Jeet Heer has been saying really smart things: read his evaluation of The New Republic‘s legacy, for example (which follows on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ evaluation). He’s an interesting and thoughtful writer.
So I wondered where he stood on atheism and religion, and went looking. Here he is in a conversation on bloggingheads, and the first part is on the New Atheism. It did make me think. I’ve long identified as a New Atheist — the outspoken aggressive part, naturally — but what he points out is that the New Atheism is now associated with a rather regressive approach. This is an important point (around 5:10 in the video):
I don’t see the point of having an atheism that is pro-status quo, pro-imperialist, and which is indifferent to issues of inequality and patriarchy. If you’re going to have that, you might as well go to church.
That the New Atheism has already become part of a doctrinaire, anti-social justice attitude is troubling, but I think it was there from the beginning. The Thinky Atheist Leaders who carved out this niche clearly didn’t think those issues were important — even while some of us who happily jumped on the New Atheist bandwagon thought they were, and were simply oblivious to the indifference of the horsemen who were galloping into the fray. Now some of us who were trotting along with the rest of the cavalry are drawing back on the reins and wondering where we’re being led, and whether this is the right course to be taking, and whether the guys leading the charge are even attacking in the right direction.
It’s very uncomfortable. Maybe I’m a New Atheist in some ways, but not in other ways, and maybe I need a new banner to rally under, or maybe we need to just let the leadership blunder into the cannons while the rest of us regroup and refocus. Maybe, rather than a frontal assault on the distant enemy, we ought to clean up the bad guys on the Patriarchy Heights to the left of us, and the Racism Heights on the right.
It’s a tough place to be, sacrificing all that momentum while we mill about and try to figure out a rational approach. But that’s what atheists should do: think.