A reader writes:
The idea that most atheists are evangelizing is absurd. Most atheists are in the closet. There are real-world consequences to being indifferent or agnostic or undecided - much less an outspoken atheist.
We are well aware that polls show that voters would trust gays or Muslims over atheists. I've been in conversations with other parents where it was stated that they wouldn't let their child play at so-and-so's house because the parents were atheists (not realizing I too am an atheist).
People aren't worried about proselytizing, they're worried about amorality. Those without faith are assumed to be amoral. Coming out as an atheist is a bit like revealing to many communities that you're a sociopath - it's done with great care if you don't wish to be ostracized.
When I've mentioned to friends in the past that I was an atheist, I get this puzzled look, and the first question is always pretty much the same: "I've always thought of you as a rather moral person. Where does that come from if you don't believe in the Bible?" That's a pretty difficult brand problem to overcome, and it's a pretty difficult question to answer when you recognize that they basically cannot differentiate between morality and adherence.
Making it all the harder is there is no national organization that can educate the public - there's no HRC or other organizations for atheists that has any ability to do outreach. Hitch and Dawkins are pretty much all we've got going.
You want a fricking HRC? Be careful what you ask for. Another:
As a quiet atheist myself, I take Prothero's point, but I can't help feeling that we had decades of quiet atheism in the US, during which time we were even less well regarded than we are now. So while the aggressive tone of the "New Atheists" makes me uncomfortable, I think that it has to be acknowledged that Dawkins, Hitchens and others have pushed the boundaries of discourse in ways that have made being an atheist more comfortable overall.