Regressive Left? What’s That?
In the last year I've had the displeasure of coming to realize that you can go so far left in your thinking that you lose sight of reality and actually become a champion for ignorance. To see this happening in the atheist community is disheartening to say the least. It’s become such a problem that some of the greatest enemies of the atheist community are a small minority of people who are atheists themselves. And if cancer has taught us anything, it’s that an organism that fights itself almost always dies; which brings us around to the regressive left.
So last year I stumbled onto a man named CJ Werleman, and boy was that a surreal experience. I didn’t know of CJ back when he was a self-avowed “new atheist”, and never read any of his books or other works from that period in his life. Instead, I stumbled upon CJ following his disgrace for being called out as a plagiarist who had chosen to become a religious apologist after being rejected and dejected by the atheist community for his lack of ethics as a journalist and writer. Rather than actually apologizing for his unethical behavior and making a concerted effort to redeem himself, CJ decided that his best course of action would be to attack atheists who offered reproach for his actions and were easy targets to bash since they were already being attacked by the religious world for offering honest criticism of religious dogma and the actions which often stem from such dogmatic thinking and ideologies. He of course set his sights on the “big names” including Sam Harris and Dawkins.
Being the very unimaginative man that he has shown himself to be, CJ did not show any originality in his attacks and instead joined in with a choir of religious apologists who were already lashing out at Harris and Dawkins for their criticism and critique of Islam and the Quran which informs the ideology of Islam.
There was nothing unique or original in CJ’s attacks of course, but it was very surreal to see a man who called himself an atheist throwing around the terms “racist” and “islamophobic” against men who offered criticism of the doctrine and dogma of Islam as an ideology as if these men were attacking a “race” of people or as if they had claimed that they “feared” Muslims as a generalization of millions of people. I was perplexed by a man who claimed to be enlightened by reason and logic who was obviously refusing to see the very clear nuance that informs the vast majority of the opinions on Islam espoused by Harris, Dawkins, and others. Of course those men aren’t always “right”, but to simply categorize them as “racist” or “islamophobic” is a very ignorant generalization that is every bit as ignorant as espousing the notion that all Muslims are terrorists.
Yes… I was certainly perplexed… but I’ve had over a year to think about all this and experience it for myself and really dig into it a bit. So let’s talk about what seems to be behind the whole thing.
At Its Heart, Regressive Leftism is a Symptom of White Privilege
As I’ve spent this rather short 36 years on this planet, I’ve come to notice some things about the world we live in. One of the most glaringly obvious facts about the world we live in is that, white men control the vast majority of the world and an “ungodly” amount of the world’s wealth. There are quite literally white men here in the United States that have more individual wealth than entire countries… Just let that sink in for a minute. And even when it isn’t white men in control of wealth and power, it’s almost always men who have all the wealth and power. If I can indulge a cliche a bit, “the patriarchy is real!”
So this brings me back to this phenomenon of the regressive left, and there’s a very troubling pattern at play there (something troubling besides their apologist arguments that offer justification for such acts as the Charlie Hebdo attacks that had these regressive leftists indulging in victim blaming right alongside the terrorist group who claimed responsibility for the attacks). The fact is, the vast majority of these regressive leftists are white men; and what’s more is that, many of them are men of privilege and affluence.
Take CJ Werleman for example. Here’s an excerpt from his own bio on his personal website:
“His father, born in Indonesia, fled Australia in the early 60's to pursue a career in Hollywood. His mother, an astute business woman, became the first female real estate agency proprietor in her state. The influence of his parents must have been significant, because CJ fled the business world to pursue a career of acting to be busy on Indonesia\'s idyllic island of Bali.
As a child, CJ's love for writing wasn't noticed early. His first love was sport. And at one stage or another, he trained hard to represent Australia in every single sport imaginable: tennis, cricket, swimming, golf, football, ping pong, and midget tossing. Needless to say, he fell short of national acclaim. But here's where CJ's decision to relocate to Indonesia paid dividends. In 2007, he was selected for his country, his adopted nation. Awarded the honor of representing an archipelago of 250,000,000 inhabitants in the international game of cricket. At the 2007 ICC Trophy held in New Zealand, CJ would go on to score the most number of runs, and take the most number of wickets for Indonesia. Awarding himself the title of that nation's greatest ever all rounder. And to this day, he doesn't stop reminding close friends in Bali of this fact.
Unfortunately, being the #1 ranked cricketer in the #87th ranked cricketing nation pays less than a volunteer at a cupcake stall on Memorial Day - and therefore any self deluded ambition that a professional sporting career could be had at age 37 was mercilessly snuffed out.
With his sporting aspirations reluctantly retired, CJ's other love, the written word, came to the fore. Until that time, his literary accomplishments were confined to a few published articles in Inside Business Success, the Bangkok Post, and his Australian Rules football team\'s (the Bali Geckos) match reports. But residing in the heart of his journalistic mediocrity was a quiet discontent. An irritation greater than the discomfort of a long taxi ride with 'Delhi belly'. And what irritated him most was other people's mindlessness.” - (http://www.cjwerleman.com/about-cj.html)
In all honesty, this sounds like a damn good life that a lot of people on this planet would “kill for”. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge him for having a rather easy life. What I do begrudge him for are statements such as this:
“On the evening of October 12, 2005 - CJ witnessed the devastating aftermath of twin suicide bombs on Bali's Jimbaran beach, a renowned seafood location for tourists. This event propelled CJ to take action, and today he is the rising voice of today's atheists.” - (http://www.cjwerleman.com/about-cj.html)
In those two sentences we can see what CJ is really all about. You see, here in the United States we experienced the same sort of thing and are still living with the aftermath. When two planes flew into the World Trade Center buildings a huge portion of our populous, myself included at the time, went “insane”.
There was a cry for the blood of Muslims and a surge of hatred and irrationality rushed through the nation. The aftershocks of that event are still being felt on a daily basis as men such as Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and most of the Hatriots involved with the Christian Conservatives that have almost completely taken over the entire Republican party, run for public office by fear-mongering and pushing hatred thinly disguised as “patriotism”. In that moment of terrorism that CJ experienced he embraced hatred of an entire group of people and lashed out irrationally as he indulged that hatred. It’s understandable, albeit inexcusable when it led to him actually making clearly racist and horrid comments during this phase in his life as highlighted by Stephen Knight here. (Stephen Knight is also known as the Godless Spellchecker and was one of the first to expose CJ’s plagiarism)
The other thing that becomes fairly obvious from these two sentences is that CJ seems to be rather narcissistic. The statement, “and today he is the rising voice of today's atheists” isn’t something someone else said of CJ; they’re his own words that he uses to describe himself. Notice he doesn’t say one of the rising voices of today’s atheists, but rather he says he’s the rising voice. To make such a claim about a community of freethinking individuals who pride ourselves on our individuality and ability to make our own decisions, draw our own conclusions, and offer our own opinions, is more than just a bit conceited. Even Dawkins, often called by others the “father” of the “new atheist” movement, has acknowledged that, “organizing atheists has been compared to herding cats, because they tend to think independently and will not conform to authority”. (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/355983-indeed-organizing-atheists-has-b...)
No one can claim to be the voice of today’s atheists. We all have voices, and many of us choose to use our voices quite regularly… thank you very much. Neither CJ, nor Harris, nor even Dawkins, speaks for the atheist community. We agree with some things they say and disagree with others, and this changes daily and is entirely independent from one atheist to the next as to what we agree and disagree with.
So why does CJ seem to think he can be the voice of today’s atheists? Well it’s because he’s a privileged white man of course. His words and opinions outweigh others because of course that’s what comes with being a privileged white man. Of course his ideas and opinions, and those of other privileged white men who agree with him, are the “correct” ones because that’s just how the world works… right?
If You Aren’t Part of the Solution, You’re Part of the Problem
Patriarchy has been perpetuated by religion for nearly the entirety of recorded history. It continues to this day in nearly every religion on this planet. It is present in all the Abrahamic religions, as should be quite well known to all of us. It is present in Hinduism and even Buddhism. Unfortunately, it is even still present in much of the atheist community. As a male, if I write an article or book on feminism or sexual equality, I am far more likely to be read and draw attention than any of my female peers. And of course, patriarchy and the privilege of the white man is alive and well with the regressive left as well. From CJ Werleman to Chris Hedges to Cenk Uygur, when we look at the people who speak on behalf of the regressive left as atheists acting on behalf of religious apologists they’re nearly all men; and most of them are privileged white men. Their allies include men such as Reza Aslan whose dishonesty in presenting himself and his credentials is well documented, and whose apologetic arguments on behalf of Islam range from deflections that seek to repeat the mantra “it has nothing to do with Islam” to outright falsehoods and half-truths.
These men such as CJ want to make the case that there is no such thing as a religious problem and that religion is all fine and dandy. The problem, in their opinion, is strictly a socioeconomic one that is the fault of nothing other than colonialism. Well… at least that’s the case when it comes to Islam anyway. These same men have no problem when people such as myself criticize Christianity or Judaism. When I criticize the Pope for and the Catholic Church for covering up for and protecting pedophiles in their ranks, that’s just fine. When I criticize Westboro Baptist Church for their homophobic insanity, you never hear a peep from them. It’s just Islam, and it’s the weirdest bit of nonsense I’ve come across since renouncing my religion. It comes across as if they’re simply trying to out-do the Conservative Christian Hatriots own extremist views by going in the completely polar opposite direction so far left that they’ll make any excuse they can to herald Islam as the greatest thing since sliced bread. CJ Werleman has gone so far left that he’s standing with fools such as Ken Ham and Ray Comfort in blaming atheists for all the world’s woes and problems. His latest book, The New Atheist Threat reads like some religious apologist’s manifesto written by the likes of Kent Hovind that poses “new atheists” like Michael Sherlock as enablers for what he would like the world to believe are “atheist terrorists” that are going to just destroy the whole world. And what is worse is that the greater portion of his book is nothing but quotes from the regressive leftists whom he loves and admires. He should honestly credit Chris Hedges as co-author of the book as much as he quotes the man.
What if I Told You There’s This Thing Called Nuance
It seems that the only people that anyone is paying any real attention to are the extremists. Extremists on the right who preach hatred and fear of all Muslims; and extremists on the left who would rather make excuses for terrorism and engage in victim blaming than admit that Islam as an ideology plays some part in many humanitarian issues around the whole world. But what if I told you that there’s actually another group of voices in all this mess?
The reality is that there actually are many, especially within the atheist community that CJ likes to call “new atheists”, that have a fairly nuanced viewpoint on this matter. There are many, like myself and even Michael Sherlock whom CJ likes to demonize, who do not criticize or generalize an entire group of people and understand the difference between criticizing an ideology and a doctrine and criticizing all people who claim to follow that ideology. There are many of us who fully understand that the Quran is indeed used as justification for the actions of a minority group of Muslim terrorists, and also understand that the majority of Muslims are not in fact terrorists and do not use the Quran to justify such actions. There are plenty of us who do not blame all Muslims or hate all Muslims for the actions of the terrorists who also subscribe to the Islamic ideology.
There is a middle ground; a nuanced viewpoint that can see that Islamic fundamentalism and literal interpretation of the Quran is a serious issue, but that it isn’t the position of the majority of Muslims to hold to such a fundamentalist and literal interpretation of the Quran and Islamic dogma. There is a viewpoint that doesn’t simply rely on pointing at terrorism to make a valid case against the ideology of Islam and the teachings of the Quran. We can point to Saudi Arabia and other countries ruled by Islamic law based on Quranic teachings and show that there are real issues at hand like blasphemy laws, apostasy punishments, women’s rights, and the treatment of homosexuals. We can point to Pakistan ruling that setting an age limit for marriage of young girls would be “anti-Islamic”, and clearly say that this is a real ethical problem and it has it’s roots directly in Islam and it is most definitely is an Islamic problem.
But my voice will almost certainly fall by the wayside because I don’t beat my chest hard enough and yell over those who disagree with me with ad hominem attacks and blatant insults. And although I am a white man, I’m not privileged enough to be important. I’m just another average guy who grew up in trailer parks and who at 36 is still working to be able to afford that first college degree that will likely do little to cause anyone to take me any more seriously than they do now. So what could I possibly know…?