As a third-generation atheist who has spent almost my entire life as a lone atheist outside my family, I was thrilled to pieces when the new wave of atheism arose. Finally, I would have like-minded fellow non-believers!
However, it didn’t take me long to be thoroughly disappointed with those who had “converted” from some form of religion. Most of these (but not all) were angry at and obsessed with their former religion and held many of the distorted values and beliefs they were supposedly liberated from. It seemed they were just as much hostage to their religion in their non-belief as they had been in their belief.
In addition, many (not all) of these new atheists turned out to be concrete thinkers, with a very simple, mechanistic view of life, existence, consciousness and our place in the universe. The reality of science is infinitely more awe-inspiring than any concept we could have of a god (because reality takes us way beyond our imagination). But much of that science is as esoteric as any religion. And is based on concepts, models and ideas from the flimsiest of evidence itself. There is so much we don’t know – we must just honour this fact. Instead, many new atheists are as dogmatic as any religious zealot, and insist that if there is no evidence then there is nothing.
When I was in my early 20s travelling in India, whenever I had to give my personal details for some bureaucratic purpose, in response to the question “religion?” I’d say “none”. This always upset my Indian hosts – they couldn’t fathom that someone couldn’t have religion. Their overwhelming response was one of great sadness and compassion. After a while I began to tell them I was Christian. Although it was a lie and I felt (still feel!) uncomfortable about saying it, in one sense it was true. Although I was an atheist, I had been brought up in a Christian culture. It is in India that this becomes starkly (but not unpleasantly) apparent.
I am grateful that my parents were not dogmatic atheists. They were gentle philosophers with minds open to all possibilities, and active ability to reason.
Through my life, every now and then I will meet an “old” atheist – non-belief inherited from parents or grandparents. These people have always held strong moral positions on personal and social issues, and have worked passionately for the benefit of those less advantaged than they are. I salute you!