Recently, I came across a very interesting new perspective on the New Atheist movement – or rather, it’s a kind of eulogy written by R. Joseph Hoffmann, a “non-believing” scholar in religious studies (he’s a historian of religion).
In his blog entry, “Re-Made in America: Remembering the New Atheism (2006-2011)”, Hoffmann severely criticizes the New Atheists, and especially Richard Dawkins, for their fanatical rantings against religion.
Not only does Hoffmann (rightly in my view) point out the blatant ignorance of the new atheists concerning what religion is and does – they actually construct stereotypes that they sell as being “true” religion – but Hoffmann also argues that the New Atheist movement actually has had a damaging effect on the scholarly study of religion in the United States – and then I don’t mean theology, but religious studies.
The real success story of the new atheism is that it was bought and sold after being intellectually panned by almost all the cognoscenti who weren’t atheist activists. In fact, as the circle closed around a tightly knit cadre of God-opposers, opposing God became virtually the sole criterion for what, in their parochial view, counted for anthropology, archaeology, sociology and the study of religion–about which all of the four (check the footnotes) were blissfully ignorant.
In other words, the New Atheists not only constructed a definition of religion, that is false yet widely accepted (almost canonical) among atheist communities worldwide, but they also implicitly have redefined the mission of all the scholarly approaches of religion: to be scientific means to scoff at religion, to debunk it as being an illusion, not only silly but perhaps even a menace to society. The consequences of this, Hoffmann argues, are quite severe:
The willful ignorance of the new atheists matters because it makes almost impossible the work of serious religion scholars who have no commitment to belief, but who happen to feel that the study of religion belongs to and is inestimably important to the study of history and culture.
And do check out Hoffmann’s other blog entries, there’s much more interesting stuff there!
(Picture credits: http://www.theatheistmama.com/2006/05/is-atheism-a-religion.html.)