We live in an age when atheism has assumed the trappings of religion of the worst kind. Cultural and intellectual life is overwhelmingly responsive to the preaching of the New Atheists, Dawkins has only to hiccough and it is proclaimed as a blow against the forces of darkness and obscurantism. The moral failings of old established verities are trumpeted as the inevitable faults of the deluded and their ill educated sycophants and willing accomplices. The prevailing cultural narrative depicts organised religion as the handmaiden to institutional abuse, moral corruption and intellectual dishonesty.
The enlightened outlook which alone holds the moral and intellectual high ground is supposedly the New Atheism. Once the dangerous and untrustworthy ranting of the deluded it is now the only credible game in town.
Once atheism was merely one philosophical position amongst many; atheists could be communists, democrats, fascists, liberals, monarchists or anarchists, today it assumes the position of an entire worldview. Where it held a position on one issue, the non-existence of God or gods, today it encompasses the foundation of a moral and philosophical crusade.
Like any crusade it is zealous in its assaults on heresy. Although demanding the primacy of reason its assaults on religion quickly become heated enough to be described as hysterical. Religion is demonised as either delusion or fanaticism and in simplistic manner anyone unapologetically holding to a Christian worldview is dogmatically denounced as a dogmatic fundamentalist. The New Atheism displays the close mindedness and rigidity of thought usually associated with preachers on satellite television. Just as Bob Jones viewed the world in terms of black and white so Richard Dawkins sees the world in Manichean terms.
In the view of Dawkins Sunday Schools are a form of child abuse which damages children for life. He says ‘we should work to free the children of the world from the religions which, with parental approval, damage minds too young to understand what is happening to them.’ He demands that the influence of dangerous believers in God should be wiped from the social body.
Rousseau, guiding light of the bloody French Revolution hated religion but nevertheless believed that religion was useful a useful tool for pacifying and manipulating the masses. Later in the nineteenth century, we find the French philosophers Henri de Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte saying that social stability required them to create a new religion. Every such attempt to pacify the populace with an ersatz political spirituality has failed.
Nevertheless the New Atheism seems determined to become a religion in the worst sense of that ugly word. It is very selective about its targets. It claims to fight against the irrational and un-scientific, yet confines itself to what it sees as the follies of the great mainstream religions. Rarely do we hear them fulminate about the unscientific inanities of environmentalist belief in Gaia theory or the blind commitment, despite the facts, to cultural Marxism. Double standards are one of the marks of an authoritarian religion.
Humanity is viewed as consisting of helpless victims of circumstance, powerless against the predestinating forces of society. We are no longer held to account individually before God for our gluttony, rather we are treated for our obesity. Lust is no longer a sin, but therapeutic intervention is required for our sex addiction. Greed and envy are not the responsibility of individuals but rather the psychological reaction of helpless masses to the manipulation of our addictive consumer society. The psychologist is the new priest, both confessor and healer.
It is inevitable that the New Atheism would grab the outward trappings of religion. Alain de Botton in his latest book Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion proposes that atheists should build temples throughout Britain. ‘It’s time atheists had their own versions of the great churches and cathedrals’, he asserts.
Thankfully the usually sensible and interesting de Botton is nowhere near as strident or aggressive as Dawkins, yet his argument is indicative of the inherent need of the intellectual elite to control and rule. They decry the worst of religion and assume its trappings for their own ends.