But the Marxist legacy lives on, and today’s New Atheists aren’t so different from the old Marxist ones. Richard Dawkins doesn’t believe we’re programmed by economic forces. He believes we’re programmed by the “selfish gene.” The New Atheists largely perpetuate the notion that being an atheist means adopting a philosophy of materialism, determinism, subjectivism, government planning, and social engineering—despite the abundant rational evidence against these notions. I’m not the first to observe that this kind of atheism recreates many of the same characteristics of religion, with its own dogmas and catechisms and clerisy, but with society or the state in the place of God.
So it’s no wonder that many Americans recoil from atheism and continue to associate it with immorality and subjectivism, while assuming that freedom, personal responsibility, and the whole American system must require a religious foundation. When conservatives say that our rights are given to us by God rather than society, the New Atheists generally agree with this intellectual framework. They just take the other side, the one in which the state decides what rights it would like to grant you—and which ones it’s going to take away.
This is not inevitable. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote about rights given to us by “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” There are a growing number of us who think the first half of this formulation is sufficient and who attempt to ground morality, liberty, and the American creed in observation of natural laws, without the need for a creator. In the process, we might convince more people—both lovers of freedom and religious skeptics—that it is possible to maintain a belief in freedom while rejecting belief in God. Which might make a lot more people open to the possibility that they have no need for that hypothesis.