The once-dominant internet and media phenomenon has given way to a more flexible secularism, but its legacy lives on
WWhat do the words “biological reality” and “objective truth” bring to mind? Or “freedom of speech”, complaining that “orthodoxy” suppresses “scientific inquiry”? In the current political debate, you might think of the never-ending transgender controversy, or the right-wing complaints about the lack of free speech in workplaces and college campuses.
In other words, they are now “conservative” coding terms, and if you hear someone use them, you can make an educated guess about their other beliefs. But not so long ago, the language was used not by the right but by the left for debates about climate change and Darwinian evolutionary realities. In the early 2000s, progress meant supporting science, supporting objectivity, and supporting materialism.
We are told that the great battle is between moderate, rational liberals who just want to agree on objectively observable facts – we know how old the earth is, and it was not created 8,000 years ago; we Know that the climate is changing and that it is caused by humans. It is ambitious religious conservatives who put ideology above observable reality. But overemphasizing the importance of genetics today will get you kicked out of academia by the left, not the right.
Now the left embraces an ideology ‘care‘
Not that the left has completely abandoned the recognition of scientific authority—you’ll find scientific expertise often on behalf of climate, trans rights, or drug policy. But there has been a clear rhetorical and conceptual shift. The Left, which once stood for cool rationalism, cutting emotion out of how we punish criminals or cop drugs and asking “what works?”, now embraces an ideology of “care.” Peer-reviewed papers are likely to use “victim’s lived experiences” and “indigenous ways of knowing” because they are data-driven approaches. Environmental policy is not so much “the doomsday clock is 2 minutes to midnight” as it is “as a vegan who loves to vacation in Thailand, how can I reduce my carbon emissions?”
The softening of the left has prompted a major break with the once-dominant internet, media, and publishing phenomenon, not to mention an influential social movement: the new atheism. In the 2000s, it was on a triumphant rise, firmly identifying with the centrist and left of politics. In the context of Islamic terrorism, a turning point in the decline of religious belief in the West, and widespread denial of climate change on the political right, conditions are ideal for a fierce and radical anti-religious movement.
Almost everyone active on the web during this period was familiar with online atheism.Potential internet killers follow a familiar script: They’ll share a video of Christopher Hitchens destroy religionor post a meme like this:
Anyone lucky enough to battle this type of swordsmanship will soon discover their curiosity Bushido. Atheist warriors will use strange sophistication arguments, such as saying that there is no atheist belief – or for that matter, there is something called “new atheism”. An atheist is “just a guy who doesn’t believe in God” (though they’re all the same stormtrooper clones). Most importantly, they will never stop arguing with you. Having the last say is a way of life and an honor.
These eccentric souls worship the behemoths of the new atheism: Christopher Hitchens is their John the Baptist, Richard Dawkins is their savior, Daniel Dennett is the source of Solomon’s wisdom, and of course Sam Harris puts the terrorist Saracens to the sword as the radical crusade Richard the Lionheart.
There was a time when this view had a lot of appeal on the left.In a climate skeptical President George W. Bush and hysterical fears about America’s religious right is about to usher in a The Handmaid’s Tale Style theocracy, neo-atheism is seen as an effective antidote. For the quintessential “the only atheist in the village”, it’s certainly a source of identity and affirmation, surrounded by throngs of beaming athletic evangelical teenagers wearing rings of purity and passionately believing in a young earth god The advantages of creationism.
Anti-religious rhetoric is now comfortable, family fun
The movement peaked in the UK in 2010 after a clerical abuse scandal fueled anti-religious rhetoric.When Pope Benedict made an official visit to England that year, many mainstream newspapers (especially protector) engage in more or less blatantly anti-Catholic rhetoric that seems more appropriate for the 18th century than the 21st. Organizations such as the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Society have published numerous opinion pieces, and few religious figures have made it to radio and television channels without being pushed into gladiatorial fights.
Popular science shows openly mock not only theism but soft science, Brian Cox often denounces organized religion and the whole concept of philosophy on the radio Infinite Monkey CageWhat makes these interventions compelling is their setting: a quirky popular science show aimed at a young audience. Tough materialism and anti-religious rhetoric are now comfortable, family-friendly entertainment for all ages.
It is also a point of interest for scientific solutions to social problems and human psychology.Around the same time, there was considerable media interest in evolutionary psychology, with Nudge: Improve Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Well-Being Introduced in 2008. At the time, it was firmly classified as the heroic progressive force of liberalism.
But there is always tension. Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, in particular, have both been closely associated with hostility to Islam – a feature of right-wing politics. Dawkins is more of an equal-opportunity criminal, but his anti-Islam rhetoric is no less impressive. The neo-atheistic male and rational world was never entirely a natural fit for the growing influence of a sociological discipline steeped in subjective emotion, postmodern philosophy, and a strong sympathy for (often highly religious) minority groups.
Much of what New Atheism embodied has now shifted to the right. Today’s young rationalist men are watching Jordan Peterson’s videos and listening to Joe Rogan’s podcasts. Dawkins himself is now an “anti-awakening” figure. The craziest person applying evolutionary psychology to relationships today is incels – lonely young people who have popularized concepts like ‘hypergamy’, ‘assortative mating’, ‘alpha’ and ‘beta males’ online and are looking to explain why They can go without a date.
As a movement, New Atheism has fallen apart and lost its original spirit. Its afterlife on the right is allied with pseudo-mystical Jungianism, a cult of nationalist myths, outright neo-paganism, and strategic alliances with religious conservatives. The other part, moved to the left, embodied as “I fucking love science” wakes up today’s nerds. Once on the fringes of nerd culture, it’s now a dominant business force, allied with rationalism rather than progressivism.
The nerd of yesteryear slams the hysterical right for blaming D&D for Satanic ritual murders (yes, really) and blaming violent video games for inspiring school shootings. Now, however, the geeks who watch Rick and Morty, attend comic book conventions, play board games are ardent supporters of LGBTQ+ rights, and the bearded, belly podcaster takes a break from reviewing the latest superhero series, Violence against police and women’s representation. His heroes are not Dawkins (despite the lingering affection and common canon there) but Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s not religious, but he’s a moderate atheist who can weep over the plight of Palestine and gleefully celebrate his friend’s tasteful same-sex ritual in an enlightened evangelical church. Science, that character can assure you, is firmly on the side of every progressive cause and opinion.
The New Atheism is dead, but the materialism that underpins it is alive and far more powerfully and nuanced than ever. Gone is that strangely combative integrity, replaced by a more pragmatic and amorphous spirit, fit for the age of fluid modernity. New atheists are perversely very concerned with metaphysical and epistemological issues, while a new generation of left and right materialists are concerned only with power and not with the capital “T” truth. In many ways, the neo-conservative and neo-atheist moment of the 2000s was, however, paradoxically, the last respite of an idealistic, traditional religious politics that put truth over power and imagined social causes. united by common reason and common interests. But they also destroyed the civilization they were the ultimate embodiment—and left only sophistry and cynicism as their legacy.
The modern left and right don’t care about the truth. Whether you label it revolutionary zeal or fascist ruthlessness, they are all united and marching steadily towards totalitarian language and habits of mind. Science, like religion, culture, race, and history, is seen as unearthing elements that advance ideological narratives and pave the way for political power—for the purpose of destroying hostile ideologies. These thinkers are materialists and naturalists, not by virtue of lofty intellectual commitments, but implicitly, because no idea is allowed to be greater than the cause. Justice, truth, beauty, and compassion are second-level principles, and no matter what project you support, opponents and opponents deny it.
The religion of science has degenerated into a cult of technology. The quest for truth becomes the quest for profit and productivity. Materialism confronted with the inherent wonders of the natural world has become indifferent to everything but pleasure and consumption. The emancipation of the human mind promised by atheism has rapidly degenerated into the emancipation of personal indulgence and selfishness. The lofty idealism of liberal humanism and experimental science proved unsustainable once it was stripped of the last remnants of the fascinating religious universe it sought to expel.