Why the Four Horsemen matter
Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennet are described by the media as alternately the New Atheists or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. All four men have written books that challenge religion, ranging from imploring theists to simply rationally consider their beliefs to flat-out mocking the stupidity of belief in a sky fiend that is unprovable and obviously doesn’t act in a way that is consistent with their belief system (hence, the old cop-out “God works in mysterious ways”).
These four are not the only atheists to write books lately, but they certainly are the ones that get the most press. It’s not difficult to understand why: each of these authors has risen in the face of years of treating religion with kids gloves and directly called attention to the irrationality of unchallenged beliefs. Reactions to this new brazen charge, including the rise in media attention to atheism, incorporated opposing reactions. On the positive side, many non-theists saw these books and the resulting media attention as a positive step in not only coming out of the atheist closet, but also more strongly asserting their belief systems. On the negative side, many (including a fair share of atheists) felt that the confrontational language of the books was too strong and served to widen the social gap between theists and non-theists.
It’s not difficult to acknowledge the conflict that the publication of these books has stirred up, but we would be remiss in dismissing the books of the Four Horsemen based solely on this fact. For you atheists and theists who think these books are distateful because of their confrontational and blunt nature and see it as a dividing line between the two groups, that may be. However, it wasn’t the point of them to narrow the divide. Some have described the books as evangelical, attempts to make theists see the light. That seems more likely, but I don’t think that was really it, either.
What I see these books doing is bringing atheists out of the closet, which is no mean feat. They are letting atheists know that we have a reason to be proud of our realistic view of the world, that we’re no bad because of it, and there’s damn good reason to see the world as we do. Use of humor, reasonable argument, and meaninful prose, each book tells us atheists that we are right to think as we do, and there’s no reason to let other make you feel bad for it. They instill a sense of pride for a human condition that has vastly been seen as a nasty to an even monstrous belief.
That is why we must not ignore these books or these writers. They may not have acheived a goal that we thought would have been more worthy, but what they did acheive was laudable in and of itself.
PS: This post was written over a few days, so please forgive any inconsisencies!