Christians these days are sounding the rallying cry against "new atheists". They are waging a pitched battle against them, turning everything they say into a grossly distorted straw man, and making them out to be dishonest, hateful, immoral, and even dangerous. Where does all this antipathy come from?
A few years ago, I decided to enter the fray of discussion with religious believers in an attempt to learn more about their beliefs, and to understand why they believe what they do. I quickly earned the label of "gnu". It was a term that I had never heard before, and I wondered what distinguishes a "gnu" from other atheists. I have been asking that question ever since, but I never got any kind of satisfactory answer from the theists. But after all this time, and many arguments and discussions, the real answer is evident.
The difference between a new atheist and any other atheist is that the new atheist isn't cowed into silence by religious believers. That's it. It has nothing to do with the terminology you choose, or how you say it. It's simply a matter of being vocal against theistic belief or the arguments made by theists.
But why should this new brand of atheists be so vocal? What is it about religious belief that stirs the passions of atheists and makes them want to speak out?
It's this: Religion is ultimately dependent on belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die. It therefore has no reality check. And it is therefore uniquely armored against criticism, questioning, and self-correction. It is uniquely armored against anything that might stop it from spinning into extreme absurdity, extreme denial of reality ... and extreme, grotesque immorality. - Greta ChristinaThere are many reasons we should be apprehensive about religious encroachment on our lives. I'll outline some of them here.
Power-seeking and imposition of theocratic law
Religious institutions have always tried to become part of the ruling class, either claiming for themselves the right to rule, or sharing power in some way with the political leadership of nations. This was a major concern to the founders of the USA. But the constitution has not hindered the rise of dominionism, or the efforts of some to turn our government into a de facto theocracy that disturbs even theists.
Culture and education
Concubines, magical incantations, chosen people, stonings . . . The Iron Age was a time of rampant superstition, ignorance, inequality, racism, misogyny, and violence. Slavery had God’s sanction. Women and children were literally possessions of men. Warlords practiced scorched earth warfare. Desperate people sacrificed animals, agricultural products, and enemy soldiers as burnt offerings intended to appease dangerous gods.Yes, many of the ancient religious teachings and practices have become obsolete to some degree, but they haven't gone away altogether. They continue to exert a negative influence on our modern culture. Religious indoctrination instills resistance to reason and change, so these practices and beliefs are perpetuated. Scientific education is still suppressed by some religious groups within their own community, and there is an active movement to replace science with religious pseudo-science in the public schools. Teenagers engage in unprotected sexual activity because of religious resistance to sex education.
Sacred texts including the Bible, Torah and Koran all preserve and protect fragments of Iron Age culture, putting a god’s name and endorsement on some of the very worst human impulses. Any believer looking to excuse his own temper, sense of superiority, warmongering, bigotry, or planetary destruction can find validation in writings that claim to be authored by God. - Salon.com
Psychological and physical harm
The most obvious example of damage inflicted by religious belief is terrorism. And if you think that this only results from Islamic belief, you should be aware that in the US, there have been more instances of terrorism perpetrated by Christian fanatics than by Islamic fanatics. Aside from that, people are murdered or beaten for homosexuality or apostasy. And far more often, those who don't suffer physical harm are subjected to psychological abuse, sometimes ending in suicide. Medical treatment, vaccinations, anesthesia, and blood transfusions may be withheld for reasons of religious objection. Large-scale problems such as environmental degradation, poverty, or disease are seen by many as God's will, and go on without any serious attempt to solve them because religious believers think that God will solve them in his own way, or that they are God's way of achieving his goals. Many evangelicals look forward to calamitous global conflict in the belief that it will be the fulfillment of biblical prophesy.
Religious institutions don't pay taxes and don't create wealth. They are parasites on society that depend on the rest of us to support them. In many cases, they don't even abide by the laws that apply to the rest of us. Churches harbor criminals and criminal activity, protecting their own from prosecution or imprisonment. How many pedophiles continue to work within the confines of the Catholic church? How many pastors have embezzled funds from their congregation with impunity? How many televangelists have become rich from the donations of gullible followers? This article gives some other examples of religious privilege.
As for myself, I would like to see a level playing field. I would like to be able to freely say that I'm not a believer at work, without fear of losing my job. I'd like to be able to discuss my own beliefs with theists on the internet without being labeled as a "gnu", shouted down, or silenced altogether. And just as there are (and have always been) many Christians who are quite vocal in their criticism of atheists, there are atheists who are critical of theists. What's wrong with that? What are they afraid of?
Well, it's really quite simple. They feel threatened by us. With all these "new atheists" speaking out, people are listening, and people are changing their beliefs. Christianity is declining. They are losing their dominant position. They feel it slipping away, and they're afraid. So they lash out against us. They invent horror stories about how, if we ever come to power, we will treat them the same way they have treated us. All I can say is Calm down, guys. When reason prevails, nobody will be treated that way. Let's hope the day comes sooner rather than later.