As you might imagine from his position at Harvard, Stedman supports the non-theistic Humanism "religion." His goal is to advance particular social policies and often that goal is shared by theists. Hence, cooperating with theists to achieve common goals, such as social justice, is a major part of his life.
That's noble. Even though I don't share his humanist worldview—and have no intention of becoming a humanist—I can support many of the issues he is passionate about. Like all my atheist friends, I have no problem working with theists of all stripes when it comes to making our society a better place—just as I have no problem working with conservatives, homeopaths, anti-abortionists, people who favor capital punishment, pro-gun lobbyists, and even misogynists and racists if the issue is important enough.
The point is that people differ on all kinds of issues but that doesn't prevent them from forming alliances and getting along. My theist friends don't agree with my stance on the existence of god(s) but most of them tolerate my position even though they will argue passionately against it when we debate. Similarly, I think they're dead wrong about the existence of god(s) but that doesn't mean we can't work together to support the same political candidate.
Chris Steadman is one of those accommodationists who simply can't tell the difference between the battle of rationalism (my version) vs superstition (theism) and whether people can get along at a one-on-one level. His main thesis isn't that theists will be upset by criticism, instead it's more subtle than that. He thinks it's the atheists who are being intolerant while the theists can handle criticism!
Stedman has written a book but I haven't read it. However, I have read an excerpt on Salon: Toxic atheism drives people apart. As you can tell from the title, this is another attack on "New Atheists" from a "faithest." (He uses the word "faithest" as a synonym for "accommodationist.")
Here's what Stedman says,
I'm not a believer any longer, but I do believe in respect. The "New Atheism" of Dawkins and Harris is simply toxic.I'm getting awfully sick of this nonsense. What he really means is that it's okay to passionately disagree about all kinds of social and political issues (gun control, socialism, capital punishment, quackery, political parties, abortion) but if atheists challenge the existence of god(s) that's a whole different kettle of fish. Somehow, it's "disrepectful" to declare that belief in supernatural beings is wrong and it means that intolerant atheists can't, and won't, work with anyone who disagrees with them because their position is "toxic."
Chris Stedman says ...
Sitting in class the day after my botched attempt at seeking secular community, I realized that I felt more at home with my religious colleagues than with the atheists from the day before. I looked around the room, focusing on each individual face; here were people who believed in a God I had theorized away years ago, yet they felt more like kin than most atheists I knew. While my classmates felt that their religious beliefs were right, they not only tolerated my beliefs but also enthusiastically embraced and challenged them.He's talking about students at a seminary studying for a master's degree in religion. If Chris Stedman can argue vehemently with his Christian friends about the existence of god(s) and still respect them, then why can't New Atheists do the same? Is it because the New Atheists make a stronger, better, more threatening, case than he does when debating with his friends and this shows intolerance and lack of respect on the part of New Atheists? I suspect that's the case. I suspect that his real beef with the New Atheists is that they are better at defending atheism that he is and this comes across as more disrespectful than he's prepared to be.
Later on, Stedman says ....
With divisive religious fundamentalism on the rise, reactionary atheism that fixates on making antireligious proclamations is creating even more division. I believe that this so-called New Atheism — the kind that singles out the religious lives of others as its No. 1 target — is toxic, misdirected, and wasteful. Disengaged or antagonistic atheism weakens our community’s claim that an ethical life is possible without a belief in God, supplanting this with an alienating narrative that both distracts us from investing in community-building efforts of our own and prevents us from accomplishing anything outside of our small community. In addition, this militant, uncompromising antitheism inhibits people who do not believe in God from ever moving beyond articulating how they differ from the religious into the kinds of efforts that engender community building within and cooperation without. I do not believe it represents most atheists, but this perspective is currently the loudest and most visible one, speaking on behalf of atheists to the wider world and dictating the direction of the organized atheist community.First, let me correct a common misconception among accommodationists. While it's true that some so-called "New Atheists" are very anti-religion, it's not true of all New Atheists. I, for one, am very much opposed to the superstitious belief in imaginary god(s) but I don't waste much time distinguishing between the several thousand different religions and which one(s) are more evil. They are all based on a myth and that's the main point. I am anti-theism and that's not quite the same as being anti-Christian, or anti-Muslim, or anti-Hinduism, or anti-Mormon2, or anti-Judaism.
Second, let's look at what Stedman is saying about the New Atheist side of the debate. He's saying that attacks on the evils of some religions (e.g. Christian fundamentalism, Islamic extremism) are "toxic, misdirected and wasteful." Atheist who engage in such attacks are behaving unethically, calling into question the idea that you can be good without god. He's saying that because some New Atheists point out the evils of some religions, this contaminates the entire New Atheist movement by making atheists intolerant. Because they highlight the worst examples of religious bigotry and hypocrisy—such as shooting 14 year-old girls, or murdering doctors who perform abortions, or abusing young altar boys—this means they can't work with their religious neighbors because they treat all theists the same.
There's no evidence to support such a ridiculous hypothesis and plenty of evidence that the most vocal New Atheists get along just fine with their religious friends. They may not be touchy-feely humanists who go around hugging Christian fundamentalists, but that's an entirely different question.
1. Why does a university need a "humanist chaplain"?
2. PZ Myers has a nice post opposing the anti-Mormonism of Richard Dawkins [Bad argument #1: The Mormon exception]