I had intended to blog about it that evening, but completely forgot -- until I was reading this interview with Terry Eagleton at The New Humanist, and realized that Eagleton is making the exact same mental error. I am beginning to think this misconception I am about to introduce, while it sounds absurd when you state it plainly, is actually quite common.
The misconception could be stated like this: "Atheism" is the belief that anything which is referred to by the label "God" does not exist.
It seems that no matter how often we caveat that we are referring to the words "God" and "religion" in the sense that most people understand them, someone always replies with a redefinition of the terms -- whether it be the deist or pantheist God, a religion that deals only in allegory and metaphor, or what have you -- that dodges the objections of the "New Atheists".
This has been dealt with so many times -- in fact, the Sean Carroll post on which I was commenting talks about this problem -- that the only way I can explain the prevalence of this fallacy is if people have subconciously fucked up the definition of atheism in their head.
In a word: No.
Look, if you want to adopt some touchy-feely philosophy where God is a metaphor for the "human spirit" or something, that's fine. And if you want to call it religion, that's also fine. That's not what we're talking about, at least not until you start putting stock in ancient sectarian texts or engaging in magical thinking. Most of the "New Atheist" writers are quite explicit about exactly what they mean when they talk about God and religion. To substitute something other than what they describe and say that this defeats the argument is either semantic trickery, a misunderstanding of what the author is stating, or else sloppy thinking on the level that would cause someone to worship a bag of Cheetos.