Leading Atheist Becomes Disillusioned with New Atheist Movement

PZ Myers has long been one of the leaders in the New Atheist movement. Back in September, he started to come to terms with the inevitable failure of creating some Gnu Untopia. Myers wrote:

I’ve been writing about atheism for about 10 years now. What has driven me is a combination of awe at the amazing insights produced by science, so much deeper and more substantial than any collection of myths, and a furious rage at the lies and injustice and corruption of humanity by religion. For a while there, in the middle, there was also an ebullience at the growing success of atheism, and hope that someday we would be able to cast aside the follies of faith. The awe is still here, the rage is still burning, but the optimism is fading and is being consumed by a new anger at the incompetence and betrayal of the self-appointed atheist leadership.
Too many atheists turn out to be just as shallow as the fervent faithful I rail against. Too many see atheism as another useless difference they can use to excuse discrimination against others they are already prejudiced against.

It has always been clear to me that Atheism As The Key to ushering in some form of utopia was a pipe dream propped up by wishful thinking. After all, we only needed to observe the atheist community itself. Having rid themselves of God and religion, they still cling to their ideologies and emotions, ripping at each other furiously with threats and mockery and worse. Purity tests are constantly invoked to determine who are the Real Atheists and who represent “The Problem.” Enemies are made. Battles continue.

Myers is a Gnu who believed the Social Justice movement could be seamlessly fused with the New Atheism movement. That was his dream. I think he now knows that was a fantasy. So he offers up a warning:

I will make a prediction, right here and now. The number of people identifying as “nones” will grow in this country in coming years, because we’re on the right side of history, and because organized religion is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on other-worldly issues that don’t help people. The number of people identifying as atheists will stagnate or even shrink, because organized atheism is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on irrelevant metaphysical differences that don’t help people.

I can’t say that’s a bad thing. The name of atheism has been burdened with unfair and inaccurate stigma for a great many years, and we’re now drifting into an era in which atheism will be burdened with a totally fair and accurate stigma.

Myers wants to blame the growing stigma against atheist on their rejection of his social justice causes. He doesn’t seem to realize the “nones” are also turned off by dogmatic, extremist, closed-mindedness, traits that define the New Atheist movement. After all, just as the number of “nones” are increasing, so to is the number of people who think astrology is valid.

In the end, what we can learn from all this is that Reason and Evidence don’t have the power the atheists claim. For it has always been clear that the warring factions of the atheist movement both claim to have mastered the use of Reason and Evidence, both claiming to be led by Reason and Evidence. Yet they clash and they clash. Reason and Evidence does not guide them into consensus; it convinces them they are right and the outgroup is wrong. Reason and Evidence fuels their battles.

Reason and evidence can and do guide, but only when the person using them is truly open-minded and committed to intellectual honestly. The problem is that such people, by definition, are excluded from activism.

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5 Responses to Leading Atheist Becomes Disillusioned with New Atheist Movement

  1. GM says:

    If this is Myers’ consolation, he may find it to be yet another pipe dream. “The atheist movement may collapse, but maybe we’re just falling on the grenade of religion and it will all be over soon.”

    In cities like New York and Boston, long held as irreligious paradises (as long as you’re rich and white) there are Churches that are actually growing and multiplying directly out of the Golden Demographic of young, ethnically/politically diverse, highly educated, socially mobile, single, working professionals. Any theory of history that takes a generational trend and projects into the future as “WE MADE IT!” is pure fantasy.

    And the wind shall say: “Here were decent godless people:
    Their only monument the asphalt road
    And a thousand lost golf balls.”

    When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city?
    Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
    What will you answer? “We all dwell together
    To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

    Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
    Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.
    -ts eliot.

  2. dernostalgischetyp says:

    Sweet sweet Poetic justice.

  3. Michael says:

    Reading through PZ’s comments and just noticed this little gem that supports my contention ( He doesn’t seem to realize the “nones” are also turned off by dogmatic, extremist, closed-mindedness, traits that define the New Atheist movement.):


    I suppose I might count as a “none.”

    “Atheism” as a belief has never attracted me, partly because I can’t get worked up over the question of whether a God exists. Even if an omniscient, omnipotent, etc., being exists, I have a hard time imagining that She would get Her knickers in a twist over whether some tiny, powerless beings “believe in” Her or not. (I’m reminded of the day when my ex-wife announced to me “I don’t believe in infinity.” As far as I (PhD in math) can tell, Infinity has not lost any sleep over it.)

    But another part is that my experience of atheists hasn’t been all that positive. The few atheists I know in person are (mostly) nice people and share many of my values, but they are rather self-righteous and condescending when the subject of religion comes up. It’s also true of many of the atheists I have encoutered on-line, except that you’d need to drop the “(mostly) nice.” My on-line experience has been that a lot of atheists seem to be attracted to atheism because it gives them an excuse to feel smarter and better than the benighted masses. If you disagree with them or express doubts about the One True Way they are preaching, they call you an idiot. And this having-a-corner-on-wisdom attitude spills over into non-religious areas. If you disagree with their views on sexism or racism or economic disparities or whatever, you’re just wrong and stupid for having views that disagree with theirs. FWIW, I had the impression that Dawkins was that kind long before I had contact with Teh Atheist Movement.

  4. Truth2Freedom says:

    Reblogged this on Truth2Freedom's Blog.

  5. Another Steve says:

    the optimism is fading and is being consumed by a new anger at the incompetence and betrayal of the self-appointed atheist leadership

    I thought Dr. Myers was part of the “self-appointed atheist leadership.” Is he calling himself incompetent and treacherous?

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