The atheists had it coming

Hmm…I hope Julian isn’t permanently joining the tedious chorus of people shouting at ‘new’ atheists to shut up. It’s not a very glorious vocation.

Intelligent atheism rejects what is false in religion, but should retain an interest in what is true about it. I don’t think many of my fellow atheists would disagree.

I would – depending on what is meant by ‘what is true about it.’ I don’t think anything is true about it, if we mean factually true. If we mean something much looser by ‘true’ such as ‘having some good things to say about compassion or peace’ then I don’t think religion has anything to offer that is inherent to religion as opposed to simply widely-shared moral intuitions, so again, I don’t really think there is anything true about it (about it alone, to the exclusion of other ways of thinking). If I want wisdom about morality or justice I don’t turn to clerics. There are other sources, who are less encumbered by beliefs that need to be protected.

Why is it, then, that we are increasingly seen as shrill, bishop-bashing fanatics who are tone deaf to the spiritual?

Because people like Matthew Nisbet and Madeleine Bunting and now, alas, you, keep writing pieces that call us shrill, bishop-bashing fanatics who are tone deaf to the spiritual, that’s why. Or at least that sure as hell is part of why. It’s a drum that a number of people have been banging on with frenzied energy – Chris Hedges comes to mind – for two or three years now; obviously it’s had an effect! So it’s a little disingenuous to ask such a question while engaged in yet more of the same thing. Why is it that we are seen as shrill fanatics, Julian asks, while engaged in the 40 thousandth piece calling us shrill fanatics.

The answer, I fear, is to be found in St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” In short, we had it coming.

Really – for what crime? For not being quiet enough? For not being evasive enough?

Last week, in these pages, Madeleine Bunting spoke for many when she complained about the “foghorn volume” and “evangelical fervour” of the New Atheists, with their “contempt for religion”…Atheists who criticised the details of Bunting’s argument missed the point. What it revealed is the negative perception people have of the godless hordes, and the New Atheism must share responsibility for creating its own caricature.

He says, doing his bit to re-enforce it that little bit more.

You can’t publish and lionise books and TV series with titles like The God Delusion, God is Not Great and The Root of All Evil? and then complain when people think you are anti-religious zealots.

You also can’t (or shouldn’t, anyway) set about scolding books with titles like The God Delusion and God is Not Great when you are on record as not having read them, and you also shouldn’t scold people for titles (The Root of all Evil?) that other people chose for them and that they are on record as detesting. That’s unfair, frankly. We mentioned this to Julian last time…

Perhaps a period of New Atheist exuberance was necessary. At least it got people thinking, although I fear it has confirmed every negative stereotype about it. We now need to turn down the volume and engage in a real conversation about what of value is left of religion once its crude superstitions are swept away.

But there again – not having read the books, how can Julian know that the volume is up? How can he know that the ‘new’ atheist books don’t engage in a real conversation about what of value is left of religion?

PZ is also skeptical, and so is Jason Rosenhouse.

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