By Phil Torres
The new atheism movement doesn’t have the public visibility that it once had. One of the founding members, the polymathic journalist Christopher Hitchens, passed away in 2011, and various controversies have resulted in a fragmentation of the movement. To this day — 12 years after the movement was inaugurated by Sam Harris’ compelling book The End of Faith — new atheism remains dominated by white men, even though women comprise 44 percent of the “religiously unaffiliated” demographic in the contemporary United States.
Despite these shortcomings, I would argue that new atheism — led by luminaries such as Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, and Peter Boghossian — is not only more important today than 12 years ago, but that it could be one of the most important cultural movements in the coming decades. There are two broad reasons for this. First, we should note that secularism is winning the (ir)rationality wars within Western civilization. A 2009 study, for example, found that religion is headed for “extinction” in nine Western countries. And the “nones” demographic in the US is not only increase as a percentage of the population, but “they are becoming more secular over time by a variety of measures.”
Unfortunately, this is a provincial victory; celebration now for the achievements of new atheism would be foolishly premature. The reason is that within the global village more generally, secularism is losing to religion. According to a 2015 Pew study, the total number of “Unaffiliated” will increase from 1.13 to 1.23 billion in 2050, while simultaneously declining as a percentage of the global population, from 16.4 to 13.2 percent. Those of us in this demographic will become even more of a minority by the middle of this century. Meanwhile, the total number of Christians will rise from 2.17 to 2.92 billion, remaining steady at 31.4 percent, and Islam — the fastest growing religion in the world — will increase its numbers from 1.6 to 2.76 billion by 2050, ending up at 29.7 percent of the population. To quote Alan Cooperman, “You might think of this in shorthand as the secularizing West versus the rapidly growing rest.”
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