Are the "New Atheists" As Bad as Christian Fundamentalists?
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My problem with the so-called New Atheist movement is that several of the most successful of the New Atheist leaders -- as judged by book sales and speaking fees -- say Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins -- remind me of the worst of my own fundamentalist evangelical background. They are as close minded as they seem to be almost pathologically certain of their beliefs.
I know a deranged faith-based personality cult when I see one, given that my late father Francis Schaeffer was a fundamentalist guru to millions in the 1970s and 80s and a leading founder of the Religious Right, something Max Blumenthal discusses in his important book Republican Gomorrah and that I go into (in depth) in my book Patience With God--Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion Or Atheism. (In that book I explain what is wrong with evangelicalism -- besides paranoia and hate! -- and why I got out.)
The New Atheist movement is being led by several egomaniac intolerant fundamentalists. It’s relevant to ask about who they are, not just what they say or write, because the New Atheism isn’t just about non-belief in God. The leaders of this movement make loud, repeated, and bold claims about atheism being better and more moral, more ethical, and a vastly improved alternative to religion. They also name names when blasting religious leaders.
If we are to dismiss Christianity and other religions partly because of the likes of Oral Roberts, Ted Haggard, and their shenanigans (not to mention child-molesting Roman Catholic priests, Islamic suicide bombers et al) it's just as legitimate to ask about the characters of the people pointing out religious people’s moral faults ad naming names.
I admire many people who are atheists from David Hume to Daniel Denett. I often agree with their critique of religion. And Lord knows after the near take over of America by the Religious Right and following religion's attempt to murder us 9/11-style religion deserves a good kicking! But Dawkins and Hitchens are to atheism what Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell have been to religion: men who discredit whatever they're selling by their tawdry proselytizing and commercial opportunism combined with absurdly big egos and a deadly certainty that they and only they are right. With friends like these atheists need no enemies
But first some good news: the New Atheists also have several gems speaking for the movement. One is Daniel Dennett
In the first page of Breaking the Spell—Religion As A Natural Phenomenon, Dennett writes, “I may have missed my target.” Dennett strikes me as somebody actually looking for answers. He is an atheist, but no fundamentalist. One reason I find Dennett so appealing is his decency. His humility, wit, and empathy speak volumes to me and lends a solid gravity to his wisdom. It certainly proves you don’t need to believe in God to be a moral person let alone to come across as just the sort of person anyone would like to have for a friend.
Dennett is a philosopher whose science research is related to evolutionary biology. He is also director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. Dennett deserves better friends than his fellow contributors to the emerging New Atheist canon. Maybe he knows this, because he puts a little distance between Dawkins and himself. In Breaking the Spell Dennett levels a subtle rebuke at Dawkins, even though he doesn’t name him: “Biologists are often accused of gene-centrism—thinking that everything in biology is explained by the action of genes. And some biologists do indeed go overboard in their infatuation with genes. They should be reminded that Mother Nature is not a gene centrist!”