The Evangelistic Zeal of the New Atheists

I was listening to an interview which featured Daniel Dennett, a philosopher and one of the “four horsemen of new atheism.” In this interview the show’s host, Stephen Sackur, says, much to Dennett’s dismay, that this “new atheism” movement is just as zealous in evangelizing their brand as any other religious group. In fact, Sackur says this, “the British philosopher John Gray says, zealous atheism renews some of the worst of Christianity and Islam. [the zealous atheism] is a project of universal conversion of absolute certainty, and intolerance of alternative views [religious ones].” Immediately Dennett denies such statement and reduces it to a mere caricature. Sackur presses Dennett and says that the “new atheists” want to go out into the world, using a big voice, and persuade people to give up their religion. Dennett’s response was that he simply wants people to think for themselves and if they decide to keep their religion then so be it [the latter part of the statement is one that a person can imagine Dawkins or Hitchens strongly disagreeing with].

This brings up an interesting point; one that I had never thought of in these terms: Atheists are zealous about what they believe and therefore they want to vocalize that belief and try to deconvert, or better yet, convert to their way of thinking just like other religious groups are insistent about people converting to their practice. There are not only websites that proselytize and “indoctrinate” (Kids Without God, a branch of the American Humanist Association), there are also atheist gatherings, like churches, called Sunday Assemblies. These assemblies or “atheist churches” [which is ironic] are a place where like-minded people can gather for fellowship, singing of (secular) songs, and to listen to someone give a message. According to the founders of Sunday Assembly, he difference, between a Christian church and this kind of gathering is in the Christian church we have creeds, doctrine and deity, and the Sunday Assembly doesn’t because they are all inclusive (see their purpose statement). I find it perplexing that some atheists have used a model of the church to promote community, service, and celebration. In all actuality, that is what can be found in churches, as well. So, in reality, they just don’t want God (Rom. 1:18-23).

Anyway, I find it hypocritical that the so-called “New Atheists” speak out on the radical nature of religion (especially in terms of evangelism and exclusivity) when they, by being extremists in their thought, are themselves contributing to a greater divide, which obviously is making communication between people of different ideologies increasingly more difficult. Dennett says, quite unconvincingly, that perhaps a person can reason through all evidences and arguments and still conclude to keep their faith, inasmuch as it doesn’t interfere with science and isn’t imposed on others. In a Q&A, I believe I have heard Dawkins outright reject any person holding to a serious conviction about a deity. Maybe, Dennett is just a softie. Who really knows?

Here is my problem with such zealous efforts among the new atheists: if there is no God, then why do you care about what others believe? The responses are numerous: “we want people to think or free them to think” (whose says that religion is a disqualifier for thinking? There are and have been many great Christian thinkers and scientists. I won’t even get started on using Isaac Newton’s quotes against atheism),  “religion compels people to do bad things” (by the way, note that Mao and Stalin did horrendous things and they were atheists; let’s not venture into hypocrisy), “others’ religious beliefs are being forced on me” (i.e. proselytizing and the display of religious concepts; in the same way the atheist’s humanistic beliefs are being forced upon me), etc. C.S. Lewis, a brilliant mind and former atheist, said this, “I was at this time of living, like so many Atheists or Anti-theists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.” He also said, “Atheists express their rage against God although in their view He does not exist.”

A passionate campaign supposed to do the opposite of what religious folks do, and yet, it is so very similar.

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