(Thus spake the Indian Ropeman.) Anyway

The examples of the gerbil and the polar bear also help to illustrate why the enthusiastic arguments of the popular atheist proselytizers haven’t succeeded at much more than preaching to the choir. According to these Dawkins- and Hitchens-style arguments, religious belief of any kind — belief in anything transcendent and unprovable — is akin to the stereotypy displayed by a neurotic gerbil. As we’ve already noted, no one likes to be compared to a neurotic gerbil, so this is perhaps not the most winsome starting point for these arguments, but let that pass.

Yet it seems Christians are fine with being told that they were born incorrigible sinners who need divine forgiveness to keep from being roasted for eternity. Go figure.

Ebonmuse already handled most of the objections, but I would also add that the importance of the “New Atheists” – at least to me – is that they are a very visible cultural presence. They’re carving out a public space where it’s acceptable to be an atheist and talk about it. That’s the kind of thing that will lead to normalization. I don’t know if Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens are trying to actually convert people per se, but even if they don’t convince thousands of people to abandon their churches and start reading Robert Ingersoll, they’re removing much of the ignorance and mystery as to what atheism is all about. I don’t care if people are atheist or not; I’m only interested in making it so religion doesn’t have such an influence on public policy, so that it’s not accepted prima facie that belief and faith are good things and those without either are to be pitied or feared.

Personally, I would guess that with most people’s tendency to always split the difference between two strong positions (and mistake that for some sort of intellectual independence), atheism will always be a distant second to a sort of weak, mushy, milquetoast agnosticism no matter how eloquent the spokespeople for it.