New atheism was a movement that was born in the mid 2000s – often understood as the brainchild of 4 men – Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. These men are behind best selling books such as The God Delusion and God is Not Great, books that I think create a straw man out of religion – that is to say they blatantly portray it as something it is not. Online media was consumed by atheism for some years with famous examples of it including r/atheism’s short-lived position as a default subreddit on Reddit, the world’s 8th most popular website. There was also an infamous group of YouTube personalities that made videos relating to their lack of belief in God though they have now moved on from this topic or YouTube altogether. These figures took it upon themselves to make a mockery of religious figures and events as often as they could which resulted in the new atheism movement making regular appearances in news media.
These days, new atheism is a thing of the past for a few different reasons. First and foremost, new atheism was a trend. There are only so many different ways that you can discuss why God isn’t real and reason is the only legitimate lens to view the world through. Secondly, atheism began to merge with feminism and social justice in 2012 when blogger Jen McCreight founded the Atheism Plus movement – an alleged progression from atheism that suggested using atheistic thought processes to approach issues that exist under the “social justice” umbrella such as racism, sexism and homophobia.
Atheism Plus was the tipping point of many incidences that diluted atheism with ideology, beginning with many ideas such as “the new enlightenment” put forward by the original four horsemen of the movement back in the mid 2000s. These mixings of atheism and ideology are, to me, one of two major failings of the new atheist movement because by no definition is atheism an ideology at all. Atheism says nothing about the way in which society should be run or the truths of the world. I admit that atheism is closely related to ideology, for example humanism is closely intertwined with atheism due to its emphasis on rejecting the divine or supernatural in favor of emphasis on human achievement. But that’s not in the definition of atheism, and atheism quickly became an umbrella term for beliefs such as humanism, secularism and especially empiricism – the idea that knowledge can only be gained through sensory experience. It was thanks to this that atheism was perverted as the very nature of culture ran its course – definitions and movements evolve. And so atheism steadily took on more connotations until it stood for something completely different than it did at the beginning.
My other gripe with the new atheism movement is the complete and unabashed lack of theological awareness from its proponents. Theology is defined as the study of the nature of God and religious belief. The people who spoke for the new atheist movement proved time and time again that they had no understanding of what they tried to refute – instead they viewed and attacked religion most often through the actions and words of its believers, rarely scripture or theology.
And when they did address religion itself they treated it with irreverence or disrespect. It was obvious that many atheists did not act out of concern for the greater good but were instead motivated by personal vendetta against religious persons that had hurt them.
The disrespect and irreverence most often manifested in new atheistic interpretations of scripture. The new atheists judged religion by modern standards of all sorts. They ask why the bible is so socially backwards, they ask why the bible doesn’t reveal astounding scientific truths to prove God’s omniscience? My biggest gripe with these arguments against religion is the manner in which they ignore the bible’s own claims to truth and its own striking explanations of life and instead judge it against modern standards of social justice. I find it absolutely ridiculous, even as an atheist, that these men thought they could convert any significant amount of the religious population by attacking and putting down religious scripture. Their writings of religious criticism achieved only one thing to any notable degree – and that is increasing the size of the rift between the religious and secular population. Religion is such a personal entity that it’s overwhelmingly to separate someone from it without actually delving into their connection to what they believe in and what makes that belief tick. And these new atheists never did any of that. Instead they tout their humanism, logic, evidence and scientific method as if the theists could perceive them as anything but cold, calculating scientists.
I look back on new atheism as an unproductive and even destructive movement. I’m glad it’s gone but the obsession with social justice this trend was replaced by has not even begun to peak and already it has divided our society much more than atheism did in its heyday. Social justice is not a form of justice at all as it focuses the desired position of one group over or next to another, not the just position of all groups held to the same standard of justice. But that’s a topic for another day.