Now this last point is interesting. Indeed, this is an apt comparison and it has been made before. But that got me thinking about the aggressive New Atheists (Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins). I think the comparison with them breaks down - because they not only talk about bringing atheism to the mainstream but they also go in an all-out against all religions (I guess, equating religious upbringing with child abuse may qualify as an attack). This is as if gay-rights activists not only demanded equal rights for gay couples, but also called all heterosexual marriages immoral. I don't know if such a strategy would have garnered the kind of broad support for equal rights that we see today. That said, I do think that Dawkins and Dennett were essential in bringing atheism to mainstream debates - but I'm not sure about any continuing positive influence of Hitchens or Harris or Dawkins' child-abuse statements. Wisely, the NYT points to a more gentle form of atheism:
More than ever, America’s atheists are linking up and speaking out — even here in South Carolina, home to Bob Jones University, blue laws and a legislature that last year unanimously approved a Christian license plate embossed with a cross, a stained glass window and the words “I Believe” (a move blocked by a judge and now headed for trial).
They are connecting on the Internet, holding meet-ups in bars, advertising on billboards and buses, volunteering at food pantries and picking up roadside trash, earning atheist groups recognition on adopt-a-highway signs.They liken their strategy to that of the gay-rights movement, which lifted off when closeted members of a scorned minority decided to go public.
At the University of South Carolina, in Columbia, 19 students showed up for a recent evening meeting of the “Pastafarians,” named for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster — a popular spoof on religion dreamed up by an opponent of intelligent design, the idea that living organisms are so complex that the best explanation is that a higher intelligence designed them.Read the full article here. On a similar note, here is a review of Losing my Religion by William Lobdell:
In keeping with the new generation of atheist evangelists, the Pastafarian leaders say that their goal is not confrontation, or even winning converts, but changing the public’s stereotype of atheists. A favorite Pastafarian activity is to gather at a busy crossroads on campus with a sign offering “Free Hugs” from “Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist.”
There are many great books about finding God. But there are far fewer books, great or otherwise, about finding and then losing God. So “Losing My Religion,” by William Lobdell, a former religion writer for The Los Angeles Times, feels powerfully fresh. It is the tale of being born again in his adulthood, then almost 20 years later deciding that Christianity is untrue. Today Lobdell prefers the God of Jefferson or Einstein, “a deity that can be seen in the miracles of nature.” While Lobdell never entirely rejects belief in the supernatural, his humane, even-tempered book does more to advance the cause of irreligion than the bilious atheist tracts by Christopher Hitchens and others that have become so common. And Lobdell’s self-deprecating memoir is far more fun to read.And I like the way the review ends:
To Lobdell, it began to seem not just that religious institutions were no better than secular ones, but that sometimes they were much worse. After all, school systems and Little Leagues don’t defend molesters as tenaciously as the Catholic Church did, and parents aren’t as reluctant to believe the worst about teachers and coaches. It was precisely the cultivation of religious awe — with its traditions, rituals and ceremonies — that made priests seem holy, and thus allowed so much evil to go unreported or disbelieved. At times, Lobdell’s homely, down-to-earth prose and intellectual modesty obscure the import of what he’s saying. His explication of religion’s capacity for evil is far subtler than the simplistic atheist line that “religions cause wars,” but he doesn’t seem to know it.
“I do miss my faith,” he writes, “as I’d miss any longtime love.” But “I like my life on this unexplored shore. It’s new, exciting and full of possibilities.” Lobdell is quite a rarity: an unembittered divorcé, grateful for the marriage and just as grateful for what lies ahead.Read the full review here.