Wired has the perfect article for you: it’s called the Battle of the New Atheism, and it’s message is that the New Atheists (Dawkins, Harris, Dennett) are, well, right, but they’re also obnoxious and unsettling and foolish, and gosh, but youth pastors are cool and nifty and caring.
Where does this leave us, we who have been called upon to join this uncompromising war against faith? What shall we do, we potential enlistees? Myself, I’ve decided to refuse the call. The irony of the New Atheism — this prophetic attack on prophecy, this extremism in opposition to extremism — is too much for me.
The New Atheists have castigated fundamentalism and branded even the mildest religious liberals as enablers of a vengeful mob. Everybody who does not join them is an ally of the Taliban. But, so far, their provocation has failed to take hold. Given all the religious trauma in the world, I take this as good news. Even those of us who sympathize intellectually have good reasons to wish that the New Atheists continue to seem absurd. If we reject their polemics, if we continue to have respectful conversations even about things we find ridiculous, this doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve lost our convictions or our sanity. It simply reflects our deepest, democratic values. Or, you might say, our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confident we are in our beliefs, there’s always a chance we could turn out to be wrong.
Ah, yes. The classic response of the comfortable: both sides are bad, both are threatening my cozy life, so I’ll just damn them both and ignore them, hoping they’ll go away…and heck, misrepresenting the upstarts is always good. Actually, what these New Atheists are saying is that sure, we could be wrong, but the other side is almost certainly wrong. What we have to offer is uncertainty and a demand for some degree of rigor; it’s the theists who are arrogant in their certainty, who are willing to believe in the ridiculous, who reject the author’s “bedrock faith” that there’s a chance they could be wrong. The real irony is that he doesn’t recognize that his last sentence is a good summary of the principles of this “New Atheism,” and that it is directly contrary to the philosophy of the New Religion he finds so unthreatening.
The article is a perfect example of the tepid atheism that closes its eyes to the world, that advocates the kind of bland semi-solipsism that reassures itself that everyone else thinks in the same happily reasonable way, so we don’t need to exert ourselves to confront the opposition. It’s an attitude that will be popular, unfortunately.