How exciting to see a Wired cover about atheism! And how disappointing to read the article!
First, the title: “The Church of the Non-Believers.” Non-believers are of course precisely those who avoid the group-think, the play-acting, and the xenophobia of organized religion. Sadly, the title is a good fit for the article, which turns out to be a sophomoric caricature, wherein the author’s willful mischaracterization of his interviewees and their concerns amounts to contempt.
Only toward an evangelical priest does Mr. Wolf show respect. “Pastor Matthew offers a gift to his flock. They sow their seeds, and he blesses them. It is a direct exchange.” It’s a what? They hand the charismatic “pastor” money, and he “blesses” them. He is selling his “flock” a bill of goods. Educated folks more or less understand this; yet, only atheists dare to speculate that such transactions should perhaps not be considered harmless.
This evangelical anecdote, by itself, demonstrates the author’s ignorance of the topic at hand. Sadly, there’s more.
The New Atheists, Wolf charges, “condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God.” This inflammatory statement misleadingly concatenates two unrelated issues. “Belief in God” refers to an empirical question which atheists, by definition, judge to have been settled beyond any useful doubt. “Respect for belief,” on the other hand, refers to a thorny political issue: our right to resist religious organizations’ relentless efforts to control our bodies and minds.
“Gay politics is strictly civil rights: Live and let live. But the atheist movement, by [Dawkins’s] lights, has no choice but to aggressively spread the good news.” Again, this is misleading. Dawkins is obviously a secular humanist, as are Harris and Dennett. Theirs is a humanitarian philosophy of liberation and kindness. Sectarian apologists may claim the same noble attitudes, but sectarian behavior shows them to be liars. As everyone knows, evangelism shades inexorably into compulsion and then into atrocities. Secular humanists abjure torture, murder, and intolerance itself. We fucking invented ‘live and let live.’
“Here is the atheist prayer: that our reason will subjugate our superstition, that our intelligence will check our illusions, that we will be able to hold at bay the evil temptation of faith.” Again the misleading image of atheism as religion; added to this, the traditional, religious notion of reason as a destructive force. This poisonous fiction, that secularism constitutes a vicious attack on righteousness, was of course devised by the keepers of the faith. And Mr. Wolf has bought it and is spreading it around as if he has understood something.
Then comes the central canard. “People see a contradiction in [New Atheism’s] tone of certainty. Contemptuous of the faith of others, its proponents never doubt their own belief. They are fundamentalists. I hear this protest dozens of times.” This meme too comes straight from the religious establishment. It is not a legitimate “protest,” no matter how many dozens parrot it. It is a fucking lie.
Atheism is of course, by definition, the absence of faith in any deity. It is not a religion; nor a quasi-religious faith in something other than religion; but the simple absence of religion. Jesus fucking Christ, it is so simple. Mr. Wolf should not presume to speak about atheism, because he has literally not understood the first thing about it.