New fundamentalist atheists. This is one of the most common mis-characterizations of atheists out there. It’s used in an attempt to rally the believers and to discredit the godless. So what exactly is a “New atheist?” Well Reza Aslan (you might have seen him on the Daily Show) summed up a great many of the characteristics in his train wreck of an article published in the Washington Post titled: Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett; Evangelical atheists?
To outline his points, new atheists are:
- Make the claim that they know there is no god and have faith in this
- led by Dawkins and his ilk
- believe they are in sole possession of Truth
- fundamentalists in the same strain as other religious fundamentalists
- intolerant of other views
- insist on literal readings of every religious text
- have an unwarranted sense of siege and persecution
- illiterate when it comes to religion
- believe all religion is evil
- are responsible for the horrible crimes committed by communists and Nazis
Do you know what fundamentalist message Aslan saw that set him off on this tirade?
That’s right. Aslan saw this bus ad and had a meltdown. Clearly a message telling you to enjoy life is on the same level as fundamentalist messages plastered all over telling you that you’re going to burn in hell! I can totally see the similarities. But where to start with these mis-characterizations of atheists? I guess I could just go down the list.
- Make the claim that they know there is no god and have faith in this: This is absurd. Atheists do not make the positive claim that there is, for a fact, no god. (Any atheist that claims to “know” is an irrational idiot) There is a reason the bus ad says “probably.” Do we believe a higher power exists? As far as we can tell, no. This is operating off of something called the “null hypothesis” and is not the same thing as making a positive claim.
- led by Dawkins and his ilk: There is no “pope” or “high counsel” of atheism. I know this might be very hard fro some people to understand, but atheists don’t take orders from other people. We’re very individualistic and disorganized.
- believe they are in sole possession of Truth: What? What “Truth?” There are many atheists who would deny that only one “Truth” exists. If by “Truth” you mean “scientific fact”, then when it comes to matters of reality and how reality functions, yes, yes we are in possession of the sole scientific fact. Here’s the kicker. Unlike religious groups that claim to to have the sole truth, we actually have evidence. Now I know this might be very hard for some people to understand, but listen closely: Scientific fact and religious truth are not the same thing. Religious truth makes claims about things that don’t exist and are untestable. Science makes statements about reality and the nature of existence only after it has been able to demonstrate such facts over and over, consistently. There is no such thing as “Christian physics” or “Muslim biology.” Our reality operates like it does, and there are no alternatives, thus science discusses the sole way in which our reality operates.
- fundamentalists in the same strain as other religious fundamentalists: Really Aslan? You seriously believe this? Are atheists telling people they’re going to go to hell? No. Do atheists blow themselves up in crowded cafes or fly themseleves into buildings, or shoot doctors? No. Do atheists march into Churches and demand “equal time”? No.
- intolerant of other views: The Amazing Atheist pointed out that there is a difference between “tolerance” and “acceptance.” Aslan seems to be meaning “acceptance” here instead of “tolerance.” Atheists tolerate fundamentalists a lot more than fundamentalists tolerate us. For instance, we don’t tell fundamentalists that they need to leave the country, that they’re not citizens, or that they’ve essentially evil people that are going to suffer and eternity in hell. Religious fundamentalists on the other hand love to dish this type of rhetoric out to atheists.
- insist on literal readings of every religious text: Again, The Amazing Atheist had a great point on this. The reason atheists keep bringing up weird and disgusting passages in holy books is because everybody but the Westboro Baptist Church glosses over these and ignore them. The bible is FULL of horrible and bloody acts of genocide, rape, murder, mutilation, you name it! But they don’t teach these verses in Sunday school! The vast majority of Christians never read the Bible, but insist on calling it “the good book” when it is anything but. We know there are plenty of religious people who don’t take the bible literally. They choose to arbitrarily decide when god wanted to be taken literally and when he was speaking in metaphors. We draw attention to the bible and it’s glossed over atrocities so people can see just how absurd and disgusting a lot of this stuff is!
- have an unwarranted sense of siege and persecution: Gee, I’m forbidden by law to run for public office in several states, not that it would matter because being the least trusted group in America makes me completely unelectable anyways! One of the most common e-mails public atheist figures get comes from people who are asking for advice about coming out to their families. Parents will disown their children over this! You can be fired for your job over this! Atheists are a minority in a deeply religious world. We have religious crap shoved down our throats day in and day out. We’re continuously demonized in movies and on TV. How many stories portray skepticism as a negative thing? How many stories have a plot wherein an unbeliever becomes a believer by the end? Atheists aren’t going around trying to make it a crime to criticize science, meanwhile religious fundamentalists are working hard to institute anti-blasphemy laws.
- illiterate when it comes to religion: As it turns out, atheists tend to know more about religion that most believers.
- believe all religion is evil: again, there is no head of atheism. Some atheists feel this way, some don’t.
- are responsible for the horrible crimes committed by communists and Nazis: If I got a dollar for every time some idiot trotted out this tired and long debunked BS.
Atheism is nothing new. There have been atheists even before people invented gods! We’ve always been here. Do you know what’s “new” with the “new atheists?” It’s simple: We’re no longer going to shut up and take it! For thousands of years we’ve been marginalized, maligned, and hunted. Religion has always had a special privilege in society, and it’s abused that privilege without fail. So what’s changed? Why now? Well for starters, society has finally advanced to a point where we won’t be rounded up and executed in the public square like we would have in the past; but most importantly is what science has done for us. Before the scientific revolution, atheists were only able to point out the logical flaws in religious reasoning, but were unable to offer up answers to the basic questions religion asked about the world. Now we’ve finally developed the tools to discover those answers. God is losing places to hide. Yet still, this is perhaps not the most important answer to “why now?” With science and knowledge comes great benefits, great power, and great responsibility. For there first time in our history, we have the ability to wipe ourselves out at the push of a button. Never before had we the potential to cause so much suffering, destruction, and death so quickly, and on such terrible a scale. Simply put: atheists can’t afford to stay silent and let the superstition steer the world off a cliff.
For refusing to be silent we are called militant. For standing up for our rights we are called fundamentalists. For existing we are called extremists. Aslan is right; we are on the march, and there’s no way we’re going to take it anymore.