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To Error and Back Again, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Christopher Hitchens, Part 2

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In Ridenhour's description of how he came to know about My Lai, he notes at one point that he is an atheist. It is not clear, of course, what role Ridenhour's atheism played in his determination to spread the bad news of the My Lai Massacre. But certainly both his atheism and his horror at war's propensity for mass murder of noncombatants were psychologically compatible with the extremely low authoritarianism he manifested by his whistle-blowing [6] .

Unfortunately, atheists in the mould of Ridenhour seem less capable of writing bestsellers or setting the tone for emergent atheist movements.  After 9/11, as our military-industrial complex has busied itself with spying on, stealing from, torturing and killing Muslims, atheists who can work with, rather than against, the Western upsurge in authoritarian hatred of Muslims are more likely to draw media attention and have their work reviewed and promoted by establishment media outlets. 

I would imagine that if the key power brokers in the publishing establishment promoted atheists who had the wit, writing skills and name recognition of Harris and Hitchens but who shunned all their militaristic Islamophobic nonsense, atheists would buy up their books at warp speeds also--though perhaps the rest of the population would not.  Atheists who purchase New Atheist bestsellers are not deliberately trying to soil their own collective reputation.  The most charitable interpretation of the popularity of Harris and Hitchens among atheists is that atheists have long been hungry for some prominent media representatives--any media representatives--to bring recognition of their perspectives into national and international discourse.  Hawkish and/or torture-loving Islamophobia with a dose of Dr. Strangelove cannot be logically deduced from the basic axiom of atheism, of course.  Sadly, though, hawkish torture-loving Islamophobia appears to be effective packaging when marketing atheism post-9/11.

End of part 2.

[1] The construction as of 2012 should read "wrote", but as mentioned in Part 1, the original version of this piece was written in 2007, so I have kept the edited version dated this way also.  Thoughts based on updated historical events are in footnotes.

[2] In light of the recent replay of the Ron Paul racist-homophobic newsletter controversy, Paul's "ghostwriters" (as well as his admirers in Stormfront and the John Birch Society) seem to be relatively clear examples of fascists with anti-fascist blind spots (insofar as it is fascist to peddle racism and homophobia, and anti-fascist to oppose torture, imperial wars, the War on Drugs, indefinite military detention without trial, etc.).

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[3] Available in Part 1.

[4] Some might also note that the New Testament only uses the phrase "the Word" when referring to Jesus, and uses "the scriptures" when referring to the Tanakh or Old Testament.  And New Testament statements on the scriptures are generally pretty anodyne, not what any reasonable person would consider commanding of literalist worship.

[5] Today I would choose the-person-who-is-actually-guilty-of-the-"crimes"-of-which-Bradley-Manning-is-accused, though the religious affiliation of that individual remains unknown.

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[6] Coincidentally, a student who refused to administer even the lowest shock in a Princeton replication of psychologist Stanley Milgram's well-known obedience experiment was also named Ron Ridenhour.

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Ian Hansen is a social psychology professor specializing in cultural and political psychology and a part time activist on behalf of the good things in life.

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