Like me, Caspar Melville is bored with New Atheism. It has been good for some things, Melville writes, like creating copy for journalists and arguing against odious “Christian religious fundamentalism.” Regarding the latter:
The origins of the New Atheists’ impulse, according to philosopher Richard Norman, lie in 9/11 and the reappearance of a particularly aggressive strain of Christian religious fundamentalism. If, as Norman also argues, New Atheism can be over-generalising and crude in its response to religion, this is because it is a response to crude and nonspecific articulations of religiosity – what could be less specific than bombing a skyscraper, or cruder than Biblical creationism?
(Um, how about implying that Christian “fundamentalists” (which is often used as code for orthodox believers in New Atheism) are no different from Islamic terrorists?)
But, overall, Melville finds the New Atheist simplistic, not because they make errors like above, but because they make no distinction between “fundamentalists” and those kindly “moderates”:
Because entertainment value aside it is surely false, as well as politically unwise and, well, pretty impolite, to say that “all theology” is irrelevant (some of it is moral reasoning, isn’t it?), still worse to say that “religion poisons everything”, or that without religion there would be no war, or that bringing a child up within a faith is tantamount to child abuse, or that moderate religious believers are worse than fundamentalists because they prepare the ground for extremism, or that “all” religion is this, or that, or “all” faith is misguided, or to suggest that those who believe in God are basically stupid, or that science, and only science, can answer our questions.
“The picture of religion that emerges from New Atheism is a caricature and both misrepresents and underestimates its real character. “Religion,” Richard Norman writes “is a human creation … a mirror which humanity holds up to itself and in which it sees itself reflected. Human beings attribute to their gods all their own human qualities – cruelty revenge and hatred, but also love and compassion and mercy. That’s why you can find a justification for anything, good or bad, in religion.
This may be less fun than denouncing the pope and all his works, but it’s closer to reality. For Norman, as a humanist, the requirement is to be less strident so as to create alliances with moderate religionists on specific topics – faith schools, fundamentalism, terrorism – of concern to all.
So, according to Melville, the New Atheists are good to the extent that they knock down paper tigers but bad to the extent that they fail to applaud “moderates,” which, if Melville is using the common media definition of the term, refers to people who know that specific iterations of religious belief are relative or fictitious but hold to those practices nonetheless? And this is moving beyond New Atheism?
How about dropping the terms “fundamentalist” and “moderate” altogether? I think that would be a good first step.