Pros: There are a few valid points which some atheists conveniently forget
Cons: Too many blanket statements and personal stories
The Bottom Line:
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Part of the reason I decided to read Becky Garrison's book The New Atheist Crusaders was because I recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Garrison at a bar in Chicago. A group of well known ministers representing an emerging form of Christianity were meeting there and chatting with seekers, and I had to talk with Garrison when I found out she wrote this book. Garrison was very smart, talkative, and contemplative during the hour I spent listening to her. Unfortunately, when I actually picked up the book and read it, it turned out to be something of a letdown.
I'm from what Garrison refers to as the old school of atheism. I'm the person who thinks that belief in a god is wrong, and I only came to that conclusion after a long and difficult search of my soul (one which still continues to this very day). The reason I call myself an atheist is not necessarily because I reject the idea of an all-powerful deity creating the universe, but because I don't take anything on faith. I question everything. Garrison makes sure to acknowledge the difference between atheists like me and what she calls the New Atheists. "...this current crop of anti-God guys giggle like schoolgirls over their naughty refusal to kowtow to society and buy into this God biz." Garrison writes in The New Atheist Crusaders. Garrison makes sure to point out that old school atheists simply believe belief in a god is wrong. The New Atheists believe religion is dangerous and destructive, and simply refuse to let people believe in a god if they choose to.
Garrison makes a few good points conveniently ignored by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. While those two guys have gone on record as saying religion may be a form of child abuse, Garrison makes the very valid point that people who were raised in religious families mostly don't show any of the typical signs of child abuse. She also points out that while ways of interpreting and following religious scriptures have evolved (my god, how I love the irony of being able to use that word in this context), the common atheist arguments against god have pretty much stayed the same ever since the inception of atheism. She also points out very accurately that the authors of today's most fiery anti-religion rants love to use quotes from today's fringe lunatic Christians (unfortunately, the fringe lunatics are the ones making the most noise), Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens would be old gazelle being hunted by lions if they debated against actual Christian scholars. Garrison likes Brian McClaren in particular and quotes him more than once.
Unfortunately, Garrison is not a scholar herself. She's just a very annoyed religious satirist and so many of her counter-arguments don't go into any real depth. At times, she relies on broad blanket statements to just flick away ideas which Dawkins and Hitchens ranted at length about in their own books. This is perfectly acceptable in a few cases. Garrison points out that atheists try to use the logic "it just doesn't make any sense!" in order to rant about why a god can't possibly do everything religious people say he can. Well, Garrison says, logic ain't part of the deal with God. I find this perfectly acceptable because the all-powerful version of God is all-powerful, after all, and so he doesn't have to follow the limited human view of logic. Unfortunately, the more hardcore atheists simply don't have the imaginations required to accept this and insist on bringing logic and philosophy into it anyway. Anyway, Garrison uses blanket statements in a few other instances as well, and more often than not they make her come off like a schoolgirl.
Overall, Garrison often refers to the common viewpoint that these new atheists are simply promoting dogmas of their own. Two big things actually help her here: The first is that Hitchens wasn't willing to let her blurb God is not Great. The second is Dawkins' belief in memes, basically the idea that beliefs can be catching. Unfortunately for Dawkins, the existance of memes hasn't been proven or tested. Garrison actually quotes someone saying that Dawkins' theory on memes sounds an awful lot like simple belief.
Between the parts where she takes her shots at atheists, Garrison unfortunately weakens a few of her own arguments. She slings mud at her faith where she thinks it is necessary. This does a lot for objectivity, but it also makes her look like she has shaky convictions herself. Her willingness to do this is admirable, but I was hoping for a volley of counter-cannonballs from someone who was firm in her faith and willing to tell the New Atheists where to shove their dogmas. Garrison also uses a lot of personal stories. I enjoy reading personal testimonials, but again, they are counterproductive because they tell the story of a single person - herself. She also comes off as spiritually weak in many of them. If I were dogmatic about anything, I really want a pillar of strength calling the shots for me. Dawkins and Brian McClaren are one in the same in their ability to stand up and say "Here is my faith, let's see you burst through it!" Garrison comes off as an angry ranter without the swear words saying "I do believe! I do I do I do!"
The New Atheist Crusaders speaks more as a single person defending her own faith. It doesn't come off as a person arguing for the reasons a religious person should keep their own faith. It's worth reading, but Richard Dawkins could crush it in full-out God Delusion mode. And that's saying a lot, because I've read - and reviewed - The God Delusion and it's one of the weakest pro-atheism rants that ever existed.
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