Two recent articles reveal the demographics of the New Atheist movement and why it is in the end a very limited phenomenon.
The first is a brief primer on New Atheism in, of all places, Ms. Magazine which points out something that is obvious to anyone who has observed the movement – that it is overwhelmingly male, and mostly old white males of the Western European and American variety:
If you’ve been following the rise of so-called “New Atheism” movement, you may have noticed that it sure looks a lot like old religion. The individuals most commonly associated with contemporary atheism—Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Victor Stenger—are all male, white and, well, kinda old (69, 61, 68 and 75). Sam Harris, another popular figure who bears mention, has the distinction of being in his early 40s.
In many ways this is ironic because this is exactly what secularists often accuse conservative Christians of being, despite the fact that there are notable female leaders in Christianity and churches of every race and nationality. Even the Tea Party leadership includes a few notable women and can claim to have influenced the election of Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians of both sexes.
For whatever reason atheism seems to attract a slim segment of the population which appears to indicate it is a sociological phenomenon as much as it is an intellectual one.
This reality would seem to explain in part the next notable aspect of overt secularism; its effect on reproduction.
Phillip Longman details in his article Survival of the Godliest
on Big Questions Online the long term effects of the reproductive differential between the intensely religious and the overtly secular – basically believers win in the end. I don’t think it is quite so clear cut though I think the slow fading of Europe and Japan is indicative of the effects of secularism on a society. It damages not only reproductive potential but the ability to transmit culture itself. As he puts it:
In a world in which childbearing is rarely accidental and almost never rewarding economically, birthrates increasingly reflect values choices. And so, by Darwinian process, those who adhere to traditions that preserve and celebrate the ancient injunction to “go forth and multiply” wind up putting more of their genes and ideas into the future than those who don’t. As Kaufmann shows, fertility, over time, plays out like compound interest. That is, even if religiously fundamentalist families only have a few more children than secular or religiously moderate counterparts, and they can keep those children holding on to fundamentalist faith and values (especially related to child-bearing), the passage of generations will greatly magnify their numbers and influence. Similarly, secularists and others who choose to have only one or two children, and who pass those values on to their children, will, over time, see their population decline precipitously.
Ironically, the structure and sensibility of secular society is bringing about its own demise. By the 1960s, expanding secularism may have set back religion severely as a force in history, but in doing do so, it strengthened the remaining strongholds of faith and set in motion patterns of reproduction and acculturation that would allow its most fundamentalist forms to reclaim the future. Though there may of course be a deeper reason, one need believe no more than this to understand why the God who was missing in my childhood has returned.
It is interesting seeing how Longman plays the evolutionary scenario in favor of those who are devoutly religious – its one implication of evolution atheists never consider, that if we are evolved creatures then our religious natures are evolved as well and give us a reproductive advantage. Not being an evolutionist myself I think the simpler explanation is that we are designed to be spiritual creatures in a relationship with our Creator, and we function best when that is the case; thus we are more inclined to reproduce. Either way it doesn’t bode well for secularism.
Of course in my experience devout Christian parents just seem to love having kids whom they see as a treasure as opposed to an economic burden and time sacrifice as modern cultures seems to view them. Amongst my evangelical peers my family of a wife and four children seems a bit on the small side – amongst my secular friends and family it seems quite large.
Of course when you juxtapose these two articles it would seem atheists simply drive away potential dates –women just aren’t welcome in the old boys club. That would seem another good reason to reject atheism.