At the prompting of Ryan Bell, Hemant Mehta, and my fellow SINner Caleb Lack, I took some time this week to read Everybody is Wrong About God by James A. Lindsay. It is a fine book, packed with sundry insightful ideas about how to move secular society forward, and I commend it to your reading.
That is, I commend it with one major caveat: Ask yourself whether now is indeed the right time to go post-theistic. The idea that atheism must be replaced by post-theism is a central theme running throughout the book.
At the moment I am writing this, the scuttlebutt around the Internet, and increasingly in significant journalistic outlets, keeps asking whether “New Atheism” needs to die. The answer is a rather heavily qualified “yes.” In the West—though not yet elsewhere where it is sorely needed—atheism has done its job; it changed the conversation, or metaphorically, it opened the can. Just as we wouldn’t scoop out the contents of a can of beans with the can opener, opting instead for a more appropriate tool, we need not continue with New Atheism. It has done its work. It is now time to go post-theistic instead.
The job of New Atheism is emphatically not to open the can and start a conversation about whether any gods are truly guiding humankind. That particular can was pried open by the likes of Voltaire, D’Holbach, and Paine; the can was eventually smashed to bits by the likes of Ingersoll, Knowlton, and Bennett. By the time the “New” Atheists came along, they were reduced to recycling or reinventing arguments against religious faith and hegemony that had been put to paper on countless previous occasions, theism having almost completely failed to come up with any new ways to justify its existence in the intervening centuries. (Of the so-called “Four Horsemen,” only Hitch strikes me as fully cognizant of his freethinking forebears.)
The proper mission of New Atheism is just the same as that taken up by every previous wave of freethought, that is, to liberate minds from received dogma. We are here to engender “eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man” whether those mental shackles come in the form of purported theistic revelation or otherwise.
Lindsay argues that it is time to move to a “fully post-theistic position, one where we consider theism beneath serious consideration” by which we stop “arguing against belief in God” and move on to the next step, were we leave talk about God behind entirely.
Suppose we were all to take this advice, and immediately cease engaging with those who continue arguing for belief in God. Some few will still manage to free themselves from religious dogma by performing their own proactive literature review, applying the existing tools of epistemology and philosophy of religion to the intellectual scaffolding put in place by theistic apologists. Others will languish in their childhood faith, with none of their peers taking the trouble to challenge their worst ideas. I’m fairly confident that I would have ended up in the latter category myself, but for a scrappy band of atheological counterapologists who took my peculiar theistic delusions seriously enough to show me exactly where I had gone wrong.
Theism sometimes bothers to be specific enough to shoot at, and the circumstances sometimes warrant it. In those cases, we should sometimes take aim and fire. Note, however, that taking theism seriously enough to shoot it down has to have a shelf life.
Not at all. So long as at least one person that I care about takes any delusional belief seriously and allows it to guide their actions, I will take that belief seriously as a threat to their health and well-being. This holds true for theistic and secular utopian faiths no less than chiropractic subluxations and homeopathic medicine. Rationalism has no shelf life, so long as at least some people are suffering from their faith-based beliefs.
There is little reason to argue against something that most of us don’t take seriously.
Liberating a single human mind from a life of self-harm should be reason enough.