So I knew we were in trouble right from the start.
In a recent piece in The Stone forum in the New York Times online “Opinionator” section, philosophy professor Gary Gutting takes on the so-called “New Atheism.” He argues that the so-called “new atheism” — encapsulated in his mind by Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” — relies too heavily on scientific and rational arguments against religion, and spends too much time making the case that religion isn’t, you know, true. He thinks that the so-called “new atheists” ignore how religion gives people meaning and transcendence, hope and morality, emotional comfort and social support. He thinks that we aren’t talking enough about secular alternatives for this meaning and transcendence, hope and morality, emotional comfort and social support. And he promotes the ideas of philosophy professor Philip Kitcher as a fresh alternative to this supposed tunnel vision.
This makes me want to facepalm so hard, it’d drive my nose into my brain.
Okay. Deep breath. I am going to my safe, peaceful place. Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean….
Alright. I can talk sensibly now. So. Memo to Professor Gutting.
The so-called “new atheists” are already talking about this.
We’re talking about it a lot.
Sam Harris just published an entire book on a secular, scientific foundation of morality. Christopher Hitchens has been writing graceful, beautiful, bluntly honest, no-bullshit essays about facing death without a belief in God or an afterlife. The Richard Dawkins Foundation has started funding child care at atheist conferences, to make the atheist community more welcoming to women and families. An army of badass “new atheist” bloggers — including renowned firebrand PZ Myers — just had a ridiculous competition to raise money for Camp Quest, the kids’ camp for children of atheists, freethinkers, humanists, and other non-supernaturalists… in which we raised over $30,000.
Etc. Etc. Etc.
We get it about community building and secular philosophies of life. We’re not ignoring this. We’re on it.
And you know what? We’ve been on it for years. Every atheist blogger and organizer and activist I know is working on this, and we’ve been working on it for as long as I’ve been in the atheosphere. We know that we need to show people that atheists can be happy, moral people with meaning and joy in our lives — hence the atheist billboard campaigns. (Not to mention how hard we all keep hammering about coming out.) We know that we need to offer the kinds of emotional and social support people get from religion — hence the atheist meetup groups and communities popping up all over the country and all over the world. We know that we need to provide secular philosophies for dealing with death, suffering, morality, meaning, other big questions of life — hence the approximately eighty kajillion so-called “new atheist” writers who are writing about death, suffering, morality, meaning, and other big questions of life. (In addition to the writing we do about why religion is, you know, not true.)
Etc. Etc. Etc.
We know that we need to do more than pry people out of religion. We know that we need to provide them with a safe place to land when they fall. We talk about it ad nauseum. We strategize about it. We bicker about the best ways to do it. We sink time and money and countless hours of hard work into it.
We’re on it.
In his essay, Gutting positions Philip Kitcher as a fresh, visionary alternative to the so-called “new atheists.” But I don’t see this at all. As far as I can tell, Philip Kitcher is a “new atheist.” His ideas, as summarized by Gutting, seem like they might be interesting and worth paying attention to. But they’re also very familiar. I think the term “new atheism” is bullshit, as do most so-called “new atheists”… but even if I accepted it as valid, I wouldn’t see Kitcher’s ideas as some sort of radical cutting-edge alternative to it. They’re not “beyond new atheism. They’re right in line with it.
And if Gutting had spent ten minutes in the atheist blogosphere, he would know that.
Gutting spends his entire essay fulminating about how “The God Delusion” is not, by itself, enough of a foundation to replace religion. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that “The God Delusion” is the only work of so-called “new atheism” he’s read.
(Hat tip to Susie Bright for sending me this story.)