- 17 December 2010
- In What's New
- Hits: 1813
In earlier times it was widely believed that our children and grandchildren would live in a new era void of religion and its infantile illusions. That generation's cultural high point came on April 8th, 1966, when Time magazine carried a lead story, entitled "Is God Dead?' The story described the advent of the "death of God" movement. And yet, over 50 years on from that proclamation, nothing could appear further from the truth. It has been widely noted that since the 1980’s, there has been increase of religiosity across the world, including in the western world. The perception of the ‘death of God’ has given way to a renewed interest in God and spirituality. Atheism’s prophecies of a Godless world have in fact, failed to materialise. Belief in God and religion have began once again to thrive, much to the astonishment and intense irritation of those who hold such things to be superstitious and mythological. Out of this sheer annoyance and frustration is born an anti-religious movement, known as the ‘new atheists’ and sometimes ‘militant atheism’.
"The forcible suppression of religion is one of the most troubling aspects of new atheism"
What’s distinguishes this kind of atheism is not its intellectual content, the new atheists have nothing novel or concrete to add here as compared with the leading pioneers of atheism, such as Hume and Kant, but rather it is the tone, the pernicious and aggressive attitude towards religion which marks it out as a new current. Faced with the realization that religion will not just lie down and die of its own accord, the new atheists have opted for an alternative that is its eradication by force. The forcible suppression of religion is one of the most troubling aspects of new atheism. The discourse of eradication compares religion to vial acts and malignant infections in order to justify its obliteration from our lives.
In the preface to The God delusion, Dawkins declares that his intention is to convert religious believers to atheism by helping them to overcome their ‘childhood indoctrinations’ and that bringing children up with a religious identity is tantamount to a form of ‘child abuse’.
A C Grayling describes religion as ‘one of the worst toxins poisoning human affairs’ 1, whilst co-Atheist Christopher Hitchens compares religious believers with the plague-carrying rats in Albert Camus’s novel The Plague. 2 ‘If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion’, Harris explains, ‘I would not hesitate to get rid of religion,’3
Dennet writes ‘I think that there are no forces on this planet more dangerous to us all than the fanaticisms of fundamentalism, of all the species: Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, as well as countless smaller infections’ 4
Those familiar and aware of twentieth century political ideologies should recall this kind of rhetoric. As Tina Beattie points out, the language of malevolence to label an enemy is not a new one, before the Nazis killed the Jews, they labelled them as vermin. Before the Rwandan genocide, Hutus referred to their Tutsi neighbours as ‘cockroaches’.
The new atheists uniformly seem to blame all of modern man’s problems on religion. Along with claims that religion corrupts our ethical values and perceptions, they argue that religion is responsible for most of the violence in the world past and present. No one can deny that ‘religious’ individuals have in fact caused a degree of violence in history, like in more recent times. However, this emphasis on the negative actions of believers and the wholesale condemnation of religion, through reference to a minority of extremists, we are left with a reductionist view that allows no room for a more nuanced discussion of the causes of such violence.
Dawkins’ attitude…makes him very much the Nick Griffin of Atheism.
This method of demonisation through the use of sweeping statements and unwarranted generalisations is often seen in current debates with the BNP. Islam is a ‘wicked and evil religion’ says Nick Griffin, ignoring the plethora of injunctions in the Quran to defend justice. Dawkins’ attitude to religion and unwillingness to acknowledge any good that religion has been used for, makes him very much the Nick Griffin of Atheism.
The new atheism is very much a wounded animal, desperately trying to fight back to survive, and in this struggle, it will use any means necessary. What is quite astonishing is that we can see extreme attitudes amongst new atheists that bear a close resemblance to the attitudes of Muslim extremists and Christian fundamentalists.
Sam Harris makes his contempt very clear with the will to justify any violence, however extreme, to fight this alleged threat posed by religion. In his view the threat is not only radical Islamism but Muslims in general.
According to Harris “many Muslims [are] standing eye deep on the red barbarity of the fourteenth century… Any honest witness to current events will realize that there is no moral equivalence between the kind of force civilized democracies project in the world, warts and all, and the internecine violence that is perpetrated by Muslim militants, or indeed by Muslim governments”. 5 This negative portrayal of Islam leads Harris to conclude that we must continue to spill blood in the war of ideas6 and that torture is not only permissible but even ‘necessary’.7
“We cannot let our qualms over collateral damage paralyze us because our enemies know no such qualms. There is a kill-children-first approach to war, and we ignore the fundamental difference between their violence and our own at our peril. Given the proliferation of weaponry in our world, we no longer have the option of waging this war with swords. It is certain that collateral damage, of various sorts, will be part of our future for many years to come.” 8
We need to view this new movement for what it truly is and not be fooled by its witty rhetoric, masquerading as a protector of pure unfettered reason. Modern western societies prize tolerance and have limited patience for those who demand the elimination of any belief, right or wrong, and its followers. Whilst we should fear religious fanaticism in all its forms, we should for the same reasons fear secular fanaticism, which has griped the intellectual classes in the form of militant atheism, and which should not be underestimated in the equally devastating consequences it could wreak.
 AC Grayling, ‘Trough the looking glass’, The New Humanist, Vol. 122 Issue 4
Hitchens used this metaphor during a public conversation with Ian McEwan at the Garrick theatre, London, on 19 June 2007.
Jörg Blech, THE NEW ATHEISTS - Researchers Crusade against American Fundamentalists, October 26, 2006
 Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea
Sam Harris, The end of faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York and London, W. W. Norton and Company, 2004), p145
Ibid., p. 53.
Ibid., p. 199.
 Ibid., p. 203.