How to Make Atheism Less Awful in 2014
Atheism never meant much to me growing up. The first time I ever used the word was while filling out some school form, wondering whether I should put “Church of England” when I didn’t actually believe in God. My mom, without trying to push me in any particular direction, explained that “atheist” was the option that meant not believing in a god, and so at the flick of a biro I became one of those, and didn’t think much more of it for at least another decade or so.
Then 9/11 happened, at the start of my second year in college. The horror triggered a wave of condemnation of religion, leading to the rise of “New Atheism.” As much publishing phenomenon as political movement, the next few years would see high-profile bestsellers by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett among others (though it was these four men who became popularly known as the Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse). With the long-term demographic shift away from religion, and public revulsion over the sort of faith-based extremism that led to terrorism, it felt like we’d reached a turning point in the never-ending battle for sanity.
Inevitably, though, things began to fray at the seams. Harris blundered into controversy over his apparent support for racial profiling; Hitchens passed away; and Dawkins joined Twitter, beginning an infuriating, endless cycle of controversy and bewilderment. Hordes of New Atheist fans began popping up on the internet and it turned out that a lot of them were angry pricks. Different fronts and factions emerged, each with their own ideas about what capital-A Atheism should mean and stand for. New Atheism has matured, and for some that means learning to hate each other in imaginative new ways.
At the start of 2014 there are four broad—and overlapping—schisms in atheism, which can be summed up as: Dicks vs. Cowards, Islamophobes vs. More Cowards, Misogynists vs. Feminists, and Americans vs. Europeans. We could also count Richard Dawkins’ Twitter Account vs. the Collective Sanity of the Internet, but that sort of falls under “all of the above.”