Jacob Hamburger in The Point:
By 2014, many Americans had forgotten about New Atheism. For liberal Americans in the depths of the Bush years, anti-religious best sellers by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens came as—for lack of a better word—a godsend. With the Christian right in the White House, and jihadist terrorism perceived to be a constant danger in the wake of 9/11, a vocal rationalist atheism appeared to many a natural and necessary counterweight. But after nearly six years of Barack Obama’s presidency, Bush and his born-again gang were far from the high seats of power, the War on Terror was no longer a feature of most people’s daily lives, and there was a widespread impression of leftward progress on social issues. The services of the anti-religious crusaders were no longer needed.
2014 was nonetheless the year a number of New Atheism’s celebrities began making their comeback. Chief among them was Sam Harris, who appeared in October on Bill Maher’s comedy talk show Real Time (Maher himself having contributed to the New Atheist phenomenon with his 2008 documentary Religulous), and the two entered into a heated argument with the actor Ben Affleck on the subject of Islam and the rise of ISIS. Affleck’s unwillingness to criticize conservative views held by Muslims, the two agreed, was a sign that self-described liberals were willing to sacrifice “liberal principles” like freedom of speech or the equality of women at the altar of cultural sensitivity. The following year saw a wave of terrorism in Europe, as well as the launch of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the return of media scandals over “political correctness” on American college campuses. New Atheist celebrities formed a vocal contingent of an emerging collective which has sought to link these disparate developments into a common narrative. According to this narrative, a return of irrationalism in the Western world had rendered many mainstream liberal politicians, commentators and voters incapable of defending or even recognizing their core principles. At the forefront of this new attack against reason, they allege, are not only jihadists and the populist right, but also a radical left obsessed with equality and diversity.