We don’t know the exact number of people who have become atheists since Sam Harris‘ The End of Faith began the “New Atheism” boom in 2004, but it’s undoubtedly huge.
Is there anything we can say about those “newer atheists,” those who became atheists only in the past decade?
Brother Richard thinks so, and he offers a few clarifications to critics who go after them, though some of them could also apply to people like me who became atheists before 2004:
Clarification #4: People do not become atheists because of traumatic experiences with church.
One of my personal pet peeves is a shared by many “newer atheists.” Almost instantly after I tell someone that I am an atheist, I am asked, “What happened?” As if one could only deny the existence of God because of some harrowing experience. While it is true that many begin to question their faith after a painful incident which is initially blamed on God, or at the feet of a church member, it rarely is the reason one becomes an atheist. These events are purely the empowering catalyst required to question one’s faith. The conclusion of atheism is reached when one rationally separates themselves from the highs and lows of emotions and accepts reality.
Clarification #6: Many “newer atheists” long for the sense of community they felt in church.
This is perhaps the number one subject “newer atheists” discuss with me. They express feelings of great loss associated with leaving their church families. They speak of the vacuum created when the feelings of love and acceptance were lost (regardless of the many strings attached). If they had a loved one in the hospital, or if there was a death in their family, someone from church was always there prepared to provide arms to hug, a shoulder to cry on, and an ear to listen. Regardless of these wonderful experiences, “newer atheists” are always frustrated when believers use these conditional relationships as a way to manipulate their return to church.
Read the full list — lots of good information in there!