In a funk about the “New Atheism”

Jun 22, 2015

By Margery Eagan
Spirituality columnist of

You go hear even a semi-famous Catholic speaker. More often than not the event is free, the auditorium is half full, and almost everybody’s old.

But last week in a Boston suburb, the Chevalier Theater, 2,036 seats*** (actual attendance was 863), packed ’em in. Downtown Medford’s parking lots overflowed. Cops directed traffic. It cost $35 a ticket and I’d estimate the average age was 30.

The speakers? Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, two prominent proselytizers for the so-called “New Atheism.”

I guess you could call the evening evidence of what the Pew Research Center on Religion and Society reported last month in its latest faith survey. Christianity, including Catholicism, is tanking in America. The number of non-believers is rising. Nearly 1 in 5 adults identify with no religion at all. And the biggest non-believers are young men and women like the ones who cheered and laughed and had a great old time at the Chevalier hearing two gray-haired guys go on about the ridiculousness of believing something based on nothing.

Let me say right now: As a Catholic who ricochets wildly between blissful moments of faith and complete and utter doubt, I found the whole experience unnerving. I’d hoped both men would be humorless, strident, militant, even obnoxious. Then I could go home feeling confident in my faith. Instead they were funny, charming, and quite likable. I went home deflated. I looked up everyone who’s debated them or contradicted them and argued for the wondrous mysteries of the divine. Then I feel asleep in a funk.

***-Edit Made By RDFRS 

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21 comments on “In a funk about the “New Atheism”

  • To put costs in perspective Deepak Chopra charges $2,575 for 5 days.

    There are Christians and there are Christians. My landlady interpreted Christianity to mean she was obligated to help out people in trouble and that she was obligated to be non-judgemental. The world could use more of her kind of Christian.

    Then there are Christians from hell:

    they kill or harass gays
    they meddle in other people’s end-of-life decisions
    they meddle in other people’s reproductive decisions
    they assert every natural disaster is Jehovah punishing people for not agreeing with them.
    they insist on forcing their insanity down everyone else’s throats, including creationism
    they worship ignorance. They insist their bible is inerrant yet they refuse to read it.

    The stats we want are how are levels of Christians from hell heading.

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  • From the OP

    Let me say right now: As a Catholic who ricochets wildly between blissful moments of faith and complete and utter doubt,

    Our poor author:

    Margery Eagan
    Spirituality columnist of

    …is completely befuddled. She was in the presence of ~863 atheists who “cheered and laughed” at the two speakers who were “funny, charming and quite likable”. She found the experience unnerving and went home deflated.

    I wonder what she thought would happen. Maybe she’d feel better if only 23 atheists showed up and were morose jail birds with no sense of right and wrong and a dim view of life.

    I was at this event and as I expected, it was a mixed age crowd who seemed to have a good time even though there were technical difficulties at that venue that would have tried the patience of any crowd at all. Still, the crowd offered advice to remedy the ear piercing speaker/microphone feedback and it did help somewhat.

    There certainly was a long book signing line but everyone was patient and friendly in the line.

    I’ve been to several of these events and they are always fun and everyone good natured.

    Perhaps our author Margery, when experiencing one of her moments of “complete and utter doubt”, will come back around us funny, charming, quite likable atheists who cheer and laugh. This time Margery may not go home as deflated as before. Margery, leave your sad, gruesome, women hating, death cult religion behind and come over to the bright side where we celebrate life.

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  • Maybe they’ll rethink when they’re older and facing their own mortality. Alas, Dennett is 73. Dawkins? He’s 74.

    Oh dear. Margery really doesn’t get this at all, does she 🙁

    They won’t rethink it Margery. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that.

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  • 5
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    I was there. It was an interesting evening and quite a bargain as far as the entrance fee is concerned. It’s not everyday that one has the opportunity to attend an event between two great thinkers such as Dawkins and Dennett at a mere 470 Km drive from home.

    The only downside was that for the first 15 minutes or so, the sound was horrible and there were frequent bouts of ear piercing feedback. I guess the organizers of the event never heard of a sound check. Also, it had been a really hot day and there was no air conditioning.

    A the OP mentions, the audience was mixed but I saw a lot of young people. Many were from out of state. There was an Asian young man in the audience who came all the way from China. Topics covered were memes, closeted atheist clergy members, evolution and of course, religion and superstition.

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  • NearlyNakedApe,

    Just wondering, what did you make of that last segment with Dennett talking about what to do in the case of a widespread emergency. I think he wants our bunch to be the ones that know the safety procedures and where to go etc. Was that your take away too? That confused me somewhat. And he made a point of getting that bit in before Richard could get the first audience question going too.

    Your thoughts?

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  • So is she a Catholic or not? If she is having serious doubt then it seems it’s time to make a decision one way or the other. It is hard when you are raised Catholic. They get their hooks in you early and deep. It takes a real brave soul – oops I mean mind- to tear away fully and completely but it can be done. I would think Dawkins and Dennett would be a great pair of life-savers when she makes the final jump away from religion. Christopher Hitchens was my life saver and for that I will always be thankful. Jump Margery, jump!!!

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  • Well well, what do you know, atheists can be funny and fun; does that make them more or less dangerous?

    The final mention of the Pope reminded me that his pronouncements about the degradation of the Earth’s environment due to human activities are rendered somewhat less than satisfactory by Catholic dogma concerning contraception.

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  • I used to be a pretty committed Christian now I am a doubting middle aged man who realizes I may have wasted the most important moments of my life wanting to get into heaven rather than living a full life. I am angry that I believed all these moronic adults who pretended and went along with the story it was such a waste of time.

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  • 10
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Your thoughts?

    Ah yes, the thing about the Internet breaking down and taking out the entire infrastructure of civilization along with it. Dennett said that some of the experts he spoke to said it was not a question of if but when… That had the effect of a bomb… I remember the silence that fell over the audience at that moment. That point of discussion really took me by surprise. I had never thought about it before and I guess it is possible (and quite a scary thought frankly).

    Now about Dennett’s intention behind his proposed “safety net” measures… I’m not convinced he specifically wants our bunch to know the safety procedures as much as he would want most people to be able to help each other in such a scenario.

    Of course, nobody can predict exactly how things would go down in this kind of doomsday scenario but my guess is that in order for civilization to survive, cooperation would be needed among a large majority of the people all over the continent, not just among secularists, agnostics and atheists (who are still a minority in the US).

    I do think however that we would gain as a society to reflect on this possibility and do our best to restore the sense of community that used to be the norm between neighbors and citizens who live and work together. How? Through simple human contact. This is something that I think modern living and growing dependency on high technology has damaged to a significant degree: we are always stressed or worried or mistrustful of strangers, we’re in a hurry anyway so we don’t have time to talk to them, they’re simply “not relevant” to our lives and we often forget they even exist.

    If disaster strikes, we will be each other’s best chance of survival or each other’s biggest threat.

    This is what I took away from it personally.

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  • John,
    Try not to dwell on that past. You are middle aged? So am I and many commenters and readers here. Let’s not waste time on regrets. Once I dropped my religion and it’s ridiculous fairytale mindset, I surged ahead and made up for lost time. I know you can do the same.

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  • I don’t think you get what she means here.

    It looks like ridicule to me of her fellow religionists who seem to think that people will always turn to religion in later life/dying moments.

    That’s how the whole article read for me, she’s destroying all the clichéd ‘beliefs’ of what atheists are.

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  • You “done good”, John! Seriously, dumping all the religious baggage is a huge success.
    Have you read The God Delusion? I guarantee it will complete your journey into real
    life. Fortunately I was forced to realise the fraudulence of religion when at age 10, my
    vicar screamed at me for doubting Noah and his Ark. Thanks, Vic!!

    You haven’t wasted anything but saved the rest of your life…

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  • veggiemanuk

    Huh?! This is wierd! You think she’s ridiculing her fellow religionists?! Wow, if you’re right then I was way off the mark. I read it as a religionist who is baffled and conflicted by our happy gathering. While I admit that sarcasm has a bad effect with me, how could I misread her (crappy) attitude so completely?

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  • NearlyNakedApe,

    I’m not convinced he specifically wants our bunch to know the safety procedures as much as he would want most people to be able to help each other in such a scenario.

    Yes, ok, that’s interesting. I do go along with your synopsis. I actually have quite a pessimistic view of this scenario that he proposed. I need to stop reading all those dystopia novels! I wonder if there might be a book or paper coming out from Dennett on this topic. He’s obviously put substantial thought into the problem.

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  • Take this for instance.

    And Dennett and Dawkins’ Medford fans seemed positively gleeful about it all.

    Maybe they’ll rethink when they’re older and facing their own mortality. Alas, Dennett is 73. Dawkins? He’s 74.

    Basically she is saying that the audience will change their minds once they are older but oh no, no they won’t, the people they have come to listen to are already older and still believe what they say.

    It’s Ironic.

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  • John, many people have been right where you are, in the middle of your life, doubting, angry, confused. I was there, but one thing that gave me comfort was knowing that so many had been on this journey before. May i offer something that helped me? It’s an explanation of the 4 steps of “deconversion”. It won’t help you with the rationale of changing beliefs, it’ll just help you to see where you are and know that there will be peace at the other side.

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  • I also interpreted that passage as irony. I would paraphrase her as, “Oh, that old chestnut that atheists will see the light when death is knocking on their door? Well, these two atheists would seem to have not gotten that memo.”

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