Seth Andrews: Is the atheist movement dead?

Here we have a longish video by Seth Andrews (of “The Thinking Atheist”) addressing the oft-asked question, “Is New Atheism dead?” His answer is basically, “Hell, no!”

If you want to go straight to the question, start about 17 minutes in.  His claim rests on “New Atheism” not differing from “Old Atheism”, and on the observation the “New Atheists”, even if they don’t differ from the “old” atheists (he cites Russell, for instance, which is a pretty good call; go to 31:00), continue to draw capacity crowds. Further, secularism, as well all know, is growing in the U.S.  Nonbelief is clearly growing, and even if people malign the “Four Horsepeople,” that means that atheism of any sort is very much alive.

I like Seth and he pulls no punches: he notes at 27:16 that atheism has a diversity problem, with not so many women or minorities being part of the “movement” (if we have one), though that may be due to different degrees of religiosity and preference rather than to bigotry and exclusion, which is what the critics always proclaim about us.

The only issue I wish Seth had covered is whether if you’re an atheist, you must perforce embrace principles of social justice as laid out by certain bloggers whom I won’t name. I happen to believe, like Seth (see 1:03:00), that atheism entails humanism—that is, a morality that embraces the well being of your fellow humans rather than the dictates of a god—but that there’s no necessary contradiction between not believing in God and being, say, a Republican. I wish that Seth had addressed the “Atheism Plus” dictum that if you don’t believe in God, you’re a hypocrite unless you accept certain social justice issues.

But this is still worth a listen. I wonder if Seth speaks off the cuff, in which case he’s remarkably eloquent (and I think he is), or whether he writes this out in advance, in which case he’s not only eloquent but diligent!

 

50 Comments

  1. Chris G
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    You make an important point Jerry, about the need to recognise (and embrace) atheist Republicans (or atheist Conservatives this side of the pond, I’m British).
    Atheism simply means not-religious, nothing else can be presumed – you’ll need to enter into conversation to find out more about any particular atheist’s views/politics.
    I’ll make time later to watch Seth displaying the eloquence you admire. You made a similar point about Sam Harris recently (in your post about his conversations/collisions with Reza Aslan) – are you suffering from eloquence-envy per chance?

    • Curt Cameron
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      I think Jerry just admires eloquence. I recall his previous comments about the amazing Steven Pinker, being able to speak off-the-cuff in well-formed paragraphs.

      • Chris G
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think admiration and envy of eloquence are mutually-exclusive.
        I both admire and envy Jerry’s writing, continually amazed by the quantity/quality he provides for us lucky lot.
        Jerry – how many posts have you published on this site to date?

    • Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Yes, of course! I’d love to be as eloquent as those guys, and of course, the king of atheist rhetoric: Hitchens. But it’s a good kind of envy; I don’t begrudge them their talents, but want to emulate them.

      • BJ
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        I would be happy to have one quarter the elegance of Hitchens. That man was the gold standard.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

          If you’re gonna steal, steal from the best, I always say. 🙂

      • Jake Sevins
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

        I’ve only heard you speak once, Jerry, on the Waking Up podcast. I thought you were incredibly eloquent, even next to Sam who is among the most articulate human beings I’ve ever witnessed.

  2. Posted November 3, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    It always seems to me that the state of ‘being atheist’ is not a group. It’s about not belonging to a certain group(non-atheist). That’s the appeal to me.

    rz

  3. Stonyground
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    There was a big surge in atheists speaking out after the attack on the World Trade Centre. This initial reaction has gradually subsided over the intervening years. However, I think that, certainly in Europe, there has been a massive shift in public opinion in those intervening years. People who were formally only mildly religious have become atheist or agnostic and many have denounced their former faith. People who were indifferent to religion have now become hostile to it. Take heart, even when the progress seems to be glacially slow, it is only going in one direction. In the UK only really old people go to church, if it were not for modern medicine the CofE* would be dead already.

    *Church of England.

    • Chris G
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      I’m still not totally sure what the ‘new’ in ‘new atheism’ actually means.
      Some say it’s to distinguish from the ‘old’ or ‘vanilla’ atheism, in that it’s more on the attack – less passive, more pushing for the eradication of religion.
      I seem to recall Dan Dennett saying something along the lines of ‘Patience, religion is on the way out organically, no need to push’ (I paraphrase) but I’ve always felt offering a help in hand was never a bad idea.
      I wonder how many folk have read each of the four books that are regarded as starting the ‘new atheism’ phase?
      I managed Sammy H’s ‘End of Faith’ and Dicky Dawk’s ‘God Delusion’, but found Dan D’s ‘Breaking The Spell’ hard going, and Christopher H’s ‘God Is Not Great’ way too angry.

      • Pliny the in Between
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        To me the big difference between old and new is that in the past atheists felt compelled to engage with apologists as if the onus was on the atheist to argue their position. New atheists seem to recognize that the onus is on believers and once the first logical fallacy is encountered, all the machinations behind it are superfluous rhetoric.

      • Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        You have it. A new atheist is vocal about denouncing religion because it is not only a belief in a falsehood, but also because religion has been very harmful to our species.

        • Posted November 7, 2017 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

          Which is a bit weird, because folks like Marx and Nietzsche, not to mention Epicurus, also did that.

      • darrelle
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        A dirty little secret of mine is that I haven’t read any of them. I admit to curiosity about them and may very well read one or more of them some day, but . . . I was already an atheist before they were published and felt no compulsion to read them.

        By now having listened to talks and read articles by all of them for years I probably wouldn’t find much new to me in their books. Though their is always a benefit to reading a well written and reasoned book, especially by people you admire.

    • Kevin
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      The Church of England is sometimes referred to as ‘the Tory Party at prayer’.

  4. sensorrhea
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    God is all over the official Republican Party platforms, so I disagree with your statement “there’s no necessary contradiction between not believing in God and being, say, a Republican.”

    Here’s the link to 2016’s https://prod-cdn-static.gop.com/static/home/data/platform.pdf

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      The disgusting hypocrisy of that platform has a lot more wrong with it than religion, but that will do.

    • Paul S
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      From your link
      “Paid for by the Committee on Arrangements for the 2016 Republican National Convention
      Not Authorized By Any Candidate Or Candidate’s Committee”

      How many democrats have publicly stated that they’re an atheist?
      The list of atheists in office is fairly small.

      I know plenty of atheist republicans and Chicago is filled with religious democrats.

      Just say’n

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        You are confusing me. I do not see any point or argument regarding how many people have declared themselves as atheist to the fact that the republican party is highly religious. The religious right is and always has been a large branch of the republican party. Pence eats, breaths and sleeps religion.

        • Paul S
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

          Simply pointing out that you can be an atheist and a republican, contra sensorrhea.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted November 3, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

            Sorry, I thought Sensorrhea was saying the republican platform was covered in religion, not that there were no republican atheists.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted November 3, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

            Sure you can, but it helps to have a dollop of irrationality and self-loathing. Ask Andrew Sullivan — or ask the Log Cabin Republicans who were booted out of C-PAC a while back (the very same year the John Birch Society was let back in!) Are there any openly gay Republican officeholders?

        • BJ
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

          In a two party system, people vote for the person that best represents the totality of their views and/or the views most important to them. If you’re an atheist who has a deep belief in deregulation, tax cuts, etc., it’s entirely reasonable to be an atheist and a Republican.

          Just as there are gay people who are Republicans. It doesn’t make them any less gay.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted November 3, 2017 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

            I’m sorry but kind of have to repeat myself on behalf of the first comment. Surely you can find an atheist republican here and there but I do not think he said you couldn’t. However, religion and the republican party kind of go together like salt and pepper. I can find a hell of a lot more religious republicans in Kansas than there would ever be an atheist. Oh, those tax cuts are only for the rich…sorry about that.

            • Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

              Well since the original point in Jerry’s post was not that the Republican Party is atheist or even that the Republican Party is not overwhelmingly Christian but only that you can be an atheist and a Republican, which I think we all agree is true, I’m not sure where this subthread is going.

            • BJ
              Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

              In addition to what Jeremy said, I don’t think Sensorrhea’s post was addressing whether or not Republicans can be atheists. Sesnorrhea was saying that, unlike what Jerry said in his quote, there is, in fact, a contradiction between being an atheist and a Republican. I was refuting that notion by noting that it depends entirely on the reasons one is a Republican. It would only be contradictory if one is a Republican because of the party’s promotion of religion.

        • BJ
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, my comment was meant as a reply to sensorrhea. My bad.

          Jerry, if you see this, you can delete my reply to Randy.

    • BJ
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      In a two party system, people vote for the person that best represents the totality of their views and/or the views most important to them. If you’re an atheist who has a deep belief in deregulation, tax cuts, etc., it’s entirely reasonable to be an atheist and a Republican.

      Just as there are gay people who are Republicans. It doesn’t make them any less gay.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      It’s entirely possible to be an atheist and a Republican, especially among the “loose shoes” conservative (who tend toward a small “l” libertarian bent, anyway). But it’s impossible to be an open atheist and to get anywhere in Republican Party politics. You have to at least pay lip-service to the Almighty (as the Donald does). Hell, it’s hard enough to get anywhere in Democratic Party politics and be an open atheist, in our still religion-besotted land.

      • BJ
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

        ” But it’s impossible to be an open atheist and to get anywhere in Republican Party politics.”

        Hell, it’s nearly impossible to be an open atheist and get anywhere in Democratic Party politics. It’s just slightly less impossible.

  5. Mike Anderson
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I don’t like the concept of a an “atheist movement”. Or an “arithmetic movement”. Or a “spherical earth movement”.

    • Paul S
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      An outsiders perspective from someone who wasn’t moved to atheism, I think the movement notion is correct. There are many people who are moved to atheism because they’ve realized it’s ok to not believe in nonsense.

      Happily, my parents didn’t saddle me with religion.

      • Posted November 3, 2017 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

        Yes but an atheist movement implies some sort of body of people campaigning to promote atheism. I don’t really see that. I do see a secularist movement. Not many atheists say “you must stop believing in God”, they say “stop using your god as an excuse to mess with other people’s lives”.

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Every idea has it’s speakers or leaders and there is nothing new about that. It is good to have them but not necessary. Atheist numbers will continue to grow as the old die and religious ideology becomes more unbelievable and useless to people. It is a natural evolution of reason.

  7. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think that there is an Atheist movement to any great degree. There are however many people who would like there to be an Atheist Movement so that they can continue the Long March through another Institution. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_long_march_through_the_institutions

    Several charities in the UK have been taken over by people (SJWs) who spend their time politicking rather than in charitable works.

    Various Police Forces in the UK spend more effort in fostering social cohesion than catching criminals.

    I don’t expect there to be a god and I don’t trust organisations to resist being taken over by people with a political axe to grind. And that’s why I’m an Atheist Amovementist.

  8. Posted November 3, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think there ever was an atheist movement. I do think there is a freedom from religion movement, as exemplified by the FFRF. Its mission is not to convert the religious to atheism but to stop them from imposing their superstitious beliefs on others.

  9. Posted November 3, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Atheists are a diverse group of people. Some prefer to be called secular, humanist, agnostic or atheist. Some want to confront/fight religion. Others want to group together on specific matters of interest to multiple groups, whether atheist or religious. Some focus on church and state issues. Some focus on the military. Some focus on family life and social well being. Etc. There is not one pattern that fits all “old” atheists or “new” atheists. The “movement” of either atheism is
    away from religion(s). Let’s get on with it!

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    In related news, God asks “Is Nietzsche dead?”

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted November 4, 2017 at 4:46 am | Permalink

      Dear God,

      If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.

      F. Nietzsche

  11. Kevin
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    I think many Christian groups are aware that their membership is failing. Evolution and the the Big Bang are perceived (fairly erroneously) as being arguments favouring atheism, which has led some of the more reactionary theists to target these two theories and scientific thinking itself.
    I think the attempts to forward Creationism as ‘the controversy’ in science teaching has polarised atheist thinking, and in some cases forced atheists to take a position as a group.
    Biological science has moved forward in the last decades: the genome, neurology, medicine in general.
    It was actually fairly difficult to ‘come out’ as atheist in recent decades (for example in Ireland), and even if you did, you would have no ‘movement’ to join.
    Religious groups actively propagate their views, atheists less so I think.

  12. Simon
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Careful what you wish for.In the West, we had the principles of the enlightenment to keep us on the straight and narrow with the waning of religious belief. It is a mistake to think that either the Xtian belief in the value of the individual or enlightenment values are innate or inevitable with the progress of a civilization. With the erosion of both religion and enlightenment values, humanism is definitely not an inevitable result because it’s axioms are derived from them.

  13. kelskye
    Posted November 3, 2017 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    The difficulty of making a connection between atheism and social justice is working out which issues ought to be covered. The gripe I had (and still have) with Atheism Plus was the distinctive they made between their very specific set of social justice issues and what they called “arsehole atheists”. What they offered ethically distinct from humanism want clear, but the exclusionary nature of the association was. It was an ‘us vs them’ mentality without much of a distinction as to what made the difference. I pressed a few on Facebook to explain at the time and they couldn’t explain.

    You’d think ash atheist movement at the least would cover the intersection of religion and politics, and religion and morality. I don’t think it can take a stand particular moral values, though, given the disagreements between atheists as to what ought to be considered moral.

  14. Conelrad
    Posted November 4, 2017 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    I thought that the ‘new atheist’ label was first & foremost a publishing industry catchphrase. Four widely-read books appeared at roughly the same time, which were either hostile towards religion or at least clinically analytical. The people writing the ad copy needed a category. All attempts to apply this label to some sort of group or movement have merely sown confusion & dissension, IMO.

  15. Kurt Lewis Helf
    Posted November 4, 2017 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    The question is not whether you can be an atheist and a republican but whether you can be a humanist and a republican. For decades it’s been clear to me those are mutually exclusive.

    • Posted November 4, 2017 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      I take issue with this: the usual accusation is that you can’t be an atheist and either a Republican or a humanist. And that’s clearly wrong. You are likely right in what you claim, but that’s not the assertion of those who claim that there’s an ineluctable connection between disbelief in god and progressive politics.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 4, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        As to whether you can be an atheist and a humanist, Sartre wrote a tome about it.

      • Kurt Lewis Helf
        Posted November 4, 2017 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        Fair enough. Clearly, there are republican atheists; I’ll bet more than a handful in congress. My point was that the transitive property, in my opinion, does not apply in this case.

  16. Ken Elliott
    Posted November 4, 2017 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    This is great! Two of my idols coming together, sort of. Thank you, Jerry, for highlighting Seth’s oratory. I get a lot of satisfaction from Seth’s weekly podcasts in that he addresses important issues as well as has a fun time on occasion (check out his yearly ‘ghost story’ podcasts). I LOVE his voice and his way of speaking. He’s clear and precise in his speaking manner, which is quickly becoming a lost art, I’m afraid. Too many people on podcasts, on TV, and increasingly in the movies, speak with vocal fry and little to no diction. It may seem trivial, but to me it’s a travesty. I’ve had to stop listening to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe weekly podcast simply due to the vocal fry manner of speaking of some of the podcast regulars.

  17. Posted November 4, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    That‘s material for five essays. I promise this is only the uppermost pebble on a Mauna Kea.

    1) there is an atheist-skeptic corner however named, and a confluence of events and zeitgeist has made it a thing. Ripples of 9/11, Bush, Ratzinger, the Internet, MythBusters & science edutainment, Kitzmiller v. Dove, Wedge strategy and so on.

    2) If someone rejects the intuitive idea of movement, they should cite social sciences to bring up one of the many more technical definitions of social movements, as to not embarass themselves.

    3) The movement crystalized around “strident“ atheists with a vague naturalistic, scientific, skeptic outlook. Prototype became an anti-theistic Antifan (Antifan in a slightly technical sense, see Jenkins, 2006). This glued well especially with Dawkins’ “rock the boat” rhetoric, and the Out Campaign, and with the Big Four’s publications and promo tours in general. This led to an “accommodationist war“ with accommodationists, who subsequently faded into the background somewhat.

    4) Meanwhile, the zeitgeist brought a new thing perhaps called “Intersectionality movement”. It has its roots in Critical Race Theory and grew online in the postmodern inclined writer community in the fandoms of Tumblr, from where it infected bloggers and eventually came into the mainstream. Two major blogging networks in atheism provided a vector into atheism, which led arguably to an “Intersectional Atheism”. Atheism Plus was defacto Atheism Plus Intersectionality.

    5) Intersectionality is a creeping stealth movement that uses disguises. People refer to its ideology, but hardly name it. Atheism Plus is one example. Feminism today is Intersectional Feminism, and social justice is Intersectional Social Justice. This is not a conspiracy theory. All it takes to look at the jargon and tenets, e.g. safe spaces, cultural appropriation, microaggressions, lived experience, internalized misogyny etc.

    6) Intersectionality is hidden, but when it meets critics of any kind, it causes a massive inflammation, then scar tissue. Hence, Elevatorgate, Shirtgate, GamerGate, and the Campus movement to name a few. This movement’s main trick is to shift all attention on their critics, which are then placed on a stage and judged, hence it’s always about misogynists, racists, nazis etc. in an ever escalating manner to keep the spotlight there. Meanwhile, its own ideology creeps on in the shadow around the stage. Hence to this day, a prolific and outspoken community as atheists and skeptics never discussed anything and most are apparently not even aware.

    7) Seth Andrews, Matt Dillahunty et al are believers-in-belief of intersectionality and it is now, thanks to zeitgeist and disguise, the mainstream type of atheism in the US “movement”. See even MythCon. The inflammation was again caused by an intersectionalist, the spotlight was again on the critic. Again, nobody talks about intersectionality, and yet it asserted its hegemony again. Seth Andrews played his part.

    8) New Atheism was a thing thanks to its time. The new thing is Intersectionality, with its Intersectional Atheist submovement (of which A+ was an early attempt). Accommodationism is a more silent but big third faction more in the background. New Atheism and Intersectional Atheism are at odds ideologically, and there‘s also an element of fighting over hegemony and influence in the atheist movement.

    9) Of course nonbelief is growing, but atheism as a distinct blotch in the discourse space it is splitting apart and fading out, but the “drama“ between Intersectional and New Atheism will keep us entertained for a longer while. An atheist conference underscored what I wrote, and just invited core intersectionalists YouTubers Kristi Winters and Steve Shives to represent YouTube atheists (despite that their faction is tiny on the tubes). Stock up on popcorn. I look forward to the next season in the US atheist movement sitcom, and it‘s comically clueless characters, like Seth Andrews, Dillahunty, Silverman etc. It will be fun to watch how they react once they learn more.

  18. marvol19
    Posted November 5, 2017 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    Maybe it’s due to my tastes or efforts, but I don’t find the New Atheist movement to lack diversity at all.
    I follow quite a few atheists on Twitter and without actually counting it feels at least half are women – likely more. Nearly half of these are from ethnic minorities. Just the men are predominantly white but even there are a couple from other backgrounds – likely still in higher % then the actual population.

    It’s just that the first New Atheists happened to already be quite well-known before they moved to New Atheism. And chances were very high that middle aged+ white men were more famous than others. Still there is Hirsi Ali.


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