Wired has a provocative piece on “the new atheism” and how it is effecting society. Sadly, this new form of atheism seems to be more like a kind of anti-religious fundamentalism:
The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it’s evil. Now that the battle has been joined, there’s no excuse for shirking.
The problem is that if one look at recent history, atheism far outweighs religion in terms of the sheer devastation wrought upon the world. The Third Reich used Christian mythology to their advantage, but they sought to supplant religion with the cult of the Führer. The bloody reign of Stalin was expressly and abjectly atheistic — the same with the Cultural Revolution in China. Hundreds of millions of people have been killed in efforts to eradicate religion from society, and that kind of militant atheism is certainly no less odious than the religious movements that the “new atheists” wish to destroy.
As the article continues:
But the atheist movement, by his lights, has no choice but to aggressively spread the good news. Evangelism is a moral imperative. Dawkins does not merely disagree with religious myths. He disagrees with tolerating them, with cooperating in their colonization of the brains of innocent tykes.
It’s clear that the “new atheism” is innately fundamentalist in outlook. It’s not enough to respectfully disagree with religion, religion itself must be destroyed — to be replaced with a “rationalist” outlook.
The problem with that is what replaces religion? “Rationality?” By whose definition? What these New Atheists seem to be advocating for is a system that is wholly and completely incompatible with human nature. It has been tried, and the results have been disastrous. The reason for this failure is that what inevitably replaces religion is the state. The second the state takes the place of God civil government becomes tyranny. Efforts to create the perfectly rational, perfectly logical, scientifically-based state are invariably horrendous failures because human nature is rarely rational, logical, or scientific.
As Lord Acton so rightly observed, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When the Church is subsumed by the State, the amount of power in the hands of the state increases dramatically. If for no other reason, religion is valuable in society because it puts certain things out of the hands of mere mortals and lets us make categorical statements like “all people have value” and support things like “there are universal human rights.” The modern conception of liberalism and atheism go together so well because both of them predispose a state that controls nearly every level of human society.
What is interesting about the Wired piece is that even the author finds this “new atheism” less than compelling:
Where does this leave us, we who have been called upon to join this uncompromising war against faith? What shall we do, we potential enlistees? Myself, I’ve decided to refuse the call. The irony of the New Atheism — this prophetic attack on prophecy, this extremism in opposition to extremism — is too much for me.
It is a statement to the power of religion that so much of this “new atheism” has the trappings of religion. The so-called “Brights” might as well call themselves the “chosen people.” Scientists take the place of prophets. Darwin becomes scripture.
Religion has a crucial purpose in society and human relations, so much so that not even these militant atheists can avoid sounding like mere reflections of it. This “new atheism” is little more than the self-superiority of those who think that they know all the answers and everyone else has no choice but to follow along. We already have enough of that outlook as it is.