The New Atheists Are the Old Evangelicals

They’re increasing in number, writing books at an increasing pace, gaining political influence both in the United States and abroad. They’re appearing more and more on television, gearing up their followers, and telling us that if we would only follow what they say, the world would be a better place. Yet, to doubt them or critique them only brings about harm. While they preach that their beliefs are completely rational – in fact, to be rational is to agree with them – they don’t use any reason to back up their claims, only rhetoric. Ultimately, the movement is anti-intellectual in that it doesn’t encourage critical thinking, but instead blind adherence to what is being taught.

Am I talking about the New Atheists or the Old Evangelicals (80s and 90s)? The answer is disturbingly “yes.”

Those who grew up in evangelical circles, especially in the 1980s and 90s, are very familiar with the tactics and culture surrounding the New Atheists. The reason is because while the content between the two is drastically different, the overall “zeitgeist” is the same. Both insult opponents rather than engage them in civil dialogue. Both point out the evils of those who disagree with them and show how one particular group is out to destroy the world. The reason evangelical Christians and new atheists don’t get along extends beyond fundamental differences of belief; they don’t like each other because they’re using the same tactics.

The reality is that Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and others are just a few art classes away from producing an atheist-style Jack Chick tract. Whereas the 1980s and 90s had Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson and others promoting the Gospel, ridiculing those who disagreed, and trying to make us a “Christian nation” once again, we now have Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and others promoting “secularism,” ridiculing those who disagree, and trying to make us a “Secular nation” once again.

The Old Evangelicals relied heavily on rhetoric, fear, demonization, and manipulation to increase the masses and move towards what they believed to be the solution. The New Atheists, however, are doing the exact same thing. Their rhetoric challenges Christianity without allowing for a response; try to prove to them that belief in God is rational (even if not true) and you don’t get an educated response. All you get is an ad hominem reply or a series of arguments chock full of question begging. They point out how Christians want to take over America, they do this to induce fear. They move on to demonize anyone who believes in God, with Dawkins going so far in his “documentary” “The Root of All Evil?” to say that parents who raise their children to believe in God are guilty of abuse. All of this is based on manipulation of the facts or by focusing on one element of Christianity to brand all other Christians. These tactics aren’t new, however; they’re stolen from the Old Evangelicals (Religious Right) and are now being used against them.

Both the Old Evangelicals and the New Atheists are, of course, wrong. The reality is that one can approach the realm of faith or unfaith in a rational way. While I would argue that only one way is ultimately rational, it is possible to be a rational atheist, just as it is possible to be a rational Christian. Sadly, there hasn’t been any civil dialogue because neither side is interested in civility; they’re only interested in being right, they’re only interested in winning. In this, and in many ways, the Old Evangelicals and the New Atheists are the same tune, just different lyrics. Adherents to Christianity and those who engage in atheism should shake off these old ways and instead embrace civil dialogue. Or, to put it more bluntly and in a less civil way, they should grow up.


2 thoughts on “The New Atheists Are the Old Evangelicals

  1. Hi Joel,

    Yes, it’s intriguing isn’t it, the similarity in tactics? But whilst they rant about the irrationality of our faith and the ‘lack of proof’ for God, I’m led to think in terms of whether rationality is the measure of faith? Or whether their scientific rationality which urges for verification through empirical proof, is actually the measure for God’s existence?

    Michael Polanyi reminded us that “belief is the basis of all knowledge”, it is belief that shapes our worldview and forms a language to navigate reality. My suspicion is that rationality derives not from a christian worldview, but from outside our story, our narrative. By which I do not mean that we are irrational, but that rationalism is not the way we engage with God. We do not test God against our standards. Our belief is in a God who is good, not rational, who is Love and this is not based on the romantic appeal of measuring how much God loves us! (Show me the Money!)



  2. Jack Chick is a great man, and his tracts have led so many to the Lord in this world, being translated in dozens of languages and printing over 500 million tracts! Praise God. Chick tracts do get read, rarely thrown away. Most other tracts litter the parking lots or places we hand them out, but not Chick tracts. I am not a Fundamentalist Baptist, but I do appreciate the consistent view of eternity and the Judgment Day portrayed in his tracts, and his exposure of Popery for what it is, and even coming against the nonsense in Evangelical Christendom, like “Christian” rock, metal, rap and so on. What carnal NONSENSE. Praise the Lord for Jack Chick!

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