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The problem with new atheists

March 21, 2009

So, the Friendly Atheist has an article asking people what they dislike about the New Atheists (you know, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc.,) and I was about to post a great many things (either on his site or on mine), and then I was about to make this (amazing, i thought) concession: that perhaps, outspoken, outgoing new atheists are necessary to raise consciousness of atheism as a whole in the same way that flamboyant, gay-pride-wearing-very-little gay people help raise consciousness of gay rights. You like to hate both, but then you realize that they do get people talking…and some people think there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Anyway, I thought this would make for an amazing and revolutionary post, but then I realized that I had made the same post once before: Flamboyant gays and militant atheists.

I must be getting old.

I do like what one poster had to say:

I think it’s important to make the distinction between antitheism and atheism. It’s easier to take a position when there is an “enemy” against which you are fighting, but the goal of the atheist should be to spread the merits of atheism, not attack what is a self-created adversary – religion. My own past life as a young Catholic lasted longer than it should have in part because, living in the Bible Belt, I was constantly attacked by conservative Protestants for my beliefs. These attacks strengthened my resolve, and made me less receptive to anything they had to say. If the atheist message is legitimate and clear and presented in the form of discussion, not accusation, then it can’t help but take hold, however slowly. In the meantime we have to protect ourselves in practical (political) ways, but overly-aggressive refutation of a persons belief system will only assure their alienation from the atheist cause.

Basically, put Mormon instead of Catholic and there you have it.

Or, how about:

I have no goals as an atheist. I don’t believe in God. I don’t care if anyone else does. I was never interested in apologetics when I was a Christian and I’m not interested in anti-apologetics now as an atheist. I think the “New Atheist” books were good because they started a dialog and got a lot of atheists to come out of the closet. I know they made me feel less alone when I read them. Dennet’s book is the only one that has staying power, I think. I would like to see Sam Harris write more about non-superstitious contemplation or spirituality. Hitchens is an entertaining ass and a damn good writer, but I really don’t think there’s much beneficial is his rants against religion. It’s time to move past the negativity and religion bashing and move on, as others have mentioned, to talking about how atheists live moral and meaningful lives without god, to educate the religious majority (at least here in the US) about the realities of living as an atheist. I don’t want to see atheism become evangelical because that’s one of the things I hate most about religion.


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  1. to compare “Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc” to obnoxious, flamboyant, gay rights/gay-pride paraders (not that there’s anything wrong with that)is ridiculous, but to insinuate that Sam Harris and Daniel Dennet are militant is just plain ignorance.

  2. Now, now, 7, please don’t misunderstand me.

    The argument behind the first comparison is something like this:

    The gay rights supporters did not get to where they are today because they kept quiet.

    I don’t buy the argument that the future of atheism lies with the closeted ones. The future of atheism lies with the vocal atheists who aren’t afraid to say so. They vote, they protest, and they stand in unity when they hear of discrimination against other non-believers.

    And then the comparison is strengthened by the salient fact that some groups of people (whether conservative theists or social conservatives for traditional marriage, traditional relationships, etc.,) find both groups “outrageous” and “outspoken” (although it is undeniable that both groups are in fact making their respective causes very visible)

    Now, the point about militancy is actually something I’ve written about before on my old blog.

    Here we have what people (referring to conservative theists) actually refer to atheists such as Harris, Dennet, Hitchens, and Dawkins as. So, I mean, regardless of if you or I think it is ignorant or inappropriate, that’s is how things are used. What’s ignorant, I think, is to assume that the “militant” of “militant” atheist means anything like the militant of militant (insert theist group)…which of course, it doesn’t and I’m not insinuating that it does. I just think that being afraid of the terms that the opposition will use and not coming to an understanding of why they use them is counterproductive.

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