BreakPoint: The “new atheism” is old news because it couldn’t explain sin
In the early 2000s, in the digital and printed world of Christian apologetics, the so-called “new atheism” was a central topic of conversation. Writers like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens have generated quite a large following by attacking religion in general and Christianity in particular, portraying both as irrational and evil forces in society. Books like “The God Delusion,” “God Is Not Great,” and “The End of Faith” have argued that belief in God is unscientific and that unbelief will make us better people.
You might be thinking, “I haven’t really thought about these guys in a long time. ” Exactly. The movement has grown eerily silent over the past decade. Debates on the bulletin board ran out of steam, rallies and debates were called off, and book sales stagnated.
In fact, the New Atheism has largely been replaced. Some people who once joined in outrage against religion have woken up instead and are now directing their outrage against privilege, oppression and perceived inequality. Others have migrated from Rational Wiki to straight-line hubs like 4Chan and Reddit. Today, those sites are full of former Dawkins fans who have swallowed so-called “red pill” ideas about race, gender, and politics, not to mention massive doses of conspiracy theories.
It’s fair to say now, as Steven Poole did earlier this year in The Guardian, that the New Atheist’s moment is over. But what killed him?
Poole emphatically argues that this has become old news. Authors like Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens have been riding the wave of 9/11 and the war on terror. In the aftermath of the deadliest attack in American history, it was easy to argue that religion itself, and not just some religions, posed a unique threat to world peace, despite the obvious differences between Christianity. and radical Islam. According to the New Atheists, to quote Christopher Hitchens, religion “poisons everything”.
But with Al Qaeda and ISIS in retirement and a maturing generation that cannot remember 9/11, the New Atheism movement is at the end of its rope and has failed to convert a younger audience.
And I also think that Gene Veith, professor at Patrick Henry College, offers another useful angle on the decline of new atheists in an article he recently wrote to Patheos. Militant disbelief has weakened, he suggests, because it cannot adequately explain sin.
Atheism is a reductionist worldview and is compelled to either deny the existence of real evil or blame religion for it. After watching institutions and industries drown in sex scandals and innocent people broke down in mass nihilist shootings over the past 10 years, it is clear that religious fanatics do not have a monopoly on violence and evil. .
In another “autopsy” of New Atheism at Digital Arc, Ben Sixsmith suggests that those who were once concerned with arguing against the existence of God have moved on to “more intense areas of rhetorical argument” like racial oppression and kind, while those who tap on atheism now seem – in his words – “increasingly single-minded, irrelevant and boring.”
So where does that leave us? With the new atheism in its twilight years and the more fashionable false worldviews taking its place, Christians must remain focused on the excuse. We must respond to all the misconceptions.
Today, we could better serve our neighbors by pointing out the lies of identity politics or the politics of oppression, explaining the evolving roots of modern racism, and caring for the victims these bad ideas leave behind. And as we do, we will have to stress how inadequate all other worldviews are to account for sin and evil, which – as Alexander Solzhenitsyn said – “runs through every human heart.”
Instead of the many and varied failed accounts of what is wrong with our world, we will have to continue to proclaim the truth that the New Atheists have denied and that today’s fashionable ideologues ignore: that the problem with the world, that source of evil, is “here” not “over there”. And because we are, at the root, the source of the world’s problems, salvation can only come from outside and not from within.
From BreakPoint, December 23, 2019; reprinted with permission from The Colson Center, www.breakpoint.org.