The inclusive face of New Atheism, dispelling myths about Richard Dawkins

by Michael Nugent on October 29, 2012

The Irish Times, in a feature article last Friday on the Atheist Ireland AGM, asked whether we were seeking a softening of what it called a Dawkinsian attitude to religion in favour of a more inclusive approach.

Actually, the inclusive approach of Atheist Ireland to charitable and social justice and gender and disability issues, sits quite comfortably alongside our promotion of reason and science and our strong rejection of the silly and harmful impact of religion on society.

It is all part of the evolving ‘New Atheism’ project, as promoted by Richard Dawkins and many others with a variety of nuances in recent years, and not a deviation from it.

The myth outlined in the Irish Times article that we are “one-dimensional, rabidly anti-religious Dawkinsians” rests on the underlying myth of a one-dimensional, rabidly anti-religious Richard Dawkins.

In reality, Richard Dawkins is a sensitive, caring man who does more to promote science, reason, truth and atheism than anybody else I know. He uses ridicule and wit as well as reason to expose bad ideas, but he is the opposite of the uncaring dogmatist that his critics unfairly caricature him as.

We need to dispel both of these myths, and this Irish Times feature has helped to further that important conversation.

The inclusive Face of Atheism

Last Friday the Irish Times published a feature on the rise of atheism in Ireland, following the recent Atheist Ireland AGM. It was the most read and most shared article on the Irish Times website that day.

The feature outlined our focus on promoting an ethical society and engaging in charity work and social justice campaigns: we’ve already started to raise money through Kiva for third world businesses, and we’re planning community outreach programmes that don’t involve religious preaching.

The feature also covered recent developments in the atheist movement internationally, related to gender and other issues. It included opinions from Atheist Ireland members Leonie Hilliard and Astrid Malachewitz, and discussed my recent draft manifesto to promote ethical atheism.

My draft manifesto “tries to combine the best of our existing ideas into a set of principles”. It seeks to promote not only “reason, critical thinking and science”, but also “natural compassion and ethics… inclusive, caring atheist groups” and “fair and just societies”.

The author Joe Humphreys accurately captured the spirit of the inclusive work of Atheist Ireland, and he wondered whether we were seeking a softening of what he called a Dawkinisian attitude to religion in favour of a more inclusive approach.

Dispelling the myths about New Atheism

In response to the Irish Times feature, we wrote the following letter, which the Irish Times has published today. We hope that it will help to dispel some of the myths about ‘New Atheism’ in general and the work of Atheist Ireland in particular.

Sir, – Joe Humphreys’s article on the Atheist Ireland annual general meeting (Arts Ideas, October 26th) ends by asking, “Does this represent a softening of the New Atheist stance? Or are Irish atheists simply becoming better understood?”

I hope that Atheist Ireland is becoming better understood, but not at the expense of “New Atheism” remaining misunderstood. The “myth that [we] are all one-dimensional, rabidly anti-religious Dawkinsians” rests on the underlying myth of a one-dimensional, rabidly anti-religious Richard Dawkins. We need to dispel both of these myths.

“New Atheism” as promoted by Richard Dawkins has always combined promotion of critical thinking and science, strong rejection of religious beliefs that are unsupported by evidence, active campaigns against the harm caused by religion around the world, and philanthropic and charitable projects such as Nonbelievers Giving Aid and Foundation Beyond Belief.

Atheist Ireland is part of this evolving project, not a deviation from it. We promote atheism and reason over supernaturalism and superstition, and we promote an ethical and secular Ireland where the State does not support or fund or give special treatment to any religion.

We reject religious beliefs that are silly in their claims about reality, such as intervening personal gods who answer prayers and impregnate virgins to give birth to themselves; and religious beliefs that are harmful in their corruption of human morality, from Catholic sexism and homophobia to Islamic floggings and executions for blasphemy.

We believe that society should address ethical issues based on human rights and compassion, and applying reason to empirical evidence, and not on religious doctrines; and that individual ethical decisions should where possible be made on the basis of personal autonomy and individual conscience, while not infringing on the rights of others.

We continue to campaign for a secular Irish Constitution that allows an atheist to become president or a judge, a secular Irish education system that does not indoctrinate children of atheist parents with religious beliefs, and secular Irish laws that do not exempt religions from complying with our equality laws.

We want all people who share these beliefs to feel welcome in Atheist Ireland. We include people of diverse backgrounds on our organising committees and event panels, we aim for a reasonable gender balance in our activities, and we host our events in venues that accommodate people with disabilities.

We’re always happy to be better understood, and we would like to thank The Irish Times for publishing Joe Humphreys’s article. – Yours, etc,

Michael Nugent
Chairperson
Atheist Ireland

If you would like to join Atheist Ireland and help us to build an ethical secular society, you can find out more at:

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sally October 31, 2012 at 3:09 pm

New and Gnu Atheists could do more to dispel the myth of “one dimensional rabidly anti-religious Dawkinsians” if they honestly faced up to the existence of the small number of very vocal proponents of that view.

2 Ermine November 1, 2012 at 3:27 am

I am always amazed at those who try to point out bad examples in atheism, but who are singularly unable to ever be -specific-. Can you actually name or link to any of these examples, Sally?

Do you think that any one (or even a small number) of bad examples will tar everyone in the movement? If so, then religion is tarred black forevermore, as is just about every other movement in history. There are bad examples of -every- movement, but I note that you seem to be unable to actually point to even one. single. example. of “one dimensional rabidly anti-religious Dawkinsians”. Can you do so?

Go on. We’re waiting!

3 Harry November 9, 2012 at 3:49 pm

I spent 1982 at UCD, ostensibly studying Anglo-Irish literature. Having grown up in southern California, without the boon of Christian indocrination, and without the need to wear socks, much less jumpers” and raincoats, the place really put the zap on my head. Couldn’t buy a condom, or a bite to eat on a Sunday, and there was a long waiting list for landline telephone service. The people I boarded with for a spell had a TV antenna on the roof, and one day a man came to the door, demanding to see our television license. I’d been pulled over once or twice by the California Highway Patrol, but never for watching TV. In that unforgettable year I met the smartest, funniest, and most critically unsparing people I’ve ever encountered, hands down: Terry Dolan, Declan Kiberd, Thomas Kinsella, among others. Men who are way out of my league. How, I wondered, can a country have this kind of intellectual and aesthetic horsepower, and consent to live this way? It struck me as being like Poland under Communism. I didn’t understand religion. Over the last thirty years I’ve tried to understand it, with the aid of Bertrand Russell and Scott Atran. But it still strikes me as something out of the film “Mondo Cane.”

4 Eoin November 13, 2012 at 3:14 am

Mick.
As always I’m here to say thanks for what I feel is your consistent accurate and measured representation on my/our shared position. I’m a busy Dad to three children (work full time also) it can be hard to find the time to do anything about it.
Just so pleased you are out there challenging the establishment and popular news-media on our shared secularist position on evidence based reasoning & understanding. One could say I am doing the same thing on a more local level. My curious children get my best answers to all questions. Parenting and working takes up all my time. I’m disappointed to have missed ALL of the recent Atheist Ireland stuff . I would have loved to be there this year. C est la vie.
Ps I don’t like football at all. Hope we can overcome that gap :)

5 nra pistol targets May 12, 2013 at 12:35 am

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