I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm done with Richard Dawkins. As a teenager, the brilliant scientist was among the first to break through my bubble of petty fundamentalism and push me to think critically about the superstitions that envelope our cultures. I miss that guy and have no idea where he went.
"The God Delusion" was a witty and interesting take-down of the ideology that had absorbed my existence. I spent most of my life as a born again Evangelical Christian, convinced of my own rightness and damning of any and all who stood in the way of my theocratic viewpoints. I was respected in my megachurch and on-track to become a genuinely dangerous person. I shudder to think of who I would be today if it weren't for people like Dawkins.
I'm not an atheist who accepts religion or cowers to the religious forces around me for greater cultural acceptance. I believe that theism is dangerous, superstitious and bad for the contemporary world. I'm an antitheist. Some folks call me a "militant atheist." I spend way too much time singing gospel songs in the shower for that to be true. Plus, I still can't manage to "use the Lord's name in vain," drink alcohol or tell a lie. The only noticeable difference between me and a Southern Baptist is my lack of fear.
Dawkins is also an antitheist. He's considered a leader of "New Atheism," a term assigned to atheists who view religious influence as something we must counter. The movement arguably started with a 2004 book called "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason" by Sam Harris, although Dawkins' "The God Delusion" from 2006 is probably the best-known of the "New Atheist" books now. Christopher Hitchens wrote the other enduring blockbuster in 2007, "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."
Antitheism, which I prefer to the contested "New Atheism," is where the similarity between Richard Dawkins and atheists like me end. Dawkins has walked a particularly dark path from mostly reasonable critique of religion into narcissistic anti-religious extremism that flirts with outright racism. When Dawkins decries Muslims, one can't help but wonder where the line between this revered scientist and Donald Trump lies. Both are punching down at an already-oppressed minority in our culture, and both are ignoring the great problems facing our world by boiling those problems down into easily accessible cartoon villains to be run out of town.
The problem with Dawkins has been snowballing for some time. The mounting offenses culminated in his latest online assault: posting a video to his entire follower base that embraces misogyny and feeds into Muslim stereotypes with an Islamist character, complete with ridiculous accent. "It's not rape when a Muslim does it." That's an actual line from the disturbing video. The posting resulted in Dawkins being uninvited from The Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism.
As an atheist, I'm embarrassed that there are so few of us in public. Richard Dawkins is leader-by-default in a group that would reject such hierarchy but can't due to lack of visibility. He's holding atheists hostage. But angry, misogynistic white men who try to silence opposition through racial fearmongering already have a home base: the GOP. They don't belong in movements that reject superstition in the interest of making a kinder, more rational world with fewer boundaries separating us from each other.
Richard Dawkins does not represent me. He doesn't represent atheists. He doesn't represent scientists. He's a single person with too much power who's clearly become enamored with himself and needs to be gracefully demoted by the movement he helped build, not followed off the cliff he's marching it toward.
(Photo used with permission by Richard Cooper.)