Was yesterday a good day or a bad day for “new atheists” in the UK?

There was a stirring of thought around new atheism yesterday that was interesting to watch from the sidelines.

On the surface it was not a great day for new atheism.  Not because of anything that the religious folks did (unless it was the effects of their prayers, but I am not sure that any new atheism devotee would want to give credence to that!).  It was because fellow atheists (old atheists?!) came out in droves and denounced their more strident – some called them belligerent – colleagues.

Firstly there was the blog. “Sharpe’s Opinion” – a blog by UK “Web Designer, iPhone developer, and writer” Stuart Sharpe – was, well, rather blunt!  In Fear and Atheism he confesses his discomfort, as an atheist, at the language and attitude taken by Richard Dawkins in a recent protest meeting against the Pope’s visit to the UK.  The amazing thing about the blog, though, is not just the writer’s own “disappointment, alarm and brewing anger” because he’s “grown tired of Dawkins and his unholy crusade.”  The amazing thing is how many other atheists added comments saying they were feeling a similar disquiet.

Then there was the debate.  In the evening at the RSA (the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, in London) there was a panel-led discussion, chaired by sociologist/broadcaster Laurie Taylor called “After New Atheism: Where now for the God debate?”  The panel was organised by the New Humanist magazine (and co-sponsored by the Guardian’s Comment is Free Belief section).

Laurie’s “panel of expert commentators” – prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson, philosopher Roger Scruton and humanist historian Jonathan Rée -were intellectually (and articulately) critical of the Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris strain of atheism, and of those followers – one of them called this grouping a cult – who believe in the infallibility of the scientific model.  If you input the Twitter hash tag for the meeting #rsanh you will see that supporters were riled.  (Neutral observers might like to note that no-one on the panel was celebrating God either!)

A thought-provoking perspective at the RSA debate was brought out by Roger Scruton in response to the question of the absolutism of religions. Beside warning of the absolutism of those who vehemently oppose religions based on their own worldview, he also pointed out that a religious belief in an absolute can actually cause humility.  Rather than causing arrogance or promoting a militant “ism”, standing in awe of an immense goodness can bring meekness and temper human behaviour.

And that brings me back to that question as to whether or not yesterday was a good or bad day for new atheism.  As a day of exposing the non-monolithic nature of the atheist community it would probably be seen as a bad day for those wishing to promote a unilateral worldview of science as truth.  But if any new atheists who need to do so can learn the lesson of humility that fellow atheists are urging upon them then it can be a good day for the new atheists, because they will be able to converse more constructively with others.

That will certainly give them something in common with those of us who love God and are having to learn the same lesson of humility as we go along our own chosen paths.

I love the spirit of this rousing song.  If you are a new or old atheist, please feel free to sing along with your own adapted lyrics…! 🙂


Categories: Uncategorized

Author:Tony Lobl

I write and speak on spirituality from my perspective as a Christian Science practitioner. I am also an Associate Editor for the Christian Science periodicals. I studied at the University of Surrey earning a BSc Hons Degree in Modern Mathematics before the impact of spirituality on health caught my attention and re-shaped my career.

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4 Comments on “Was yesterday a good day or a bad day for “new atheists” in the UK?”

  1. Courtenay Rule
    November 26, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    A nice stirring chorus in that song (Awesome God) indeed, but I just looked up the full lyrics out of curiosity. Not all the words are that pretty – a fair bit of old theology (fall of man, wrath, judgment, etc.) all mixed in, rather incongruously, with God’s “wisdom, power and love”. Newcomers to this site – including atheists – might like to know that Christian Science doesn’t believe in a vindictive, punishing God (or humankind as inherently sinful and deserving of hellfire) either!

  2. November 28, 2010 at 7:56 pm #

    Thanks for spotting that Courtenay and for adding this helpful comment. It is one of the great glories of Christian Science that it unpacks the nature of God as being entirely loving and gives us the tool to progressively ditch the beliefs and attitudes that would try and obscure that wonderful truth from us! Thanks for checking in and commenting.


  1. My friend Bob, the atheist | CHRISTIAN SCIENCE: WHAT IT IS, HOW IT'S MISUNDERSTOOD & WHY IT MATTERS - September 24, 2010

    […] […]

  2. Guest Blog: Freedom of conscience is a bridge for two-way traffic! | "Oh, Lord, Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"- what Christian Science is, and what it isn't! - October 10, 2010

    […] Tony’s article reminded me of the first time I actively discussed religion with an atheist.  I was part of a small group of high school friends who enjoyed exploring all the profound life questions we could come up with.  Most of us were Christian Scientists, including Jim whom I admired for his deep convictions in theological areas I struggled with.  Questions like: “what’s wrong with pre-marital sex?”  And: “why is there evil if an all-loving God is always in control?” […]

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