An article in the new issue of Wired chronicles the rise of the New Atheism helmed by leaders such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. The New Atheism as opposed to the old as an agressive evangelical ideology that holds not only a personal disbelief in god but an assertion that no one else should believe in god either.
“This autumn, Harris has a new book out, Letter to a Christian Nation. In it, he demonstrates the behavior he believes atheists should adopt when talking with Christians. “Nonbelievers like myself stand beside you,” he writes, addressing his imaginary opponent, “dumbstruck by the Muslim hordes who chant death to whole nations of the living. But we stand dumbstruck by you as well – by your denial of tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your attachment to an imaginary God.”
The New Atheists tend to define the ideological conflict as being between the Brights and the Dims, the Rationalists and Superstitious. Dawkins has argued that parents should be forbidden from teaching religion to their children. I would tend to define the most important ideological divide as being between the Relativists and the Absolutists. Between those who believe that we should live and let live and Those Who Know What’s Best.
It is unfortunate to me that people as bright as these fellows should be unable to see that their ideological bedfellows are the crazy Islamists and right wing evangelical Christian nutballs who wish to impose their beliefs upon everyone. Dawkins argues that the moderately religious create the environment that allow the extremists to dominate. I would argue that extremists breed extremists and that tolerance breeds tolerance. I tend to think that C.S. Lewis, evangelical Christian theologian though he was summed the heart of the matter up pretty well:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”