The American Atheist movement appears to be splitting along the lines of older "tolerant" atheists and younger "fundamentalist" atheists, according to [url=http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113889251]NPR[/url].
Last month, atheists marked Blasphemy Day at gatherings around the world, and celebrated the freedom to denigrate and insult religion.
Some offered to trade pornography for Bibles. Others de-baptized people with hair dryers. And in Washington, D.C., an art exhibit opened that shows, among other paintings, one entitled Divine Wine, where Jesus, on the cross, has blood flowing from his wound into a wine bottle.
Another, Jesus Paints His Nails, shows an effeminate Jesus after the crucifixion, applying polish to the nails that attach his hands to the cross.
"I wouldn't want this on my wall," says Stuart Jordan, an atheist who advises the evidence-based group Center for Inquiry on policy issues. The Center for Inquiry hosted the art show.
Jordan says the exhibit created a firestorm from offended believers, and he can understand why. But, he says, the controversy over this exhibit goes way beyond Blasphemy Day. It's about the future of the atheist movement — and whether to adopt the "new atheist" approach — a more aggressive, often belittling posture toward religious believers.
Some call it a schism.
The more outrageous the message the better, says PZ Myers, who writes an influential blog that calls, among other things, for the end of religion. On Blasphemy Day, Myers drove a rusty nail through a consecrated Communion wafer and posted a photo on his Web site.
"People got very angry," he recalls. "I don't know why. I mean, it's just a cracker, right?"
Myers, who teaches biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris, says he received about 15,000 hate e-mails. He says one reason he favors the provocative approach is that it works, especially for the next generation of atheists.
"Edgy is what young people like," Myers says. "They want to cut through the nonsense right away and want to get to the point. They want to hear the story fast, they want it to be exciting, and they want it to be fun. And I'm sorry, the old school of atheism is really, really boring."