The Alleged End of Atheism

Writing a response disputing the assertion that “the New Atheism” “is done for” because “public Christianity is done for” seems to play well into the assertion itself, but such is the task of proving a specious argument false. Worse, it usually takes longer, but I’ll attempt it anyway.

[Much of the following can be gleaned from a Wikipedia review, or, more laboriously, from an examination of news articles, reports, and several publications, but I think it’s handy to put it all in one place in order to counter the argument that “the New Atheism” was somehow dependent on Christianity to survive.]

I judge it worthwhile to begin by reminding Z-Man where “New Atheism” got its start: a little book called, The End of Faith, written by one of the men he mentioned in his essay, Sam Harris. That little book opened by blaming the September 11, 2001, terror attacks targeting the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and (presumably) the Sears Tower upon the religion of Islam and its adherents, Muslims. He literally describes Islam as a “cult of death.” The opening salvo was against Islam. His follow-on book, Letter to a Christian Nation, was written to address many comments from his American readers, mostly to address what Harris perceived to be conflicts between the motives and goals of professed Christians against actual Christian scripture and customs. Generally speaking, his opinion is that the religions we have inherited from our ancestors inhibit our ability to examine the world around us and our fellow men, and to create a better world for all people. “The New Atheism” is, at its core, a globalist movement, even if its advocates are mostly confined to the Western world. [Perhaps (((globalist))) is a more accurate description.]

Before that, Christopher Hitchens wrote a book titled, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, which he followed with critical reviews of the men Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger. What many forget is that he long had a friendship with Salmon Rushdie, whose publication of Satanic Verses, earned a price for his head, literally. Any assertion that Hitchens’ depended upon Christianity for his “antitheist” position fails on an examination of the man’s life and writing. Hitchens’ most extensive writing against religion, god is Not Great [sic], lays the usual atheist arguments, and takes the time to not only describe how the Old Testament (Judaism) and New Testament (Christianity) are (allegedly) awful, but also accuses the religion of Islam of plagiarism from the other two, and calls its “prophet” a liar.

Dawkins position is similarly confounding to Z-Man’s argument. He wrote The God Delusion in 2006. I read the book circa 2009-2011. [I can’t recall if it was among my “Glasgow reading” or among my “Return Reading.”] As a Wikipedia review will also remind you, the purpose of Dawkins book is to take the slur from the word “atheist” and to remind people that religious presuppositions are often wrong upon a rudimentary examination. His main points: 1) atheists are not universally miserable people; 2) a son does not automatically adhere to his father’s religion, and so describing a child as, for example, “Muslim,” is self-evidently a lie, 3) “evolution” and “natural selection” better describe not only speciation but also the origin of all life on Earth versus any religious creation narrative, 4) atheists should not flee from the label “atheist.”

Daniel Dennett, the “Fourth Horseman” of the Atheist Apocalypse, is more obscure, mostly because he is the most academic, (currently) teaching philosophy at Tufts. His first notable area of interest was theory of the mind, well described by the question, “What is consciousness?” This eventually led him to consider Darwin’s theories, which, in turn, led him to examine religion, specifically. His book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, argues that religion should be studied and subject to scientific inquiry.

Letter to a Christian Nation in 2006 through to god is Not Great in 2007 created substantial interest in atheism. That culminated in a private two-hour recorded discussion at Hitchens’ residence among Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris in 2008. One person invited cancelled at the last minute: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a refugee born in Mogadishu who fled Somalia to avoid an arranged marriage who, at the time, was still a professed Muslim. The renunciation of deity for her was prompted by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She asserts that she agreed with Osama bin Laden that the Koran justified the attacks, and this plain reading of her Muslim scripture began her departure from faith. She also read the essay “Atheist Manifesto” by Herman Philipse, a Dutch philosopher, which she credits with the final break from belief in a monotheistic (or any other) god.

So, what is “the New Atheism,” really? Well, before we go there, let’s detour a little to another well-known author who is no well-known among the general public, but among the Dark Enlightenment: Curtis Yarvin, also known as, Mencius Moldbug. In 2007, he posted a short essay titled, A Formalist Manifesto. Here’s the opening from that essay, abridged and edited to make the trend among all these six people clear. Apologies to Mr. Yarvin. I also apologize to the reader for the remaining length even after editing, but even if you’ve read Unqualified Reservations, I urge you to read this opening again.

The other day I was tinkering around in my garage and I decided to build a new ideology. First of all, you can’t just build an ideology. They’re handed down across the centuries, like lasagna recipes. They need to age, like bourbon. You can’t just drink it straight out of the radiator. And look what happens if you try. What causes all the problems of the world? Ideology, that’s what. What do Bush and Osama have in common? They’re both ideological nutcases.

It’s simply not possible to build a new ideology. People have been talking about ideology since Jesus was a little boy.  First, of course, there are a couple of beautifully aged traditional ideologies which the Internet now brings us in glorious detail. They go by lots of names, but let’s call them progressivism and conservatism.

My beef with progressivism is that for at least the last 100 years, the vast majority of writers and thinkers and smart people in general have been progressives. Therefore, any intellectual in 2007 is basically marinated in progressive ideology. Perhaps this might slightly impair one’s ability to see any problems that may exist in the progressive worldview.

As for conservatism, not all Muslims are terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslims. Similarly, not all conservatives are cretins, but most cretins are conservatives. The modern American conservative movement has been distinctly affected by this audience. It also suffers from the electoral coincidence that it has to despise everything that progressivism adores, a bizarre birth defect which does not appear to be treatable.

Most people who don’t consider themselves “progressives” or “conservatives” are one of two things. Either they’re “moderates,” or they’re “libertarians.”

In my experience, most sensible people consider themselves “moderate.” Considering the vast tragedies wrought by 20th-century politics, this attitude is quite understandable. It is also, in my opinion, responsible for most of the death and destruction in the world today. Moderation is not an ideology. It is not an opinion. It is not a thought. It is an absence of thought. If you believe the status quo of 2007 is basically righteous, then you should believe the same thing if a time machine transported you to Vienna in 1907.

But if you went around Vienna in 1907 saying that there should be a European Union, that Africans and Arabs should rule their own countries and even colonize Europe, that any form of government except parliamentary democracy is evil, that paper money is good for business, that all doctors should work for the State, etc., etc.—well, you could probably find people who agreed with you. They wouldn’t call themselves “moderates,” and nor would anyone else. No, if you were a moderate in Vienna in 1907, you thought Franz Josef I [Emperor of Austria] was the greatest thing since sliced bread. So which is it? Hapsburgs, or Eurocrats? Pretty hard to split the difference on that one. In other words, the problem with moderation is that the “center” is not fixed. It moves. And since it moves, and people being people, people will try to move it. This creates an incentive for violence.

That leaves libertarians. Now, I love libertarians to death. In my opinion, anyone who has intentionally chosen to remain ignorant of libertarian (and, in particular, Misesian–Rothbardian) thought, in an era when a couple of mouse clicks will feed you enough high-test libertarianism to drown a moose, is not an intellectually serious person. On the other hand, it is hard to avoid noticing two basic facts about the universe. One is that libertarianism is an extremely obvious idea. The other is that it has never been successfully implemented. This does not prove anything. But what it suggests is that libertarianism is, as its detractors are always quick to claim, an essentially impractical ideology.

So this is why I decided to build my own ideology—“formalism.” Of course, there is nothing new in formalism. Progressives, conservatives, moderates, and libertarians will all recognize large chunks of their own undigested realities. Even the word “formalism” is borrowed from legal formalism, which is basically the same idea in more modest attire. Most everything I have to say is available, with better writing, more detail and much more erudition, in Jouvenel, Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leoni, Burnham, Nock, etc., etc. If you’ve never heard of any of these people, neither had I until I started the procedure. Replacing your own ideology is a lot like do-it-yourself brain surgery. It requires patience, tolerance, a high pain threshold, and very steady hands. Whoever you are, you already have an ideology in there, and if it wanted to come out it would have done so on its own. There is no point in starting this messy experiment only to install some other ideology that’s the way it is just because someone said so.

That said: the basic idea of formalism is just that the main problem in human affairs is violence. The goal is to design a way for humans to interact, on a planet of remarkably limited size, without violence. Especially organized violence. Next to organized human-on-human violence, a good formalist believes, all other problems are basically insignificant. Perhaps once we get rid of violence we can worry a little about Moral Decay, but given that organized violence killed a couple of hundred million people in the last century, whereas Moral Decay gave us “American Idol,” I think the priorities are pretty clear.

The key is to look at this not as a moral problem, but as an engineering problem. Any solution that solves the problem is acceptable. Any solution that does not solve the problem is not acceptable.

Curtis wrote this, I’ll remind you, in 2007. He, and everybody else not living under a rock, had experienced the cultural and social changes following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, followed by years of Mideast war. Just around the corner loomed the impending economic collapse of the housing bubble which ushered into office Obama and the interminable economic malaise we still endure today, despite Trump’s assertions to the contrary. I submit that on September 11, 2001, everybody became a New Atheist, the only difference among us was this: which of your gods died when the Twin Towers fell? The four horsemen didn’t lose faith in God, per se, but in the ability of men who believed in God to make rational decisions: they lost faith in men who worship God. Curtis Yarvin, I think, lost faith politics, social order, and “the way things are.”

“The New Atheism” isn’t anchored to Christianity any more than Christianity is anchored to Zoroastrianism. The anchor of “the New Atheism” is the ongoing wars between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity (among others). These wars seem unlikely to abate soon. So, while I can appreciate the confusion among various denizens of the Dark Enlightenment regarding the apparent collapse of “the New Atheism,” I would caution that they may be conflating “the New Atheism” with “Atheism Plus.”

But that’s a whole other topic.