With friends like these: Atheists against the New Atheism
By RUSSELL BLACKFORD - ABC - RELIGION AND ETHICS (AUSTRAILIA)
Added: Fri, 29 Apr 2011 13:13:55 UTC
In Western countries, there is a long tradition of intellectual critique of religious teachings - going far back into antiquity. This tradition has sometimes thrived, though sometimes it has been suppressed. In any event, twentieth-century Westerners did not lack access to material that disputed the existence of deities and challenged popular religious doctrines.
Consider the 1980s and 1990s, however - the rather recent past. Critiques of religious teachings were available but not especially fashionable and not highly visible.
Mostly, they were tucked away in academic books and journals, in material published by what we can think of broadly as the rationalist movement, or in monographs from relatively small publishers such as Prometheus Books.
This has now changed, and you can pinpoint the exact year when it happened: 2004. That was the year when large trade imprints in English-speaking countries began publishing forthright, unashamed attacks on the truth of religious doctrines and the moral pretensions of churches and sects. Since then, some of the most prominent books, such as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, have sold millions of copies.
In November 2006, journalist Gary Wolf published a piece in Wired magazine under the title "The Church of the Non-Believers." He dubbed Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett "the New Atheists" and hyped up their hostility to religion, as opposed to mere disagreement with religious doctrines.
The New Atheism thus acquired its label, though the main thing that had changed was the reading public's hunger for such material.
That hunger continues, and with it there is a vibe of people organising under the banner of atheism. For whatever reasons, large numbers of us seem to be fed up with religion, and we're not afraid to say so.
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If you turn on the news tonight and hear of a bomber slaughtering civilians anywhere from Nigeria to the London Underground, I can reassure you of one point: the bombers will not be readers of Richard Dawkins.
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Their assault illustrates the extent to which defenders of religion still dominate our press, the brutal retaliation exacted on clever opponents of faith and the incorrigible stupidity of Sayeeda Warsi's claim about "militant secularism" last week.
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I can’t help wondering at the quality of journalism which sees a scoop in attacking a man for what his five-greats grandfather did.
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I enjoyed reading Mike LaBossiere’s post entitled “Church & State: Immaculate Contraception”, but I can’t resist the impulse to add a post of my own – perhaps because I lack free will in the matter, but mainly because I devote an entire chapter of Freedom of Religion and the Secular State to this sort of issue (so it is kind of on my mind), and certainly because it has become even more topical than usual.