For example, Dawkin's sent out this letter Americans trying to garner subscriptions to the magazine, Free Inquiry:
If you live in America, the chances are good that your next door neighbours believe the following: the Inventor of the laws of physics and Programmer of the DNA code decided to enter the uterus of a Jewish virgin, got himself born, then deliberately had himself tortured and executed because he couldn’t think of a better way to forgive the theft of an apple, committed at the instigation of a talking snake.
Philosopher Eric Reitan argues this characterization is vapid and hollow, missing the entire point of religion:
The great world religions aren’t about literal belief in stories you might read in a book of fairy tales. Instead, they’re primarily about promulgating a holistic worldview and way of life infused with the sense that there’s something beyond the empirical skin of the world, something deeply important with which we can forge a relationship. They teach us that when we do so, our lives will be richer and our characters better. At their root, the stories and teachings and injunctions of a religion aim to bring about a transformation in believers, one in which the believers’ lives are informed by a relational connection to an Ultimate Reality that transcends them.Reitan offers his quick theological snapshot, one offering deeper holistic meaning, and he concludes with a challenge to Dawkins, Hutchins, et al.:
That, put simply, is what religion is about. It’s not about believing that talking snakes or flying horses are real—even if, sometimes, the adherents to a religion insist they are. Even among those who believe that religious stories are historical facts and not just myths, there is also an affirmation that the story is more about theology than about history. The story is remembered because it means something.
The important question here isn’t whether some soulless, cartoonish version of religious faith can transform one’s life. The important question is whether there’s a way of being religious, a way of living one’s life as if there were a transcendent good beyond the empirical world, that actually bears rich fruits.
And so here is my challenge to Dawkins and other atheists who want to critique religion. Let’s set aside caricatures. If Dawkins wants to challenge religion, he should take on the soul-stirring versions of the Christian story rather than the mind-numbing ones, and show that these versions lack the transformative power that they promise.In a similar fashion, Salon reviews a book by Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution, in which he defends religion from the New Athiests. Money quote:
Or he should explain why the transformative potential of a religious narrative is not a good reason to choose to live as if it were true, even if such pragmatic assessment may be the only tool we have for evaluating beliefs about what transcends the empirical world.
Caricatures can be useful in calling attention to things we might not otherwise notice. But caricatures cease to be useful when they’re confused with the real thing; when the critic invites his audience to deride the real thing based on the absurdity of the caricature.
Atheists of the [Dawkins and Hitchens] persuasion have raised valid points about the sordid social and political history of religion, with which Eagleton largely agrees. Yet their arguments are fatally undermined by their own unacknowledged dogmas and doctrines, he goes on to say, and they completely fail to understand Christian faith (or any other kind) except in its stupidest and most literal-minded form.
A few years ago, I read an article by a Roman Catholic theologian who wryly observed that the quality of Western atheism had gone steadily downhill since Nietzsche. Eagleton heartily concurs. He freely admits that what Christian doctrine teaches about the universe and the fate of man may not be true, or even plausible. But as he then puts it, "Critics of the most enduring form of popular culture in human history have a moral obligation to confront that case at its most persuasive, rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it as so much garbage and gobbledygook."
To me, its not that theologians are upset with the New Atheists for espousing atheistic beliefs, its that their assault-style arguements of religion are elementary and entirely off-base. I'm glad theologians are reclaiming their voices and defending religion from this logic.