Nostalgia for the “old atheism”

Hemant Mehta has an interesting find today: it’s more proof that the atheists of old were no friendlier than the gnus of today to the religious establishments of their time. In fact, it’s the kind of refrain one hears a lot these days. The “new atheists” are in-your-face, rude, militant, nasty, overreacting…you get the picture. You might even begin to think that atheists weren’t ever like that before (assuming this is even true), that they were mild-mannered, accomodating and – yes – perhaps even a bit melancholy that they lacked the “gift of faith.” The Italian film director Nanni Moretti said that very thing just last night on television while promoting his new film, Habemus Papam. There went my dinner, all over the screen.

Anyone who knows anything about the history of unbelief knows that our predecessors in atheism were rarely such a sad-faced bunch. Names like Robert G. Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell, Baron d’Holbach and many more were completely fine with their atheism. And they were pretty much as outspoken as Richard Dawkins or P.Z. Myers is today, only they lacked the immediacy of Twitter to broadcast their message. Technology may be the only difference worth noting between then and now.

So the next time you hear nostalgia for the “old atheism”, inquire what is meant. You’ll likely find that your interlocutor is: a) unaware of the history of atheism; or, b) just spouting nonsense. Or both.

2 thoughts on “Nostalgia for the “old atheism”

  1. Right on. I’ve just been reading “Ingersoll’s Greatest Lectures” and there was nothing mild or soft spoken about the man. And for scathing sarcasm, none of the gun atheists have equaled Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Mark Twain’s “Letters from the Earth”
    With the possible exception of Bobby Henderson with his open letter to the Kansas school board that started the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
    Cracks me up every time I read it.
    Atheism, and the fight against nonsense made up by madmen, power trippers, schizophrenics and idiots goes back a long way. Back at least as far as Seneca and Epictetus.

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