In the two years leading up to his death this past February, the legal and political philosopher Ronald Dworkin was completing a slim volume with a weighty title. Religion without God, which began as a series of lectures in 2011, set a lofty goal: to propose a “religious attitude” in the absence of belief. Dworkin’s objective was not just theological. The book, he hoped, would help lower the temperature in the past decade’s battle between a group of scientists and philosophers dubbed the New Atheists and an array of critics who have accused them of everything from Islamophobia to fundamentalism to heresy.
Although the New Atheists are part of a long and distinguished tradition, including (but not limited to) philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Bertrand Russell, they are notable because they have made atheism a pop success in the U.S. Since the 2004 publication of Sam Harris’s post–September 11 polemic, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, the kingpins of the movement—Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Daniel C. Dennett, and A.C. Grayling, to name a few—have launched diatribes against God and belief. To them, religion is at best superfluous, at worst (in Hitchens’s words) “allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.”
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