Far fewer British people agree with vitriolic assertions about religion. Still, disbelief in God is on the rise in both the UK and the US.
“I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate,” Richard Dawkins said in 1996 to the American Humanist Association. Ten years later, in 2006, a ComRes poll found that 42 percent of UK adults agreed with this vitriolic statement. That is, two in five were not just nonbelievers; they thought all belief in God should be deliberately snuffed out.
This was near the height of the New Atheism movement—an angry, bombastic form of anti-religion that arose in the early 2000s. New Atheist leaders garnered millions from best-selling books and gained an influential following. At the time, it seemed that this would become the permanent state of secularism—that a lack of belief in God was necessarily joined with a bitter, trollish contempt for religion.
But things began to change. By 2015, some had begun to announce the death of New Atheism, and in 2020, 15 years after the ComRes poll, a new survey showed that only 20 percent of adults in the UK agreed that religious faith could be compared to an evil and intractable plague on society.
Nick Spencer—senior fellow at Theos, a Christian thinktank in the UK, and one of the coauthors of the new report—said the New Atheism era spawned an unprecedented scale of animosity against religion in the general public. But he concluded in a 2022 Theos report on science and religion that “the angry hostility towards religion engineered by the New Atheist movement is over,” with the UK public expressing a more balanced view of religion than during the height of New Atheist influence. Among the streams of contemporary nonbelief, more nuanced forms are on the rise.
As the New …