A few years ago, a professor at Dickinson College told me he does not think that what is known as the New Atheism is new at all. He claimed it goes back to, at the very least, Nietzsche. This professor is very intelligent, but he is also very wrong.
The new atheism (I’m not a big fan of arbitrarily capitalizing words) is new. Never before has being an atheist been so acceptable. Never before have atheists been this outspoken. New atheism is about being willing to admit your lack of belief. It is also about questioning and criticizing the influence religion has on various spheres of society.
Atheists still spend an inordinate amount of time in the closet, but the new atheism is changing that. While a “united front” is not an easy thing to accomplish with atheists, we have something of such a front. The Secular Student Alliance is a good example of this – secular student groups over the last decade have exploded from only a few in the United States to hundreds. The unity comes from being fed up with being marginalized and treated like lesser citizens.
There have been individuals around willing to criticize religion for quite some time, but never before have there been such large numbers of people willing to say they do not believe in any god or gods or supernatural things, and that such belief can certainly be harmful. Never before have so many people been willing to come out and criticize Christian “Science,” homeopathy, psychics, and superstition. One hundred years ago one man may have criticized the religion-centric view of morality, but today hundreds of thousands of people are doing that.
In numbers never seen before, we are rejecting the notion that we should base our lives on outdated texts like the Bible. We are saying, “There is no god, and it’s okay.” We are telling everyone that we do not believe, and that does not make us lesser citizens or less important or less deserving of respect. The new atheism is very much a new thing, and a beautiful, powerful thing at that.