Why the “new atheism”?

In a recent attack on me by a local blogger I was labelled a “New Atheist.” I had never thought of myself that way. After all, like me my atheism is actually quite old. And I prefer to get by with the minimum of ideological labelling anyway – given the ease with which labels are misinterpreted.

However, the term “New Atheism” is being used a lot lately and it’s interesting to ask why. Is there a new atheist ideology? Not that I can see. No, I think the label is being used not to describe ideology but more the style of the current debates around religion. Atheists are now more likely to enter into these discussions. They are more willing to criticise religious beliefs and dogma. They are more likely to criticise the actions of fundamentalist religious believers.

They are more willing to call a spade a spade. And they are more willing to demand the right to have and express such opinions.

In particular they are rejecting the idea that religion has a special immunity from criticism – a “go home free” card. Perhaps that is the “new” feature of today’s atheism.

Reacting the religious extremism

This insistence on freedom of expression may be a reaction to religious terrorism – especially after the 2001 atrocities in the USA. I think this is only part of the reason. We are also responding to attacks by fundamentalist religion on science and science teaching. After all, creationist/intelligent design proponents have been particularly militant in recent years.

I think people are also reacting to the judgemental imposition of religious “morality “– especially as time after time this has been exposed as hypocritical.

Then there is the derogatory smearing that has been going on. How often have we been exposed to the charge that atheism is “arrogant”? That we are “fools” or “morons.” Or that atheists either have no morality, or cannot justify their morality. What about the minister of religion who charged that atheists do not grieve for the loss of loved ones – that atheists have “little to say at the open grave, other than “get over it, pal”?”

When we aren’t being labelled in such derogatory ways our beliefs and rights are often ignored. New Zealand’s National Statement on Religious Diversity ignores the rights of the non-religious. There are attempts in some countries to legislate a special place for religion, and protect it from criticism. Even at the international level religious groups manipulate human rights bodies to deny the freedom of expression to those who attempt to criticise religious acts which violate human rights.

The claim of a special role for religion, a special immunity from criticism has a corollary. That is that critics of religion must keep quiet, abide by rules imposed by religion and effectively enter into debate with one hand tied behind their backs. Because of course, religion does not abide by these rules, or grant the atheists, the same rights.

So, I think this “New Atheism” label is just an acknowledgement that people are fed up with this special place religion has claimed for itself. We want a level playing field where people cannot hide behind their ‘special’ beliefs.

Level playing field in everyone’s interest

This willingness to call a spade a spade is proving popular. Criticism of religious hypocrisy has become more acceptable judging by book sales.

And this criticism is being noticed by religious people. While many are reacting with the usual ‘straw men’ tactic, others are ‘playing the man, rather than the ball.’ They attempt to discredit the “New Atheists” by describing them as disrespectful, shrill, angry, dogmatic or fundamentalist.

On the other hand there are religious spokespeople who acknowledge that there may be some truth in many of the arguments used by these “New Atheists.” Or that, whatever the truth of their arguments, atheists have as much right as any other group to participate in society and social discourse.

In the end, it is this last approach which will do the most to ensure a place for religion in a modern rational pluralistic society.

See also:

militant atheists video (6 min 27 sec)

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7 responses to “Why the “new atheism”?

  1. This is what I posted, we will see what the response is or if it will be posted.

    Let’s see, we were an accident and only have each other to rely on versus we were created special, made more important than the angels. Which philosophy would create more corruption in people?

    How do we know that we are in favor of god? While somewhat flawed, the important part of Max Weber’s work, which is still consistent, showed that those that held the philosophy that they were to be rewarded by God used their economic success to evaluate their standing. They would exploit the poor because they surely were not going to get into heaven.

    The fact that I am evolved from a common ancestor with apes only makes me more in awe of the power of nature, not a horrible monster.

    You say that by removing god that we remove our attachment and caring for others, yet you have no evidence for this. All ape species show at least some from of attachment, even if they are largely weak ties, so humans should have, and there is evidence that they did, evolved stronger ties to help in survival.

    Your argument is that we need to lie to children because there is nothing in nature that makes us responsible to others.

    My argument, supported by the works above, is that humans have a mechanism that makes them care for one another, which make us responsible for the survival of one another.


  2. You know you are doing something right when you get attacked by the religious right!


  3. Samuel Skinner

    “The people loved him most for the enemies he made”


  4. Melanie Stefine

    God said Good Atheists go to Heaven and Bad Christains can go to Hell.


  5. Melanie Stefine

    In the Spring of 2006 God sent a message. The message is about the meaning of First is Last and Last is First. The message is this:

    In the morning I go to Heaven. In the afternoon I live my life. In the evening I die, death.

    What does this mean? It means that Birth is Last and Last is Birth. God also gives an example so that you can understand this better. Example: Mike Douglas died on his birthday. (Note: MikeDouglas and Michael Douglas are two different people.)


  6. Melanie Stefine

    In 2007 God had this to say:
    We each die in succession, then we are born on the same day.


  7. Pingback: Recent Links Tagged With "pal" - JabberTags

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