On Richard Dawkins & Atheism

I sometimes enjoy fun & intellectual sparring with my Facebook friends. I had shared an article from The Guardian premised on the notion that Richard Dawkins's lack of sympathy for those who cling to religion is a shame. A Facebook friend - Ivan Raszl and I had this exchange after I shared it:

Ivan Raszl: I completely disagree with the article. Dawkins does have very strong feelings of compassion. The criticism is a straw-man.

This is what he said when pressed whether he despises religion: "I despise people who believe in something without evidence, and then go out and take action which damages other people. I despise people whose belief in religion is so firm and unshakeable that they think it justifies killing people." He continued on to say that he of course doesn't despise the average worshipper of religion. He also said "they are harmless" and he doesn't have feelings for them in one way or the other.

Dawkins has a prominent altruistic overtone in all his books. He understands the psychological need for religion. He explores the origins and evolutionary advantages of religion. He thinks understanding and knowing religion is very important for understanding human culture in general.

He explained that he talks to religious people frankly as equals who deserve his sincere opinion, not some superficial comforting lie. He thinks it would be condescending to treat religious people as if they were irrational and incapable of handling a critical opinion like adults.

He thinks religion is like politics or sports. Everybody should be allowed to freely express their opinions. It shouldn't be a taboo or a subject that requires special consideration.

The suggestion that militant atheists should be 'more kind' reflects a posh and dishonest attitude, which is totally alien to Dawkins, who is a very down to earth man.

Chris Ogunlowo: It shouldn't be doubted that a person should be in possession of the attributes you ascribed to Dawkins. They should be expected from a reasonable and intelligent person. I'm certainly aware of his altruistic overtones. It's not surprising that someone of his ilk should reason as such.

I believe the writer isn't particularly suggesting that Dawkins denies the advantages of religion but suggests that the campaign for atheism, at least as we've known it in recent times, lacks the humanitarian openness and compassion that it ironically condemns religion for. And these are evident in the militaristic - there's no better word - engagement with which atheists register their cases.

The question will be: What narrative will sustain New Atheism when its vocal proponents cease to exist? (RIP, Hitchens). It's only anchored on the reactionary, and that may get boring. Perhaps, it expects the end of religion? But religion, as scientifically proven, fulfills a human need. Of course, how it has been used for monstrosities remains ridiculous in human history. And despite most of its pompous and bogus claims, it has sustained itself and humanity with a degree of comfort. 

I respect Dawkins and in fact other Four Horsemen and Horsewoman of the Non-Apocalypse. But one wonders what they intend to achieve with feistiness and arguments designed in part to mesmerize.

"New Atheism" can do with more openness and embrace a more scientific curiosity to proffer, if you may, a superior examination of religion and spirituality, in particular. Condemnation and random selection of religiously-induced evil events aren't enough for atheism to brand its agenda. It calls for a better narrative.

I don't know how "more kind" militant atheists have been but being down to earth is very commonsensical and expected from a reasonable person.

I guess it's simply about time for atheism to become less reactionary and become more exploratory.