Alternative Insight

Battle for the Minds
Religious Politic and Reaction of the New Atheists

Part I I - The New Atheists

The New Atheism regards organized religion as a threat to world peace and to the health and welfare of planet Earth. To them, all organized religions, and especially the Christian Fundamentalists, are leading America into an abyss. After all, the extremes of the Evangelicals preach Armageddon and are prepared to make the cataclysm happen. The New Atheists boldly proclaim it is time for atheists to come out of the closet and combat religious tyranny and destructiveness.

The New Atheists are not deterred by lack of any formal organization. Their personal voyages to ultimate convictions strengthens those convictions. Atheists are a relatively silent group, and for good reason; they cannot find many public platforms on which they can speak and they are often demonized when they express themselves. The New Atheists are more fortunate - they have proven credentials in highly respected fields, receive offers for speaking engagements, can find conventional outlets for publications and are relatively immune from vindictiveness. By speaking fervently, honestly and with rational arguments, they anticipate they can counter the manipulative messages of religious institutions.

The battle of reason vs. faith was settled in favor of reason in the18th and 19th centuries. The battle of Darwinism vs. Creationism was settled in favor of Darwinism in the19th -20th centuries. Nevertheless, events of the last years have convinced the New Atheists that religious influences prevent solutions to vital problems. They perceive religion plays a leading role in an ordered destruction of a world of innocents. In the 21st century forceful exposure of religion's mistakes are essential to international stability

Richard Dawkins is the most prominent figure in the New Atheism movement. Trained to be a zoologist/ethologist, he holds the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding. Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. In response to a Guardian Unlimited request from known writers to reflect on the world one month after 9/11, Richard Dawkins volunteered the following:

Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labeled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful.

Although he is English, Dawkins intends to invigorate the non-religious in the United States into being more vocal. The energizing of 30 million (his estimates) non-religious in the United States to publicly reveal their atheist preference will motivate one other to speak out. The atheists' struggle for equal rights in the spiritual debates will resolve itself as has happened in campaigns by other minority groups. Dawkins has said:

I think we're in the same position the gay movement was in a few decades ago. There was a need for people to come out. The more people who came out, the more people who had the courage to come out. I think that's the case with atheists. They are more numerous than anybody realizes.

Richard Dawkins is blunt. While reading from several chapters of his latest book, The God Delusion, at a speaking engagement in Randolph-Macon college, Virginia, the English ethologist found himself facing students from Jerry Falwell's nearby Liberty College. He began his talk with "the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of literature: cruel, capricious, jealous, vindictive and unjust." An offended Liberty University student said to Dawkins:"I've never been so insulted and so amused at the same time." Dawkins has been quoted as responding with, "Why should you be insulted? I wasn't insulting you, I was insulting God."

Dawkins encourages atheists to value their beliefs. He tells them: "Atheists should be proud, not apologetic, because atheism is evidence of a healthy, independent mind."

Sam Harris is a neuroscientist who has written two best-selling books that have captured attention: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation. The latter is a manual on how to talk to Christians about the incongruities of faith and science.

In The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris characterizes religion as a destructive force. He cites recent conflicts in which "religion has been the explicit cause of literally millions of deaths in the last ten years." The world's major religions are incompatible and, for that reason, will inevitably cause conflict and prevent a stable global system. His words cut deep. He scathes all religions. Some of his controversial comments:

We have been slow to recognize the degree to which religious faith perpetuates man's inhumanity to man.

..the greatest problem confronting civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have made to faith itself. Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the religious conflicts in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately exposed.

While there are undoubtedly some "moderate" Muslims who have decided to overlook the militancy of their religion, Islam is undeniably a religion of conquest.

If a stable peace is ever to be achieved between Islam and the West, Islam must undergo a radical transformation.

The neuroscientist turned religious philosopher summarized his critical outlook in the last paragraphs of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason :

We do not know what we will be a thousand years from now-or indeed that we will be, given the lethal absurdity of many of our beliefs-but whatever changes await us, one thing seems unlikely to change: as long as experience endures, the difference between happiness and suffering will remain our paramount concern. We will therefore want to understand those processes-biochemical, behavioral, ethical, political, economic, and spiritual-that account for this difference. We do not yet have anything like a final understanding of such processes, but we know enough to rule out many false understandings. Indeed, we know enough at this moment to say that the God of Abraham is not only unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.

We are the final judges of what is good, just as we remain the final judges of what is logical. And on neither front has our conversation with one another reached an end. There need be no scheme of rewards and punishments transcending this life to justify our moral intuitions or to render them effective in guiding our behavior in the world. The only angels we need invoke are those of our better nature: reason, honesty, and love. The only demons we must fear are those that lurk inside every human mind: ignorance, hatred, greed, and faith, which is surely the devil's masterpiece.

No myths need he embraced for us to commune with the profundity of our circumstance. No personal God need be worshiped for us to live in awe at the beauty and immensity of creation. No tribal fictions need be rehearsed for us to realize, one fine day, that we do, in fact, love our neighbors, that our happiness is inextricable from their own, and that our interdependence demands that people everywhere he given the opportunity to flourish. The days of our religious identities are clearly numbered. Whether the days of civilization itself are numbered would seem to depend, rather too much, on how soon we realize this.

Daniel C. Dennett is a professor of philosophy at Tufts University in Massachusetts who "only asks questions."
An ardent Darwinian, he conceives religion as a natural phenomena and an evolutionary process; "evolution has programmed our brains in such a way that religious tales spread among human beings like successful biological species." In his new book, "Breaking the Spell," Dennett methodically develops his arguments of religion's origins, its procession to control of the masses and its falsification as the foundation of western morality. His analysis leads him to conclude that religion is not supernatural, should not be cloaked in secrecy and should be treated as any institution, open to criticism and scrutiny. Philosopher Dennett's assessment, "the overconfidence of the deeply religious is the most dangerous thing in the world."

The unholy trinity of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett complement one another. Dawkins confronts adversaries, Harris pulverizes hypocrisy and Dennett calmly expresses his opinions. They harshly criticize organized religion and its concepts and force parishoners to re-evaluate religion's significance and importance in daily life. A "no holds barred" approach to religion's failures gives appeal to the New Atheists.

The Appeal of the New Atheists

The New Atheists have appeared at a vital moment in history, when religious frictions are igniting international strife and organized religions are being challenged. Catholicism receives daily shocks from disclosures and arrests of priests accused of pederasty. The Church of Latter Day Saints is under attack due to some of its elements still practicing polygamy, which has resulted in the arrest of one of its more prominent figures, Warren Steed Jeffs. Christian Fundamentalist leaders, such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, have been accused of enriching themselves at the expense of their followers and of reciting hateful statements against Moslems. The National Association of Evangelicals, which claims 30 million members, recently fired its hypocritical president, Ted Haggard, in a homosexual scandal. Extremist evangelicals are being criticized for interfering in the political situation in the Middle East, assisting Israel in its oppression of the Palestinian people, promoting aggressive actions against Moslem nations and preaching a cataclysm without regard to human life. Islam has internal conflicts with Radical Islam and external conflicts with the western world due to the perception that Islam stifles progress, rejects modernity and oppresses women. Suicide bombers and terrorists have become part of Islam's daily life.The Hindus, Sikhs and Sinhalese are engaged in constant wars with others and are guilty of terrible atrocities. Hindus have killed one another in disagreeing if Shiva or Vishnu is the higher Lord.

The New Atheists have assistance. Commentators, such as Chris Hedges, who worked several years as foreign correspondent and Media Bureau Chief for the New York Times and is now a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York City, a Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University, castigates the Christian Right.

The engine that drives the radical Christian Right in the United States, the most dangerous mass movement in American history, is not religiosity, but despair. It is a movement built on the growing personal and economic despair of tens of millions of Americans, who watched helplessly as their communities were plunged into poverty by the flight of manufacturing jobs, their families and neighborhoods torn apart by neglect and indifference, and who eventually lost hope that America was a place where they had a future.
The Radical Christian Right Is Built on Suburban Despair, Chris Hedges, AlterNet Jan. 19, 2007

Will atheists rise to the challenge presented them by a new breed of courageous spokespersons? They might learn they have no choice. Perilous situations from global warming to perpetual war demand the public participate in a national dialogue for changing policies that have trajectories to catastrophe. Atheists have an opportunity to show they have clear thinking and eloquent presentations that can offset organized religion's conditioning of minds. Recently, James C. Dobson and other Christian Evangelical leaders petitioned for the replacement of Reverend Richard Cizik, National Association of Evangelicals vice-president for government relations, because he urged evangelicals to take global warming seriously. This type of massive conditioning must be overcome. Is this the moment for atheists to proclaim: "We shall overcome."

march 6, 2007


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