Fighting the Blob

There are some things I like about the New Atheism (there are other things I don’t like as well, I remember Matthew Yglesias once saying it was like the old atheism but that it required people to act like jerks). One of those is that it has a definitive shape so that we can know its form, its contours, its hard edges. The New Atheism (from having watched a lot of YouTube of Dawkins and Hitchens mostly) focuses arguments on a couple main areas: 1) God not only allows evil but appears to enjoin his followers to practice it above and beyond what they might otherwise be inclined to – along the lines of the old quip that the good do good, the evil do evil but  for good people to do evil you need religion. 2) As science increases its understanding of the natural world, supernatural design arguments become increasingly unnecessary. Now I’m sure that most first year theology students can probably work out how these arguments might fail. Now that’s not really here nor there, because I get the sense that a lot of the New Atheism is Pop Atheism – it’s about proselytizing to the masses so the arguments are simplified distillations of more complicated philosophical work, most church evangelism does the same thing with complicated theology when appealing for the reasonableness of God. Which is fine, we can have a serious conversation.

I said above that the New Atheism has a definitive, hard shape – this makes it hard but also vulnerable as hard edges can be chipped away. But how do you fight a blob? If the New Atheism is Cyberdyne Systems Model 101, then the New Age/moralistic theraputic deism is the T-1000. The trouble with fighting a blob is illustrated here. Where New Atheism has a sort of agenda (there is no God, or at least not one worth caring about), the stuff that gets preached by someone like Eckhart Tolle doesn’t have any definitive shape (listen to Bruxy Cavey discuss Tolle here). It can shift into a form that looks somewhat like Christianity, or somewhat like Hinduism, or somewhat like Buddhism, or somewhat like Wicca. Take your pick – remember you get to create your own reality – this should be as offensive to orthodox Hindus, Buddhists, and Wiccans as it is to Christians. The blob appears weak because it has such sparse content but conversely this is its strength. How do you refute something that simply shifts to accomodate your criticisms? How do you counter something that suggests that it is a corrective for all major religions, distilling them into gauzy hope that things will get better when you create your own reality? The thing is insidious and therefore far more dangerous than New Atheism. Better a rhetorical lashing from Christopher Hitchens than a hug from Eckhard Tolle, that’s what I’d say. What about the rest of you, how do we contend against something that morphs to avoid responding to criticism?