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It's not been a good year for God. Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’s God is Not Great have been riding high in the international bestseller lists, while in the US Sam Harris has addressed his Letter to a Christian Nation and Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell has explored the question of how to explain the irrationality of religious belief. Michel Onfray’s In Defence of Atheism has added a distinctively French tone to the assault, and AC Grayling’s latest collection of elegant English essays is Against All Gods. It’s not surprising that cultural commentators have identified a cultural wave, and given it a label: “The New Atheism”.
Then there has been the rush of responses. Alastair McGrath’s The Dawkins Delusion and John Cornwell’s Darwin’s Angel have replied to Dawkins in particular, and John Humphrys has followed up his radio interviews of religious leaders with a book, In God We Doubt, which is subtitled Confessions of a Failed Atheist (he can’t bring himself to accept religious belief but he thinks it would be nice to be able to do so).
My intention here is to stand back a little from this parade of views and counterviews and ask about its implications for the humanist movement. What can we, as humanists in Britain now, learn from the debate around the New Atheism? We should begin by recognising that the “New Atheism” is not really new. Its distinctive themes – religion as the enemy of science, of progress and of an enlightened morality – are in a direct line of descent from the 18th-century enlightenment and 19th-century rationalism. The “new” movement is better seen as a revival, a reassertion of the values of rational thought and vigorous argument. It has struck people as new because it has given new life to old disagreements and debates and done so with great panache and style. But we need to beware of fighting old battles in a world which has moved on.
What kick-started the New Atheism was, of course, the attack on the Twin Towers. That event, and subsequent acts of Islamist-inspired terrorism, reminded the world of the terrible deeds that can be performed in the name of religious fanaticism, especially if it is reinforced by dreams of immediate rewards in paradise. How to combat Islamist fanaticism is obviously a pressing question. At the same time, it would be foolish to let our attitudes to all religions and all religious believers be coloured by a small set of specific outrages.
A second development which no doubt reinforced the New Atheism was the resurgence of creationism, on a small scale in the UK and on a scarily large scale in the US. In the States it’s linked with the religious right and the malign influence of Christian fundamentalists on politics and government. Unsurprisingly, it’s in the US that the New Atheism seems to be taking shape as a cultural movement, not just a publishing success. Dawkins has launched the “Out” campaign, encouraging American atheists to “come out”. The success of these developments is sufficient evidence that they respond to a real need, and they reflect the extent to which American atheists have felt beleaguered. In some parts of the US it takes courage to come out as an atheist. But let’s be honest – in Britain today, for most of us, it’s a doddle...
Artículo completo en: http://newhumanist.org.uk/1623
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