Professor and Economist David Friedman, cogently points out some of the obvious and not so obvious weaknesses of the “New atheism”.
“Dawkins complains about four year old children being labelled “Christian,” “Muslim,” “Hindu.” What he is ignoring is that religious labels identify communities as well as systems of belief. For many people the communal identification–“I am a member of this group”–is probably more important than the belief; there are surely lots of members of one Christian denomination or another who could not adequately explain the difference in beliefs between their denomination and others. Seen from this standpoint, it makes as much sense to describe a four year old child as “Christian” as it would to describe her as “French.”
I’m reminded of the story of the visitor to Northern Ireland who is asked by a local whether he is a Protestant or a Catholic. He replies that he is a Jew. To which the local responds with “Are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?” The religious labels here have become primarily identifications of which faction you are a part of, not of what you believe.
It’s tempting to blame religion for a good deal of past violence, but it isn’t clear if the fundamental cause was religious beliefs or the tendency of humans to identify with groups. There’s been lots of violence between Catholics and Protestants or Christians and Muslims, but also between English and French or French and Germans. And the USSR, whose official religious doctrine was atheism, was also one of the most murderous states in history.”
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