Apparently there was a Golden Age of New Atheism, wherein New Atheists were a respected ally of the Left, in good standing with the wider community. And then they managed to fail miserably, isolate all their natural allies, and now they’re hated by the Blue Tribe almost as much as the Red Tribe.
I don’t want to be a douchebag or anything, I love Scott Alexander’s work, but apparently I missed this Golden Age.
I first came out as an atheist in 1995, a good 6+ years before New Atheism became a thing. At the time there were no US Senators or Representatives that were openly atheists. The religious controlled all three branches of government, and it was understood that acknowledging one’s atheism would be a career death-sentence. Atheists were the most-despised minority in America, based on a wide variety of social metrics including “Would you consider voting for…” and “Would you allow your daughter to date…” and “Would you accept an X school teacher…” and “Would you have dinner with…”–scoring worse than every other demographic group in every region in the country. The media portrayed atheists primarily as soulless nihilists. Those on the right disliked atheist’s refusal to respect religion. Those on the left disliked atheists drawing attention to the impolite fact that God doesn’t exist, and rolled their eyes at how crass and boorish we were for not realizing we were basically farting in public.
Now there are still no open atheists in any position of power in the Federal government (one has the temerity to be “unaffiliated.” We briefly had an atheist Senator, who came out when he announced he was retiring.) Atheists only last year dropped to second-most-hated demographic, scoring above Muslims! The media portrays atheists primarily as asshole dude-bros. Those on the right dislike atheist’s refusal to respect religion. Those on the left disliked atheists drawing attention to the impolite fact that God doesn’t exist, and roll their eyes at how crass and boorish we were for not realizing we are basically farting in public, and tut about islamophobia.
Even die-hard atheists like Neil deGrass Tyson refuse to use the word “atheist” due to its long history of cultural baggage. The term “agnostic” is, for basically every practical purpose, simply an atheist who doesn’t wish to draw attention to or speak about their atheism. It is the fig-leaf that the Left has extended to non-believers that allows them to exist in polite company.
Things on the ground are better, of course. Young men have an easier time declaring their atheism nowadays–rather than working through whisper networks there is a decently thriving meme culture online where one can take solace, read about atheist thinking, and generally have a peer group. But outside of that enclave, nothing has really changed. As far as I can see, society never accepted atheists in any way. There was a bit of a fad which consisted of the learned and cultured opining on this intellectual scandal. That certainly doesn’t make the New Atheists a group that was ever in the wider Left’s good graces.
There may be other ways in which New Atheism has failed. But by the metric of Scott’s post “alienating a society that agreed with them about everything” it’s a non-question. The New Atheists were never accept. Atheists have never been welcomed, or even tolerated, by the Blue Tribe. There was no society to isolate, nothing to fumble.
The New Atheists did create a space for others to be able to say “Yeah, this is all BS, WTF?” and not feel like they are the only person in the world who sees this. I think there’s more to do, but at least they got that first step down.
I think this topic is definitely handled differently in different countries.
In germany, for example, there was an election a month ago so I’m not sure if there’s already statistics for the new Bundestag… (which is comparable to the senate maybe?) but here’s the data from the last Bundestag (2013-2017):
Christian: 403 -> 64%
Muslim: 3 -> 0,5%
No confession: 23 -> 3,7% (not sure what that means, it can mean “no religion” but also “christian but neither catholic nor protestant”)
Atheist: 3 -> 0,5%
No information given: 198 -> 31,4%
Source: http://www.kirchenaustritt.de/statistik/bundestag.htm (which is a website advertising for quitting church, so it might be biased and I don’t know where it has its information from but it looks realistic to me).
Apparently there was a study that failed to find a single person under the age of 28 who believes in a god in eastern germany: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2012/sep/22/atheism-east-germany-godless-place
So.. it looks like you don’t even have to pretend to be religious to be elected here. Even in the CDU/CSU (the C literally stands for “Christian”) 7% of the members of the Bundestag make no claims about their own religion.
And honestly, I think almost nobody here cares about religion EXCEPT fundamental islamist terrorism, which wouldn’t have much effect here if people didn’t care about it (I think we had less than 20 people die from that kind of terrorism in the last 45 years or so… and the black september in the 1970’s was more about the rights of palestinians in israel than about religion, so if you ignore that you can say we had less than 20 people die from that kind of terrorism in germany since ever).
I never felt alone as an atheist in germany. At around age 6 or so most kids know that there is no Santa Claus, at around age 10 most kids are fairly certain that there is no god either. I think. Santa Claus is easier to disprove because he’s supposed to appear at a certain time in a certain place and once you find the place where your parents hid the presents or see them putting them below the tree or something like that it’s obvious that it’s a lie. But most children notice at some point that asking god to solve a problem usually doesn’t get it solved.. and every time this happens a little faith is lost.
Really, we make fun of religiosity in the US.. like when some texan school decides to teach creationism as being equally plausible as the formation of planets / evolution etc it’s the same as when people are shown a globe and they’re supposed to point at a continent and fail at it. It’s a stereotype that US-Americans are badly educated, like Canadians being always nice and polite (and everyone knows it doesn’t apply to all of them, in both cases). There’s probably stereotypes for most nations or continental regions, but being stupid or being badly educated is probably the worst. (And I’m not sure if people still think most germans are nazis, if so then I guess that’s worse, but most seem to think we’re finical nowadays). And I think religion is closely related to that stereotype of americans being stupid. (And electing Trump but I’m not sure if electing Hillary would have made you look that much smarter).
Sorry, I just reread my comment (it’s more comfortable to do that after it’s posted for some reason and you see how it actually looks..) and noticed something I should clarify:
There are fundamental christian groups in germany too. There are a few children that are indoctrinated by their parents / church / whatever to ignore everything in school about evolution. But it’s a small minority so they can’t disrupt lessons that much without being excluded by the teacher. Parents don’t try to tell teachers what to teach in that respect, I think they’re aware of it being a lost cause, especially since the teachers have their guidelines that strictly tell them what to cover.
Basically, groups like that are viewed as weird sects or cults, like scientology and aren’t taken seriously. Nobody tries to pander to creationists.
PS: Sorry I didn’t check the parent comment and edit it accordingly before posting. It would be nice if gravatar allowed people registered with it to have a password and use that to edit their posts. :)
The religious problem goes deeper than just education, unfortunately. Many very intelligent and educated people still make all sorts of concessions to religion, and/or speak about how “important” and “necessary” it is for a functional society, and/or actually deeply believe in religion and somehow simply don’t apply their education and mental faculties to their religion. If it was just education, it’d be a much simpler problem to solve. :/
I know this is probably the idealization of someone half a world away, but Germany often seems to me to be the most rationalist-friendly country. :)
If that’s only from my comments, I’m sorry, I might be biased. It’s a lot easier to see the mistakes in other people’s systems than your own (or remember them), maybe because they can appear funny so long as you aren’t affected by them.
And we make mistakes too, for example we still have daylight savings time although we know it’s useless and it looks so difficult to get rid of it. I think our advantage might be that we got a complete overhaul of our democratic system because we were forced to do that (or got the new system forced upon us, not sure and it doesn’t make a difference).
For example, we held elections on weekdays before that (the election 1912 was on a friday) but it’s always on sundays now because that’s when people are more likely to have time for it.
I thought about something like that yesterday: Every law that was not changed (or reviewed) for 100 years should be reviewed by parlament.
Basically they’d get put on a stack, and every day the parlament has a session they have to review the oldest unchanged law, think about it if there should be a change, vote over it and if >50% vote to keep it then continue with whatever they’d be doing on that day anyway, else they have to propose a new law or abolish the old one. It would probably take 5min at most usually but society is changing so fast and things that happened 100 years ago are so disconnected from how we live today that they might be just plainly wrong.
Basically I thought about it because Spain is invoking some 300 year old law made after a revolution so Madrid enforce things how they want it now while Barcelona wants to secede. The case against Edward Snowden is mostly based on the Espionage Act from 1917. And every now and then some ridiculous law needs to get revoked because someone tried to apply it.
We don’t have that and with our constitution (and a lot of laws) being only 70 years old it’s not that big of a problem yet. But in a while our democratic system and laws might look as outdated as many others today.
And something else: Eastern germany, where it’s mostly atheistic (see the map I linked below) is also where the AfD (the party that mostly blames immigrants for every problem) got the most votes in the recent election. So yea, they might be less religious but they are also more likely to be (neo-)nazis.
Distribution of religion in germany: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Germany
How many votes the AfD got by states: https://i0.web.de/image/770/32546770,pd=1.jpg
So what I’m saying is: Our system got updated more recently and the obstacle to the nation becoming more rational isn’t religion here but we have other obstacles too.
I liked the for horsemen. But when I go to atheist meetups on Sunday morning because i got nothing else it so. Some groups are just about how there is no god and that people don’t know that. And then some groups are about life and progressive politics. But man,. Those groups about the art of atheism get real tedious. It is a simple easy question. You don’t need to go over the answer that many times.