Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hipster Atheism

When I'm out drinking around town and strike up conversations with strangers, I often want to talk about beliefs. I'm fascinated about exploring other people's worldviews. Lately, most of the young people that I've talked to have all been atheists. This may not come as a surprise given that I live in New York - a very liberal city and a third of all Americans under 30 have no religion, but here in New York the number of atheists/non-theists seems to be much higher than a third. It seems to be a majority.

New York has one of the largest hipster communities in the world, and Williamsburg (which is only a few miles from where I live) is considered the official hipster capital of the world. I don't have official statistics, but in my experiences with the hipster community, atheism or agnosticism seems to be rampant. Atheism seems to be "cool" with the fashionably conscious. It's very rare - almost never, that I run into a young person who actually believes in a theistic god within the context of a particular religion. While I think it's fucking awesome that so many young people are catching onto atheism in numbers that have never been seen before in the US, I certainly want to keep atheism a plausible intellectual position and not just some trend that will be jettisoned once it gets too popular. That's because once something goes "mainstream," hipsters are required to hate it by law, and the growing popularity of atheism might backfire if "uncool" people in backwards parts of the country start embracing it.

It's unsure whether the popularity of atheism among hipsters will be something long term or will just be a passing fad. After all, many of the hippies of the sixties embraced atheism and then came back to traditional religion in their later years. But fear not. I personally think that the atheism popular among hipsters isn't going be a passing fad and that large numbers of today's millennials will continue their disbelief in theism for quite some time, perhaps the rest of their lives. The two main reasons why I think so are because the internet today makes it easy for people to quickly find arguments against religion and to find media that pokes fun at how absurd religion is and this wasn't available to the hippies back in the sixties and seventies. A generation raised on YouTube and user defined media critical of religion will continue to reap its rewards. The other reason is that on the social issues like gay marriage, contraception and abortion - issues that the vast majority of hipsters support, the conservative positions that many religion's hold on them drives a cultural and political wedge that will prevent most hipster millennials from thinking highly of these institutions. This is why I for one think that it's great that churches across the US vocally criticize gay marriage and maintain a conservative stance on these kinds of issues: it helps make them look stupid and helps keep young people away from religion. Conservative Christians are sealing their own religion's demise and atheists should aid them in doing so. That's why I like to encourage conservative Christians to be as anti-gay, anti-contraception and as anti-abortion as possible.

Now when it comes to hipster atheism I see the trend only getting bigger and better as time goes on. Hipsterism has become so mainstream now, for better or worse. I remember back in 2001/2002 when it seemed like a local New York thing. Now suburban kids everywhere are rocking skinny jeans, thick-frame glasses and disheveled hair. Perhaps atheism becoming "cool" amongst hipsters will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to it, but only time will tell. I don't see belief in Yahweh coming back in style anytime soon, and so I don't see many other alternatives to atheism, besides theism and deism. I suppose that pantheism and spiritual beliefs tend to still be popular among the young and trendy, but to be honest, the "spiritual but not religious" label does not threaten me nearly as much as the Islamic fundamentalist label, or Christian fundamentalist label does. SBNR is really a lot of hot air and although technically it's just as false as traditional theism, it's often benign and relatively harmless. It's also a  much easier step to go from being SBNR to being agnostic or atheist than it is from traditional theism.

So I think the trendy adoption of atheism amongst hipsters and millennials is here to stay and isn't merely a fad. That handle bar mustache however, I'm not so sure about.


  1. I have such a strong aversion to the whole hipster thing that I have to hope atheism doesn't become associated with it. But I suppose it would be nice to see atheism become increasingly common among the youth.

  2. To some degree it already has. I don't know if this is a good or bad thing in the long term. If atheism and secular humanism become "cool" things, it can help spread them. But it can also make them into mere trends that could "go out of style." So my views are mixed on this. I am willing to bet that disbelief in god is here to stay because I don't see large numbers of hipsters and millennials embracing traditional theism with its associated homophobia and draconian sexual regulation. But who knows.

  3. But how big is the hipster movement? What of, say, the Hispanic communities, or the lower socio-economic communities where belief is traditionally higher?

    1. It tends to be a "white" thing -- sort of. But it has spread into the Hispanic and black communities and has so for more than a decade. I live in NYC where hipsterism has fully spread to the black, Hispanic and Asian communities. NY is always a bit ahead of the rest of the nation, but the same trends are happening elsewhere. As hipsterism spreads it seems to spread atheism/agnosticism with it in my experience.



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