New Atheism and the Alt-Right

by Elias Blum

I have, for many years, been a regular listener to the ‘Non-Prophets Radio’ – an atheist podcast – as well as to podcasts like ‘A Christian and an Atheist’ and ‘Unbelievable?’ I do this because I don’t want to be locked in a Christian mental bubble. I believe that a faith worth having is a faith worth questioning and examining. Sometimes it has caused me to doubt and waver, but always to come back with a deeper and more mature understanding.

But I’ve noticed something very strange in what I might loosely call ‘online new atheist subculture’. A decade ago, this subculture leaned centre-left. It was responding to the G. W. Bush era, when a heavy cloak of evangelical religiosity pervaded the US Government’s foreign policy.

Of course, that was before the financial crisis really it, and before the momentous political changes which have shaken Western democracies on both sides of the Atlantic.  Now it seems there’s a trend in ‘New Atheist’ communities to shift away from the centre-left and to embrace the alt-right. It seems there are three lines of argument to which atheists are particularly attracted and which lead them into an alt-right space.

One line of argument goes something like this: (a) religion is evil and the cause of all violence, ignorance, oppression, and out-dated values; (b) the worst religion is Islam, which poses a particular threat to Enlightenment civilisation; (c) ‘the left’, broadly defined, is soft on Islam, whereas the alt-right treats Islam as the threat it is; (d) therefore, although the far right might be a bit distasteful in some respects, they are the best option – they are keeping us free from burkas and terrorists.

The second line of argument goes something like this: (a) religion is for stupid people, and because I’m an atheist I’m obviously very smart; (b) smart people are the ones who produce everything and generate all the wealth and they should get to keep it; (c) because I am very smart, I should be rich; if I’m not, its because leeches and unproductive drones are stealing it from me; (d) the alt-right want to cut taxes, deregulate markets, and let all the stupid people fail like they should, so that I can succeed and be rich!

The third line argument is as follows: (a) atheism is about cold hard truth, regardless of what is comfortable or socially conventional – there is no God, it’s all just material forces; (b) there are other cold hard truths that society is forgetting, but which a neo-Darwinian worldview makes abundantly clear; (c) for a start, life is all about sex and death, and competition for opportunities to mate, and all the gender politics nonsense just obscures the fact that women are basically for breeding; (d) also, there are biological racial differences – get over it; (e) it is not politically correct to say these things, but they are true, and the alt-right are therefore champions of free speech and defenders of liberty.

So what does all this amount to? Essentially, that the alt-right appeals to freedom (a word, incidentally, which crops up in the names of many European alt-right and far-right parties). It might be a debased, angry, individualised and immature version of freedom, but it is a version of freedom. If we put the three lines of argument outlined above together, the alt-right can present itself as guaranteeing the freedom to live in an open, secular society, against militant Islam, the freedom to make money and get rich, against social democratic policies, and the freedom to speak the truth as they see it against a culture in which some things (like sexism and racism) are no longer socially acceptable.

We cannot begin to understand or to confront the alt-right unless we see it for what it is: not a species of fascism (which was, after all, a collectivist and teleological ideology), but as a species of neo-liberalism – an individualist, nihilistic and amoral ideology. The alt-right is ‘New Atheism’ in action.