Like the label of “Militant Atheist” the label of “New Atheist” has been equally thrown around. At first, the label was only reserved for the “Four Horsemen” of atheism, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. But the term was quickly transferred onto any atheist who speaks up about their lack of belief.
The thing is that the label of “New Atheist” implies that there are “Old Atheists.” The distraction between “New Atheists” and “Old Atheists” seems to be that those who step out of the closet and simply make it public that they are skeptical of the claims of theistic religions are now branded as “New Atheists.” While those atheists who continue to keep their disbelief to themselves and who even sometimes pretend to believe rather than “rock the boat” can be considered “Old Atheists.”
Could you imagine if this distinction were made in the Gay community today? If a person like Merv Griffin was considered to be an “Old Gay” because he remained in the closet until after his death and people like George Takei who is open about his marriage to his husband are labeled as “New Gay” extremists. That would effectively end the Gay Rights movement by forcing gay people back into the closet out of fear of being labeled extremists who are “Just as hateful” as those who believe that being gay is a sin and should be punished and/or beaten.
If simply stating that one doesn’t believe in superstitious myths and ancient stories is enough to marginalize someone as a “New Atheist” or some kind of atheist extremists than I have a real issue with that. It effectively shuts down conversation, debate, and any criticism of religious ideas. That however is the point. Religious people are afraid of dialog because at the end of the day there is no evidence for their ridiculous stories and beliefs.
Another analogy that I think works would be a label of a “New Mathematician” for anyone who continues to tell people that in fact one plus one does not equal five, but rather it equals two. While I would call that basic education, could you imagine what would happen if such a person was marginalized as an extremist? Why can’t people just let everyone do their own math and if someone wants to believe that one plus one equals five, well they are entitled to their opinion, right?