Dear (New) Atheists, Meet Zizek and Paglia

I am writing beneath about 200 pages of final papers I have to read and grade, so this week will be mostly videos and a special something I have planned for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I plan on going into some depth on this subject later, so consider this a primer of sorts. Many atheists on Twitter (and some at the Patheos atheist channel) seem to rely on rather narrow governing assumptions about what atheism is. Most of them replicate lots of the insults, and some of the substance, of Hitch, Dawkins, and Harris. The so-called New Atheists.

It needn’t be so. There are several well known and outspoken atheists who abhor New Atheism. Here are two of them:

Slavoj Zizek, “Why Only an Atheist Can Beleive ,” in 9 parts. (notes: arduous and very long, but rewarding)

Camille Paglia, in a talk about her new book on art. (notes: accessible, not too long, and very fun)

I’ll return to this later. Feel free to leave comments on what you’re interested in regarding atheism.

  • Bob Seidensticker

    OK, I get it–you don’t think much of the New Atheists. But why? Are their arguments weak? Then show us.

    Cross Examined

    • srocha

      The two videos posted pose serious objections, besides being case studies in atheist objections to New Atheism. Start with them, in both senses, then we can go from there. In any event, these videos show one proposition: one need not be a non-atheist to object to New Atheism.

      • jose

        “In any event, these videos show one proposition: one need not be a non-atheist to object to New Atheism.”

        No shit. Ever heard of accomodationism? Chris Mooney? Chris Stedman? I assure you New Atheists have.

    • Petro

      The weakness in most of the New Atheism arguments resides primarily in the black and white nature of them. For many of the New Atheists, there is empirical science or fundamentalism. There is no point in-between these to poles.

      For those of the Catholic tradition, a tradition that traditionally has embraced science, these arguments are not very persuasive. You can explain to me why you do not believe in God because there is no empirical proof of God. Yet I am not convinced that I need empirical proof. This is not because I reject empirical science, but because I accept that, though empirical science has unveiled many mysteries of the universe, it still has its limits.

      The frequency with which believers of my ilk are disregarded or ignored by New Atheists suggests that the core of the New Atheism is primarily a reaction against fundamentalism. The rise of the popularity of the New Atheism after 9/11 seems only to underscore this. While this goal may be important for some, it seems just as reactionary as the fundamentalism it seeks to combat. Discussions with reactionaries has little appeal for me, as does much of the work of the New Atheists, though I adore the works of other atheists and the time-honored tradition of intellectual atheism.

      The other issue with the New Atheism is that because its ends are primarily this refutation of fundamentalism and, by extension, all supernatural belief, it does not do what other atheist movements have done in the past and extend the atheism to a treatment on ethics or philosophy on the absence of these beliefs which have permeated human culture since prehistoric times. The argument is “See. There is no God.” This leaves man to ask, “So, now what?” The New Atheism tends to respond to this questions with “Do whatever.” Harris seeks to turn ethics into a scientific question, but his own attempts to do so prove troublesome. On top of this, I find that his attempts to do so are inherently linked to the refuted supernatural belief systems about what is good. At least, from me, he gets points for trying to extend the New Atheism beyond just refutation.

      There is obviously a lot of oversimplification in this brief comment. Nevertheless, my primary point is that the New Atheism stands in contrast to previous atheistic schools of thought as those atheistic schools of thought were not focused on atheism rather what to do with a world that has no God. The New Atheism avoids this next step because to pursue a path like these other schools would necessarily lead to a type of fundamentalism that the New Atheism seeks to refute. Thus, the New Atheism just seems like another chorus in the cacophony of dissonant reactionary voices rather than a way forward for humanity.

  • Bernadette

    To throw another log on the Theory fire, Derrida on Atheism and Belief: “If one doesn’t go as far as possible in the direction of atheism, one doesn’t believe in God. [...] Believing implies some Atheism.”

  • DKeane

    I don’t have the time to watch now, but do they present actual verifiable/repeatable evidence for the existence of a supreme being – and if so, which one?

    • srocha

      Of course not! They’re both card carrying atheists. I suppose you didn’t have time to read the post either.

      • DKeane

        I must not have! I will actually watch these eventually. Thanks for posting.

  • Dani Fredo

    The nature of scientific inquiry is limited to an investigation of experience. There is nothing scientific about researching zero experiences. While I can say that a belief in God is not scientific, that is not the same as saying “God does not exist”. Most atheists I ever met reject God based on a lack of scientific evidence. It would be more productive for these folks to be agnostics, rather than jump to unscientific conclusions. If you want to live in a meaningless universe, say so. Be strong. But don’t stand on a back porch looking at the stars pretending that “no meaning” is a kind of meaningfulness.

  • peter

    I don’t believe in God, I am not an agnostic and i am not an atheist. There is nothing to believe in and nothing to know. To call myself an atheist is to give an amount of credence to the god belief. Sorry i neither believe or don’t believe. The entire subject is moot.

  • jose

    Ok, I’m not going to listen to 9 videos of that guy.

    I agree with Paglia in her criticism of Hitchens. I don’t agree on the wisdom of other religions and I suspect you don’t, either (catholicism is supposed to be the correct one, right?). About offering something to replace religious consolation, the most prominent new atheist (Dawkins) has made documentaries on that. So yeah not exactly a hard thing to find, new atheists being positive. And there are dozens of books on this topic. Paglia is either ignorant or deceiving the audience when she says new atheists are incapable of reverence and offer “nothing, absolutely nothing”. Particularly funny is her reverence for the poetry of the Bible, something she shares with Dawkins! At this point, I don’t really need to keep listening, do I?