Are “Evangelical Atheists” Too Outspoken?

Paul Kurtz has an editorial in the latest issue of Free Inquiry that is worth reading.

He’s talking about the slew of attention and controversy brought about by the release of atheist-themed books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. Kurtz argues that this should not be surprising:

We dissenters now comprise some 14 to 16 percent of the population. Why should religion be held immune from criticism, and why should the admission that one is a disbeliever be considered so disturbing? The Bush administration has supported faith-based charities—though their efficacy has not been adequately tested; it has prohibited federal funding for stem cell research; it has denied global warming; and it has imposed abstinence programs instead of promoting condom use to prevent the spread of AIDS. Much of this mischief is religiously inspired. How can we remain mute while Islam and the West are poised for a possible protracted world conflagration in the name of God?

There’s also a harsh rebuke against those who label outspoken atheists as “evangelical”:

What is often overlooked by the critics of “evangelical atheism” is that skepticism about the existence of God does not by itself define who and what we are. For there is a commitment to the realization of human freedom and happiness in this life here and now and to a life of excellence, creativity, and fulfillment. Life is meaningful without the illusion of immortality. There is also the recognition that the cultivation of the common moral decencies—caring, empathy, and altruism—is an essential part of our relating to other human beings in our communities of interaction. Humanists have always been concerned with achieving justice in society. Many of the heroes and heroines in human history were freethinkers who contributed significantly to democratic progress and a defense of human rights. Indeed, the agenda of secular humanism is twofold: first is the quest for truth, a critical examination of the assumptions of supernatural religion in the light of science; second is the development of affirmative ethical alternatives for the individual, the society in which he or she lives, and also the planetary community at large. To label us “evangelical atheists” without recognizing our affirmative commitment to secular humanist morality is an egregious error.

There’s a lot more about politics and the religious conflicts in Islam, if you’re interested in reading the whole thing.

Which you should.

Because it’s good stuff.

(via Daniel Morgan)

[tags]atheist, atheism, Paul Kurtz, Free Inquiry, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, religion, George W. Bush, stem cell research, global warming, abstinence, condom, AIDS, Islam, God, evangelical, altruism, Humanism, Humanists, secular humanist, Daniel Morgan[/tags]

  • Richard Wade

    Yes, it’s good stuff, but it’s really two separate articles, both left unfinished. Kurtz does a good job showing the absurdity of the current social injunctions against secular criticism of religion, even as clerics enjoy the centuries-old open season against skeptics and humanists. He builds a good case, and I was looking forward to him bringing it home with a good conclusion, but then he suddenly shifts gears and for the second half of the article goes on a meandering tangent about Sunni-Shia conflict. He doesn’t tie them together very well, and doesn’t come back to his title. Two good fragments of separate, if related topics do not a good whole make. I was disappointed.

  • TXatheist

    First I want to say I’m grateful Paul Kurtz founded Prometheus books. I noticed when I ordered freethinking books they were predominantly printed by this company. I don’t think speaking about ideas is a bad thing. If a religious topic happens to be the topic of criticism then so be it. We shouldn’t hold it to any other standard.

  • Avid Reader

    The obsession of the evangelicals amounts to a Crusade. It’s all there – the unrelenting proselytizing, “proofs” of their position, demonizing opponents as evil (not wrong), calls for the extermination of religion and religious ideas to be replaced with a “superior” society. The idea that such a society will necessarily be better than our own (in which we may debate this question without fear) is not only silly but dangerous. Personally, I don’t want folks who preach disrespect for ideas as my new master. As an atheist I am fed up with the screaming “I hate religion” crowd who has made personal belief a matter of morality, i.e. if you don’t think as I do you are an evil person.

    Dylan Evans, the noted English atheist, said it best, “Dawkins is virulently anti-religious, passionately pro-science and artistically illiterate…His attacks on religion are so vitriolic and bad-tempered that they alienate the sensitive reader and give atheism a bad name. As a friend of mine once commented, no other atheist has done more for the cause of religion than Richard Dawkins.” My only comment is a loud “Amen”.

    Thanks for your interesting forum

  • Jennifer

    Avid Reader,

    Thank you for making my point so well. :)

  • TXatheist

    Avid or Jennifer,
    May I ask who you think has been a good spokesperson for atheism? Sam Harris, Ellen Johnson, Dan Barker, Michael Shermer or someone else? I personally like all of them.

  • Andrew

    Avid Reader,

    Your attack upon your strawman version of evangelical atheism is so vitriolic and bad-tempered that it alienates the sensitive reader.

    The first paragraph is among the most nonsensical things I have ever read.


    I’m sure the world would be a lovely place if all those uppity atheists would just shut up.


    Whatever your opinion of Dawkins’ writing style is, the fact remains that he has got more people actually THINKING about what they believe than ever before. How this can be construed as a victory for religion is beyond me.

  • Jennifer

    Well, I am new to the whole atheist thing, lol, so I can’t speak to all of these individuals or their work. I do appreciate Daniel Dennett, because from what I have read he seems to stick very carefully to scientific examination and discussion and manages to avoid personal attacks. Maybe it’s out there, I just haven’t encountered it myself in what I have seen.

    Harris definitely takes a firm stance that religion is whacked. And yet, even he manages to address the problems created by religion with respect and civility. I appreciate the way in which he demands honest dialogue on the issues at hand. He definitely puts religious followers on the hot seat, but I think he does so in a respectful way. One example I can think of is his dialogue with Andrew Sullivan in a Beliefnet discussion. He immediately set out to establish common ground and respect before diving into areas of disagreement with the man. That is commendable, imo.

  • HappyNat

    Avid Reader,

    As has been stated your strawmen are impressive. If any of the arguments you stated were true I may well agree with you.

  • BruceA

    Speaking of Dawkins, I said last fall that I’d be willing to review his book The God Delusion as soon as I could get it from my library. I’ve finally been notified this week that a copy is available for me, and I picked up the book today.

    My impression from previous Dawkins books is that he is very skilled at writing about science but not very knowledgeable about religion. I’ll let you all know whether this book changes my mind in any way.

  • Ralph Bentley

    Why is it religion is held immune from criticism? I have often asked myself the same thing about Macintosh computers. A similar mechanism at work . . . ?

  • TXatheist

    I think for so long we have held to the taboo to not talk about religion and politics. The reason we can’t criticize macintosh is because they are a better computer but just less software available for them :)

  • Gerald

    This is hilarious. There is a HUGE DIFFERENCE between “holding religion immune to criticism” and objecting to Dawkins’ claims that raising your kids in a religion is child abuse. And great how Dawkins claims that everything positive that comes from religion is actually evolution, but that everything NEGATIVE that comes from religion is 100% religion and NOTHING ELSE. You know, white racists claim that anything positive that blacks manage is either due to their exposure to white culture or their being fortunate to acquire white genes through miscegenation. And then his claim that the atheistic totalitarian regimes of the 20th century did not specifically target people because of their faith and was somehow different from the Crusades? Tell that to the many religious refugees and families of the victims of Stalinism, Leninism, Maoism, the Khmer Rouge, etc. Even if everything he says is true, Dawkins’ unwillingness to admit any shred of virtue in the beliefs and traditions of the vast majority of the people on his planet (and his curious inability to find a similar or competing lack of virtue or danger in anything else … how many people did Stalin kill again … 20 million right? and despite people desiring to claim otherwise, Adolph Hitler abandoned actual theistic religion for a worship of the state and of a human ideal) causes true injury to the atheistic conceit that a world or state governed by atheists – or at least by the ideas that they espouse – would be more harmonious, tolerant, preaceful, prosperous, or desirable in any way for anyone else but the atheists. After all, when was the last time a religious professor of a leading university published a best – selling book demanding of religious people against atheists what Dawkins demands of atheists against religious people? Would such a book be published? And as for the “criticizing religion being taboo” nonsense: please face reality. Voltaire ring a bell, anyone? As if savage critics of religion are not far more represented as professors of our elite universities than, say, religious fundamentalists, and haven’t been for a long time. And it appears that being a religion critic is actually some sort of prerequisite for being a blogger for the John Edwards for president campaign! The New York Times just published a major article on the attempts to prevent people who hold certain religious beliefs from gaining admission to graduate science programs at state universities, and in it a department chair openly admitted that such people would never be considered at his department because they would be inherently unqualified. Another came right out and said that no matter the qualifications or capability of the person, people with certain religious views should not be allowed to get Ph.Ds in science because it is, after all, a doctor of PHILOSOPHY, and they should not be conferred upon people whose personal views contradict scientific thought. Now even if you agree with them 100%, you must admit that policies like this would NEVER be applied to atheists (and no, don’t go comparing some little private seminary school to a large elite state university’s graduate science programs and pretending that it is the same). The claims that Richard Dawkins’ book is making the people that he pretty much called irrational anti – intellectual dangerous bigots who are responsible for all of the endemic evils in the world “re – evaluate their beliefs” implies that they have as low an opinion of not only their beliefs but of their intellect and character as Dawkins does, and therefore is almost certainly not the case. Further, you can be certain that Dawkins’ choice quotes are circulating in the religious community accompanied by such comments as “and these atheists call US bigoted?!?!” Yes, it may shock you, but more than a few religious people feel put upon and looked down upon by atheists, and things such as this provides them with much fodder, as well as grist for their mills. So, even if Dawkins’ book results in a single more atheist (the more likely consequence would be its causing people who are already atheist to be bolder about declaring it), then it would come at the price of making the world that much more of a difficult and inhospitable place to be one. Ridley Scott’s movie “Kingdom Of Heaven” advanced the proposition that government by atheists and agnostics was preferable because they would be better suited to keep the peace among competing religious interests. Had that movie come out today, Richard Dawkins’ book would have been the very first thing mentioned in the counterargument by saying that the peace that Dawkins seeks would be accomplished by using the boot of the government to stamp out all religion by force. Which, incidentally, is something that atheistic totalitarian regimes have a history of trying mightily to do, so it is not as if making such comments in the context of Dawkins’ book would be unjustified in any least way.