Lucas Lynch is the Editor-in-Chief of Conatus News. He trained in physics at Harvard University and has an affinity for Christopher Hitchens. I did not know his story, felt curious, and so reached out in order to find out more about him. Here is the result.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you grow up? Was religion a big part of life? How did you come to find the non-religious community?
Lucas Lynch: I grew up in a split household in multiple ways. My father was Jewish, but totally secular. He was the parent that made sure I got extra science classes at the Boston Museum of Science early on Saturday mornings.
My mother was ostensibly mildly religious – she wanted us to have *some* religious background, so she took my sister and I to a very liberal Unitarian Universalist Church for a time.
There were some very kind people in this Church, and I never experienced the kind of terrible things that I’ve come to hear about from so many others who have even risked their lives to leave their religion.
It was thanks to my father’s love of science passed on to me that it became clear in due time that religious claims and arguments did not stand up to scrutiny. That, coupled with extracurriculars in high school that met on Sunday, saw my exit from church attendance.
A more profound experience of ‘leaving religion’ came from a different avenue, though I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. Though my mother was ostensibly mildly religious in the traditional sense, I realized later on her true religion was modern social justice, which was really the gospel we heard preached at home around the clock.
It was exactly her brand of ‘feminism’ – and I do say this in quotes, because I certainly don’t want to lump it in with the kind of feminism I believe in – that preached a very stern flavor of male hatred.
This lead to a very bad situation at home, under which both myself and my father suffered. I eventually had to learn to recognize much of the behavior preached under this ideological context as abusive, and after my father died I had to separate myself from my mother completely.
Being ‘non-religious’ in either sense was not particularly important to me until approximately 2013 or 2014 or so. I was a pretty standard liberal Democrat – I genuinely believed that all religions were more or less the same, that they were all at their core peaceful, and that the problems that seemed to arise from them came from other causes.
I genuinely believed, for example, that with Obama’s election, both his seeming willingness to correct the disastrous foreign policy mistakes of the Bush administration and to reach out to the Muslim world in friendship really would ameliorate the problem of terrorism in the post 9/11 world. With the rise of ISIS in 2014, I had to come to grips with just how wrong I had been.
This coupled with the rise of the modern social justice movement was a perfect storm for me. I started to see this new religion making very intelligent friends often unable or unwilling to speak honestly about the problem of terrorism, and I began to see how our obsession with identity was poised to ruin our discourse and our politics.
I began warning my friends in the coastal bubble that this could contribute to making Donald Trump a viable candidate, and sadly I think my predictions came to pass.
I still see it has having a stranglehold on the Democratic party – making many so-called Democrats more than willing to throw suffering people under the bus if they do not check all the identity boxes, and tone-deaf in many respects to any concerns that fall along class lines.
More than that, the ideology has made enemies out of different groups of people that I believe could otherwise be united in common cause. Until this ideology is successfully challenged in liberal circles, I see Trump or a figure like him continuing to hold power, though naturally I hope my concerns turn out to be wrong.
With both the rise of ISIS and the rise of nationalist movements all over the world, I no longer see debates about religious ideas or postmodernist notions of truth as trivial. It is no accident we find ourselves in a post-truth society, with a president able to lie and suffer no real penalty for it.
It’s one thing when the religious find the concept of real, scientific truth threatening – this I expect – but it was a rude awakening for me to realize just how damaing the postmodernist assault on truth has done to our society at large, particularly as its core ideas went viral thanks to social media.
Fortunately I realized I wasn’t alone. Finding people similarly dedicated to reclaiming what could be described as Enlightenment notions of truth helped keep me sane. I really believe such a movement is the only thing that can help us get out of this morass of untruth we find ourselves in.
Jacobsen: You seem to have an affinity for Christopher Hitchens. How did you first come on to him? Why do you like him? What do you consider his more powerful arguments for irreligion?
Even more important than his specific arguments against religion, Hitchens for me represents a truly independent thinker – most importantly, one willing to challenge ideas within his own ideological sphere.
He was fearless in challenging political correctness and identity politics early on, while simultaneously being willing to admit his own errors in his early thinking about Marxism.
He was also willing to unapologetically challenge religion and the role it plays in inspiring terrorism while remaining a committed man of the left who cared deeply about the suffering of the oppressed, unwavering in his opposition to racism, sexism, and homophobia.
Some people claim that so-called “New Atheism” is a movement of the right, but I believe this is mistaken. I didn’t come to find challenging ideology important because my values had radically changed – I began to see that such challenges are inevitable and necessary if I wished to fulfill my values.
Of course, there are certain things I think Hitchens was wrong about. Even his most committed fans now admit that his support for the Iraq War was probably his single biggest blunder.
But we must respect and admire that even this error came from his willingness to challenge taboos within his own community – a critically important trait we should aspire to if we really going to live lives committed to the truth.
Jacobsen: When you peer into the landscape of the non-religious, what do you see as the modern promising and troubling developments of the movement?
The so-called Atheist movement – a label that I don’t think really describes it accurately, seeing as both Communists and Ayn Rand Objectivists are atheists and yet could not be more different in their central values – currently seems to be suffering a deep schism right along the lines of the Social Justice movement, which has ensconced itself within it, as it has in almost every major intellectual sphere in our modern society.
In one camp seem to be those who think the Trump-enabling identity politics are good and worth defending, while the other camp sees them it as a major obstacle to truth and progress, both scientific and political.
The two camps are also starkly divided on issues regarding free speech, with the hard leftist faction more than happy to restrict speech in the name of ‘protecting’ disadvantaged groups, while the left-libertarian faction still believes that free speech, even when it offends, is critical to defend in the pursuit of truth, and the answer to bad or harmful arguments is better arguments.
The leftist view on free speech I believe is one of the central obstacles to tackling the problem of terrorism in our time. Christianity and Judaism only came to be compatible with what we understand the modern world to be thanks to the relentless assault on their ideas since the Enlightenment.
By making it taboo to allow this process to unfold with Islam, committed leftists have become the collaborators and fellow-travelers of religious extremists everywhere who seek to subjugate women, persecute homosexuals, and endanger the lives of freethinkers.
This postmodernist ideology has served as a kind of ideological immune system to religious extremism, enabling it to preach hatred – as all unchecked, fundamentalist religious inevitably do – without the same kind of pushback we usually see from feminists, LGBTQ activists, and committed liberals, all needed to counter its toxic arguments.
Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of this is that the ideology ends up doing this in the name of protecting the very groups it ends up harming by committing to this process
Jacobsen: You trained in physics at Harvard University. How did you end up there? Why the interest in physics, especially at one of the great universities for it?
I loved science and was very lucky to gain early admission. During my time there, while I realized that my love of science was unabated, I also realized that I wasn’t quite at the level I would need to be to make significant contributions to the field, and I knew it was going to be quite a challenge to get an academic position.
And while I found labwork fascinating and illuminating, I found the social isolation very difficult.
Jacobsen: You took on the role of leading Conatus News. What tasks and responsibilities come with the position? Where do you hope to take the newspaper in 2018?
I was very honored when Benjamin David, who founded Conatus News, asked me to become its Editor in Chief. I had written articles for it in the past, and had read articles written for it by brilliant writers.
This opportunity was totally unexpected, and initially quite daunting, but getting to work more closely with brilliant writers has been incredibly inspiring. It has been great to see our writers move the conversation, being quoted and retweeted by some of the biggest figures in our sphere.
This is my first time being involved in a project at this level – fortunately I inherited a wonderful team of editors, without whom this project would be impossible
We plan to soon do a site redesign, a push on Patreon, and as well as a revamp of our social media strategy. It’s daunting, but also thrilling, to think about how we can take this platform to new heights.
We continue to be a platform dedicated to three core values – reason, free speech, and universal human rights. It’s because of our commitment to these core values, not in spite of them, that we hope to challenge taboos in the name of progress.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Lucas.