BOSTON - Atheists are under attack these days for being too militant, for not just disbelieving in religious faith but for trying to eradicate it. And who's leveling these accusations? Other atheists, it turns out.
Among the millions of Americans who don't believe God exists, there's a split between people such as Greg Epstein, who holds the partially endowed post of humanist chaplain at Harvard University, and so-called "New Atheists."
Epstein and other humanists feel their movement is on the verge of explosive growth, but are concerned it will be dragged down by what they see as the militancy of New Atheism.
The most pre-eminent New Atheists include best-selling authors Richard Dawkins, who has called the God of the Old Testament "a psychotic delinquent," and Sam Harris, who foresees global catastrophe unless faith is renounced. They say religious belief is so harmful it must be defeated and replaced by science and reason.
Epstein calls them "atheist fundamentalists." He sees them as rigid in their dogma, and as intolerant as some of the faith leaders with whom atheists share the most obvious differences.
Next month, as Harvard celebrates the 30th anniversary of its humanist chaplaincy - part of the school's chaplaincy corps - Epstein will use the occasion to provide a counterpoint to the New Atheists.
"Humanism is not about erasing religion," he said. "It's an embracing philosophy."
In general, humanism rejects supernaturalism, while stressing principles such as dignity of the individual, equality and social justice. If there's no God to help humanity, it holds, people better do the work.
The celebration of a "New Humanism" will emphasize inclusion and diversity within the movement, and will include Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist E.O. Wilson, a humanist who has made well-chronicled efforts to team with evangelical Christians to fight global warming. *