I might not be the typical reviewer of this book. I am an atheist, but one who is as annoyed as Hedges over the excesses and irresponsibilities of the more dogmatic of "public figure" atheists. But, wait! I gave this book two stars. Why would I give a book whose message I essentially agree with 2 stars?
Well, for starters, I don't agree with much in this book; suprising, because I thought that I would. Of the scores of things Hedges could have challengd these atheists - Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens - on, Hedges manages to miss most of them and add some that are quite illigitimate. Had I written this book, I would have taken the three authors to task on a few things:
a.) their simplistic and baffling view that not only religious extremists, but moderates, are to be condemmed. (Isn't religion a tool? Just as people can do bad with it, so they can do good, depending on their motive?)
b.) these authors occasional faith-driven zeal, that given enough time, sceince will explain all of the things it has tried and failed to explain (like morality, even though science deals with 'is' rather than 'ought' questions. (And don't get me started on the idea of 'memes' as opposed to the older, more sensical, idea of 'ideas.')
c.) These authors' very frequent exhibitions of the type of fanatical extremism and dogmatism they rightly point out as a flaw of their opponents (fundamentalists).
The only of these Hedges hits on is the third. Hedges is not even primarily against atheism. He is, rather, against dogmatism and fanasticism, which he rightly sees exhibited in spades amongst these new 'public figure' atheists.
But in his zeal - and judging by the redundancy, this was a book written in great haste without the benefit of editing or critical thought - he attributes many things to these authors that they, in fact, never actually say. This, of course, renders his books quite superfluous, irrelevant, and unimportant.
His main argument against these atheists is that they believe in moral progress in a utopian sense. Get rid of religion, they are alleged to say, and the world can be a utopia. Hedges says this of them several times. As one whose read all of the authors to which he refers, I was confused, because I don't remember any of them saying this. At least, I figured, he will quote them on this at some point. He never did.
He suggests that these authors do not believe in any idea resembling original sin; that humans have both a good AND A DARK narure. That is funny in a naive sort of way, because if Hedges had done homework, he would have easily known that the whole idea of evolutionary psychology (to which all of our authors subscribe)is ALWAYS lambasted for recognizing that we - evolutionary creatures - have inherited our predecessors' moral virtues and shortcomings. (Hedges should have remembered the uproar at Dawkins' book 'The Selfish Gene!').
For their parts, Harris and Hitchens are also quite clear in their books on the idea that moral perfection and utopianism should not be seriously taken. Hitchens, after all, is a raging fan of the anti-utopian George Orwell, who makes several moralistic appearances in Hitchens' book. And Harris says repeatedly that once religion is out, humans will just as easily fight over other things; the only difference will be that hopefully those things are more solvable and tractible than are beliefs that God gave this group or that group the holy land. (Religion IS in fact a good, but not the only, conversation stopper.)
Quite simply, Hedges' attribution and scolding of atheists that believe in unbounded moral perfectability is arguing against a ghost. Those atheists died out with Stalin. And as dead as they are, so dead is Hedges 'argument.'
Beyond this, Hedges also condems Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens - quite oddly - for the belief that humans can morally impove AT ALL!! Hedges is a pessimist in the fine tradition of those depressed social thinkers like Reinhold Neibuhr and Soren Kierkegaard. Like them, he reminds us that humans have natures and sometimes, those natures are selfish and devious. As such, we should never try to overcome any part of ourselves; we should simply accept the fact that sin exists.
Of course, anyone whose ever read Reinhold Neibuhr - I have, even as an atheist - knows that he never, ever was that pessimilstic. He simply suggested that moral PERFECTIBILITY was a chimera. Try as we might, there is always going to be an ideal that we fall short of, but that this should not keep us from trying for it and striving for it.
Hedges on the other hand reminds us again and again that "we live in a constant state of war," and that it is no good to try and change it. So how dare the atheists suggest that if we try hard, we may be able to gradually move beyond some of the moral quandaries of the day. Of course, we have in the past. At least in Western countries: slavery is outlawed women are no longer property of men; feudalism is gone; monarchy and dictatorship is more and more rare and looked down on; the first bills of rights have appeared on the planet. One wonders: if Hedges were writing 300 years ago, would any of this have happened? Or would he simply have reminded us of the evil that comes when we try to do better than we have in the past. And how dare the wicked atheists for suggesting that progress is a goal to strive for!!
I write this lengthy review, quite simply, to give prospective readers an idea of how poor this book is both in intellectual quality and message. If one wants to argue against the 'new atheism' for things like their dogmatism, and morally simplistic judgments against all things with the hint of religion, then do that! (I will welcome it myself!) But to suggest that the new atheism is evil because of a belief in moral perfection that none of its authors write about, and for the audacity to claim that humans can be decent if they try hard - what? Who?