The Death of Atheism
A comprehensive analysis of how and why it died.
By Revelation Solate
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when Christianity died.
Some would cite Nietzsche's famous “God is dead” line of the eighteenth century, wherein the Nihilist Supreme declared that our skepticism-driven culture effectively killed the need for God and objective truth, and that flawed humans such as we would have to craft our own ethical values just to survive anarchy.
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? --Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Others would cite the Holocaust as killing off God, as Elie Wiesel claims in his popular account Night: “Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.”
No matter what way you look at it, God and Christianity have been “dead” for a long time. This is not a literal death, but rather the colloquial and figurative use of the word “dead” which means that God is waning in the public consciousness. It is implied that no one worth their intellectual salt takes it seriously. That definition of “dead” most certainly fits the anecdotal evidence of many people (probably even you yourself!), but more importantly, Pew Research data backs it up. Christianity has been “dead” or dying for some time now, though it is hard to pinpoint exactly when that started.
What is much easier to track, however, is the death of atheism.
The atheist champions of yesteryear, the “Four Horsemen” as they call them, of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens, did not exactly make Christian’s lives easy in the mid 2000’s and 2010’s. Harris disingenuously attempted, in his 2010 book The Moral Landscape, to prove that objective moral values exist in a completely naturalistic world by calling the “greatest possible well-being” of the human race objectively “morally good”. Lawrence Krauss tried a similar sleight of hand two years later in his book A Universe from Nothing, by redefining “nothing” to mean an unstable and fluctuating field of quantum particles and energy.
Christians were philosophically unmoved: Out of nothing, nothing comes. Atheists argued that we must redefine lofty philosophical terms in order to make them more practical or else they would not be useful at all. Amidst the backdrop of this ideological stalemate, Westboro Baptist successfully materialized our worst public fears about Christian fundamentalism. Militant atheism garnered something of a bad name for itself in the early 2010’s as fervent atheists, who once lurked in the dark underbellies of public chat forums, took to the exploding information-age-poster-child Reddit. Atheists also lost their frontman debator and intellectual titan Christopher Hitchens to pneumonia and esophageal cancer just two weeks before the start of 2012.
For the regular people, the non-extremists on either side, there was something like a respectful calmness in the air, an armistice. Everyone just sort of accepted that there were very smart and articulate people arguing for both sides, and we would all live and let live. 9/11, the event which reinvigorated the debate about religion in America, was a decade ago at this point, and the world was finally healing. And due to the persistence of apologists like Ravi Zacharias and William Lane Craig in the mid 2000’s, and due to concurrent revival of C.S. Lewis and his Mere Christianity as household names (credited largely to the 2005 blockbuster The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), the world was forgetting that book which sparked the ideological flames in the first place: Sam Harris’ wildly popular response to 9/11, the 2004 hit-piece on religion called The End of Faith.
Besides, we wanted to focus on something more tangible, anyways.
When Politics Replaced Religion
The stumbling blocks (or unknown unknowns) of George W. Bush, and the failings of the Iraq War and War on Terror, resulted in an explosion of left-wing politics that got Barack Obama elected, and there was enough liberal sentiment leftover by 2012 that he won the presidency again. Somewhere in between, George Zimmerman became the new Casey Anthony. And as smartphones and video-centric social media became staples in even low-income households, we all started recording, exposing, and noticing the fact that some cops just can’t stop killing black people.
Equality was on the forefront of our minds, as was libertarianism. LGBTQ+ and marijuana advocates started making legal moves. Their efforts were supported by organizations like, but not limited to, The Young Turks online and through massively popular prime-time TV shows The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. The leftists were on cloud nine.
While there were political counterbalances like Bill O'Reilly and Breitbart, the conservatives, claiming their beliefs were rooted in traditionalist Biblical doctrine, were growing scared. They lost the science war thanks to Darwin and evolution forever ago, and the strength of Planned Parenthood was a constant reminder of how naturalism was pushing the spiritual components out of society. A certain 2015 Supreme Court ruling destroyed the Christian idea of the sanctity of marriage in social space. It was a rough couple of decades for evangelicals. Their image was tarnished (Westboro Baptist Church did them no favors) and they were starting to get pissed. Meanwhile, harsh conservative online voices like Ben Shapiro and (tragically) Milo Yiannopoulos were making independent names for themselves, then quickly rose to prominence in order to bash the liberal agenda, just in time for centrists like Dave Rubin to try and bridge the gap between the two sides of the religious-political spectrum.
The conservatives, claiming their beliefs were rooted in traditionalist Biblical doctrine, were growing scared.
Then Bernie Sanders changed everything. Hyperliberalism absolutely dominated the internet for just under a year, in between 2015 and 2016. Young people, liberal-leaning, devoured social media and became enthralled with the idea of political revolution. It would have been impossible to find someone who did not, in some form or another, #FeeltheBern. Hard to believe this was only two years ago.
Not content with merely railing against conservatives, this new left, the hyperliberals, devoured the entire Democratic party, too. The Democrats were exposed as fraudulent and despotic, not serving the best interests of the people.
There actually appeared to be a brief moment of true and honest peace, that lasted longer than it had any right to. That moment was the release of Pokémon GO (which recently included a new questline to catch Mew. You should check it out.) Let us take a moment to reflect on those beautiful times of going outside, conversing with actual strangers, and catching our first Pokémon. It just puts the softest smile on our faces, and reminds us of what’s really important in this life.
But then it happened. Donald J. Trump. Conservative Jesus. Never before had we seen something like this. The universe flipped out.
Evangelicals found a champion, found an ideal, found a voice. They found their God. They were sick and tired of the liberal garbage. Shapiro strengthened the intellectuals among them, Fox News emboldened the average people, and they still had pent up rage from the impact that Sam Harris, the Kardashians, and Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner had on American culture just a few years before. Unfortunately, the manifestation of this rage was the revitalization of the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and Richard Spencer. Thus, in order to "make American great again", which included bringing America back to its "Christian" roots, the alt-right was born. Charlottesville and several other tragedies took place.
Liberals were not having it. Religion and spirituality failed them. The political system failed them.“Milquetoast” centrists like Dave Rubin, and neo-liberals who would support the Democratic party, failed them too. The liberals were growing scared. The right had tons of cash from the largest conceivable global organizations, unknown amounts of hidden support spread across the country, and an absolute atrocity leading a supposedly-free nation. It was as if they were fighting the Illuminati. And they couldn’t even eat Chick-Fil-A anymore. Liberals were cornered. Thus, they donned the identity “antifa”, and took to streets and newsfeeds as an anti-fascist group aimed at combating everything wrong with America: Conservatives and capitalists. Their violent tactics further fractionated political affiliations, leaving many by the wayside.
That entire history played out just to say: You can’t rely on politics, either.
A brief discourse on the morality of Nazi-punching lasted a few months, but after that, things quieted down. The alt-right fizzled out of the public consciousness, presumably because either a) they were a one-trick pony, a spectacle to accompany an already-ridiculous election process, or b) they are, as we speak, working behind-the-scenes on getting a foot in the door of our current administration.
We all felt spent. Politics couldn’t save us. Religion couldn’t save us. Atheism couldn’t save us. Their apologists and advocates couldn’t do it either. Younger teens, hypothetically the next generation, did nothing but play with fidget spinners, fidget cubes (remember those?) and play Overwatch (Mei is bae). Even Pixar kept releasing trash movies until Coco saved us not six months ago. But from 2015 till the end of 2017, things were truly abysmal. With no one to turn to, and with no objectively better place to go than any other, nihilistic thought started to consume us. As the dust settled from our political wars, we complacently sank into the ashes.
The Death of Atheism
Remember, the death of God was pronounced over one-hundred years ago. We defined “death” as that which is waning in the public consciousness. Again, it is implied that no one worth their intellectual salt takes it seriously. We tried, as Nietzsche said, to become our own gods in his place. The result was atheism, cultural secularism, and dependence on the state, our political infrastructure. The terminal point of that was chaos, nihilism, and unhappiness.
And that is how atheism died.
We can no longer afford to say “no” to that which makes us human. It appears as though most people have accepted nihilism-- one facet of it being that you cannot prove anything, even that statement-- as a presupposition. And thankfully it appears that we are embracing the humility that goes along with that. In other words, we have accepted how clueless we truly are.
We finally accepted, as Socrates did so long ago, that “All I know, is that I know nothing.”
Figureheads who once fueled the culture wars like Ben Shapiro and Sam Harris are finally embracing and exploring the philosophical grounds that informs their worldviews. Harris, always first to the punch (he started writing The End of Reason the day after 9/11), has slowed down his “naturalism-only” message and fully embraced spiritual practice since his aptly-named 2014 book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. Shapiro is currently writing a book on the Judeo-Christian origins of our morality.
The meteoric Jordan Peterson, and his masterful lecture series The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories, along with his unique and refreshing views on truth are masterfully navigating this new realm we inhabit. His new book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is eviscerating sales charts everywhere, and that title is all you need to know about how his thought perfectly represents what culture is both thinking and yearning for at the present moment.
We have no idea where the death of atheism will lead, nor how long its death will last. But we know that atheism is dead, and that God (or something like him) is on the rise again.
Have we discovered that we must ourselves submit to God, simply to appear worthy of our own humanity?