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?