When people reference the New Atheists, they would typically referring to Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, but people such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Michael Shermer, Lawrence Krauss, David Silverman, and Bill Maher. These are people who publicly advocate atheism on the basis of science, morality, or philosophy depending on their backgrounds and credentials.
For the most part, if you read and watch what these people, they are predominately very respectful, humble, modest intellectuals who are extremely well qualified, and well read and informed in the areas for which they haven't received any official post-graduate degrees.
It is not surprising, however, that many of the New Atheists, predominantly the "Four Horsemen" as they're known, Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens was portrayed as the spawn of Satan in many circles; and BIll Maher, who is a comedian but very politcally active and host of one of my favorite shows, Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. Now, I personally respect each of these people and appreciate their ability to take personal attacks at the degree that they must receive on a daily basis. But I'm not claiming any of them are the most morally perfect humans on the face of the Earth. They are, in fact humans, and each have their own flaws, and are subject to react emotionally and get angry when provoked.
There is no shortage of footage or soundbites of any of these honorable gentlemen/women reacting passionately to apologists for the atrocities of the world committed in the name of religion, and it would not be very difficult to edit these together to make any of them seem like what has become known as a "militant atheist" despite their normal demeanor. Unfortunately for them, as Dennett says in a conversation with the other Horsemen, there's no polite way to tell someone that everything they've lived their life for is an illusion. People tend to have strong emotions attached to the topics about which these men and women write and speak.
Sam Harris just released a number of podcasts in which he talks about the insane degree of blow back he and his colleagues receive from people who personally disagree with New Atheism as a whole or with certain aspects of what the New Atheists have to say, and choose to defame their given target through dishonest and slanderous tactics, giving no credence to intellectual integrity, or really integrity whatsoever. Harris explains how pseudojournalists publish libelous articles in popular albeit less than credible periodicals that give people the impression that he and his collegues are militant, racist, islamaphobic, xenophobic, and otherwise bigoted villans. He talks about how these type of personal attacks illicit death threats not only on his own life, but on the lives of his wife and children too.
Whether we're talking about the smear campaigns on the New Atheists, or the messages of the New Atheists themselves, when you are considered someone whose opinion matters, anything and everything you say will scrutinized and picked apart, and there will always be people who are able to turn you into Public Enemy No. 1, and there will always be people who believe what's put out there.
Like I said, despite what many people would like you to believe, the New Atheists are some of the most humble and polite people I've ever heard publicly speak, converse, or debate. You needn't take my word for it, the footage is all out there. There's even a YouTube channel call AllSamHarrisContent which contains every single bit audio and video footage that's ever been published.
But if you're reading this, you probably don't have that kind of time, so just take my word for it. If you hear about how strident and abrasive Richard Dawkins is, I can assure you they have either only seen the video of his conversation with the Archbishop of Canterbury, (in which he was provoked by arrogant ignorance from his adversary, and blind support from a clearly biased moderator and audience) or they have the agenda to make you think negatively of him because they are personally offended by any challenge of their beliefs and/or opinions. He is one of the most gentlemanly scholars you could ever hope to speak to .
Yet after the death of the late, great Christopher Hitchens, who had a similar reputation due to his unmatched wit and outspoken, opinionated charisma that made him someone you either love or hate, Richard Dawkins developed this reputation of being some strident asshole who shoves atheism down people's throats. This simply could not be further from the truth. Dawkins loves to talk about the awe of science and nature and the cosmos much like Harris and Krauss, and the others typically spend very little time trying to convince anyone of anything. As inspirational figures to us here at Awe, Really both personally to me (Lutch) and Conover, but as an organization, these people also hold intellectual honesty in such high regard. Even though they are incredibly intelligent and often quite clearly smarter than those with whom they are speaking, whether it be in the form of debate, interview, or casual conversation, they bring to the table an air of superiority or condescension. Of course, sometimes they can act like dicks when they're debating arrogant theists or new age charlatans, but they always come to the table looking to have an elevated, progressive, respectful conversation, regardless of differing opinions and philosophies. Unfortunately, the same can't always be said about those who watch, listen to, read, follow, and support New Atheism
For every one Richard Dawkins, there are hundreds of Dawkins fans. For every prominent figure in New Atheism, there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of followers of New Atheism as our country becomes decreasingly religious, and each one of them is different. We share only one characteristic: a lack of belief in any gods.
Beyond that, the New Atheism community is as diverse as any other. I haven't done any type of study but I would assume a significant portion of atheists are simply passive about their atheism in that it doesn't even play a part in their life and they may not even claim to be athiest. In fact, they may not even know that they are atheists. Many of them, and perhaps you fall into this category, claim to be agnostic. Of course, these people are confused as they are agnostic atheists. (To be agnostic means you believe that both conclusions, in this case both that God does exist, and that God does not exist, are equally plausible. It does not mean that you're not religious but you're not certain that there is no God. If you are of the opinion that the claim that God exists, is simply not as plausible as the claim that God does not exist, but not of the opinion that God certainly does not exist, you are not agnostic; you are an agnostic atheist. Welcome to the club!)
But I digress. My point in all this many atheists are well versed on the negative aspects of religion, and very passionate about the negativity of said aspects. You don't need a degree to read the Bible or the Koran or to hear parables that contain obvious contradictions. Many of us were brought up in one religious tradition or another (I was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church and attended and was active in a Protestant church all throughout high school) and can not only present a knock-down argument to any theist, but have been personally traumatized by religion in one way or another and thus harbor a lot of anger.
Many atheists who were brought up in religion feel like they have to "get back" at the religion that caused them so much pain. They spend their days as Twitter/Instagram/Facebook warriors with a mission of proving to every believer how stupid religion is and how anyone who is religious is inferior to the atheist. These are the people who troll religious pages on Facebook just to argue with people of different faiths, knowing that they have the logical ammo to win any argument for the existence or value of any given God or religion. They use their knowledge as a tool to bully other people, which can be done in any intellectual realm, but is especially inflammatory with religion because of how passionate believers can be about their faith.
Of course there is also a large portion of atheists and believers alike who are of the opinion that we should all respect each other's beliefs and that it doesn't matter what you believe in or if you believe in anything at all - but we've covered why this is fallacious and why beliefs and ideas are not entitled to human rights and must stand on their own merit.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
This post was inspired by an interaction I had with someone we used to follow on Instagram. My journey to atheism was always inspired by morality. I wanted to be a good person and I wanted other people to be good people too. Since I was a Catholic at the time I first started having these thoughts and had always wanted to be a good person, but always because I was supposed to be good. As a child, I wanted to be good because I didn't want to get in trouble with my parents at first, and then as I got older I also didn't want to sin and get in trouble with God. But in my teens I started developing a desire to be a good person simply because it was a genuine virtue to exist as such. It would be a long time before I would be able to comprehend and articulate that, but my search for morality started with truth. I wanted to learn how things really were so I could act appropriately. Eventually I realized religion was bullshit, I took a series of intense philosophy and logic courses in college and found myself to be the antitheist and humanist.
I certainly experienced a lot of anger along the way and have been in religious debates where I let my passion and confidence turn to arrogance on a number of occasions. But Conover and I try our best not to do this with Awe, Really not only because it is ineffective in convincing people of anything when you're bullying them, but simply because it is immoral. We want to make life better for everyone and we believe information is the key to that.
Unfortunately, as I realized today, not all atheists have the same goals as we do. Some people, atheist or not, just want to be bullies, and atheism is perfect because believers are so gullible. Some people just want to compensate for their own insecurities, like this person who clearly is not interested in improving society, they just want to feel superior to others:
So we have an account called 'Strident Atheist' who posts an oddly worded meme with an oddly worded caption. Turns out it's a girl and this is an anti-feminism meme. I must be stupid because I still say, "What does that even mean?!" every time I read either one. The caption reads, "no means no.. unless its a 'no' to feminism..." so doesn't that mean if you say no to feminism, it's actually a yes to feminism, aka pro-feminism.
Then we have in the caption "#belief #faith" and remember the word "atheist" is in this person's username, but somehow she accuses me of bringing atheism into the conversation...?
Both @madmoxie and myself were in no way antagonistic but this @_stridentatheist woman felt the need to insult us and not even answer our questions. I just went back to see if anyone else commented on the post, and she deleted my last 2 comments for some reason. I guess my stupidity mad her so angry she just had to delete the comments
At least she warns us that she's a bitch in her username. Awe, Really can do better than this
It's all too easy to pick on people who believe in fantasies that make them feel better. It's also easy to make fun of the kid in your class who has autism. It's really easy to take a purse from an old lady. But is that really the association we want to have as atheists? We get so put off when believers have their ignorant arrogance, but is informed arrogance any better? It's no wonder so many people hear the word "atheism" and roll their eyes.
"I'm a nice guy, my beliefs comfort me, and here comes this atheist demanding that I validate to him my own personal opinions, who the hell does he think he is?!"
Now all they think is,
"All atheists are assholes, and since they're not reading Letter to a Christian Nation or The God Delusion or watching the conversation between the Four Horsemen, the only thing they know about atheism is that every atheist they know is a self-righteous, pretentious douchebag who never shuts up about how he and all his atheist friends are so much better than everyone else and how stupid anyone is for believing in God."
Meanwhile, they go to church every week, a place that welcomes them, comforts them, and perhaps is the only thing in their life that provides any positivity. Or maybe they just don't give a shit. They go to church on Christmas and Easter and whenever their parents come to town just so they don't get an earful, but spend most Sunday's sleeping in and associate the day less with the Sabbath and more with Sunday Night Football. What good is it to pick a fight with either of these people when you already know that you have a more reasonable position than they do?
Putting the 'New' in New Atheism
I've said it before and I'll say it again. We here at Awe, Really are not in the business of telling you what to think or how to act. If you're looking for something that people will argue for despite overwhelming evidence against it so that you can argue against it and win every time to boost your ego, strident militant atheism is for you! As for these Awe, Really Dudes, we have a genuine desire to live in a society where atheism is no longer even a necessary concept. As Dawkins says, "Just as we no longer have A-Thorists and A-Zeusists," hopefully one day we knowledge of neurology and consciousness will be so pervasive that the spiritual enrichment that religion provides to so many billions of people, will be available to us in strictly naturalistic spirituality.
Instead of praying to God for good fortune and health, we can focus on taking care of our bodies and spend our time gathering information that will give us the competency for gainful employment. Instead of advocating to force the birth of an unborn child whose conception was a result of incestuous rape of its mother, who is now in a life-threatening situation due to complications with the pregnancy, we can save this girl's life.
Instead of entire nations putting women in bags and killing sinners and apostates, instead of waging jihad and beheading people in the town square, we can make sure everyone has the opportunity to a decent quality of life. Instead of perpetually changing the climate of our planet, we can acknowledge the efficacy of the scientific process and move humanity forward. We can progress into a whole new era of existence! Is my head in the clouds? Maybe. But I'll tell you one thing for sure. We are not going to usher in a new age of human conscious existence by bullying victims of indoctrination and circular logic, or maintaining the goal of stroking our own ego with every book we read and every believer we talk to.
If we know better, let's act better. Trying to prove we're better for the sake of ego makes us no better