This one guy keeps sending me faux-sincere emails asking me to confirm that
atheism is in trouble.
Dear Mr. Myers,
Recent reports point to British atheism being in trouble.
With atheism faltering in Britain, is American atheism headed for trouble?
He only sends me links to two blogs, one titled “Examining Atheism” and the other called “Combatting Atheism”, which sound exactly the same, and are almost certainly also written by my very concerned correspondent. The kinds of ‘evidence’ he uses to show that atheism is doomed are the number of google searches for the word “atheism”, the number of immigrants to Great Britain, the publication of yet more apologetics from the likes of the tiresome Lennox and McGrath, and — get this — Ray Comfort’s new movie, The Atheist Delusion. It’s pathetic, wishful thinking on his part, nothing more, and the insincerity of his polite requests suggest nothing but dishonesty on his part. But sure, I’ll answer his question.
I would make two general explanations of that answer.
One is that we are seeing a shake-up within the atheist movement — there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the kind of atheism that is easy to measure with the crude metrics my correspondent wants to use. Let’s call it “Charismatic Atheism”, where people happily embrace the points of view offered by “thought leaders” like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, often without doing much thinking for themselves. That is a legitimate gateway into atheist ideas, and had a surge of success in the 2000s. It was a way to bring in a strong cohort of people who were quite open about saying that they were atheists.
But it’s not a long-lasting effect, and it’s actually antithetical to the strengths of atheism, which ought to be freethought, evidence-based thinking, and self-criticism. Hero worship is the path to orthodoxy and dogma. So while I might like Hitchens personally, and find many of his ideas worthy and beautifully expressed, I also consider him entirely wrong on some other ideas. Meanwhile, there are some atheists who practically worship the guy, use photos of Hitchens as avatars, and get very irate if you point out that he was also a war-mongering neocon. That represents a split within the movement, and demonstrates a growing dissent. We also see a lot of authoritarian atheists, for instance, or nonegalitarian atheists who despise feminism, and a robust atheism will not simply hide these significant conflicts in the name of protecting the idea that there is no god as dogma. But that’s all good. Atheism is not the kind of monolothic institution that, for instance, the Catholic church is, or other churches try to be, and that is exactly the way it should be.
For many people, atheism has become something we take for granted, and is not the primary cause we struggle to advance. There are other, more important battles to be fought. The label is less important than the body of secular ideals, and the failure of religion to recognize secular goals. More atheists are openly embracing humanism, especially in Britain, where the BHA is very successful.
Which brings me to my second explanation: that you’re finding fewer google searches for the word “atheism” (as if that is even a useful metric) does not change the fact that religion has failed to provide one word of truth, and that the defense of religious belief has collapsed into absurdist irrelevance. If you are citing Ray Comfort, or Kent Hovind, or Ken Ham to support your ideas, you’ve lost — they’re people who actively promote counterfactual nonsense. I see a lot of desperation for affirmation in Paul’s sad little letters, not confidence. That’s where I like to see believers, weak in their faith and grasping at straws.
Nowhere in Paul’s blogs does he present a speck of evidence for theism. He just whines endlessly about atheism, and he can’t even muster any substantive criticisms of atheist thought — it’s solely about how he thinks atheism is becoming less popular. That is not evidence that theism is correct. If I was the last person on Earth calling themself an atheist, it would not make any difference at all in the validity of that mish-mash of bullshit called Christianity or Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or Buddhism.
He can keep sending me his emails, though. His irrationality and desperation only serve to make me stronger.