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Refections on the "New Atheism"


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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?



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I'm not sure whether New Atheism is new, but I do not agree in the slightest that Dawkins and co. should tone it down. Sure, they're vocal but religion has done many harmful things to society, I think it is time we weaned ourselves off of it as species.

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I recently received a newsletter from my Alma Mater (a Christian college) decrying these men as militant and ignorant, and gladly living in darkness and encouraging others to do so. I agree with Dave WM, I feel that applying such labels to these men is complete and total poppycock. Militant? Please. When was the last time you heard of an atheist blowing up a bus full of people or strapping a bomb to a ten-year-old? Apparently, 'The pen is mightier than the sword,' quite literally. Since when is writing books and expressing your opinion an act of militancy? Do we live in totalitarianism? So much for freedom of speech!

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Personally, though I agree with much of what I have read by both Dawkins and Harris, in particular Dawkins' The God Delusion, I do not find myself particularly drawn to their brand of 'new atheism'.


As far as the terms are concerned, they can certainly be considered militant although both are peaceful and softly spoken academics. Not militant in the sense of physical agression, but militant in the sense that they are very aggressive in what they write, and in their attempts to undermine religion.


'Fundamentalist', strictly speaking, is not accurately applied to an ideology or group of people that is not mainstream American Protestant, and arising from the revivals of the 19th and early 20th centuries. But, more broadly speaking, I would even say it is possible to apply the label inasmuch as the new atheists are intolerant of religion.


That is not to say I think they are wrong...

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I disagree.


I think militant is misapplied in this case.


Outspoken, or opininated, I can accept.


Militant? It implies forcing others to comply. I just don't see it.

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I agree that the term "militant" brings to mind pictures of an actual military force.


But I don't think spreading the idea that only one particular philosophy is acceptable for good human beings to follow, is any better than spreading the dogma of Christianity or Islam. You're only going to piss people off or make others more hateful and/or critical of others who don't see things as they do.


No, I do not believe that putting more hate into the world is a good idea. I do not that that missionizing an ideology of intolerance is a good idea. What needs to be taught in this world, by and large, is "Ours is not a better way, ours is simply another way" or even just "what works for some doesn't work for others, and vice versa".


It is not impossible for any ideology to develop into a force of bloodlust or misery. Jesus never took up arms but that didn't stop his followers. I've heard some damned hateful things from some atheists, just like I've heard them from some Christians and Muslims. Pretty much the message that "Holy shit, you're so fucking stupid for not agreeing with me, somebody like you is dangerous and has no worth, I hope your kind die off quickly so we smart people can take over, shithead." Ouch. It hurts no matter where it's coming from.

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Look, for example, at the replies to a statement that religion should be banned on the UK"




Absolutely cracking idea. We are well overdue for a secular state. If all religions were banned across the country, who could possibly complain about that.


Well, only the numpties that are under the delusion that being religious somehow bonds them to other religious numpties.


Why do we have to pussyfoot around other people's personal belief in religious dogma. Sure they may be content living a lie, using religion as an emotional crutch, to help them through a particularly hard life, but what about all the others without that excuse. Where do they get off being so righteous when it is them brain washing their kids and deliberately missunderstanding simple facts of life.


How absurdly ridiculous do you have to be before you get banned in this country anyhow?



I agree with banning all religion totally. Use the churches, synagogues, temples for something useful like helping out the homeless, the abused, the poor, etc.

While we're at it, the Vatican should be raided and all the money given to the poor buggers it was stolen off in the first place and all the priests, bishops, and the pope held accountable for their crimes against humanity!


Yes, but why stop there? The entire world should be secular.


Religion is the most useless aspect of any culture. All it does is promote ignorance and hatred towards others. Religion has never contributed anything positive, and should be abolished from the world. Its time for mankind to start thinking for themselves, and to stop being led around like sheep by the imaginary words of an imaginary thing.


Sounds pretty hateful to me, the idea that everyone should be forced to follow a particular mindset because the people who created it are convinced that their idea is not only the best and highest one but the only acceptable one. It's just like Christian or Muslim missionaries going through the world demanding that everyone conform to the One True God. Any movement that drives people to hate others and evangelize a single philosophy as what defines acceptable human beings is dangerous.

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