In atheism, everybody is supremely disposable. Every human life is temporary, expendable, replaceable.
Not surprisingly, this circles back on atheists themselves. Welcome to the generation gap, where atheist heroes have all the longevity of boybands.
It’s surprising just how much media analysis, both mainstream and progressive, continues to take as given the notion that atheism can be defined and discussed solely by looking at the so-called “New Atheists” who emerged roughly between 2004 and 2007. It’s easy to understand the appeal: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens became prominent representatives of atheism because they were all erudite, entertaining and unafraid to say what they thought. A lot of people, myself included, were drawn to their works because they were forthright and articulated things we had kept locked away, or simply hadn’t found the words for.
But in 2014, Hitchens is dead, and using Dawkins or Harris to make a case for or against atheism is about as relevant as writing about how Nirvana and Public Enemy are going to change pop music forever.
James Croft, the research and education fellow at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, says there are already generational differences in how they’re viewed. “Frankly, people like Richard Dawkins and even Sam Harris to some extent, are not viewed positively by young atheists now,” he says. “They actually don’t think that they’re that great. You still find people at the conventions who love them of course, but it does seem like they’re already a bit passé….They kind of pushed a door open, and that represents an opportunity, but the real task is to step through that door with some positive proposal of what life after religion has to look like.”