Is New Atheism Simply a New Faith?

AP Photo/The Gainesville Sun, Matt Stamey
AP Photo/The Gainesville Sun, Matt Stamey

It seemed like the story reporters have been waiting for.

Early Wednesday, news broke from Chapel Hill, N.C., that an avowed atheist had allegedly killed three members of a Muslim family.

Why, just last week a dozen or so Muslim leaders spoke with President Obama. “[T]he No. 1 issue raised: The alarming rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in America,” as Dean Obeidallah, one of those in the meeting, noted. Could this be the backlash against Muslims that everyone in the White House and the mainstream media have been warning about?

Not quite.

Interest in the story swiftly faded when the suspect’s wife and her lawyer announced the shooting had “nothing to do with the victims’ religious beliefs but had everything to do with a mundane parking spot dispute.”

But perhaps there’s a religious aspect here, after all.

The suspect, Craig Stephen Hicks, widely bragged about his atheism. As Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig writes in the New Republic, his aggressive belief in unbelief is, in fact, akin to a religious belief.

“Like any number of global faiths, New Atheism presumes its framework and considers its truth-claims to be either self-evident or demonstrable by whatever means it already assumes legitimate,” she writes, adding:

Its id is a product of the cultural and political landscape in which the majority of its congregants find themselves, which is again true of the religions it nonetheless essentializes to particular texts, creeds, and dogmas. And, like any other religion, its adherents can take its reasoning too far, and cross the line into violence.

Bruenig is especially critical of New Atheist Richard Dawkins, a leader of the no-faith faith.

She writes further:

Dawkins takes the obviousness of his moral frame for granted; he doesn’t feel the need to offer an earnest denouncement of these murders because he does not honestly believe any person could view them as an outgrowth of a system decent people like him are a part of.

Bruenig goes on to state, “But this is a persistent problem with the New Atheist movement: Because it is more critical of religion than introspective about its own moral commitments, it assumes there is broad agreement about what constitutes decency, common sense, and reason.”

The world is all too frequently reminded of Islam’s violent streak. The murder of Kayla Mueller is simply the latest example. But perhaps a rising form of atheism is also dangerous. “For a school of thought that presents itself as intellectually robust, it is philosophically bankrupt and evidently blind to its similarities to the religions it derides,” Bruenig writes.

Have faith, or don’t. But understand that sometimes, not having faith is itself an act of faith. And, perhaps, a dangerous one.


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