Is there a new face of atheism?


Sir, – I found the letters mocking atheism (October 30th) rather bizarre.

Accusations ranged from our promoting Christianity, offering blind platitudes, being a desperate attempt to ward off reality, the laughable idea of atheism splintering (how can it splinter if it’s never been a unified whole?) and equating science as a religion.

Ridiculous. And as to cutting out the bullshit and dumping dogma, I feel obliged to point out that there is no dogma in atheism. That’s the whole point! Please note that I am neither a malcontent nor a crypto-Catholic fundamentalist. I am not even sure what that second one is.

I am however, an atheist. There is no god. Insulting, ridiculing and threatening me will neither make me a believer nor make your god real. – Yours, etc,


Kilkeevan Park,


Co Roscommon.

Sir, – One sincerely hopes that Joe Humphreys is correct in his suggestion that a new, more reasonable form of atheism may be beginning to emerge, from the creed’s Irish adherents (Arts Ideas, October 26th). Those of us from the Catholic intellectual tradition would certainly welcome such a development. Because there are undoubtedly large areas of agreement on many important ethical issues.

Unfortunately until recent times, Irish atheism has been most commonly associated with a form of irrational rage against Catholicism. This hasn’t been helped by an all too close relationship with Richard Dawkins, who frequently presents atheism in purely negative terms, as a form of knee-jerk anti-Catholicism.

However, on the broader world stage, Catholics and atheists have shown how it is possible to dialogue with a large degree of mutual respect. For example, two of Pope Benedict’s closest confidantes are the atheist politician Marcello Pera and the agnostic philosopher, Jürgen Habermas. Likewise many Catholics were very impressed when a large number of French intellectuals, including many atheists, signed a public letter defending the Pope against unfair criticism of his handling of abuse cases.

So here’s hoping that Joe Humphreys’s analysis proves to be accurate. – Yours, etc,


Balreask Village,


Co Meath.

Sir, – I was fascinated by the letters printed in response to Michael Nugent (October 30th) and the recent article by Joe Humphreys (Arts Ideas, October 26th); particularly the idea that if there is no god, then it does not “matter a damn what you do in this life”.

Those familiar with theories of moral development in humans (eg Kohlberg) will know the idea that behaviour being governed merely by promise of reward or fear of punishment is at the very beginning of the spectrum, associated with young children and their parents. We are supposed to move beyond this stage and achieve the capability to reason on moral issues on our own, and many people succeed in this, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.

People for whom the only reason for not committing anti-social behavioural acts such as crimes is fear of punishment in an afterlife, or the promise of a reward from their god (as authority figure in place of parents), should perhaps continue to cling to their beliefs, for all our sakes. Their fear of us, the atheists, seems grounded in their own stunted moral and social development.

Furthermore, there are many naturalistic reasons to engage in pro-social behaviour. Far too many to detail here, but a good place to start learning about the subject is the Richard Dawkins book The Selfish Gene; Dawkins is an atheist but also a biologist, which I feel sometimes gets forgotten in these debates. – Yours, etc,




Co Donegal.

Sir, – Michael Nugent (October 29th), in his response to Joe Humphreys’s question as to whether “there is a softening of the New Atheist stance” (Arts Ideas, October 26th), gives us an emphatic No.

In a single line he dismisses the belief systems of the vast majority of the world’s population . . . “We reject religious beliefs that are silly in their claims about reality, such as intervening personal gods who answer prayers”.

As a person who has seen medically verified miracles take place in answer to prayer, I don’t in any way feel silly when I call upon a kind and caring God to intervene and bring help to the lives of those in need. As one hospital consultant told a friend of mine, “You have restored my faith, your son is now well, you have a living witness”.

Genuine faith is based on such empirical evidence and those of us who have faith continue to have it because we see the power of God at work. We bear witness to what we have seen, experienced and know to be true. We live in the reality of a God who claims to heal diseases, actually living up to his promises and making real people well.

Having rejected the notion of papal infallibility, may I also reject the notion that Atheist Ireland is infallible when it defines other people’s beliefs as silly, simply because they don’t fit in with their prescription of reality. – Yours, etc,


Bullock Park, Carlow.

Sir, – Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh’s main argument (October 30th) against Michael Nugent’s atheism “with a human face” is stated thus: “Isn’t it obvious that to reject supernaturalism while saluting personal autonomy and individual conscience is gross contradiction, since you will never find any basis for those ideas in a naturalistic worldview?”.

Quite the contrary, Mr O’Ceallaigh. Conscience is about choice. Either there is a God and he/she will tell you what to do and you shut up and do it (no need for an individual conscience), or there is not a God and your family and society help you develop an individual conscience to make moral choices out of empathy with the species you were born into and the planet you live on.

I carry a conscience and deep ethical convictions precisely because I am an atheist; moral convictions that spring from my presence with the other six billion on this fragile cosmic dustball, a six billion to which I have a great affinity and who I love dearly.

The conscience of an atheist is all the purer because it seeks no payback.

Your “conscience” (which your law-providing God has effectively made redundant), and any related good deeds, exist precisely because of the payback, the promise of eternal life. – Yours, etc,


Sathorn Park Place,

South Sathorn Road,

Bangkok, Thailand.