New Atheism As The Seed Of The Post-Religious Right: A Speculative History

Author’s Note: I am aware that HBB is primarily a gender issues blog, and I confess this article is somewhat tangential in its relationship to that subject. However, the wider ‘culture war’ context in which men’s issues are discussed needs to be addressed, especially since even discussing such issues is seen as participating in a culture war. In this article I write entirely from my viewpoint and not on behalf of anyone else. I also would like to point out that when I speak of the so-called “right”, I do not meant to imply that “right-wing” political positions are mandatory for members of the MHRM; I am speaking in terms of popular perception.

For veterans of the old Culture Wars between the Religious Right and advocates of secularism, the new Culture Wars seem almost incomprehensible. During the old Culture War, the “left” were socially liberal and fighting against the Religious Right’s prudishness, but in today’s Culture War taking a socially liberal position is called “right wing” and it is the left trying to censor speech. The two sides have seemingly swapped roles. This is further shown by how during the old Culture War, the “left wing” opposed theocracy, whereas today you’ll find zero complaints about Islamic theocracy on today’s official “left” and merely raising the subject is dismissed as racism.

How did this happen? How did we get from there to here? We’ve heard ideological explanations and economic explanations, but as I see it the New Atheist movement during the previous Culture War seems to have played a critical role in the shifts we have experienced. My theory is ultimately that the three movements which have recently emerged and been placed on the “right” – specifically Neoreaction, Ethnonationalism, and Secular Liberal Nationalism (the former two being properly called the “Alt-Right” and the latter being sometimes called “Alt-Lite”) – can be thought of as to some degree byproducts of or at least inheritors of the legacy of New Atheism.

This is not to claim that, say, Christopher Hitchens is “responsible” for Richard Spencer. What I am saying is that the New Atheist movement tilled the intellectual ground for what Ross Douthat described as a “Post-Religious Right.” It should be noted that atheism as such is neither a left nor right-wing stance in and of itself; atheism is merely the lack of a belief in deities, and in particular a lack of belief in an omnipotent omnipresent omniscient omnibenevolent creator-deity (such as that of Abrahamic monotheism).

1. The New Atheist Movement
Back during the culture wars that occurred under George W. Bush’s two terms as President, the hot button issues were evolution (and in particular the theory being taught in schools) vs. creationism and the issue of Islamic terrorism. The New Atheist Movement came together, generally in consensus, against the twin threats of Christianist theocracy imposed by the Religious Right and the Islamist theocracy promoted by groups such as Al Qaeda. Whilst many atheists disagreed with neoconservative foreign policy, they were aware that there was a deep conflict between the Western world and the Islamic world, and that in this conflict Christianists and Islamists were quarreling over the Narcissism of Small Differences; the West was defined by secular governance and the values and traditions of the Enlightenment, such as reason over revelation, liberty over slavery, individual over collective, and the achievement of happiness and fulfillment in this life rather than the next. Christianists and Islamists, on all these core values, were together with each other in opposing the Enlightenment. Even back then, the threat of political correctness and how PC is often used to justify the atrocities of (or deflect/silence criticism of) Islamism was frequently mentioned by figures like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. There were debates over how much fault could be assigned to Islamic doctrines versus how much could be assigned to western foreign policy, but the consensus position of the New Atheists was that Islamism did indeed have something to do with Islam, as opposed to having nothing to do with Islam.

We see, therefore, the following themes; criticism of Abrahamic Monotheism, secularism and a rejection of theocracy, a defense of the values of the Enlightenment, opposition to political correctness, and an embrace of evolutionary biology.

In what seems almost like the flashpoint of today’s Culture Wars, the New Atheist movement was split by an incident known as “Elevatorgate.” During this incident, Rebecca Watson (an online-atheist celebrity-of-sorts who seems to have based her entire appeal on the fact that she was one of the few women in the mostly-male atheist movement) was asked by someone in an elevator if she would like to have coffee with him. Ms Watson considered this a ‘scary’ and ‘creepy’ moment that signaled impending sexual assault. After some atheists, including Richard Dawkins, said she was overreacting, she accused Richard Dawkins of male privilege and ultimately accused the entire atheist movement of being full of sexism. This is surprising given that a few years before the incident she said the following:

“In the land of the nerds, the double “x” chromosome is queen. The lack of women getting actively involved in skepticism has led to a peculiar deification of any female brave enough to dive into debates, engage in philosophical arguments, or just withstand the flirtatious banter that permeates online forums. The skepchick is held up as an ideal in an intellectual community – a woman who is smart, interesting, and most of all, approachable.
Despite what I saw as a distinct willingness for men to accept and embrace (sometimes literally) skeptical women, there were just not that many around. Somehow, the word was not getting out” (http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/05-11-03/).

But in light of the immense horror she must have felt at being offered coffee in an elevator, and then being told she was a touch paranoid for suspecting that she was nearly sexually assaulted, she dramatically reversed her position. After deciding that atheism never embraced skeptical women, Ms Watson precipitated a sundering of New Atheism which leaves wounds that persist even to this day. This sundering occurred along eerily familiar faultlines; on one side were those who claimed atheism was a sausage fest, that it was racist and dominated by whites, that it wasn’t diverse enough, that it was Islamophobic, that atheism needed to kick out all the Libertarians and Republicans and that it needed to engage primarily in Intersectional Feminist activism. On the other side were those who disagreed with the proposition that New Atheism should be primarily about Intersectional Feminism, and that (even if this was sometimes implicit) it should be arguing for reason, secularism and science, against any superstition or irrationality, including not just conservative Christianity but also Islam, New Age beliefs and the like. To put it briefly, it was a split between the post-Enlightenment/anti-Enlightenment politically correct hard-left side of the New Atheist movement (who were attracted into it more as a function of being against Republicans than anything else), and those amongst the New Atheists who were loyal to Enlightenment Modernism and, perhaps at a subconscious level, saw the deep gulf in values that divided them from the Social Justice Warriors whom eventually went on to form “Atheism Plus.”

2. From Enlightenment To Dark Enlightenment – The Neoreactionaries
The New Atheist movement placed a heavy focus on reason, scientific research, and the eradication of irrationality. It is no surprise that communities sprang up which embraced these ideals. The “rationality community” (blogs such as LessWrong for instance) arose and devoted itself to refining the art of human rationality. The same kinds of people whom were attracted to New Atheism were often attracted to the rationality community; nerds, high-functioning autists, and some people associated with the tech industry (which, back at the time, was more engineer-centric and less bloated with marketing, HR and “tech evangelist” salespeople).

Unsurprisingly, given how the rationality community and libertarianism both generally share a cultural ideal of rational thought, it is unsurprising that there is substantial crossover between the two (for example, libertarian-leaning economist Robin Hanson blogs at Overcoming Bias, which is a rationality community blog and a precursor to LessWrong).

New Atheism and the rationality community were both, to borrow Rebecca Watson’s phrase, lands of the nerds. They were very interested in science, and in particular they were interested in the sciences of evolution, and well as human irrationality, so they could hopefully come up with cognitive countermeasures against phenomena like confirmation bias. The milieus were also comfortable with libertarian thinkers, even if they weren’t necessarily libertarian themselves. So what happens when one combines libertarian critiques of democracy (and in particular Hans-Herman Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed), the proposition that human beings are naturally clannish and prone to irrationality, and scientific debates over the issue of Human Biological Diversity?

This is the milieu from which Neoreaction emerged. The fundamental argument of Neoreaction is that mob irrationality is pervasive, democracy is dangerous, and human subpopulations have different levels of various psychological traits including intellect. If this reminds you of early 20s/30s/40s Progressivism, it should; the Neoreactionaries claim to be against Progressivism but they too believe in technocratic rule by an elitist brains-trust and believe that various human subpopulations can be more or less intelligent (or impulsive, or other traits). Probably the most controversial argument they make is that socially conservative mores are eugenic, in the sense that they propagate “good” genes (presumably meaning genes that promote the traits which are instrumentally useful for a technologically advanced civilization). These arguments cause deep conflict between Neoreactionaries and political correctness, the apparatus of which they refer to as “the cathedral” (synonymous with “the clerisy” or the institutions which determine cultural orthodoxy). Neoreactionaries, in spite of their break from libertarianism, are ardent advocates of jurisdictional competition; they believe that states should be small entities identified with one property owner who controls the land. Thus, liberties could (in theory) be preserved under such a system of “competitive feudalism,” at least as a niche market.

Whatever Neoreactionaries may believe or not believe in terms of religion (from what I know, most Neoreactionaries are atheists), their arguments are made in an entirely secular manner and even if they say nice things about some religions, their praise is entirely for the functional use of religion to encourage pro-social (as they define it) behaviors. Truth is irrelevant. A great example here is Stefan Molyneux, who in recent years has become an advocate for many Neoreactionary ideas; in an appearance on The Rubin Report Molyneux (an ardent atheist with years of anti-religious programming under his belt) said he now believed religion was valuable as a ‘noble lie’ to restrain the 1% of human beings whom are inherently sociopathic.

New Atheism was thus, in some ways, a precursor to Neoreaction. The fealty towards evolutionary biology, the worship of science (arguably to the point of scientism) and reason, the hostility towards political correctness, and the secular argumentation, are consistent features of both ideologies.

3. When You Give A Mouse Too Much Nietzsche… – The Ethnostatist Alt-Right
As I alluded to previously, Ross Douthat has argued that the religious right, for all of its flaws, is better than right wing composed of tribalistic racists that worship might-is-right. As he once put it, if you thought the religious right was bad just wait until you meet the post-religious right. The Alt-Right are what Douthat feared, and understandably so. Old Leftist Angela Nagle, author of the book Kill All Normies (in which she documented the confluence of Alt-Right views and certain parts of internet messageboard culture, in particular 4chan), echoed Douthat’s views when she pointed out that the Alt-Right are free of any Christian morality or compassion or the universalism (at least in theory) of the Christian faith.

The Alt-Right, frankly, is anti-Christian (see https://www.firstthings.com/article/2018/03/the-anti-christian-alt-right for documentation). It rejects Christian morality and is often inclined towards Nietzschean assessments of it. Many Alt-Rightists are literal Pagans, and many are attracted to racist versions of Asatru (reconstructionist Norse Paganism). The rest seem predominantly to be atheist. Richard Spencer in particular is at least apparently pro-gay; he banned anti-gay speakers from a conference he was organizing, and invited Jack Donovan (an openly queer Pagan Alt-Rightist) as a keynote speaker. Speaking of Spencer, a noted follower of Nietzsche as well as an atheist, he is also critical of the pro-life movement (see https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/this-is-the-alt-right-richard-spencers-horrifying-abortion-rant). If we are to, please excuse the coarse language, define the Religious Right’s two big preoccupations as ‘fags and fetuses,’ then the Alt-Right absolutely lacks those concerns.

The Alt-Right can certainly be fairly critiqued for its misuse of scientific evidence about innate differences between groups (for example, the basic contentions of libertarian Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve are well within the mainstream of contemporary intelligence research, but clearly this doesn’t imply Ethnonationalism of the kind Alt-Rightists support), but it still roots its beliefs in the concept and framework of evolutionary biology. After all, if Christianity effectively says race is meaningless since we’re all brothers in Christ, evidence (fabricated/misinterpreted or not) that racial differences are significant inherently casts some degree of suspicion on the Christian tradition. Evolutionary biology deniers in the modern west have, primarily, been Christian and motivated by Christian principles; to the extent that fundamentalist Christians have made themselves the enemies of evolution, they bear some responsibility for the ideological frame which precipitated the Alt-Right’s emergence.

The hostility the Alt-Right has for political correctness should go without saying. In addition, they fundamentally represent a secular cause, irrespective of what religion/s they personally embrace. They make secular argumentation, and ethnostates have no inherent religious allegiance. An additional point to mention about the Alt-Right is that, unsurprisingly, it is anti-Islamic. After all, Islam is not a religion which originated among European peoples (and according to the Alt-Right, only an ethnic religion is appropriate for anyone), but is a universalistic religion like Christianity and thus a religion with a desire to conquer all others and therefore is seen as an enemy of the European peoples overall. They may see it as encouraging ethnic mixing generally (and thus bad) or as encouraging Arabization (and thus also bad) but which of these two they despise is not relevant; to them, Islam is the destruction of the European peoples, and the way certain aspects of the European Migrant Crisis are manifesting provides them non-dismissable evidence.

And so, the Alt-Right shares with New Atheism an allegiance to evolutionary biology, a secular theory of governance, a criticism of Christianity and a criticism of Islam. This is the Post-Religious Right that Douthat feared; I can see why he feared it.

4. The Enlightenment And Its Enemies – The “Alt-Lite” Secular Liberal Civic Macronationalists
As Christopher Hitchens and Ayaan Hirsi Ali made clear, there could be no middle ground between the Enlightenment and those who hated it, whatever their skin color. The advocates of political correctness attacked them both for being consistently anti-theocracy, even though they were merely applying the same principles to Islamism that they applied to Christianism. Because according to political correctness, the same thing is terrible if white people do it, but admirable if brown people do it.

The Enlightenment was never perfectly implemented, and it came as part of complex historical processes which didn’t always sync up. People are, unfortunately, prone to hypocrisy, but that doesn’t mean the ideals they inconsistently practice are wrong.

This is the milieu from which we get the so-called “alt-lite.” None of them are creationists. Some are religious, but all are anti-fundamentalist and several openly critique and disown the Religious Right (Milo Yiannopoulos for example). This is a politically and even religiously diverse group, ranging from Marxist atheists like the late great Christopher Hitchens (a Trotskyist) as well as Brendan O’Neill (also a Trotskyist) (disclaimer: neither would probably identify as Alt-Lite themselves, and given Hitchens’ death he cannot truly be counted as part of the category, but they are considered to be such by their enemies), to Carl “Sargon Of Akkad” Benjamin and Dave Rubin (Left-Liberals with Classically Liberal sympathies whom are both atheists) and even the infamous Milo (a Catholic with Classical Liberal positions on domestic policy and Neoconservative positions on foreign policy; he does have socially conservative personal values but he opposes them being politically enforced). Maajid Nawaz (a reformist Muslim and Left-Liberal who used to be an Islamist), Paul Joseph Watson (a Classical Liberal) and arguably even Tommy Robinson (a British anti-Islamist activist) all fit here.

They are the modern manifestation of New Atheism’s anti-theocracy, pro-Enlightenment-values, anti-political-correctness, pro-liberal-individualism tendencies. They embody what New Atheism was when the argument got away from biology and focused on politics and philosophy.

This group, even though heterogeneous, promotes a secular civil society (irrespective of what their beliefs about private morality may be), a broadly liberal orientation towards political philosophy, hostility towards political correctness, and opposition towards Islamism. In some ways they are the closest inheritors of the legacy of Christopher Hitchens (even if only Milo, who lacks Hitch’s convictions, possesses Hitch’s wit). The nationalism they generally endorse is a liberal nationalism, meaning a civic nationalism that sees the nation as a focus of liberal values. This leads to a Western-Civilization macro-nationalism centered around those same values, which further leads to an intense critique of Islamism and sometimes advocacy of an Islamic enlightenment which would dethrone the reigning Salafist/Deobandist/Islamist theology within the vast majority of the Islamic world.

5. Conclusion
I almost wonder if Rebecca Watson would reconsider her actions if she knew the kind of thing she would unleash. But truly she didn’t redefine the political spectrum; Watson, like Gavrilo Prinzip, merely provided a flashpoint.

The New Atheist movement ended the previous culture war, yet in doing so it arguably defined the current one. It was sundered due to the actions of Intersectional Feminist, politically correct culture warriors pushing the anti-Enlightenment viewpoint. But those who dissented from the idea that New Atheism should primarily be about the complaints of relatively privileged western women didn’t always respond the same way. Some ventured into controversial regions of Evolutionary Biology – the hot topic of the day – and found ideas that radically contradicted the meta-anthropology of the Enlightenment and even some key ideals of Christianity. This led them towards either Neoreaction or Ethnostatism (the two ideologies typically classified as the “Alt-Right” even though the latter is far bigger than the former). We could provisionally argue the essential characteristic of Alt-Rightism (presuming that it is accurate to classify Neoreaction and Ethnostatism within the same broader category), therefore, is the proposition that Human Biological Diversity is both correct and also unavoidably implies a rejection of Enlightenment values.

Others continued the New Atheist legacy of advocacy for the values of the Enlightenment, in particular reason, science, liberty and secularism. This group is politically heterogeneous and contains several people who would’ve once been described comfortably as on the left, but whom are now frequently and unjustifiably thrown into the Basket Of Deplorables whether they want to be or not. This group, sometimes called the “Alt-Lite,” doesn’t see a conflict of races nor does it desire ethnostates, but it worries for the survival of liberal values given that said values are under seige from both political correctness and Islamism.

In some ways the present day Culture War looks like the inverse of the previous Culture War. Yet it is arguably a continuation of many of the hot-button discussions that were central features of the last Culture War; secularism vs. theocracy, evolutionary biology, political correctness, Islamism, and the values of the Enlightenment remain the driving themes. The New Atheist movement may have been instrumental in ending the last Culture War yet it seems to have set the stage for the current one.

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  • Chris

    Here’s my issue with Atheists. The original followers of Jesus preached that he was crucified and then resurrected and appeared to over 100 of them before ascending into heaven. If they had either faked his death or stolen his body from the tomb, they would know the whole thing was a lie, fake, phony, they were preaching a fraud. The Roman and Jewish authorities had a choice for them, renounce your heresy and save your life, or persist in preaching the resurrection and be executed for it. They chose to be executed, who would do that to protect such an egregious, preposterous lie.

    Let’s then assume the people who actually knew Jesus and had faked his death/resurrection and were willing to die defending that lie then wrote down the Gospels. They would have to kill off all dissenters of their movement who wrote down what really happened and burn all the legit Gospels. They would have to keep their own stories straight while dodging Roman and Jewish authorities and writing down the Gospels from separate locations.

    It’s still possible the story of the death and resurrection were concocted at some point over the next 300 years before the accounts were collected into the New Testament. The dissenters killed off, the actual written accounts all burned. But once again, the forgers are being persecuted to death seven times over, and also dying each time to protect their lies when renouncing them would spare their lives. It has to all be carried off not just in the Roman world but the Persian Empire, to the north of the Roman border and in Ethiopia with the Coptics.

    Not being preachy, just look at the story of the resurrection logically. Where else in recorded history have people died knowing they did so to protect a falsehood. A falsehood they gained nothing from protecting and everything from renouncing.

    • YetAnotherCommenter

      “Here’s my issue with Atheists.”

      This post isn’t about whether atheism is correct or incorrect, so your entire comment is off-topic. The point of the post is to explain the relationship between the sides of Culture War 1 (i.e. the socially conservative Religious Right vs. the socially liberal New Atheists), and the sides of Culture War 2 (i.e. the socially progressive SJWs vs. the various different factions of the anti-PC sphere alongside basically everyone else that isn’t an adherent of progressive orthodoxy).

      So don’t try to turn this into a debate about the validity of atheism. It isn’t.

      What I will say though is that your understanding of atheism is almost entirely Christian-centric, as if atheism is all about being anti-Christian. It isn’t. A critical part of New Atheism, as I pointed out in my text, is that their criticisms were directed towards Islam as well. Nor is atheism compatible with the religion of the Romans, nor that of (actually religious) Jews…

      But I’m going to humor your argument for a few minutes because I have nothing better to do…

      “The original followers of Jesus preached that he was crucified and then resurrected and appeared to over 100 of them before ascending into heaven. If they had either faked his death or stolen his body from the tomb, they would know the whole thing was a lie, fake, phony, they were preaching a fraud. The Roman and Jewish authorities had a choice for them, renounce your heresy and save your life, or persist in preaching the resurrection and be executed for it. They chose to be executed, who would do that to protect such an egregious, preposterous lie.”

      The problem with this argument is simple: EVERY religion with a long history (and some without long histories) has martyrs. Martyrdom is not unique to Christianity. So in other words, there are many, many religions where members of it have been forced to choose between death and changing belief. And whether one happens to be a theist or an atheist, one cannot believe that all religions are equally true, so this means at least some people have died for false beliefs (not to mention all the ideological martyrs that have died for false ideologies). The idea that someone would happily choose to change their beliefs under the threat of death simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

      Not to mention, you’re implicitly resting your argument on a false dichotomy. The alternatives you suggest are that either the writers of the gospels were consciously lying OR that they were telling the truth about a factual event. You’re completely ignoring possibilities like motivated reasoning or sincere-but-incorrect belief (not to mention the issues relating to the compilation of the bible, which you do allude to). You’re ignoring the concept of rational irrationality and religious fanaticism; people can experience (subjective) benefits like community and belonging, and a sense of being part of a special and separate and superior group to the “outsiders,” can experience the thrill of righteously condemning their enemies and sanctifying themselves as above all those lowly sinners…

      You also need to remember that the Christian faith promises eternal life and an eternal reward to believers. In such an environment, where such belief is consistently reinforced by a community of like-minded people (i.e. everyone functions as a source of reassurance to each other), the threat of death lacks teeth. We see this dynamic among Jihadists, whom are happy to die because dying a martyr gets them an eternity of virgin pussy. Presumably you don’t believe they’re going to get that… but they believe they will, and that certainly helps lubricate their passage to martyrdom.

      You’re also presuming that no Christians escaped persecution, that no one concealed their Christian faith successfully… Even in today’s world of high-tech surveillance, no law is fully enforced or able to be fully enforced; back in those times the law would’ve been even easier to circumvent.

      “Not being preachy”

      Yes, you are being preachy and you’re completely refusing to discuss the actual topic of the article. Instead you’re just listing your grievances against the New Atheists. Either stay on topic or get out.

    • YetAnotherCommenter

      Your post is entirely off-topic. This isn’t a place to debate atheism vs. theism nor was the article about that. It merely outlined a theory about the New Atheist movement’s influence on current-day discourse and the so-called “culture wars” surrounding “political correctness.”

      Theism vs. Atheism has nothing to do with it.