Antisemitism Among the American Atheists

Searching in the internet on the topic of „race and religion“ (actually to find a theoretic approach on forms of racism disguised as a critique of religion) I soon came across the American Atheists‘ website. Obviously I had found what I‘ve been looking for, but alas, otherwise than expected! The more I read, the more I understood that this was not an article about but an extreme example of racism springing from a fucked-up criticism of religious thinking.

American atheists, as it seems, hold that it suffices to displace religious tellings with an uncritical view of natural science. The author of the article Race And Religion, for example, embraces sociobiology to explain racist prejudice, which he derives from xenophobia, or the fear of foreigners:

To oversimplify only a bit, xenophobia helped to keep the gene pools of various small groups fairly isolated from each other. This allowed for „group selection“ to occur. Instead of individuals surviving or perishing in the struggle for existence, groups of individuals survived or perished. This presumably accelerated the rate of genetic change in the species as a whole. It is not unreasonable to suppose, therefore, that there may be a genetic factor biasing us towards xenophobic behavior. The function of xenophobia, basically, is to sharpen the distinction between in-group and out-groups („us“ and „them“) and to intensify competition, motivating the elimination of out-group gene pools.

Since he has no critical theory of society, the author falls back into the 19th century approach of explaining social phenomena biologically, thereby adopting a style of reasoning that has entailed racist thought right from the start. In abscence of an ideology that could justify social inequalities as result of a god-given order — after all, the French Revolution and the American Declaration of Independence had proclaimed that „all men are [created] equal“ — bourgeois thinkers began referring to biology to explain the social success of some and the failure of others within the realm of market society. This explanation gained momentum during the age of imperialism when it was to legitimize the inferior status of the colonialized people. In fact, racism has always been a steady companion of capitalist society, for biology seems to give an easy answer why a society based on equal exchange and freedom of contract tends to produce ever sharper divisions between rich and poor instead of diminishing the gap.

Biological thinking also tranformed the older, religiously grounded anti-Judaism of Christian society into a new form called anti-Semitism. Jews were now seen as a race rather than a religion, which also meant that the goal of radical Jews-haters had to change from conversion (the „final solution“ envisioned by Christianity) to biological desctruction.

The author quoted above refuses to address sociological explanations for racism and anti-Semitism as modern modes of thought. Trying to blame religion instead — as one could expect from a pronounced atheist —, he even goes so far as to make Jews responsible for their own persecution. That’s where I really got sick:

The Racist Dimensions Of Judaism

It is striking that the most common definition of what constitutes a Jew is biological, not theological: a Jew is a person born to a Jewish mother. It is a small step in „logic“ from this genetic definition of Jewishness to the notion that the Jews constitute a special „race.“ Hitler and his crackpot eugenicists did not invent the idea of „the Jewish race“; they accepted the idea gratefully from the Jews themselves. To the extent that the Jews have succeeded in maintaining the „purity“ of their „race,“ they have succeeded in isolating and preserving an in-group gene pool.

One of the ways the „purity“ of the Jewish gene pool has been maintained has been through strong prohibition or discouragement of miscegenation — intermarriage with gentiles. The entire ninth chapter of the book of Ezra is, in fact, aimed at maintaining the racial purity of the Jews. […]

Although we do not yet know what particular genes are in the pool thus guarded by Ezra and Jewish tradition, it seems obvious that some of them have been very useful, as viewed from the perspective of more than three millennia of history. Although the Jews still survive — indeed, flourish — most of the ancient peoples with whom they contended are nowhere to be found today. The Midianites, the Jebusites, the Perizzites, the Hivites — all are without descendants, and all are gone.

We know from the Hebrew scriptures just why it is that these out-group gene pools no longer exist. Just as Hitler did not have to invent the idea of a Jewish race, so too was it unnecessary for him to create the art of genocide: the Hebrew scriptures constitute a textbook on how to do it. […]

Now it is not always possible or practical to practice genocide, and Judaism often has had to settle for something less thorough. Until the founding of the modern state of Israel made quasi-genocide possible once again, Judaism has had to content itself with the practice of intense discrimination against goyim (gentiles) coupled with strong favoritism of everyone born of a Jewish mother.

I think it is no exaggeration to say that the author’s biologically grounded anti-Semitism borders on Nazi propaganda when he insinuates that throughout history „the Jewish race“ had wanted to destroy the gentiles in order to propagate their own genes. When in 1939 Adolf Hitler predicted (or rather, announced) the „annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe“, his paranoid world view made him see this as a mere act of self-defense. And like the American Atheists, the Nazis would cite from the bible to „reveal“ the Jews‘ devious intentions and alleged genocidal plans.

This should serve as an example that atheism does not encompass a progressive view by itself. Famous atheists or agnosticists like Immanuel Kant and Bruno Bauer regularly „enriched“ their critique of religion with anti-Semitic excursions. And this tradition obviously prevails among organized atheists until this day.