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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The ‘new’ New Atheism

A recent AlterNet article by Chris Hall declares:
“Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris Are Old News:
A Totally Different Atheism Is on the Rise”
The ‘new’ New Atheism is all about social justice. Hall sums it up this way:
“The activists who insist that atheism address matters of social justice are not distracting the movement from its purpose or being divisive; they are insisting it deliver on the promises that attracted so many of us to it in the first place.”
If the most significant promise of atheism is social justice, I can’t wait to see atheism try to deliver. It seems to me that an absence of belief (or belief in an Absence), is in a pretty poor position to promise much of anything.

But no, this is exactly what the ‘new’ New Atheists are saying. (Can we please just call them the “NNA” for short? Thanks.) So post-Dawkins disbelievers view their lack of belief “less as an end in itself”, but as part of the social justice conversation. We’re told that “an increasing number of the most passionate voices bringing new people into the movement [meaning atheism] are people of color, women, transgendered, or queer.”

Short version: The NNA sees skepticism about God, heaven and the Bible as part of the discussion about race, sexual equality and sexual identity.

How does that work?

Hall puts it like this:
“To make ethical decisions without the revelations from a deity means that the responsibility for those decisions ends with you, and no one else. Even more importantly, when you accept that there is no world beyond this one, you have to turn your eyes away from the sky and look at the people around you.”
That’s certainly one way to look at it. But oddly enough, when we talk about the responsibility for human decisions ending with us, we find ourselves right back in the Scripture, which says something eerily similar.

Responsibility Ends With Us Anyway

The first plank of Hall’s NNA platform is that ethical decisions end with you and me.

But the responsibility for our decisions ends with us regardless of which worldview we may currently embrace. Here’s what the word of God says about human responsibility:

·         We’re told that men will give an account for every careless word, which must certainly include any genuinely hateful speech the social justice advocates despise.

·         We’re assured that each of us will “give an account of himself to God”. This comes in the context of “passing judgement” on our fellow man or “despising” him. Surely here is the antidote to racism, among other things.

·         We will give an account for our deeds. So for the Christian, the incentive to be “just” is even more keenly felt. Paul tells the Corinthians “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” 

If the goal is genuine justice (as opposed to ‘social justice’, which is frequently employed as a kind of shorthand for redistributionist politics and limitless, content-less tolerance), there is no better motivator for it than the Christian faith and the revelation of Christ.

Look at the People Around You

The second plank of Hall’s NNA platform is that “when you accept that there is no world beyond this one, you have to turn your eyes away from the sky and look at the people around you”.

Maybe I’m missing something, but in a universe without God, I cannot think of a single plausible reason to “look at the people” around me. My life stands to be brief, pointless and possibly quite unpleasant. I am an animal among animals, and I can see no reason to choose altruism or ethics over being on the one hand the king of beasts clawing his way to the top of the pile, or on the other a dissolute hermit enjoying the benefits of solitary self-indulgence.

Chris Hall sees a causal connection between nonbelief and ethical behavior, and good for him in that respect. But insisting on a connection and proving it exists are two very different things.

As for looking at the people around us, again, no better motivation may be advanced than the word of God. James tells us that half of “pure and undefiled religion” is to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction”.

Unlike some, I can readily imagine a post-moral, post-Christian pseudo-atheist, unmoored from logic or reason, flailing around and finding some temporary peace of mind in caring for the odd widow or orphan. What I cannot for a second imagine is how he or she might set about justifying that behavior.

The atheist may reply, “I don’t have to justify it!” To which the only rational rejoinder is: On what possible basis do you go about advocating altruism for others?

As has been pointed out ad infinitum, nobody — not Dawkins, not Hitchens, not Sam Harris and certainly not the NNA gang — has offered any plausible incentive arising from an atheistic worldview to pursue the creation of a ‘heaven on earth’ that we will inevitably cease to derive any benefit from the instant we cease to exist.

Christianity does.

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