Freddie deBoer disses New Atheism while attacking psychic phenomena and “hooey”

July 21, 2022 • 10:00 am

Well, let me clarify my title above.  In the article below on his Substack site, deBoer claims that he started his career attacking New Atheism, and he still sees issues with it, but now thinks he went too far, especially in light of the Vice article he cites. That article notes a rise of Internet scams dealing with supernatural phenomenon like clairvoyance and tarot cards, and he sees that the doubt about faith promoted by New Atheism could be used now to quash these other issues that victimize the credulous. But the so-called demise of New Atheism has deprived people of those tools.

Unfortunately, deBoer, whose writing I admire (but seems to be writing too much these days), still feels he to get in a few licks at Dawkins and Co., and I think those licks are gratuitous and unfair. Still, his call for a revival of skepticism and demands for evidence is absolutely the mark. Faith is faith, whether it involves pastors or psychics.

Click the screenshot to see deBoer’s piece:

There are, I think, six main reasons for the “backlash” against New Atheism, which I see as the reinvigoration of faithlessness by Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens (Pinker was a player as well):

1.) People bridle at criticism of religion, especially when it is passionate and vigorous. Religion is sacrosanct, and seen by many as off limits to criticism.

2.) People accused the New Atheists of being strident and trying to wrest religion from believers.

3.) People were jealous of the success of New Atheist writings

4.) Because Muslims are considered “people of color,” opponents of New Atheism were especially critical of its perceived “Islamophobia.”

5.) The perception, often without evidence, that New Atheists were sexists or even sexual assaulters.

6.) The claim that New Atheists ignored social justice because they concentrated too much on addressing, analyzing, and attacking religion. These critics see “progressive social justice” as inextricable from New Atheism, and thus New Atheists were fighting a battle but ignoring a wider war.

In this article, deBoer seems to sign on to reasons 1,2, and 4, though he’s walked back his criticisms a bit: he says that by criticizing New Atheism’s concentration on the need for evidence, people have become susceptible to new forms of woo. That sounds good, though I don’t know if it’s true, and too much of his piece still engages in atheist-bashing.

(Regarding #4, New Atheists often concentrated on Islam because it was in their view (and mine) the most dangerous species of faith in today’s world, as Catholicism was in medieval Europe. I don’t see that as “Islamophobia”, if you conceive of that word as meaning “bigotry against Muslims”. But a “fear of Islam” could also mean “a worry about how that religion is sometimes used to oppress and kill people.)

First, deBoer cites the article below in Vice, which describes the “fake” psychics (they’re all fakes, of course, but there are some who pretend to be other people)—fakers who are now being attacked on social media. (All deBoer’s words are indented).

An actual story from Vice:

I’ll say no more about the Vice article as you can read it for yourself. I was more interested—and distressed—by deBoer’s criticisms of New Atheism, which wasn’t really a “movement” but a term invented to describe the rise of unbelief largely prompted by the authors named above.  Granted, deBoer has backed off some, but not far enough for me. The bolding is mine:

The first thing I ever wrote that got more than a couple dozen views, the piece that made the rounds in the blogosphere and in so doing kickstarted my writing career, was a piece of the type “I’m an atheist who can’t stand New Atheism.” Pieces in that vein became quite common over the years, but in 2008 it was still novel enough to attract all of that attention. This was an era in which the New Atheists still enjoyed a degree of cultural cachet, before the pomposity and shrill tone of so many in the movement curdled its public reputation, to say nothing of the accusations of Islamophobia. It was a different time. The basic contours of the piece still seem correct to me – atheism is almost certain factually true, and I am an atheist, but I have no interest in browbeating believers. I have no interest in converting believers into atheists, and atheism is not a movement. But not only would I not write that piece today, it’s one of very few pieces that I sometimes genuinely wish I had never published at all. Because the ground changed underneath us to such an extent that, well, millions of functioning adults proudly endorse astrology and other hooey in public.

Note first the attacks on New Atheism, but also his assertion that he wish he wouldn’t have written the piece not because he misunderstood or unfairly attacked New Atheism, but because his attack on the movement may have enabled people’s increased belief in woo. Also note, as I claim below, that deBoer is engaging in a form of virtue signaling here: not addressing the arguments of New Atheists but simply calling them names in a way that would appeal to atheist liberals soft on faith (“faithiests”).

Yes, the last sentence is true, though I’m not sure how much criticism on New Atheism enabled the rise of “hooey”. But I also think that deBoer is unfair by attacking New Atheists, especially the prominent ones, for being “pompous and shrill.”  In what way, for example, were Dawkins and Company “pompous and shrill”? Perhaps some of their followers were (actually, some surely were given their numbers). But both of those words could be replaced by “passionate.”

Notice that when New Atheists are accused of stuff like this, no examples are ever given. What is called “shrillness” as a pejorative term strikes me as a nasty word for “writing passionately and strongly,” which doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Were Hitchens or Harris—or any of the five people named above—”shrill”? I don’t think so.

Moreover, I doubt that deBoer would call anyone writing about politics with that same passion as “shrill”. “Shrill and strident” are usually reserved for those who criticize religion, not politics. And these are ad hominem terms, for what was really important about “New Atheism” was its arguments, not the tone of its adherents.

At least, though, deBoer recognizes that what New Atheism—as “antitheism”—was mainly about: demands for empirical evidence for what one believes. It was largely an attack on faith, and on faith that is of the most damaging kind. But deBoer can’t resist saying that some atheists are “annoying,” and again I don’t think he’d say that about politicians with whom he agreed.

He continues and begins to walk back his earlier opinions:

At some point in the 2010s, the backlash to New Atheism became so commonplace, particularly on the political left, that it seemed clear to me that we had communally missed the forest for the trees. That is to say, no matter how annoying some atheists must be, the most important question when it comes to atheism remains (and must remain) whether or not God is real. If God is real, that is the single most important fact in the universe. Issues of comity and messaging take a backseat to the existence of a divine creator, and there’s something strange about being more concerned with how we express our skepticism about such a divine creator than about its actual existence. And while many people who disdain New Atheists will admit to a casual atheism themselves, they’re far less animated and passionate about that atheism than about their hatred of the New Atheists. On a really basic level this seems to be a failure of priority.

He’s correct in the last sentence, but he’s hasn’t retracted his claims about “Islamophobia” or New atheist “browbeating believers” or “converting believers into atheists.” But, after all, if you are arguing logically and rationally against the existence of God, and are arguing with the faithful, what else are you doing but “browbeating believers” (I’d use the term “arguing with believers”; for “browbeating” is a pejorative word). And if you are making empirical arguments against a divine creator, then of course you are also, even if unintentionally, “converting believers into atheists.” Every argument for a moral, political, or ideological stance is an attempt at conversion—to change people’s minds. deBoer spends his time “browbeating Republicans” in a “shrill way”, and trying to convert those with whom he disagrees. How does he differ from New Atheists in these respects.

There are other zingers against New Atheism, too. deBoer, while saying (admirably) that he probably went too far, still goes too far, saying that the demise of New Atheism was “self inflicted”.  His inability to stop dissing New Atheism, although he recognizes its central merit—demand for evidence—is seen in his last paragraph (my bolding).

Ultimately, I think we should work to restore attention to the supernatural claims themselves rather than to the social ephemera that surround them. Of course we should want atheists to be circumspect and friendly and to avoid empty provocation. The question is when this concern about manners overwhelms our fixation on the central questions at hand; the fact that Reddit atheists are annoying can’t make God real. And for the record I think there’s a way to live life that avoids a cloying scientism and witless literalism while still not permitting any lazy mysticism to find its way into your day-to-day practices. There’s also a lot of low-hanging fruit when it comes to people believing things for no reason. I’m perfectly happy to say that I think we should restore a little stigma towards entertaining the idea that the date that you’re born (based on a largely arbitrary and human-made calendar system) dictates your mood, your love life, and your professional success. Maybe sometimes a little stigma is the healthiest option available to us.

So yes, here he admits that there’s too much woo, and the analysis of religion by New Atheists can also be extended to psychic phenomena, taro cards, and so on. But what is this “empty provocation” that deBoer speaks of? And the comment about “cloying scientism and witless literalism”—who, exactly, does that refer to? As most of us know, “scientism” is only used pejoratively, to criticize those who you think rely too much on science and evidence.  It would have been nice if deBoer gave us some examples of “cloying scientism” from some of the well known New Atheists.

Don’t get me wrong: I think the point of deBoer article is a good one: faith applies not just to religion, but to wooish hooey—to all “supernatural” psychic phenomena. But he devalues this point by his inability to resist getting in some unwarranted licks at New Atheism.

In the end, deBoer is doing with New Atheism precisely what he criticizes with ideology: he is trying to tarnish ideas he agrees with by using pejorative words and ad hominem arguments—all because he doesn’t like the way those arguments are expressed. That is what the Woke do! And he’s appealing to popular ideology by bringing up “Islamophobia”, “scientism”, and “shrillness” in attacks on religion. In other words, I think he’s engaged in signaling his virtue.

deBoer should be remorseful for his own athiest-dissing not just because it enabled the Rise of Hooey (actually, I doubt that it did), but also because it was unfair and misguided.

42 thoughts on “Freddie deBoer disses New Atheism while attacking psychic phenomena and “hooey”

  1. I laughed at the very idea that psychics and Tarot card readers are being undercut by fake scammers. Oh, the irony.

    1. I like the shows where the scammers get scammed. The TV show Leverage had an episode like that. I think Psych did, too.

  2. Religionists up until the dawn of ‘new atheists’ could dismiss atheism with sloppy arguments, making them appear as a sort of quaint cult, along the lines of our ‘local village atheist’. Obviously not to be taken seriously but, hey, ‘we tolerate different views’. Then along came the modern, heavyweight, books from Dawkins, Hitchens, etc and believers realised they’d entered a new era, where their beliefs were the ones that fell foul of reason. So inevitably they had to learn new tactics (new arguments were hard to come by), so ‘new’ atheism was conceived as a form of disparagement.

    There’s more need than ever for the battle against religion to be maintained, given the appalling movement of the US especially towards theodicy. If people want to use the term ‘new’ in regard to atheism then so be it, but don’t think you can dismiss it thus.

  3. I’ve been an atheist since I was eighteen. I wasn’t really a believer before that, but that’s when I chucked “agnosticism” and admitted that’s just a weasel word for saying you don’t believe. 9/11 really got me into learning about religion. I read Dawkins and Hitchens and other stuff, but I wasn’t in an atheist community (outside of them comments on this site) and didn’t go to conventions. My impression from the outside was that what I’ll call proto-Woke destroyed the community by trying to force it to align with other political positions. Interestingly these were ones that we now examine as being like religions themselves. In that regard I see the left as just as handicapped by belief as the right. At the end of the day, though, most people seem to object to skeptics either for saying their own beliefs are unsupported or for ruining other people’s little fantasies. I don’t see a way, though, to be a skeptic and not be seen as “strident” or “mean,” unless you keep quiet. Which is probably what most critics want. Sounds familiar.

    1. Indeed. I came to believe that the term ‘New Atheists’ was mostly a strawman created by theists so that they had something to attack. Far easier to attack individuals for being shrill and strident than deal with their unsettling arguments.

  4. Is there evidence that hooey like astrology and new ageism is actually on the rise? Or is it more the case that, in this age of falling religious belief, it stands out like an inflamed opposable pollex when a mainstream media source publishes such disreputable nonsense?

      1. At least in the Greater Toronto area, ads for psychic services in throwaway newspapers distributed on the regional transit system (so not confined to specific neighbourhoods) were exclusively pitched to the large Hindi- and Punjabi- speaking community. There would be two or three pages of them. This is woo you actually have to pay for, not the free generic horoscopes bunking in with the Sudoku at the back of the quality papers.

  5. Dunno about the temporal trend, but I bet the resurgence in popularity of psychedelics is a powerful force recruiting minds away from atheism/materialism.

    Relatedly, a 2018 Pew Research poll says 60% of “nones” are drunk on New Age woo and so are 20% of atheists.

  6. “1.) People bridle at criticism of religion, especially when it is passionate and vigorous. Religion is sacrosanct, and seen by many as off limits to criticism.”

    Definitely belongs at number one. IMHO, the reason for this is our support for freedom of religion: the freedom to believe any old crap one wants. That’s a good freedom to have, of course, but only if practiced in private. As soon as it starts to affect the daily lives of those that don’t believe the same crap, that’s when the trouble starts.

    I have a prediction. Believing crazy stuff seems to be at a peak right now. I suppose it may get worse before it gets better but I think it will get better. We are going to start seeing a real pushback against lies and misinformation and disinformation. When that happens, it’s going to take a big bite out of religion too. We’re starting to see it already. Religious groups that aligned themselves with Trump will see their reputations suffer once he’s recognized by virtually all as a false God. Already a lot of young people want no part of that kind of idolatry. We’ve got a long way to go but there’s some hope.

  7. Groan. I was surprised to learn that the estimable Mr. DeBoer started his career by attacking the New Atheism. Reassuring that he now understands that it served an important purpose. But rather baffling if he advises atheists to be as “circumspect and friendly” as New Atheism bashers like Terry Eagleton. That wave of New Atheism bashing came straight out of the pop-Left commandment that “thou shall say nothing critical of Islam”, as was obvious from the casuistry of Glenn Greenwald and such deep thinkers as Batman. As for “cloying scientism”, what the hell can Mr. DeBoer mean?
    Does it refer to such cloying treatments as novocaine during dentistry?

  8. Just would like to add a note – on the function of faith – it appears to me that religion and astrology, etc. do promote experience. Tarot card reading, clairvoyant shows are experiences. Mega churches are into big experiences.

    I think they promote experience as something for the faithful to carry with them to reinforce their faith. It is, by our lights, evidence for their beliefs. They have a great time, there is no evidence for what pulls them there – church, Madame Zolta’s Fortune Telling Inc., and they know that. So when the faithful get criticized for it, they have the experience to cover for it.

    I guess that took longer than I thought to write out properly.

  9. And the comment about “cloying scientism and witless literalism”—who, exactly, does that refer to? As most of us know, “scientism” is only used pejoratively, to criticize those who you think rely too much on science and evidence.

    One of the attributes which united the “New Atheism” movement was the way it applied science and scientific reasoning on God. From a sophisticated perspective the proper stance — especially for atheists — was to throw up ones hands and insist that science could say nothing, one way or the other, about the existence of God. Don’t apply science to God like the creationists do (“scientism.”) And don’t try to define God with any clarity, either. That’s literalism like the fundamentalists do.

    Yet book after book, from Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow to Dennett’s Darwins’ Dangerous Idea to Vic Stenger’s God, The Failed Hypothesis did exactly that. In light of the discoveries in modern science, top-down unevolved mental Skyhooks just didn’t fit. And no, “God” isn’t some undefinable conceptual ground of possibilities: the love the believers bear for it speaks of anthropomorphism. Sorry not sorry.

    The “but people NEED to Believe!” and “I know through Personal Experience!” refrains are just as bad, if not worse, when it comes to Woo. DeBoer is kidding himself when he sneers at the New Atheists’ “scientism” and then turns around to tell the astrologers and ghost hunters that they’re not allowed to just Know What They Know without debate.

  10. I remain an adherent of the New Atheist movement, particularly at a time when Christian supremacism seems to be running riot in the US despite the fact that it appears to represent the views of a fairly small minority of Americans. However, one point at which I think that Richard Dawkins did overstep the mark was in his association with the nascent “Brights” movement. Now I’m not sure if the word bright has quite the same connotations in American English as in British English, but Dawkins would certainly be familiar with the British English definition. Calling atheists “brights” necessarily implies that believers are “dumbs”. Quite apart from the fact that religious belief seems in many cases to coexist with high intelligence and in some way to occupy an intellectual and psychological domain apart, it is extremely poor public relations to label all one’s opponents as stupid. Almost as unwise as labelling one’s political opponents as “deplorables”…

    On the matter of “shrillness” and “stridency”, I think the common use of these terms to describe the attitudes of militant atheists says more about the status of religion than it does about the people accused of these attitudes. The identities of religious people are so much tied up with their belief that it very often feels like a form of bullying to expose them to a robust critique of that belief. They are genuinely hurt and/or angry in a way that they wouldn’t be if the critique were addressed to another aspect of their lives. I think that it might have been an error of the New Atheists not to acknowledge this reality – religious belief is not just a kind of “wrong thinking”, which can be corrected by right (and bright) thinking, for many people it is inextricably interwoven with their sense of self, and they can no more be separated from it than healthy tissue can be separated from a metastasised cancer.

    1. Thought-provoking comment, John, thanks. I’m not aware, though, of Richard Dawkins ever associating with the Bright idea (forgive the pun). I believe it was Daniel Dennett who came up with that term, and I understand that he has since regretted it.

    2. Calling atheists “brights” necessarily implies that believers are “dumbs”.

      Though the originators of the term suggested that the opposite of a “bright” was a “super” (short for “supernatural”), not a “dumb”, and they also meant “bright” more in the sense of a cheerful and positive outlook [modelled after the prior co-opting of the word “gay”] than being a comment on IQ.

      Which also illustrates that the term applied to people adopting “naturalism” as a worldview, which is not quite the same as being an atheist.

    3. Why would you say that the New Atheists did not acknowledge the reality of believers’ identities being closely associated with their beliefs? I don’t know, but it would surprise me if you could find a single passage in the writings of “the New Atheists” denying this close association. To the contrary, it seems to me that they often emphasize that this is one key reason why it is so difficult for believers to leave their beliefs behind them.

      1. I didn’t say that they denied the association, only that they seemed to assume that reason and argument could overturn belief, which would suggest that they failed to understand the identitarian aspects of

        1. But you did: “I think that it might have been an error of the New Atheists not to acknowledge this reality.” And even in your response you write “they failed to understand the identitarian aspects of religion.” But they do not fail to understand this. Again, they repeatedly suggest that this is one reason why it is so difficult for believers to abandon their beliefs.

    4. Regarding “shrillness” and “stridency”, being an atheist is kinda like being a woman. You’re supposed to remain silent and go along with a system structured by and for others. If you complain about it, you automatically become “shrill” and “strident”.

      This would make accusations of sexism against New Atheists ironic, except that I think those accusations are transparently off-base. Or should I say off base-rate – a serious failure to apply Bayesian reasoning.

  11. “…the most important question when it comes to atheism remains (and must remain) whether or not God is real. ”
    I’d like to underscore this passage from deBoer’s article and echo something I posted here on WEIT yesterday. This is indeed the most important question, not just when it comes to atheism but in the broader context of any discussion about religion and Weltanschauungen. We atheists are not strident to demand hard evidence from those who proclaim and base their lives on the belief that their god is real. We must not be dissuaded from sticking to our guns and demanding that evidence, especially when the theocrats are becoming more and more successful in passing laws and consequently using the police as armed clergymen to force the rest of us to conform to their beliefs.

    1. Actually it is none of your business as an atheist what believers base their beliefs on. A large majority of the world’s population believes, irrationally surely, in some kind of God. In Abrahamic western countries those broad beliefs shape their concept of public morality. Naturally they will expect their elected representatives whom they vote for to legislate according to those views, as you wish of your representatives according to your atheist views. But there a lot more of them than there are of you, so guess whose views usually prevail. It has gone out of style to prohibit blasphemy but abortion is still fair game. That’s the kind of thing a majority gets to do, within the Constitutional separation of church and state as determined by judges. They owe you no explanation whatsoever….especially since you wouldn’t accept it anyway.

      You aren’t trying to demand evidence as much as you are trying to neutralize a large political majority whose views you don’t like. That is a really grand project. You must be sure you have God on your side.

      “Armed clergymen.” That’s funny.

      1. In a liberal democracy, the majority rules so long as the rights of the minority are not infringed upon, abridged, or abrogated. One of the rights we irreligious need and rightfully defend is the right of conscience, that is, freedom of religion, which includes freedom from religion. My right to freedom of conscience is being abrogated by those who would force their beliefs upon me, using the police, now armed clergymen, and the entire justice system to take away my liberty. So, Leslie, to disagree strongly, once laws are being passed that are based on and consequently impose a religious belief, it is indeed my business to know the religion of these lawmakers and that of my fellow citizens who vote for them.
        And, no, I don’t wish my representatives to legislate according to my atheist views. I expect them to legislate to uphold the rights of all citizens.

        1. I think you’re wrong in the last sentence, Stephen. Legislation is mostly about curtailing someone’s rights in the name of the greater good. Repealing your Second Amendment and then passing really strong gun control legislation would be a topical example. If you want to uphold rights, on the other hand, you either frustrate the urge to legislate or you strike down existing legislation as an undue infringement, as what actually happens with most gun-control proposals.

          If you believe you are upholding someone’s rights when you legislate, a closer look will show that you are in fact abridging someone else’s rights in order to confer a benefit on the beneficiary, or you are politically adjudicating a competing-rights claim in a winner-loser outcome. A minimum-wage law curtails the employer’s right to pay what the work is worth in order to confer an unearned benefit on the worker. A law enshrining abortion rights forecloses on the idea that a fetus has rights in order to award a right of unlimited choice to the pregnant woman. There is nothing wrong with politically advocating in favour of either of these positions. But you can’t pretend that there is no allowable argument against them just because the anti positions may have religious motivation, or be held by people who happen to be religious. And some atheists oppose unlimited abortion even if none, by definition, believe anyone least of all a fetus has a soul.

          Suppose you did arm-twist the anti-abortion voters into admitting that they were all evangelical Protestants and that’s why they won’t let pro-choice laws pass in their state. You demand they justify their beliefs with evidence. They tell you to pound sand and move on to the next topic. Abortion remains a criminal offence.

          You might think you have a right to demand that they prove the existence of God to your satisfaction before you allow them to prosecute abortionists. But you don’t. They just proved it.

  12. I agree with you. deBoer missed out on basic critical thinking skills training, including watching out for all those logical fallacies spun out by political “leaders” and the mis-educated public…

  13. ” Because the ground changed underneath us to such an extent that, well, millions of functioning adults proudly endorse astrology and other hooey in public.” Maybe the ground did not change in the direction DeBoer fears. A major source of hooey has long been “Coast to Coast AM”, a late night radio talk show concerned primarily with astrology, telepathy, ghosts, angels, alien abductions, conspiracies, etc. etc. . Wiki reports that its audience has dropped from 10 million to around 2.5 million since 2013.

    1. Similarly if you visit any large UK graveyard you will find a considerable number of flowers (real or artificial) on graves. In particular the graves of children are often decorated with pictures, miniature sports jerseys, and solar powered led lights.

      At one time the departed ‘souls’ were entrusted to god. It seems that people no longer have the same confidence in god so they add extra hooey.

    2. It seems possible that the audience decline for this one radio program is because there are now many more sources of ‘entertainment’ online.

  14. Everything I’ve ever read about the rise and fall of New Atheism was a “just so” story, including DeBoer’s piece (whom I also generally like reading). New Atheism as a “thing” was always centred around debunking specific religious claims, mostly by the likes of Hovind, Dembski, Craig, and Comfort or misnamed sites like Answers in Genesis or the Discovery Institute (who never offered an answer, and didn’t discover anything).

    I don’t try to be obtuse, I see no way how one would “browbeat believers” — implied random religious people. Someone has to announce their religiosity, and advance specific assertions that could be debunked. It can only “restore a little stigma” for having silly beliefs when you say clearly that is in fact an eccentric belief to assume a virgin mother existed that gave birth to a deity who is his own father and who was sacrificed to lift a curse he himself imposed on humankind.

    DeBoer is trafficking in false stereotypes that are lingering around from the special respect people give to religion, and from the relentless propaganda machine of kumbaya “believers in belief”, and their armies of self-styled fence-sitting accommodationists and their fake fakery lies how atheists want to kill off believers. No matter how often it was explained to them, New Atheism was always seen as shrill, fundamentalist and suchlike. It’s not that religious people and their accommodationist friends are dumb. Fundamentalists can‘t imagine non-fundamentalism, and the bulk of believers-in-belief crave the superiority of being above “both sides” who they deem “too extreme”. To the liberals like this I just wish to say: I hope you enjoy your accommodationism with the Catholic Supreme Court.

    In reality all that was ever asked by New Atheism was that (1) religious people refrain from imposing their faith on others (2) that atheism isn’t seen as nihilism or psychopathy, which is still the case in the USA, and (3) that empirical assertions are open to challenge, especially when they seek to establish truths that are used to leverage the first two points.

    PS: is everyone else also always tagged “in moderation” when posting via wordpress reader?

    1. ” I see no way how one would “browbeat believers” ”

      Exactly. I have been accused of that in other forums, where religious people come to challenge atheists, and then when they are responded to somehow I am seen as “browbeating”.

      Pisses me off.

  15. I think what deBoer is trying to express is that the ideas of New Atheism aren’t considered politically important by the current progressive left. This is very different from the time, now decades ago, when the left was very concerned with opposing the “Religious Right” and fighting against Creationism in schools. Note there aren’t many articles these days from the leftist perspective about fundamentalist Christians trying to impose Bible views against Evolution (not zero, but such articles are nowhere near the number in the past). Even the resurgent abortion battles have very little framing as driven by fundamentalist religion, as that’s subsumed into a perspective of general misogyny.

    Thus the New Atheists are viewed, strictly from this perspective, as a sort of old white guy thing of irrelevant hobbyhorse politics, which also has in the left viewpoint some extremely suspicious anti-Muslim right-wing aspects. It’s considered a “stale pale male” who is loudly arguing about something trivial but which they think is important, the very essence of the current concept of what a proper progressive should not do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing this is good. But it’s clear how and why it’s perceived that way. It’s not helped by the very anti-SJW views of many leaders, which increases that dynamic.

    But deBoer himself is an old-school leftist, which prominently values materialism as a politically important matter. This leads to the personal conflict he’s talking about, how not to have rejecting New Atheism as a movement itself feed into rejecting materialism from a kind of guilt-by-association.

    Again, it comes down to a debate – is Atheism (really anti-religionism) politically important for the left?
    If so, how to make that case to leftists where they are, rather than where you wish they would be?

    1. The ideas of New Atheism have been under attack for the reasons deBoer specifies since they were first raised. And why does atheism have to be “politically” important instead of “culturally” important? I never thought of my atheism as motivated by a desire to fix politics, but rather as a result of thinking that one has to have good reasons for what one believes.

      1. Yes, the attacks are not new – but the specific political landscape has changed much over the years, which then changes how much traction certain attacks get, versus how much counter-balance there is.
        The difference between “political” and “cultural” is the difference between often being regarded as an underdog activist versus a moralizing busybody.

  16. The phenomenon of New Atheism was largely a media creation. What happened was some folks wrote bestselling books and an emerging audience realized they weren’t the only ones. If they were strident occasionally, well sometimes to get service at the bar you have to use your elbows. The demographics are pretty clear. American religiosity is on the decline. Will we ever attain European levels of secularity? Hard to say. But the “mind your own business” attitudes of the so-called “Nones” is a good start. The Religious Right will still make much mischief but their recent successes had to be imposed because they can’t convince anybody anymore. And nothing makes people hate them more than putting them in charge.

  17. The main difference between Old Atheists and New Atheists is that the latter are not prepared to keep their views to themselves. That seems to upset some people, not all of them believers. Tough.

  18. I’ve been an atheist since I was about eight years old, and I’ve had many conversations about the non-existence of God since. They are often difficult conversations. Either I end up alienating the other person or in some way influencing them such that they avoid me from that point on or they avoid discussing the topic ever again. In one recent case, the other conversant got visibly angry. Lest I misinterpret his affect, he also made verbally clear that he was angry, accusing me of “blowing it out my ***” when I told him that I would not accept his extraordinary claim unless he provides extraordinary evidence. My guess is that we will never touch the subject again.

    Am I shrill? I don’t think so. Strident? I don’t think so. But perhaps to believers, I strike nerves that cause them to lash out. Since they have no logical argument to make, all they can do is call me names. Am I the shrill one? Or do they resort to yelling because they know that they have nothing more to say? I think the latter. Since I don’t want to die friendless, and because I don’t like being called names, I must admit that I hold back to avoid backing my conversant into a corner.

    I think that we atheists sometimes give religionists a pass simply to keep the peace. That said, I do think that we are winning the battle.

  19. The religious impulse is deeply rooted in human psychology, and if organized religion is on the wane it is likely that something psychologically equivalent is filling the gap.

    John McWhorter thinks that woke ideology stems from a religious impulse, and he is probably right.

    I would argue that extreme environmentalism is also a quasi-religious movement.

    So, I would say that organized religion is indeed dying, but that other, equally bad ideologies are filling the vacuum.

  20. 2.) People accused the New Atheists of being strident and trying to wrest religion from believers.

    The religious, known for “spreading the word,” don’t like it when atheists say anything whatsoever. But religion is bad not just wrong because belief in all that hooey makes people lose respect for science, and that makes them bad citizens.

Leave a Reply