McGrath Reflects on New Atheism

In a post over at Patheos, a portal blog on religion and spirituality, Alister McGrath (Chair of Theology, Religion and Culture at King’s College London and author of the excellent The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World ) reflects on the current schism within New Atheism and it effect on the movement as a whole. As with many such movements, atheism is a victim of its own excesses and inherently intolerant bent. From the article:

It’s no surprise that the backlash against the New Atheism has now begun within the American secularist movement. Many atheists are shocked at the anti-religious venom now associated with them through a public failure to distinguish between older schools of atheism and its newer and more aggressive forms. They are all being tarred with the same brush. And it hurts them badly. Media reports since late 2009 now openly speak of a “schism” within the movement, precipitated in part by a dawning realization of the darkening public perception of the movement.

Toleration is a cornerstone of western democratic and libertarian civilization. The New Atheism has misjudged the mood, believing that an unrestrained, aggressive, and dismissive criticism of religion will tip the balance in favour of secularism and atheism. It hasn’t. It has just persuaded people that the New Atheism is intolerant and nasty. In most western democracies, respect and toleration are seen as essential to social cohesion and wellbeing. As empirical evidence mounts of the positive role played by religious commitment and involvement in fostering social cohesion, the New Atheist intolerance toward religion seems increasingly out of place and misdirected.

If any one spends time reading atheist forums and the comments sections of Phyrangula, one quickly finds that absent a theistic enemy (especially a pacifistic one like Christianity) atheists quickly fall on each other – intolerance breeds, and feeds on itself. Less an intellectual movement than a gang of would-be bullies, a society composed of New Atheists would quickly breed dictators vying for power much as was demonstrated in previous atheistic societies.

Which is why atheists should pray Christianity doesn’t fade from the Western world any time soon.


3 Responses to McGrath Reflects on New Atheism

  1. G.M. Jackson says:

    Well Hitler was a Roman Catholic, not an atheist. The civil war in Ireland was between Catholics and Protestants, not atheists. The crusades were between Christians and Muslims, not atheists. Satan is not an atheist; he knows God exists. Therefore the greatest evil comes from one who believes.

  2. jackhudson says:

    I don’t think anyone contends that nominal Christians are incapable of doing evil (in fact Christianity asserts all men have evil natures – as you rightly note) however the most deadly societies ever were the atheistic societies of the 20th century – no others hold a candle to them.

  3. Nate says:

    When the state replaces God in the hearts and mind of its citizens that is when the greatest evils occur.

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