Reading Time: 3 minutes

In this quiet space between the winter solstice holidays and the new year, it’s a good time to pause and reflect. Before 2023 arrives with fireworks, here are the biggest stories of the year that was.

OnlySky is looking up

In 2021, I parted ways with Patheos, my writing home of nine years. The owners of Patheos had chosen to take the site in a new direction. They announced that if we wanted to stay, we had to agree to henceforth write only inspirational content that wouldn’t offend or upset anyone. Needless to say, that was unacceptable to me.

Fortunately, OnlySky came along at just the right time. OnlySky, which launched this year, is the first multimedia platform dedicated to advancing the secular worldview and speaking to the world’s rising nonreligious population. I was thrilled to join and to do what I can to support that mission.

A fresh year and a new home means a fresh start. Here at OnlySky, I’ll continue to write about atheism and critique the religious right, but I want to broaden my focus. I’ve taken on a position as the science and technology editor, where I’ll be writing more about big discoveries and promising innovations.

Ukraine

In February, Russia shocked and outraged the world with its brutal, genocidal invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s unprovoked war on a democratic neighbor reminded us that there are still monsters. The Russian army’s destructive advance recalled World War I trench warfare, which still scars the land a hundred years later.

Ukraine, in turn, stunned the world by fighting back and winning. Not only did they battle Putin’s military machine to a stalemate, they rolled back Russia’s initial gains. Their valiant defense of their homeland, made possible by Western weapons, gives the lie to both leftists and centrists who argue that the U.S. should have stayed out of this conflict. (That said, we should still beware the glory of war.)

As the seasons turned, an increasingly desperate Russia switched to a terror strategy of destroying civilian infrastructure and using fossil-fuel blackmail as a weapon. However, in the long run, this will doom their economy. The Western world is breaking its dependence on Russian oil and gas, finding new sources of warmth in winter.

Climate optimism

2022 was a good year for climate optimism. Although our situation is still dire, there are growing signs that the world is making progress toward a greener future.

Renewable energy is booming, bringing with it new climate-friendly technologies like heat pumps. Direct air capture holds the promise of undoing the damage of the past. The more controversial tactic of solar geoengineering, though not without risks, could buy us badly needed time.

Last but not least, President Biden and the Democrats deserve enormous credit for the Inflation Reduction Act, the biggest and most consequential piece of climate legislation the U.S. has ever enacted. The passage of the IRA breaks a three-decade logjam of conservative obstruction and congressional inaction.

Artificial intelligence

In 2022, artificial intelligence burst into the public consciousness in a big way. AI is getting scarily good, gaining abilities that used to be the exclusive domain of humans.

AI art programs displayed startling creativity, but also sparked a fierce debate on the boundaries of fair use. Language programs like ChatGPT could upend academia and journalism, but also show how the secular outlook is spreading.

AI is solving protein folding, ushering in a revolutionary era of medicine. And in the long run, AI and robotics will kill the labor-based economy and should allow us all to work less.

The midterms

The loss of abortion rights was a disaster for America. It’s a painful reminder that your rights are up for grabs if we don’t protect them, and another example of how patriotism is hard and complicated for progressives everywhere.

However, the Christian right overplayed their hand. After the fall of Roe, they were salivating over the midterm elections, expecting another triumph. But election night didn’t go their way: the predicted red wave didn’t materialize, and the results turned out to be more of a blue wall. What’s more, there’s reason to believe the secular vote played a part.

COVID isn’t over yet

The worst days of the pandemic are behind us, and COVID is less bad than it once was. Still, despite the availability of vaccines, we haven’t gotten it under control. To do that, we’ll need more defenses, especially air filtration to help fight the annual onslaught of respiratory viruses.

In some ways, we’re going backwards, as religious conservatives increasingly reject all vaccines and bring back long-vanquished diseases. By their own logic, they should ask whether this is God’s judgment on them—but they don’t. Disturbingly, some of them even celebrate death as a desirable outcome.

This is proof that lack of trust is deadly. Now more than ever, trusting science has survival value.

Miscellaneous

I’ve come to have a greater appreciation for the importance of stories. This year, I wrote about the power of telling your story, how the stories we retell tend to come true, and why science lets us tell better stories.

I mourned the death of Arecibo, wrote about my own quandary as an atheist parent when my son was chosen to lead his school in the Pledge, and argued for the continued urgency of secular values.

Avatar photo

DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...