Aslan on the New Atheists

http://www.salon.com/2014/11/21/reza_aslan_sam_harris_and_new_atheists_arent_new_arent_even_atheists/

I think Aslan makes some fair points.

It’s ironic, how Dawkins et al. reveal what is the confessional character of their own outlook, in saying things like religion is “one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus.” This story, about religion as evil, shapes their outlook, trumping other takes on things. Their story is treated as the one story to applied in an all-encompassing sort of way, to what is a complex and plural world. That is a working definition of fundamentalism right there- to take as a given, as absolute, and all-encompassing, your own outlook, and force it on the world. So Christian fundies treat their outlook as a given, foundational truth (“because the bible says so”), and squeeze life into it. Dawkins et al. do the same with their anti-theism.
The Christian fundie fails to see that the foundation upon which their outlook rests (their reference to the bible, for example) involves a confession (faith in the bible as true word for word). But Dawkins et al. do the same thing. They fail to see that the foundation upon which their outlook rests (their reference to evolutionary biology and instances of religious violence) involves a confession (believing that transcendence is a silly, childish notion, discredited by our evolutionary history and that religion is inherently harmful).

It’s possible to analyze instances of religious violence without holding that religion is somehow inherently harmful. Likewise, just look at someone like Francis Collins of the Human Genome Research Institute for whom evolutionary biology didn’t have to be done within the confessional framework that evolution renders the notion of transcendence a silly one.

We always do research with a confessional outlook, with a take on things. Some biologists do biology with an outlook that allows for transcendence. Some study religious violence with an affirmative outlook on religion, as a force of good in much of the world. Dawkins et al are no different. They do what they do within an anti-theist confessional framework. What makes one a fundamentalist or not is how one holds this confession. We can be “self-blind” as Charles Taylor says, and take our outlook as a given, foundational truth, or we can acknowledge the confessional character of our outlook.

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