Sunday, July 28, 2013

The churches of New, New Atheism

Katie Engelhart, writing for Salon, asks 'Where are the women of New Atheism?'
Several years ago, there was discussion of a “woman problem” within the Atheist movement. New high priests of non-faith announced themselves—Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Peter Singer, A.C. Grayling, Daniel Dennett, etc.—and they were men. And they were angry. Their best-selling works were important and essential. These authors helped reinvigorate the secular cause; they cast off the fog of political correctness to unapologetically lay siege to piety. But before long, these New Atheists were depicted as an old boys’ club—a clique of (white) men, bound by a particularly unyielding brand of disbelief.
Where were the women?

Engelhart doesn't conclusively answer this question.  We are presented with a brief summary of typical answers including an obligatory eye-rolling quote from a gender feminist, in this case Victoria Bekiempis who believes "the showboating [Atheist] boys’ club” is a media construct" in urgent need of 'reframing'.

But who cares? Christopher Hitchens has sadly died, the elderly Dawkins is fading into obscurity while Grayling and Dennett lack the charisma to maintain a media presence. The New Atheist spring is already coming to an end.

Time then for New New Atheism:-

Will things be different in a church of “New, New Atheism”? Over the last few months, several secular churches have broken ground in Britain, North America and elsewhere. The Sunday Assembly (which I profiled for Salon in April) was launched in London by two comedians—to much fanfare. With new branches in Melbourne and New York, the Assembly has plans to open 40 American outposts this autumn. 
Let Atheism have its waves, and secularism its churches. But if Atheists are going to use “church,” as a word and an organizational model, they should pay heed to the long legacy of women’s oppression and torment that the Church represents. New Atheist churches should be active in their inclusivity, aggressively seeking out diversity in leadership and attending directly to issues of women’s rights. In addition: If you are a woman and an Atheist, and the idea of a secular church appeals to you, now would be a really good time to stand up and be counted.

Atheist churches, although bizarre, are not a new idea. The positivist Auguste Comte founded temples throughout Europe and Latin America for his Religion of Humanity. Comte admired the structure of the Roman Catholic church and emulated it within his temples. He created nine Positivist sacraments, beginning with Presentation, an equivalent to baptism in which the infant was to be given two patron stains, and ending with the sacrament of Incorporation; he devised a system of daily observances that a pious positivist should follow:  he was to cross himself by tapping his head with his finger three times at points where according to the science of phrenology - the impulses of benevolence, order and progress were situated.

Time will reveal which path the 'new new' atheist churches take. Chances are that they will serve as glorified support groups for comfortably middle class why-cant-we-all-get-along liberals strumming guitars and singing homemade songs about compassion. However no-one should be too surprised if new new atheist++ denominational churches start to spring up.
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