The New New Atheism

From Peter Berkowitz and the Wall Street Journal.

Attacking “God” has become a lucrative book business. But there’s not much substance behind the latest atheist tracts.

“There is nothing new under the sun,” proclaims the Book of Ecclesiastes. The rise of the new new atheism confirms this ancient biblical wisdom.

Of course the famous words of Ecclesiastes should not be taken in a slavishly literal sense, a technique that is all-too-common among those who think they can refute belief in God by showing that the Bible abounds in demonstrably false and self-contradictory statements.

But one stunning new development under the sun is that promulgating atheism has become a lucrative business. According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, in less than 12 months atheism’s newest champions have sold close to a million books. Some 500,000 hardcover copies are in print of Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” (2006); 296,000 copies of Christopher Hitchens’s “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” (2007); 185,000 copies of Sam Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation” (2006); 64,100 copies of Daniel C. Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon”; and 60,000 copies of Victor J. Stenger’s “God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does not Exist” (2007).

Profitability is not the only feature distinguishing today’s fashionable disbelief from the varieties of atheism that have arisen over the millennia. Unlike the classical atheism of Epicurus and Lucretius, which rejected belief in the gods in the name of pleasure and tranquility, the new new atheism rejects God in the name of natural science, individual freedom and human equality. Unlike the Enlightenment atheism of the 18th century, which arose in a still predominantly religious society and which frequently went to some effort to disguise or mute its disbelief, the new new atheism proclaims its hatred of God and organized religion loudly and proudly from the rooftops. And unlike the anti-modern atheism of Nietzsche and Heidegger, which regarded the death of God as a catastrophe for the human spirit, the new new atheism sees the loss of religious faith in the modern world as an unqualified good, lamenting only the perverse and widespread resistance to shedding once and for all the hopelessly backward belief in a divine presence in history.

So Messrs. Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and the rest have some fair claim to novelty. But not where it really counts. They contend that from the vantage point of the 21st century, and thanks to the moral progress of mankind and the achievements of natural science, we can now know, with finality and certainty, that God does not exist and organized religion is a fraud. The disproportion between the bluster and bravado of their rhetoric and the limitations of their major arguments is astonishing.”

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