The distinguishing element of modern atheism is its intellectual militancy and moral self-confidence. We have seen a spate of atheist books in recent years, like Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, Victor Stenger’s God: The Failed Hypothesis, and Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great. Other writers, like E. 0. Wilson, Carl Sagan, Daniel Dennett, and Steven Pinker, have also weighed in with anti- religious and anti-Christian tracts. In Europe, the Wall Street Journal reports, philosopher Michel Onfray has rallied the unbelievers with his bestselling Atheist Manifesto, which posits a “final battle” against the forces of Christianity.
Never before have we seen what we are seeing now, which is what Dawkins terms a widespread assertion of “atheist pride.” Prominent atheists are staging a huge “coming out” party. Two of them, American philosopher Daniel Dennett and British biologist Richard Dawkins, published articles calling on fellow unbelievers to give up the term “atheist,” as the term, they suggested, has such negative connotations. Their alternative? Dennett and Dawkins want to be called “brights.” Yes, “brights,” as in “I am a bright.” Dawkins defines a bright as one who espouses “a worldview that is free of supernaturalism and mysticism.” According to Dennett, “We brights don’t believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny—or God.” Dennett’s implication is clear: brights are the smart people who don’t fall for silly superstitions.
Brights and other nonbelievers are not impressed with the growth of religious belief around the world. When I published an article in the San Francisco Chronicle detailing this growth, I received lots of indignant letters. One theme stood out: the stupidity or irrationality of believers. “The reason that religious tribes are growing around the world is that it is much easier to believe in the unproven than to think and to ask questions.” “Most of the world is impoverished, uneducated, and plagued by war and disease. So I take little solace that so many of the besieged believe in fairy tales in order to make their lives a little easier.” “It’s amazing that anyone with an ounce of sense can believe in gods, spooks, and leprechauns. No wonder the world is such a mess with so many irrational people in it.” “The world is already overcrowded. So thank heaven we atheists are keeping our number down. The poor, religious people in other countries seem to be breeding like mice.”