Chris Stedman stole our word

June 17, 2011 • 8:54 am

Chris Stedman, who works for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, is an interfaith activist well known for his coddling of faith, his passive-aggressive hatred of all things Gnu, and his patronizing essays on how atheists must behave.  His new book, coming out next year, has a title purloined from our own dialogue:

The one good thing about this: accommodationists can no longer kvetch that “faitheist” has pejorative connotations (it didn’t start out that way anyway).  After all, Stedman wears the label proudly!

h/t: Sigmund

119 thoughts on “Chris Stedman stole our word

  1. Apparently there is no truth to the rumor that Michael Ruse plans to title his next book after the term he is known by in the gnu community.

  2. (F)a(i)theist: How One Atheist Learned to Overcome the Religious-Secular Divide, and Why Atheists and the Religious Must Work Together

    He seems inordinately fond of the word “must.” Creeps me out.

    1. Yes. To lawyers, judges and legislators (working in realms where precision in the use of words is preferable but not always achieved), “must” is used only to describe an obligation. Stedman’s subtitle is telling us non-believers that we have an obligation to “work together” with religious believers.

      I work together with “the religious” every day on many projects. It’s just that as we are doing so, I don’t label myself (and don’t need to label myself) as an atheist, and my collaborators don’t label themselves (and don’t need to label themselves) as Baptist or Bahai or Buddhist or Catholic or Reform Jewish or Shiite or Sunni or Sikh. We’re just human beings getting the job done.

      But I have a feeling that Stedman wants us to “work together” in ways and on projects where we are explicitly labeled as “non-believers” and “people of faith,” or where the project itself is trumpeted as “interfaith.” I say it’s broccoli and I say to hell with it.

        1. Thank you!! Getting the details and the origins of “useless” trivia right is one of things that makes my pedant-in-training life well worth living.

        2. That reminds me of “gilding the lily” which is both wrong — if you’re quoting Shakespeare — and right — if you’re quoting Dryden.


  3. One of the most irritating thing about religious people (and yes, Stedman is a religious atheist) is their desire to foist their hobbies on others. Jerry likes cats, musicals, and cowboy boots, but he wouldn’t write a book with the subtitle “why atheists must like cats, musicals, and cowboy boots”. Non-narcissistic people are able to share their interests with others without thinking that everyone else “must” to have the same interests. But Stedman somehow thinks he has the right to write a book with the subtitle “why atheists and the religious must work together”. If he wants to be “inter-faith”, go ahead, but it’s his hobby, nothing more, and there is no reason that other atheists “must” do so as well.

  4. Yeah – interfaith means they think they are all right, that all religious folk who fervently believe in god/ess will be saved? I doubt it. “They do but flatter with their lips, and dissemble in their double heart.”

  5. Heehee.

    I doubt that he really stole the word – it seems much more likely that he chose it independently because it so perfectly sums up his stance – he’s an atheist who simply adores “faith” and frankly kind of hates atheists.

    This must be quite an unpleasant stance to have, when you think about it.

    I too hate all the “must”ing and all the presumptuous “advice,” as if he has years and years of accumulated observation and experience and wisdom. But…he’s very very very young. Maybe he’ll grow out of it.

    1. The morning after my eighteenth birthday party, my first boyfriend—the one I fell in love with in an instant, who told me that God brought us together and made me believe it, who I cared about so deeply that four weeks into our relationship I dug out the certificate I had co-signed with God agreeing not to have sex before marriage from the bottom of my underwear drawer, scattering green and orange boxers across my camel carpet, and triumphantly tore it in two, the one for whom I only applied to in-state colleges, the one I was convinced I’d marry—broke up with me in a text message.

      Yeah, pretty young.

      1. You know…that excerpt (the little of it I could stand to read) makes me a little bit irritated. I think it’s a kind of emotional blackmail – a kind of insurance policy against forthright criticism. I think that because, having read the little bit I just did, I find myself feeling inhibited about forthright criticism.

        I think this is my basic disagreement with Stedman. I think he manipulates instead of arguing or reasoning. Endless sentimental language instead of substantive reasoned argument.

        He’s very very young; it’s understandable that he’s not perfect; but his extreme youth doesn’t make him any less confident about his advice and his claims and his “work.” It ought to, but it doesn’t.

        1. he’s very very very young.

          He’s very very young

          He is getting older as we write!

          Actually, you are likely spot on; lack of experience. Also tends to artificially boost confidence, btw.

        2. Good lord it’s presumptuous of someone in his early 20s to be publishing what he describes as a “memoir.”

          1. Oh god, it’s too much. The writing, it’s sooooooooo bad:

            “Yep,” Jon said, staring me in the mouth, waiting for me to lean forward with my eyes closed and end this charade.

            “And the props…” I started.

            “Kiss me kiss me kiss me!” Jon exclaimed, unable to wait any longer. And I did. In that moment, the world split open. It was like the first time I successfully rode my bike without feeling like I would topple over in an instant; like the first time I read a book or listened to a song and really felt it; like the first time a fully formed word emerged amongst the gibberish of my infant mouth.

              1. Definite over-inflated sense of self, with delusions of being a writer. But I’m sure fans of Twilight will eat the book up.

        3. You’re so polite, Ophelia. I’m afraid I think Stedman is a sanctimonious little shit, and I have the feeling he’s going to remain one all his days.

      2. the certificate I had co-signed with God agreeing not to have sex before marriage

        I’m sorry – isn’t this a guy?

        What am I missing here? How does that work? “Dear God, I promise not to have gay sex until I’m gay married”?

        1. AFAIK, many males in the USA who grow up in nominally Christian households regard celibacy before marriage as a virtue–gay, bi, and straight. After all, secular marriage is what is banned for same-sex couples, not the religious ceremony.

          1. Religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples won’t happen in a whole lot of Christian traditions in the USA.

            Why on earth are people who are treated this badly by Christianity, who don’t even believe it any more, wanting anything to do with that poison?!

            1. Why on earth are people who are treated this badly by Christianity, who don’t even believe it any more, wanting anything to do with that poison?!

              All I know is that a great many lesbian and gay people stick with their religious beliefs and will continue to believe in most of the Christ Show despite the mistreatment that entails. I suppose I’ll have to subject myself to skimming the excerpt from his Jim Wallis love-fest to verify this, but I thought that Stedman was still a Christian at that point in his life when he tore up the Promise of Chastity he had co-signed with the Great Imaginary Space Fairy in order to feel free to jump in the sack with his lover. … Yeah, it looks like it.

              1. Yes, Christian then, not Christian now – but still so very sympathetic to Christianity. Leaving Christianity is a great step, mind you. It’s the desire to stay close to it, to work with it, to approve of it and want to build bridges back to it, and to encourage all this with others who’ve left it behind – that’s the grotesque mystery that troubles me.

                I know staying with Christianity while gay and getting all that Christian hate for it is common. If you feel that God somehow loves you and that the church (which despises what you are) is your “family”, it’s understandable. It’s much the same as people having a hard time leaving abusive relationships.

                But Stedman’s left it! He’s free. And yet there’s so much affection left for it. It’s like leaving the abusive relationship after he hospitalized you but insisting on still having him over for holiday dinners and letting him babysit the kids.

              2. @Jeff Engel

                It’s much the same as people having a hard time leaving abusive relationships.

                It’s like leaving the abusive relationship after he hospitalized you but insisting on still having him over for holiday dinners and letting him babysit the kids.

                Nice ways of putting it 🙂 And like you, I don’t get Stedman’s need to continue to engage with that abusive system–abusive to not only LGBT people but women and children in general. It should be called “inter-cultural-ways-of-harming-people”.

  6. I find atheism and inter-faith an odd one. surely ‘faith’ is the problem not the solution? It does also give the religious plenty of ammo to be able to say we ‘have faith’ in atheism or that atheism is just another religion.

    Still, if he gets something from it and it genuinely does some good, then good for him I guess.

  7. It depends on what exactly this “work” we “must” do together is. If it’s building bridges to nowhere, not my gig. If it’s building a truly secular society where religion is a purely private matter and religious privilege is no more, I’m there.

    1. That can’t very well be what it is, since the subtitle refers to “overcoming” the “secular-religious divide.”

      That’s quite the oxymoron, really. Next project: overcoming the hot-cold divide.

      1. The way some faitheists use “secular” makes me think they might not really appreciate what it means. Why would a secularist be interested in “overcoming” the “secular-religious divide”? As many religious people recognize, secularism is about preserving this divide – otherwise secular has no meaning. It’s like saying you support independent scientific research but celebrating “overcoming the independent-corporate divide.”

      2. If there is a secular-religious divide, it is primarily the result of the constant dehumanizing and “othering” by the religious.

        It’s like when one person is solely responsible for a problem and then tells everyone “ok, time to clean up! We’re all in this together guys (and gals)!” No, we aren’t. That person has a greater responsibility to clean up the problem THEY caused.

        If Stedman and his religious allies are so keen on bridging the divide, perhaps they need to address their coreligionists who are doing everything do make those bridges necessary to begin with. But they’ll probably just end up picking up trash by the freeway and give themselves a mighty pat on the back.

  8. What’s the word for an atheist who is not a faitheist, not an accomodationist, and not a dick? That is, an atheist who focuses on arguments and refrains from making personal attacks?

    1. Maybe we need a gnu word for that one?

      [Note to self: Never ever post self-gratifying comments. Unless they are for lulz.]

      1. Well PZ calls himself a gnu, right? PZ delights in making personal attacks–even values them. (After all, they can be funny.)

        I’m looking for a term describing someone who prefers to make strong arguments while consciously avoiding personal attacks.

    2. Ugh, more largely superfluous terms? Terms for substantial positions is surely convenient, but do we really need entire grammatical formes for “Nice atheist”, “Stuttering atheist”, “Sad dogwalker”, “Confused dogwalker”, “Long-haired cat person”, and “Olive-skinned vegan”?

      1. I’m trying to figure out what the terms are.

        There is a subculture which places positive value on personal attacks—or at least they are seen as neutral and accepted. Is that the “gnu” subculture?

        Assuming that is “gnu”, what’s the term for someone who’s exactly like “gnu” except that he opposes the use of personal attacks? Neither “accommodationist” nor “fatheist” are close.

        1. Who cares what you call yourself? We like labels as shorthand, but they’re just approximations. Why concern yourself with any labels? You can be an Gnu or an Accomadationist, or a Fatheist, or whatever and how you act is up to you. There is no requirement for any of those that you have to use personal attacks. And, by personal attacks, do you mean Ad Hominems or Insults – there is a difference, namely the first is to be avoided, but the second is a human trait and hard to avoid.

        2. That isn’t gnu, actually. That’s part of the point of gnu. New/gnu atheists are accused of always and everywhere using personal insults; this accusation is a way of marginalizing and discrediting argumentative atheism before it gets started. Gnu atheists actually are argumentative or avowed or explicit or unapologetic or open or uncloseted atheists, who may or may not use humor, sarcasm, personal insults and the like.

          1. First two sentences are confusing. What I meant was: the fact that that’s not actually “gnu” is part of the point of “gnu.” The use of “gnu” is partly a reaction to the backlash against “new” atheism, much of which consists of pretending that “new” atheists are invariably rude and shrillandstrident.

        3. what’s the term for someone who’s exactly like “gnu” except that he opposes the use of personal attacks?


          Ophelia is 100% right.

          Some gnus do. Some gnus don’t. Even those who don’t oppose the use of personal attacks may not use them themselves. And those gnus that do use them, don’t always: Look at PZ in Dublin; he was more than polite to those Muslim guys.

          But when gnus do, I’d say the attacks are pretty much consistently reserved for the odious, bigoted, ignorant, devious or witless religionists (or accommodationists) who deserve it.


    1. Yes! That irritates me no end – & unfortunately they tend to be history or popular science books that I might read. Just try this experiment – in Amazon search books for ‘how changed the world’ & you get 100s – Mahler, pornography, a prayer, the US women’s football team, Asperger talents, British actors, US foreign policy, Apple, Fender, anaesthetics, a map, Edinburgh, Leeds, one family, the brain, the clock, the wheel, oil, the lightbulb,technology, drawing, flowers, the first flying-saucer contactee, the machine that, the industrial revolution, 50 cars, cod….
      Think I have made my point.

    2. and let’s not even get in to papers submitted at conferences. Really? You put the whole abstract in the sub-title? How clever.

    3. “Ignore when people say that the length of a game’s title is not important, that a title should just convey what the game is about. They’re just jealous theirs isn’t as long.
      — Atlus, in the newsletter email announcing the localization of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abbadon”

    1. Truly this is the work of a brilliant mind. You, Gadfly, are the most promiennt, ne’er drunken blogger I have ever personally read. So much better than those Hitler-esque, Trotsky-ite, Stalinistic, Last-name-of-a-historical-figurian, blogic stewards of IMmorallity that comprise the gnasty Gnu Atheists.

    2. Ugh, blogwhoring. And not even on-topic! That’s two troll boxes ticked.

      “Glad I delinked Pharyngula from my blogroll.”

      I’m sure that’ll keep him up at night – but surely linking to PZ’s blog is the only way you’ll get any traffic …

    1. “Provide a snappy, one-word name for those atheists who are nonetheless soft on faith (i.e., atheist accommodationists).”

      Yes, really pejorative.

      … um, where? Do you really thing Pieret’s cold reading, or, well, anything of him to tell the facts*, count around rational people?

      * He is a known sophist. Nothing more.

      1. Oh, and I forgot: The article already provided the source. It was the 2nd link, in case you want to read the article anytime soon.

  9. After finding out how much of a templeton shill Chris Mooney is and listen to him drone on about how cool “spirituality” is on the POI podcast, I have absolutely no desire to learn any more about this Chris Stedman guy.

    I can only tolerate one douchebag at a time.

  10. Stedman has a Facebook update linking to this and saying he’s being marginalized. True enough, but then gnu atheists get marginalized on his blog, so round n round n round we go. He hit me first! Make her give it back! He touched me! She’s kicking me! When do we get there! I want a Coke!

      1. It’ll be big, I think that’s safe to assume. He’s got lots of adoring fans. It’s like Karen Armstrong – to gnus it’s obvious that she talks woolly nonsense, but she’s way popular. I don’t like his shtick, but it certainly does “work” in the sense of bums on seats or eyes on pages, and passionate admiration.

        1. Are they atheists? What I’m most curious about is whether they expect atheists to be interested in it* or it’s more aimed at religious people.

          *(which is not to say that they won’t be)

          1. Good point; I suspect lots come from the faith side of the bridge he’s trying to build. But there is that faction of atheists that rushes to lavish affection on anyone that Jerry or PZ or I says “boo” to. Granted that’s only about three people…

    1. How marginalized can he be if he’s had a freakin’ BOOK PUBLISHED?!

      Unless he means “marginalized” as in he is not universally adored and we don’t all follow his “musty” imperatives. Then, yeah, I’m all about marginalizing.

      1. How marginalized can he be if he has a gig at the Washington Post “Faith” blog and another at the HuffPost and goes on speaking trips and has a job with the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy? Not very marginalized. But I think the deal is that because he’s so thoroughly Good, any opposition at all of any kind equals marginalization.

        1. I am forcefully reminded of the “persecution” Christians perceive in the face of… firm criticism of the evidentiary basis of their claims, or the claim that one can disagree with them honestly, soberly, thoughtfully, and yet not be a baby-eating nihilist.

          Perhaps Stedman sees a lot of work he can do together with Christians this way.

  11. Chris Stedman is able to engage with religious people in ways most other atheists can’t. I hope to be able to engage with non-Christians with the humility and intrigue that Chris brings into his work.

    He’s isn’t out to change anyone’s minds, but to inspire ideas. Clearly people working together to solve issues, and being nice to folks is a good value to promote, whether you’re atheists, religious, agnostic, etc. Saying you have a problem with it, regardless of your religious or philosophical identity, just kind of makes you look silly.

    1. Are you his publicist? Humility? This about the man who declaims in pious tones on various blogs about his constant good works? He is the very antithesis of humble; he is vanity defined.

      If he’s not trying to change minds, then what in the world is he doing (no, an empty statement such as “inspire ideas” isn’t an answer). He is very much trying to change minds, particularly the minds of people who aren’t used to atheists who refuse to pay excessive deference to religion. He’d like to change their minds so they see us as Other.

    2. If he isn’t out to change anyone’s mind, why does the subtitle of his book say what atheists must do? Why do his posts and articles so often say what atheists must do?

    3. “He’s isn’t out to change anyone’s minds”

      Don’t be absurd. That’s exactly what he’s out to do, and he says so in the book title.

      This must be what you mean when you write about the “intrigue that he brings to his work.”

      1. Well, we have to wonder how he got god to cosign his virginity pledge that he kept beneath his underwear. Inquiring minds want to know!

        1. Perhaps he felt that he was briefly possessed by this imaginary thing he calls God and signed the paper with both his left hand and his right hand or something like that. If he truly is an atheist, he ought to be able to explain it easily without pretending that the space fairy is real.

  12. “Why atheists and the religious must work together”
    Oh-oh, NO!!!!!!!!! (sorry for the extra exclamation marks) The man’s a turkey, or whatever the religious equivalent is- a scrificial lamb with earrings, maybe.

  13. I do not know what faitheism wants to signify, but I can imagine three reasons why atheism is not a majority view.

    1. Majority views are made for losers and suckers, whereas atheism and darwinism are views for a small elite of priveliged academics (I’ll explain that below).

    2. The majority of people does not form judgements by rational reflection but by emotional projection or association. Therefore, if , for example, if they can draw a lesson for their own lifes from a story of consolation or forgiveness, they’ll say “it’s true”. I do not know whether the majority is also so unreflective as to buy the whole religious baggage being sold along with the stories of redemption. But surely, arguments that something is “not true” rationally or logically cuts no ice with believers.

    Given that the majority of people are firstly economic losers of the game of life, and secondly form judgements by way of emotional association, what messages can they possibly draw from atheistic or darwinistic stories?

    My hunch is that all they ever hear is: “You’re a loser, get lost!”, no matter how many grains of salt, drift, and contingency you add. All they ever hear is “competition” and “survival of the fittest”. Now, they project that on their own lifes – are they competitive, are they fit? No. So why does everybody here think they must buy your view?

    Start telling evoltionary stories of losers that neverhteless survived and you will probably win more converts for darwinism than any rational argument can – something like: “… look at this creature, it’s dumb, it’s lame, it can hardly maintain itself, it does not know how to do sex properly, it hardly gets any. Why is it still around? It should have gone extinct millions of years ago. But here it is, alive and kicking…”

    3. Atheism has no intrinsic resistance to the all-encompassign accelleration of every aspect of our society. On the contrary, many darwinists even tend to call it progress. What do you say if an employer wants to get rid of, say, some Christian holyday? If you were a worker doing hard labour, why not opt for a false belief that grants you a day off every seven days and several other holydays throughout the year as well?

    If faitheism is a form od atheism that can somehow provide for these three issues (that is, consolation for losers via emotional projection rather than rational reflection and deceleration) then maybe it will become a majority view in the future.

    1. What you are describing is roughly what has previously been described as social darwinism (that is modeling human society on the processes of nature). Gnu atheists as a group are almost always against that concept (I can support that if you are unable to look it up yourself). Gnu atheists often lean toward social support to help those that are having difficulty developing a secure and healthy life, while the politicians that christians support (at least in the United States) often vote against such programs and progress. To a limited extent christians support the poor thru religious activities but they expect adoration and devotion in return. Also, do note, that the christian activities are supported at the expense of tax payers.

      1. @Notagod
        I did not mean the application of evolutionary theory to human society. That’s usually motivated by an ostensible degeneration of human populations and the ostensible need to re-introduce some form of selection as a remedy.

        I was talking about the analogical or metaphorical understanding of people, who cannot or would not bother to engage with evolutionary theory on an academic level.

        An “understanding” so formed is not about the long term survival of humanity or society and that is none of their concerns, I guess.
        The question is rather, what can evolutionary theory possibly have as an import to the personal life of a hard working underdog? If it has none, why should one bother, if it has solely negative ones, why should one buy into it?

        I can even imagine that a darwinian model, if it could be fed with data of the number of holydays a belief is granting, the amount of social friction due to the major belief of ones environement etc. etc. will spit out the answers properly. That is, darwinian machines should under circumstances such and such opt for this or that religious belief system, even though it was factually false.

  14. The prose is SOOOO bad. like a romance novel, but definitely more boring and much less sexy than a romance novel. it reads like the memoir of a drunk sorority girl who only writes after she’s had 10 wine coolers and called everyone who’s ever dumped her–writing long frilly sentences that are supposed to impress and illuminate, but just read and sound wayyyy too self-important, indulgent, and sophomoric. it’s sort of cute that way, i guess.

    also: memoirs from a 20-something middle class, white gay kid? seriously. as if we haven’t heard that story one million times.

    who cares.

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