Fighting Religion With No Religion

December 7th, 2006

By Maggie Fisk

“Religions are all alike, founded on fables and mythologies.” It’s a strong opinion, not very welcome in this day and age of values voters, mega-churches and a born-again Christian leading the United States.

Those familiar with atheist literature might guess that those words were spoken or written by one of the scholars of the New Atheist movement. However, they are not the words of Richard Dawkins, atheist intellectual extraordinaire, or Sam Harris, young atheist intellectual extraordinaire. These words come from Thomas Jefferson.

For contrast, Harris writes, “It is difficult to imagine a set of beliefs more suggestive of mental illness than those that lie at the heart of many of our religious traditions.”
Dawkins has a scientific slant to his views, using science as an excuse to not believe in God or supernatural things.

“Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.”

Sam Harris has a philosophical method to his defense of atheism and argument against religion. He does not decipher or discriminate between the religions but attacks them all.
For instance:

1. Christianity: “The history of Christianity is principally a story of mankind’s misery and ignorance rather than of its requited love of God.”

2. Judaism: “Judaism is as intrinsically divisive, as ridiculous in its literalism, and as at odds with the civilizing insights of modernity as any other religion.”

3. Islam: “There are other ideologies with which to expunge the last vapors of reasonableness from a society’s discourse, but Islam is undoubtedly one of the best we’ve got.”

4. Buddhism: “There are ideas within Buddhism that are so incredible as to render the dogma of the virgin birth plausible by comparison.”

These two men and their ideas about religion are the face of the New Atheist movement. This latest take on anti-religion has atheists making a stronger stand about their beliefs and attacking believers about their religious ideologies. Dawkins and Harris do not just disagree with the myths and fairy tales of religion, they also disagree with other atheists and agnostics about tolerating them.

The catchy nickname given to them is fundamentalist atheists. The title fits aptly, especially when these New Atheists behave like the most extreme Christians. New Atheists share several traits with their religious counterparts. They are inflexible and unmoving in their ideas about God and religion. They are aggressive in attempting to convert the moderates and impatient with any believers, not just attacking the Judeo-Christian God, but Buddha and other deities as well. Sam Harris is just as scathing and intolerant to Buddhists as he is to Muslims. There is no hierarchy of intolerance — to a New Atheist, Tom Cruise is equally as dangerous a religious leader as the Pope or even the Dalai Lama.

The tactic of aggressively attempting to convert the believers is a break from the usual with atheists and agnostics. Emily Hobkirk, an atheist student at Ithaca College disagrees with the fundamentalist view.

“I’m not particularly interested in garnering well-articulated arguments for atheism in order to convert others to my philosophy: that’s what believers do,” she said.

While atheists and agnostics may have lived in peace and harmony before, sharing a laugh about the religious right, the New Atheists are separating from them, or else calling for them to pick a side and check their apathy at the door.

Atheists, being in the minority, might feel like they have to speak out in this way to be heard over the screaming and shouting between the religions. The target audience, though, is what they view as the educated, sane people who are sitting on the fence.
But while atheism should be respected as a legitimate philosophy, combating extremism with another extreme is alienating the moderate majority. It is the rejection of tolerance and forcing moderates to pick a side that could cause the movement’s downfall. The New Atheists have compelling arguments, but should not serve as an example of yet another intolerant, impatient and overbearing creed.

Maggie Fisk is a sophomore English major who hates you. Email her at mfisk1@ithaca.edu.

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