Wednesday, December 01, 2010

5 Reasons the New Atheism is a religion

The New Atheist movement is one which is characterized as distinct from previous atheism in its level of attack against theism. Religion is called dangerous, even child abuse! After reviewing the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, eminent philosopher Alvin Plantinga warns readers that "one shouldn't look to this book for even-handed and thoughtful commentary. In fact the proportion of insult, ridicule, mockery, spleen, and vitriol is astounding."

There were atheists from previous generations, but they were far more reasonable and much less insulting. I remember reading something from Bertrand Russell, an atheist from the early to mid 20th century, and in one of his "scathing" attacks on religion, he wondered how the God of Christianity is different than the "homeric gods". Nowadays, book by prominent atheists are simply verbal attacks on Christians and Christianity (and sometimes, but not often, other religions).

However, despite their attack on religion, I believe the New Atheism is a form of religion. This statement will appear anathema to any atheist, but I believe if you look at the evidence, you will see some startling similarities. By the way, when I say the New Atheism is a religion, I don't mean the moderate kind, I mean full-on fundamentalism. Let's look at some evidence.

1) Attacks on believers
The New Atheists attack non-believers the same way a fundamentalist would attack the "powers of evil". They don't just personally not involve themselves in religion, but they decry it as sinister, stupid, abusive, etc. They say it should be eradicated. Just replace a Christian fundamentalist and his views on Satan with an atheist and his views on theism, and you will find many similarities.

2) The New Atheism is evangelical
Richard Dawkins and others have extolled non-believers to become evangelistic. To spread the news of atheism and to convert as many people to their belief system as possible. Any time they see a Christian-related event, they become infuriated and demand that it be removed. Atheists are now spending thousands of dollars erecting giant billboards and painting city buses imploring people to "convert" to atheism.

3) The New Atheism has saviors
I spend a fair bit of time on youtube watching videos by atheists and theists, especially with debates, and one thing I've noticed is the unquestioning admiration atheists have for their leaders. The oft-quoted leaders of the movement are Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. Anywhere a video of one of these men appears, you will see comments below which rival praise given to religious figures like Jesus or Mohammed.

I did a search in youtube for Christopher Hitchens and the first result was a video he made attacking Mother Teresa, who is almost universally loved. Yet despite this, all the comments praise Hitchens as having "opened up the eyes of countless thousands to the tyranny of religion", and other comments condemn Mother Teresa. None criticize him nor praise her. They just hang on his every word and hold him atop a pedestal.

The first result after I typed Dawkins, there was a video from CBC. The top two comments were:

"Richard is one of the most patient men that has ever lived.
He trounced that mouth breather and never raised his voice."

"comparing intelligence. interviewer is a tent and dawkins is the CN tower. must be so frustrating talking to such idiots"

The commenters compete to be the most praising of their beloved leaders and are ready to attack and defend them in battle. They are the foot-soldiers of this new movement.

The four atheist horsemen are constantly met with unbridled adulation. They have a free pass to say anything and know there will be a mob eager to back them up. How is this different than the Nazi followers of Hitler or the government officials of Stalin who were afraid to be the first person to stop clapping. It seems Richard Dawkins could criticize one of his followers' mothers and they would thank him for it. This type of uncritical adoration is rarely seen outside of cults or North Korea.

4. There are scriptures
The God Delusion, god is not Great, Letters to a Christian Nation, have taken their place as atheist scripture. They are required reading for any good atheist. In fact, I've never met anyone who is a self-proclaimed atheist who hasn't read at least one of these books. They fly off the shelves as soon as they are published, purchased by adoring fans. Sort of like an atheist Bible.

5. There are atheist "bible studies"
I know many atheists whose main topic of conversation is atheism. They will gather after work in their homes to discuss atheism, to read atheist books, and to discover ways of being a better atheist. There are support groups, meetings, conventions, and other events all on this topic. I used to work at an office near a guy who would constantly talk about atheism. His friends would join in the conversation as he constantly extolled the virtues of atheism and derided theism. If a group of people constantly talked about the Bible, they would be called Bible-thumpers or Jesus freaks.

Conclusion
It seems to me that for atheists to define themselves simply as people who do not believe in "a god", really doesn't tell the whole story. I believe the need for religion is inherent in every person, even for the new atheists. The new atheists have saviors, scripture, and bible study. They are uncritically receptive of their atheist leaders and spend countless hours studying their non-belief. They have a religion, they just don't want to admit it.

7 comments:

  1. Nah.

    1) Attacks on believers

    So everyone who disagrees with someone else has formed a religion? If I feel the show "Jersey Shore" is idiotic, I should form a church and get tax exempt status?

    2) The New Atheism is evangelical

    99% of atheists don't give a rat's butt about other people's religious beliefs until they are pushed on others. You want a religious event at your church, in your home, or in a private school, I'll go to bat for your right to do so. You start putting it on public property or in public schools, then we have a problem. That's called being a supporter of the first amendment.

    3) The New Atheism has saviors

    So Christ was simply a man with no special supernatural abilities? That must be what you believe, since that's the case with all the atheist figures you mentioned. They have no powers, they are not supernatural, they don't absolve anyone from sin, nor do they claim to redeem anyone. Your argument relies on either giving attributes to these folks that no one else does or watering down the term savior so as to make the term pointless.

    4. There are scriptures

    see the above point about watering down a term.

    5. There are atheist "bible studies"

    So every group that gets together to discuss something they have interest in is a religion? Wow, many of my students must belong to the Church of the NFL


    Your arguments rely on altering the meanings of the terms you use, even those which theists rely upon to maintain the aura of "holy" for their own beliefs. Sorry.

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  2. 1) Attacks on believers

    So everyone who disagrees with someone else has formed a religion? If I feel the show "Jersey Shore" is idiotic, I should form a church and get tax exempt status?

    Response: I was talking about the fervor and zeal with which the new atheists attack religion, the same way as fundamentalist pastors would attack "the powers of evil".

    2) The New Atheism is evangelical

    99% of atheists don't give a rat's butt about other people's religious beliefs until they are pushed on others. You want a religious event at your church, in your home, or in a private school, I'll go to bat for your right to do so. You start putting it on public property or in public schools, then we have a problem. That's called being a supporter of the first amendment.

    Response: Richard Dawkins says he wants atheists to become evangelists. He said he thinks it's child abuse to teach children religion. Clearly, it's not just about doing things in public. I'm not American so I don't abide by the first amendment, but from what I can gather, it doesn't say religion must be banned from the public square.

    3) The New Atheism has saviors

    So Christ was simply a man with no special supernatural abilities? That must be what you believe, since that's the case with all the atheist figures you mentioned. They have no powers, they are not supernatural, they don't absolve anyone from sin, nor do they claim to redeem anyone. Your argument relies on either giving attributes to these folks that no one else does or watering down the term savior so as to make the term pointless.

    A "savior" doesn't necessarily need to have miraculous abilities. I wasn't saying they are trying to be other Jesus Christs. If it makes you more comfortable, think of Mohammed, Buddha, or other religious leaders who did not claim miraculous powers.

    4. There are scriptures

    see the above point about watering down a term.

    It may be watered down slightly, but the basic point remains. Nobody forms fan clubs for a biology book or book on mathematics. The top books written by the leaders of the new atheism have become required reading for people in the group. The books are held in higher esteem that I've seen any other book, except maybe Harry Potter, but I'm not talking about children's fiction.

    5. There are atheist "bible studies"

    So every group that gets together to discuss something they have interest in is a religion? Wow, many of my students must belong to the Church of the NFL

    Yes, people discuss the NFL, true. But not in the same way as the new atheists talk about atheism. These nfl fans don't talk about how evil and wrong the nba is and train themselves in arguing against the nba.

    Your arguments rely on altering the meanings of the terms you use, even those which theists rely upon to maintain the aura of "holy" for their own beliefs. Sorry.

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  3. Congratulations! You've been featured in 'The Stupid! It Burns!'.

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  4. So very well written. I will link it in my blog.
    Never mind the pains of anti-theists that are attacking you because, truly, they know you are right.

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  5. I guess whether or not new atheism is a religion would depend on the definition. If the definition of "religion" includes, or presupposes, supernatural forces, then you're only showing similarities between religion and new atheism.

    If the definition only speaks to cause, nature, and origin of the universe, then you're correct. Whenever atheists try and tell us about the origin of the universe they start sounding more like writers of fairytale than of scientific reasoning. Without a religious underpinning, science is just a bunch of guessing and hoping. With it, there is the necessary structure and principle.

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  6. "I believe the need for religion is inherent in every person"
    -Just because you BELIEVE this, doesn't make it true. I can read a book by Sam Harris, maybe read it a second or third time, maybe even tell others about it, and this doesn't mean I am worshiping him or trying to evangelize. Maybe I think he has some good points and I want others to hear them. I don't create idols, or bow down to him, or say that he's infallible. That nonsense is for theists who WORSHIP a book of fairy tales. Don't project that idiocy on the rest of us!

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