New Atheists = New Anti-Dogmatists

This was so evident from the very start the “New Atheists” had been coined. But this article from Benjamin O’Donnell still puts it very succinctly.

“What is strange is that, when one actually reads them, one gets the feeling that the real target of the “new atheists” isn’t religion at all.

“Indeed, they all explicitly say they have little or no problem with
deism, or Spinozian pantheism or what Dawkins calls “Einstein-ian
religion”. Harris, Dennett and Hitchens (and possibly Dawkins) have
indicated that they wouldn’t necessarily want to see the synagogues,
churches and mosques emptied, though they would want to see them
abandon their “metaphysical bullshit” (see this video towards the end).

“It seems that the new atheists’ real problem is with dogma, and specifically with the dogma of religious faith
– with the belief that it is acceptable, even admirable, to believe
propositions without logically sound reasons based on good evidence.
They aren’t really the “new atheists” at all, but the “new

I’m glad to see that O’Donnell had accurately differentiated
the New Atheists instead of treating them like a blaspheming leviathan,
like most religious apologists did and some people in integral circles.

“Another common criticism of atheists (particularly atheist
scientists like Dawkins) is that they are robotic philistines,
determined to destroy art, culture and community and reduce the world
to a place of steel and chromium, spreadsheets and catalogues. But the
really interesting thing about these new anti-dogmatists is their
spirituality. Dawkins has written with such wonder and poetry about the
natural world in books like Unweaving the Rainbow that he’s
been referred to as a “deeply religious non-believer” (and he is, after
all, the man who once wrote an article entitled “Atheists for Jesus”).

“Hitchens waxes lyrical about the beauties of religious music and
art, but insists we separate the transcendent from the supernatural.
Dennett’s Breaking the Spell devotes a great many pages to
examining and praising the community-building and altruism-sustaining
qualities of religious institutions.

“Most radical of all, Sam Harris is a former seeker, a man who spent
ten years in meditation retreats and with yogis and monks (including a
stint as a bodyguard for the Dalai Lama). In the last chapter of The End of Faith,
Harris argues that there really is something worthwhile and wonderful
about the mystical experiences that lie at the root of most of our
religions. These experiences are real and important and increasingly
measurable by neuroscientists – but the truth about them is buried
beneath mountains of “metaphysical bullshit”. Harris extols the virtues
of the contemplative disciplines at the same time as he is withering in
his criticism of the ancient theology and modern “New Age” waffle that
so often goes with them. What we need, argues Harris, is to take a
ruthlessly logical and scientific approach to these ancient
disciplines, to separate the wheat from the chaff (see also Harris’
confronting article, “Killing the Buddha” (PDF 534KB)).”

And finally, O’Donnell makes an attempt at integrating the “two enlightenments” making the same point I’ve been trying to say all along.

“The new anti-dogmatists are children of the European Enlightenment. But
Sam Harris, at least, is no stranger to that other meaning of the word
enlightenment – the meaning that stands at the root of many of our
religions. Reconciling these “two enlightenments” is a project where
rationalists like Dawkins might join in common cause with ultra-liberal
theologians like Bishop John Shelby Spong.
But such a project is not a call for misty-eyed live-and-let-live
compromise. Far from it. To get at the common core of truth that lies
within both the religious and rationalistic meanings of the word
“enlightenment” we need to be ruthless with obscurantism – whether it
comes from orthodox theology, post-modern nonsense, new age silliness or naïve mechanistic psychology.”

Then O’Donnell concludes with a gentle, but loaded criticism.

“Dawkins and Hitchens are the two who most often conflate religion and
faith in their use of language – and they are also the two most well
known. In my view, this is unfortunate. As Dennett points out at length
in Breaking the Spell, religions are social institutions that
are very effective at providing community, solidarity and mutual
support. But they needn’t be based around dogma. By being sloppy in
their language, I fear the new anti-dogmatists are driving away
potential allies.”

And that’s why I applaud Sam Harris for having the balls to eschew the Atheist label and start The Reason Project. I just hope that Harris doesn’t get sloppy in his language along the way.

That said, instead of New Anti-Dogmatists, I think it’s more palatable to say that they are Post-Dogmatists.

Thanks to for the heads up!

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