Niose, “Nonbeliever Nation”

Here’s a new entry in the increasingly popular bellicose secularist genre: Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans (Palgrave Macmillan 2012) by David Niose.  The publisher’s description follows.

Today, nearly one in five Americans are nonbelievers – a rapidly growing group at a time when traditional Christian churches are dwindling in numbers – and they are flexing their muscles like never before. Yet we still see almost none of them openly serving in elected office, while Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and many others continue to loudly proclaim the myth of America as a Christian nation.

In Nonbeliever Nation, leading secular advocate David Niose explores what this new force in politics means for the unchallenged dominance of the Religious Right. Hitting on all the hot-button issues that divide the country – from gay marriage to education policy to contentious church-state battles – he shows how this movement is gaining traction, and fighting for its rights. Now, Secular Americans—a group comprised not just of atheists and agnostics, but lapsed Catholics, secular Jews, and millions of others who have walked away from religion—are mobilizing and forming groups all over the country (even atheist clubs in Bible-belt high schools) to challenge the exaltation of religion in American politics and public life.

This is a timely and important look at how growing numbers of nonbelievers, disenchanted at how far America has wandered from its secular roots, are emerging to fight for equality and rational public policy.

The New York Times on Richard Dawkins’ [Dangerous?] Evangelical Atheism, Post Two

Last week, I commented on the New York Timesprofile of evolutionary biologist and vociferous atheist, Richard Dawkins.  Post One of this two-part series described (1) Dawkins’ views and (2) how the overheated antipathy and rhetoric of The God Delusion (2006) may reflect atheists’ marginalization in contemporary society—in itself a legitimate concern.  (See additionally my Scholarship Roundup post—Faith no More: the Moral Atheist—where I suggest that religion’s record of immorality, for many, makes atheism a moral choice, not a nihilistic one.)

In this post, I criticize Dawkins’ position as described in his NYT profile: first, for its logical inconsistency and stubborn ignorance of its subject matter; and second, for its divisive rhetoric that fails to recognize the commonalities between his chosen source of meaning and his targets’.

I. Dawkins: The Uninquisitive Critic

Dawkins’ ignorance of the faiths he dismisses is alarming.  As Terry Eagleton says in his marvelously scathing 2006 review of The God Delusion, Dawkins illustrates and purports to challenge no more than “vulgar caricatures of religio[n].”  Eagleton responds to this facile exercise by speculating, “What . . . are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus?  . . . Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope?  Has he even heard of them?”

Yet Dawkins readily, proudly, admits that the answer is no.  He scoffs at the suggestion that he study the history and intricacies of the faiths he rejects—study tantamount, in his view, to researching fairy tales.  In this way, Dawkins simply refuses to engage in his critics’ conversation.

Continue reading

Faith no More: The Moral Atheist

Professor of Sociology at Pitzer College, Phil Zuckerman, will publish Faith no More: Why People Reject Religion, in October.  This text illuminates some of the suppositions I posited about atheism, atheists, and atheists’ discontent in the first part of my recent commentary on the New York Timesprofile of outspoken anti-religionist, Richard Dawkins.  Faith No More, based on interviews and other studies of persons who have left their faith or otherwise opted against observance, finds that, far from being a uniform bloc, atheists in America are a group with varied and complex reasons for their lifestyle choice.

But perhaps most compelling and relevant is Zuckerman’s revelation that atheists are not the amoral nihilists that politicians have so often found it convenient to portray; rather, as I posited in my first Dawkins post, they are, on a whole, people deeply concerned with morality—perhaps, I suggested, persons who have encountered, and been deeply troubled by, religiosity in one of its more immoral incarnations.  I suggested that for many atheists, their choice of non-religion stems from a deep sense of moral conviction—a belief that atheism is more moral than the religion they have encountered in history books and in their lives.

This conclusion only supports the legitimacy of nonreligious persons’ defensive stance in contemporary society, a stance that could easily lead to Dawkinsesque anti-religiosity and contribute to Dawkins’ widespread popularity among the reading public.  (Note, in particular, the sharp difference between the mention of the non-religious in President Obama’s inaugural speech [see the reference after the jump] and Mitt Romney’s complete avoidance of the constituency in his 2007 Faith in America Speech.)

The publisher’s description of Faith no More follows:

[Update (DRS, 12/26/11): See Louise M. Antony’s discussion of atheism and morality in her recent NYT.com post, Good Minus God (Dec. 18, 2011).  Antony—who teaches philosophy at UMass Amherst—argues that atheism usually has nothing to do with nihilism, but is an alternative moral perspective.  For atheists, she says, morality does not depend on the existence of God; rather, morality and the good are “immanent in the natural world”—right and wrong are inherent in the interactions and reactions between rational, feeling beings.]

Continue reading

The New York Times on Richard Dawkins’ Evangelical Atheism, Post One

On Monday, September 19, the New York Times profiled the evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, in the lengthy Profiles in Science: A Knack for Bashing Orthodoxy.  (The Times’ online edition also features a filmed interview.)  Though it is beyond this author’s expertise to assess the claim, many regard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene (1976) as groundbreaking in its field.

Recently, however, Dawkins has become notorious for the strident atheism he articulated in The God Delusion (2006), an international best seller.  The God Delusion argues that religious faith is not only irrational but socially dangerous.  The NYT profile, though published in the Science Section, devotes substantial page-space to Dawkins’ perspectives on religion.

This Commentary will proceed in two posts.  Post One will characterize Dawkins’ atheistic perspectives—as he relates them in his NYT profile—and contend that (1) atheism’s stance is not without justification and (2) neither is atheists’ sense of defensiveness, which is probably the basis for Dawkins’ popularity.  Yet, despite my sympathy for nonreligious persons and respect for their beliefs, Dawkins’ vitriol and its underlying critical method are fundamentally defective.  Forthcoming, Post Two will critique Dawkins’ unabashed prejudice toward religious devotion from two perspectives: (1) Terry Eagleton’s criticism that Dawkins lacks basic understanding of the variety and fullness of religious belief and (2) Alasdair MacIntyre’s theory that contemporary moral discourse in the socio-political sphere is broken to the point of interminability, a failing Dawkins exemplifies.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: