Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The New Atheism Movement

By: Matthew Chatterton

The new atheism movement is the name, coined Gary Wolf in an article he wrote for Wired Magazine in 2006, given to a perspective concerning religion, popularized by a series of authors including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, collectively known as "the four horsemen of atheism.

The Four Horsemen of Atheism

The God Delusion, The End of Faith, Breaking The Spell, and God Is Not Great are the books which act as the framework of the new atheism movement.

Top Ten Atheist Books


The new atheism movement distinguishes itself by arguing that religion should not be tolerated but should, rather, be analyzed, scrutinized, and criticized. This notion was exemplified by 9/11.

"Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that." - Richard Dawkins

Despite the title of Stenger's aforementioned book, it was Sam Harris' The End of Faith that was the catalyst of the new atheism movement. The End of Faith was his response to 9/11, although he addresses Christianity and Judaism in the book as well.

It may not be true that, if not for 9/11, Richard Dawkins wouldn't have written The God Delusion but the event, as well as Sam Harris' audience, breed a public disdain for religion by which Dawkins would have a larger audience. Certainly, Dawkins was already a well-known author but his previous books pertained specifically to creationism, rather than addressing other aspects of religious belief.

Christopher Hitchens, of whom I am an admirer, was, more or less, silent on the topic of religion, prior to 9/11. It's become a cliché to refer to 9/11 as a wake-up call but that's precisely what it was for Christopher Hitchens who expanded his range of topics to accommodate the shedding of his relative apathy concerning religion. What this lead to was his writing of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Simply put, 9/11 revealed the real harm of religion. It caused some people to perform cost/benefit analyses of religion. The conclusion that many reached is that we can do without religion.


What is so "new" about the new atheism movement? There are many critics of the phrasing. The main argument they offer is that the only distinguishing factor about it would be the proximity of publishing dates.

I would argue the proximity to have been the most important part. The concentration of atheist books, which hold the position that religion should be criticized instead of being given free passes, not only amplified the readership for each author, it forced people to pay attention to the mutual views of the authors. Since the four horsemen would and still do (Excepting the Hitch) regularly debate, give speeches, and even write more books, these commonly held ideas will be heard more than anything else because all four authors will be repeating them.

Attention breeds contemplation, contemplation breeds reevaluation, and reevaluation breeds evolution. When the evolution of thought takes place collectively, it is called a movement. More importantly, this evolution of thought, in regards to religion, is not known to have gone in the direction it is going now. It is, therefore, new.


The framework of the new atheism movement is set but there are still holes where there should be walls. Other influential atheists are filling those holes and the secular community remains the fastest growing religious affiliation in the world.

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