There are two hallmarks of the New Atheism which have been there from the start: a rigid commitment to the advancement of scientific rationalism to stamp out any vestiges of primitive superstitious thought and the establishment of a secular agenda. Not merely the “separation of church and state,” but the total isolation of the church from any aspect of the state: hence campaigns to remove plaques with the Ten Commandments from various courthouses, to disallow nativity scenes in public locations during Christmas, to have the phrase “In God We Trust” removed from United States currency, etc.
Of course, laudable or not, religion isn’t just so much garbage occupying the veranda of American soil. It has classically served a function in society, and as it is tidily swept away to the corners, something must rush in to fill the vacuum left in its wake. When one surveys any classic moment of American history, whether it be the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous speech or the words uttered at the moon landing, people have traditionally grounded values in references to God.
Another persistent trend within the New Atheist movement is the threatening treatment that women within that movement have received. In his devastating 2014 expose, “Will Misogyny Bring Down the Atheist Movement,” Mark Oppenheimer details a vast undercurrent of misogynistic behavior present within the mainstream Atheist movement, including the worst kind of chauvinism at Skeptic conferences and cyber-bullying of women and feminists; all of this while the movement, as a whole, pays lip-service to the absolute sanctity of women’s rights. Understandably, as Oppenheimer points out, this has pushed many women away:
“For the past several years, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and online forums have become hostile places for women who identify as feminists or express concern about widely circulated tales of sexism in the movement. Some women say they are now harassed or mocked at conventions, and the online attacks — which include Jew-baiting, threats of anal rape, and other pleasantries — are so vicious that two activists I spoke with have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
But perhaps the complaint that has the most considerate of atheists distancing themselves from the movement is that New Atheism tends to caricature and blindly attack that which it designates as a target without any attempt to understand or interact with the ideas. This torch-and-pitchfork waving tendency has a fundamentalist – almost religious – zeal to it which is exactly what these thinkers were attempting to escape in the first place.