New Atheism as an Embarrassment to Atheists

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the New Atheists are a fringe movement of extremists and crackpots. We can tell because there are many atheists and secular humanists who do not embrace the movement, but instead seek to distance themselves from it. One such person is Theo Hobson who recently wrote:

The atheist spring that began just over a decade ago is over, thank God. Richard Dawkins is now seen by many, even many non-believers, as a joke figure, shaking his fist at sky fairies. He’s the Mary Whitehouse of our day.

Ouch. It’s been about ten years since the New Atheist movement got off the ground and they have yet to convince people like Theo Hobson to join their Crusade. On the contrary, people like Hobson are calling Dawkins a “joke.” So what gives?
Hobson correctly notes the origin of the Gnus:

The events of 9/11 were the main trigger for the explosion of this latent irritation. There was a desire to see Islamic terrorism as the symbolic synecdoche of all of religion.

What this tells us is that New Atheism did not originate from objective, reasoned analysis. It was spawned as an emotional reaction to a horrific event. As I have argued, New Atheism is rooted in emotion, not reason.

Hobson then tells us why he thinks the New Atheist movement is fading:

Atheism is still with us. But the movement that threatened to form has petered out. Crucially, atheism’s younger advocates are reluctant to compete for the role of Dawkins’s disciple. They are more likely to bemoan the new atheist approach and call for large injections of nuance.

In other words, New Atheism has failed to convert…..atheists. So why are there so many atheists who distance themselves from New Atheism?

Because it encourages and nurtures militancy, fundamentalism, extremism, all built on emotional black-and-white thinking. New Atheism promotes a simple-minded view of the world, where Religion is Evil and a secular utopia can be obtained if only we rid the world of this Evil. It’s a simplistic world view that offers us nothing more than Hatred of Religion + Cheerleading for Scientism + Hedonism. There are just too many atheists and secularists out there who are both repulsed and embarrassed by this secular version of Militant Fundamentalism.

Hobson indirectly makes this point by citing other atheists who reject the Gnu cult and offers up this observation:

What, if anything, do these newer atheists have to say? In previous generations, the atheist was keen to insist that non-believers can be just as moral as believers. These days, this is more or less taken for granted. What distinguishes the newer atheist is his admission that non-believers can be just as immoral as believers. Rejecting religion is no sure path to virtue; it is more likely to lead to complacent self-regard, or ideological arrogance.

He is rejecting the self-righteousness and naïve utopian thinking of the Gnus. I would think it obvious to all thinking people that non-believers can be just as immoral as believers, but Gnus recoil at this thought. In their minds, they reject and war against Evil, so how could it be possible that they are not holier than them?

One such Gnu activist is Jerry Coyne. As someone deeply invested in the Gnu movement, Coyne involves his ego and tries to make it a popularity contest. He insists the Gnu leaders are more popular than these “new new atheist” leaders. Yet he misses the point that he and his fellow Gnus are not doing a good job of converting atheists like Hobson. Instead, more and more atheists are distancing themselves from the Gnus.

And for good reason. Consider how Coyne responds to the notion that atheists can be just as immoral as believers:

Insofar as atheism is now not seen as an immoral and unidirectonal path to perdition, well, that’s largely due to the New Atheists. The trope that “non-believers can be just as immoral as believers” is a canard, smacking of the accusations that Pol Pot, Hitler, and Stalin did their deeds in the name of atheism.

So he claims credit for perceptions of atheism being seen as less immoral, when there is no evidence to think Gnus had anything to do with this, yet denies atheism had any role to play in the death camps and gulags of the 20th century, when there is clear evidence this was the case. However, the blinders do not stop there:

And, in fact, there is some immorality that is unique to religion, for that immorality derives from and is codified in faith. Marginalization of women, for example, is endemic in most faiths—certainly in Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism, and Islam.

Is he kidding? Where was Coyne when all the Elevatorgate wars began? Did he forget what one female atheist activist told us last year:

Over the past several years, I’ve been groped, grabbed, touched in other nonconsensual ways, told I can expect to be raped, told I’m a whore, a slut, a bitch, a prude, a dyke, a cunt, a twat, told I should watch my back at conferences, told I’m too ugly to be raped, told I don’t have a say in my own treatment because I’ve posed for sexy photos, told I should get a better headshot because that one doesn’t convey how sexy I am in person, told I deserve to be raped – by skeptics and atheists. All by skeptics and atheists. Constantly.

Or what another female atheist activist wrote:

I can’t count how many times I publicly stressed that the atheist/skeptical movement, while not perfect, is still a safer place for women and other minorities.
But now I recognize that I was trying to convince myself that this is true.
I don’t feel safe as a woman in this community – and I feel less safe than I do as a woman in science, or a woman in gaming, or hell, as a woman walking down the fucking sidewalk.

The marginalization of women is clearly not a problem that is specific to religion.
While Coyne tries to rationalize the self-righteousness of Gnus with cherry picking, he tries to refute Hobson by highlighting the “problems” with the new new atheist position:

First, they fail to admit that the tenets of faith are false: there is no evidence for a god or any knowledge about the nature of said divinity, and so the conclusions about what God wants us to do are simply fabrications. Religious people are living much of their lives based on a lie…… Second, while many liberal religionists aren’t directly inimical to society, many not-so-liberal religionists are. Should we ignore them or their injurious beliefs? Hobson, for instance, doesn’t deal with the problems of Islam and Catholicism. And those people are enabled by liberal religionists who, while doing no direct harm, nevertheless endorse the very superstitions that give rise to religious harm.

In other words, Coyne offers up the same old Gnu talking points that play well only among those who have joined the cult. It’s safe to say that “But religion is a LIE and you are enabling the evil LIE” is not going to convince a single new new atheist. It will just reinforce the perception that the Gnus are militant fundamentalists.

Coyne then ends with a rather amusing bit:

I’m not sure exactly what is motivating this journalistic animus against New Atheism, but I suspect it’s New Atheism’s very success,

Coyne just doesn’t get it. The animus comes from the fact that New Atheism is an embarrassment to many atheists. There was a time when it was possible for atheists to argue that atheism was closely tied to reason and an intellectually sophisticated view of the world. Atheism was supposed to be one facet of enlightenment. Fundamentalism, militancy, black-and-white thinking, self-righteousness, etc., were supposed to be properties of the religious. But thanks to the New Atheist movement, that time no longer exists. The New Atheists have come to proudly display all the negative traits that were supposed to be largely restricted to the religious. So of course there is some animus. Thanks to Dawkins et al., secular humanists and other atheists now have to admit that the secular lifestyle is not necessarily better than a religious lifestyle. It turns out being an atheist doesn’t immunize you against extremism and fundamentalism. And I am sure there are many atheists who are annoyed by having to assure other people they do not think religion is Evil and yes, it’s okay to raise your children in your religion. So what’s the mystery about atheist animus over the New Atheist movement?

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13 Responses to New Atheism as an Embarrassment to Atheists

  1. chicagoja says:

    It may be correct that the trigger for the New Atheists movement was 9/11, but, beyond just an emotional reaction, there is an agenda behind their beliefs. In the U.S. Constitution, citizens are given unalienable rights because they flow from God, and not the State.. Religious freedom, therefore, is a necessity in a free society. People who want a secular society really want a society that they can control and where moral authority comes from the State. Religion, therefore, has no place in their utopian world.

  2. thesauros says:

    “New Atheism did not originate from objective, reasoned analysis.”

    Because any world-view of atheism and it’s dozen or so denominations does not originate from objective, reasoned analysis. Every single atheist that I’ve ever encountered has stated that h/his world-view stems from, “I’m an atheist because I don’t believe what you believe.” There is and there never will be supporting evidence that this is a material universe only. Materialists have only a negative denial of reality, a reality that the scientific evidence does support.

    Good observation chicagoja. Spot on.

  3. black says:

    fuck your mother!

  4. Michael says:

    Sounds like an angry Gnu.

  5. Bilbo says:

    Now I know who Mary Whitehouse is and what “synecdoche” means.

  6. TFBW says:

    I’ve heard of “synecdoche” before — and forgotten about it. This time, however, I will remember what it means, because this article provides such a great mnemonic. Richard Dawkins’ argument that religion is evil because Islamic terrorists were responsible for 9/11 is an argument from cynic-douche.

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  8. At last, the atheist resistance against New Atheism is beginning to spread. I felt quite lonely there for a while. Unfortunately, some atheists have reacted to New Atheism by denying thet they’re atheists, a very unhelpful approach.

  9. Dr Alan G Phillips Jr says:

    The so-called “New” Atheism is a lot of things, but it is not new or strictly intellectual. Its protestations against Christian theism track back to very human motivations addressed in antiquity by both the Old Testament prophets and Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

    One key motivator beneath the heated rhetoric is a preoccupation with eliminating all notions of personal sin or guilt. Many atheists, though not all, seek to promote the idea that only humans shape morality, as opposed to the belief that divine morality precedes and shapes them.

    Atheists rule out any presumptions of a transcendental morality and plead for morals based on everything from animal studies to theoretical physics. Promiscuous primates to the latest quantum cosmologies are marshalled to their goal: eliminating morality based on divine standards. But really, a libertarian ethic of relativism without any sin appears to be less-than-intellectual and all too human.

    An atheist may exclaim, “Animal studies point us in the direction of polygamy, or infanticide is found in nature” Really? This kind of reasoning passes as enlightened “scientific” thinking today? It is embraced by “higher” education?

    Also, it is interesting to me that the “New” Atheism gained ascendancy in colleges, entertainment and media at approximately the same time that global trade centered on courting large, secular economies like China.

    Furthernore, I do not think it is an accident that increased pressure for acceptance of other non-Christian faiths, like Islam, comes at a time when global elites seek to build a new Roman Empire that mainains good trade relations with countries embracing both moderate and radical forms of anti-Christian ideology. Underlying much current hostility against a traditional Judeo-Christan worldview is the worship of a global economy that has increasingly opted to court wealthy nations with other religious and moral commitments.
    Beneath much of the overt hostility against Christians and Jews today is the love of money over principles, trade over tradition and finances over faith. Mammon trumps the God of the Bible. It is still the prevailing deity in America today.

    There is nothing “new” in worldviews that seek to eliminate God, maximize greed and minimize human responsibility for sin and selfish behaviors. It is as old as humanity itself.

  10. OMG the lies in this article is overwhelming. There is no such thing as “NEW ATHEIST MOVEMENT” we are just atheists who think and believe the same way we did hundreds of years ago. The difference is that the internet exists and we can speak to everyone in the world. So people are seeing atheism like never before.

    Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen (Muslims); and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan (Mohammedan) nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. -John Adams

    This article is offensive because of all the LIES

  11. Michael says:

    OMG the lies in this article is overwhelming. There is no such thing as “NEW ATHEIST MOVEMENT” we are just atheists who think and believe the same way we did hundreds of years ago.

    You should tell this to Dawkins. The Richard Dawkins Foundation website has an article entitled, “Is the New Atheism Movement Irrelevant?

    No lies.

  12. TFBW says:


    There is no such thing as “NEW ATHEIST MOVEMENT” we are just atheists who think and believe the same way we did hundreds of years ago.

    Rather than refute this (which would take a disproportionate amount of time), I’d like to ask why you feel the need to assert it in the first place. The idea that all atheists think and believe the same way, and that it hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, strikes me as some bizarre form of ultra-orthodoxy. If there were such a thing as the New Atheist movement, and it did differ in some important regards from the atheist culture whence it sprang, would that be a problem?

  13. Kevin says:

    New Atheism is characterized by a proud, outspoken aversion to theism, particularly Christianity, driven by negative emotions masquerading as reason, a very selective “love of science” so long as it is perceived to be useful in combating anything theistic, and assorted fallacies, with emphasis on strawman caricatures such as the idiotic definition of faith that New Atheists are so fond of using.

    If these things aren’t employed, then the atheist is not a New Atheist. As many other societal ills have proven, though, it is correct that foolishness is easily spread by the internet, hence the large quantities of New Atheists haunting the comments sections of virtually any place where Christianity is mentioned.

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