The Case for ‘Soft Atheism’

Gary Gutting interviews Philip Kitcher in the NYT's The Stone:

G.G.: So you reject all religious doctrines, but you also say that you “resist the claim that religion is noxious rubbish to be buried as deeply, as thoroughly and as quickly as possible.” Why is that?

P.K.: The past decade has seen some trenchant attacks on religion, and I agree with many points made by people like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. (Dennett seems to me clearly the most sophisticated of the “new atheists”; much as I admire Dawkins’s work in evolutionary biology and in enhancing the public understanding of science, he is more often off-target in his diatribes against religion.) But these atheists have been rightly criticized for treating all religions as if they were collections of doctrines, to be understood in quite literal ways, and for not attending to episodes in which the world’s religions have sometimes sustained the unfortunate and campaigned for the downtrodden. The “soft atheism” I defend considers religion more extensively, sympathizes with the idea that secularists can learn from religious practices and recommends sometimes making common cause with religious movements for social justice.

G.G.: So on your view, Dawkins and company don’t refute all forms of religion, just unsophisticated literal assertions of religious claims.

P.K.: Yes, I think there’s a version of religion, “refined religion,” that is untouched by the new atheists’ criticisms, and that even survives my argument that religious doctrines are incredible. Refined religion sees the fundamental religious attitude not as belief in a doctrine but as a commitment to promoting the most enduring values. That commitment is typically embedded in social movements — the faithful come together to engage in rites, to explore ideas and ideals with one another and to work cooperatively for ameliorating the conditions of human life.

More here.