Live to the point of tears.
I never work better than when I am inspired by anger; for when I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations depart.
- Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Let me paint a picture for you. Religious dogma is a thick sheet of ice and the person is trapped underneath it. To use a quote from Kafka it sometimes takes an Axe to break the frozen sea. I see the New Atheism as an Axe that for some it is the only instrument to break the sheet of ice and allow them some fresh air of reason and scientific wonder. For those individuals the New Atheism was a necessary good. I think religious liberals feel that their thin ice of religion is being attacked by that Axe and it seems superfluous. I think that is the misunderstanding. The New Atheism is most beneficial for the thick ice not the thin ice.
For some people they don’t even realize there is a world beyond the ice sheet and for those people I see the New Atheism as a benefit. Now that does not mean it is completely without fault. There could be problems with the style and delivery that turn people off or make them go deeper into dogma. Perhaps a more indirect approach of wonder and skepticism is better to thaw the ice instead of break it with a blunt instrument. A warmth of intellectual stimulation would be better to thaw out the ice of dogma for some. For me the writings of Ernest Becker and Gerry Spence were important in thawing out my ice sheets of the mind. But I also understand that the Axe can be necessary for breaking the frozen sea within some of us. And when I think of Spence and Becker's writings they are quite blunt with powerful imagery in their use of syntax.
Religion is a real force in parts of society and the impact is real in the lives of people. It is not benign and the attacks on science education, sex education and free inquiry are very real. There is a growing culture of anti-intellectualism and it should not be taken lightly by anyone who prizes a liberal education. I know there is good reason for the suspicions of Western Imperialism & Colonialism but somehow this suspicion has been widened to the New Atheism which is looked at as a form of the previous hubris(Possibly because of Hitchens politics on War). And this is where I think Karen Armstrong and others like her see religion as a part of culture and therefore should be protected to a certain extent from aggressive atheism. It is out to destroy culture and the status quo. Parts of the academic left see no distinction between religion and culture, the religious right sees it as the only culture worth protecting, and the New Atheism is a destructive and blunt object of a movement to both. For me the status quo is not something to protect but to be challenged. Not to make the world a utopia but to allow for free inquiry and expression. Nothing should be beyond the right to question.
For a large number of people in the world religion is a real influence in life that takes on many forms that are not always soft or benign. Religion often gets in the way of a child’s full potential to education and greater vision. For this reason alone I cannot view religion as something to behold in passive appreciation. There are other foes to contend with such as racism, nationalism, ethnocentrism, fascism and many other isms so it should be acknowledged that there are many variables to the problems in the world and humans with or without religion have a will to power that needs to be checked by the persistent voice of reason.