Contrary to the crude epistemology of rational scientism, religions are not rigid “doctrines” that followers obey uniformly, regardless of their social or material contexts. As Seymour has written:
'Religion is a labour of interpretation, of symbolic and ideological production from which agents derive meanings adequate to their life circumstances. Apart from anything else, the sheer indeterminacy of religious texts would make it impossible for there to be a literal, consistent meaning present in the texts: interpretation is indispensible.'
This is particularly significant in relation to the New Atheists’ denunciations of what they call “the doctrine of Islam” because it renders bare their false ontology of religion — one which more or less assumes that fundamentalism is the product of bad ideas rather than particular social and material conditions.
Criticisms of the violence carried out by fundamentalists of any kind — honor killings, suicide bombings, systemic persecution of women or gay people, or otherwise — are neither coherent nor even likely to be effective when they falsely attribute such phenomena to some monolithic orthodoxy.
The ways in which the New Atheism serves imperialism are manifold. It bolsters the “clash of civilizations” narrative used to justify ventures like the invasion of Iraq and the need for repressive measures like state surveillance. Moreover, in presenting itself as a disinterested defense of reason, it lends such arguments a credibility they would lack in the hands of commentators from the political or cultural right. Finally, it shifts the focus from the social ills wrought by unjust economic arrangements to an external singularity called “religion.”
Beneath its superficial rationalism, then, the New Atheism amounts to little more than an intellectual defense of empire and a smokescreen for the injustices of global capitalism. It is a parochial universalism whose potency lies in its capacity to appear simultaneously iconoclastic, dissenting, and disinterested, while channeling vulgar prejudices, promoting imperial projects, and dressing up banal truisms as deep insights.
Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins may masquerade as intellectual insurgents, leading a crusade against the insipid tolerance of liberal politics. But ultimately they are apologists for some of its most destructive tendencies.