October 15, 2010

Don't Forget the New Atheists

young scientistAs I have said repeatedly, there is nothing new about the so-called "new atheism," unless one means only that the mainstream news media has decided to pay a little bit of attention to us. And that is not really new either. Frankly, I think that this mythical "new atheism" is something that atheists should avoid propagating because it detracts from the accomplishments of our predecessors and from the long and distinguished history of freethought.

So what's with the title of this post? I am referring to people who are new to atheism (i.e., those who are just beginning to explore atheism). Those of us writing atheist blogs must remember that many new readers are finding us each day and that some of them are new to atheism.

Perhaps it does sometimes feel like we are re-treading familiar ground on blogs like this. But that is a good thing, made necessary by the fact of our changing (and hopefully growing) audience. Of the many emails I receive each week, I'd estimate that at least half are from new readers, many of whom are also new to atheism.

As an example, I just had someone contact me the other day asking about the difference between atheism and agnosticism and wondering why many of the people he had encountered had told him that he was probably an agnostic atheist. He'd never heard that phrase before. And you know what? Up until a couple years ago, neither had I.

This is precisely the sort of person - one new to atheism - that we should take care to make sure we are reaching. I remember the confusion and loneliness all too well. Had I encountered impatient and rude people when I was first beginning to explore atheism, I'm not sure where I would be today.

In writing this blog, I sometimes struggle with how best to mix introductory material with more advanced stuff. Other times, I forget to give it the amount of thought I should. But I never want to lose sight of this portion of my audience. I didn't have many people to help me begin my journey, and I know it would not have taken me as long as it did if I had felt supported. This is something we can offer.