The New Atheists @ WIE

I just finished reading the featured article, Atheists with Attitude,
on the latest issue of What is Enlightenment? magazine. As usual, WIE
did a great job at presenting different perspectives, as well as the timeline
of the evolution of Atheism. However, I was a bit disappointed with
WIE’s take on the New Atheists for the following reasons.

For a magazine which I consider
to be a leading edge on spirituality in general, and integral
spirituality in particular, I was expecting a more integral take on the
New Atheists from the editors and writers. But WIE only presented a
very general overview of the New Atheists. Although WIE has some nice
things to say about the New Atheists, the general tone of the article
is a negative slant against them. Nothing wrong with that. There are
indeed philosophical areas where the New Atheists fall short. But WIE
didn’t make detailed distinctions on the differences between the New
Atheists. In short, no teasing apart the partial right and partial wrong. There’s no ranking.

The WIE staffers expressed
their disagreements with the New Atheists but they weren’t specific on
what areas they agreed with and what areas they have issues with. Take this quote from the featured article. (Emphasis mine.)

“As for the editors of WIE, we remain curious observers of the new atheism, encouraged by its articulate defense of modernity, science, and reason, but disturbed by its tendency to demonize all things spiritual and to associate rationality exclusively with a materialistic view of the universe.”

“Demonize all things spiritual?” Sam Harris is not demonizing spirituality. He’s even promoting it, albeit indirectly, with his Buddhist-flavored approach to consciousness. Harris doesn’t even want to be identified as Atheist, fer Chrissakes (too late for that though). Even Christopher Hitchens has discussed the importance of separating the numinous from the supernatural. WIE had made the usual error of lumping the New Atheists like a blob, treating them as a leviathan with a single head that of Dawkins. (I consider Dawkins to be the extreme materialists among them four–Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris.)

Also, check out this quote from WIE’s review of The Four Horsemen. (Emphasis mine.)

the primary contribution of The Four Horsemen is its capacity to
stimulate the mind, to provoke one to reconsider the impact of the
religious traditions and rethink one’s own beliefs and attitudes toward
these powerful cultural behemoths that continue to have an influence on
human life. Will you agree with the new atheists? Maybe not–we didn’t–but
we appreciated their efforts to make us all think more clearly about
what we actually believe about life, and about what God, gods, or
nondeities we have faith in, and why.”

Um, ok. So how does
integral spirituality or evolutionary spirituality deal with radical
Christians and Islam? What about the New Atheists take on
and secularism? How about their call to action and appeal to
religious moderates? What’s good about studying religion from a
scientific perspective? Is it a good idea to compulsory teach world
religions (as well as Atheism) to children in school
? I like to hear
specifics rather than just an integral view from 15,000 feet.

And finally, there’s no mention of Ayaan Hirsi Ali,
giving the impression that the New Atheists are only comprised of angry
white men (Ayaan Hirsi Ali is neither white, nor a man). I consider Ayaan Hirsi Ali to be the most gutsy among the New Atheists since her life is literally on the line whenever she speaks against radical Islam and takes on European multiculturalism.

All in all I feel that WIE didn’t do enough justice with what the New Atheists represent. Yes, it’s true that there’s nothing new with majority of their philosophical arguments
that the Enlightenment thinkers hadn’t already dealt with. Then again,
the New Atheists are tackling the same issue on a different
interconnected global stage. So the stakes are much higher and the
dynamics more complex than it was during the Age of Enlightenment.
Never before in our recorded history that the issue of science,
religion, and Atheism capture the attention of the global media (e.g.
news network, newspapers, internet, blogosphere, etc.), and the New Atheists
deserve credit for reviving this age-old philosophical debate, no
matter how limited their perspectives may be.

That said, I hope that this is only WIE’s intro feature on the New
Atheists. I’m looking forward to WIE teasing apart, ranking, and then
putting the New Atheists on a more integral perspective.