I'm a little disappointed in Andrew Sullivan.
I think his goal was mainly to point out the danger of letting the dialogue get out of control, and public policy with it. Here's the "money quote" that bothers me:
"We are witnessing a social phenomenon that is about fundamentalism," says Colin Slee, the Dean of Southwark. "Atheists like the Richard Dawkins of this world are just as fundamentalist as the people setting off bombs on the tube, the hardline settlers on the West Bank and the anti-gay bigots of the Church of England. Most of them would regard each other as destined to fry in hell.
"You have a triangle with fundamentalist secularists in one corner, fundamentalist faith people in another, and then the intelligent, thinking liberals of Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, baptism, methodism, other faiths - and, indeed, thinking atheists - in the other corner. " says Slee. Why does he think the other two groups are so vociferous? "When there was a cold war, we knew who the enemy was. Now it could be anybody. From this feeling of vulnerability comes hysteria."
First, let's visit the meaning of "fundamentalist" because, to quote Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride, "I do not think it means what you think it means."
According to Merriam-Webster:One entry found for fundamentalism.
Main Entry: fun·da·men·tal·ism
1 a often capitalized : a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching b : the beliefs of this movement c : adherence to such beliefs
2 : a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles <Islamic fundamentalism> <political fundamentalism>
Atheism is defined by it's lack of any belief system at all, given that fact, I don't see how an atheist has any "fundamental beliefs" to return or adhere to.
The real objection the author of the Guardian piece seems to have with atheists in general and Richard Dawkins in particular, is their rather aggressive, rude or "disrespectful" dismissal of religious belief. The comparison of Dawkins' verbal pyrotechnics to bombing public transport fails to make a case. This hyperbole has the unpleasant whiff of hysteria.
It is interesting to me that in recent polling the people who are least trusted in U.S society are atheists. It's also interesting that the people who arguably have the least respect or trust for atheists are the religious. Or, as the Guardian article seems to allude, is this really about fear and hatred of "the other"...
From The Guardian:
Another reason for secularist rage at people of faith, one might think, is exasperation on the part of militant atheists that religion has not died out as they hoped. "It has taken centuries and centuries to wrestle away from the churches the levers of power," says Grayling.
I think it is the frustration of the non-faith community at being ignored and forced into acceptance of religion in their daily lives that thy find so maddening.
Does anyone really think there is such a thing as atheist fundamentalists?