And Now, The Gnus

Question from S.A. (initials, not the Australian state):
What’s the difference between “atheists” and “new atheists” and “gnu atheists?”

Everybody seems to know this but me!

Answer by SmartLX:
Not a whole lot.

A “new atheist” is an ordinary atheist by any definition of the word, so if anything “new atheists” are a subset of atheists. “Gnu atheists” means the same as “new atheists”; it was coined by a “new atheist” (might have been PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne or Ophelia Benson) to make fun of the original term.

The terms “New Atheist” and “New Atheism” were coined in 2006 (probably by Wired) to refer to the authors of popular books about atheism which had all come out around the same time, and the atheist movement they spearheaded. The most prominent “new atheists” are also referred to as the “Four Horsemen”: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens (cheers, Hitch), Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris.

The perceived unique feature of “new atheists” is that apart from not believing in gods, they want to dispel the religious beliefs of others and challenge religion’s privileged position in society. There’s nothing new about that – Madalyn Murray O’Hair banished compulsory prayer from US public schools in 1963 – but it hadn’t been a prominent issue for some time. A more correct term for “New Atheism” would be atheist activism.

Of course there are worse adjectives than “new”. Since the modern movement hit the big time in 2006, religious respondents to atheist campaigns have done their utmost to permanently affix other words, and paint us all as “angry atheists”, “arrogant atheists”, “dogmatic atheists”, “fundamentalist atheists”, “radical atheists” or “militant atheists”. That last one, despite being coined jokingly by Dawkins, really irritates me, given that almost any other use of the word “militant” implies violence.