A Kinder, Gentler Atheism

Theo Hobson profiles the “new new atheists,” who he claims are more nuanced, diplomatic, and “admirably refuse to lapse into a comfortably sweeping ideology that claims the moral high ground for unbelief”:

Crucially, atheism’s younger advocates are reluctant to compete for the role of Dawkins’s disciple. They are more likely to bemoan the new atheist approach and call for large injections of nuance. A good example is the pop-philosopher Julian Baggini. He is a stalwart atheist who likes a bit of a scrap with believers, but he’s also able to admit that religion has its virtues, that humanism needs to learn from it. For example, he has observed that a sense of gratitude is problematically lacking in secular culture, and suggested that humanists should consider ritual practices such as fasting. This is also the approach of the pop-philosopher king, Alain de Botton. His recent book Religion for Atheists rejects the ‘boring’ question of religion’s truth or falsity, and calls for ‘a selective reverence for religious rituals and concepts’. If you can take his faux-earnest prose style, he has some interesting insights into religion’s basis in community, practice, habit.

Justin Hawkins thinks Christians should applaud:

Christians ought to welcome this new development, and not because it signals a softening of opposition to theism. In some ways, this signals an intellectual danger for Christianity. Brash, exhaustive, generalized statements about the nature of reality of the kind perfected by the New Atheists (e.g., “Religion poisons everything”) are always more easily defeated than relatively nuanced, careful positions of the variety advanced by the Newer Atheists. Therefore it is this newer atheism, with its measured and non-dogmatic anti-theism, that poses the larger intellectual challenge to theistic belief.

Nevertheless, the shift away from Dawkins-ism is a welcome one for Christians because it signals a steady and perhaps increasing global interest in religion.