An article by Konstantin Petrenko in ReligionDispatches discusses the “two faces” of new atheism.
We know plenty of good things that have resulted from the atheist authors’ bestsellers. So no need to dwell on that here.
But Petrenko points out a couple major problems with Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens/Dennett and the like:
While plausible, this argument [that you don’t need religion to be moral] does not prove that religion has no effect on morality. In fact, study after study has shown that deeply religious people tend to give substantially more to charity and to volunteer more often than their nonreligious counterparts. Regardless of the reason for this trend, it seems obvious that something about religious communities and worship encourages individuals to love their neighbor, to share resources, and to be involved in the community.
Whether atheists like it or not, religion does have an ability to inspire remarkable acts of kindness and generosity, and usually it does so not by scaring people with hellfire, but by appealing to their highest ideals of love, compassion, and justice. Sadly, one would be hard-pressed to find any mention of the positive effects of religion in atheist literature.
I don’t think the New Atheists deny that religious people do good things — and in many cases, more tangible good things than non-believers — in the world. Their focus is on the fact that religious people do these good things for the wrong reasons. Furthermore, the same beliefs that can cause them to do good have caused them to do plenty of bad.
The same Bible that urges people to help the poor can be used to justify crimes against non-Christians and oppression of minority groups (like GLBT people).
Religion doesn’t poison everything. But the New Atheists have set out to show that it causes quite a bit of damage. They also want to show that the alternative — a non-religious worldview — is more realistic, more honest, and still provides people with the reason and inspiration to do great things.