The ‘New Atheist’ Holy Trinity of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens came in for a lot of stick some years ago, with the main criticism seeming to be that they were tone deaf to the real benefits of religion. Their stridency was said to be so one-sided that it could only result in a bleak world of scientific determinism. I have to say that sometimes, in seeking to make a case for atheism (e.g. Dawkins’ The God Delusion) God and religion got very mixed up. One doesn’t necessarily need the other, either way.
But now there is a new New Atheism, populated by religious fifth columnists of a post-modern variety. I heard from one the other day, the ever voluble ‘right on rev’ Giles Fraser, who was on Radio 4’s A History of Ideas: How did everything begin? If I understood him correctly, he does not espouse support for the cosmological justification for the need of God – i.e. a creator – but is happy enough to go along with the idea that God is synonymous with Creation, without beginning or end. I may be paraphrasing somewhat, but I’m sure I heard him say that God is in everything. Always was and always will be, not separate, but everywhere. This, of course, makes the God of the old New Atheists’ ire non-existent, since this God is no longer the God of holy books, but is transmuted into a mere metaphor when needed say, to offer a bit of comfort to those in need of it in this otherwise utterly random and purposeless universe.
This new form of atheism will never be called such, especially in the likes of the Church of England where it is being nurtured at a pace. I trace the roots of this movement back to Martin Luther, who began the task of demolishing the God of the Bible with his 93 theses nailed to the church door in Wittenberg. He it was who exposed the sale of indulgences as a money making scam, who started the Protestant iconoclastic tendency, who had short shrift for the then Christian adherence to magic and astrology. By turning religion into a matter of personal belief and inward reflectiveness there was despite the excesses of Protestantism a humanist reaction against ritualistic, unquestioning faith. That has continued to this day, now to the point where God is, as the song has it, Everywhere and Nowhere, Baby. Job done, problem solved.