In Defense of the "New Atheists"

It is indeed exciting to see so many new books about atheism on the shelves and bestseller lists, although, most of these books are reviewed scathingly in publications, left, right and center. The main arguments against the likes of Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) Sam Harris (Letters to a Christian Nation) and more recently, Christopher Hitchens (God is not Great) have been: 1) they don't "understand religion" and 2) they are fundamentalists themselves, preaching a form of absolutism. Both arguments, I think, are woefully inadequate. The first is virtually meaningless; the second, flatly incorrect. The "New Atheists" are not trying to convince everyone they have all the answers, they are dismissing the idea of inventing, or subscribing to mythology and superstition in the absence of answers.

In any case, finally, someone has taken these reviewers on. Ronald Aronson, who has a new book pending called Living Without God, writes a piece in the Nation, that praises the good that these books can and are accomplishing. Nice to see someone has written this long overdue essay.

But over the past generation they have come to feel beleaguered and, except for rare individuals like comedian and talk-show host Bill Maher, voiceless in the public arena. The great success of the New Atheists is to have reached them, both speaking to and for them. These writers are devoted, with sledgehammer force and angry urgency, to "breaking the spell" cast by the religious ascendancy, to overcoming a situation in which every other area of life can be critically analyzed while admittedly irrational religious faith is made central to American life but exempted from serious discussion.