The “New Atheism” is not new at all
I have too many things floating around my head right now to make a real point with this blog entry, so bear with me while I go on a cathartic rant.
I have recently seen a lot of criticisms about the “New Atheist Movement” saying it’s disruptive and threatens to destroy society and all it holds dear. Some even say it will cause the end of the world. Most of the criticism is aimed at the so-called “Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse”, Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet and Harris, and this is because they are outspoken public figures whose voices are easily heard above the rabble of the common, faceless masses. Some criticisms may well be founded, but most of them fall by the wayside as mere distractions from the reality of the situation.
The name “New Atheism” is really just a way for “Anti-Atheists” to label people who are no longer afraid to hide from those around us who identify themselves as religious. I’d hazard a guess that rather than there being more atheists alive today, there are simply more people who are willing to come out and say: “I do not believe in your stories.” Religion and religious beliefs were accepted as the norm for many centuries, but there have always been those who questioned it. In days gone by, people questioning a given religious belief in a given place may have been labelled a heretic, and shunned, or worse, killed. Death is a pretty good deterrent from public displays of disbelief.
In the current climate, where information flows freely across the web instantaneously, where ideas and questions can be aired to millions of people at a time, and where people can be rallied at the drop of a hat to protest against unsavoury ideas, it is no wonder then that atheism is more visible. The establishments are reeling, feeling like they are under attack, with a new heathen hiding under each rock. With this new access to information, the old-boys in the Catholic Church have been discovered as a place where, not only was child abuse common, but was actively swept under the rug by those in charge. It is only know that The Church needs to face up to these demons, because the truth is out there, and sometimes the truth hurts.
Some people identify themselves as atheistic, but say that engagement with religion in a negative way can only cause people to become defensive. They say that when people are attacked they can tend to clam-up, with self-righteous indignation, and this only serves to fortify their beliefs in their faith, and also adds to the misrepresentation of those “without God” as an all out assault against them. People hold faith closely, so attacks on faith “feel” like personal attacks upon them.
There are others who identify themselves as fiercely active critics of religion in all its forms, saying that the only way forward is to attack religion at its core, at the church itself. They would say that the only way to undo the wrongdoings of organised religion is to destabilise the religions themselves, and thereby cause their dissolution.
There are others again who, while quietly atheistic, see the visibility of atheists today as a negative thing, saying that it has become nothing but a club, and as bad as the religions themselves. These people are becoming more and more common, and I am often asked by them why I am on a crusade against religion. Also among the quiet atheists are the people who don’t really care what others believe or don’t believe “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.”
Personally, I see my own atheism as the only logical conclusion to life’s questions. While I agree that religion is a man made construct that has been harmful to some, and in the wrong hands, has been used as a tool with which to cause misery and suffering, I think that for most people, the delusion of a saved afterlife or eternal torment serves only to harm the individual. That is not to say that religion is harmless, far from it in fact. For most people, however, their religion is something personal, something they keep to themselves, and something that can be seen as reasonably innocuous.
It may cause people to make unfounded judgements of others in their own minds, or to vote in a certain way based on what their personal book of beliefs says on a given topic. It may cause parents or educators to push their beliefs onto their own children, because it is the “right thing to do” in their eyes. “Only the faithful can be saved” in most faiths, and most people can’t bear the idea of their own children or siblings burning in hell for eternity. If you believe in it, it’s a pretty powerful motivator.
What is new about the “New Atheism”? Well, nothing really. There have always been detractors, there have always been people who don’t believe your version of the “God Story”, there have always been people for whom the whole idea of religion never made any sense. The only thing that makes it “New” is the fact that people are no longer afraid to stand up and say “I don’t believe you.”
Am I going to stand up to a priest, yell into his face that he is delusional, and then burn a bible? No, because I think that only causes a bigger divide. Am I going to quietly sit by while people wage wars in the name of their God, or to stone a woman to death because of one man’s interpretation of a “Holy Book”? No, because it goes against my nature to ignore injustices.
Am I going to try and engage with people, whether they are religious or not, and reason with them about a way forward for humanity, AND the rest of the inhabitants on Earth? A hearty YES, because the religious aren’t going anywhere quick enough for humanity to fix this problem without them. The higher we build the fence between people, for whatever reason, the more difficulty we will have in tearing it down. We have to convince religious folks of ALL beliefs that we are all in this together, and without the buy-in from everyone we may well lose this battle against ourselves.