The Guardian: We can save atheism from new atheists

"As a philosophical tendency, the New Atheists were popularisers rather than innovators, using advances in biology and neuroscience to illustrate pretty well-worn arguments against religion.  Indeed, in some crucial ways, they represent an intellectual step backward from a left that had recognized atheism as necessary but scarcely sufficient.

"As early as 1842, Marx dismissed those who trumpeted their disbelief to children as "assuring everyone who is ready to listen to the that they are not afraid of the boogeyman".  For him, intellectual disproofs of God were trivia; what mattered was building a world that didn't give rise to mystification of any kind.

That is, if you investigate the material basis of religious belief, you immediately confront a phenomenon that operates on many different levels.  In particular circumstances and particular settings a faith may function as a guide to morality, or an aesthetic, or a social network, or a collection of cultural practices, or a political identity, or a historical tradition, or some combination of any or all of those things.

You don't have to be a believer to see that religion genuinely offers something to its adherents (often when nothing else is available) and that what it provides is neither inconsequential or silly.

By contrast, the New Atheists engage with religion purely as a set of ideas, a kind of cosmic rulebook for believers.  On that basis, it's easy to point out inconsistencies or contradictions in the various holy texts and mock the faithful for their gullibility.

But what happens then?  You're left with no explanation for their devotion other than a susceptibility to fraud.  To borrow Dawkins' title, if God is nothing but an intellectual delusion then the billions of believers are, well, deluded; a collection of feeble saps in need of enlightenment from their intellectual superiors.

That's the basis for the dickishness that so many people now associate with the New Atheism, a movement too often exemplified by privileged know-it-alls telling the poor they're idiots.  But that's only part of it.   For, of course, the privileged know-it-alls are usually white and those they lampoon the most are invariably Muslim.


The problems of the Middle East stemmed, nt from imperial meddling in an oil-rich region but from Islam itself, a faith that resulted from (and then fostered) delusional thinking.  On that basis, Hitchens was increasingly able to ally himself with the worst elements of the American right while insisting he remained progressive.

You can see how the argument works.  If belief in God stems from intellectual inadequacy, then all believers are feeble-minded and the most devout are the most feebleminded of all.  All religions are bad but some religions - especially those in the Middle East by sheer coincidence - are worse than others.

In the name of enlightened atheism you thus arrive at old-fashioned imperialism:  the people we just happen to be bombing are simple-minded savages, impervious to reason and civilization.  That was the secret of Hitchens' success: he provided a liberal rationale for the "war on terror."


I'm curious what folks think of the article, and particularly the sections I quote above. 

I confess that I find his critique of some aspects of what I find here at TA to be quite cogent in terms of the attitudes and "intellectual step backward" from Marx and other old atheists. 

Aside from Dawkins who left science behind quite a long time ago and became a polemicist against Islam, I'm not sure that I buy into his argument vis a vis New Atheism and the American right.  I confess I'm well out of my field, though, since I never really paid any attention to Hitchens or the rest because I found them boorish.   Were they really making arguments that aligned with intellectual/social imperialism?

Do you find that within your communities there's support for Middle East interventionism on the grounds of atheism / "bad Muslims"?  Or opposition to Islamic refugees?   I really don't see that at all, and I think his argument is overstated.  But I may just be clueless.

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Seems a bit esoteric to me.   How you get to enlightenment has many paths but only one goal.

What do you mean, Jack? 


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