Tina Beattie on The New Athiests

In a recent interview with Becky Garrison, Tina Beattie made these comments on The New Athiests:

"Most of the new atheists have much in common with their Christian fundamentalist counterparts … They think that theirs is the one and only truth to which all other cultures and religions should submit; they interpret the Bible literally … and they have very little insight into the psychological, philosophical, and historical complexities of their fellow human beings outside their own small circle."

Some questions:

  • How many of you would agree with this?
  • Have you interacted with many New Atheists?
  • How do you think Christians should respond to New Atheists?

11 thoughts on “Tina Beattie on The New Athiests

  1. – “How many of you would agree with this?” –
    I agree that many atheists are just as much sheep-like as the fundamental Christians. They have tunnel vision and have no intention of seeing the broader picture from different perspectives.
    – “Have you interacted with many New Atheists?” –
    How can you tell if they are New Atheists?
    – “How do you think Christians should respond to New Atheists?” –
    I wish there was a way to respond to each other without arguing over who’s right or wrong. When I see Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and the like speaking, they seem like people that I could genuinely admire and respect. If we can learn to respect each other’s different points of view on things… if Christians AND the atheists can stop insisting that theirs is the only truth… maybe we can just discuss and discover life, love, joy, freedom, creative minds, wonders of the universe, etc., and start walking toward the bigger truth.


  2. Well, I think the “new” atheists are like the fundies in one major way: They’re douchebags, philosophically if not in real life. The point isn’t that making claims to truth makes you a fundie/new atheist. Instead, it’s that those two groups share a really fundamental epistemic arrogance that is really disconcerting to most people. If either group had the wisdom to realize that we must, in many ways, _embrace_ mystery rather than fear it, I think they’d find a more mature “faith,” whether that faith is in a god or in the absence of one.


  3. Sadly, I think there is much truth to these comparisons, Matt. I’d go a step further and point out that this is perhaps even more the case within fundamentalism and evangelicalism with those individuals and ministries geared toward the analysis and response of the new religions. How often we fail to see our similarities with those we hate, or at least seriously disagree with!


  4. I am not able to get out much, so my recent “contact” with new atheists has been more through observations of website and blog comments related to the movie *The Golden Compass* and book series of *His Dark Materials* by Philip Pullman.
    The irony seems lost on both Christian fundamentalists and these new generation atheist fundamentalists that when you rail against the other as intolerant bigots, you’ve merely held a mirror to your mouth and discovered there is no breath thereon. While pointing out this ironic fact may induce further anger in the moment, perhaps it is indirect enough to plant a seed that may break through the hardened ground sometime in a providential future moment.
    The other response I’ve considered is to point out that fundamentalist atheist governments like the former Soviet Union have inflicted as much (or more) intolerance, damage, and even death upon its peoples as what is attributed to Christian fundamentalists. And at least Philip Pullman has been bold enough to state that the USSR was a horrific form of fundamentalism, and he is apparently against dogmatic control in all its forms. (He did couch his criticism of the Soviet government in terms of their leaders taking on a revisionist form of “priesthood” – another irony wherein atheism becomes linked with Christianity. But then, can it really ever escape the connection, given the literal meaning of its name?)


  5. I don’t think there’s much difference between new militant atheists and old militant atheists. They mostly seem to rehash the same old worn-out arguments. But I think one should recognise that not all atheists are militant, just as not all Christians are Christianists, nor are all Muslims Islamists.
    Some may be called by God to engage them, but I don’t think I’m among them.


  6. Steve, yes I agree its important to recognize that not all Atheists are militant. Samir, I also agree that making truth claims in and of itself does not make one arrogant, and would say that arrogance has more to do with disrespect than disagreement. So to lay my cards on the table I think it is important we converse with Atheists who are open to mutually respectful dialogue. I less sure about how or even whether we should respond to militants though. Where listening is absent the exercise seems futile.


  7. Even from a non-confessional viewpoint, one can observe that in order to make an informed judgement about any religious statement, one needs to ‘enter into the dialog’. For example, scholars of comparitive religion are able to discuss the truth claims of religious practitioners without necessarily venturing a personal opinion as to their truth or falsehood.
    In other words there is a scholarly, if not scientific, method of studying religion. But this species of atheism does not understand this at all. Basically it commences with the proposal that ‘all religion is false, God a delusion, faith a poison’, and so on. So it is really impossible to discuss anything about religion at all, starting from that position. You have started from a conclusion, from which an argument is built. It amounts to mere bigotry and as others have observed, strangely mimics what it seeks to deny,
    As for ‘proofs’ of any religious claims, these writers will insist on certain ‘rules of evidence’, typically that any such claims can be verified in a laboratory. If you tell them that observation of the effects of religious discipline on one’s own psyche provides evidence for the efficacy of religious statements, it is dismissed for want of ‘objectivity’. So their rules of evidence have been defined in such a way that only the kind of thing they wish to discuss is admitted.
    I could go on, but I feel that the ‘new atheism’ is actually a ‘new barbarism’, the influence of which I detect in many cranky editorial and opinion pieces hinting darkly that a Western ‘cultural revolution’ is well overdue, the aim of which will be to purge the intellect of all religious sentiment. Brave new world indeed.
    See Eagleton’s review at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/eagl01_.html


  8. Yes, I have come across Eagleton’s review before and identify with much of what he says.
    I find that the more militant Atheists lack a sense of irony, much like the more militant Christians. I have been involved in a number of conversations, even on this blog, where I was told governments may need to restrict the voting patterns of Christians in order to preserve secular democracy. Eh? And many more conversations where “religions” were labelled as intrinsically divisive for not buying into militant Atheist polemics between “belief systems” and “disbelief systems. Again, eh? And of course there is the historical blindness about the violent record of the atheocracies of Mao and Stalin when it comes to discussions on religious violence. When “rationalist” attacks descend into such irrationality they become self refuting.
    But I think the parallels between militant Atheism and militant Christianity run deeper. Both forms of militancy are reactions against post-modern pluralism. There is a sense in which militant Atheism and militant Christianity need one another. In modernity Atheism was the main challenger to Christianity. It enjoyed a privileged position. In post-modernity it has been dethroned, and is now merely one of many challengers. Its threat has been relativised. This does not sit well with many Atheists. I find they become very uncomfortable when they are called to respond to non-Abrahamic religions as well as Abrahamic religions. The new pluralism undermines the legitimacy of their familiar polemical apologetic strategy. It challenges them to advance positive reasons “for” Atheism above and beyond the negative reasons “against” Christianity. But this is a problem because Atheism is a protest worldview in many ways, that is most in its element when “religion” is having badly. It is very hard to get excited about Atheism when religions are playing nicely. So they need badly behaving Christians to advance their cause. Notice how Richard Dawkins focuses on American Christians more than his homebred British variety. So ironically, they promote anti-intellectional, context-blind, “common sense” literalism as the most legitimate form of bible interpretation and militant Christianity as the most legitimate form of Christianity. They dismiss generous Christians as “not authentic enough” and promote angry religion even as they protest against it. This is the ultimate irony.


  9. Atheism has had its place of privilege relativized? That’s absolutely insightful!
    Wonder how they will deal with Eastern fusion-into-allness religions where Atheism’s all is really nothing anyway… Actually, that will be an intriguing battle to watch: spiritual evolutionism in transmigration of souls “versus” secular evolutionism and transformation of species. How different are they?


  10. Well, that’s a very interesting question. I don’t think they deal with “eastern” religions very well at all. For example, I was scanning “The God Delusion” yesterday, for references to non-Abrahamic religions, and not only could I not find any references to Buddhism of any substance, the sole reference to pantheism was this: “Pantheism is sexed up atheism” (p18-19). Huh? Has he got any idea of what he is talking about? So I turned to Hitchens. Maybe he had more to say? Well, his comments in “God is Not Great” were more scathing of Buddhism, yet he still delivers this corker: “It can be argued that Buddhism is not, in our sense of the word, a ‘religion’ at all. Huh? I think the atheist Chinese government and pantheist Tibetan monks might beg to differ don’t you? To top that off, in “The Portable Atheist” he minimizes the differences between pantheism and atheism in order to claim Spinzoa as a brother in arms. So there’s this vacillation. I think this comes back to my previous posts on worldviews. See http://mattstone.blogs.com/glocalchristianity/2008/07/worldviews-a-snapshot.html. These guys seem unable to comprehend that religions need not have personal deities to be religions. They seem to think that pantheism is not theism (in fact Dawkins even says so explicitly) and may be bracketed out of the discussion when it all starts getting too thorny. Need I point out that most pantheists are also reincarnationists? Irreligious? Hardly!
    This get back to what I said about the limitations of negative apologetics. Dawkins and Hitchens seem aware that negative arguments against Christians behaving badly have much broader and more emotive appeal than positive arguments for Atheism, yet, as I have said, the uncomfortable reality for them is that they can only hope to equate the two in the mind of the public while the debate remains polarized. In a more pluralized conversation it is far less obvious that a negative argument against Christianity translates into a positive argument for Atheism. So they try desperately to keep it focussed on Abrahamic religions, to limit discussions of theism to discussions of monotheism. I think they realize how impossible it would get if they had to individually refute every religion.
    The uncomfortable reality for them is that secularism has not lead to the death of god as prophesied; it has led to the multiplication of gods. In the process it has become increasingly evident to everyone else that society is unlikely to become Atheist through democratic processes, that Atheist government has only ever become a social reality through totalitarianism. Yet their number one argument against religion is its supposed violent tendencies. We are seeing a counter-reaction, a pining for the old polarized days.


  11. I just read Eagleton’s review of Dawkins’ book. It’s stunning … the moreon militant atheism I read, the more ironic it all gets.
    Dogmatic anti-dogmatists.
    Rationalists whose non-rational passion for “truth” leads to censure of others who claim truth. (Well, at least a selective censure of Abrahamic-based-only others.)
    Fundamentally irrational hatred of irrational fundamentalism.
    Really … what next?
    Given all the odd circular reasoning within this so-called rationalism, as exposed by Eagleton and others, you’d think that fundamentalist atheists could grasp their own unenlightened self-contradictions. But then, it never was about who is the smartest, was it, but who is the wiser. (Hmmm … can “wisdom” be tested in a laboratory? And we know the Source of Wisdom, don’t we!) Maybe those of us who are court jesters will be the ones to break through their bluster and make them fluster! Eventually intellectual posturing leads to stumbling and fumbling.
    Oh well …
    And the issue of soft critiques (if any) by militant atheists of non-Abrahamic religions is quite intriguing to me. What are they so afraid of in the East and elsewhere? (Oops. Did i suggest irrational control by emotions again?) If they took on the rest of the world’s supposed forms of irrationalism, would they be forced to comment as did one anguished modernist Christian apologist about the postmodern condition, “It ruins our apologetic.” What will they do when their anti-thesis position becomes synthesized into a new postmodern-era thesis, and their previous realities no longer find easy footing?
    In fact, perhaps we’re seeing such epistemological outbursts from all the partners in extreme modernity because they are actually on their last gasps. Which means that soon, indeed, we shall, ironically, witness hypermodern atheism go the way of hypermodern mega-churches. As their empires come to a close, the Emperors have no clothes!


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