In the latest version of popular atheism, representatives say that while they still don’t believe in God, they do find intrinsic value in religion. Ironic but very interesting!
Normally when you see the words “atheist” and “religion” in the same sentence, there is some kind of debate or intellectual fight implied in context. But not in this case. There’s a new wave of atheism, and it likes religion.
Bruce Sheiman explains the position of the “New Atheists” in his newly released book, An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity is Better Off With Religion than Without It:
“I don’t know if anybody is going to be able to convince me that God exists,” Sheiman said in an interview, “but they can convince me that religion has intrinsic value.”
Sheiman argues that faith can be a powerful force for the good, and has been in western societies. Religion, according to Sheiman, has served as the single greatest influence to help people care about themselves, their neighbors, the world, and even nature. Even though Sheiman does not believe in God, he appreciates the impact faith has had on individuals and communities.
These new “New Atheists,” called Atheists 3.0, are even taking on some modern day atheists, like Christopher Hitchens, who argue that religion is meaningless at best, and evil at worst. Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, explains the big picture:
“The work that we need to do, we atheists, humanists, and non-believers, is to build a better world and not try to tear down those with whom we disagree… When our goal is erasing religion, rather than embracing human beings, we all lose.”
Epstein has written a soon to be released book entitled Good without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. In the book he considers the benefits that come from gleaning that which is moral and good — but not spiritual — from believers. He cites Rick Warren’s best selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, as an example. He says that those who don’t believe in Jesus can still find value in his message that,
“you have to have a purpose in life bigger than yourself, and that not everything is all about you.”
Meanwhile, Samir Selmanovic, co-founder of New York’s interreligious Faith House Manhattan and author of It’s Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian, believes that atheists are good for people of faith. He explains why this is true:
Atheists are “God’s whistle-blowers,” who keep believers honest and focused on the here-and-now. Atheism at its best grabs us by the collar and throws us to the ground, demanding to see lives well lived, forcing us to dig deeper and live up to the best of our own religions.”
It sounds like a new breed of atheism, kinder and gentler, as long as the issue for debate is the impact of our actions and not the existence of God.