human cruelty, Hitchens and Dawkins ignore some of the darker facets of modern secular society.” [my emphasis] If anyone can find EVEN ONE instance where either one does so I’ll send the Catholic League a check for $1000.

She then goes on to make excuses for terrorism (not condoning it of course) by arguing it’s always in response to perceived threats by outsiders on their traditions: “History shows that when these groups are attacked, militarily or verbally, they almost invariably become more extreme.”

Setting up another straw man she argues that God is not for the poor and ignorant as she suggests the new atheists insist. They don’t. Sam Harris has been particularly strong proving otherwise when he consistently points out the 9/11 hijackers where highly educated and NOT from poor backgrounds. Also, in his critique of Francis Collins, the head of the NIH, Harris argues that even highly intelligent men like Collins can partition their minds holding contradictory beliefs. She goes on to defend God against a charge no one serious is making.

Armstrong acknowledges religion has been bad for women. This can’t last of course, she has to blame too critical views on the patriarchal Islamic veil. That to her, of course, causes a drive toward fundamentalism. There is a pattern that no matter what problems religion causes secular attempts to combat them draw her critical attention. What is that if not excuse making and obscurantism?

After making some common arguments against science and religion not having to be in conflict she makes the odd claim that an anti-science attitude is less common in Islam. That is basically self-evidently false. I don’t know where she gets any evidence for that – modern Islamic countries aren’t really known for there scientific discoveries, premier commitment to science education, or high acceptance levels for evolution.

She ends, unsurprisingly, by defending sharia law! In that section she writes “Religion may not be the cause of the world’s political problems, but we still need to understand it if we are to solve them.” I don’t know how she excuses religion in one breath than admits it plays a huge role in the world’s problems. To her it’s all about not “giving unnecessary offense.” In other words, “Think Again” atheist, keep your mouth shut.
[update]: The Reason Project printed my introduction to the FP article.

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