We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Decline of the "New Atheism"?

Atheist Richard Dawkins with comedian Ariane Sherine
In an opinion posting entitled, "The Future is Not Looking so 'Bright' for Atheism," theologian Alistar McGrath argues that the so-called "new atheism" is largely a bust when it comes to numbers of adherents.  The actual number of new atheists, whether in Britain or here in the U.S., was never large to start with and is on the decline.  He seems to feel that it was more of a media phenomenon than anything else, and the media has grown weary of it. McGrath observes, "But now its freshness has worn off. Its breezy slogans now seem stale and weary. Soundbites that once sparkled are now dull through endless repetition. Its routine denunciations of religion are becoming more than a little tiresome."  In the course of his commentary, McGrath cites a much longer critical analysis of the new atheism entitled, "Believe It or Not," by David B. Hart, which was posted in 2010.  Branching a little further afield, my good friend Philip Hughes notes (here) that so far as Australia is concerned there is no evidence that the new atheism has had any measurable impact on people's thinking about God in spite of the fact that belief in God has long been on the decline in Australia.

To the extent that the so-called "new atheism" is in decline, that is not a bad thing.  Their discourse has been so largely angry, dismissive, and superficial that they are hard to take seriously, and as I've mentioned more than once in Rom Phra Khun the new atheists in many ways are a mirror image of their arch-enemy, religious fundamentalism.  This is not to dismiss the growing importance of "non-theism" as a faith choice.  It is also not to dismiss the importance of finding ways to engage in thoughtful, mutually beneficial  dialogue with those who do not consider themselves theists.  It is to say that it is a waste of time to try to dialogue with fundamentalists be they of the theistic or the atheistic varieties.  We should be thankful, I suppose, that atheistic fundamentalism is but a weak caricature of the far more potent and dangerous religious fundamentalism.