The Receding Tides of New Atheism

The story of the West is so bound up in the story of Christianity that it is easy to forget the water we are all swimming in. This is true of the moral values we deem worth fighting for: “when we exalt humility and compassion, or champion the equality and dignity of every human being, we are walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.” 

If anyone should tell the story of how secular thinkers are considering Christianity again, it is someone with a front row seat to the show.

Justin Brierley fits that bill.

As host of Unbelievable?—a podcast which regularly brings Christian and secular thinkers together— Brierley ponders the flaws and strengths of different answers to life’s bigger questions.

Over his career Brierley has noticed a trend: New Atheism has grown old and many are giving Christianity a fresh look. In his own words:

I believe we are seeing the firstfruits of the returning tide in the lives and stories of a number of public intellectuals who are finding themselves surprised by the continuing resonance of the Christian story. (4)

In The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God, Brierley considers why.

The Pipe Dream of New Atheism

Many people lost their religious faith while reading Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and other bestselling “New Atheists” in the 2000s. Today over half the people in the UK—where Brierley lives and works—claim no religion. It’s similar in Australia—almost forty percent of people reported “no religion” in our last national census.[1] Yet Brierley asserts that New Atheism is “a largely spent force, relegated to corners of the Internet … It has faded from public view as a serious cultural phenomenon” (25).

What caused the New Atheism craze to fizzle? For starters: public distaste for the arrogance of its most vocal proponents, and schisms within the movement itself (it turns out New Atheism has heretics and denominations of its own). But the main reason for the fizzle was that “atheism was shown to be a very thin worldview, not one that could provide a reason for living” (28). It fails to provide the mental and spiritual resources needed to navigate the meaning crisis of our current day. Even when it tries, it tends to borrow from Christianity:

New Atheism’s religion-less utopia has proved to be a pipe dream…many modern atheists fail to recognise the degree to which their vision of the good life is a product of the Christian culture that preceded them. (56)

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