On my way to drop my two boys off at school this morning I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR. The story entitled, “A Bitter Rift Divides Atheists“, gave me a profound sense of frustration, pity, and dark amusement. I want to be clear from the outset that Atheism does not bother me. I will fight just as hard for someone’s right *not* to believe as much as I would fight for someones right to worship a plate of spaghetti. What I disagree with is intolerance and bigotry, the source or target of that bigotry and intolerance really is not relevant to me. Hence, my great frustration with what has come to be known as “New Atheism“. Give the show a listen if you have a few minutes, here.
I find this neo-atheist approach to be historically ignorant and capable of inciting just as much hatred and intolerance as the fundamentalist religions they so vehemently oppose. It is a sad but oft repeated human characteristic that those who crusade against a belief system end up becoming exactly what they hate. And, unfortunately, New Atheism is well on it’s way to becoming exactly what they claim to fight against. How ironic. And how sad. A quote that really struck me from the story was from Christopher Hitchens who said:
I think it should be religion, treated with ridicule and hatred, and contempt, and I claim that right!
What is so sadly ironic about this is how easily this kind of language lends itself to violence against religious people, and hatred. How is this different from the same sentence written thus:
I think it should be Muslims, treated with ridicule and hatred, and contempt, and I claim that right!
Quite simply it is not in any way different. What is being defended in these statements is not reason and science in the former, and not holiness and charity in the latter. But instead both positions advocate for greater fear and hatred of those who dare to disagree with you. What a person of fundamentalist mentality (believer and non-believer alike) fails to realize is that the methods they use for change are directly represented in the changes they end up manifesting. Want to use hate to get rid of hate? You will create more hate. It is a very clear and predictable outcome to anyone who is able to put their heated emotions aside and use reason, tolerance, and love.
To be fair many Atheists find this new approach reprehensible. Paul Kurtz, the founder of the Center for Inquiry made a sensible and clear case against the approach of New Atheism by saying:
They are anti-religious, they are mean spirited unfortunately, and I think that does more damage than good. I consider them ‘Atheist Fundamentalists’. Merely to critically attack religious beliefs is not sufficient. What are you for? We know what you are against, but what are you going to defend?
As a polytheist I know that many people in this country ridicule and make fun of my belief system. I simply believe what I believe and relish the challenge of being in a minority faith as it forces me to give real thought and feeling to my beliefs and values. I will never preach for others to believe what I do. Why stand up for the intolerance that drove me away from established religion in the first place? Would that not be the height of hypocrisy? For all of my atheist brothers and sisters out there I declare my public support for your right *not* to believe. In fact, I think many aspects of Atheism can be helpful to questions of morality and social justice. But when individual atheists call for religious people to be treated with ridicule and hatred, you can expect my vociferous opposition. What if Hitchens has said this?
I think it should be blacks, treated with ridicule and hatred, and contempt, and I claim that right!
Rightfully, his career would be over. Intolerance, bigotry, and hatred, these are the real problems we have as a society. Democrats, Republicans, Atheists, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Agnostics, and Pagans, are all capable of violence and hatred. Can’t we all be honest and acknowledge that? Only when we stop advocating simply for our pet cause, in a juvenile need to “win”, will we really stand up for tolerance and respect for *all*. But until that time, crusaders of all types walk the same road to Hell hand in hand.