Lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living

Dawkins’s apologia

The most recent of them have found the correct expression for their activity when they declare they are only fighting against “phrases.” They forget, however, that to these phrases they themselves are only opposing other phrases, and that they are in no way combating the real existing world when they are merely combating the phrases of this world. The only results which this philosophic criticism could achieve were a few (and at that thoroughly one-sided) elucidations of Christianity from the point of view of religious history; all the rest of their assertions are only further embellishments of their claim to have furnished, in these unimportant elucidations, discoveries of universal importance.

Marx, The German Ideology

My alarm clock, set to play KPFA, woke me up the other day with the audio of Richard Dawkins’s The Root of All Evil. In the broad scope of things, this was probably good, as it encouraged me to get out of bed and get to school on time; but I do rather dislike having Dawkins’s crusade against phrases injected in my ears before I’m fully awake. Before I went off to make myself some coffee, I heard Dawkins’s report from Jerusalem, which got me thinking about what’s wrong, and kind of pernicious, about his approach.

It’s not just the inaccuracy, although it’s irritating to hear a conflict between secular nationalisms described as if it were a religious conflict. The problem is that by so describing the conflict, Dawkins effaces the political issues: the dispossession of the Palestinians, the colonialist history of Zionism, and the mobilization of fundamentalism as a response to neo-liberalism in Israel and corruption in Palestine. Any consideration of power drops out of the equation for Dawkins, for whom the question is simply one of incorrect beliefs. The same occurs with militant atheism’s positioning of itself as an alternative to Bush simply because of an intellectual disagreement with Bush’s fundamentalist Christian “base.” The criticism of religion substitutes elucidations for political struggle, and thereby serves as an apologia for the political and social conditions that underly religious belief (the whole first section of the German Ideology, which I only looked up due to half-remembering that bit about “phrases,” is really extraordinarily sharp as a criticism of contemporary liberal atheism).