Last week, the Irish Times published an opinion piece that was generally quite positive about atheism, but also perpetuated a stereotype.
Ireland is seeing the emergence of a newer kind of atheist, who is anxious to dispel the myth that they are all one-dimensional, rabidly anti-religious Dawkinsians.
It then goes on to praise charitable efforts by atheists, the emergence of the Atheism Plus movement, and the ongoing discussions about ethics within the atheist community (like I said, it’s mostly a nice article saying good things about atheists). However, it’s as if the author is surprised that we aren’t all out hanging priests from lampposts and blowing up churches.
But that’s wrong. The New Atheist movement has always been about applying reason and evidence-based thinking to everything, without exception. Atheism+ was established by aggressive, out atheists who do not compromise on the foolishness of faith, and take the very same take-no-prisoners approach on social justice issues.
It is actually no surprise at all that atheism is taking this direction. The only people who have been surprised are that obnoxious subset of atheists who thought nobody would ever expect them to defend their viciously anti-equality views rationally and with evidence — they’ve gotten a bit of a shock when they’ve found themselves marginalized and regarded with contempt. But they are well out of the mainstream of the New Atheist movement, and are reduced to angrily lashing out on the internet against the decent human beings who make up the bulk of our godless horde.
Michael Nugent has written an excellent article rebutting some of the misconceptions in the original opinion piece, which has also been published in the Irish Times.
“New Atheism” as promoted by Richard Dawkins has always combined promotion of critical thinking and science, strong rejection of religious beliefs that are unsupported by evidence, active campaigns against the harm caused by religion around the world, and philanthropic and charitable projects such as Nonbelievers Giving Aid and Foundation Beyond Belief.
Atheist Ireland is part of this evolving project, not a deviation from it. We promote atheism and reason over supernaturalism and superstition, and we promote an ethical and secular Ireland where the State does not support or fund or give special treatment to any religion.
We reject religious beliefs that are silly in their claims about reality, such as intervening personal gods who answer prayers and impregnate virgins to give birth to themselves; and religious beliefs that are harmful in their corruption of human morality, from Catholic sexism and homophobia to Islamic floggings and executions for blasphemy.
We believe that society should address ethical issues based on human rights and compassion, and applying reason to empirical evidence, and not on religious doctrines; and that individual ethical decisions should where possible be made on the basis of personal autonomy and individual conscience, while not infringing on the rights of others.
This is not to deny that there are jerks among atheists — but the principles of the New Atheism have always been clear, and the imperfections of humanity should not be regarded as a slight against the ideals to which we aspire.