There’s an article by Kimberly Winston of Religion News Service making the rounds about how 9/11 was a major spark for the New Atheism movement. It’s the event that led Sam Harris to write The End of Faith, and that book was followed by several others:
Published in 2004, Harris’s “The End of Faith” launched the so-called “New Atheist” movement, a make-no-apologies ideology that maintains that religion is not just flawed, but evil, and must be rejected.
Within two years, Harris was joined on the best-seller list by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett, who all took religion to task for most — if not all — of the world’s ills. Collectively, the men whose books sold millions of copies around the world came to be known as the apocalyptic-sounding “Four Horsemen.”
How did that surge impact the rise in atheism over the past decade?
One such beneficiary is The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which was mentioned in Dawkins’ “The God Delusion.” In 2004, it had fewer than 6,000 members. By 2007, membership had doubled, and this year topped 17,000.
“We feel like we owe a huge debt to these people,” Dan Barker, co-president of the foundation, said of the Four Horsemen, many of whom have appeared at FFRF events.
… The Secular Student Alliance, which blossomed from 59 campus groups when “The God Delusion” appeared to 273 today, is now routinely invited to participate in interfaith projects with Muslim students.
“This is something we would not have seen before the New Atheists made sure we were on everybody’s mind,” said Jesse Galef, a spokesman for the SSA. “The attention has done wonders.”
I was interviewed for this article but my statements didn’t make the cut. So I thought I’d share here essentially what I wrote to the reporter about the impact the New Atheists have had, for better and for worse, and what their legacy might be:
What the New Atheists have done — and what young activists and the Internet have helped streamline — is making it ok to come out publicly as nontheistic. If you are uncertain about your faith, there are now books to help you confirm your doubts. If you don’t know any other atheists personally, there are now local groups, bloggers, podcasters, and national organizations who can give you the social network you need to work through your (lack of) beliefs and talk to without having to censor yourself. If you see a violation of church/state separation, there are now communities of atheists (and lawyers) who have your back. We’ve also seen an explosion of atheist advertisements that state our message, or, more often, simply say that atheists are good people who exist in your area. The Richard Dawkins Foundation’s OUT Campaign “A” symbol has become ubiquitous. For a lot of people, coming out as an atheist isn’t a simple task — you may risk losing your job and/or family — but many others have gone through the experience and they’re eager to help new atheists through the process.
That will be their legacy. That atheism is a regular, even popular, topic of discussion over the past decade is due (initially, anyway) to the popularity of their books. However, those books alone didn’t cause the change. It took thousands of atheists coming out of the woodworks on their campuses, on their blogs, to their friends, and beyond to really make this a movement.
Is there anything bad about the New Atheists’ contributions to the freethought community? I wouldn’t blame them for this at all, but the bestselling New Atheist authors include Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens — all white men. While there have been a few popular atheist minorities (like Ayaan Hirsi Ali), we’re now faced with the dilemma of trying to appeal to a broader spectrum of people, those who tend to see atheism’s demographics as older, whiter, and male… when, in fact, there’s no reason we should be limited to age, race, or gender. Again, this isn’t the fault of any one individual or the “Four Horsemen.” But it’s an issue we now have to deal with and an issue many groups are struggling to solve.
(Thanks to Matthew for the link!)