The New Athe­ists’ Nar­row Worldview

The New Atheists' Narrow Worldview Photo 2

Jerry Redfern, OnAsia.com
An offering of rice is left in a “spirit house” in a Laotian town; in a mix of Buddhism and animism in Southeast Asia, local spirits are said to inhabit almost every farm, home, river, road, and large tree.

By Stephen T. Asma

With tongues in cheeks, Rich­ard Daw­kins, Chris­to­pher Hitch­ens, Sam Har­ris, and Dan­iel Dennett are embracing their reputation as the "Four Horsemen." Lampoon­ing the anx­i­eties of evan­geli­cals, these best-sell­ing athe­ists are em­brac­ing their "dan­gerous" sta­tus and dar­ing be­liev­ers to match their for­mi­da­ble philo­soph­i­cal acu­men.

Ac­cord­ing to these sol­diers of rea­son, the time for re­li­gion is over. It clings like a bad gene rep­li­cat­ing in the pop­u­la­tion, but its use­ful­ness is played out. Sam Har­ris’s most re­cent book, The Moral Land­scape (Free Press, 2010), is the lat­est in the continuing bat­tle. As an ag­nos­tic, I find much of the horse­men’s cri­tiques to be healthy.

But most friends and even en­e­mies of the new athe­ism have not yet no­ticed the pro­vin­cial­ism of the cur­rent de­bate. If the horse­men left their world of books, con­fer­ences, classrooms, and com­put­ers to trav­el more in the de­vel­op­ing world for a year, they would find some un­fa­mil­iar religious arenas.

Hav­ing lived in Cam­bo­di­a and Chi­na, and trav­eled in Thai­land, Laos, Viet­nam, and Af­ri­ca, I have come to ap­pre­ci­ate how re­li­gion func­tions quite dif­fer­ent­ly in the de­vel­op­ing world—where the ma­jor­ity of be­liev­ers ac­tu­al­ly live. The Four Horse­men, their fans, and their en­e­mies all fail to fac­tor in their own pros­per­i­ty when they think a­bout the uses and a­buses of re­li­gion.

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