Recently I signed a manifesto, sponsored by Hector Avalos and André Gagné, titled “A Manifesto for Secular Scriptural Scholarship and Religious Studies.” Avalos is working to start a new movement, called “The Second Wave of New Atheism.” I have never really identified with the New Atheism movement, primarily because Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens aren’t really my favorite authors (I do have a greater appreciation for Daniel Dennett). I like some of their ideas, but mostly I tend to prefer other secular scholars, such as Graham Oppy, Bart Ehrman, Sean Carroll, Shelly Kagan, etc.
The New Atheism movement has also been criticized for not engaging theological and apologetic arguments, and focusing primarily on the negative cultural effects of religion. Likewise, New Atheists have been attacked for publishing popular level books, like the The God Delusion, written by authors who are not experts in some of the relevant fields that they argue about. That said, I don’t have much against New Atheism either. I think that a lot of the critiques of the movement miss the target, since New Atheism is primarily a cultural, social, and political movement directed towards increasing secularization and removing religion from everyday life. New Atheism *is not* a philosophical or theological movement directed towards answering the most arcane questions of philosophy, nor does it even really espouse a particular worldview or metaphysical model of reality.
But, Hector Avalos is now starting a “Second Wave” of New Atheism that I can get behind.
This Second Wave of New Atheism is not just concerned with popular audiences, but is working to unite secular scholars against theologically motivated scholarship and institutions in Religious Studies, Biblical Studies, and other academic fields that are targeted by religious apologetics. The Second Wave likewise acknowledges the cultural and historical importance of religion, without seeking to retain the moral authority of religious scriptures and traditions. In this new movement, Avalos is seeking advocates who:
“Are academically trained experts in the study of religion and sacred scriptures (e.g., the Bible, Quran, and any other text deemed sacred on religious grounds);”
“Regard the study of the Bible, the Quran, and other sacred scriptures as important in understanding western history and modern culture, but without seeking to retain their moral authority.”
Since the demographics described above is one that I belong to, I was happy to sign this new manifesto when Avalos contacted me. Among the goals of the Second Wave of New Atheism are the following:
- Acknowledge that human ethics need not depend on religion;
- Advocate the discontinuation of the use of any sacred scripture as a moral authority in the modern world;
- Work to ensure that professional organizations of scriptural and religious studies, such as the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion, insist on methodological naturalism, and not theological methodologies, in their basic approach to all research presented at its meetings, as is the case with all other areas of the humanities and social sciences;
If you agree with the description above, particularly if you are a scholar trained in Religious Studies, Biblical Studies, or any other related discipline, then please consider signing “A Manifesto for Secular Scriptural Scholarship and Religious Studies.” The contact information to do so is included on the website linked above.