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Reflections of a Firebrand
I helped create woke atheism. Now I’m fighting to destroy it.
I changed my country.
In my book Fighting God, I presented substantial quantitative data supporting the argument that I, an individual activist, had significantly influenced American attitudes towards “God.” It’s a claim few can make, and one in which I have taken great pride.
Now, looking back, I find myself questioning whether I did the right thing. We, the atheist movement, championed truth and skepticism, considering them necessary for making good decisions and leading to freer lives with increased autonomy. That was good. We fought against religious zealots who used their might and money to curtail freedoms, from marriage rights to personal lifestyle choices. That was also good. We squared off against the religious Goliath and emerged victorious—Christianity has been steadily declining, with atheism surpassing the tipping point, as we hurtle towards a nonreligious future. That’s great!
Or is it?
Reflecting on the movement now, I see something I helped build, and then summarily destroy.
As a “Woke AF” leader of the atheist movement, I helped usher in the woke sea-change that has now completely derailed our original cause. Initially, it represented effective activism: advocating for LGBT and abortion rights from an atheistic perspective, positioning these issues within the framework of church and state separation. This broad activism established atheists as valuable contributors to our shared causes. Then wokeism emerged and the scene changed. Suddenly “Believe All Women” became consistent with skepticism, treating people the same regardless of skin color was deemed racist, and Freedom of Speech was labeled “oppressive.” I was right in the thick of it, leveraging my power to enact change.
In our fervor, we metaphorically “killed God.” The atheist movement triumphed—God is on the decline and the tipping point has obviously been passed. Yay.
As an activist, I envisioned a Scandinavian-style atheistic utopia taking shape in a post-religious country. I pictured a society where critical thought was prevalent, truth was prioritized, and autonomy and freedom were maximized because they were unburdened by manipulated information. In my mind, we would never resemble the atheists of China, who were simply mandated to be atheists but not taught critical thought, resulting in a country filled with atheists who still believed in ghosts, voodoo, and lucky numbers. But this wasn’t our path, I reasoned, because we emphasized critical thought—the key distinction.
I failed to consider that the members of my movement could reject skepticism yet label this rejection as skepticism to excuse their actions—and get away with it! I never envisioned that every significant player in the movement (save the fledgling Atheists for Liberty, on which I currently serve as Advisory Board Chair) would abandon our core principles and embrace the political hard Left, forsaking every belief and individual that was even slightly to the Right. I did not anticipate that the movement would leave the movement, become swallowed in Critical Social Justice, and lose its relevance and effectiveness in the process. I did not see it coming.
So, what has happened since we “killed God”? Not atheist Utopia. We won the booby prize—the religion of wokeism has completely taken over the Left side of politics, splitting both families and the nation itself. Riding on a wave of vapid emotion and a juvenile refusal to apply skepticism, the Woke Left—mostly atheists—have embraced this belief system as though it were the greatest new religion ever. Maybe it is.
However, lacking a deity, it allowed wokeism to reside within—and be propagated by—the state. This is why the Left has adopted it. We may have subdued the lion of Christianity, but we failed to eradicate religion; we merely revealed that the lion might have been safeguarding us from the Woke Kraken. This creature is now unshackled, entrenched in our government and education system, and is literally coming for your children.
One question on the table is: would I have preferred for Christianity to remain strong today, effectively suppressing wokeism, even if that meant having never partook in this struggle?
No. We normalized atheism and substantially helped the LGBT Rights movement when they needed us. We did good, but we failed to comprehend the innate desire for people to be told what to do, or the power of the convergence of laziness, white guilt, and groupthink that is wokeism to provide the masses with such direction. The blame does not rest with those of us who fought, but with those for—and with—whom we fought. They failed to internalize the need for skepticism, which was the cornerstone of our fight for freedom. They have betrayed themselves.
Simply put, today’s failures do not negate yesterday’s successes. Societal evolution ebbs and flows, and our efforts may yet prove to be a monumental good in the long run. Yes, we did good, we did it well, and we won. The issue we now face is a corrupted state religion that is brazenly assaulting the principles we hold dear and posing a real threat to our way of life.
So, what do we do now? I don’t have the answers, but I do have a few observations I’d like to share as we navigate the coming years.
The notion of atheists returning to church as a defense against wokeism, about which I first learned several months ago, left me incensed. It still does.
This idea—that atheists should stop resisting and instead actively promote Christianity, perhaps even joining churches, in an attempt to fortify it so that it may defeat wokeism—is gaining traction. Evan Riggs wrote in the European Conservative: “This is a call for sheer pragmatism… Of the two inescapable religious choices before us, Christianity is undoubtedly the better option.” My friend Peter Boghossian echoed a similar sentiment, tweeting, “Better to believe that a man walked on water than all men can give birth.”
This is a pivotal time for us all, and nobody has definitive answers. However, I believe it’s essential to reflect on our morality during this critical period. As I’ve stated earlier, Skepticism fosters truth, which is crucial for making informed choices, ultimately leading to freedom and autonomy. If you are kept in the dark about the truth—if your information is manipulated—you have less freedom to make informed decisions, and you are more enslaved to the narrative. Personal autonomy (you own you) is a principle I hold dear, thus the truth, and access to it, must be a top priority. Therefore:
Indoctrinating a child with beliefs you know to be false, with the intent of controlling their actions and thoughts, is morally reprehensible. Think about this please. Scaring your children with tales of Hell and eternal damnation—which you know to be false—to deter them from becoming woke is nothing short of child abuse. It robs them of freedom and autonomy for the sake of convenience in raising them. You would despise your parents for doing that to you. It’s deeply immoral and truly fucked up. Don’t do it.
It’s also wrong to misrepresent yourself to gain others’ approval. That robs them of the freedom to choose, thereby curtailing their autonomy. In this way, lying to others is a form of attack. In that vein, if you decide to join a church for the community or support, do so as an atheist; do not lie about yourself or your intentions. Find a church (still repulsive to write that but the world is new) that accepts you for who you are, and be yourself. Make “Secular Christianity” a norm within their religion, so as it grows, we will be part of it, not its victims. Your position will be made ever more challenging because it involves simultaneously making Christianity and Conservatism more inclusive of atheists while pushing them to be stalwarts against wokeism. Walk that line.
Being openly atheist will become increasingly challenging; nonetheless, doing so is a moral obligation. We need to combat the growing bigotry against future atheists that’s being exacerbated by today’s woke atheists. Fight it, don’t fake it.
Continue to support Right-of-far-Left atheist organizations like Atheists for Liberty. Being present and truthful on the political center and Right will be all-important as we move forward. I cannot stress this enough: we must be present, as atheists, in every conceivable arena as we forge our future.
While I may not have all the answers, I do have my limits. I understand we’re in unfamiliar territory, and we are all decent people striving to preserve what's precious to us. But deceit is not the answer. Lying is not the answer. Brainwashing our kids is definitely not the answer. We must remain open to all options without compromising our fundamental morality, or we risk betraying ourselves like our brainwashed woke brethren. Can we cooperate with religions? Sure. Should we join them? Perhaps that’s a viable option for some. Regardless, we must uphold the humanistic principles of honesty and autonomy (which are closely related).
As I advocated in Fighting God: always tell the truth. Whether we win or lose, we won’t do so on our knees, praying to a fake Jesus, wasting our breath on lies.
David Silverman is the former leader of both American Atheists and Atheist Alliance International and Creator of the 2012 Reason Rally. His book Fighting God was published in 2015. Subscribe to his YouTube channel Firebrand for Good, and follow him on Twitter @MrAtheistPants
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