The New Atheists, like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens and many others, purported to offer a sane, secular attempt to roll back religiosity for the betterment of society. Instead, their efforts have begat the mother of all calamities.
How did this come to pass?
Scientific atheism, as promoted by the New Atheists, lacks any unifying central structure or code. Essentially it is based on a negative — not believing in God. So it can’t have a defining structure. Richard Dawkins, one of the most prominent New Atheists, tried to answer this with his ‘brights’ — which was an embarrassment. (Since at least 2014, Dawkins has self-identified as a ‘secular Christian’ anyway.)
After the Enlightenment and especially the French Revolution, European secularism based itself around Reason as the core methodology that would replace, in the minds of those who were atheist, religious belief. This reflected a rejection of hierarchical religious authority, which had begun in the Reformation. The works of philosophers like Descartes, Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant and Paine promoted the idea of the free-thinking individual whose intellectual scalpel was Reason. Both of these were exported to the US.
In the 19th century, another system appeared, which was far more orthodox than the loose network of ideas promulgated by the 18th century philosophers and founded upon the individual application of reason. Effectively this was a materialist religion, and we know it as Marxism. This was not the only form of socialism and Marx was by no means either the first or the only one to write in this area; but only his ideas had, at their core, the reworking of theology that made Marxism a cult.
Further, Marx was not only overtly atheist in his philosophy, the destruction of traditional religion is central to his cult. The direct result of this was first, that organised atheism began to appear for the first time, under the banner of Marxism and then communism. Secondly, in recent decades, as people began to be more disillusioned with Christianity, they found, within Marxism, a system of belief that could replace it. The New Atheists and many other intellectuals may still be using the old system of Reason as their constant, but the ground has been steadily eroded from beneath their feet.
There are two major reasons for this. The first was the debunking of Scientific Determinism, upon the establishment of Quantum Mechanics by Nils Bohr and others. Now Physics — formerly made of girders and which always behaved in precisely predictable manners — looked much less solid.
Following on this and deliberately misinterpreting it the Post-modernists, notably Derrida, expanded this fluidity they saw in reality to allege — and this is held to be true in universities all over the West now — that there are no such things as facts or objective reality AT ALL.
It makes little difference that Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault, the principal French ideologues behind Post Modernism, were trying to find an intellectual perspective that could successfully deny the 200 million or so deaths at the hands of Marxists throughout the 20th century, and that this was cynical, deceitful and intellectually dishonest. The core ideology of the Marxist cult had been exported to the United States by what is now known as the ‘Frankfurt School’ and now Postmodernism was seized on as the perfect foil to the American media’s constant condemnation of Communism.
This was frequently hysterical and the media baron W Randolph Hearst has a lot to answer for here, including MacCarthyism, which served, in the long run, to make people distrust government. At the same time, anti-communism became identified, in the minds of liberal college professors and other intelligentsia, with all that they hated about the American working class. The Frankfurt School gave them a rejuvenated Marxism that was not a part of the old Communist party, and Postmodernism sanitised it.
The liberal distaste for ordinary people
Middle-class liberals of this order have never been able to understand why ordinary people tend to be conservative and typically suggest that it is because they are stupid or unsophisticated; Clinton’s description of working-class American voters as ‘deplorables’ during the 2016 Presidential Election shows that they have not yet changed their views.
In fact it is because they value things like family, community and tradition. Selling Communism in post-war America was never going to work anyway, since the working classes were doing so well. The dry rot of Marxism required the corruption of economic weakness to spread its tendrils out from the colleges and universities and into the broader public. The crash of 2008 may have been the final straw but the damage had been ongoing for decades, with high-paying manufacturing jobs being exported to low-wage economies outside the US.
The core of all this, however, is a conflict of religions. The West, on one side, is principally Christian. It is the backbone of European culture and can trace an unbroken line back to Rome. On the other is an array of political movements from feminism through militant atheism to movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ and, indeed, religions hostile to Christianity.
The secular movements that comprise this, though they appear to be quite different, are all informed by the same underlying philosophy, which is today known as ‘Cultural Marxism’. This is a conflict of beliefs, principally between a spiritual religion with secular overtones and a wholly secular religion, Marxism, with no spiritual content at all.
This is, as Marxism has always found to its cost, an unappetising repast. When the Soviet Union fell, the first thing the people did was to re-open the churches, and today Vladimir Putin, for all his adroit, Machiavellian political sensibilities, is careful to keep the Patriarchs on side. Formerly Communist Poland is now, once again, staunchly Catholic.
Cultural Marxism and New Age woo
Cultural Marxism, as opposed to the older, purely materialist form, has a card up its sleeve. This comes from ‘New Age’ belief and spirituality. Yes, the appalling garbage peddled by the likes of Deepak Chopra is Cultural Marxism’s equivalent of those charming Catholic parades, the Sunday-School plays or the church fetes that once attracted and held people to the community of Christianity.
When I was a boy, everybody went to church. Belief was not the point and to be frank, I don’t think many of the adults around me were committed believers at all. One went to church because that was what one did. My father put on a suit, my mother a smart dress, and my brother and I our kilts and sporrans and off we went — just like everyone else. It held the community together, gave it its social glue, was its network. Above all else, it provided a sense of identity. That was the church’s role.
Losing this has been grave. This is not just because it has allowed the efflorescence of New Age woo and, for many, created a pathway into other religions that are not entirely sympathetic. Worse, it is because it leads people seeking spirituality right into the hands of Cultural Marxism.
This has made the pseudo-religious mantra at the core of Marxism many times more appealing and that is, of course, what Derrida et al were attempting: to rehabilitate Marxism after Stalin and Mao, so that they could serve it up to a new generation of victims. Victims who have forgotten or perhaps were never told about the quarter of a billion humans murdered in the name of Marxism.
Add into this the ‘New Age’ movement, which is nothing more than intellectual laziness and touchy-feelyness and you have the core beliefs of the millennial generation. This has been a perfect storm and our culture will be lucky to survive it.
We must, as a society, recognise that all that is good about our culture is built on Christian foundations. That our culture was born in the glory that was Rome and passed through the forges of the Fall, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial revolution. That through this came the ascendancy of science and Reason, the Rights of man and equality under law, and our secularised, sophisticated, tolerant, egalitarian, open and welcoming. We must appreciate that this culture is a jewel; it is the finest the world has ever seen and the agent of humanity’s triumph.
The New Atheists
The New Atheists have endangered all of this through sheer hubris. They should have listened to Michael Shermer, when he suggested that religiosity might be hard-wired into humans. That it might have an evolutionary source and so, if we remove one religion, another would step in to take its place.
They thought that more people becoming atheist would necessarily lead to a more reasonable, rational society. In fact the very opposite has happened; the decline of Christianity is sending us back to a Dark Age of woo, post-modernist denial of reality and Marxist utopianism, while the astringent and masculine cult of Islam drives us like sheep to the slaughter.
Also published on Medium.