Atheist pessimism about the atheist movement

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In 2011, atheist Jacques Berlinerblau declared: "The Golden Age of Secularism has passed."[1]

The atheist movement saw a number of setbacks during the latter portion of the 20th century and beyond in terms of historical events/trends. As a result, it has lost a considerable amount of confidence (see also: Atheists and the endurance of religion).

European atheist Jürgen Habermas

Jürgen Habermas is a prominent German sociologist and philosopher. Habermas describes himself as a "a methodical atheist".[2]

In a 2006 essay, Habermas wrote: “secular citizens in Europe must learn to live, the sooner the better, in a post-secular society and in so doing they will be following the example of religious citizens, who have already come to terms with the ethical expectations of democratic citizenship. So far secular citizens have not been expected to make a similar effort.”[3]

Atheist Jacques Berlinerblau

In 2011, Georgetown University professor and atheist Jacques Berlinerblau declared: "The Golden Age of Secularism has passed."[4]

YouTube atheist Thunderf00t

See also: Atheist conferences and Atheism and apathy

YouTube atheist Thunderf00t

YouTube atheist Thunderfoot said about the atheist movement after the Reason Rally 2016 had a very low turnout:

I'm not sure there is anything in this movement worth saving. Hitchens is dead. Dawkins simply doesn't have the energy for this sort of thing anymore. Harris went his own way. And Dennett just kind of blended into the background. So what do you think when the largest gathering of the nonreligious in history pulls in... I don't know. Maybe 2,000 people. Is there anything worth saving?[5]

In recent times, the number of people attending atheist conferences has grown smaller.[6][7][8] Atheist David Smalley wrote: "And we wonder why we’re losing elections, losing funding, and our conferences are getting smaller."[9]

Atheist Joshua Kelly

See also: Decline of militant atheism in the West

In 2015, the atheist author Joshua Kelly wrote:

...since the death of Hitchens: angry atheism lost its most charismatic champion. Call it what you like: New Atheism, fire-brand atheism, etc., had a surge with the Four Horsemen in the middle of the last decade and in the last four years has generally peetered out to a kind that is more docile, politically correct, and even apologetic.[10]

Atheist Revolution on stagnation in the atheist movement

See also: Stagnation of atheist apologetics

An atheist at the website Atheist Revolution declared:

I should note that doubts and feelings of disillusionment are nothing new for me. In looking back over some old posts, I can see them emerging in late 2010. I noted the stagnation in our movement as a source of frustration.[11]

In an Atheist Revolution article entitled Is the atheist movement really moving? an atheist declares:

...[atheists] can can take virtually any suggestion anyone comes up with and shred it into oblivion without breaking a sweat. But when we offer something we think represents an improvement, it meets the same fate. Are we moving closer to any sort of action..?[12]

Atheist philosopher John Gray on what scares the New Atheists

See also: Desecularization and Global atheism

The economist Tomáš Sedláček (left) and the atheist philosopher John Gray (right) at ZURICH.MINDS 2012

John Gray in his Guardian article entitled What scares the new atheists? wrote:

The rise of violent jihadism is only the most obvious example of a rejection of secular life. Jihadist thinking comes in numerous varieties, mixing strands from 20th century ideologies, such as Nazism and Leninism, with elements deriving from the 18th century Wahhabist Islamic fundamentalist movement. What all Islamist movements have in common is a categorical rejection of any secular realm. But the ongoing reversal in secularisation is not a peculiarly Islamic phenomenon.

The resurgence of religion is a worldwide development. Russian Orthodoxy is stronger than it has been for over a century, while China is the scene of a reawakening of its indigenous faiths and of underground movements that could make it the largest Christian country in the world by the end of this century. Despite tentative shifts in opinion that have been hailed as evidence it is becoming less pious, the US remains massively and pervasively religious – it’s inconceivable that a professed unbeliever could become president, for example. It’s inconceivable that a professed unbeliever could become president of the United States

For secular thinkers, the continuing vitality of religion calls into question the belief that history underpins their values.[13]

Atheist Eddie Tabash

The American atheist activist Eddie Tabash said at the 2010 Michigan Atheists State Convention:

In every generation there has been a promising beginning of a true vanguard movement that will finally achieve widespread public acceptance for nonbelief. Yet, in each generation there has been an ultimately disappointing failure to actually register the naturalistic alternative to supernatural claims in the public consciousness...

Now given the confounding extent to which religion is entrenched in our society, it could take a minimum of 100 years of sustained, intense effort to even begin to cut into the current monolithic stranglehold that religion has on American mass culture, [14]

The likelihood that the American atheist population will engage in 100 years of sustained, intense atheist activism is remote (see: Atheism and apathy and Views on atheists and Demographics and trends in American secularism).

Also, a 100-year sustained and intense effort of atheist activism would require a high degree of cohesiveness and cooperation among atheists. Tabash said in a speech to the Michigan Atheists State Convention, "Since we are a bit of a cantankerous, opinionated lot...".[15] See also: Atheist factions and Atheism and social skills

Tabash said in a 2007 speech to the Atheist Alliance International organization:

The other likely future is one in which by a shift of only one vote on the United States Supreme Court, we will essentially become a theocracy in which all branches of government we be freed to favor religion collectively over nonbelief.[16]

Eric Kaufmann: Secularism is exhausted and unconfident

Eric Kaufmann, an agnostic professor whose academic research specialty is how demographic changes affect religion/irreligion and politics, wrote in 2010:

Worldwide, the march of religion can probably only be reversed by a renewed, self-aware secularism. Today, it appears exhausted and lacking in confidence... Secularism's greatest triumphs owe less to science than to popular social movements like nationalism, socialism and 1960s anarchist-liberalism. Ironically, secularism's demographic deficit means that it will probably only succeed in the twenty-first century if it can create a secular form of 'religious' enthusiasm.[17]

According the American atheist author Kevin Davis, atheism has an "unshakeable stigma".[18] See also: Views on atheists

World's religious population gaining in global market share

Atheism is in decline worldwide, with the number of atheists falling from 4.5% of the world’s population in 1970 to 2.0% in 2010 and projected to drop to 1.8% by 2020.[19]

On December 23, 2012, Kaufmann wrote:

I argue that 97% of the world's population growth is taking place in the developing world, where 95% of people are religious.

On the other hand, the secular West and East Asia has very low fertility and a rapidly aging population... In the coming decades, the developed world's demand for workers to pay its pensions and work in its service sector will soar alongside the booming supply of young people in the third world. Ergo, we can expect significant immigration to the secular West which will import religious revival on the back of ethnic change. In addition, those with religious beliefs tend to have higher birth rates than the secular population, with fundamentalists having far larger families. The epicentre of these trends will be in immigration gateway cities like New York (a third white), Amsterdam (half Dutch), Los Angeles (28% white), and London, 45% white British. [20]

Kaufmann told a secular audience in Australia: "The trends that are happening worldwide inevitably in an age of globalization are going to affect us."[21]

Atheism is in decline worldwide, with the number of atheists falling from 4.5% of the world’s population in 1970 to 2.0% in 2010 and projected to drop to 1.8% by 2020.[22] See: Desecularization

In 2012, the CSGC reported that every day there are 800 less atheists per day, 1,100 less non-religious (agnostic) people per day and 83,000 more people professing to be Christians per day.[23][24]

In 2011, the American Spectator declared:

The report estimates about 80,000 new Christians every day, 79,000 new Muslims every day, and 300 fewer atheists every day. These atheists are presumably disproportionately represented in the West, while religion is thriving in the Global South, where charismatic Christianity is exploding."[25]

Atheist PZ Myers

See also: Atheism and women and Western atheism and race

On September 27, 2014 in a blog post entitled The Atheist Disillusionment, PZ Myers declared:

I will make a prediction, right here and now.... The number of people identifying as atheists will stagnate or even shrink, because organized atheism is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on irrelevant metaphysical differences that don’t help people...

Unless we change.

I don’t know that we can.[26]

In 2016, Myers published a blog post entitled Atheism seems to be amazingly doomed [27] In the blog post he indicated that YouTube's TheAmazingAtheist engaged in racism and the feedback he received from viewers was far more positive than it was negative. See also: Western atheism and race

Blair Scott about atheist infighting with the atheist movement

David Silverman is the president of the American Atheists organization.

See also: Atheist factions and Atheism and social/interpersonal intelligence

Blair Scott served on the American Atheists board of directors. Mr. Scott formerly served as a State Director for the American Atheists organization in the state of Alabama. On December 1, 2012 he quit his post as a director of outreach for the American Atheist due to infighting within the American atheist movement.[28]

Mr. Blair wrote:

I have spent the last week mulling over what I want to do at this point in the movement. I’m tired of the in-fighting: at every level. I am especially tired of allowing myself to get sucked into it and engaging in the very behavior that is[29]

Atheist David Smalley on the atheist movement and its infighting

The atheist David Smalley said about the atheist movement: "We're eating our own... We’re disintegrating."[30]

The day Elevatorgate occurred has been called the day the atheist movement died

See also: Western atheism, schisms and political polarization

Elevatorgate is a term commonly used to describe a scandal involving New Atheist Richard Dawkins' 2011 comments made to atheist Rebecca Watson which are perceived to have been inappropriate by a sizable portion of the atheist community and to the public at large.[31] Watson is a feminist.[32]

Richard Dawkins is still widely criticized for igniting deep fractures in the atheist movement through his Elevatorgate controversy. For example, on November 26, 2013, the atheist activist and blogger Jen McCreight posted at Twitter the message: "Did anyone on Dawkins AMA ask how he feels about singlehandedly destroying the atheist movement with the Dear Muslima yet?"[33] In December 2013, atheist Jack Vance at Atheist Revolution called July 2, 2011, which is the day that Elevatorgate occurred, "The day the atheist movement died."[34]

Atheist organizations and fundraising difficulties

See also: Atheist fundraising vs. religious fundraising and Atheism and charity

Atheist activist Lee Moore: Donations to American atheist organizations are down due to infighting within the atheist movement

See also: Atheist factions and Atheism and social skills

In 2017, the atheist activist Lee Moore declared:

If you look at the major atheist groups right now, like the national groups, the ones that are doing the real activist work... They are not bringing in the kind of donations they used to. Most of them are starved for cash. They're downsizing left and right. Because people aren't just giving like they used to. And I talked to a lot of the major donors out there and they said, "Well, we're kind of tired of seeing the atheist community just fight amongst itself and not really get anything done. We'd rather not give money if we don't think it's going to go somewhere."[35]

Atheist Hemant Mehta on fundraising from fellow nonbelievers

Secular humanism is a type of atheism/agnosticism.

Foundation Beyond Belief is a charitable foundation created to focus on "humanist generosity and compassion."[36]

The atheist Hemant Mehta said about raising money from fellow nonbelievers: "Meanwhile, I’ve had one hell of a time convincing people to give to the Foundation Beyond Belief — and I help lead that organization." [37]

Canadian atheist activist Pat O'Brien on the difficulty of atheist fundraising

See also: Canada and irreligion

The Canadian atheist activist Pat O'Brien is a Canadian atheist, an activist, and ex-president of Humanist Canada and British Columbia Humanist Association (Secular humanism is a form of atheism).

O'Brien said about the willingness atheists/humanists to support national and provincial atheist organizations: "The biggest problem is fundraising. It is difficult to get Humanists to part with their money."[38]

David Gorski's complaint about atheist nonprofits

Richard Dawkins
The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science had a scandal related to an embezzlement allegation.[39][40][41] See: Atheist nonprofit scandals

David Gorski at Scienceblogs wrote about atheist/skeptic organizations and financial mismanagement:

In any case, this makes me wonder: What is it about rationalist/skeptic groups that make them seemingly have such a hard time running their organizations well from a financial standpoint? After all, just a couple of months ago the Center for Inquiry (CFI) sent out letters desperately begging for more contributions. The reason was that CFI had one large benefactor whose yearly contribution funded approximately 20-25% of the yearly CFI budget. As clueless as I may be about finances, even I know that you don’t use such donations to run the operating expenses of an organization, because you can’t count on them from year to year and it’s too big a chunk. You use this money for special short-term projects and a rainy day fund. Not surprisingly, when this mysterious donor stopped donating earlier this year, suddently CFI was in deep doo-doo from a financial standpoint, prompting the desperate plea for donations and deep budget cuts. I realize that the down economy has played havoc with many nonprofit and charitable organizations, but these issues with skeptical organizations seem to go beyond just that.[42]

Secular Student Alliance report of fundraising problems

In October 2015, the Secular Student Alliance tweeted that it "desperately" needed $100,000 by the end of the month. The SSA Executive director August Brunsman reported that fundraising had lagged.[43]

Inside Philanthropy website commentary atheist philanthropy related to universities

According to the website Inside Philanthropy:

Universities lack the kind of entrenched atheist architecture—endowments, departments, conferences and the like—that religious studies departments have enjoyed for centuries.

What's more, there are several major funders who've put muscle behind religious scholarship on campus, such as the Lilly Endowment and the Templeton Foundation. But we've never seen a gift for related to aethism [sic] — either on a campus or elsewhere. Nor have our data gathering friends the Foundation Center, which reports exactly zero grants related to atheism in a database covers tens of foundations. (That said, some grants have gone to groups that put forth a "secular" agenda.)[44]

Atheist nonprofit scandals

See also: Atheist nonprofit scandals

Atheist Francois Tremblay

In his essay Herding Cats: Why atheism will lose, the atheist Francois Tremblay compared unifying atheists to herding cats.[45]

See also: Atheist factions

The atheist Francois Tremblay wrote in his essay Herding Cats: Why atheism will lose:

Atheism, as commonly defined by atheists, expresses a lack of belief, or disbelief, in deities. It is not a positive belief in anything, but a negative concept. That is why atheists, inasmuch as they are atheists, are nothing like a coherent or concerted group. Organizations like American Atheists serve a role of broadcasting information more than anything else, because there cannot be concerted action when nobody agrees on what to do (except of course on direct concerns like the rights of atheists or separation of church and state). Most atheists disagree strongly on whenever atheism should be propagated, or promoted, and on the matter of doing so.

Another problem of atheism qua atheism is that it does not contain its own basis. What I mean by this is that atheism is a punctual, ontological belief, which is itself the implicit or explicit result of metaphysical and epistemological deductions. Any reply to an attack on this basis cannot come directly from atheism. Concentrating oneself only on being an atheist is like trying to build a house from the second floor up. It may look less costly on paper, and for people who only build houses in their imagination this may be a good way of seeing it, but it's not good enough for a serious endeavour. And most importantly, it's too fragile. I see too many religionists attacking atheism from the bottom and atheists being unable to adequately reply to the arguments. If the atheist cannot answer to his most fundamental beliefs on the nature of reality and cognition, then his atheism is worthless in terms of validation. It is nothing more than a big paper tiger, made from the finest cardboard.

One last problem that undermines any propagation of atheism is inspiration. Let's be honest here, "there is no god!" is not a very motivating call for most people.[46]

Atheist Martin S. Pribble

The atheist activist Martin S. Pribble wrote in 2011:

... I am beginning to feel that the atheistic movement is treading water somewhat, not really making much change in the world. It seems to me it is more akin to beating ones head against an immovable object rather than spreading encouragement for people to learn... Nothing is changing, and I doubt if we will ever see a single mind change from an engagement on Twitter over whether the Bible is the true word of God.

I feel we are lacking focus...

I know I’m not the only person who realises this. I have seen a few people finding the fight a disillusioning experience...[47]

In 2013, Pribble wrote in Slate:

For the last five years I have considered myself an “activist atheist.”...

But I’m through with it, and I no longer want to be part of the online atheist “community.”...

The times of satisfaction are outweighed by feelings of frustration and hopelessness...

There is no point in it. All this back-and-forth sniping serves to do is to make us feel a sense of superiority to the person making the claims and does nothing for them except leave them with a smugness about their assumption that “atheists are all mean.”...

Atheists and nonbelievers make up such a small part of the world’s population that we can never hope to change the world by ourselves—certainly not, if our primary weapon is yelling at people we don’t agree with. Most theists in the world are not completely delusional...[48]

See also

External links


  1. Berlinerblau, Jacques (February 4, 2011). "Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast". The Chronicle of Higher Education/Brainstorm blog. Retrieved on May 29, 2015.
  2. The Church Is Under Siege. But Habermas, the Atheist, Is Coming to its Defense
  3. Jurgen Habermas on the Vision of a Post-Secular Europe, Modern Diplomacy
  4. Berlinerblau, Jacques (February 4, 2011). "Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast". The Chronicle of Higher Education/Brainstorm blog. Retrieved on May 29, 2015.
  5. Even atheists bash 'Reason Rally'
  6. Whoever I Don’t Like Is Ruining the Atheist Movement by Jeremiah Traeger
  7. Reasonably Controversial: How the Regressive Left Is Killing the Atheist Movement by David Smalley
  8. #ReasonRally Crash n burn. Thanks SJWs! by Thunderf00t
  9. Reasonably Controversial: How the Regressive Left Is Killing the Atheist Movement by David Smalley
  10. Uproar Against Dawkins Is Sign of New Atheism Retrogression by Joshua Kelly
  11. Feeling Disillusioned With the Atheist Movement, Atheist Revolution
  12. [Is the Atheist Movement Really Moving?], Atheist Revolution
  13. What scares the new atheists by John Gray, The Guardian
  14. Atheists Speak Up - Eddie Tabash
  15. Atheists Speak Up - Eddie Tabash - Part 2 of 4
  16. Eddie Tabash: Speech and Q&A at AAI 07
  17. Shall the religious inherit the earth? - Eric Kaufmann
  18. An Atheist Walks into a Christian Meeting about Atheism by Kevin Davis
  19. Global Study: Atheists in Decline, Only 1.8% of World Population by 2020
  20. 97% of the world's population growth is taking place in the developing world, where 95% of people are religious, Tuesday, April 30, 2013
  21. Shall the religious inherit the earth
  22. Global Study: Atheists in Decline, Only 1.8% of World Population by 2020
  23. Globally the worldviews of atheism and non-religious (agnostic) are declining while global Christianity is exploding in adherents
  24. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary - Status of Global Missions
  25. Thriving Christianity
  26. The Atheist Disillusionment - PZ Myers, September 27, 2014
  27. Atheism seems to be amazingly doomed by PZ Myers
  28. An Open Letter from Blair Scott
  29. An Open Letter from Blair Scott
  30. Reasonably Controversial: How the Regressive Left Is Killing the Atheist Movement by David Smalley
  31. Rebecca Watson (July 5, 2011). "The Privilege Delusion". Skepchick
  32. Jennifer McCreight on the Twitter about the Elevatorgate scandal
  33. The Day the Atheist Movement Died by Jack Vance at Atheist Revolution
  34. Lee Moore and Steve Shives Talk About the Future of the Atheist Movement, - video quote comes 21 minutes and 13 seconds into the video
  35. Foundation Beyond Belief
  36. A Few Thoughts About Fundraising
  37. Interview – ​Pat O’Brien on Humanism in Canada and British Columbia by Scott Jacobsen, Conatus News, 2016
  38. Richard Dawkins Drops His Lawsuit Against Former Employee
  39. Richard Dawkins sues Josh Timonen, Posted by David Gorski on October 24, 2010
  40. Richard Dawkins Drops His Lawsuit Against Former Employee
  41. Richard Dawkins sues Josh Timonen, Posted by David Gorski on October 24, 2010
  42. Eberhard, JT (30 May 2016). "Secular Student Alliance running a 'desperate' fundraiser". WWJTD.
  43. [Beyond Belief: As Americans Warm to Atheism, Will Donors Follow?] by Mike Scutari, Inside Philanthropy
  44. Herding Cats: Why atheism will lose by Francois Tremblay
  45. Herding Cats: Why atheism will lose by Francois Tremblay
  46. Is the atheist movement dead on the water?
  47. Leaving the Tribe by Martin Pribble