Description=Richard Dawkins Photograph: Jeremy Young 05-12-2006

Atheists’ self-defeating superiority: Why joining forces with religion is best for non-believers

I’ve written before about the root causes of religious conflict — in a nutshell: it is not about what many people would like you to think it’s about — but I realized recently that I had still been missing part of the picture picture, because I wasn’t accounting for what happens when people get caught up in narrowly tribalistic thinking. If there’s ever going to be a genuine, durable peace in the world, we have to overcome this tendency. And we atheists have to realize that we’re subject to the same pull of tribalism as are religious believers.

Yes, religion has been a source of conflict for millennia—but religion is just an especially organized form of tribalism. Human beings come by it honestly. As social psychologist Jonathan Haidt observed in his book “The Righteous Mind,” “our ancestors faced the adaptive challenge of forming and maintaining coalitions that could fend off challenges and attacks from rival groups” for eons. It may even be in our DNA.

New Atheists like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Bill Maher — with their legions of followers, numbering in the millions just on Twitter — continue to employ the Us vs. Them rhetoric of tribalism. But what these New Atheists fail to realize is that even if their criticisms of religion are correct, pointing them out does nothing to combat tribalism—in fact, it only strengthens it. Their faith in the power of rationality, which is effective but not perfect, blinds them to the larger problem.

Read more