The goals seem to be to encourage nonbelievers to come out of the closet and work together, to break the spell of public deference paid to religions through conversational intolerance, and to protect and promote science education (this is the focus of Richard Dawkins in particular).
I sometimes jokingly refer to New Atheist movement as Celestial Being due the thematic similarities - much-resented "militancy" designed to end conflicts and ultimately bring about positive universal change.
But why did New Atheism suddenly explode on the scene? Worlds Apart has an excellent explanation:
The reason for the sensation are fairly straightforward I think: the silent majority of British people are now non-believers, yet religious organisations have seemingly been wielding a greater and greater degree of political influence in recent years, both domestically and internationally. Hence there is a deep well of non-religious frustration to be drawn upon. Furthermore, amongst intellectuals and scientists, there seems to be a high degree of frustration that religion has not withered away as many had expected, and that religion appears to be associated with the rejection of well supported scientific theories and evidence based reasoning in general.In the United States, I think it's a reaction against organized religion in the wake of religious terrorism and violence, as well as increased intrusion by Christian conservatives in political/social affairs. A good chunk of it is also a growing non-religious population, especially among young adults, who are "getting fed up with being routinely marginalized, ignored and insulted", as the Nation puts it.
Like anything else, the New Atheist movement has its critics: everything from religious people who resent their beliefs being attacked to non-religious people who bemoan the "strident" tone of their fellow atheists.
The usual criticisms of this New Atheism are very predictable and not very convincing:
- New Atheists criticize only fundamentalism, my "sophisticated" and nuanced religious beliefs remain untouched.
- New Atheists don't understand religion.
- New Atheists are dogmatic, arrogant, aggressive meanies.
of the New Atheists are pussycats in their rhetoric, compared to many others."