Not sure when atheism became trendy, as if it is a new line of clothing or a shiny badge for intellectuals. It is cliche to say atheism has taken on religious traits, but it is accurate to say has become the latest herd thinking. To my understanding, what separates ‘New Atheism’ (as it has been dubbed) from atheism is a matter of attitude and position. And that makes all the difference.
Beginning in the early 2000s intellectuals such as Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett began to loudly voice atheism, as if representing an oppressed minority. It built momentum from there until it became its own fanboy populated crusade against religion. There is a divorce from past atheism and new atheism. Rarely will you hear new atheists speak about the existential conundrums that plagued atheists and existentialists in the early 20th century. Rarely will they acknowledge the radical skeptics or materialists of ancient Greece. The pond is shallow, as if nothing existed before empiricism and the invoked word ‘science’ is the solution to mankind’s problems. It is simplistic and intellectually dishonest. The atheists of yesterday fully acknowledged the problem of morality, evil, meaning, epistemology. New atheists acknowledge a small part of the whole and magnify it as if it is the whole.
1) Celebrity Intellectuals: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins…in the strangest manner they have become evangelists out to spread the good word. This is not a question of their intelligence, education, or intention. Each are experts in their particular field of expertise, and have written excellent works on those topics. Therein is the problem, being in an expert in one field does not make ones opinion valuable in all fields. Dawkins writing about theism, Tyson talking about politics, this is like asking the local butcher to put together a flower arrangement. He may have an opinion, but it would be better to visit a florist.
Despite the criticism, I do believe they genuinely only want to educate the masses in scientific literacy, of which I wholeheartedly support. Nevertheless the way in which they have gone about this has been intellectually dishonest. Rather than address the existential issues that come with atheism, they gloss over it with a ‘gee golly’ response. Rather than address the various complex interpretations within a specific religion, they smugly address only the most simplistic literal interpretation. Rather than discuss epistemology, or philosophy of science, they act as if empiricism is the sacred cow never to be questioned. It has been said ‘celebrity intellectuals are what non-intellectuals think intellectuals actually act like.’ The spread of scientific literacy is well and good, but congratulating people for being parrots is nothing commendable. They insist people question everything, except their few select sacred cows.
2) Bales of straw: As mentioned, there is a severe divorce between New Atheism and history. An honest intellectually fully acknowledges that for centuries the Catholic Church was the primary patron of the arts and sciences, similar is also found in Islam. Superior minds such as Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Ignatius, etc. were not ignorant or small. One may disagree with them completely, as I do, but it is petty to not acknowledge their existence. Furthermore if one wishes to truly critique a religion, it is best to study it sincerely, at least to an extent. Fundamentalists are the crudest type of religious people for they interpret sacred texts in a literal superficial sense, yet how often do we see self-assured atheists doing the same!
Supposedly Aristotle once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” This ability allows one to sincerely read up on any disagreeable subject and better comprehend it without actually accepting it. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, each have a rich intellectual history filled with works, even if one does not agree with the ideology itself. It lacks integrity to scribble them off without further study, without a just conclusion. Even an enemy deserves a just fight, despite ones hatred for him.
3) Good without God: The question of what is good, how should society function, does morality exist…it is miraculously solved by this bumper sticker motto. Imagine that, centuries of debate solved by the New Atheist quip ‘be a good person’ and ‘good without God’. This is the ‘gee golly’ mantras often heard among the secular humanist herd, as they smugly consider themselves the bright inquiring minds of today. If asked what is the meaning of existence, the glib ‘create one’ or ‘spread joy’ is the thimble deep response. The atheistic inclined of yesterday such as Nietzsche or Saltus would gag at the weak minded trend of today’s so called ‘atheist movement’.
By no means am I saying one must be a theist to be a morally good person, nor am I saying we should be miserable nihilists. What I am stressing is there is a complete lack of content and critical questioning in this present day ‘New Atheist’ trend. It has successfully redefined “intellectualism” to be little more than a shallow pond with little goldfish congratulating one another for being such ‘free thinkers’.
What is the possible solution? Take a sledgehammer to every bit of it.