Scott Alexander:

I don’t know. The whole problem is so strange. For a brief second, modern culture looked at New Atheism, saw itself, and said “Huh, this is really stupid and annoying”. Then it cast New Atheism into the outer darkness while totally failing to generalize that experience to anything else. Why would it do that? Could it happen again? Please can it happen again? Pretty please?

He’s wondering why, out of all the intellectual positions that signify membership in the right-thinking elect, atheism should be the only part that became gauche and uncool. Why did progressives decide that atheism was too embarrassing to be associated with, when, say, feminism has done more than enough to scare away all but the most die-hard true believers?

He seems to be overthinking it a bit — I don’t think there’s much more to it than the fact that New Atheism quickly became associated with “Islamophobia” in the intersectional calculus. The prominent spokesmen for the movement were white Western men, who were perceived to be propagandists for bigotry against victimized Muslims (this was especially the case during the Bush years, when it was briefly fashionable for progressives to be anguished over cruise missiles falling on the Middle East). One of the prominent faces of New Atheism in particular, Christopher Hitchens, was already loathed by the left with that special intensity reserved for traitors, after his attacks on Bill Clinton and his subsequent support for the Iraq War. (To a lesser extent, atheism is also associated with “scientism,” which offends the large postmodern contingent of the progressive bloc, where basic biology is seen as a fascist social construction.)

It may be obviously true in the left-wing scheme of things that there is no God and monotheism is cruel and oppressive, but politics always has the final say in these arguments, and left-wing politics currently classifies Muslims as victims in need of protection. It’s like rock, paper, scissors, but with race, culture and gender, and the innovation in this version of the game is that the white male Westerner is always in the wrong, no matter who he’s playing against.