The New Atheist Threat – @cjwerleman

[Updated here : 10th Sept.]

Reading a very interesting book, The New Atheist Threat by C J Werleman; someone I’d not even heard of until a couple of days ago. An Aussie now resident in US who spent a decade in Indonesia, including being in Bali when the nightclub was bombed. An erstwhile New Atheist in reaction to that experience, published several books well received in that community and a speaker at American Atheist and similar events.

However, like myself and many other rationalist, secular, humanist atheists, he now sees the extremist anti-theist, anti-Muslim – reductively scientistic – agenda of New Atheism as at best flawed and at worst as dangerously bigoted as any other fundamentalism. In my case I was already seeking alternatives to the overly scientistic environment before 9/11, 7/7, Bali et al turned it into the anti-theistic, “militant” atheist, New Atheism vs Religion wars we’ve come to know and love.

[As a book, it’s not subtle, particularly well-argued, well-edited or even proof-read it would seem. Feels rushed to publication and I know nothing of the publisher; Dangerous Little Books. No index and only approximate referencing in end notes, though sources explicitly acknowledged.]

The case is stated assertively and passionately, and relies on copious quotations from others – Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky and Karen Armstrong for example in support, as well as his “four horsemen” targets. Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins cop the most flak, but Dennett, Krauss, Maher, Boghossian, Hirsi-Ali and a host of other less cerebral celebrity New Atheists get the treatment. An entertaining read.

Along with plain ignorance and bigotry, binary polarisation, conspiracy-theory, lack of nuanced subtlety and quality of argument are all part of his charge against the New Atheists. Ironic or what? – Alanis Morisette (*) That said, and I’m only half-way through, it’s so assertively stated that it almost feels like case-closed. What’s to argue? Hardly a word to disagree with so far, in my case. Stuff that needed saying and great to get a US perspective on the need to counter the extremes of New Athesim, so already recommended, for all its flaws.

I can see the look on many a face. He he. I’ll report back when I’ve reached his conclusions.

[Continuing, but still not quite finished.]

In terms of the cultish “echo chamber” effect of New Atheism as a movement, I think he’s bang on, and he speaks from a particularly well qualified and well-connected perspective. The sloganising, the rehearsed attack and defense arguments, the reductionism, the simplistication, the plain naive and under-informed positions are all real, and can’t improve whilst it’s a militant war fought through social media, sound bites and popular books targetted at the choir. Some listening and learning required.

Very much the tide I’m personally fighting against. Keeping them honest.

Where I do part company with Werleman is his conspiracy theory take on the cause (and danger) of the New Atheist movement as cover for neo-con ambitions. We all take responsibility for our actions, and for the recent histories of our states, but Werleman casts this as the conspiracy of US / Western imperialist, military-industrial-complex hegemony. Ironically, as I’ve said already, he is perhaps also being somewhat binary, reductionist and simplistic as those he accuses. A conspiracy to oppose the conveniently mis-perceived Islamic conspiracy.

My position remains that both are misguided. The real underlying fault is in our model of rationality.

(*) The twitter traffic is entertaining, to say the least. The arguments will run, but it’s a great contribution.

[Update after completion.]

I decided to write a more publicly targetted overall review (pulling in extracts from the above with later thoughts).

Below, all I’ve added are some example editorial errors – as example feedback, not itself a criticism of the work. Part of my strategy is to understand where writers were coming from when I’m reading them, and the typos gave me the impression of a rush – urgency – to publish.



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