Abstract: The New Atheists have repeatedly denounced the Bible as dangerously false, suppressive to scientific inquiry, and promoting problematic or even abhorrent moral values. The Genesis 1-11 and 19 narratives on the Creation, the Flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah are among their favorite targets. Is it possible to read these texts more rigorously, responsibly, and charitably than the New Atheists have done? I think so, and discuss some possibilities here.
This summer I had the opportunity to publish an article with the Romanian Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, an up-and-coming refereed resource for inter-religious scholars and practitioners. My dissertation work is on the New Atheists, and publishing this piece was exciting for me, as is introducing the journal to SoFers as a valuable potential forum for their scholarship.
In my article, I probe the entire corpus of published New Atheist books by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens for their polemics and criticism of the book of Genesis, which within the Hebrew and Christian canons remains among the most controversial books in the Bible not only for New Atheists, but in historic and contemporary public and religious discourse.
The New Atheists see much, though perhaps not all of the Bible as dangerously false, suppressive to scientific inquiry, and promoting problematic or even abhorrent moral values. Must Genesis and other challenging parts of the Bible be read this way, and are the New Atheists being responsible in their interpretations? Are there more rigorous ways of understanding these texts that might mitigate or even reverse New Atheist criticisms? I think so, and discuss my reasons here.
Yet I am still curious to hear from SoFers. Is this a conversation worth having? Does exploring and contesting the angry and uncharitable renderings of New Atheists and others regarding sacred texts have value for inter-religious dialogue? What are the implications for hermeneutics, theology, and theodicy?
Are New Atheists and other hostile critics better "ignored" by religious believers who prefer politer, more tactful interlocutors? I look forward to your thoughts wisdom, as well as any comments on my article.
Image by m.khajoo, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Benjamin B. DeVan has taught religion, philosophy, and African American literature at North Carolina Central University, Peace College, and a January term mini-course at MIT titled, "Religion: Bringing the World Together, or Tearing the World Apart?" He completed his MA in Counseling at Asbury Theological Seminary, his MDiv at Duke University, a ThM at Harvard in World Religions with a thesis on evangelical Christians and Muslims, and is now a doctoral candidate at a historic British university writing a dissertation on the New Atheism.