"New Atheists" and Libertarians: Separated at Birth?


Gary Wolf's November cover story for Wired, which I just got around to reading (and which Ron Bailey ably blogged about earlier), is a fine piece of journalism by many measures, and well worth reading. It's about the rise in a more militant intellectual atheism, told through profiles of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris (see Chris Lehmann's perspicacious and witty critique of Harris's The End of Faith from Reason's Jan. 2005 issue here), and Daniel Dennett (see Ronald Bailey's May 2003 interview with Dennett in the always-ahead-of-the-curve pages of, where else, Reason, here).

What kept leaping out at me was how many of Wolf's critical comments on the "new atheists" sounded very similar to complaints and critiques I often hear about libertarians of a certain stripe. A sample:

I have become a connoisseur of atheist groups—there are scores of them, mostly local, linked into a few larger networks. There are some tensions, as is normal in the claustrophobia of powerless subcultures, but relations among the different branches of the movement are mostly friendly. Typical atheists are hardly the rabble-rousing evangelists that Dawkins or Harris might like. They are an older, peaceable, quietly frustrated lot, who meet partly out of idealism and partly out of loneliness.

Still, [atheist lecturer Clark] Adams admits some marketing concerns. Atheists are predominant among the "upper 5 percent," he says. "Where we're lagging is among the lower 95 percent."

This is a true problem, and it goes beyond the difficulty of selling your ideas among those to whom you so openly condescend……

As the tide of faith rises, atheists, who have no church to buoy them, cling to one another. That a single celebrity, say, Keanu Reeves, is known to care nothing about God is counted as a victory….

……the New Atheism does not aim at success by conventional political means. It does not balance interests, it does not make compromises, it does not seek common ground. The New Atheism, outwardly at least, is a straightforward appeal to our intellect…

Ah, the travails of not having ones mind for rent, to any God or government.