I have been critical of the new atheists, in part because of the limits of their world view: scientism now under attack. But I should also point out that I have been consistently critical of religion over the years, and only baulked here because of the new atheism(!), whose views I find a travesty of correct critique. To be sure, a simple affirmation of atheism is a no-brainer, but even here the new atheists have bungled the job.
In any case, the issue of what I called the sufi enigma or the ‘soul plexus’ question is a good example of the way simple humanist loud mouthing ends up wrong. There is a large spectrum of views here and the new atheism approach is very extreme and connected with known errors such as darwinian evolutionism by natural selection.
First, ‘secularism’ is being hijacked: the term refers originally to the sense of a new age that arose in the sixteenth century, in many ways due to the Reformation. Now a group of very narrow thinkers wish to restrict the meaning to modernity synonymous with atheism. That is blatantly unfair, and a deliberate attempt to force an issue. We cannot let the term ‘secuarlism’ become synonymous with the views of narrow atheists. It will wreck modernity and turn it into a witch hunt.
I think that moslems and Xtians need to consider the potential exit strategies in the inexorable trend beyond Axial Age religion. This doesn’t have to be some kind of atheism.
The reality is that people who ‘leave’ religion often come into a real understanding of religion for the first time. This happened over and over again the wake of the ‘new age’ movement starting in the generations after WWII. And disbelief in god is not the same as rejecting ‘spirituality’, spiritual practices, or the study of religion in a general sense. And worst of all it is not the same as rejecting the ‘demonic’, ‘demons’, etc… This is too much for so-called secularists. But the reality is stark, ‘forms of existence’ beyond our easy ken are likely to ‘exist’. Or maybe not. But we have no sound metaphysical knowledge here. The curious irony is that ‘demons’ might exist, while ‘god’ can’t exist: ‘god’ is beyond existence, and is not the object of knowledge.
Monotheists bungled the onset of their religions of god: god became a ‘personal divinity in a one-man pantheon’, no gals allowed. It should not have happened that way. ‘God’ should have referred to something beyond the pagan version of a ‘god’. (versus ‘the’ god).
I don’t think Xtianity and Islam will survive this and other confusions. Let me repeat something so obvious it could singe the whiskers off Sam Harris: these days people take science courses and their beliefs about religion start to crumble. The whole thing is a slow motion train wreck. But already out of that wreckage a new set of perspectives is emerging. Further, the surface of Xtianity is a popular belief system, one that blows away in the wind, a childish fantasy religion. But the larger context of Xtianity is ironically very robust because increasing historical knowledge (which vitiates one aspect of religion) points to a stunning mystery of another kind. But the religious dogmatic core texts cannot handle this larger reality.
Islam is a little different. Religious scholars of the late Roman era saw many flaws in Xtian theology. The ‘son of god’ theme, the ‘Trinity’, the Resurrection, etc,…were a problem for many of that era, not just irate Romans. Islam deftly attempted to work around these issues in a new way, without disallowing the community of jews and xtians. The strategy didn’t really work. We inherited two religions here. Islam is a very complicated religion, and we can easily misjudge it.
But, whatever the case I think the ‘tiding’ of historical epochs is working against Xtianity and Islam (and in a different way buddhism) and the reality is that it doesn’t matter what new atheists say here: their confusion might actually delay the process! But not for long. It is hard to predict. Egyptian religion lasted almost a millennium into the new era after the Axial Age. So we can never write off ancient religions. That’s why artificial means arise to hasten the process. I think the new atheists are one of these: the hounds of hell have been unleashed, and are snapping at the heels of the devout unmercifully.
The way in which religious critics falter is in denying the ‘spiritual’ in the name of negating ‘god’. But the addition of ‘god’ to the rank of the spiritual occurred very late in the history of religions, despite a host of premonitions and semi-monotheistic pagan constructs.
But the ‘spiritual’, a misnomer, to be sure, is something different and it won’t disappear because it is part of the reality of ‘material’ or ‘phenomenal’ worlds. It suffers misunderstanding and metaphysical fragility, but all in all the spiritual world is, as a manifestation in some other manner, a part of the material or ‘existent’ realm. But ‘god’ by definition is not.
So there’s the irony: the monotheisms are likely to suffer the fate of pagan idolatry as mankind moves to a more intelligent understanding of ‘god’ beyond existence. But just there in Kantian terms lies another more obvious possibility: people will be struck dumb, and have nothing further to say about the subject.
In any case, the path beyond monotheism is not atheism.
And the reality is that religions of the Occident (monotheisms, of late) conceal some very strange ‘esoteric’ mysteries, and we might suspect that outer theatre of religion was an illusion standing in for a new and different mystery.
The issue now is to not let the passing of the Axial Age religions degenerate into a really malevolent kind of demonic culture. Monotheism freed man from a long of confusions. But the latter are not hard to reinvent.
I think Nietzsche was, not a prophecy, but a simple warning of what is to come and the dangers: at the end of religion the era of magical psychopaths will descend on humanity after the manner of mephistopheles, and we see already the corruption of the intelligent. Who would have thought secularizing jews would turn into malevolent neocons fomenting war. In little over a century.
And governments like the American are turning into assassin bureaus run by the covert agencies run by false-flag ops to generate fake wars and easy enemies, none other than the Moslem world.
Western culture will end up having to reinvent salvation from its current infantile wishfulfilment via Jesus phase.
In any case, it is relevant to consider the status of monotheism beyond the ‘god’ question, mostly barren metaphysics, as it founders just as humanity rediscovers a need for it. At that point they won’t revive, so we must think carefully about the large religious/humnaist context of the ‘secular’ which includes the religious and the non-religious.