I make a lot of criticisms of things I find in the writings of the so-called "new atheists".
However, one set of criticisms I find that I can give absolutely no merit to are those who condemn the "shrillness" of the "new atheist" claims.
In fact, it tells me something about the moral character of these individuals who make these kinds of claims. It tells me that these people do not care much about the victims of religious attrocities around the world - about real people killed, maimed and otherwise harmed, and forced to endure a lower quality of life for the one and only life they will ever have.
It suggests an attitude of, Don't concern yourself with the execution of an 18 year old because a Judge has decided, "He looks gay to me." Not at all. The real crime is this unspeakable evil of a "new atheist" being shrill in his protest of such actions.
Such a person may agree that executing an allegedly gay teenager or stoning a 13 year old girl should probably count as bad. However, it is the crime of shrilly condemning that execution that causes him to put finger to keypad. That's intolerable! We must speak up against such thing!
I have often wondered what these people thought of the act of shrilly protesting the shrillness of new atheist protests. By their shrillness they certainly show that shrill protests can sometimes be justified. What is interesting is the notion of what it is they think merits shrill protest, and what does not.
As I said, and as readers of this blog will confirm, I have some objections to some of the things that some "new atheists" have claimed. However, those objections have nothing at all to do with shrillness of their protests. In fact, I praise their shrillness. Shrillness is how we communicate the fact that we truly care about some state of affairs. And the harms that real people suffer as a result of certain religious beliefs are things we should care enough about to protest.
Imagine that are in the park. You witness an adult brutally attacking a child. At the same time, another adult shrilly protests the first adult's attack. Then a third person comes along and shrilly condemns the second person's condemnation of the attack.
First, I want to note that what this third person is saying by condemning the second person is that attacks on children are not serious enough to warrant protest.
Second, I want to point out the oddity of the third person's belief that it is worthwhile to condemn the second person's criticisms, but not the first person's attack on a child.
I would argue that the morally virtuous person would join in the condemnation of the attacker instead, rather than offer condemnation of one who condemns the attacker.
This is not a claim that one should remain silent when the "new atheist" makes a genuine mistake. Genuine mistakes deserve genuine criticism - but a genuine mistake is not criticized by attacking "shrillness".
For example, one "new atheist" claim I object to is the practice of making an entirely unjustified leap from premises about the moral crimes of "a religion" to the moral guilt of all who believe in a God. A sign, once popular among "new atheists" showing the World Trade Center buildings and the text "Imagine No Religion" provides just such an inference. However, I have only seen this image used once since I made my original complaints against it.
Some new atheists have taken to calling the act of teaching religion to a child "child abuse". I suspect that they like this term because of its emotional power. However, they neglect the fact that "abuse" requires a desire to harm children or a lack of concern as to their welfare. The woman who took thalidomide under a doctor's advice when she was pregnant and gave birth to a deformed child may have performed harmful acts, but cannot justifiably be condemned as an "abusive" parent.
A third problem concerns the tendency of some new atheists to ignore the fact that every atrocity built into scripture can be build into some moral theory or another that says nothing about the existence of a God. Sam Harris' argument in defense of torture in The End of Faith shows that a person does not have to appeal to a God to justify morally atrocious actions. Communism, Ayn Rand Objectivism, and moral relativism (or some of their more popular versions) are other examples where moral atrocities are defended without appeal to a God.
It is as much a sign of bigotry for the "new atheist" to focus only on the potential victims of sectarian irrationality (because it is sectarian) while ignoring the potential victims of secular irrationality (because it is secular), as it is for the religious bigot to ignore the victims of sectarian irrationality (because it is sectarian) and concern himself only with the victims of secular irrationality (because it is secular).
It might make some sense to say to the “new atheists” who make these mistakes that it is politically inexpedient of them to do so. However, I prefer to make the criticism that they are wrong to do so. The “political inexpedience” argument suggests that these are permissible errors when they are politically useful.
So, as I have shown. there are certainly things that appear in the writings and speeches of the new atheists that people can and should object to.
However, shrillness in defense of those being killed, maimed, and otherwise harmed by agents who give their actions religious justifications is not one of their faults. It is one of their virtues.
It is the lack of shrillness that deserves our moral condemnation in this case - and the condemnation of shrillness that deserves even harsher condemnation. Both of these options suggest a callous indifference to the victims of these moral atrocities.
The person who condemns shrillness on these matters is showing even more callous indifference than the person who remains silent.