New Atheism once again pronounced dead, still refuses to lie down

Two of the common tropes used against New Atheists are that 1) we’re not dolorous enough given our realizations that we’re not going anywhere after we die and that our lives are supposedly meaningless; and 2) the world is rejecting New Atheism, and religion is here to stay anyway.

Both of these can be seen in two new articles, one in the Catholic Herald and the other in The Week. Let’s look at them very briefly.

In The Week, Damon Linker’s piece “Where are the honest atheists?” purports to be a review of Anthony Grayling’s new book, The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism. But in two pages of diatribe it manages to completely avoid what’s in the book, saying that it’s only another in the line of tiresome New Atheist tomes. Linker simply uses his non-review as a platform for dissing atheism. His one sentence about the book is this: “But honesty requires more than sentimental, superficial happy talk, which is all readers will get from A.C. Grayling and his anti-religious comrades in arms.” (Go read the link.)  It is of course a reviewer’s responsibility to at least give the reader an idea of what’s in a book, and Linker fails even that elementary test.

What does Linker say instead?

Linker’s claims:

1. Unlike the good old atheists, like Camus and Nietzsche, the New Atheists fail to realize the implications of their godlessness.  Given that our death is The End, and there’s no celestial being to give us meaning and purpose, we should be dolorous, depressed, and racked with guilt. We’re not, so we’re “dishonest”.

Relevant quote:

The style of atheism rehearsed in these books has reached a dead end. It’s one thing to catalogue the manifest faults within this or that religious tradition, which the new atheists have ably done… over and over and over again. It’s quite another to claim, as these authors also invariably do, that godlessness is not only true but also unambiguously good for human beings. It quite obviously is not.

If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we’re alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.

Honest atheists understand this. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, but he called it an “awe-inspiring catastrophe” for humanity, which now faced the monumental task of avoiding a descent into nihilism. Essayist Albert Camus likewise recognized that when the longing for a satisfying answer to the question of “why?” confronts the “unreasonable silence of the world,” the goodness of human life appears to dissolve and must be reconstructed from the ground up.

2. New Atheists just want to make money by selling books.

Relevant quote:

That godlessness might be both true and terrible is something that the new atheists refuse to entertain, no doubt in part because they want to sell books — and greeting cards do a brisk business.

Refutation: What a pile of bullpucky!  Plenty of atheists, including myself, lead fulfilled lives and are not tormented by our finitude.  Northern Europe is full of atheists, but seems to me a happier place than America! What people like Linker are really showing with this kind of stupid commentary is that they want atheists to be unhappy. They want us to be godless penitentes, whipping ourselves mentally with the scourges of nonbelief. What hauteur for people like Linker to tell us that we are supposed to be more miserable than we are! Could he be jealous?

As for the accusation of venality, that’s simply stupid. Sam Harris just wanted to spread his ideas, and his book was rejected by more than a dozen publishers before it became a best seller. Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens simply don’t need more money.  As even detractors might note (at least those who don’t have an agenda like Linker), these people wrote because they were passionate about their beliefs—or lack of belief—and wanted to call attention to the downside of religion.

*****

In some ways Ed West’s piece at the Catholic Herald, “New Atheism is Dead,” is even worse, for rather than being misguided prescriptiveness, it’s simply dishonest.

West’s claims:

1. New Atheism is dead.

Relevant quotes:

Despite Dawkins’s continual attacks on religion, the basic premise behind New Atheism has turned out to be weak.

. . . The New Atheism rage exploded in a generation two degrees separated from religion who, unlike their semi-Christian baby boomer parents, were not interested in tolerating what they saw as religiously bigoted attitudes to sex. New Atheism was as much of a social phenomenon, an internet-led social network, as a philosophy: an expression of solidarity for young, educated westerners. Like most such movements it was heavily white, and embarrassed about it.

. . . Despite the millennial hopes of some atheists, religion is not going away. . .

2. The demise of New atheism is caused by the realization that religion is fundamentally a good thing.

Relevant quote:

Rather, New Atheism is in decline because more atheists see the social benefits of religion. Evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt argued in The Righteous Mind that human groups practising moralistic religions would have had huge advantages over those that didn’t. For Haidt, religion binds us to the group and blinds us to the point of view of outsiders, which explains both its unfortunate sectarianism and also its incredible strength.

Even to non-believers, the argument that religion is a damaging parasite seems implausible. In their everyday lives people see that atheism does not explain the fundamental questions and a godless world doesn’t make us happier or even more questioning. The popularity of the Sunday Assembly, an “atheist church” in Islington, or Alain de Botton’s “10 commandments for atheists”, reflect the growing belief in secular Britain that religion is not just a beneficial thing but perhaps an essential one. Perhaps that is why New Atheism is as dead as Nietzsche.

Refutation: This is true “religious” journalism, with author West reporting as true what he merely wants to be true. First, religion is going away in most places in the world, including the U.S., where the proportion of those without religious belief keeps growing.  Second, New Atheism is not in decline. It’s being attacked more often because of its greater prominence, but what evidence do we have that the influence of people like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, et al. is waning? Au contraire: new books continue to come out by people like Victor Stenger, Lawrence Krauss, and Alex Rosenberg, maintaining the tradition of skepticism, atheism, and materialism.

As for more atheists seeing the social benefits of religion, that’s bogus as well.  Many of us, having read the arguments of people like Alain de Botton and Philip Kitcher, are thinking about whether atheism needs to fill some of the human needs to which religion supposedly appeals, but in general de Botton and other “atheist churchers” haven’t been widely supported.  Maybe atheism doesn’t answer the fundamental questions, but why should it—it’s simply a refusal to accept deities and those systems of worship that claim (in conflicting ways) to answer the “fundamental questions.” Most of us know that many of those so-called “fundamental questions,” like “Why are we here?” don’t have an answer beyond the laws of physics. Others, like “What is our purpose?”m must be answered by each person on their own, for their is no general answer. Still others, like “How are we to live?”, are answered far better by secular reason than by dogmatic adherence to outdated or even immoral religious strictures.

Finally, the claim that “New Atheism is as dead as Nietzsche” is misleading at best, and pretty close to a bald-faced lie. As for West’s claim that religion is not only here to stay, but essential, I have a three-word response: Denmark and Sweden.

h/t: Barry

77 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. Biki
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I like those little french expressions “au contraire”… (yes i’m french).
    Keep on the good work, bon courage !

    • Hamsa
      Posted February 2, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      English speakers say ‘au contraire’ constantly just as regular English speaking…and very few could tell you it was French. Like many adopted phrases from numerous countries and cultures. Bon chance (good luck) is still strictly French though.

  3. Wolfkiller
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Funny, I saw a slightly opposite position from this goofball on youtube the other day. He claimed since we atheists believe life is meaningless and nothing we do matters blah blah blah…., instead of wasting our time arguing about religion we should just go about our life and enjoy it.
    I find that BECAUSE this is likely the only life we have, that doing what we can for our fellow humans and the generations to come is important and that is precisely why we fight against religious nonsense. We don’t need the promise of an afterlife to have meaning and purpose in our lives.

  4. Alex Shuffell
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I’ve never understood, because I’ve never got an honest answer, how our mortal life is meaningless because it is mortal, because we are are not special. All I get in answers is narcissism and wishful thinking, I am meaningful in a cosmic scale, I can see all my lost loved ones again.

    Listening to these people I feel like I’m listening to a melodramatic teenager just before a beak-up from an abusive partner, I just want to tell them it’s ok, you’re relationship is over, take some responsibility for yourself, you’re partner probably doesn’t exist anyway, there’s plenty more gods in the sea, or humans on the surface.

  5. Barbara
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I think Linker does say something true, though I disagree with his conclusions.

    “that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.”

    Yes. It is tragic. It is tragic that it another 4.5 billion years, nothing we do now will matter. On a shorter scale, it is tragic that people who have spent decades mastering my field (plant taxonomy) are aging and dying, leaving problems unsolved.

    It is also tragic that the Passenger Pigeon, the dinosaurs, trilobites, Ediacarian fauna, are all extinct. It is tragic that the flora and fauna now existing will be extinct.

    The tragedy is real. One way to deal with it is to make up stories to soften this reality (we won’t die; the suffering and death of other animals doesn’t count). Or we can be adult, recognize the tragedy inherent in life, take a deep breath, and then focus on the temporal and spacial scales where what we does matter. Our lives are, or can be, incredibly important to the people, animals, and plants around us. And we can find meaning and fulfillment making that influence a good one.

    • Posted March 9, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      Strange – I thought all those fossils were creatures that looked at Medusa :).
      It is difficult to judge whether atheism is alive and well though. The only real driver for change is bright sunlight, which makes the cant visible to all. We are privileged to live in societies where there is some daylight. However, many live in societies where there is little light and a lot of fear.

    • Hamsa
      Posted February 2, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think you know what tragic means…lol. Tragic simply means that there is no way to escape the problem except through death. GOOGLE IT, genius.

  6. Faustus
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    “…that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.”

    The honest Christian surely must be disheartened by the fact that there is no distinction between crimes; all are so bad, according to their theology that they deserve hell. Indeed this suggests, if true, that all our moral intuitions are completely wrong. Now that is a terrifying thought!

    Further the honest Christian must be horrified that in order to escape the punishment for these crimes all one must do is believe.

    • Marella
      Posted March 9, 2013 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, you never see Christians deal with this except to tout its benefits for sinners. The outrageous unfairness of getting away with genocide, simply because you have ‘accepted Christ’ is appalling.

      • Faustus
        Posted March 10, 2013 at 4:13 am | Permalink

        There was a church near where I used to live that had a sign outside that read something along the lines of: “Whatever you’ve done, God can erase it”; with a picture of a pencil rubbing out the word sin.

  7. Chuck O'Connor
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand the consistent desire to pine for the perceptions of Nietzsche and Camus. They were of their time and that time had God as a dominant idea. Of course they’d respond in despair that the primary cultural hope was deemed illogical. We’ve changed as a culture where the options for purpose have expanded since the old atheists pronounced the death of god.

    Personally I was relieved that god no longer existed for me. I could use my imagination to evaluate what I considered good and use my intellect to develop my morals. No longer was I looking over my shoulder for the sin I was bound to commit.

    • derekw
      Posted March 11, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Personally I was relieved that god no longer existed for me. I could use my imagination to evaluate what I considered good and use my intellect to develop my morals. No longer was I looking over my shoulder for the sin I was bound to commit.
      Hmm..isn’t that exactly the counter-point one (of faith) would bring up as to you choosing atheism (ie hiding from God..moral relativism.. etc?) Or would you affirm an intellectual decision (to believe in no god) just had this ‘side effect’?

      • Chuck O'Connor
        Posted March 11, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        No and yes.

  8. Posted March 9, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    West is just serving up the theist’s specialty: wishful thinking asserted as if it were demonstrably true.

    Perhaps he’s trying to manufacture a self-fulfilling prophecy?

    In my anecdotal experience as an organist who’s worked for several denominations, the churches are becoming increasingly empty. And those who remain are not young.

    Mr. West, denial will do you no good.

    • Posted March 9, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      I should add that I’m not particularly optimistic that religion is going anywhere anytime soon. But I do perceive a trend. Someday…

  9. @eightyc
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    “New Atheists just want to make money by selling books.”

    lol that IS awesome!

    When the Catholic Church sells you shit, it doesn’t even have a product to give! haha

    It just passes a basket around for suckers to put their money into.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted March 9, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      When the Catholic Church sells you shit, it doesn’t even have a product to give! haha

      You’re talking about the institution which invented the concept of indulgences – selling the forgiveness of sin. BTW, Pope Benedict brought back the practice of indulgences in 2007.

    • neil
      Posted March 9, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      Gawd, we are so mercenary. Unlike the author of that book “Heaven is for Real”.

    • Occam
      Posted March 9, 2013 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

      The greed charge is a perennial shtick; it reminds me of a similar one, raised in 1979 by George F. Will, that beacon of enlightened conservative journalism.

      George Will, then a columnist at Newsweek, mounted an all-out attack on “The China Syndrome”, a mediocre, mildly sensationalist anti-nuclear thriller, produced and starred by Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda, about corrupt shenanigans at a nuclear plant leading to a near-meltdown. Will fumed: the film was about greed, all right — but the producer’s greed, all set to exploit anti-nuclear panic mongering, bent on making a quick shekel out of public hysteria.
      Surely nuclear energy was the only safe and rational option?
      Surely no such incident could ever happen in the United States?

      Unfortunately for Will, as the Newsweek issue carrying his invective was hitting the newsstands, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident happened, all of 12 days after “The China Syndrome” was released. So much for the producer’s alleged greed.

      Did George Will learn anything from the incident?
      His next Newsweek column, after an indecently brief cooling-off interval, was titled “As I Was Saying”.
      The mindset that styles itself “conservative” seems impervious to experience and evidence.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 10, 2013 at 1:35 am | Permalink

        Just by chance I came across a DVD of The China Syndrome in an opportunity shop a while back, I watched it a few weeks ago. It was a very well-made movie, in my view, the performances from Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda – and don’t forget Jack Lemmon – carried conviction.

        In hindsight, and in the light of such events as the Challenger disaster (just the first that comes to mind of many similar events) the suggestion that company management would ignore warning signs and cover up incidents seems only too credible.

  10. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    West claims that many people need the social benefits of religion. I’ve seen this or similar claims made many times. While it may be true that religion has a social side that many appreciate, that doesn’t make it’s supernatural claims (which are it’s bread and butter) true.

  11. Posted March 9, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    An eternal existence makes each moment worthless.
    A finite existence makes each moment priceless.

    • Marella
      Posted March 9, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      Awesome!

    • phillupino
      Posted March 9, 2013 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

      Nothing will ever get done.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted March 10, 2013 at 1:43 am | Permalink

        Lol. Everything is too expensive or not worth it, even with your national brand name credit card. Very bad for the economy.

  12. Posted March 9, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Linker: “If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we’re alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.”
    __

    Atheism is neither good or bad news, it is the most accurate handle we have as there is no evidence of theistic influence. We may not be alone in this universe as there could be other sentient life. Humanity is in part the product of natural selection, which is not random. Intrinsic dignity comes from empathy via evolution which allows us to accept and foster our own well-being and that of others. Our suffering serves the purpose for us to solve problems and increase well being including perhaps unlocking the mystery of our biological mortality, better ways of implementing justice, etc.

    These two critics are rigid in their thinking, unable to note that society has changed significantly since the days of Camus (the existentialists were shaped by the horrors of WWII; also Camus was not that dire!). These guys are like buggy whip makers; their occupation of applying a non-evidential though somewhat soothing balm is being replaced by better approaches. And they will go the way of buggy whip makers, and just as most buggy whip makers, they will think that their demise is impossible until it too late to shift gears and learn a new trade.

  13. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    1. Unlike the good old atheists, like Camus and Nietzsche, the New Atheists fail to realize the implications of their godlessness. Given that our death is The End, and there’s no celestial being to give us meaning and purpose, we should be dolorous, depressed, and racked with guilt. We’re not, so we’re “dishonest”.

    Honest atheists understand this.

    Honest participants in the discussion realize that Linker has switched from dealing with the facts to talking about emotional reactions to (putative) facts.
    1) This is in itself a dishonest appeal to consequences.
    2) Linker has no business telling me how to react. If I fail to assume the dolorous, depressed, guilty pose he wants, tough luck for him.

    One example of how a godless world could be a good thing: Free will. When the topic is the problem of evil, theists think that free will is a good thing. It is so valuable that God is willing to allow nasty bad awful things to happen in order to preserve human free will. Well, what could free up will faster than God not existing?

  14. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Where are the honest theists? When a small child dies, why are Christian parents not overjoyed that their child is in Heaven with God?

    • gluonspring
      Posted March 9, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      The honest theists are agnostics and atheists now.

    • Marella
      Posted March 9, 2013 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      Honest theist is a contradiction in terms.

  15. Posted March 9, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    It’s the old disenchantment gambit again.

    Of course, a commitment to the value of the natural world and the human striving to understand it while acknowledging the fragility of existence seems enchanting enough.

  16. spud2006
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    The top and bottom of Linker’s whine – which I’m sure we’ve all heard before, more than once – is that *some* theists are just pissed off that other people aren’t as miserable, devastated, empty and nihilistic without believing in a god as they themselves would be if *they* didn’t.

    That’s just tough.

    • Posted March 9, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      I suppose the contemplative stage of deconversion may be as painful as post-acute withdrawal symptoms from methamphetamine.

      One must think of churches as “metaphysical” meth labs filled with religio-junkies. No transtheoretical model of recovery could suffice.

    • gluonspring
      Posted March 9, 2013 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think believers would be as miserable, devastated, empty, and nihilistic as they think they would be. It is the great con of religion to find everything good in the world and glue it onto religion, like a decorator crab adding things to it’s shell, and then to claim that religion is the source of all these good things. Do you have moral sentiments, love of your family, awe and wonder? Well, religion tells us, that’s God’s doing. That’s the big con. And if you buy that con, that all these good things come from God, you will necessarily feel that atheists are out to destroy everything good in the world. Given belief in that con, is it any wonder that believers are so hostile to atheists?

  17. Posted March 9, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    “New Atheism is as dead as Nietzsche.”

    A strange simile. Does he believe in death or doesn’t he? An afterlife or none? Neitzsche either eternally suffering the torments of Hell or playing a harp, his sins burnt away by Purgatory, in the company of the angels before the Heavenly Throne; either way, not dead at all? Or just dead, the way we think of death.

  18. Jason
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    It’s kind of funny that Nietzsche is trotted out as an example of how people should react to a physicalist worldview. His whole philosophy, after all, might be described as an attempt to find a psychologically fulfilling alternative to the decadence (in his precise sense) of Christianity. Sure, Christian proselytizers are, in a way, analogous to drug pushers, creating a need in their converts for things the converts had never needed before, but religion also has to appeal to (or, less charitably, exploit) some preexisting need or want in people that was already there, even if in a much less determinate form than theists want to believe. Nietzsche understood that and sought a way around it.

    His alternative was affirmation and rejoicing in a very Homeric sense, which, although it admits of dolor and melancholy, cannot be so easily reduced to them. Likewise, Camus may have written serious books about the existential dilemma, but are they really so much darker and more depressing than, say, those of the Russian mystics Tolstoy and Dostoevsky? I see more horror in Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” which ends dishonestly with what might even be called a deus ex machina, than I do in Camus’s “The Plague,” which, though it ends cautiously, nevertheless ends with what good can be honestly had in life.

    And if you go back even farther you find “happy” atheists (or at least agnostics/those who withheld judgment on the issue of an anthropomorphic god, though not always all things supernatural) long before all this nonsense started up. Democritus, Epicurus and Siddhartha come immediately to mind. Happiness stems primarily from the kind of life you live, not the kind of death you think about. The ancients understood that little truth much better than many religious people do today.

    • revelator60
      Posted March 11, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      Agreed–it’s ridiculous to see Nietzsche get trotted out as the Christians’ special friend. “Thus Spake Zarathustra” is a book that rejoices in an alternative worldview to Christianity, which Nietzsche considered a blight upon mankind. If Linker bothered reading Nietzsche’s “Antichrist,” quite possibly the most abusive book ever written about Christianity, he would think twice before using Nietzsche to attack atheists. But he hasn’t, because he’s a lazy twit who has nothing to rely on but the fruits of his blinkered hatred.

  19. kelskye
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    “all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.”
    I have never understood this point, and it seems to get passed down by people who just assume everyone knows why it is. Why is it tragic?

  20. Gordon
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I never had religion and never missed it. Strangely life seems good and I just read the Starts with a Bang post on the 13 odd billion year story of one of the zillions of atoms that makes you up. Now that is wonderous, especially if you project its journey forward a lot more billion years. Its just nice that, was it 10^28 atoms, atoms joined together long enough to let me get a vague appreciation of that and to let me write this.

  21. Posted March 9, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    “…the New Atheists fail to realize the implications of their godlessness…”

    No thought regarding the theistic position of being in constant fear of damnation, haunted by the thought that despite your best efforts you may not make it in the end or that slip of the tongue which may turn out to be “unforgivable”.

    Biblical theists who are happy and fulfilled don’t understand what they are actually teaching the Bible says or have a clue about their own nature or fallibility.

    • Matt G
      Posted March 9, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      Appeal to Consequences, anyone? Does West understand this logical fallacy, or the burden of proof and the null hypothesis? He makes it so clear that fear of death drives so much of their “thinking”.

    • gluonspring
      Posted March 9, 2013 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. It has been nothing but relief to me to be rid of the Supreme Fascist that is the God of the Bible. True, some sects have managed to shed such terror, but only by treating their guide book, the Bible, as a bunch of allegories (e.g. fairytales). Mainstream belief is still of Heaven and Hell, though, and it’s such a wicked view to think that anyone, even a murderer, should be tortured forever, it is a wonder that people who hold such views can even function day to day.

      Growing up, I used to wonder how anyone in my fundamentalist sect could consent to have children. By their own teachings the way to Heaven was “narrow”, and most wouldn’t make it. If you believe in the reality of Hell, it is pure wickedness to have children and risk expanding the rolls of Hell. Yet, they are unmoved by such obvious implications and supported having big families. WTF?

  22. kelskye
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    While there’s a push by the religious onto society, (while there is the freedom to criticise) there will be a group who pushes back. The new atheism is not dead because the fundamentalism it opposes is not dead.

  23. Ludo
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    - “…dolorous, depressed, and racked with guilt…?” When I was a student and discussing my atheism with fellow students, I was frequently told by religious ones that I was supposed to live in anguish and so on. At that time I used to work in a hospital – and I met a lot of patients living in sheer terror of death – most of them Christians in degrading fear of their revengeful master. I also met many patients who were accepting death with stoic equanimity – those usually were atheists.

  24. Dawn Oz
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    To quote Jerry’s maxim that religious people are caught ‘lying for Jesus’ – this is another example. Rather than grapple with the ideas in the book, the reviewer uses a polemic to appeal to the faithful, so that they won’t read the book. In conversations on Facebook with Americans, I only have to talk about the Australian experience, let alone the Scandinavian countries to bring a wider context. I find the US a sad place – two countries joined at the hip – one full of intellectual creativity and another stuck in a series of Bronze age myths.

  25. Posted March 9, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I’m sticking with the theory that there is something in the brain that makes people want/need to have a supernatural Being/Beings in their lives, and that evolution is leading us out of reproducing that kind of brain. It’s just a God-awful slow process. Be patient with believers, for as Jesus said, “They know not what they do.”

    • gbjames
      Posted March 9, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Evolution doesn’t work like that. It isn’t leading anywhere. We’re on our own to fix this.

  26. devilsfan
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    It’s quite another to claim, as these authors also invariably do, that godlessness is not only true but also unambiguously good for human beings. It quite obviously is not.

    Right. Because the idea that a god is torturing the majority of the people who have ever lived for eternity is unambiguously good for human beings. What a load.

  27. Posted March 9, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Sadly, I am not so sure that “religion is going away in most places in the world”, especially the “most” part. Europe, yes, and maybe even the USA, but it seems to be getting worse in Russia and basically all Muslim countries. In other places, like South America and India, I feel that at least fundamentalism may be on the rise even if a certain percentage of people at the other end of the spectrum gets more secular.

    And I really worry about the future. I am convinced that the best cure for religiousness is a decent welfare state – if you don’t have one, you have to rely on your family or religious community for support in hard times, and in exchange they can demand adherence to traditional cultural and religious practices, but if you have government assistance to fall back on, you can happily say “screw you and your nonsensical rules”. And what happens to the welfare state in all developed countries except the USA at the moment? What will happen when resources run out, population keeps growing and the effects of climate change on agriculture are really making them selves felt?

    And I really don’t know if and how a country like Pakistan or Afghanistan could reduce the influence of fundamentalism. Where do you even start in a society in which everybody who publicly disagrees risks being lynched?

  28. Jeff Johnson
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Linker talks about honesty, yet seems completely unaware of the deep dishonesty the religious disposition entails.

    In #1 he talks about how atheists accept that villains go unpunished after death for their misdeeds in life. But is it any more honest to believe they are punished if they are in fact not? Doesn’t this belief, being a false comfort, actually encourage Christians to adopt a smug indifference when real tragedy strikes the living, because they can defer responsibility to the afterlife?

    He also mentions the deficit of dread over dying. But every human and every animal who has ever lived in the past had to deal with this reality of the finality of death. If they can do it, why not we? On the other hand, what kind of cowardly narcissist would be overly obsessed with their own demise, to the extent that they must take false comfort in an imaginary belief that they are so entitled and deserving and important in the cosmic scheme of things that eternal life is guaranteed them? Not a very honest or admirable position, when you really consider it beyond the dark veil of ignorance that familiarity and habitual conventional thinking draws before our eyes.

    And finally in #2 is the “benefits of religion” angle. Let’s accept as given that people at least perceive benefits in their lives from religion. Why else would they persist in practicing it? But are any of these benefits truly dependent upon the existence of god and an afterlife, or are people just benefitting from social solidarity and having a framework of virtuous rules to guide them through life’s difficult choices? Certainly social solidarity and ethics and virtuous living are not out of the atheists reach. But it certainly is true that virtuous living for its own sake is more virtuous than when undertaken only upon the condition that in exchange one will receive the infinite reward of eternal life. How admirable is that, to be good for the sake of god-like returns? Not very admirable or virtuous at all. In fact it is repulsively self-interested if one can only muster up virtue and good will if it is in exchange for such treasures.

    And how much more dishonest and repulsive is it all when one takes into account that it is all merely a delusion based on false belief willingly inflicted upon one’s credulous self? Of course it is well known that our minds are driven by belief. If I truly believe the person knocking on my door is a psychopathic killer on a violent rampage, my emotions, behavior, and actions will be much different than if I believe the person knocking is my neighbor returning a borrowed stick of butter. This is the power of belief. But is it a good idea to manipulate this psychological aspect of humans to deceive ourselves with false beliefs in order to elicit certain patterns of behavior and reaction? It strikes me as far more effective, virtuous, and honest to pattern our beliefs to be in as close an agreement to natural reality as possible. This seems to maximize the possibility that we can make wise, effective, and virtuous choices, as opposed to costly errors derived from fundamentally flawed knowledge of reality. Take for example the long list of costly religious errors based on false belief: human sacrifices to the sun god, perpetuation of slavery, racism, and the subjugation of women because it was part of “god’s order”, flying airplanes into buildings in exchange for 72 virgins in paradise, praying for healing of loved ones while deferring real effective medical treatments, fearing the end of the world is near, or that we are being punished for wickedness by tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes, believing that suffering is good and noble and brings rewards and benevolence upon earth, and becoming so morally contorted and perverted as to actually rejoice that those not bowing to Mohammed or Jesus and accepting him as their prophet or savior will result in their eternal punishment in fire.

  29. Posted March 9, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    The popularity of the Sunday Assembly, an “atheist church” in Islington, or Alain de Botton’s “10 commandments for atheists”, reflect the growing belief in secular Britain that religion is not just a beneficial thing but perhaps an essential one.

    I don’t know if this is true for secular Britain but most people in secular America that I’ve talked to find the idea of an atheist church to be silly and de Botton to be utterly vapid. Seems both of these articles rely heavily on baseless assertions with no numbers at all to back them up.

    Also, anyone else notice how heavily moderated the comment section at Catholic Herald is? They just can’t help to be authoritarian and squash opposing opinions, can they?

  30. Posted March 9, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    So many just don’t get it. Atheism is merely a conclusion one reaches when one honestly examines the evidence. I suppose that “new atheism” is the honest admission that religion (at least the Abrahamic ones) is incompatible with science.

    One doesn’t come to a conclusion because one wants something to be true.

  31. Posted March 9, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I’d say it *is* a bald-faced lie. It’s sadly ironic that the best theistic apologists can come up with is that religion is good for us, while the news is full of these stories:

    * religion-based conflict (Palestine and Arabian countries vs. Israel, internecine battles in Egypt, East Java, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh)

    * religiously motivated murders (child witches in England, Congo DRC, Angola, and Nigeria; gay people in America, Saudi Arabia, and Uganda; abortion providers in America)

    * children left to die while their parents pray for a miracle (America, Italy)

    * women dying because of religiously motivated laws against abortion (Ireland, America, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatamala, Uruguay)

    * a whole generation exposed to AIDS in Africa because of the Pope’s religious pronouncements

    * virtual slave labor for unmarried women in Catholic laundries because of religious condemnation of their “sin”

    * sexual predation by priests using their authority as holy men and protection of sexual predators because nothing must damage the church’s reputation, which is more important than justice, the law, or the suffering of their victims

    No excuse–not inspiration, not beautiful art nor music, not the good that they might do–is worth keeping religion for when balanced against its evil.

  32. Posted March 9, 2013 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    And of course, “We only have this one chance to do good and be happy” is *obviously* (eye roll) a reason to be miserable. Because someone’s keeping score, and if we’re dutifully miserable, we’ll get a cookie?

    Who do they think they are kidding?

    Half a loaf is better than none. One life well lived is better than none.

    I have a feeling that anyone from a junior high-school debating class could tie these Very Serious People in rhetorical knots. SRSLY.

  33. Vaal
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    As usual the theists get things the wrong way around.

    They think that “real” or “ultimate” meaning and purpose is something that can not be left to our subjectivity, but must be “objectively” foisted on us from outside.

    They just refuse to realize that meaning and purpose are intrinsically subjective phenomena. Why does the theist insist on there being a Personal (magic) Being who created us in order for there to be meaning and purpose behind the universe? Why would they think that no such meaning would occur if our universe were the result of being “poofed” into existence by a magic rock, or if it were the random result of mere fundamental physical particle actions?

    It’s because even they grasp that you need the qualities of Being A Person – having desires, goals, beliefs, the ability to rationalize about which action will fulfill a goal and act on it – in order for meaning and purpose to arise.

    And this intuitive understanding clearly comes from the experience of us humans as Personal Beings: We are by nature meaning and purpose generators. So the fact is it’s not that we need a God for meaning and purpose. It’s the the opposite: any God we conceive of must have OUR characteristics in order for meaning and purpose to arise.

    Which is of course why God’s are made in our image (though the theist erroneously assumes it’s the reverse).

    Vaal

  34. DrBrydon
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Just saying, as an atheist, I much prefer knowing there is nothing, than worrying about whether I or any of my loved ones with suffer ETERNAL TORMENT.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted March 9, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      Grrr… will suffer.

    • Vaal
      Posted March 9, 2013 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

      So true.

      I spent much more time in fear
      when I had the thoughts about hell and our eternal fates rattling around in my head from church than I do now as an atheist.

      (It’s amazing isn’t it: if it were actually possible our ETERNAL fates were in balance there could literally be nothing of more gravity and importance to our lives than ensuring we end up in the right place.
      Hence, you’d think a Loving God would clear up the great confusion over this issue. Nah…make ‘em sweat….).

      Vaal

  35. Dermot C
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Christians have a penchant for the illogical equation of not-theism with nihilism. The implication is that the hope that faith brings will always serve them, even at death’s door – fortitude in the face of the void. The question is rarely put the other way; do we have evidence of lifelong theists converting to atheism? It’s almost impossible to answer, whether from atheism to theism or contrariwise.

    But I think I’ve found evidence of a theist accepting atheism as he was about to die. Take Chidiock Tichborne, the 24 year-old Catholic conspirator against Queen Elizabeth I, sentenced to death, who wrote ‘Lines written the night before his execution’, which tells you all you need to know about the circumstances of his last poem.

    My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
    My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
    My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
    And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
    The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
    And now I live, and now my life is done.

    My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
    My fruit is fallen, and yet my leaves are green,
    My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
    I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
    My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
    And now I live, and now my life is done.

    I sought my death and found it in my womb,
    I looked for life and saw it was a shade,
    I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
    And now I die, and now I was but made;
    My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
    And now I live, and now my life is done.

    If you can find religious succour, the consolation of faith, a kinetic surrender to God’s good works in that, then you can read far more into the words of this abandoned Christian than I can.

    Isn’t it evident that this young man was considering, perhaps for the first time, the real possibility that his God didn’t exist? And that in his crisis of faith, he had no occasion to seek comfort in any alternative, apart from the poetry of being one who would die so young?

    How many other God-believers think this in their last moments? How many die with these regrets? How many persons of faith die in this despair? In this nihilism?

  36. Posted March 9, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    As probably one of the few people in the world who actually sells atheist greeting cards, I can assure Linker they do not “do a brisk business”.

  37. Posted March 10, 2013 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    Well I think Linker has not read Camus’ essay and understood it. Camus says that once man finds life to be absurd and meaningless, he must rebel, he must live. Nowhere in Camus or Nietzsche writings do you find them disillusioned because god is dead.
    We discover at the end that all depends on us, we can’t help the gods and must help our fellows.
    Nietzsche I think goes further on and says there is not enough love in the world to waste it on gods, so who is hopeless here? The godless man who lives for this world and greater betterment of his fellows or the serf, slave of god and superstition?

  38. pktom64
    Posted March 10, 2013 at 3:01 am | Permalink

    Funny how I read this post and then stumbled upon this one from BBS News… (emphasis mine)

    That’s a problem, and a challenge to the old ways of doing things in France. The country is known as the eldest daughter of the Catholic Church. Catholicism has been practised here for more than one and a half millennia.

    In 1966, 80% of the French declared themselves Catholic. By last year, 35% of the overall population and 63% of 18-24-year-olds said they were “of no religion”.

    It is estimated that barely 5% of French people regularly go to Mass.

    • pktom64
      Posted March 10, 2013 at 3:01 am | Permalink

      I meant BBC News of course…

  39. Susan
    Posted March 10, 2013 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    I thought that Nietzsche was suggesting that god is dead because humans didn’t need god, they could be their own gods. That human’s by elevating themselves intellectually and spiritually could become superhumans. I find that inspiring, if humans dedicated their lives to being the best that they could possibly be, humanity could be the best that ever was. That’s awesome not nihilistic.

  40. MikeN
    Posted March 10, 2013 at 3:23 am | Permalink

    Kudos to Reginald Selkirk above: the rejoinder to the old canard”No atheists in foxholes ” should be “No Christians at funerals”.

    Preacher;”Your child is now enjoying an eternity of bliss with Jesus…”

    Believer:”I know; it’s so sad.”

    Preacher:” And hopefully you will be with her soon.”

    Believer: “What a terrible thing to say to someone.”

  41. Posted March 10, 2013 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    “Evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt argued in The Righteous Mind that human groups practising moralistic religions would have had huge advantages over those that didn’t. For Haidt, religion binds us to the group and blinds us to the point of view of outsiders, which explains both its unfortunate sectarianism and also its incredible strength.”

    This is just the naturalistic fallacy. You know what other paradigms had huge advantages? Keeping women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Just because it works well for reproductive success doesn’t mean that it’s ethically or morally good.

    • derekw
      Posted March 11, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Just because it works well for reproductive success doesn’t mean that it’s ethically or morally good.
      Spoken like a true creationist!

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted March 11, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

        If you want to call David Hume a creationist. This is nothing other than a rephrasing of Hume’s Law that you can’t derive ought from is.

  42. Posted March 10, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Your last comment about Denmark and Sweden is slightly incorrect. The Muslims are moving there in their droves and pleading special hurt, when they can’t get their way. As also in the rest of the world. The Muslims are where Christianity was in the dark ages, so prepare for worse than ever bible belt christians ever knew how to be be. The only hope is that ‘belters’ will declare war on muslims and both get wiped out. Aren’t I naughty.

  43. efrique
    Posted March 10, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    no doubt in part because they want to sell books

    Sure, why not? Let’s say they do want to sell more books. What’s wrong with that?

    If I was an author, of course I’d want to do that. Why would an author want anything else? Why is that even a bad thing? Even if I was so good at it that I had more money than I could spend, I would still want to get my ideas out there. For most authors, surely it’s the main point of writing books.

    I bet its why Craig and Strobel write books too. I wouldn’t blame them for wanting their books to succeed either, as much as I think the contents are vile drivel.

    Why would this even be worth raising?

    I hope the Harrises and Dawkinses and the rest do sell more books. Shitloads more books.

    Good luck to them! I hope they get filthy rich and all have trophy wives and trophy husbands – six or seven of each at least, and waste half of their great stash on giant garish houses and stupid boats and stuff. Why should the TV preachers and the big churches have all the hedonistic fun? At least all they’ll be doing to get it is selling books.

  44. Posted March 10, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    §

  45. Diane G.
    Posted March 10, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    sub

  46. Jim
    Posted March 11, 2013 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    “In The Week, Damon Linker’s piece “Where are the honest atheists?” purports to be a review of Anthony Grayling’s new book, The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism.”

    To be fair, it doesn’t purport this at all. It’s a diatribe, no doubt, but it doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 11, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

      I’m not sure I agree. The article starts with a picture of Grayling and his book, begins with a paragraph about it, and ends with something about it. To me that presages an assessment of the book!


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