Saturday, June 07, 2014

Putting the New Atheists out to pasture

In atheism, everybody is supremely disposable. Every human life is temporary, expendable, replaceable. 

Not surprisingly, this circles back on atheists themselves. Welcome to the generation gap, where atheist heroes have all the longevity of boybands. 

It’s surprising just how much media analysis, both mainstream and progressive, continues to take as given the notion that atheism can be defined and discussed solely by looking at the so-called “New Atheists” who emerged roughly between 2004 and 2007. It’s easy to understand the appeal: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens became prominent representatives of atheism because they were all erudite, entertaining and unafraid to say what they thought. A lot of people, myself included, were drawn to their works because they were forthright and articulated things we had kept locked away, or simply hadn’t found the words for. 
But in 2014, Hitchens is dead, and using Dawkins or Harris to make a case for or against atheism is about as relevant as writing about how Nirvana and Public Enemy are going to change pop music forever. 
James Croft, the research and education fellow at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, says there are already generational differences in how they’re viewed. “Frankly, people like Richard Dawkins and even Sam Harris to some extent, are not viewed positively by young atheists now,” he says. “They actually don’t think that they’re that great. You still find people at the conventions who love them of course, but it does seem like they’re already a bit passé….They kind of pushed a door open, and that represents an opportunity, but the real task is to step through that door with some positive proposal of what life after religion has to look like.”


  1. I've had the same opinion of Hitchens for a few months now. He was interesting when he was alive, but now that he's dead, he has quickly become a has-been. It isn't surprising really- he was a popularizer, a person known more for himself rather than the strength of the beliefs he was defending. What do you know, interest in him started dying as soon as he died! I wonder why?

  2. Hitchens in one sense was a kind of embarrassment to atheists. He had the temerity to die "young". How dare he violate the atheist meme that you can live as an atheist to a ripe old age when you're good and ready to die?!?! Which includes having accomplished and enjoyed all that one wished, made the impact one wanted to, and preferably live long enough to see some of it's greater fruit.

    He didn't have a good death. It reminded atheists of the meaninglessness of the atheistic worldview(s) and that was uncomfortable to atheists. While atheists really felt sorry for and missed Hitchens soon after his death, it's only natural for atheists to not want to be reminded of the reality and nearness of their own deaths. And so, one way to suppress that knowledge is to put his death at the back of one's mind.

    Unlike Christians who can celebrate both the lives, dyings and the deaths of fellow Christians (whether by old age, sickness or via martyrdom), atheists on the other hand can really only celebrate the lives (and not the deaths) of prominent fellow atheists. It's difficult to celebrate their deaths (though I suppose it's possible).

    Some atheist deaths are particularly embarrassing in my Christian opinion. I think of Jean Meslier. He "was a French Catholic priest (abbé) who was discovered, upon his death, to have written a book-length philosophical essay promoting atheism. Described by the author as his "testament" to his parishioners, the text denounces all religion." That seems extremely cowardly to me. He didn't have the strength of conviction or the courage to preach his atheism when it would have made his life troublesome. No, he waited till after his death to posthumously "preach" his atheism. When he couldn't be persecuted or be answered and refuted.

    Yet, if one took the atheistic worldview seriously, one could interpret Meslier's actions as eminently rational and as best for his own self-interest. In essence, atheism can make cowardice a virtue.

    1. Part of the motivation for his to remain in the clergy was probably the benefits it might have secured.

      That's part of what The Clergy Project about. It's purpose "is to provide a safe haven for active and former professional clergy/religious leaders who do not hold supernatural beliefs. It originated from a growing awareness of the presence of these professional clergy and a concern about their dilemma as they moved beyond faith."

      Basically, it's a support group to help clergy who are closet atheists. They no longer believe in God but often continue to receive money for their clerical duties like preaching the reality and goodness of their former God. Admittedly, it's a difficult dilemma since one may have children to feed and educate. They may feel like hypocrites for doing it. But at the same time, if atheism is true, why feel bad about it since given atheism it's difficult if not impossible to ground virtues like honesty, integrity and rational and ethical consistency.

      In fact, becoming an atheist would seem to open up the possibility of becoming a greedy charlatan. I can imagine for example a Baptist minister who secretly becomes an atheist and then publicly claims a revelation from God has lead him to new charismatic beliefs. Then he goes about transforming his ministry into a money making scheme like Robert Tilton's.