Popular New Atheist writers and their followers usually maintain that atheism is simply the lack of belief in God (or gods) and that, therefore, atheism is emphatically not a position, much less a religion. However, this poses a significant problem because atheist philosophers who have actually followed the logic of atheism and who attempt to be consistent in their atheism have acknowledged that it is, indeed, a positive belief.For example, philosophy-dictionary.org defines atheism thus: “The denial of the existence of God. God does not exist. The idea of God is self-contradictory. ”
As you see, this is a positive statement, namely, the active denial of the existence of God. It doesn’t say “the lack of belief in God” which would be a neutral position. For more, look here and here, for the topic at hand is the religious nature of contemporary atheism influenced by writers such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, et al, but one important point must be made and that is that a religion does not need to have a god at its center. Many atheists scoff at the comparison between religion, traditionally understood, and atheism because they fail to understand this point. With this in mind:
The first and probably most obvious indication that the New Atheism is a religion is that there is no shortage of ardent evangelicals who write book after book trying to convert people to atheism. As mentioned, there is Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, but also the Late Christopher Hitchens, Vic Stenger, Daniel Dennett, and a host of others who use buzzwords such as “rational,” “skeptical,” “freethinker,” “bright,” etc. etc. in a hope to influence people that if they leave (theistic) religion behind then they too will be intelligent freethinkers, that God is putatively for children and must be abandoned along with all other supposed fairy tales. How is this different from the Christian fundamentalist who promises that all nonbelievers or individuals of different religious paths will go to Hell or be left behind? Or that only people of their denomination will be “blessed” or “experience God.” More buzzwords. It’s trying to sway people to their side which is the right side, and it’s proselytization whether it is theistic or atheistic.
Also, did you know that atheists have their own form of apostasy? Or did you think that was something particular to theists? As this blog post points out, Anthony Flew, who was a staunch defender of atheism, later in life changed his mind and became a deist. This was motivated in part by the fact that biology revealed a world to him rich in bio-informational systems which could not have come about by mere chance. The response by enlightened, tolerant atheists? Why, they buried the man in ad hominem attacks, accusations of senility being one of them. Richard Dawkins, as the post continues, accused Dr. Flew of tergiversation: apostasy!
Lastly, they have their own messiah: Charles Darwin. Indeed, most New Atheists hold to the highly materialistic, highly reductionistic biological school of Neo-Darwinism, and are of the obdurate opinion that evolutionary theory buries God. This bespeaks a great ignorance on their parts, theologically speaking, because they continually mistake the physical-evolution with the nonphysical-God.
In short, God is nonmaterial and therefore metaphysical. To look at a physical process like evolution and claim it proves God doesn’t exist is a fallacy. It’s like saying that the existence of seven apples buries the nonmaterial concept of the number six. It’s fallacious, but be that as it may, Darwin has the dubious honor of being the atheistic messiah of the New Atheist movement, which is especially ironic because, first of all, Charles Darwin was an agnostic, not an atheist, and second, he acknowledged that the laws of nature indicated design, thus making Darwin a proto-advocate of Intelligent Design: something that atheists detest and caricature at every turn.
Atheism is not the lack of belief in God. It is the positive affirmation that God, according to atheists, does not exist. Furthermore, contemporary atheism exhibits all the hallmark signs of a religion. Many atheists, however, get upset when you refer to atheism as a religion, which if they havn’t been paying attention is perhaps expected, but what really is flummoxing is the fact that even if you simply refer to atheism as a movement with leaders and meetings, this is enough to raise their ire. Not only that, there is this tacit assumption that only other atheists can talk about or critique atheism, because somehow theists (again, according to atheists) just don’t get it.
Indeed, it seems that modern atheists attempt to juxtapose themselves as starkly as they can with their theistic counterparts. It’s irrational, but then again, so is atheism.