New Atheists have always been a confused lot. To mock an idea that he didn’t like, Hobbes imagined a class of people who popped up out of the ground — like mushrooms — fully formed with the ability to engage in economic transactions. This group of mushroom-men were devoid of culture, family, society, and (most importantly) history. Of course, no such creatures can exist and we have to form our political views in response to an existing social framework.
That said, a lot of the rhetoric of New Atheists suggests that we might have found our mushroom-men. Culture is something that happens to other people. Their intuitions are the default rational ones. Everybody should be a straight, white male or at least not talk about deviations from this norm.
It doesn’t strike any of them as odd that they just happen to share common views about things. Enlightenment calculus just happened to direct them all to the same conclusions. Rejection of religion was intuitively obvious. Indeed, it would have been easier to just go along with the religious beliefs of their society! They had to strive to be better. They had to transcend the superstitious ways of the past in order to become Atheists. Indeed, atheism is nothing more than merely the lack of belief in God, so therefore all of the common slogans, mantras, and orthodox pop-atheist rhetoric makes perfect sense.
New Atheists have been criticised for this inane bullcrap for the better part of a decade. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s incoherent and intellectually bankrupt. It exists only because of market forces (pandering to the egos of adolescents turns out to be profitable; a lesson we’ve learnt from video games which allow you to bash to hooker to get your money back).
As an atheist myself, it’s been sad to watch atheism slide into the quagmire of stupidity. Pop atheism’s success rested not on its intellectual merits, but on its ease of access. Just like celebrity feminism, the ‘difficult’ bits of atheism — trying to distinguish the secular from the religious; trying to justify political philosophies in the background of religious pluralism; trying to avoid market-based definitions of value as a default reaction to rejecting the divine; &c — were abandoned in an attempt to pander to broad market appeal.
‘Are you a free thinker who scoffs at the superstitious religious ways invented by goat herders? Then you’ll love this new book! Then you’ll love this television series! Then you’ll love this conference! Buy the set!’
But never fear, true believers! New Humanist is running a series of articles about whether or not New Atheism is a complete waste of time. As if to prove the point that New Atheists are vapid halfwits out to reinvent the 1700s, here’s Ariane Sherine (creator of the ‘Atheist Bus Campaign‘, sigh):
Five years ago, I would have been right up there with them in branding all religious people stupid. After all, how could anyone believe in the monotheistic God despite all the scientific evidence to disprove his existence? How could religious people think contraception, gay rights or women’s reproductive rights were issues worth fighting against?
I still think that the more rational the world is, the better, and am heartened by any sign that it is becoming less religious. But the scathing, often cruel slurs of my fellow atheists make me despair. The question I ask more often these days is: how can anyone think that calling religious people names is going to sway them from their firmly held convictions? [Source]
Despite all the scientific evidence… All the scientific evidence… All… The scientific evidence… Right.
New Atheists are bozos. In this article, Sherine really has some strong opinions about the best way to convert people to the atheist way. Perhaps instead of using the fire and brimstone rhetoric, New Atheists should focus on the peace and love aspect of their evangelism. Poppin’ fresh ideas from the new atheist camp right here, yo.
At no point in that patronising, pompous, condescending claptrap does Sherine even come close to understanding the ridiculousness of her position. New Atheism panders to prejudice. The consumer is flattered with rhetoric about how they’re a rebel and a free-thinker. They’re the silent subclass that’s in secret possession of the truth and they should resist the snake oil salesmen who try to teach them anything about metaphysics and epistemology. Instead of believing that there’s anything intellectually serious about alternative points of view, people are religious due to personal or cultural defect:
Non-believers should also remember that belonging to a religion is often to do with family, ethnicity and community. Accordingly, leaving a religion or speaking out against it often means hurting loved ones and damaging relationships. To suggest that it is always more simple than this is misguided. [Ibid.]
New Atheists should remember that being a New Atheist is usually to do with family, ethnicity, and community. And gender. There’s a reason why so many of the most prominent New Atheists are old, white males (and it’s not because evolutionary psychology entails that old, white males are more likely to be rational).
The rhetoric is status-confirming: I am showing that I belong in the group of the intelligent, bright people by asserting that all truths are verifiable, by affirming the view that theology isn’t intellectually credible, and by laughing maniacally whenever anybody mentions His Noodly Appendage, Ramen. Not a single New Atheist can actually defend their views (because their views are incoherent and irrational), and yet they write mealymouthed little articles about how we should have sympathy for religious people? Seriously?
It’s time to put the adults back in control of the atheist enterprise.