Over the last couple of years, several commentators have dubbed the fundamentalist Christians as “Christianists” in an effort to reclaim the title of “Christian” from those who do not really live its values.
The recent hoopla over PZ Myers and his “desecration” of a Catholic host, on top of the acid spat out by Richard Dawkins, leads me to propose the title “anti-theist” rather than “atheist” for these men. For their views are as fundamentalist as the religions they excoriate and (as your token atheist) I am just as offended by them.
I actually like much of PZ Myers’s work. His blog Pharyngula is usually a relentless if at times strident defender of scientific and intellectual values against superstitions like Creationism and Intelligent Design. (Let me remind you that it is perfectly compatible to believe that evolution occurred under God’s watchful eye, if you are inclined that way. Creationism and ID however state that it MUST have occurred that way and the scientific models are actually WRONG. There’s quite a difference.) He also has an eagle eye for pseudo-scientific frauds, and draws a bright line between science and religion. Most of the time, I consider this a good thing.
However, in the latest battle over the host, Myers has lost any high ground with a puerile prank. It achieves nothing except feeding his ego. (Same with his other potshots against religion). Most atheists I know (me included, of course) do not attack religious faith but are perfectly content to live and let live with our friends of faith. I may not agree with you about what’s myth and what’s reality, but as long as you can respect my values I can respect yours. (I consider religion, as a political institution, separable from faith but that's a separate post!)
But Myers and Dawkins and others are a new breed that makes a faith out of anti-theism and insults believers and their beliefs. While I can understand that some of this is a backlash against the Christianists, and I can be quite sympathetic (especially when, for example, my civil rights as a gay American are trumped by the religious values of hard right Christianists), the rigid binaries of the new atheism are just as limited and fundamentalist as the black and white views of those it purports to disdain. So it is itself a religion, and counter to my secular values.
So, just as you folks don’t like being tarred by the brush that paints James Dobson, don’t tar me or other secularists by the fundamentalist colors of PZ Myers. Let’s instead embrace ambiguity. We'll meet somewhere in the 256 shades of grey and not limit ourselves to the extremes of black and white.