Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How to Deal with New Atheists


By now you’ve probably heard of the “new atheists” – people who don’t stop at not believing in God but also want to stop you from believing. They equate theism with alchemy and flat earthers and, more, raising children in a religion with child abuse. They’re also smug, nasty, and generally abusive of Christians.

Being who we are, Christians have started to formulate answers to their attacks, some more logical and some more experiential.

I think in the short term the postmodern approach might be an effective way to deal with the “new atheists.” Consider these two responses:

It’s not true that Christianity/religion is evil. A lot of great things have been done in the name of Christianity/religion, and a lot of evil was done in the name of secularism. Besides, it’s too incredible to believe that the universe and life arose from nothing; a creator is necessary.

Who do you think you are to tell us what we should believe? What makes you so special? Oh, you have a degree? Well, I guess you’re smarter than us, so you can tell us what to think. Nazi.

Which has more power in our culture? I see this as analogous to Paul turning the Pharisees against the priests and Stoics against the Epicureans. We can and should take advantage of the climate of our culture.

Part of this battle is going to be a media battle for the hearts and minds of the marginal, cultural believers. Don’t get me wrong, I want their souls, not just their minds, but given that some in this battle want to see Sunday school outlawed, we need to worry about votes. In that respect, I think the postmodern approach might keep the militant atheists from getting a foot in the door.

Update: Upon further reflection, I don't think my "postmodern" response is sufficiently postmodern (it's mostly just sarcastic, which has its uses too). The response of the typical postmodern to statements about a religion being true or false is not sarcasm so much as...

"Who are you to say that our religion is wrong?! We have every right to believe whatever we want to believe. Keep your close-minded ideas to yourself!"

The Nazi bit may still find it's way in there. Either way, my point is the same: In our culture, I'm don't a careful, reasoned response is going to be as effective as utilizing the reflexive rejection of any kind of absolute in religion that is generally used against Christian evangelism. The goal is not to "defeat" the new atheists as much as it is to keep policy makers from giving their more extreme ideas a hearing.


Daniel Wesley said...

Well said. I'm looking forward to reading more of your posts!

Paul said...

I think you are right on the money here. In fact, after numerous debates with atheists it occurred to me that they have absolutely no grounds on which to proselytize me or condemn my values and beliefs. I finally wrote this experimental post as an attempt to stop the foolish mouths of the atheists.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,

In your emotional excitement about this issue, you are making false assertions about your enemy, which ultimately will only hurt your case, I think. Two small examples: you have accused "The New Atheists" of abusing Christians (do you mean physically? verbally?) and trying to outlaw Sunday School. Please cite specific examples of this. Who did these things, and when and where? If you are referring to writers such as Sam HArris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, please show me where any of them have stated a desire to revise the Bill of Rights and take away the right of churches to hold Sunday School classes. If you are going to make accusations, be prepared to back them up with facts. Otherwise, you are helping no one, lease of all yourself and your fellow Christians. You are only demonstrating the sort of intellectual laziness and emotional hysterics that the new atheists claim are typical of your breed.

Unknown said...

OMG!! All of the "New Atheists" will be utterly destroyed by these innovative and original arguments. /end sarcasm
It's a pity that you haven't come up with any new arguments in the past 2000 years.

ChrisB said...

Bro Russ,

I must admit that hyperbole is my native tongue. That said, I don't think anyone who's read the writings of the "new atheists" hasn't seen what could be called verbal abuse.

Outlaw Sunday school? No, I've seen none of them call for that. But Dawkins has called religious education of children child abuse and has actually called it worse than sexual abuse:
"horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place" (God Delusion, p356).

Admittedly, he's not calling for religious education to be outlawed at this point, but I don't think connecting the dots is all that difficult.


Neither side has come up with any new arguments in a long time. The difference is that Christians recognize that. Dawkins et al seem to think they've come up with something new.

Though my "postmodern" response is a bit snarky, the point remains -- in our society, a calm, rational response is wasted. The average American wouldn't know a logical argument if it bit them, but the postmodern notion that denies that any religion can be any more or less false than any other does resonate (sad as that may be).

Paul said...

Two comments for the gallery:

1) The cogency of an argument is not measured by its newness. "New arguments" are not even required unless the old arguments have been defeated, and that is most certainly not the case.

2) Regarding outlawing religion, while there are few making public their aims to do such a thing it seems to be happening nonetheless by inches and degrees in many countries, including the US. However, you will find the occasional bald-faced attempts at expunging religious education:

ChrisB said...

Thanks, Paul. Scary.