Trouble in the Garden of Atheism

Posted on Mar 31, 2010

I don’t know if you’ve met them, but there’s a new kind of Atheist in town. The New Atheist. Chances are that if you spend any amount of time surfing the ‘net you’ve already come across them. They’re a vocal bunch — they’re quick to decry the atrocities of religion and purr the virtues of Atheism. They love doing this as openly and publicly as possible and they insist on sharing their arguments even if it means arguing with a wall. They call themselves Atheists and they make sure everyone knows it.

All of the major denominations have had to deal with their own incarnations of the New Atheist. The churches have all managed to attract them in droves (and I suspect that the requirement of faith might have something to do with it). These are the people who give religions their bad reputations: they’re the loud-mouth hot-air blow-hards who constantly parrot vapid statements they “believe” prove something. They annoy their neighbors and try to convert everyone they meet. They flood the Internet with their dogma feverishly believing that religion must be stopped. They’re the kind of people who talk like they’ve been indoctrinated into a cult.

Despite it’s efforts to remain a philosophical Switzerland, Atheism is becoming more like a religion than it would ever admit to. The number of New Atheists is increasing all the time. In the mainstream, the “Atheist” label carries with a set of (misunderstood) principles and ideas. Especially in debate, the label suggests one belongs to some sort of organized group. Instead of being a mode of thought or way to describe a lack of “belief,” Atheism has become an agenda and its meaning has been stolen.

What distinguishes an Atheist from a New Atheist is secularism. An Atheist doesn’t believe the world needs to or should be rid of religion. An individual is free to think for themselves. A New Atheist doesn’t seem to understand this and like a fundamentalist (in a sense), believes everyone should think as they do. It seems like a petty distinction but I assure you the gulf is wide.

The world would be better without another idealogical campaign. Especially one so misguided. If you happen to meet a New Atheist I hope you can help them to see their fallacy. Being Atheist isn’t a political statement or even an ideology. It’s an attribute — a person is atheist because they do not believe in anything. It’s a concept that seems to go over peoples’ heads. It’s something that New Atheists should come to understand so that people like me can stop being mis-labeled.