January 26, 2021
In this review I’ll investigate some criticisms of militant atheism (Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, etcetera). Critics of New Atheists are opposed to the style of violently attacking religion.
Critics of New Atheism contest the notion (the only major one discussed in this paper) that religion is a completely evil thing, and once we eradicate religion from the face of the Earth we will move into a rational utopia.
Critics of New Atheism are bountiful and come from all kinds of different backgrounds. There are atheist critics and theist critics. Most popular critics are academics. Some write books on the subject while others write articles. There are left leaning and right leaning critics (I would disagree with the general beliefs of the leftists). For example Chris Hedges and CJ Werleman are left leaning critics. Vox Day and Jordan Peterson are more right leaning critics with classically liberal views.
Critics on the previously mentioned argument most distinctly say that New Atheism is anti-intellectual. Professor Massimo Pigliucci said that the core tenet of New Atheism, which is scientism, is anti-intellectual.1 Professor Dein Simon looked at factors of fundamentalism including reactivity, dualism, absolutism, apocalypticism, and evidentialism, and concluded New Atheists are fundamentalist.2 Psychologist Jordan Peterson expressed that he thinks the problem with New Atheism comes from abdicating responsibility.3
Jordan Peterson said on a Dave Rubin interview that “people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, they assume that the natural person is the civilized creature that you see before you, in a discussion like this. But I don’t believe that. I think that people are far crazier, and for more destructive, and far greater as well than the typical rationalist approach. Rationality is a surface facade, that’s all. And the idea that people will eventually be rational…it’s much more likely that they will be irrational than rational…”4
Objective reality and reason are important but is it possible to exaggerate the Enlightenment vision? How rational are we truly?
Well established neuroscientists like Joseph LeDoux and Antonio Damasio, as well as author David Brooks, provide evidence that we are predominantly irrational creatures. We are animals in which reasoning is anchored in our biology. These researchers place emotion before reason.
As religious historian Mircea Eliade wrote, “A purely rational man is an abstraction; he is never found in real life.”5
Some other criticisms of New Atheism are that there are legitimate benefits to religion (such as the community building elements of religion or the great generosity towards charity), that secular-atheistic regimes are not a bed of roses either (the unprecedented magnitude of death in the twentieth century), or that Christianity is responsible for Western civilization.
My main thoughts on New Atheism is that it’s narcissistic and inflated.
The Value of Mythology and Religion
Next is the value of mythology and religion. It is said that mythology is a separate subject area than just the word myth, associated with something false. Scholars of mythology highlight that what is valuable about mythology and religion is psychological and symbolic rather than literal or historical.6 What is valuable is that mythology contains humanity’s eternal and central guiding narrative that helps us get through life.
Carl Jung is a well-known figure and one of the founders of modern psychology. On the value of mythology he said that “the religious myth is one of man’s greatest and most significant achievements, giving him the security and inner strength not to be crushed by the monstrousness of the universe.”7 Amongst his popular ideas is his idea of the collective unconscious that we are all born with, composed of archetypes. In Modern Man in Search of a Soul he said, “It is only possible to live the fullest life when we are in harmony with these symbols; wisdom is a return to them. It is neither a question of belief nor knowledge, but of the agreement of our thinking with the primordial images of the unconscious.”8
Joseph Campbell is another well-known expert on mythology. He had similar comments on the value of myth when he said that it is for modern psychologists to work with and that mythology contains “a rich and eloquent document of the profoundest depths of human character.”9
A central topic of mythology and religion is our need for transcendence. We’ve always had a need for transcendence and to garner a sense of eternal significance.10
Mircea Eliade also had his idea of the eternal return. He stated that history is a fall in which we, whether religious or nonreligious, wish to abolish profane time. The goal is the eternal return, which is that human beings have a nostalgia and desire to return to ahistorical primordial time, an eternal, pure, strong state in which we can “rediscover the intensity with which one experienced or knew something for the first time.”11 According to Eliade, we have a desire to transcend history and garner a sense of the pristine substance of the universe. Mythology and religion are basic means of inspiring the fulfilment of the eternal return.12
To come full circle then religion isn’t a hunky-dory enterprise and atheists certainly without a doubt have valid claims. Though New Atheism is multifaceted, it can be taken too far on the previously mentioned argument of whether religion ought to be eradicated and that if we gave it up we’ll all move into a rational utopia.
What are your thoughts on New Atheism? Leave a comment below.
1. In part five of the article New Atheism and the Scientistic Turn in the Atheism Movement by Professor Massimo Pigluicci. https://philpapers.org/rec/PIGNAA
2. At this webpage you can get a free PDF copy of the paper Professor Dein Simon wrote: http://researcherslinks.com/email-this-article-tocolleague/The-New-Atheism-and-ReligiousFundamentalism-Are-They-a-Mirror-Image-ofEach-Other/9/5/334
3. In this clip psychologist Jordan Peterson talks about New Atheism and abdicating responsibility at 3:00. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyYdGiJpyXk
4. Jordan Peterson discusses Sam Harris’s views on religion. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjYQ48t4C8U
5. The Sacred and the Profane, p. 209. This book is also online for free at http://www.europeanrenewal.org/files/pdf/the%20sacred%20and%20the%20profane.pdf
6. Joseph Campbell An Introduction Revisited Edition, p. 163.
7. Symbols of Transformation, p. 231.
8. Modern Man in Search of a Soul, p. 113.
9. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 219- 220.
10. This is somewhat of a controversial notion. Here’s four voices.
In A Short History of Myth Karen Armstrong says the need for transcendence has always been part of the human experience, p. 8.
In Why Religions Matter by religious studies scholar Huston Smith, he said that we innately desire a form of transcendence, Kindle page 3.
In More Than Allegory: On Religious Myth, Truth, and Belief Bernardo Kastrup says that the impetus of life is to transcend and that we desire a form of eternal significance (I used the last two words). Kindle page 20, 21.
Psychologist Jordan Peterson who studies mythology and religion said that human beings have a need for the transcendent at 45:00 of the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Y6bCqT85Pc&t=0s
11. Myth and Reality, Kindle p. 193.
12. Extracted from the following webpage: http://norse-mythology.org/introduction-mirceaeliade/
Armstrong, Karen. A Short History of Myth. Scotland: Canongate books, 2005.
Brooks, David. The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement. New York: Random House, 2011.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 3rd ed. Novato: New World Library, 2008.
Damasio, Anthony. Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Penguin Publishing Group, 1994. Kindle Edition
Eliade, Mircea. Myth and Reality. Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc, 1998. Kindle Edition.
Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1959.
Jung, C. G.. Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 5: Symbols of Transformation v. 5 New York: Princeton University Press, 1956.
Jung, Carl. Modern Man In Search of a Soul. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1933.
Kastrup, Bernardo. More Than Allegory: On Religious Myth, Truth And Belief. United Kingdom: John Hunt Publishing, 2016. Kindle Edition.
Ledoux, Joseph. The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
Segal, A. Joseph Campbell An Introduction. Revised ed. New York: Penguin Group, 1990
Smith, Huston. Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. Kindle Edition