The new atheist movement is something of a puzzle: not just americans, but many world wide, have been turning away from religion….But what does that mean? The assertion is based on a confused use of the term religion which means sometimes all possible religions, just Xtianity, Islam but not Xtianity, Xtianity and Islam, but not buddhism, etc…
The refusal to correctly define religion will ultimately create a kind of chaos because of the vague usage of the term. Sometimes the term is based on science, bad science, and there the theory of evolution according to Darwin is creating even more chaos. Many in the Bible Belt can see the problem, but advanced string theorists cannot.
The confusion goes on and on: let me suggest a few points here: Axial Age religions are indeed likely to wane in the wake of the modern transition, saying this in reference to the historical model of WHEE. But there is also the factor of the Reformation: Xtian churches have undergone a transformation into modernity and were a part of the major trends toward freedom, democracy, and abolition. We should be wary of amputating these institutions in the name of–what? atheism scientism? darwinism? It is not clear what the future holds, but it is true that Axial Age religions, such as Xtianity, Islam, Buddhism, have shown a considerable erosion. On the other hand the entry of Buddhism into the West has shown a near rebirth of that religion, next to its adjunct Hinduism, no less.
The ironies of metaphysics suggest an equal confusion will arise from atheism after the confusions of theism. And there is a good Kantian take on that, now vintage modernism.
Whatever the case, the passing of ‘religion’ raises the question of what replaces it? And here we get the completely nutty brands like the new atheism, which are so confused they cannot be a rational substitute for religion.
The end of ‘religion’ can take many forms. People can start to study the history of religion unconstrained by tenets of required belief. They can activate for the first time a de-churched religious study without dogmatic constraints. They can free themselves to study world religion, its history, and significance. They can study other religions, like buddhism. They can study the methods to develop consciousness often sidelined in group religious communities. Atheist buddhists can study the issues of theism, and theists can study the issues of atheism in religion. This is a strange blind spot in the new atheists: religions of god are no good for atheists, but atheist buddhism has to be part of the destruction.
The point here is that the new atheist movement is a kind of powergrap and its content is so impoverished it is posing a considerable threat to a sane path beyond religion. The new atheists are all obsessive nutjobs, and have distorted evolutionary theory to pose crackpot reductionism all around. One of the more grotesque is to banish buddhist enlightenment because of its purported supernaturnalism. Nonsense. Really colossal nonsense. There is no reason a person leaving religion should become a member of the new atheist cult. He can instead commence the study of philosophy, religious history, Kantian debriefing of religion and his reconstruction of ethical theory.
Something funny happened in the early nineteenth century: The Enlightenment passed, Classical German philosophy peaked and went into an anti-Hegelian twilight, as positivism and unchecked scientism came to the fore. No problem, it was part of a dialectical spread. But now the descendants of that phase are creating a new ‘secular’ ideology of the Iron Cage. This is a puzzle in itself. The sad irony is not that religion is being given up, it is that modernity has been turned into a parody of itself. The same process is occurring around neuroscience that emerged with the revolution in physics and then the theories of evolution.
This is because the core of modernity is being rewritten around a consecration of reductionist physics, the darwinian theory of evolution, and the various forms of behaviorism. The real peaks of the modern transition are rapidly being lost.
If society is to pass out of religion it has to raise the stakes and create an educational failsafe that can prevent the rapid degeneration in phony secular muddle. In many ways the new atheism shows what’s happening: everything is being dumbed down and turned into a series of tenets based bad science. The result can’t even discuss free will without a nervous breakdown.
In any case the passing of older religions is not a commandment to atheism, or the worship of bad science. Modernity is clearing the stage for a new set of categories, and this will no doubt move in the ‘passing of religion’ into the creation of post-religion in the core content of the old. Those preaching the end of religion should be wary of what you ask for. Are a billion people to be subject to the idiocy of the cult of the new atheists?