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4/02/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Refections on the "New Atheism"

By Dave, the WM

An increasing number of articles, commentaries, and opinion pieces are being published on what has been dubbed the “New Atheism.” One website, interestingly entitled NewAtheists.org, describes a four-pillared platform on which the so-called “New Atheism movement" rests. It reads as follows:
  • Tolerance of pervasive myth and superstition in modern society is not a virtue.
  • Religious fundamentalism has gone main stream and its toll on education, science, and social progress is disheartening.
  • Wake up people!! We are smart enough now to kill our invisible gods and oppressive beliefs.
  • It is the responsibility of the educated to educate the uneducated, lest we fall prey to the tyranny of ignorance.

A recent article at Wired.com stated:
The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it's evil. Now that the battle has been joined, there's no excuse for shirking.

Another writer, here, states:
The world's intellectuals are slowly moving away from traditional atheism towards New Atheism for the betterment of mankind.

Before going farther, The New Atheism, as it is being called, is the atheism expressed in the writings of Richard Dawkins, a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and popular science writer who holds the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University; Sam Harris, an American author with active interests in philosophy, religion and neuroscience; and Daniel Dennett, a prominent American philosopher and professor at Tufts University.

In Christian circles, this “New Atheism” is denigrated as “militant.”

Militant? Has Dawkins taken up arms? Is Harris training troops in the desert? How about Dennett? Has he abandoned his students to construct dirty bombs? If you've read any of these mens' books, it becomes immediately evident that they each are convincing communicators. But militant? Should the ability to intelligently express ideas ever be termed militant?

Now, although I label myself as an ex-Christian atheist, ExChristian.Net is not strictly an atheistic website. A diverse set of viewpoints are enjoyed by the posters here. In fact, one of the original founding members of this site is a dyed-in-the-wool deist. The only real unifying purpose of this site is to let those who have discovered that Christianity is not “The Truth” understand that they are not alone in that assessment.

Nevertheless, I am intrigued by the amount of rhetoric being bandied all over the airwaves, the printed press, and the Internet, expressing a rising level of concern over the ideas of three outspoken atheistic writers.

But militant is not the only term being applied. Some who call themselves humanists have decided to describe Dawkins and company as “fundamentalists.”

Atheist fundamentalists?

Is anyone being threatened with hell by these “fundamentalists?” Has anyone been labeled heretical by these so-called fundamentalists?

Are these three men outspoken? Yes. Are they opinionated atheists? Obviously. But militant, fundamentalists? Nonsense.

How many voices, preaching real fundamentalism, or some form of dogmatic religion, whether Christian, Muslim, or something else, are given ear and wild applause on the world stage today? The most recent Newsweek poll brags that 91% of Americans believe in “God” and only 3% call themselves atheist. With so many confirmed believers out there, what possible damaging influence could be meted out by three non-conforming authors? What in the world are people so stirred up about?

Perhaps some of the opposition to these three atheistic writers is the persuasive power of their message. Perhaps the magical thinking of religion is difficult to defend when confronted with plain old rational thinking. Mystifying is the position just taken by the Harvard humanist chaplaincy.

Is the New Atheism really new? And should these atheists “tone it down?”

What do you think?

Addendum: Of special interest is the Newsweek discussion between Author Sam Harris and Evangelical leader Rick Warren. Click here to read this lengthy exchange.

43 comments:

Jamie G. said...

There is no neoatheism, but atheists should be even more vocal. I think it's time to give all the faith-heads a run for their money, that we have as just much of a right to speak up and be heard as they do. I say we shall not be quiet and we shall not quit.

Lance said...

I think the critique of fundamentalism needs to come from multiple angles. We need people like Dawkins for the full frontal assault, but we also need people like the humanists and unitarians that give a softer and accepting approach to spirituality. We also need moderate Christians like Brian McLaren and Francis Collins to challenge fundamentalism from the inside.

I can live with moderate christians that don't go wacky on the young earth and hell stuff. Sure they still believe some goofy things, but at least I can handle them as neighbors. They are even fun to discuss religion with over a beer. It is the fundamentalists that are ruining education, science, etc. We need to allow the moderates and liberals to work in that community. I would let those that need a pretend god to have their crutch of moderate or liberal christianity, rather then forcing them to choose between atheism and fundamentalism.

I'm just trying to be realistic and pragmatic here. Sure we would like see religion dry up and blow away, but then again people in hell want ice water. Its just not going to happen in our lifetime. Heck its been over 200 years since Thomas Paine stuffed it in their faces, and we have made only limited progress. Most people just can't handle the truth. The universe is just too scary for most people if you take their god out of it.

I fear a full frontal assault may raise the defenses of many people and push them toward fundamentalism.

That said, I'm glad that Dawkins and the rest are out there pushing their buttons. Not all people fit into the camp I mentioned above. Many are border-line agnostics or seriously doubting christians who could use a little rousing. Dawkins and Harris give these people ammunition to solidify their own thoughts, as well as combat the major goofiness of religion.

So kudos to Dawkins, Harris and Dennett. But lets not jump too hard in the shit of the moderates. Even Dawkins cuts them a little slack for helping to tone down the wackos. Or at least give people who are sick of the wackos a place to go.

xrayman said...

I coexist just beautifully with moderate Christians also. I equate it to hanging out with someone who fanatically follows a sport that doesn't interest me like pro hockey or Nascar. I love to bicker back and fourth with wishy washy Christians. But the true hard core young earth fundys are out to fuck up this country. We just can't count the number of high profile evangelical loudmouths in the public eye, yet people get all flusterd over basically two guys. You just can't compare a Richard Dawkins to a Jerry Fawell. Dawkins is harmless, and the sad thing is the fact that he isn't getting any younger. We need a new young vocal spokesperson of two to take prepare to take over his rein.

tigg13 said...

I think the fundys are trying to do just what Lance and Xrayman are warning us about when they refer to the new atheists as militant. They are trying to scare the moderate and the liberal christians.

Sure, getting rid of christianity would solve a lot of problems - but so would getting rid of poverty, war and injustice.

Easier said than done.

You can't defeat an idea; it will continue to exist so long as there is somebody who wants to hold on to it. Education is not, in and of itself, a solution or there wouldn't be so many well-educated fundys out there.

It's the fundys who are the problem. And it is they who we should concentrate our efforts against.

I have always found it easier to convince a moderate that fundys follow false prophets and are therefore not to be trusted.

This doesn't threaten them personally but still gets the point across.

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

I agree with Lance and Tigg. The rise and fall of ideologies is a complex dynamic process. No single force, acting on that system like xianity, is likely to have its intended long-term effects. System change depends on the combination of entropy within the system, perhaps accelerated by specific countervailing forces, combined with a lessening of external energy available to the system. No silver bullets.

The movement cited in the articles immediately reminded me of the populist intelligentsia in Russia during the latter part of the 19th century; the "Going to the People" movement. Educated, progressive Russians went out to live and work in peasant communes to teach the people and lead them to understand their oppression.

Sounds like this New Atheism group shares some of those motives and tactics, along with the kind of intellectual elitism that resulted in many of the well-intentioned Russian populists to get the crap beat out of them in peasant villages.

Anonymous said...

How come idiots like Falwell and Robertson are never called "Militant?"

dano said...

If the fundamental evangelicals can gather together and preach the eminent end of human society as we know it, and not give a shit about all of the things that are threatening the earth and mankind, because Jesus is on his way, and they are going to be sucked up into the sky anyway, I would think someone needs to be militant about it.

Don't even get me started on the "Islamic version" of the end of the word crap!

If not those of us who are practiced at spotting supernatural bullshit and shining light on it, then who else?

Do we want these whackos to make their apocalyptic interpretations of the scribblings of a bunch of bronze age tribal mystics, self fulfilling prophesies?

I guarantee you, they are working night and day to start world war three, because they all think they are among the select few that God has deemed worthy, and they cant wait to get to heaven.

They want soooo! much to look down on the rest of us, as we suffer forever in hell because we didn't believe the correct mystical shit.
Dan

Steven Bently said...

Look at what we did!!! The white Europeans brought over their God conquering book with them...Think about it!

If you're white, how did you get here?

How did your white ass get over here in America?

Your white conquering relatives came over here and took over this land from the Native Peoples...PERIOD....!!!!!

They brought their black slaves with them and their Jesus forgiving book with them and now here we are looking at World War Three in our faces, because the righteous xtains can do no wrong!!!!


Jesus will forgive them, no matter how many poeple get killed, fried, boiled, frozen, shot, zapped, decapitated..etc.

Remember Hiroshima...Nagasaki....??????? NO!!!!!!

Jesus forgives for everything!!!!

A Christian Nation can do no wrong!!!!

Wake-up you christian IDIOTS...!!!!

Jesus loves you!!!! Yeah Eat Shit...!!!

That's just the way I feel about it!!!!

Aussie said...

I'm a primary school teacher and i think its wrong that we are supposed to educated children about the different religions of the world, yet Atheism doesnt get a mention. Surely we should also be teaching children that it is perfectly ok to choose not to believe...that one can live a happy and fulfilled life without a belif in any god at all.

Anonymous said...

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lauren said...

I think that proactive Atheism is not a good thing. I do not believe in a God and I think that many aspects of Christianity can be used to justify wrongdoing. However, I think that extreme versions of any ideology can be used to justify wrondoing. Atheism by definition is a lack of belief in a certain ideology, but when you tack on the belief in the wrongness of religion then Atheism becomes an ideology itself. There is nothing wrong with ideologies per se. But intolerance is one of the hallmarks of an extreme ideology that I would rather avoid having associated with all Atheists. People who engage in this sort of thing should give themselves a new name that has nothing to do with Atheism. I, for my part, do not want to be associated with this movement. I simply do not believe in a God, but I don't think that all religion is bad.

Lorena said...

I think they are calling themselves new atheists in the sense that they are more determined than ever before to let the world hear their views.

Should they tone it down? NO.
Why not? Because there is an extreme need to balance out the loud voices of religion that have been out there for centuries.

I think they should scream out what they believe as loud as they can. Enough of closet atheism already. If we are to call ourselves a civilized society, we need to let everybody air their opinions, and the atheist voice has been muted long enough.

I am definitely not an atheist. But I believe that atheists are harmless and that we need their skepticism to keep us on our toes, belief wise.

If I ever decide to become an atheist, I want my views to be respected. For now, I can just say, "Go atheists go."

Anonymous said...

Lauren,

I do agree with what you are saying to some extent. America is built on the idea of freedom and everyone should be free to believe whatever they want. I also agree that intolerance of others is wrong.

But with religious fundamentalism on the rise in it seems all the major religions, I wonder if it is time to really start undermining belief itself. It may be becoming an issue of self-preservation.

I am a homeschooling parent. I mentioned this to a man who came to my house to give me a quote for installing rain gutters. He told me that homeschooling was a great thing. He said homeschooling is far superior to public schooling, so it is a sure-fire way for Christians to return America to its Christian roots by dominating business, law, education and politics. I was quite irritated by this and told him that I was not at all religious. I told him that America was built on the concept of religious freedom, not Christian doctrine. I also pointed out that half of homeschooling families homeschool for purely academic reasons. Needless to say, I was disturbed by his views.

I do think that most Christians in America are moderate in their beliefs. They may not agree with the fundamentalist but they do lend credence to the his/her core beliefs. I would prefer that America be more like Britain where Christianity is held up for ridicule by much of the population. Christians are free to believe and practice whatever they like but they have no real power to push their views or moral codes on everyone else.

I hate to say it but I feel this is becoming necessary. The intolerance and oppression of fundamentalist Christians will lead to an inevitable backlash.

.:webmaster:. said...

Lauren,

How is stating an opinion that all religion is wrong, intolerant?

Intolerance, to me, means denying people the right to think and express themselves. Intolerance for religion would be passing legislation that governmentally inhibited religious belief and persecuted believers, physically, emotionally, or economically.

If intolerance means boldly stating an opinion that others may find offensive, then what you just typed was intolerant.

It's a slippery slope.

And besides, we are talking about three writers: three self-proclaimed spokepeople, if you will. If denigrating religion is "over the top," then certainly denigrating atheism is equally intolerable. Yet, every church I ever frequented took pot shots at atheism, and at every expression of thought that took a bold stand against traditional, fundamentalist, Christian belief.

I don't know. I read what you say, but I don't quite follow you.

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you. Perhaps it's becuase I do not equate publishing strong rhetoric as identical with mistreating my fellow human beings. I don't think any of these three have ever advocated openly persecuting anyone for anything. Arguing with people in a forum designed for such discussions? Yes, yes, yes... Taking family, neighbors, and co-workers to task, and making an ass of yourself at inappropriate times, as I once did as a Chrstian, zealous to convert my poor hell-bound associates -- that would be obnoxious, to say the least. Still, I don't see a single hint of encouragement for that behavior in Dawkins', Harris', or Dennet's writings, or their personal appearances.

Whenever there is a clash of ideas, there will be friction. Thomas Paine was hated and today his name barely exists in public school text books. Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) was an embarrassment to friends and family – some of his atheistic works were kept from the world for years by his family. Robert Green Ingersoll was continually denigrated by the media and clergy of his day.

But, all the outspoken atheists of the past centuries can be easily named, because their numbers are so low. In contrast, there are thousands and thousands of outspoken, harsh, fist-pounding Christians, who have no tolerance for unbelief, and when the opportunity presents itself, push legislation to force as much religion down everyone’s throats as possible. Yet, no one says boo. Why? For fear of being called intolerant!

It has to go both ways. If those who think religion is bullshit should keep their mouths shut, then so should religionists. You can’t have it both ways.


Anyway, that’s my thoughts on the matter.


Am I missing something?

Dave8 said...

Atheism is implicitly benign based on non-doctrine or definition, but can be explicitly applied in an aggressive manner, and be considered intolerant by many...

Christianity is implicitly aggressive and intolerant, and can be explicitly applied in an aggressive manner if its followers actually believe their foundational/fundamental doctrine... and many Christians are in fact, considered intolerant as a result of their strict adherence to their doctrine...

To point out that there are intolerant people, who happen to hold atheism as a belief... is more accurate... than allowing the opposition to create a new term, by which they can define and place atheists...

To do so, allows the religious to marginalize and blur the lines, between their doctrinal intolerance and atheists with attitudes...

Once this "new movement" is created, it will become the slur of choice, for the fundamentalist Christian to use as a retort...

It may not be preventable, but... as for me... I will always offer the insight, that I am not "implicitly" expected to be an intolerant bigot based on religious doctrine... however; I could be having a bad day, and be perceived as intolerant.

I also agree, if an entire movement wants to use atheism as a foundation for a new belief system, and add doctrine, etc., to it, then, there likely needs to be a different religious label created for the new movement... and "atheism" no longer needs to be part of their movement label...

The Jews are not Christians, because they have different beliefs... and they hold onto the exact same Old Testament... However, the Christians took on a new testament, and thus, a new religious name was created. Point is, the Jews are spelled differently than Christians... it’s a matter of making the appropriate distinction...

If an entire atheist movement wants to move forth, beyond the old definition of atheism, and add additional doctrine, then... a new label would actually be helpful for that particular culture of people, and a label without the word atheism in it, would be more helpful to distinguish itself. How about the historical word "Anti-Christian", or "Anti-Christ", etc., that seems to be helpful, I mean, why create a new term... unless there is another motive for the effort.

However, if the religious think tanks are attempting to create categories of atheism... it's likely to attempt to dissect atheists into categories, thereby creating chaos... equal to that of the splintered Christianity, etc.

madbuni said...

No Dave you are not missing anything, you are right on target.

I think the intolerance lies clearly on the heads of christians. It is great that people like Dennet, Harris and Dawkins are speaking out in public. As you have pointed out several times on this thread, the three men mentioned have said nothing that would indicate they are militant or fundamentalist.

By stating their expert opinion using logic, reason and science they are bringing atheism to the public. They point out that foolish superstious beliefs are antiquated and should be replaced by scientific discovery and research. If they say this with passion, what is wrong with that? I say not a damn thing. Hell no they shouldn't tone it down, they should crank it up.

Dano, you are sooooo right! I agree 100%!

Anonymous said...

It is important for atheists to be vocal but nor necessarily militant. We came too close under the Bush regime to being cast under a carpet and stepped on, while our fellow citizens while not supporting fundamental Christian values but still Christian or whatever were swept up in evangelical dogma and politics. I think most everyone can see that. We need to use the Chinese water torture method of continuing to point out reason and understanding of why traditional beliefs of the supernatural doesn't hold water and keeping ourselves above reproach morally and honestly endeavoring to always keep our behavior and action above question.The more we can do publically to help our fellow citizens will go a long way to being accepted and having the mulitudes not only accept us as equal but adopting our approach to the universe and ourselves in general.

xrayman said...

I've read both Sam Harris's and Richard Dawkins' latest books and one point both authors make clear is the fact that religion has an unfair shroud of protection agaist criticism. It's OK the beat the shit out of non Christians by Christians, but it's a no no in this country to be critical of Christains by non Christians.

eel_shepherd said...

As is often pointed out, there is, strictly speaking, no unifying character of non-religion and non-religionists. A group is not readily identifiable by what it doesn't believe.

But, with that said, I was pleased to see, in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, that someone on the Net put up a list of religion-free charitable organisations where freethinkers could do their bit for the Gulf Coast, without becoming carriers for the religion meme. It would be nice if, over time, there were some charities that spring to the mind as easily as, say, the Salvation Army does, so that the good done by nonreligionists isn't just fragmented too variously. Sometimes you need an organisation with deep pockets for operations of a certain scale.

On the matter of how nonreligionists are portrayed in real-time discussions in the electronic media, I've noticed that every time the topic of prayer in schools comes up, the nonreligionists always approach it from the angle of the law. Well, fine, the law is the law, and there's nothing wrong with pointing that out. But to make it the sum total of the message is a mistaken tack to take; a Xtian will only give that enough of a listen to be able to say to himself, "well, laws can be changed". How come no-one ever says, while they're pounding the legal aspect, that they're _glad_ that it's the law, too? Failure to do so just allows the Xtians to preserve the fiction that "their rights" have been systematically usurped in slow degrees by a tiny cabal of democracy-hating black-robed judges in the higher courts. They never see ordinary AAHOTSs (Average AssHoles On The Street) like themselves saying that public space prayers are against the constitution, and good riddance to them too. They ought to see the human face of the opposing group; do them some good.

madbuni said...

If anyone is interested you can check out Brian Flemming's blog site for comments about the Harvard Chaplaincy. I just thought it was interesting.

http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/

Spirula said...

Because I couldn't have said it better, I'll just second what xrayman stated. American Christians are just crying for a Waaahmbulance after behaving like previledged, intolerant, assholes for decades, if not centuries.

WM,

Don't forget Madylan Murry O'Hair. I remember during my youth, she had to be one of the most vilified people in this country (at least from the pulpit).

Lauren said...

This is the Webmasters comment with my responses. I'm sorry if this is not the correct format for this sort of thing. I'm very new to this. If you can't follow then don't read it.


Webmaster:
”How is stating an opinion that all religion is wrong, intolerant?
Intolerance, to me, means denying people the right to think and express themselves. Intolerance for religion would be passing legislation that governmentally inhibited religious belief and persecuted believers, physically, emotionally, or economically."

"If intolerance means boldly stating an opinion that others may find offensive, then what you just typed was intolerant. “

My response:
Intolerance does not mean boldly stating an opinion that others may find offensive. Intolerance means applying vague, non-factual, negative absolute values like “wrong” or “wicked” to an overly large and arbitrary category such as an ethnicity or ideology without taking into consideration all cases inside the category with relation to the value. It is an absolute negative classification for an arbitrary set. If you call one thing wrong based on it’s classification as Christian, and this thing is not actually wrong, then the view of Christianity as wrong is intolerant. In contrast it is not intolerant to say certain things about Christianity are wrong, but you must specify what thing, and then exactly what is wrong about it.

Denying people the right to think and express themselves is the result of intolerance, but is not the meaning. One can have an intolerant viewpoint.

Webmaster:
”It's a slippery slope.”

My response:
Only with your straw man definition.

Webmaster:
”And besides, we are talking about three writers: three self-proclaimed spokepeople, if you will. If denigrating religion is "over the top," then certainly denigrating atheism is equally intolerable. Yet, every church I ever frequented took pot shots at atheism, and at every expression of thought that took a bold stand against traditional, fundamentalist, Christian belief. “

My Response:
Two wrongs do not make a right. If it is wrong for religious fundamentalists to “denigrate atheism” then it is certainly wrong for Atheists to denigrate religion as well. I agree. Denigrating atheism is intolerant. That does not make denigrating religion less intolerant.

Webmaster:
”I don't know. I read what you say, but I don't quite follow you."

"Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you. Perhaps it's becuase I do not equate publishing strong rhetoric as identical with mistreating my fellow human beings.”

My Reponse:
Are you implying that I equate publishing strong rhetoric with mistreatment of human beings? This is certainly not the case. However, it is the case that strong rhetoric can lead to mistreatment of humans. The fact is that words can be intolerant as well as actions.

Of course you have the right to express your opinion. I just don’t want your opinion to be associated with me, because I think it is intolerant.

Webmaster:
“I don't think any of these three have ever advocated openly persecuting anyone for anything. Arguing with people in a forum designed for such discussions? Yes, yes, yes... Taking family, neighbors, and co-workers to task, and making an ass of yourself at inappropriate times, as I once did as a Chrstian, zealous to convert my poor hell-bound associates -- that would be obnoxious, to say the least. Still, I don't see a single hint of encouragement for that behavior in Dawkins', Harris', or Dennet's writings, or their personal appearances. “

My Response:
Perhaps not. But I have certainly known people who have used these views as justification for persecution. (Bear in mind these views can still be intolerant even though they don’t necessarily promote persecution as I established earlier.) It all of course depends on what you mean by persecution. One instance of persecution is when someone judges a person incompetent in one aspect based on another entirely unrelated aspect about that person. For example, when an employer doesn’t hire someone because of their race, even though race and job skills are entirely unrelated, or when a person refuses to take a class from a professor based on his Christian religious beliefs, even though these things are entirely unrelated. The latter case actually occurred and is an example of a Neo-Atheist persecuting a Christian. Whether any of these three authors contributed to this persecution is too complicated for this response.

Webmaster:
“Whenever there is a clash of ideas, there will be friction. Thomas Paine was hated and today his name barely exists in public school text books. Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) was an embarrassment to friends and family – some of his atheistic works were kept from the world for years by his family. Robert Green Ingersoll was continually denigrated by the media and clergy of his day.”

My Response:
I don’t think that there needs to be a clash of ideas. That is precisely my point. Hatred of Christianity and Atheism do not necessarily have to go together. In my case they do not go together. The problem is that you are envisioning a clash of ideas where I see none. So would you kindly disassociate your clash with my belief system (or lack thereof).

Webmaster:
”But, all the outspoken atheists of the past centuries can be easily named, because their numbers are so low. In contrast, there are thousands and thousands of outspoken, harsh, fist-pounding Christians, who have no tolerance for unbelief, and when the opportunity presents itself, push legislation to force as much religion down everyone’s throats as possible. Yet, no one says boo. Why? For fear of being called intolerant! “

My Response:
Again, I don’t have an issue if you say that there is no God until the cows come home. To me that is being an outspoken Atheist, and I am one of those. My point is that people who are strongly against Christianity are not outspoken Atheists, they are outspoken people who don’t like Christianity who happen to be atheists.

I am not against Atheists defending their right to not believe in a God. I don't believe that intolerance of Christianity is a good defense.

Webmaster:
”It has to go both ways. If those who think religion is bullshit should keep their mouths shut, then so should religionists. You can’t have it both ways.”

My Response:
Maybe “religionists” should keep their mouths shut. But if “religionists” should keep their mouths shut, so should you. After all, you can’t have it both ways. You seem to be making the mistake that I agree with religious people. I do not. I simply don’t agree with you either. As I said earlier, I don’t want to be sucked into your clash.

Webmaster:
”Anyway, that’s my thoughts on the matter."


"Am I missing something? “

J. C. Samuelson said...

Lauren,

I hope you and WM don't mind my jumping in here.

To begin with, you do make some good points, but frankly I think you've set up a straw man of your own. Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and so forth aren't saying everything ever associated with religion is "bad," or that religion has never prompted people to do great things, or that there are no "good" religious people. What they are saying is that religion has been the most persistent source of dogma since the beginning of time, and is a cultural phenomenon that has long since outlived whatever usefulness it may have had in the past. Furthermore, they are challenging the long-standing silent policy that exempts religion from criticism and gives it preferential treatment.

We agree that the approach is intolerant. It is intolerant to refuse to allow teachers to present Intelligent Design. It's intolerant to fight Constitutional amendments "protecting" marriage, or laws that demonize and criminalize homosexual behavior. It's intolerant to resist mandatory prayer, or classes on the Bible alone. It's intolerant to insist that holy books are not divine sources of wisdom sans evidence, and that they should not be permitted to influence policy. My question to you is, why should we tolerate any of this?

The so-called "new atheists" attack the root. It is religion and the holy books associated with them that motivates all of the intrusions above that we refuse to tolerate. Of course there's more to it, but as Sam Harris observed, the problem that the atheist exposes is that of dogma itself. So it's not that religion is the only source of dogma, yet it is the most pervasive.

Humanity has a rich religious heritage, and I haven't heard any of these people say that we should burn religious art or books, or advocate legislating religion out of people's lives, or that people should be demonized for believing in some sort of spiritual "higher power." To my mind, they are vehemently advocating the overthrow of religious dogma, the kind that motivates the Bin Ladens and the Falwells of the world.

Having said all that, I also agree that two wrongs don't make a right. Nor is pure, non-spiritual atheism necessarily the answer to the world's ills, and I've not heard any of the "new atheists" say so. In fact, Dawkins freely admitted that a world where public policy was determined by pure Darwinism would probably not be very pleasant either. And I have no doubt that most of us would readily denounce anyone who took it upon themselves to promote violence or persecution as a means to an end.

Angry rhetoric is sometimes called for. It may be uncomfortable or leave a bad taste in one's mouth, but please let's not give religion a pass in the name of tolerance.

.:webmaster:. said...

Two wrongs don't make a right, or so they say, but it is doubtful that Christians will ever willingly "shut up." And that means there is no real alternative in this war of words except to speak up.

As JC eloquently stated, sometimes angry rhetoric is appropriate. To that I'd add: Sometimes angry rhetoric is unavoidable; sometimes it is necessary. But I don't see anything in the writings of Harris, Dennet or Dawkins that's angry. Matter of fact, maybe. Straightforward perhaps. Offensive to religionists? Could be. Angry? Naa.

Oh, and I don't necessarily expect anyone to agree with me on anything. I simply do not comprehend how stating an opinion that Christianity is complete nonsense, and stating it in a public forum (book, radio, Internet, etc.,) can be considered somehow morally reprehensible.

When I was a Christian, there was a constant push to conform to group-think, to fit in, to "not be divisive." Well, thankfully, I've left that behind. As an atheist I swear allegiance to no movement, other than the movement of my own thoughts. Last I checked, atheists were not gathered under one flag, so I appreciate that you hold a different opinion about things. I just don't happen to hold your position, and I really do not understand it. Whether my attempt to comprehend your perspective results in men made of straw, sticks, or stone, I honestly don't see anything for anyone to fear in the writings of Harris, Dawkins, or Dennet, except maybe the fear of being given something to think about.

.:webmaster:. said...

Oh, and let me add that my study of Christianity has led me to the conclusion that the entire religion is based on fables, myths, and outright lies. Further, whenever Christianity rises to dominance somewhere, it too often encourages good people to do evil things, as even a cursory study of the history of western civilization will reveal. So, though until lately I've never consciously considered Christianity to be "wrong," this conversation has helped me to consider the very real possibility that perhaps Christianity and all religion is indeed bad for people.

You said: "I don’t want to be sucked into your clash."

Uhm, first of all, I'm not so sure it's "my clash," whatever that might mean, exactly. Regardless, you weren't sucked into any clash here. You jumped in.

Lauren said...

If you would have read the comment I posted before my most recent one you would understand that what I meant by saying that I don’t want to be sucked into your clash is not that I don’t want to partake in this discussion. I’m really enjoying it actually. It means that this group should not call themselves “NewAthiests” because Atheism and belief in the wrongness of Christianity do not necessarily go together. It’s all explained in my first comment and I prefer not to retread that ground. Clash is a term that you used in your first comment;

“Whenever there is a clash of ideas, there will be friction.”

To which I responded;
“I don’t think that there needs to be a clash of ideas. That is precisely my point. Hatred of Christianity and Atheism do not necessarily have to go together. In my case they do not go together. The problem is that you are envisioning a clash of ideas where I see none. So would you kindly disassociate your clash with my belief system (or lack thereof).”

In other words, I don’t want to be involved by association with your “us or them” attitude about religious beliefs. So stop calling yourselves “NewAtheists”. Because I am an Atheist and I am not part of this. I think that Christians and Atheists can peacefully co-exist. I think that Sam Harris’s view that moderate religion contributes to the justification of fundamentalism is bunk. Not only bunk, but dangerous bunk because it is intolerant. And not in a good way, but in a bad way Mr. Samuelson. If you don’t think that all intolerance is bad then fine. If you disagree with me fine. Just stop calling yourselves “NewAtheists” because that makes me want to stop calling myself an Atheist. I think that these so called “NewAtheists” are just as hateful and self righteous as any fundamental Christian if they believe that moderate religion cannot be tolerated. Why can’t you see this? It is not the religion that is bad. It is the intolerance that the religion breeds. So if you are intolerant how the heck does that make you any better or fight against intolerance?

People seem to have the impression that arguments are like wars, and if one side pulls out the big guns to destroy the other side, then that side should pull out its big guns too. But this is not the case. Polarizing the issue is not going to help anybody. And that is what is going on.

Mr. Samuelson; the things you called intolerant do not fit the definition of intolerant that I gave earlier and therefore do not serve as examples of it. I do not think any of those things you mentioned, such as the teaching of evolution in schools,or protecting of freedom in marriage, are intolerant because they are not classifying something as wrong in a vague, absolute, etc. way.

You mention the term "straw man" just once and everyone jumps all over you like a pack of rabid wolves. I'm sorry. I won't say "straw man" anymore.

boomSLANG said...

Lauren: I don’t think that there needs to be a clash of ideas. That is precisely my point. Hatred of Christianity and Atheism do not necessarily have to go together. In my case they do not go together.[bold added to reference later]

I was curious about something---I was wondering, are you currently campaigning this very same message of unity on any Christian, or Muslim, webpages? If so, I'd like the URLs, please. Why?...because I'd like to see an actual Christian's and/or Muslim's response to your above quoted statement for myself. But of course, with said statement in the inverse, which would be: "Hatred of Atheism and Christianity do not necessarily have to go together."....or, "Hatred of Atheism and Islam do not necessarily have to go together." Again, just curious, because both religion's "holy" books condone the killing of non-believers.

Also something to consider: "Weak Atheist"; "Strong Atheist"; "New Atheist"; "Old-school Atheist".....we wouldn't even need the word "Atheist" if it weren't for religionists INSISTING that gods exist.

Radiation is deadly. But yet, it's used to cure cancer. Religious convictions are like the cancer of humanity. They don't always kill, but they keep growing and become "dead weight". Free/rational thought is the cure---the "radiation". In "strong doses", yes, the "radiation" might be obtrusive. But then again, if it weren't for "cancer", we wouldn't need to subject people to "radiation" in the first place. So, the "two wrongs don't make a right" gag? 'Sorry, that doesn't quite apply here. When man created his belief in god, he created the potential for the non-belief in god right long with it...i.e.."Atheism".

Now, are all people who are religious "bad"? No, of course not---but if the moderate religious can't see, for themselves, that they'd likely behave exactly the same way they behave in society without their holy books?...'too bad if their delusion might occasionally get pointed out to them in dealing with the fanatical zealots.

BTW, the fundamentalists were moderates before they become fanatical.

tigg13 said...

Excuse me.

I hold religious beliefs and convictions - not christian beliefs, but idealistic centered assumptions just the same.

After you have wiped out all of the christians, would you guys come gunning for me?

.:webmaster:. said...

I have never once called myself a "New Atheist." I think the media coined the term, but I could be mistaken. In fact, I don't think I've stated my view one way or the other on this topic, although from my responses you could infer a position, but you could also be inferring incorrectly. My point with this topic is not to necessarily support people who are doing just fine without me, but to discuss the idea of outspokenness being viewed as at least undesirable, and at most as dangerous. I always thought of speaking your mind as an inalienable right. Admittedly, it is rude to do so, sometimes, depending on the circumstances, but it is still a right many people have died for.

I'm wondering, Lance, if you've actually read any of the recent books by these authors. If so, could you provide a quote or two that especially got you stirred up?

Oh, and I get along quite nicely with the religious people in my life. We don't, however, talk about this subject.

You don't believe that ideas need to clash, but obviously they do. Your twice-repeated quote:

"Hatred of Christianity and Atheism do not necessarily have to go together," seems to say that having a hatred of Christianity and a hatred of Atheism doesn't have to be together in a person's mind.

That's what you wrote. Hence part of my misunderstanding. Now I understand that you meant that being an atheist doesn't necessarily mean hating Christianity. To that, I'd agree. However, being an atheist doesn't necessarily mean you don't hate Christianity, either. Being an atheist only means one thing: being non-theist. That's all the a in atheist means you know: non. In other words, when someone says they are an atheist, they could say they are a non-theist, or lack a belief in supernatural deities. It doesn't describe anything else at all. I could be a man, woman, transvestite, homosexual, Republican, Democrat, Marxist, mean, grumpy, loving, kind, obnoxious, or ubiquitous. I could be any of these things and still be an atheist. I think you have a skewered idea of what the word atheist actually means. Atheism isn't an organized "religion" except in the minds of some religionists who cannot think any differently about such things.

Then, you wrote: "So would you kindly disassociate your clash with my belief system (or lack thereof).”

Umm, are you saying you don't like the fact that I don't believe in any gods, like you, and hold to different opinions about some things, and therefore would prefer that I not identify myself as someone who doesn't believe in gods , because it makes you uncomfortable, since you are also a person who doesn't believe in gods, and someone might look at me, and then at you, and think we are clones?

I'm really not trying to be sarcastic here. Atheist means non-belief in gods, that's all. I disagree with the term "New Atheists." I think it is a term invented by someone to marginalize any atheist who raises a clear voice above the general din.

But, that's just my opinion. Feel free to disregard it. I won't be embarrassed that you identify yourself as a non-theist and yet see things differently. I celebrate your right to be different, to disagree.

I also celebrate your right, Tigg, to be a theist.

As long as there are contradictory ideas out there that people feel passionate about, regardless of what those ideas might be, there will be friction, discussion, and argument. There is no escaping that simple reality of human existence. Any thoughts to the contrary are naive.

Now, do you have a quote or two from Harris, Dawkins, or Dennet that have particularly motivated your present passion against them.

.:webmaster:. said...

The comment above should have been directed to Lauren, not Lance. My apologies.

boomSLANG said...

(I'll assume the following response was aimed at me since it followed my previous post)

Excuse me.

I hold religious beliefs and convictions - not christian beliefs, but idealistic centered assumptions just the same.


Okay, do your "idealistic assumptions" concerning your particular brand of Theism/Deism/Pantheism/Agnosticism, or whatever the case may be, demand that ALL of humanity conform to it's "ideals"? Does your ideology use threats of torture for non-conformity? Does your ideology promote rape, bigotry, and the oppression of women? Is your ideology responsible for plastering "In God we Trust" on our money? And again, does your ideology condone the killing of non-believers?...which, BTW, implicitly means all people who oppose it, not just "Atheists".

If not, then ya know what?....I'm not talking to you. My apologies if you misunderstood and/or I wasn't clear.

After you have wiped out all of the christians, would you guys come gunning for me?

Firstly, which "guys" said anything about wiping out people? I was speaking analogously about the irradication of religious convictions, themselves, in terms of two of the three major monotheist religions, or "ideologies" if you prefer, those being Christianity and Islam. Y'know?...the ones who are annhilating each other as we speak because of conflicting doctrines concerning a third conflicting ideology?

Furthermore, I find it ironic that the term "wipe out" was employed, because that's precisely the agenda of the two aforementioned religions in regards to the people who oppose them.

So, again: Both Christianity and Islam promote and condone the killing of non-believers(I'll provide the exact verses if you'd like) One of the pinnacle points I was/am trying to make is that if you are a moderate Christian or Muslim who consider yourself a "good" and ethical person?...that's fantastic, and hardly shocking, but you are still implicitly an adherent of the same doctrines/ideologies that are being followed, TO THE LETTER, by the fundamentalists who are intent on world domination.

So.... people can label me any damned way they please--they will regardless, right?---notwithstanding, hell no, I won't be tolerant of said barbaric legendary "ideologies", especially when they claim universal truth with jack-squat for evidence.

Thanks for listening.

Anonymous said...

The U.S. legal system "guns" for anyone who idealistically opposes/clashes by action, the ideal that every citizen is endowed with the freedom of life and liberty. That not only includes Christians, but anyone else who does more than just talk.

An idealist is not a threat, but there are many idealists that are, and yes, there are entire legal agencies outfitted to eradicate those who clash. No action, no clash, no gunning. I have no problem letting someone think a lot, and not ever act upon their thoughts.

jim earl said...

Thank you boomslang. You said exactly what I wanted to say.

I think most atheists might want to be seen as "new atheists" simply because of the stigma attached to the word itself, thanks in part to Madam O' Hare and her generation. However, I don't have a problem with the word because I know its simple meaning is no belief in a deity.

I may be wrong but I believe most intolerance stems from religious beliefs taught to most as children and therefore those beliefs take a lot of time, information, and effort to dispel. Even then it's not easy.

I have read different books from both Dawkins and Harris and must say they are very easy to read and understand. I haven't been able to remember anything either had written that was intolerant, as I understand intolerance to be. I happen to agree with Sam Harris and his ideas that moderates give power to fundies. Nothing should be allowed to exist without critics and religion has had that pleasure fo much too long. But the times they are a changing, as Dylan would say. The genie is out of the bottle and religion is living in it's last throes of uncontested existance. And to this I say a big thanks to both of these men.

tigg13 said...

WM, I have no passion against Harris, Dawkins or Dennet. (Although, at times, Harris made me feel as though his solution to religion might be "labotamize them all and let Darwin sort them out". But this is certainly my own interpretation.)

Boomslang, actually I was refering to you, J.C.S. and the Web Master, as the three of you were saying pretty much the same things - most of which I agreed with. But there were a few things that got my attention:

WM "How is stating an opinion that all religion is wrong, intolerant?"

JCS " What they [the new atheists] are saying is that religion has been the most persistent source of dogma since the beginning of time, and is a cultural phenomenon that has long since outlived whatever usefulness it may have had in the past. "

WM "...this conversation has helped me to consider the very real possibility that perhaps Christianity and all religion is indeed bad for people."

Boom "Religious convictions are like the cancer of humanity."

And then you rattled off a list of questions in the hopes of defining whether or not you were 'talking to' me.

But why should I have to justify my beliefs to you, or to anyone else?

You see, this is what I think Lauren was getting at; it's one thing to say things like 'It is wrong to replace evolution with intelligent design in public schools.', but quite another to say 'It is wrong to believe that evotion should be replaced by intelligent design in publc schools."

Once you cross that line you are no longer openly discussing a differing point of view, you are playing the fundementalist's game - and you're playing by thier rules!

- Generalizing and demonizing the opposition: '...all religion is bad', '...all religion is bad for people...'

- Drawing unfouded conclusions: '...has long since outlived whatever usefulness it may have had...'

- Using an us-vs-them approach to problem resolution: 'Religious convictions are like the cancer of humanity.'

- Creating artificial, arbitrary and often one-sided definitions for what qualifies as a legitimate belief: 'Okay, do your "idealistic assumptions"...If not, then ya know what?....I'm not talking to you.'

Granted, practicing tolerance in the face of intolerance is a tricky business. If you are too tolerant you wind up enabling the intolerant and must then share at least some of the responsibilty for their evils. Practice to little tolerance and you are in danger of becoming a hypocrite.

I am concerned that, in your zest to fend off the evils of fundementalism, you are each moving a bit too far towards the latter end of this spectrum.

If so, and if by all religions you mean ALL religions then, I fear, we might one day be in conflict with each other.

Jim Arvo said...

tigg13,

You raise some interesting points; once you start to closely analyze what's going on here--i.e. where the "rights" of the individual clash with the "rights" of society--it turns into a real quagmire. At least from my perspective, I see it as laden with tricky issues; ones that I still struggle with, so I do not claim to have anything approaching a complete and workable ethics.

Let's start with two extremes that I think we can all (or almost all) agree on:

1) Religious fundamentalists who feel justified in coercing others into their belief system using threats and misinformation (a polite word for "lies") are a menace, and we've every right to confront them with direct and pointed language.

2) Religionists are fully entitled to express and pursue their beliefs, and to teach their children what they see as the correct world view, particularly if they respect the rights of others to differ. Indeed, this is the very meaning of religious freedom, which I think is a perfectly splendid idea.

But there is a huge gray area in the middle. In fact, it's almost all varying shades of gray. For instance, in my view, religious moderates bear some culpability for the political messes our current administration has created (in the US). While they themselves may not have advocated incursions into our basic rights, their political weight was behind those who ultimately did damage those rights. (If you don't agree with me on the specifics of this administration, then you can substitute a hypothetical administration--surely you'll agree that what I just said is *possible* if not actually occurring in the present.) So, in my view, the political capital of the religious right has had negative consequences on society, NOT because the members of that coalition had ill intentions, but because they were not sufficiently critical of a party they perceived as being friendly to their beliefs. (Yes, this is an oversimplification, but I hope you can agree with the tenor of what I'm saying.) Thus, I lay some of the blame on beliefs that tend to subvert critical thinking, as those beliefs can and do lead to actions. Actions can have negative consequences, particularly when magnified by political leverage.

So, here is what I personally struggle with. On the one hand, I am a firm believer in religious liberty. One should be allowed to pursue whatever religious beliefs (or lack thereof) one wishes, and essentially for whatever reason one wishes. However, it is also clear to me that some belief systems are ultimately detrimental to a free society. If Islam were to eventually become to dominant religion in the US, there could be an even more dramatic erosion of the freedoms our founding fathers labored to protect. Perhaps the first to go would be religious freedom itself (if fundamentalism were to dominate).

At what point does it become acceptable to express dissatisfaction with the mere beliefs of others? Must it wait until these beliefs have manifested themselves as actions? Or can one insist on debate well in advance of that? My personal policy has always been to remain silent until one of two things occurs: 1) the believer raises the issue for discussion (e.g. by visiting a site like this and posting their views), or 2) the believer exhibits unacceptable behavior that presumably stems from their religious beliefs (e.g. casting aspersions toward non-believers, or attempting to curtail their freedoms).

But I often wonder whether this is the best policy. Is it sometimes justified to be more proactive? Sam Harris has an argument for why we must be more proactive; nuclear weapons. In short, we simply cannot allow religious fundamentalism to gain sufficient power to endanger the rest of the world. We needn't invade any country, or endanger anyone ourselves. There need be no collateral damage except to dogmas. If we merely insist, pointedly if need be, that we examine all the facts before us, and not give religions a pass, then we may succeed in heading off the madness. I think Harris's position is well worth considering.

tigg13 said...

You ain't kidding, Jim.

Believe me, I've had a few sleepless nights worrying about how quickly our world could come to an end if the wrong people got a hold of the wrong weapons. And, given the history of atrocities committed in the name of religion, I can see how very tempting it is want to dispense with the entire idea.

We need each other. :)

I also agree that we need people like Dawkins, Harris and Dennet to make the case against religion in general and the horrible consequences of fundementalism.

I'm guess I'm really just playing a little bit of the devil's advocate here - keeping Boomslang & company honest, as it were.

Also, this isn't the first time I've noticed atheists on this site taking shots at those of us who lack their logic and rationality. And, considering the topic of this thread, I thought this was an appropriate place to remind them that they are not alone - that not everyone who isn't an atheist is automatically against atheism.

boomSLANG said...

Tigg13: I'm guess I'm really just playing a little bit of the devil's advocate here - keeping Boomslang & company honest, as it were.

And I invite you, and anyone else, to do just that. As I'd rather admit my errors, than sit here and defend them on a daily basis--much in the same way that the fundamentalists I rail against defend theirs.

Now, that said, I thought I clarified that when I employed the word "religion", that I meant, implicitly, the detrimental aspects---particularly, of the world's three major monotheistic religions. I even elaborated later on in the post that I don't think it's impossible to be religious, and still be a good person.

Moving on---opinions are opinions, yes... yet, it is NOT merely my "opinion" that both the Holy Q'ran, AND the Holy bible, promote and condone the killing of those who oppose their ideologies/doctrines. So again, even if you are a moderate religionist(of the aforementioned religions), then I hold steadfast to my position that you are at least implicity advocating the agenda(s) of people who follow their respective doctrines, LITERALLY. That's as "honest" as I can make it.

Thanks for listening.

.:webmaster:. said...

Hi Tigg,

If you look a bit closer at the two comments of mine you quoted, you might notice that in the first comment I was paraphrasing what I understood Lauren to have dogmatically asserted, restating it back to him in the form of a question.

These are his words which caught my attention, and which I then rephrased and regurgitated as a question: "When you tack on the belief in the wrongness of religion then Atheism becomes an ideology ... intolerance is one of the hallmarks of an extreme ideology."

He appeared to me to be saying that vocal atheists are intolerant and partaking in an extreme ideology. He seemed to have this opinion based on the fact that they have opinions and are vocal, which didn’t seem like much of a reason to me. This was what I was trying to get at with my question. I wasn't attempting to explore whether all religion is wrong or not, but whether saying that all religion is wrong is a mark of gross intolerance. In other words: Is stating an opinion, no matter what the subject matter, a mark of intolerance. Are some topics “taboo” and anyone who dares express an opinion on a “banned” topic subject to being ostracized from humanity? Is intolerance the right label to put on people who are outspoken and opinionated? Is militant the correct title? Is fundamentalist?

My point with that question was to understand why Lauren apparently holds such strong feelings against atheists who happen to be vocal. "That's not my style," I could understand. “It makes me uncomfortable,” can’t be argued with. But the idea that being outspoken on controversial topics is somehow a sin, or something, that's where I start to see question marks. While there may be limits to free speech, I honestly don’t see anything remotely resembling intolerance coming from the pens of Harris, Dawkins, or Dennett. Perhaps I don’t understand what “intolerant” or “militant” or “fundamentalist” means.

So, apparently, my restated question did spur some discussion, although at this point I'm not sure what -- if anything -- has been concluded.

My second comment -- a reaction to Lauren's further posts -- was qualified with the word "perhaps." My impression is that Lauren is emotionally tied to this subject (vocal atheists are bad) for reasons beyond the obvious fact that some atheists are vocal. I mean, some atheists are vocal – so what? Lot’s of people are vocal about all kinds of things. What’s so “intolerant” about being vocal, even if the topic is religion? I was hoping the authentic reason motivating Lauren’s angst would surface. Who knows, I might have learned something.

Regardless, nothing I wrote was intended against you or any other of the people on this site who consider themselves ex-Christian and who still hold to some form of spirituality.

Lauren said...

To the webmaster:
Dude, I'm not a guy. I'll respond at the end of this weekend. I'm going home to spend Easter with my family.

.:webmaster:. said...

Sorry about that Lauren. I have a male friend with the same name.

tigg13 said...

Hi Web Master.

I never really doubted you or J.C.S. for a moment. (Boomy is a different story, though - wink wink)

But I did feel there was a need to address this issue.

P.S. I'm just teezing you Boomslang. I know you have a warm spot deep down inside of you for all of us non-fundementalist-yet equally-as-obtuse people.

Peave & Love.

boomSLANG said...

Tigg13: I'm just teezing you Boomslang. I know you have a warm spot deep down inside of you for all of us non-fundementalist-yet equally-as-obtuse people.

Uh huh. And God has a warm spot on his a$$ for my lips. But I ain't goin' there 'til I see some damn evidence, and a really hefty re-conversion bonus. Until then?... He and his cult members can kiss my heathen ass.

How's that for obtuse? = )