“The New Atheists,” Ronald Aronson’s cover story for the June 25 issue, drew so much mail, of such variety, we have only now been able to digest it all. Here are some of the highlights. –The Editors
The writings of Harris, Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens against God and religion are nothing new. But as a Roman Catholic priest, I agree with them about one thing: the in-your-face religion practiced by some is equally repellent.
REV. JAMES A. SUMMITT
I object to the term “new atheists.” Originally, the only ones who used the term were religious conservatives who wished to portray atheism as akin to a trendy fad likely to pass away on its own that should be ignored. I also object on the grounds that it’s simply not true–the “new atheists” who are writing these books have been atheists for many decades. There’s nothing new about it.
Ronald Aronson makes an important suggestion: nontheists who believe in separation of church and state can work with like-minded theists. That is exactly what is happening on Capitol Hill. The first Congressional lobbying organization representing the interests of the tens of millions of nontheists, the Secular Coalition for America, works with religious church-state-separation groups. We have implemented Aronson’s idea that such a group ought to “reorient American thinking about atheists and atheism.” The SCA has also made great strides in informing the public that we, too, are patriotic, ethical and, yes, moral.
LORI LIPMAN BROWN
Director, Secular Coalition for America
Silver Spring, Md.
We need to differentiate between strident “atheist fundamentalists,” who attack all religion, and humanists, who see religion as varied and are eager to work with moderate and progressive Catholics, Protestants, Jews and others with whom they share many values and concerns, such as saving our nation and our planet from the myriad threats facing us.
You don’t have to be an atheist or agnostic to feel marginalized by the overwhelming Christian focus of American culture. Aronson’s final paragraph, where he recognized the need for education about religion and secularism (“the touchiest question of all”), struck me most deeply. If every high school student were required to take such a course, it would go a long way toward awakening tolerance.
The ideas of the new atheists are a rehash of the Enlightenment critique, about 200 years late. The whole notion of “religion” smacks of a particular moment of Eurocentric thought–look at how badly Buddhism fits into that container. The sociological critique that belief systems invest ties between people with meaning and thus make social life possible is lost on these authors, as is the postcolonial notion that science and rationality can be a colonial imposition.