From the neo-Marxist atheist Brendan O’Neill:
Why, given their obtuse and ostentatious hostility towards organised religion and spiritual hoo-ha, are the so-called New Atheists so keen to refashion the Bible? What’s with all these secularist versions of ‘the good book’, minus the original’s miracles and resurrections and instead offering us guides to life firmly rooted in scientific fact and what poses as rationalism? This bible bonanza tells us a lot about the New Atheists. About their arrogance, their ignorance about where moral meaning comes from, and, most fundamentally, their allergy to, their utter estrangement from, the idea of transcendence.
So, we have an old-fashioned atheist criticizing the New Atheists. What is the difference? Quite simply, the New Atheists are defiantly ignorant of human culture and history.
The Holy Bible was, for many centuries, a living, breathing text, contributed to by scores of writers, both reflecting and codifying various communities’ moral beliefs and their transcendent aspirations. It was not simply a collection of wise or wacky sayings, but a system of meaning that gained its authority through its incorporation of, and adaptation to, people’s experiences, discussions and rule-making.
Grayling’s belief that he can codify a brand new system of meaning in his own head, magic up a moral structure on his laptop, reveals much about the New Atheists’ view of meaning. It is they, rather than the religious, who seem to believe that meaning can be cobbled together by one person and handed to others. Grayling’s book conforms to the New Atheists’ snobby view of the Bible as a ruthless diktat better than the actual Bible does.
Then, O’Neill gets to what I consider the salient point:
What’s more, Grayling, like many of the other New Atheists, is behind the times. He says his aim is to remove any notion of a deity, especially one which demands submission, from moral thought. He characterises the original Bible as: ‘Just obey, just submit. The usual rather cowed posture of human beings towards divinity in the hope that it won’t inflict too many earthquakes or tsunamis or plagues in the near future.’ Yet today, moral thought is most frequently polluted, not by the demand for submission to that deity born in Genesis, but by the demand that we submit to a new deity: Gaia, or Mother Earth, or The Planet. (A bit like Beelzebub, She has many names.)
This is consistent with my opinion of New Atheism or scientific atheism: It is just a transient phase of thought leading to a new variant of pantheism. It was inevitable, given the lack of cultural legitimacy and the deliberate refusal to provide historical or philosophical context. This approach will lead the New Atheists to rely on personal prejudices and superstitions; and in popularizing their ideas, the result will be utopian politics and religious pantheism.