Sunday, January 1, 2012

"The ignorance of the new atheists MATTERS"

I just read Joseph R. Hoffmann's first blog post of 2012: Re-Made in America: Remembering the New Atheism (2006-2011), wherein Hoffmann, perhaps prematurely, announces the death of New Atheism and writes its obituary. In my humble opinion, you should read it, too.

Three overarching themes tie Hoffmann's essay together:

(1) The New Atheism is characterized by a profound ignorance not only of religion itself, but also of anthropology, archaeology and sociology. (I would add history, philosophy and humanism.) Moreover, Hoffmann emphasizes that it is this ignorance, and this alone, that makes New Atheism still worth paying attention to.

(2) The phenomenon of New Atheism essentially boils down to Richard Dawkins playing to an American crowd, by peddling to the yanks that which is "very old news" in England, where unbelief, irreligion, agnosticism, and atheism (as well as, and often combined with, active disinterest in religion generally) are far more prevalent than is actual belief in Christianity (in any form).

(3) The other thing that dominates Hoffmann's essay is a number of very nicely drawn character sketches of the American "poster-pasters" pimping for Dawkinsian atheism "over here".

Two of my favorite parts are Hoffmann's observation that Christopher Hitchens was "the only true intellectual and by far the best-read of the group," and this little gem: "The new atheism was as American as apple pie, which was invented in fourteenth century England. Just try finding apple pie in twenty first century England."

Lastly, the quote that comprises the title of this post comes from Hoffmann's closing two paragraphs:
"The ignorance of the new atheists matters–or I would stop complaining at once–because it makes almost impossible the work of serious religion scholars who have no commitment to belief, but who happen to feel that the study of religion belongs to and is inestimably important to the study of history and culture.

"That task is not helped by activism disguised as judgement, opinion hiding behind tangential scholarly pursuits, or defenses of science and reason that are inherently unreasonable in themselves."


Unknown said...

I'll go over and read that article.

It sounds... largely correct. For starters, the REAL threat to organized religion in the 21st century is probably NOT an intellectual atheism, but rather, as you say in (2), disinterest.

This to me is disappointing, because it leaves open the questions of philosophy, morality, etc.
I mean, the atheists and agnostics I know address those issues in their own ways.
The "disinterested" generally DON'T.

I'm very much interested in the big questions and I am concerned that our consumerist society isn't handling those questions very well (in or out of religious contexts).

I just do't like the answers that organized religions give us.

Thanks for getting my brain going, as you always seem to do!

Apuleius Platonicus said...

This is a really great comment. You zero in on the crux of the biscuit, which is that as long as the main "opposition" to Christianity is those who just don't give a fuck, well, the Christians win (because they DO give a fuck).