Characteristics of New Atheism: Part I

Disclaimer: As I have said earlier, this post isn’t necessarily meant for Atheists. This isn’t meant to increase discussions. There are plenty of venues where that is being done. This is more for the readers of my blog to get familiar with New Atheism, and how I see it. I realize that I will say some things that may be contested, but I am trying to be as accurate and even handed as possible.


This isn’t by any means an exhaustive history of Atheism, as that can be a very difficult pursuit. There can be some references that could be interpreted as atheistic as far back as Socrates, but I’m going to start with around the 1600’s. Interestingly enough, Karen Armstrong had this to say about Atheism prior to this age:

“During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the word ‘atheist’ was still reserved exclusively for polemic … The term ‘atheist’ was an insult. Nobody would have dreamed of calling himself an atheist.ā€

During the 1600’s, Humanism began to become the way of thinking. Basically speaking, Humanism says that man is the center of existence. Man is the ultimate authority. The Enlightenment really helped spread this way of thinking. God was no longer the center of things, and the militant wing of Humanism became Atheism. They were not content with man just being the center of existence, but also wanted to push God completely out of the picture and society.

At first, Atheism was primarily opposed to the Judean/Christian God, but as the 20th century came, it moved into more of an objection to all deities. Until the last thirty or so years, atheism was mostly about just not believing in God. They generally didn’t care if you believed in God, just as long as you didn’t press it on them. They were mostly content with just living without God being a factor in their lives.

But over the last twenty years, there has been a seismic shift in atheism, leading to something called ‘New Atheism’. Mitchell Cohen says it is “a reaction against politicized and intolerant religious fundamentalists who have acted aggressively to impose their views of the world on American politics and public life for several decades. A strong intellectual challenge to them has been long overdue.ā€ As you can see, this new brand of Atheism is seeking to make a difference in the world. Here are some characteristics of New Atheism:

Much More Agressive

Like I said earlier, most atheists used to be atheists largely because they just didn’t want to believe in God. In many cases, it was just a lack of belief. Now, this Atheism is more of an active negative belief. That may seem subtle, but the implications are large. These Atheists not only condemn a belief in God, but they also condemn any sort of tolerance of a belief in God. Sam Harris in particular shows quite a bit of frustration towards the liberal Christians who deny many important theological truths, such as inerrancy. He realizes their inconsistency and unfaithfulness to what the Bible actually says.

But this is more than just an intolerance. This is an active hatred of Christianity. Many New Atheists believe that Theism is evil and is leading to the destruction of our country. This is Harris’ view, which he clearly outlines in “Letter to a Christian Nation”. They are fed up with the religious right controlling the country and ‘Christian’ ideologies dictating what we do as a country. Harris says that unless belief in God is eradicated, civilization is likely to end in a murderous seas of religious warfare.

Because of this, they are going on the attack. Their goal is that people will be too embarrassed to believe in God. Their goal isn’t primarily accurately presenting a Biblical Christianity, but more in tearing down any religious establishment. This, as far as Richard Dawkins believes, should extend to the family. He says the following:

“How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents? It’s one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society to be stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods?”

Of course, as my friend Conor pointed out, this doesn’t mean that Dawkins can’t indoctrinate students when they get to Oxford where he teaches. I guess they just get to decide who it is that influences people.

They have become more ‘evangelistic’ in their strategies

Another stark contrast in New and Old Atheism is their new desire to evangelize. It used to be enough for them to be without a belief in God, but now they are not content unless everyone believes religion is ridiculous and destructive. Their campaign is to conquer the world for their ideology. Sam Harris’ desire in the United States is to replace religion with reason. Instead of having a government, who in his estimation, do things because of their allegiances to religion, they should do things in a ‘reasonable manner’.

This raises a few questions though, none being more important than how in the world this would happen? Who decides what is reasonable? Who is in charge of reason? This leads into the next point:

Science is the new authority

Besides reason, science is now the ultimate truth. New Atheists generally love to push the idea that many of the things that believe are stone cold truths. To them, religion stands in stark contrast to truths that are not debatable. Daniel Dennett gives no quarter to believers who resist subjecting their faith to scientific evaluation. In fact, he argues that neutral, scientifically informed education about every religion in the world should be mandatory in school. After all, he argues, ‘if you have to hoodwink–or blindfold–your children to ensure that they confirm their faith when they are adults, your faith ought to go extinct.'”

An example of this is evolution. Atheists used to say that evolution doesn’t necessarily lead to atheism, but now this is a battle cry. This is another frustration they have with liberal Christians, especially those who say they believe in God, yet hold to evolution. Like us, they see that they are a walking contradiction. Atheists just plain don’t believe in supernaturalism. Richard Dawkins says, “the big war is not between evolution and creationism, but between naturalism and supernaturalism.”

The rest of the points to come later!


5 comments on “Characteristics of New Atheism: Part I

  1. Beth says:

    First of all- even if you are an athiest- you are pushing your belief system on your kids. If you dont’ believe in God, that means you believe there is not a God- and then a whole belief system, actions, and traditions evolve. kids raised by athiest parents may have no concept of religion, may be afraid of Christians, have a strong tradition of Santa at Christmas and the Easter Bunny at Easter, may not know any of the traditional Christmas songs, be unaware of a significant porportion of world history as most of it involves religion… etc.

    Secondly, science as the authority? As if science is in unified agreement and has a good handle on anything? Doesn’t sound like Harris is getting a quality science education.

  2. Ian says:

    I totally agree with what Beth has wrote in the above paragraphs. Athiesm is a belief towards not believing in God. I am a christian and I believe in doing good things. How often do you see athiests do the right thing? Christians tend to have a better moral and ethical outlook and action system. You see, science is right sometimes and is wrong sometimes, it’s kinda like the weather channel. Not very accurate. When you act in right way thinking and not decieving yourself such as how many of us have, you will become a better and happier person. Whats wrong with doing good things like being kind, obidient, caring, faithful, sharing with others, loving, taking time for others, forgiving, peace, honesty, acceptance? I don’t know a single athiest who does any of those things and I know plenty of them. However, Christians on the other hand tend to do those things alot more often. Thats just the way it is. Take it easy.

  3. Jill says:

    First of all atheism is not not believing in God but the lack of a belief all together. It is not and should not be characterized by the connotation that atheists do not think God is fictional but having no religious belief at all what-so-ever. To Ian , what facts do you base your statement, “How often do you see athiests do the right thing?”, on? Is this a religious judgement on your part, that athiests do not posses the ability to do the right thing? Do Christians always do the right thing? In closure I would like to say that before any judgements are voiced you should be aware of the true meaning of Atheism. To critisize before obtaining knowledge is absolutely absurd.

  4. ehudadams says:

    Jill, thanks for the comment! I have to bring question to your definition of atheists. The problem, is that you can’t clearly define all atheists in one definition. And I believe you know this. Lately, there have been many who have said its a “without God” belief. To say that it is a lack of a belief all together is somewhat odd, since that is a belief in itself. Isn’t that a religious belief in itself? aren’t you, then, by saying there is no God, placing yourself in that role in your own life?

  5. Anonymous says:

    This is ridiculous!
    Because I don’t see myself as a believer – then it is assumed that I don’t do the right thing?
    I am educated, strong woman, capable of making the right decisions based on my moral codes, and not based on the being of some “upper-being”.

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