The New Atheism does indeed assert that it is just as simple (and considerably more useful) to drop God like we drop Santa Claus when we're eight. We would indeed, as John Haught claims, offend the "old" atheists, Sarte, Nietzsche, Camus, etc. with our flippancy. So much the worse for the old boys. They're pretentious, deeply vain and fearful, and, like many philosophers, mostly full of shit. There are hundreds of millions of atheists living without a shred of existential angst. Millions who realize that existential angst is just the fear of the newly-freed slave, so conditioned to obedience that the prospect of simple choice fills him with dread.
But atheism is easy: It's rational to simply do what you want, for no other reason than that you want it. You do of course have to understand how the real world works: If you want to fly to the Moon, you must do some complicated, expensive things to get there, but the only reason you need to do those complicated things is that you want to. You'll also have to keep in mind that there are six billion other people, many of them with fists, sticks, rocks, guns, and some with nuclear weapons, and all of them want things of their own. I advise everyone to consider their reaction before acting on their own desires.
Reality — and many other people — are utterly indifferent to your happiness or suffering. If you're going to find happiness and avoid suffering, you need to take personal responsibility and act sensibly and rationally, or the universe will use you harshly. If you wait around for a just and loving God to make you happy, you're just buying a lottery ticket: A few people get lucky, but everyone else dies unhappy. And once you're dead, that's it. Worm food. Sucks to be mortal, eh?
The New Atheism is pro-science. It's not that The Scientific Method is by definition the only way to knowledge. It's just that it's the only method we've ever discovered that does give us actual knowledge. The theists can bullshit all they please about different "layers" of meaning, but our demand is straightforward: By what method can we reliably and publicly differentiate between true and false statements? More importantly, what do we have to accept uncritically to make that determination?
Science demands only three things: That we look for ourselves, that we think in some sort of deterministic manner (e.g. canonical logic) and that we can count. That's all you have to accept "uncritically" to use science. There is no such thing as "scientific" evidence as distinguished from "unscientific" evidence. There's only evidence. (There are certain kinds of evidence, certain ways of collecting evidence, that makes it more efficient to draw scientific conclusions.) The word "evidence" labels "statements uncontroversially accepted as true." It is a contradiction to deny any evidence: If you deny a statement, it is no longer uncontroversially accepted as true; evidence is that which cannot be and is not denied.
(In theory one could deny evidentiary statements about ordinary perception. Most people simply agree on statements about perception, so such denial is of interest to only philosophers. In this larger sense, calling a statement evidentiary means that one must consider a denier non-sentient, irretrievably insane, or a member of an incompatible linguistic community. If the theists wish to call atheists insane for denying what they call "unscientific evidence", there's nothing I can do except note that we cannot then be reasonably assured of the mutual good will necessary to civil society, and we will act accordingly.)
It's a bullshit excuse to say that religion is fuzzy and elusive, chthonic, mysterious, occult. Fuzzy is fine for literature, but the value of literature doesn't depend on its factual truthfulness. It would be great if people were willing to say that the value of their scripture doesn't depend on whether God really exists, or if statements about God are somehow factually true, or if the universe really does have some sort of sapience, intention or love. As far as I'm concerned, once you drop the truthfulness of the underlying statements, you cease having any sort of religion, and you can go talk to the literary critics, not the scientists, philosophers and politicians.
The New Atheism is anti-religion. Not because religion is always bad, or because everything bad comes from religion, but you can use religion to "prove" anything, good, bad or indifferent. It denies and actively erodes the skepticism and criticality that is each person's only fundamental protection against being exploited and oppressed by lies and bullshit.
We realize that there are "good" theologies, but we don't talk about them much. Religious fundamentalists at least have some meat to their theology, there is enough there to be at least wrong. But the "good" theologians are not even wrong; their work is nothing but vacuous nonsense. If there is a warmed-over half-assed humanism, it is so buried under metaphysical bullshit that the search for a few nuggets of obvious truth is not worth the effort.
And even good theology is dangerous, as Diderot observes:
The arbitrary rule of a just and enlightened prince is always bad. His virtues are the most dangerous and the surest form of seduction: they lull a people imperceptibly into the habit of loving, respecting, and serving his successor, whoever that successor may be, no matter how wicked or stupid.It is worth noting that Christianity, originally conceived as (to some extent) a pacifistic religion of universal love, has for the last fifteen centuries — even before Constantine conferred political power on the religion — motivated its adherents to torture and slaughter each other with savage ferocity. The slaughter only even began to abate once natural reason, humanism, science, individual liberty and democracy arose in the Enlightenment.
Anything that requires supernatural justification cannot be considered good. Anything that we can rationally agree is good does not need supernatural justification. Worse yet, supplying a supernatural justification to what appears today to be rationally justifiable undermines the self-correcting mechanisms of rational thought. Once we supply a supernatural justification, we go from reasonably confident to absolutely certain. And one cannot correct a mistake one has become absolutely certain of.
The worst excesses of religion are bad, very bad. Worse than child sexual abuse? Maybe, maybe not: I'm not in the business of drawing fine distinctions of really bad shit. But the worst excesses are certainly in the same ballpark as childhood sexual abuse. And religion even at its best disarms the believer from using her critical faculties to protect herself.
But, bad as religion is, it cannot be eliminated by force. Religion is, in a sense, self-slavery, and you cannot free a person who has enslaved himself. American atheists typically endorse the Free Exercise clause not because it is in the Constitution; we endorse free exercise because it is a good idea and is thus in the Constitution. We're not going to put religious believers or even their clergy in prison. Nor will we ever, even if atheists were to become a majority. We would be punishing only the victims. There is no "perpetrator" to religion: It is a self-sustaining circle of victimization. Atheism, rationality, common sense, critical thought, none of these can be enforced. They have to be freely chosen, and we atheists will promulgate our beliefs the hard way: By rational persuasion, even to the very last believer. We will not choose the easy way of the religious: By the sword, or by the indoctrination of defenseless children.
Yes, we do insist that religion not be
We are willing to also refrain from indoctrinating atheism in children. We are confident that mature, rational adults, raised without superstitious indoctrination, will have the best chance of coming to the truth. Whether that truth is theistic or atheistic, so be it. We insist only that humanity have a fair chance at coming to the truth. It is irresponsible and indefensible to teach as the absolute, unquestionable truth either side of a legitimate* controversy to children lacking intellectual defense.
*i.e. a controversy where neither side depends almost exclusively on transparent lies of both commission and omission, as does creationism and Intelligent Design
The New Atheism is about nothing more or less than promoting freedom and condemning intellectual and moral slavery. Fundamentally, it's about freedom from exploitative and oppressive lies and bullshit in general, but religion has pretty much cornered the market. "Religion is," as Carlin puts it, "the greatest bullshit story ever sold." As hard as Stalin worked on it, not even Marxism has come close.
The conservatives hate us because they embrace religion as a tool of oppression and exploitation. It's much easier to convince someone to be a slave in the physical sense if you can convince him that God will take care of him in the afterlife (a.k.a. There's a sucker born every minute, and two to take him). The liberals hate us because we do not tolerate lies and bullshit, no matter how many pious words you wrap it in, and liberalism is, of course, all about pluralism. (Indeed criticizing any idea, regardless of its nature or consequences, should be seen as intolerant and against pluralism.) And we make no apologies whatsoever: We are no more tolerant of religious lies and bullshit than we are of neoconservative bullshit, of racist bullshit, of homophobic bullshit, of sexist bullshit, of Marxist bullshit, of Deepak Chopra crystal healing woo-woo bullshit, of politically correct bullshit, or any other kind of lies and bullshit you care to name used to oppress and exploit actual human beings.
We're not going to sit down and shut up. Call us fascists, totalitarians, traitors. If caring about the truth and its critical importance to the well-being of myself and my fellow human beings is fascist, totalitarian or treasonous, well then, I'm proud to be a fascist, totalitarian traitor. Arrest us, imprison us, assault us, kill us: we will not sit down and shut up. We'll resist as best we can — we're neither pacifists or stupid — but we have no illusions of being able to win in a stand-up fight.
We know we're a tiny minority and that's OK. The abolitionists were once a tiny minority, reviled, dismissed, hated and sometimes murdered. The scientists were once a tiny minority. The secularists and democrats were once a tiny minority. It might take ten years or a hundred years, maybe a thousand years, but that's OK. We're still not going to sit down and shut up, however long it takes.
Because we're right, we know we're right, and we know you're spouting nothing but bullshit. And the truth will win in the end, because reality is the final arbiter of belief, and reality has no sympathy or pity for falsehood or error. We will stand up and speak our piece, time and again, and when one falls another will stand up. Because, unlike reality, we do have sympathy and pity for our fellow human beings, mired in lies and bullshit, and no matter how much you hate us for it, we're going to do all we can to pull you out.
And we will continue to do so until you come to your senses and agree or you prove us wrong.
Update: Commenter Chris Lowe of PDX Peace weighs in with some substantive interesting criticism, to which I respond (and emend).
Update 2: I've changed "we do insist that religion not be taught to defenseless children" to "...indoctrinated into..." to more precisely represent my viewd on the matter. It's definitely a fact about the world that people are religious, and skeptical atheists do not oppose teaching facts.