First Post, the online daily magazine, has an short article on the new atheists entitled The horror of a New Atheist world by Andrew Brown. He makes some interesting observations about the New Atheist movement that I think is worth reading. He notes:
Are we seeing a resurgence of reason in a world suddenly threatened as never before by superstition?
Well, all of the books hammer home a simple world view. In this, religions are distinguished from all other belief systems by 'faith' which they define as the quality of believing things that are untrue just because you have been told them.
This is an extraordinarily popular argument, despite its self-evident absurdity - obviously, if you define faith as irrational, unwarranted belief, then it is not difficult also to conclude that faith is irrational, unwarranted and evil. But these word games are the only intellectual novelty in Hitchens (left) and Dawkins, and they are carried to quite absurd lengths. Hitchens denies that Martin Luther King was a Christian; Dawkins tries to prove that Hitler was really a Roman Catholic.
This is an excellent point. I have previously pointed out that it is a logical category error to try to group all religions together as these New Atheists seek to do when accusing "religion" for all of the evil that has ever befallen mankind (as if the word "evil" actually has meaning outside of religion). Just because they all fall under the general rubric of "religions" doesn't mean that Christians should not be blamed for the atrocities committed in the name of Islam or Hindusim any more than the fact that simply because they are both considered "art" should mean that the carefully crafted paintings classical paintings of Michaelangelo belong in the same category as the randomly produced works of Jackson Pollock.
But it is also true that the New Atheists go beyond simply examining the truth claims of the various religions in the world. They simply assume that they are irrational because they are based on "faith." "Faith" means to these New Atheists the end result of the absense of thought -- the blind leap into superstition. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it takes someone who wants to bury their heads in the sand to believe otherwise.
While it is true that not everyone who believes in God has arrived at such a faith by a thorough examination of the evidence, it is equally true that the vast majority of atheists in the world have also arrived at their beliefs without a careful examination. This is not to say that none of them have -- many atheists have committed a vast amount of time and energy to defending their beliefs. But the typical garden variety atheist has committed only a superficial amount of time to her decision to reject God. In my experience, many atheists doubt in God's existence on such slender threads as, "I have never seen any proof of his existence." Personally, I don't see how you can miss the evidence for His existence, but they aren't really looking for evidence -- they seek some indisputable evidence of God's existence. Since "indisputable" is a very difficult and subjective standard, it is generally very difficult to overcome this objection.
But I digress....
What I found equally interesting is that the article reports that Mr. Hitchens has argued that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a Christian. This was new to me. (I have previously heard atheists push for the idea that Hitler was a Christian -- a ridiculous argument. For arguments disputing that claim, see some of the resources on our CADRE Hitler page.) A short reading of Dr. King's letter from a Birmingham Jail tells you how absurd that point of view must be. Simply consider this short portion of the letter:
One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.
If Dr. King was not a Christian, he certainly adopted and used the arguments of Christianity to bolster his belief that segregation was wrong and to justify his rejection of unjust laws. I cannot fathom how someone as bright as Hitchens could countenance such an argument unless he was committed to a belief that religion is evil (as he apparently is).
Mr. Brown's article later notes:
Why is this view suddenly so popular? Many Americans clearly feel oppressed by Christian pieties, and practically everyone in Europe is afraid of being oppressed by Islamic piety. The belief in human progress with which we all grew up looks less and less like fact and more like yet another fallible 'faith'.
In this climate of uncertainty, the New Atheism spreads exactly like any other sort of fundamentalism. It offers a clear, compelling certainty at a time of economic and social confusion. It offers enemies (the religious) and wise, benevolent leaders (Dawkins, for example, whose name today appears on the front page of his website a mere 35 times). And in America, it is a heartfelt and admirable rebellion against the religiose hypocrisies of public life - imagine the horror of having to choose between the pieties of Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton.
Could it be that the New Atheists are really fundamenalists who are clinging to their religion of atheism in antipathy to people who aren’t like them?
Certainly a theory worth considering.