Tijdschrift voor Theologie vol:53 issue:2 pages:162-177
Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, prominent exponents of New Atheism, claim that religion is inherently fundamentalist. Both authors see religion, being a complex of cultural elements, as part of a larger evolutionary framework. Their basic assumption is that cultural elements have their own particular development, separate from human intentions. They believe there is a connection between the development of religion as a result of natural selection and the intolerant nature of religion. Religion as a cultural ‘opposite’ determines the believers’ behaviour. As there is competition between religious traditions, each can be expected to want to tie its faithful exclusively to itself. From a Christian perspective, this idea of religion is questionable. An analysis of the way Dawkins and Dennet describe the influence of Bible texts on the behaviour of believers shows that they fail to distinguish between literal and symbolic belief. And what is more: Marianne Moyaert’s theological reflection on inter-religious dialogue shows how the inner dynamics of Christianity help us to avoid fundamentalism. That same reflection also leads us to propose that New Atheists and Dawkins and Dennett in turn themselves start from a fundamentalist point of view. They argue that we should abandon religion now that reason can guide us to a peaceful society. They believe religion may have been useful for the survival of the human species at some point, but it now has a detrimental effect on our lives (together) and should therefore no longer be allowed to play a determining role in society. To put it differently: the reduction of religion to the functions it is supposed to fulfil, causes New Atheism to reject pluralism. In doing so, New Atheism presents itself as the only valid outlook on life and lapses into the same closed-off attitude as the religious fundamentalism it seeks to refute. New Atheists and their critique of religion can be an incentive for Christians to emphasize the open dynamics of their tradition. It is an incentive they have had all along, however, in the form of God’s boundless love for His creation.