Greg M. Epstein serves as the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University and is supposed to represent an atheist who is critical of New Atheism. Clearly, he and his followers want to distance themselves from New Atheism and its hate, but is this rooted in sincerity and principle or is it just an expression of the “Good Cop, Bad Cop” tactic that Epstein and others play with the New Atheists?
One thing is clear. He embraces the closed-mind certainty of the New Atheists and even considers both Dawkins and Harris to be heroes:
It is also important to note that the New Humanism and the New Atheism absolutely share the same views on questions such as whether God exists (almost certainly not), or how best to understand the nature of the world around us (science and empiricism). And as to whether we ought to fight for such causes as the separation of Church and State, the teaching of evolution, and the promotion of atheism and Humanism as valid, patriotically American ways of life, our answers are also the same as those of the New Atheists — you bet your life we ought to. To the extent that writers such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have taken a national and international lead in discussing such questions boldly, they should be regarded as heroes.
But he does try to explain how he and his fellow humanists are different:
Another goal of the conference was to show that Humanism can relate to non-Humanists in an inclusive manner. The New Humanism does not spend all its energy blasting belief in God in all its forms and certainly avoids ad hominem attacks on those who identify themselves as religious. In other words, we know that not everyone who disagrees with us is an idiot.
It’s nice to know that New Humanism does not spend all its energy blasting belief in God in all its forms and they won’t engage in name-calling, but these are two traits we might expect from people who play the Good Cop role.
We don’t kid ourselves about the deleterious effects of some religion, and we don’t have to agree with any form of theism, but we don’t consider religion to be child abuse. (Some religious people may indeed abuse their children by excessive indoctrination, but in those cases the crime of which they are guilty is…child abuse, not religion.)
“We don’t consider religion to be child abuse” again seems more like something the Good Cop would say. Instead of making such a passive distinction designed to highlight a supposed difference, why not express a more strongly-worded criticism of the notion that religion is child abuse? After all, even the Good Cops believe “some religious people may indeed abuse their children by excessive indoctrination.” What the heck is “excessive indoctrination?” Epstein postures as if he is guided by “science and empiricism,” but in reality, he seems willing to label other human beings as child abusers based on his own wishy-washy subjectivism.
Epstein claims, “We are Humanists because for us, Humanism is part of being the best, most honest, most thoughtful human beings we are capable of being.” But playing the role of Good Cop hardly qualifies as being “the most honest” human being you are capable of being. So it would seem the New Humanists have to provide much more clarification. For starters, we can ask them some simple questions. I’ll start with just one:
Richard Dawkins routinely refers to religious people as “faith-heads.” Is this an example of bigotry?
A sincere person who is trying to be the best, most honest, most thoughtful human beings we are capable of being will acknowledge this is bigotry. A good cop won’t answer that question, and if they try, it will come with all sorts of hand-waving. After all, a good cop, housed within academia, won’t want to admit one of his heroes is a bigot.