Thursday, April 25, 2013

Newer Atheists

Those of us who are friendly but without faith have long taken umbrage at being lumped in with the anti-religion polemics of Richard Dawkins and his friends.  As a church-going non believer, I have avoided the A word  to point at coinages such as "gratheist",  or "cultural Christian"  or "secular Christian" or "Christian atheist"  in my extensive musings on the subject.

Dawkins recently jumped the shark but good, with an anti-Islamic Twitter rant.  But his star is already on the wane. Writing in the Spectator, Theo Hobson points to a reaction against the crude fundamentalism of Dawkins and his followers, in a more nuanced form of atheism that is ready to have a conversation.

... Crucially, atheism’s younger advocates are reluctant to compete for the role of Dawkins’s disciple. They are more likely to bemoan the new atheist approach and call for large injections of nuance. A good example is the pop-philosopher Julian Baggini. He is a stalwart atheist who likes a bit of a scrap with believers, but he’s also able to admit that religion has its virtues, that humanism needs to learn from it. For example, he has observed that a sense of gratitude is problematically lacking in secular culture, and suggested that humanists should consider ritual practices such as fasting. This is also the approach of the pop-philosopher king, Alain de Botton. His recent book Religion for Atheists rejects the ‘boring’ question of religion’s truth or falsity, and calls for ‘a selective reverence for religious rituals and concepts’. If you can take his faux-earnest prose style, he has some interesting insights into religion’s basis in community, practice, habit.
At one point [de Botton] commends the Christian perspective, that we are ‘at heart desperate, fragile, vulnerable, sinful creatures, a good deal less wise than we are knowledgeable, always on the verge of anxiety, tortured by our relationships, terrified of death — and most of all in need of God’. Is this mere posturing at depth, for ultimately he does not affirm the idea of our need of God in a sustained, serious way? Yes and no: it is also a mark of the intelligent humanist’s desire to avoid simplistic ideologising and attempt some honesty about the human condition. The key novelty of the newer atheism, perhaps, is its attentiveness to human frailty. 
The religious believer might say: we do not need humanism to tell us this. Indeed not, but it might not hurt non-believers, inoculated against all religious talk, to hear of it.
Well, nice to know they are catching up with me!


JCF said...

I read that Hobson piece last week: the comments from the, um, "Dawkinsians" were going nuts. All the usual (though more vituperative) rantings agains "Bronze Age Sky Fairies" and their idiots.

The fundamentalist mind just Can't Stand DOUBT. "There IS [my BrandX] God: believe or burn!" "There is NO god: assert non-existence or you're an idiot (or worse)!"

Feh. I've got choir practice tonight. Whether God exists or not, we're going to sing (fairly well, in my humble estimation ;-/) about God's Love.

JCF said...

The white outline boxes just cut out again (in IE. Still there in Firefox. Grumble---still prefer IE---grumble).

IT said...

JCF, I can't help you with Exploder. I use Chrome, myself.