In past entries, I’ve been very critical of the New Atheists. There’s good reason for that; they represent something of a (far too large) fundamentalist fringe of atheism. Much of the response to my comments was essentially what I’d expected, but there are two elements to it that I find interesting:
First is the frequency with which some challenge the idea that the New Atheism even exists. Some even seem to think that I’m discussing all atheists (and, otherwise rightly, think I’ve been unreasonable toward atheism in general).
I find this astonishing. While I agree that the name is very misleading, it is entirely valid to point out that the recent popularity of atheist groups, meetings, books, and activism centered around a small set of individuals is deeply out of step with many other atheists. Yes, social groups are never tightly defined, but to say that there is no such thing as the New Atheism is to say that there is no difference, for example, between Richard Dawkins’ fans and atheists who have a positive view of religion.
Saying that there is no difference is, in effect, saying that a few writers speak for all atheists, which strikes me as entirely strange.
Second is the fact that none of the writers I’ve mentioned as being New Atheists have been defended by the same people who deny the existence of New Atheism. To me, this would only underline the fact that there are different kinds of atheists, and that those I’m criticizing under the ill-conceived moniker “New Atheism” are indeed consistently saying things that not all atheists believe.
I’d think that most atheists would be eager to distance themselves from such people. As a Christian, I’m eager to distance myself from the lunatic fringe. I’m left assuming that those who want atheism treated monolithically simply aren’t aware of what these people are saying–or with what vitriol they’re saying it.
But I hope that more people see this. The New Atheists have managed to avoid a great deal of well-deserved criticism by insisting that we cannot speak about them unless our words also apply to the genteel and thoughtful atheist. They seem never to tire of trying to avoid being defined in order to avoid being held up to scrutiny.
And open-mined atheists should be at least as bothered by the lumping of them together with the New Atheists as I am.