A Response to Bret Weinstein on the ‘Mistake’ of New Atheism

A Response to Bret Weinstein on the ‘Mistake’ of New Atheism

Recently, the biologist Bret Weinstein appeared on the Rubin Report to discuss his views on western civilization and how bad things have gotten with far left identity politics. The whole conversation is about an hour long, but I want to focus on one specific clip: “The New Atheists Made a Massive Mistake We’re Still Paying For.”

In this part of the conversation, Rubin asked Weinstein what he’d change if he could go back in time to around 1995. Weinstein replied:

“I think there was a terrible misstep with atheism. And what it did was it unhooked a set of protections. Some of which really were no longer necessary, many of which were still essential but for reasons that were not literally explained in the documents in question. And I know because for a while I was pretty close to the only evolutionary biologist trying to bridge this gap, speaking to religious people and saying, ‘Look, my colleagues are telling you, you’re sick with a mind virus, I know that’s not right, that doesn’t mean that what you think took place literally happened, and we have to have that conversation. What if what you believe is important but not literal? Getting there from an evolutionary perspective, if we could have done that earlier and not temporarily flirted with the idea that simple atheism was somehow a sophisticated way of navigating through life, then maybe we could have…maybe those people who had a long-standing traditions that contain wisdom that might have prevented this would’ve had more power when it mattered.”

Rubin asked if he might be pleased that there doesn’t seem to be much of an atheist movement nowadays, and added that the Jordan Peterson/Sam Harris debates put an end to that movement.

“As they should have,” responded Weinstein. “But I’m not thrilled with what I’m seeing replace it, and I think there’s a connection… Let’s put it this way. If we take your question. What could we have said to the people of 1995 to get them to save us from the world of 2023? The coming calamity that is going to happen if we just simply embrace the religious doctrines, philosophies, and values of the past and hope that we can now ride out the storm, that’s when we could stop now by having a conversation that says, ‘Look, it was wrong to dispense with these compendiums of wisdom that we have been handed in all of these traditions. But those compendiums of wisdom were built by natural selection in an environment we no longer live in, and so we are stuck in a terrible problem, which is you can’t embrace the solutions of the past and take it out of the problems of the present, and you can’t abandon the solutions of the past because they’re outdated, because you’ll end up abandoning all sorts of stuff that matters in ways you don’t know about. I don’t want to candy-coat it. There’s no simple solution to that, that doesn’t involve repeatedly injuring ourselves as a civilization as we discover a fraction of those traditions is still relevant, which fraction has become toxic and inappropriate. What it should be replaced with. That’s a very long-term puzzle that you can only solve if you’re careful about it. There’s no solution you can deliver in the present and say, ‘Here’s the subset of those traditions that’s still relevant, here’s the part that needs to be replaced, here’s what it needs to be replaced with.’ That’s an evolutionary process that’s going to do it.”

All right, well, that’s a lot to unload. I guess I’ll start with a problem that I had with New Atheism back then. There initially was a lot of focus on what we are against, specifically religious superstition, religious fanaticism, and beliefs that flew in the face of history and science. Such beliefs were see not only as untrue, but dangerous. For example, New Atheists could all rally against creationism, the virgin birth, denial of evolution, the dangers of blasphemy law, religious homophobia, Islamic terrorism, etc. However, they didn’t have something they were FOR. This led to a massive split in New Atheism with the creation of the SJW-infused Atheism+.

New Atheism never recovered from this split between SJW and anti-SJW atheists. However, if you look at wokeness today, there’s no reason to believe that it is caused by New Atheism or loss of religion, or that there is any connection between atheism and wokeness. There are countries with a higher atheist population than the US such as Japan that still have maintained their cultural values and haven’t fallen to leftist identity politics. If the connection was with atheism, this would have started in other countries a long time ago.

There does, however, seem to be a correlation with elite education and wokeness. If you look at studies from FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression), a non-profit civil liberties organization that ranks which universities allow the most free speech in the US, it’s mostly elite schools that rank the lowest, with Harvard ranking dead last. It’s also worth noting that atheists, who also typically have higher IQs compared to religious groups, are more likely to attend elite schools. The correlation with wokeness is not with atheism; the correlation is with people surrounded by wokeness.

Is there a reason to think that religious leftists are more likely to promote free speech? I’d like to see actual polls before people start claiming we need more religion. Why don’t we look at different racial groups in America? Black Americans are some of the most religious people in the country, with 97% of them believing in God, 74% are Christians, and 54% believe God is necessary for morality. Yet, 81% of black adults say they support the Black Lives Matter movement, 78% believe DEI in the workplace to be a good thing, and 68% have at least a somewhat favorable view of Critical Race Theory.

If religion was the answer, the support for these ideologies amongst black Americans would be lowest. In fact, they wouldn’t be so high amongst the Democrats either. According to a Stastista poll from 2021-2023, 81% of  Democrats are Christian. Yes, the number of Christian Republicans is higher, but that doesn’t change the fact that most Democrats are of the Christian faith. Don’t forget when Andy Ngo was dropped by a Christian conference for his controversial reputation, or even the Church of England, which has been getting called out on their woke talking points, such as their push for racial diversity, anti-racist learning programs, or for hosting drag shows with children present.

But fine. Let’s just entertain the idea that Christianity can combat wokeness. That still doesn’t make it true when truth matters, and that definitely doesn’t make it necessary. Oversensitivity and science denial is common amongst humans in history. Cancel culture isn’t new, it’s just under new management. We used to call it political correctness.

What we now call hate speech is really blasphemy under a new name. It wasn’t even that long ago that people had to combat this against religious Christians, or from older generations.  In Poland, the frontman of the heavy metal band Behemoth, Adam “Nergal” Darski, was found guilty for “offending religious feelings” after sharing an image of himself standing on a photo of Virgin Mary back in September 2019, and convicted only a few days after the charges were pressed.

This is far from the only case. A Polish conservative party even proposed a three-year jail sentence for anyone who mocks the religion. Or what about in Russia? Back in 2013, a law was passed that criminalizes offending believers’ feelings, after a blogger named Sokolovsky posted a video where he played Pokémon GO in a church. There was also in Greece back in 2012, when a 27-year-old was arrested for blaspheming against a Greek monk on Facebook, and when Stephen Fry was under investigation in Ireland for the crime of blasphemy he committed on a TV program back in 2015.

Let’s focus back in our own country for a bit. Remember back when people would blame violence on video games, when no evidence pointed to there being a connection? Remember when teen delinquency was being blamed on comic books? Or when George Carlin was arrested in 1972 for disorderly conduct because of his “Seven Words” standup routine? Remember when Dee Snider of the band Twisted Sister had to face trial over a song about a doctor’s appointment because Tipper Gore thought it was sexual?

Remember when Marilyn Manson was blamed for the Columbine school shooting? Remember the outrage Monty Python’s Life of Brian faced backlash from religious fundamentalists? How about five years ago when DC Comics canceled a comic book about Jesus because religious people found it “outrageous and blasphemous”? Sometime before that, Fox’s Lucifer faced criticism from religious Christians who petitioned it to be canceled. The same thing happened to Amazon Prime’s Good Omens, as well as Netflix’s The Last Temptation of Christ. Similarly, religious Christians went after JK Rowling’s Harry Potter over its portrayal of spiritualism and witchcraft and after announcing that Dumbledore is gay.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. If we want to discuss more extreme topics rather than Christian cancel culture, we can easily find cases of ministers or churches being involved in sexual abuse. The Roman Catholic Church in California faced over 3,000 lawsuits over sexual abuse allegations. A nine-year investigation report published in 2009 on rape and sexual molestation in Ireland’s Catholic schools and orphanages found that thousands were physically abused in over 250 church-run institutions that it was deemed an “endemic” of abuse by the report’s authors. Between 1950 to 2010, 7% of Catholic priests in Australia were guilty of sexually abusing children, with 4,444 children reported at over 1,000 different institutions, with an identified 1,880 different perpetrators, including priests, lay people, and religious brothers and sisters.

A report based on research from France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research estimated that in France’s Catholic Church, 330,000 children were sexually abused over 70 years, around 3,000 priests and others who were involved in the Church being responsible. 80% of the victims were boys. This year, about 2,225 people in Germany experienced abuse by the Protestant Church from 1,259 suspects over the past 80 years. Religion has been the prime motivation for gay conversion therapy, which leads to gay people who experienced conversion therapy to be twice as likely to commit suicide, according to the Williams Institute.

My point is that New Atheism was not a mistake. Wokeness is a mistake. It is a new religion, and, just like Christianity, it encourages cultural puritanism, abuse disguised as mental help, covert narcissism, criminalizing thought crime. We don’t need to blame all this woke SJW nonsense on a decline of Christianity as if it was somehow necessary when all it has done was promote the same things in the name of Jesus. We don’t need to start glamourizing older generations because we don’t like the new ones.

I don’t want to have a debate on who is preferable to groom kids when “none of the above” is an option. Don’t pretend it’s not there. If we do go back to Christianity, is there no reason to think we won’t get more cases of people like Nick Fuentes and his “Christian Futurist” Groyper Army, who have a history of heckling, doxing, and promoting antisemitism and theocracy? I’ve written enough about them already, so I won’t belabor the point here.

Religion, including Christianity, is not an answer. We don’t need to go back to Christianity to combat wokeness. We need evidence-based reasoning and free speech, which was what helped lead to the rise of New Atheism, and is what will lead to the decline of wokeness.

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