Rape Culture, Fundamentalism, and the New Atheism

A Google image search for "Christian patriarchy" brought this up. You can...draw your own conclusion.

A Google image search for “Christian patriarchy” brought this up. You can, uh, draw your own conclusion.

There’s been no shortage of sex abuse scandals in the Christian Church in recent years. By now the Catholic Church scandals are old news, but Protestants have rushed to get in on the action in the last year or three as well, with allegations against dozens of institutions coming to light. Bill Gothard of the respected (by some) Institute for Biblical Life Principles recently resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment, and numerous damning exposés have been written on the entrenched rape culture — where victims are blamed and perpetrators walk free — at universities like Bob Jones and Patrick Henry.

It’s possible we’ll someday see a sex scandal in some more “mainstream” corner of Christendom, but for the moment, I find it interesting that the scandals coming to light have arisen within traditions most would call “fundamentalist” in at least the colloquial sense. (There is a technical definition of fundamentalism, but since almost nobody knows that, never mind.) And the essence of fundamentalism, of course, is an inability to grasp the possibility that you might be wrong about things. While all of us believe our own views to be correct (otherwise we wouldn’t hold them), most of us are at least aware that some of them may be wrong and we might have to change our views when shown convincing evidence that they are. Not so with fundamentalist traditions, which are so convinced of their own rightness that there’s no room for debate, discussion, or even disagreement. If you question the dogma, it’s not because you’ve encountered a legitimate reason to do so; it’s because you’re deliberately denying obvious truths, probably because you’re deceived by Satan.

The main thing I'm concerned with here is, why is there a giant hand fondling my wife from beneath?

The main thing I’m concerned with here is, why is there a giant hand fondling my wife from beneath?

With that in mind, I’d contend that these allegations aren’t terribly surprising. Most of these institutions are explicitly patriarchal in their orientations, not simply affirming the Biblical idea that man is responsible for the wellbeing of his household, but prescribing a full male dictatorship over everything not directly connected to lace and doilies. And when an environment is (1) led exclusively by men, and (2) by definition unsympathetic to the intellectual experience of others, how can it result in anything other than an entrenched rape culture?

After all, the real difficulty in getting men to accept that rape culture is a problem lies in convincing them that “Hey baby, looking for a good time?” is less a compliment than a threat when it comes from someone 100 lbs. heavier than you who could force said good time upon you if he so desired. (If you are such a man, imagine a scenario where a stranger pulls a knife on you and says “Hey, look at my cool knife!” It’s possible he’s just being friendly, but you won’t know for sure until said knife is inside you.) The common “Not all men!” defense is considered douchey not because it’s untrue, but because it seeks to dismiss someone else’s intellectual experience by smothering it with your own: “I don’t experience rape culture because I don’t contribute to it directly! Therefore, it must not be a thing!”

Rape culture. Get it? No? Ugh, I don't know why I bother.

Rape culture. Get it? No? Ugh, I don’t know why I bother.

And considering all that, is it at all surprising that the New Atheism has its own entrenched rape culture as well?

BuzzFeed (which has weirdly become a pretty legit source of news and commentary, assuming you don’t mind sorting through cat GIFs to get your news) has an article up on the misogyny endemic to the movement — Michael Shermer’s deplorable womanizing, Richard Dawkins’ callous dismissal of women’s concerns for their safety, and the fact that any woman who speaks out about the rape culture is immediately threatened with rape (which would be hilarious if it wasn’t the Worst Thing Ever). It’s a huge problem, and it’s deeply entrenched.

This man will either rape you, or not. Either way, Richard Dawkins thinks you're a whiner.

This man will either rape you, or not. Either way, Richard Dawkins thinks you’re a whiner.

And again, I would contend that this is exactly what we should expect from the movement, given that it’s essentially just another form of male-dominated fundamentalism. The central message, after all, of the New Atheism — the message that divides it from earlier forms of skepticism — is that it’s perfectly obvious that God and the supernatural don’t exist, and the only reason you might think otherwise is because you’re either a fool or a charlatan. Dawkins doesn’t know theology and is proud he doesn’t; P.Z. Meyers will happily tell you that the religious emperor obviously has no clothes, and any argument to the contrary is merely the courtier’s reply. It’s obvious, they’ll tell you, that the supernatural doesn’t exist, because science hasn’t found it, and we know that science is the only valid method of inquiry, because the supernatural doesn’t exist.

Duh. Obviously.

The mix of self-congratulation and playground taunts that defines the movement is, in essence, merely the flipside of the defining characteristic of religious fundamentalism: a refusal to acknowledge the intellectual experiences of others. Never mind that plenty of thoughtful, sincere people believe in God due to varying mixes of personal experience and ontological argument; it’s just so obvious that scientific rationalism is the only valid means of interpreting the world that the experiences of others can simply be dismissed out of hand.

The storied New Atheist Forum.

The storied New Atheist Forum.

It’s unclear whether a movement like the New Atheism has to be led by men — it’s not explicitly patriarchal, like most Christian fundamentalism — but it is, and when a community defined by its lack of empathy is led entirely by men, a lack of understanding for the women in the movement is a forgone conclusion. Of course Dawkins doesn’t think much of the terror a woman experiences when propositioned by a stranger in a closed elevator at midnight; he’s never experienced it himself, so empirically, it doesn’t exist. Of course Michael Shermer doesn’t think much of his date-rapey ways; he’s never had drunken sex that he didn’t consent to, so empirically, it doesn’t happen.

...but I'd have a Ferrari and like 50 girlfriends, for reals.

…but I’d have a Ferrari and like 50 girlfriends, for reals.

This sort of thinking isn’t necessarily conscious on the part of the perpetrators. It doesn’t have to be. The simple reality is that fundamentalism — religious or otherwise — appeals to only one sort of person: the one who has decided he’s the only thinking person in the room, and that disagreement with him cannot possibly be sincere. If you think he’s mistaken about something, you’re wrong, and possibly maliciously so, and if you think he just raped you, you’re wrong about that as well, and deserve to be punished for it.

Narrow-mindedness always sows the same seeds and always bears the same fruit.


Not to brag, but I’ve written words other than the ones you just read:

“Tiny Deaths” (not all Truth is true)

We’ve All Missed the Point of ‘God’s Not Dead’ (It’s Blaxploitation)

In the Spirit of Aronofsky’s ‘Pi,’ Here’s a Mathematical Proof that ‘Noah’ Would Have Pissed Everyone Off, No Matter What

9 thoughts on “Rape Culture, Fundamentalism, and the New Atheism

  1. Why do you think Christians fear gays so much? A big, burly, hairy guy (known as bears in the gay community) could easily throw most straight men down, ass up, and have their way with them. That has to be a terrifying thought for a straight man. Yet they can’t empathize with a woman…..

  2. “an inability to grasp the possibility that you might be wrong about things.” Sounds familiar. Ever hear anyone daring to critique the notion of “rape culture” who is told flatly, “Denial of rape culture IS rape culture!” ????? Fundamentalist indeed.

  3. The ironic thing I find about this is that, “empirically speaking” from my experience, Christian fundamentalism, while patriarchal in theory, often ends up matriarchal in practice.

    Growing up around a lot of homeschoolers involved in IBLP (and being one), I can tell you most families I know had the mom running the show. The same male passivity that pervades the rest of America is plenty present in fundamentalism.

    Funamentalist Christian men, in my experience, are often spiritually lazy (and fail to initiate much), and their wives, seeing a spiritual void, step in to fill it. The nonquestioning nature of fundamentalism often comes more from the (typically) less rationally thinking matriarcal leadership, rather than patriarchy wielding its rape power.

    This isn’t to say rape culture doesn’t exist within Christian fundamentalism, but rather to point out that, in practice, fundamentalists are often on the other side of the spectrum.

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