A Short History of the New Atheist Movement
Richard is 31 years old. On his way to work one day, he accidentally backed his car into a parked van. Because pedestrians were watching, he got out of his car. He pretended to write down his insurance information. He then tucked the blank note in to the van’s window before getting back into his car and driving away. Later the same day, Richard found a wallet on the sidewalk. Nobody was looking, so he took all the money out of the wallet. He then threw the wallet in the trash can.
Now, by your best guess, is Richard a Christian, a Muslim, a gay man, a feminist, a rapist, or an atheist? Before you answer, here’s another question: Of similar minorities (this time let’s toss in Hispanics and recent immigrants), who would you least want your child to marry? And whose vision of American society do you most disagree with?
Wait – don’t tell me. Richard – let’s call him Dick – is definitely not a rapist. That scenario is a direct quote from a study, undertaken at the University of British Columbia in 2011. The response? Atheists – not rapists – are generally more likely to commit immoral crimes. Those next few questions about marriage and American society were asked in a University of Minnesota study in 2006. Once again, atheists took the cake for the least trusted minority in the land. Say, would you vote for an atheist for President? About half of America said no, when polled by Gallup in 2007. Take heed, reader. There might be an atheist lurking near at this very moment!
Surprisingly, these findings are the good news for atheists. Thirty years ago, that Gallup poll was up to 75%. Over two-thirds of the nation wouldn’t even consider voting for an atheist in public office. President George H.W. Bush himself, in 1987, when asked if atheists deserve rights, he reportedly responded, “No, they can not be considered citizens…this is one nation under God.” (New York Times). One might have heard the disgruntled chortling of Vishnu and Buddha somewhere in the courts of the cosmos.
But first – who are atheists, exactly? Rallying atheists, goes the aphorism, is like herding cats. The non-religious have the problem of labels; it’s difficult to group together those who are simply not something – more so when one of the essential group themes is, well, not having group themes. (Allow me to take a deep breath.) “Secularists” pertains to those who support the separation of church and state, “naturalists” are those who deny the supernatural of all kinds, “humanists” calls on Renaissance ideals of mankind’s progression beyond religion, “skeptics” classifies those who doubt and inquire about the claims of others, and “freethinkers” hearkens back to the French Revolution to call on a rebellion against the suppression of scientific knowledge by pious authorities; all of these are frequently lumped into the category of “atheism,” which is historically a pejorative for those who deny the existence of God. (Inhale.) Continue reading