The entire concept of a “New Atheism movement” comes from defensive defenders of religion. I think of it not as a movement but as the overdue examination of an idea: Does a supernatural deity exist, and should our morality and politics be shaped by the belief that it does? For various reasons—the intrusion of theo-conservatism during the presidency of George W. Bush, the rise of militant Islam, an awareness of the psychological origins of supernatural beliefs, sheer coincidence—a quartet of books appeared within a span of two years, and pattern-spotters invented a “New Atheist Movement.” (I would not downplay coincidence as the explanation—random stochastic processes generate clusters of events by default.) Judged by degree of belief, the “new atheism” is not only not dead but it is winning: every survey has shown that religious belief is in steep decline, all over the world, and the drop off is particularly precipitous across the generations, as compared to just drifting with the zeitgeist or changing over the life cycle. This is reflected in laws and customs—homosexuality is being decriminalized in country after country, for example. These trends are masked in the public sphere by two forces pushing in the opposite direction: religious people have more babies, and religious communities turn out in elections and vote in lockstep for the more conservative candidate. If the “new atheist” message of Christopher Hitchens et al. was “Atheists should have more babies,” or “Atheists should form congregations and vote en masse for the same candidate,” then yes, it was an abject failure. But if it is “The evidence for a supernatural being is dubious, and the moral norms of legacy religions are often pernicious,” then it is carrying the day, or at least riding a global wave.
Tag Archive: Is New Atheism Dead
I’ve always been skeptical about the utility of identifying as an “atheist,” because it rarely seems helpful to heap the false assumptions that surround this term upon one’s own head. For this reason, I’ve never been eager to wear the label “new atheist” either.
However, there was something genuinely new about the “new atheism.” The publication of our four books in quick succession moved the conversation about faith and reason out of rented banquet halls filled with septuagenarians and brought it to a mainstream (and much younger) audience. The new atheists also made distinctions that prior atheists tended to ignore: For instance, not all religions teach the same thing, and some are especially culpable for specific forms of human misery. We also put religious moderates on notice in a new way: These otherwise secular people who imagine themselves to be on such good terms with reason are actually abetting the forces of theocracy—because they insist that everyone’s faith in revelation must be respected, whatever the cost.
The new atheism has not disappeared. It has merely diffused into a wider conversation about facts and values. In the end, the new atheism was nothing more than the acknowledgement that there is single magisterium: the ever-expanding space illuminated by intellectual honesty.