We atheists like to chastise the religious for their child-like belief in an imaginary friend, but, equally, the time has come for the atheist movement to grow up.
It’s understood that the so-called new atheist movement began at the start of the new millennium with the mainstream emergence of luminaries Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and others. For much of the first decade of the new century, the atheist movement behaved like a curious child in search of meaning to its own existence. Now that the child is a teenager on its way to adulthood, it needs to start acting like a grown up.
The atheist movement comprises more than 2,000 groups and organizations in the U.S. today, but the movement, in composition and purpose, has failed to establish a coherent cause outside of validating non-belief and offering platitudes towards protecting the separation of church and state. Another thing one notices with the atheist movement is the fact it is predominantly upwardly middle-class, white and male. Sikivu Hutchinson writes, in her essay “Prayer Warriors and Freethinkers”: “If mainstream freethought and humanism continue to reflect the narrow cultural interests of white elites who have disposable income to go to conferences then the secular movement is destined to remain marginal and insular.”
The movement has an image problem. An image that isn’t helped by the ceaseless and over-simplified fear-mongering over Islamic terrorism from the likes of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins — rhetoric that not only ignores our long history of foreign policy blunders in the Middle East, but also echoes the neo-conservatives, the Israel lobby and the entire right-wing echo chamber. Nathan Lean, author of “The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims,” writes, “The New Atheists became the new Islamophobes, their invectives against Muslims resembling the rowdy, uneducated ramblings of backwoods racists rather than appraisals based on intellect, rationality and reason.”