Feb 232022

I am a New Atheist. In the late 90s and early 00s I fought in the BBS, in the online forums, and in the mailing lists. I IRC’d and engaged on the burgeoning web, and IRL. I listened to The Infidel Guy and The Non-Prophets, and I went to see Dawkins in person.

One of my core beliefs was that humanity is better off without religion. Religion introduces error and dogma unnecessarily. It appropriates human’s need for community and diverts it for its own ends. It hijacks emotional drives to steer people into atrocities. In summary, it always siphons off value to preserve itself, provides nothing of value in the best case scenario, and in most cases actively degrades humanity.

One of the reasons I thought this is because I truely and deeply believed my generation’s Big Lie. That lie being that All People Are (Roughly) The Same. “All Men Are Created Equal” taken to the extreme. There were many simple, obvious facts of reality that I discovered in my 30s that genuinely shocked me, because I had so fully believed this Lie. It would be like a Christian expecting Jesus to take the wheel of their car when they let go, and being honestly, deeply shocked when the car crashes. I still think this Lie is Noble, and there is some value to it… but ultimately, like all lies, it is destructive. I plan to write more about this Lie and my relationship to it in a future post.

This is important, because *I* didn’t need religion. To me, it provided nothing of value. I understood morality and why other people matter. I found it important to understand the most accurate model of reality possible, unfettered by convenient falsehoods (haha, see previous paragraph). I was self-motivated, socially isolated, and highly Open/Novelty-seeking. Religion was simply a thing that was wrong, and that often served as a handicap.

Since Everyone Is (Roughly) The Same, this must be the case universally. Anyone who thought that religion was net-positive in any case was a victim of religious brainwashing. They’d been deluded, lied to, or violently suppressed, into clinging to humanity’s most destructive parasite. It was my duty to help them break free.

I was so, so very wrong.

It turns out people are different. Shockingly different, in some cases. There are large segments of the population that need what religion provides. Their psychology is vastly different from my own, and they cannot live without the sort of totalitarian guidance that religions provide.

I would not have believed this if someone told it to me, no matter how much supporting evidence they threw at me. Even six or seven years ago I wouldn’t have believed them. I would have to see people freed from religion, drown for years, and then finally create a new religion from whole cloth to supplant the old one, to believe this. I would have to see it with my own eyes, happening in real time.

That is exactly what happened.

Over the past few years I watched a new religion born. A secular religion, which doesn’t have the dead-easy failure mode of requiring belief in a sky-fairy. But, since it was created in America, with strong Christian roots, it has all the trappings of Christianity.

Original sin
Repentance and confession
Manichean good/evil dichotomy
Focus on martyrdom and victimhood
Salvation dispensed by the church and needing constant reaffirmation

Even worse, since it is a new religion that is being seized as a lifeline by people who’ve been spiritually drowning for over a decade, it is full of fiery zealots. All conflicts are recast as spiritual struggles focused around the original sin. Like the puritans, they can harbor no dissent in their midst. Everyone must be equally zealous and on their side, or they are on the side of evil. Any price is worth paying to save a soul from evil.

When the scales fell from my eyes and I finally realized what had happened, I felt true crushing failure. Not because I had failed in my objective. Tradition religion is less relevant than ever. The New Atheists won. But in winning, having not realized how different others are, we left a massive religion-vacuum in society. We laid the groundwork for a new religion. One that had been purged of the greatest weaknesses of traditional religions, and with a dense underbrush of religion-starved kindling to tear into.

So, yes. New Atheism helped to create Wokeism. I repent of my ways, I was wrong. Religion is needed, and we should have focused on strengthening the least harmful religion(s) while tearing down the most harmful ones, rather than trying to eliminate them all. Forgive us, for we knew not what we did. :(


  13 Responses to “I Am A New Atheist, And I Repent”

  1. The situation is even worse than if it were actually a regular old religion rather than a pseudoreligion because it can’t be contained by our normal legal and social mechanisms. If someone has religious beliefs that suggest I’m an evil person, that’s fine, that’s their religion, and legal and cultural norms in the US prohibit them from using that to make my life too awful (not that they mightn’t still try). Wokism has no such similar constraints because it’s not legally a religion or seen by most people as a religion, so it has unfettered access to make demands of people even if they disagree with them.

    • I’m not sure I follow. Religions aren’t constrained from trying to make peoples lives awful by US law. You can see this reflected by religious groups organizing boycotts in as a means of financially pressuring groups or companies on issues they find important (i.e. gay rights) and pushing companies to refuse to associate with individuals seen as promoting views they find abhorrent.

      I agree the same is true of wokeism, but I don’t see what legal norms constrain religion and not wokeism?

  2. Atheism is like democracy – society (or an individual) has to be ready for it. Representative democracy wouldn’t have worked 1000 AD, and neither would have atheism.

  3. Heads-up: one of the groups narrating the sequences strongly oppose this post and cited it as an example of why they’re discontinuing their project.


    • We’d like to state for the record that this isn’t _the_ big reason, it’s one in a looong line of reasons, more of a “straw that broke the camel’s back” situation.

      • I am glad you responded here as I have been unable to find an email address for you guys.
        I am saddened to see your podcast go (I have a hard time reading), but I am glad you are standing up for your beliefs. I don’t hang out on rationality forums, so the problems you described on your website came as a surprise to me.

      • That is what I gathered from what you wrote on your page, but I didn’t want to put words into your mouth.

        I am not social in the rationalist community and avoid reading political posts because they are, too often, a poor example of rationality. It is disappointing that this is the case and I’d prefer it to be apolitical until it can do better.

        That being said, rationalist are people so I try to separate their personal views from Rationality; just like I try to separate scientists’ views from Science.

        Thanks for replying and thanks for the podcast.

        P.S. I think Eneasz is “genuinely interested in better outcomes for everyone” and I view this blog through that charitable lens.

      • Hello! I’m sorry to hear you’re stopping the project. :( I’m always trying to better understand the positions of sane people who disagree with me. Would either/both of you be willing to go into more detail about this with me? And if so, can you email me at embrodski@gmail.com? Thank you!

      • I’m also sorry to hear you’re stopping. As a trans person inclined toward this general clump of rationality stuff, I’ve seen some of the things you’re pointing at and I’ve seen them at a similar frequency since 2015 or so, at least on the Facebook and the people I’ve known know here in Berkeley. I’ve definitely felt frustrations along the lines you mentioned in your ending-the-podcast note about more than one source of content I used to regularly follow.

        I enjoyed your narration and absent contact information I just wanted to say thank you here for sharing your wonderful voices with me and I respect your decision to stop your podcast. I don’t think your work made the world worse; it certainly made mine better.

        Live long and prosper; I hope you go on to do other lovely things!

    • I’m sorry to hear they are stopping, they were doing good work. :( I am relieved that they don’t see this problem in Europe, though. Being spared the madness that’s happening in the US… well, I would’ve said it sounds great a couple weeks ago. Now that they have a major Russian invasion on their hands, I think I’d rather have the Culture War instead. Literal War is so much worse it’s hard to even compare them.

      That being said, if large parts of the rationalist community are alarmed by a harmful movement, I’d hope that other rationalists would inquire into what is causing this alarm.

  4. What is your reasoning for thinking people are significantly less religious. What is your reason for thinking this creates wokeism. I am especially interested in the connection here because you didn’t mention it in your post.

    Also : do you think wokeism would exist if it didn’t come with ready made enemies. I would actually argue that it was created by its enemies. Who do you think made Anita Sarkeesian big (while she was). I would say it was her enemies. They cause her community for form a group and they gave this group great recruitment material and a ready made enemy.

    The left, not the democrats but actual leftists are notorious for falling into infighting. My pro-tip if you have a problem with a left wing group is to do nothing. Don’t name it. Don’t argue about it. It will destroy itself. I am sure I recall talking to you in the past about how the left devours itself.

    • I think they’re less religious in part simply by living in a time period when they were more religious and comparing it to now (big differences!) and in part due to all sorts of surveys which show the same thing.

      I don’t think this *created* wokeism, only that it created a large population that was vulernable to it. There are many people who, unlike me, do not seek out novelty regularly, and do not tap a well of deep self-loathing to motivate them in their pursuits. They are extremely into community, and find value in being useful to their community, and want more than anything just to have a supportive community that tells them A – how to identify as members of that community, and B – what to do to be useful to the community. Church filled this role for HUGE amounts of the population. When a whole lot of people had to admit that religion is basically BS, they lost this. They were left with a gaping wound in their psychology, and their unmet needs were eventually met by wokeism.

      That is the short version. The longer version will be a post, eventually.

      > Don’t name it. Don’t argue about it. It will destroy itself. I am sure I recall talking to you in the past about how the left devours itself.

      Well darn it, that’s the problem! I come from the left! I’m really not happy with it eating and/or destroying itself! I want it to be better and stronger, so I can return there.

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