John Haught, in God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, points out that the Christianity the new atheist attack is really a fundamentalist, creationist theology. He writes,
Our self-taught experts in religion, in contrast to the thousands of academic scholars and literate ministers they ignore, are saying to their readers that the only features of faith worth talking about are those to which fundamentalists and fanatics have turned our attention. (36)
I’ve read all four of the three authors’ primary tomes (The God Delusion, The End of Faith, Letters to a Christian Nation, and God Is Not Great), and I find this characterization to be true. It is also applicable to Maher’s Religulous. Not only is this approach disingenuous, but it’s also bad science. (After all, they purport to be taking a scientific, balanced view of religion.) It’s as if they’re writing about France after only having read a David Sedaris book.
Yet why are they taking this approach? The easy answer is to say that it’s the easiest approach. However, I believe there’s something more to it.
If we look at the American religious landscape, what is the most prominent aspect? The most visible aspect? Literalist fundamentalism. What’s the largest religious broadcasting company in America? Paul and Jan Crouch’s Trinity Broadcast Network. By and large, what does TBN program? Literalist fundamentalism. What’s the newest phenomenon in American Christianity? The megachurch. And what do many of them have in common? A fundamentalist, literalist approach.
Now, a good scientist would take what is plainly evident and investigate it, and then she would go deeper. Which is to say, there’s no excuse for how Dawkins et al. set up religious straw men. At the same time, with such literalism and fundamentalism so prevalent in American culture, it’s little surprise that this is the Christianity the new atheists attack.