By New Atheists I mean figures such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss and the late Christopher Hitchens.

The thing that characterises these people for me is their combative and sometimes verbally aggressive style. I am in two minds about whether this approach is helpful or not as it often represents how I would wish to express my feelings about religion. At the same time, I can't help feeling this approach entrenches theists and makes them more resolute.

It always reminds me of trying to persuade a toddler to do something. The more you persuade, threaten, cajole, etc the more entrenched they become in their determination not to do it. However, if you just go off and do it yourself and they see you are having fun they will often join in freely.

Obviously, I'm not comparing the mindset of a theist to that of a toddler, but the analogy works for me. I sometimes think that if high-profile figures such as Dawkins just got on with what they are good at and also remained perfectly clear, when asked, about their position on religion then more could be achieved. That way, slowly, as a society we would begin to realise there are whole sections of society who just aren't interested in religion but are still passionate about life and their own interests.

Equally, though, it sometimes takes someone like a Dawkins or a Harris to shake things up enough that the more reasonable atheists can get a foot in the door. In fact, I'm often given to wondering whether Dawkins is aware of this and that's why he tweets such outrageous polarising opinions. Basically, is he just taking one for the team as his tweets appear to be affecting his reputation.

In summary, my question is: Does the approach of the outspoken, belligerent atheists help or harm the atheist movement overall?

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I think those people are public figures involved in interviews and debates. So, yes, they should put across their ideas forcefully. All my friends know I'm an atheist but I don't push it on them, and they should not try to push their religion on me.

The question for me is not whether they have the right approach (it is the right approach for them and for many readers) but is instead why aren't other approaches getting as much attention. It is inconceivable to me that there aren't other voices out there, so that must mean that other approaches aren't hitting a chord with the general public. To speculate about why that is, I suspect that atheists who are interested in approaches that are different from the new atheists are not especially interested in books on atheism, but instead are reading other stuff. That is certainly the case with me. Once you get past the initial stage of rejecting theism, atheism branches off into endless possibilities. So there are plenty of other approaches out there; there are as many approaches as their are atheists.

Hi John,

I agree -  I find it frustrating that the only atheist narrative that appears to be in the public eye is the "old man shaking his fist at sky-fairies" as Dawkins has been parodied.

There are other atheist voices such as Alain de Botton, an atheist philosopher who advocates respect for religious traditions and practices but not for anything supernatural. This could be accused of being somewhat accomodationist but I'm convinced the way forward is to demonstrate that it is possible to have a society where not everyone is religious and then just let everyone get on with what they want to do. Fighting fire with indifference I suppose.

Of course, everyone loves a bit of controversy and that's why more measured thinkers do not enjoy the same limelight. The voice of compromise is not the voice of power. Shame.

Lol not even close to the "right" approach. A lot of new atheists are Richard Dawkins fan boys. 


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