On the Problem of Evangelical Atheism

evangelical atheism

The term “evangelical atheism” may seem like a contradiction, but, hopefully, the image above clarifies what it means. It’s the zealous pushing of others to abandon religious beliefs, and it isn’t helpful to anyone.

John Lennon never, to my knowledge, publicly proclaimed a personal religious belief, but he didn’t apply the word “atheist” to himself, either; others did that. The same thing has happened repeatedly to Neil deGrasse Tyson, as he explains further, below. In both cases, these are people who are fiercely independent in their thinking, and not afraid to offend others — but that doesn’t mean they want to be associated with evangelical atheists, whose hostility to religion, and religious people, makes the world a more dangerous place. The more logical goal is a peaceful world, and that means one where the faithful and the skeptical can coexist peacefully.

For this to happen, work is needed on both sides, by the people on each side. The reasonable and moderate religious millions have religious extremists to (try to) calm down, each in their own groups, and they’ve got their hands full with that. It falls to non-religious people to deal with the extremists on the other side — the type who go beyond Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens, all three of whom conceded, in books of theirs which I have read, that they would change their minds on the subject of the existence of a deity, shown adequate empirical evidence for the existence of one. This was a consequence of the fact that all three men have written things based on rational thought. (They’ve also let their emotions get in the way sometimes, and become overly angry, but I’m referring to their better works, especially that of Harris.)

Evangelical atheists don’t write books. They can’t calm down long enough for that. Instead, they are more likely to speak out through angry and insulting videos they post on YouTube, harassment of believers (or agnostics, or those who simply don’t want to be labeled by others) on Facebook, and, of course, old-fashioned, face-to-face bullying.

I prefer the term “skeptic” for myself, as I have explained here before, for I like that balance struck by that term: insistence on evidence, balanced by openness to new evidence, even if it contradicts previous views (about anything). I also don’t want to associate myself with the evangelical atheists, which is the primary reason I abandoned use of the word “atheist” for myself, some time ago.

This made a few evangelical atheists angry, some to the point of losing all ability to reason (predictably), to the point of open warfare on my Facebook. To stop this, I literally deactivated that account for several days, that being the easiest option to shut that down quickly.

As for Neil deGrasse Tyson and John Lennon, I will let them speak for themselves.

Religious people aren’t going away any time soon. Neither are the non-religious. If we’re going to enjoy “living life in peace,” the hatred and hostility both need to go, from both sides of the “divide of belief” . . . and that isn’t too much to ask.

3 thoughts on “On the Problem of Evangelical Atheism

  1. Great editorial. There is another more widely used term used to describe “evangelical atheists” (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Atheism). I completely agree with your assessment of this movement, and have engaged in numerous heated debates with its followers. That it espouses an insular intolerance and hostility towards all critics is no exaggeration.

    Recently, New Atheist bloggers chastised noted writer Chris Hedges for not agreeing with their extreme views. The irony here is inescapable considering that Hedges once wrote a book (“American Fascists”) which exposed and condemned Christian fundamentalism in the sharpest way possible.

    As a contributing author on an atheist blog, I quit after a couple of months or so. The animosity directed at me for self-identifying as an “agnostic,” and for taking an empirical approach to the concept of god(s), was nothing short of vile. Even when I equated my agnosticism to Richard Dawkins’ “de facto atheist” admission (one of their former heroes), the New Atheists’ vitriol only grew stronger.

    From my vantage point, New Atheism has become so obsessed with its ever-narrowing rationalizations that it might correctly be seen as cult-like. Furthermore, it should not be surprising that some of its advocates are ex-Christian fundamentalists. Both, it would appear, have a predisposition towards absolutism and authoritarianism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s only one reason I didn’t use the “new atheist” label, and that’s this: I didn’t want to include Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris. I’m using “evangelical atheists” for people who are simultaneously more zealous, and less reasonable, than any of those four authors.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I appreciate the distinction. There’s the philosophical professionalism of the movement (i.e. the so-called “Four Horsemen”), and there’s the rank amateurism of its grassroots followers. The latter has not only taken on a character of its own, but is often at-odds with the former. What a bizarre sociological phenomenon!


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