Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Is New Atheism an intolerant cult?

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In response to the furore that has raged over "militant secularism" in recent weeks, triggered by the remarks of Conservative chair Baroness Warsi during her trip to the Vatican, last week's New Statesman featured Brian Appleyard attacking the "neo-atheists" for what he sees as their strident, intolerant role in the ongoing God debate.

It's a classic of the genre – the focus, naturally, falls upon Richard Dawkins, who is dubbed "the supreme prophet of neo-atheism" and presented as having an obsession with attacking religion. We are even treated to Alain de Botton, author of Religion for Atheists, suggesting that the God Delusion author may have undergone "a sort of psychological collapse". As is often the case in such articles, it is suggested that the "neo-atheists" have replaced faith in God with faith in science, a "neo-Darwinian triumphalism", and Appleyard ends with reference to "the catastrophic failed atheist project of communism" and the fact that "the history of attempts to destroy religion is littered with the corpses of believers and unbelievers alike".

Unsurprisingly, since the New Statesman put the piece online it has been generating a high volume of comments, and the main reason we link to it here is so you can go and get involved should you wish.

In the print edition of the magazine, Appleyard's article was followed by one by Richard Dawkins, in which the professor rationally and reasonably outlined the results of the recent Ipsos MORI poll his Foundation commissioned on religious belief in Britain, and made the measured argument that the majority of those who self-identify as Christians do not share the religiously conservative of views of those who advocate for Christianity in public life. For those who had just read the Appleyard piece and were expecting to encounter a vicious screed by the high-priest of an intolerant atheist cult, this must have come as some surprise.

On the bizarre disparity between the media image of Dawkins and his actual personality, it's worth reading this blog post by the man himself, written following his extremely respectful and rather arcane debate with the Archbishop of Cantetrbury last week. He refers to the strident, angry Dawkins as his "mythological namesake", which seems like the perfect description for the intolerant cult leader depicted by Appleyard in the New Statesman.

Update: Dawkins' piece is now on the New Statesman website - it's well worth a read.
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