July 16, 2007
The New New Atheism
Review: Authors, captive to groupthink, convince only themselves.
A critique of Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and the rest of the new atheists makes the key point that these authors, in attempting to tear down all religious belief as toxic, have failed to distinguish the good from the bad. And they haven't even come up with any new and particularly compelling arguments. For a movement that provides itself on its supposed intellectual superiority, that's quite an indictment.
According to reviewer Peter Berkowitz in today's Wall Street Journal:
"In making his case that reason must regard faith as an enemy to be wiped out, Mr. Hitchens declares Socrates's teaching that knowledge consists in knowing one's ignorance to be 'the definition of an educated person.' And yet Mr. Hitchens shows no awareness that his atheism, far from resulting from skeptical inquiry, is the rigidly dogmatic premise from which his inquiries proceed, and that it colors all his observations and determines his conclusions.
"Mr. Hitchens is by far the most erudite and entertaining of the new new atheists. But his errors and his excesses are shared by the whole lot. And these errors and excesses have pernicious political consequences, amplifying invidious distinctions among fellow citizens and obscuring crucial differences among believers world wide.
"Playing into the anger and enmities that debase our politics today, the new new atheism blurs the deep commitment to the freedom and equality of individuals that binds atheists and believers in America. At the same time, by treating all religion as one great evil pathology, today's bestselling atheists suppress crucial distinctions between the forms of faith embraced by the vast majority of American citizens and the militant Islam that at this very moment is pledged to America's destruction."
Memo to the angry atheists (and I know many atheists are calm and reasonable): Not all religion is alike.