Ed West:

The writer Peter Juul has identified three religious strands to the awokening. Most important is anti-racism, with whiteness and white supremacy ‘as the mystical and all-pervasive source of evil in the world’. Juul writes how ‘the concept of “white privilege” stands in for the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, complete with ritual confessions of sin that can never fully absolve a person of their fallen state’. White supremacy is a form of evil that explains all sorts of injustice, however logically implausible.

Then there is climate apocalypticism, which has more straightforward biblical undertones. I’m concerned about climate change — I’m fairly pessimistic about most things — but I agree that there is an obvious apocalyptic element to the movement, which is not backed up by the (admittedly worrying) scientific models.

Finally, there is gender identity, whereby someone’s ‘soul’ might be separate from their body. This last belief is the most recent of the strands, and in some ways the most extreme. It also feels the most obviously religious; the endless wrangling debates about whether someone has a female or male essence is perhaps the most theological our politics has got in years.

That this is proclaimed by people who otherwise declare that we ‘trust the science’, including members of the scientific establishment, makes it doubly strange (of course, what many people say about this is issue in public varies with what they say in private). But then, I suppose, it is only strange if you don’t appreciate that politics and religion are inherently linked.

I don’t know that history is merely “one damn thing after another.” More accurately, we could say, “This again? Are you kidding me?” History displays less imagination in rebooting old ideas than Hollywood does. Is it really so strange to consider that we may be moving back toward a political definition of atheism, as in ancient Rome, in which failure to pay obeisance to the official state cults can get one charged with impiety and exiled from professional life? Not to me. Luckily, the Epicurean injunction to “live unnoticed” was in my DNA from the beginning. I’ve been secretly heresying all my life.  And so I say, to all my newly-minted “atheist” friends: