In the mid-2000s the Intelligent Design, “Climate Skepticism,” and the Left Behind movements unified atheists to fight for sound science in our nation’s classrooms and a popular refutation of the negative, apocalyptic claims of the End Times and the Rapture.
Sadly today, after noted victories, atheists are divided by similar apocalyptic, pessimistic claims about racism, social justice, and climate action. Young people, increasingly among the “Nones” who criticize religion, particularly Christianity, have embraced an extreme version of climate action, convinced that they must ratchet up protest histrionics in order to convince the public to get behind the canceling of oil and coal contracts.
(thankfully protected by transparent covers), protestors gluing their hands to walls and streets, dumping milk on grocery store floors and shrill screaming have pushed the envelope of “peaceful” protesting. Most recently the video of a near-sobbing Louise Harris, who filmed herself and others shutting down the M25 highway while crying, “I don’t have a future!” is a good example of the apocalyptic tone that climate action protests take today.
Any means, it seems, justifies the end—a clean, sustainable world in which there is food for all and no racial, sexual, or other bias. Against this ideal, reality seems dire, ugly, dirty and hopeless to many young activists. This despair in people so young is the crucible of another religion, a secular religion, in which a sustainable. equitable utopia becomes a sort of proxy heaven, which justifies increasingly more provocative action.
Utopia has replaced constitutions and institutions for these young people, many of them budding atheists. Instead of progressive gradualism they advocate revolt and wish for revolution. It is a good example of how, as with established atheists rushing to embrace the simple dualism of social justice, fledgling atheists can increasing commit acts they would otherwise never commit, due to the new ideology that has all the emotional urgency of a secular religion.
Without anti-racism, climate change hyperbole (“no future”), or dreams of equity, very few of these young people would have burned and looted buildings, thrown tomato soup at a painting by Van Gogh (himself impoverished and marginalized during his life), or blocked highway traffic and preventing ordinary working people from getting to their jobs or potentially to the hospital. It’s a safe bet that, were they not hopped-up on an idea, these young true believers would not have stormed a Christmas parade in Wisconsin (eerily one year before the Waukesha Christmas Parade mass killing).
Religion does this. Formal or informal, any ideology that inspires such unquestioning, arrogant, and blatant disregard for consequences and the incongruity between its actions and its expressed idealism, is for all intents and purposes a religion. It is an irrational, emotional disregard for facts and nuance which can spiral further out of control once the shock value of this movement’s current tactics wears off.
In the mid-2000s too came the documentary, Jesus Camp,
which featured the disturbing sight of very young children sobbing and raising their fists or repeating in a monotone that they were saved at age five “because I wanted more in life.” The young participants were coached by radicalized controlling personalities who seemed, repulsively, more comfortable manipulating children than articulating their motives to the adult filmmakers. One cannot help but see a resemblance to the tearful outbursts of today increasingly younger, more malleable climate change protestors. (Observe how alike these two accompanying photographs look, despite taken continents and decades apart!)
There is a resemblance here too, to the “gender care” movement, which has moved away from the “Wait and See” approach, which would delay certain treatments until late adolescence or adulthood, and toward the “Gender Affirming Model (GAM)“, i.e,. immediate intervention: change in dress and pronouns without parental knowledge, up to even hormone treatment and/or surgery without parental consent. Moving the goalposts, “gender nonconforming” has now been moved under the nonbinary umbrella, paradoxically normalizing traditional gender roles and marginalizing tomboys and nontraditional boys once again.
Without question there are children who know very early they are what adults call “trans,” but child “preachers,” child “painters,” child prodigies—both American parents and educators have traditionally warned against pushing children too soon into specializations or careers they might not enjoy throughout life. Yet children being activists or even “coming out as trans” with increasing frequency is viewed with less skepticism by the true-believer adults in their lives. In the space of a few years the medical and psychiatric professions have whole-heartedly embraced this exponentially expanding phenomenon as enthusiastically and uncritically as they once championed the now-discredited “recovered memories” of child abuse survivors. If children are not automatically affirmed in their new identity, we are told, suicide may result.
(Recognizing how hyperbole has replaced diagnoses, other countries, such as the U.K., Sweden and Finland, are backing off such uncompromising advocacy of “gender care” for children of all ages.)
Children are especially malleable. That is why the Intelligent Design advocates recruited children. Of Pandas and People was a student creationist textbook, and “ID Clubs” arose, funded by adult advocates, in colleges and universities. Religion also is foisted upon children, to the point that Richard Dawkins called it child abuse. “There is no such thing as a Christian child,” he has famous said; rather, there are children of Christian parents. Yet children are called upon today to worry about a biblical end to the planet and to make adult decisions about “gender identity.”
Today, our culture allows children to drive activism, pretending they are adult enough to understand the nuances of policy change and robbing them of a unique phase in life which should be guarded from fear and dread. Children were also brought to Black Lives Matter protests, even in the middle of the night, during which they witnessed some questionable activity. Parents don’t normally expose their children to conflict and violence, unless in the service of an ideology, fed by the idea of a future utopianist “heaven.”
Heaven is where we know all, where there are no questions. Likewise a utopia sounds lovely, but in practice it remains an impossibility, making its adherents the heirs to frustration. Heaven is also where, believers tell us, all children go.
But heaven is a myth. The reality is the success of our nation is due to an amendable Constitution, the compromise of democratic institutions and processes, the separations of power in our government, and the light touch that even an elected government must have in our personal lives. The increasing rates of isolation and depression among young people and the progressively unhinged, apocalyptic tone of social activism are hardly health affirming. Atheists in particular must speak about against the new dualism: the good/evil, pie-in-the-sky social justice ideology—itself derived from a Baptist Christian theology, the Social Justice Gospel—that is a substitute heaven but becoming a personal hell for the young and the credulous.