Why are faitheists so nasty?

July 14, 2014 • 7:11 am

What has struck me over the past few weeks is the anger with which certain writers (I won’t name names, but there are more than one) excoriate the New Atheists—even if those critics are atheists themselves! (I call atheists sympathetic to religion “faitheists.”) One thing I do recognize is that the vitriol is stronger when someone used to be religious or was raised in a religious home.  That’s one clue to what’s going on.

But given that New Atheists aren’t nearly as strident, arrogant, or dogmatic as are some believers, the degree of criticism simply seems disproportionate to what people like Dawkins, Harris, or I actually have to say. For our criticism of religion basically comes down to this: “Your confidence in a proposition should be proportional to the strength of the evidence supporting it.” Is that really something that should inspire such nastiness? And it’s not just a criticism of religion, but a criticism of faith in general, including pseudosciences like ESP and “alternative medicine.”

Recently one reader pointed me to an interview with author Terry Pratchett in 2002, reported, of all places, in the New Zealand Herald. In the interview Pratchett says this:

JG: Do you view death that way?

Pratchett: It’s my hope, if you like. I am a disappointed atheist. I feel upset on the whole that I’ve had to resort to atheism. I’m kind of angry with God for not existing.

(As you might know, Pratchett, born in 1948, is a really famous British writer of fantasy novels. He is now suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and has written poignantly about its toll.)

But Pratchett’s answer, I think, may tell us why some faithesists, especially those who were once religious or were surrounded by the faithful, now spend their time excoriating atheists rather than believers—even though believers do far more harm. It’s because the critics want God to exist, and are angry that he doesn’t.  They realize that rationality gives them no reason to believe in deities, miracles, or the tenets of faith, but it would be oh so comforting if they could just believe.

Of course, you can’t force yourself to believe in your heart what your mind tells you is unbelievable—or at least has told you so forcefully that it’s turned you into an atheist.  This causes cognitive dissonance which—and this is my theory which is mine—gets resolved by making these people excoriate New Atheists like Dawkins. It leads to faitheists spending their time extolling the virtues of faith, arguing that morality is grounded on religion (have they read the Old Testament or Qur’an lately?), telling us what a wonderful social glue religion is, and how important it’s been in art and history—all the while insisting that they don’t believe a word of it. And that’s why if you scratch a faitheist, you nearly always find a religious background. They’ve either experienced the comforts of religion, and mourn their loss, or have seen how many people are happily drunk on the liquor of faith, and long for that same state of spiritual inebriation.

They’re not angry at New Atheists; they’re angry at themselves—for being unable to believe in a God that they know doesn’t exist. And they’re angry at that God for not existing. They just take it out on us.


192 thoughts on “Why are faitheists so nasty?

  1. There also appears (anecdotally, of course) to be a correlation between dimentia and a return to belief or an intensifying of belief.

    1. Not for Pratchett though. Although the media all pounced on a story some months ago (repeated verbatim, with not much fact-checking) that Pratchett was finding faith again,it turned out to be so much wishful thinking with Terry himself saying:

      “There is a rumour going around that I have found God. I think this is unlikely because I have enough difficulty finding my keys, and there is empirical evidence that they exist.”

      [This is what happens when media use the Daily Mail as their source]

      1. Brilliant reply from Pratchett, though the ghost of the mendacious Lady Hope lives on. I wonder why her followers do not realise that their claims, even if and when they were true, would matter very little when extracted from people in such extreme situations.

        1. Yes indeed. If it were discovered that Alzheimer’s sufferers were becoming atheists in large numbers, I’m sure the god-botherers would pounce on that as evidence that there was something intellectually wrong about atheism, yet if the reverse is true, that would somehow be evidence that religion is superior? How does that work?

            1. Heads I win, tails you lose!

              We see it all the time in creationist arguments, where any set of historical circumstances, biological characteristics, or whatever, concludes, “…therefore Jesus”.

              1. That is indeed superb.

                Of course, the christians I used to hang around with don’t even do that. They simply declare victory (“science is wrong”) and pull out. See my response to gluonspring in the long thread at #2, below.

      2. I’m glad that Pratchett retains the ability to both turn a phrase and good humor about what is a situation that, frankly, stinks.

        1. a situation that, frankly, stinks.

          It’s proof of the mind of G*d. And a warning that we’re actually quite lucky that she doesn’t exist, otherwise we’d all be feeling their wrath.

      3. And such claims are red herrings. Even if TH proclaimed to be born again it would, it should, not bother us in principle. He may as well proclaim any other fantasy and the fact would remain. No evidence.

  2. I do sometimes find myself disappointed by the recognition that there really is no “magic” — that I’ll never find Aladdin’s lamp or a leprechaun’s pot of gold, that I’ll never learn to cast a spell to make asinine people grow donkey ears, and that nothing like the adventures of Indiana Jones or Harry Potter will ever actually happen in real life.

    Oh well, I suppose it’s all for the best. I guess I really wouldn’t want to meet Voldemort or Smaug anyway.

    1. Smaug would probably have gotten into government.

      In the story he is a giant cold blooded reptile primarily dedicated to maintaining his own personal wealth, belching out toxic smoke and generally splatting the workers.

      If he was real he would be one crucifix away from being the living embodiment of the Republican platform.

      1. Smaug ‘might’ not be identifiable as a politician but he and his clones can certainly be found across the banking industry.

    2. If magic existed, that would be horrible! Magic is inherently unpredictable and unreliable. If some magic power actually was predictable and reliable, then it would be a part of Science.

      1. There’s no reason why, if magic were to exist, that it wouldn’t be regular, predictable, and formulaic. In Harry Turtledove’s The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, magic is as regular as science is to us.

        1. We still don’t know why gravity works. The graviton has been postulated, but not detected, yet gravity is considered to be scientific, not magical.
          If we lived 2000 years ago and I found a description in some ancient scroll that promised a way to deliver painful shocks to my enemies and could create sparks and start fires by stacking pieces of metal with paper soaked in salt water, would that be magic or simply a scientific phenomenon that we didn’t understand?

          1. But we do know a lot about gravity; in fact we know a lot of what has to be reproduced in limiting cases of some future further theory. For example, it should allow for a field theory.

            Magic is *lawless*, relative to the laws (objective patterns). If there are “laws of magic”, in my view you are just dealing with a place with different laws of nature.

        2. If we could explain magic, at least to the point of saying “here’s what it does and when it does it”, it would cease to be magic. It would be no different from gravity, as moarscienceplz notes, or, indeed, any other physical force or interaction.

          The whole point of magic is to break rules. If it just obeyed a different set of rules, it wouldn’t be magic. Just another aspect of physics.

          Magic is necessarily irregular and inexplicable. It is a synonym for “impossible”.

          1. All correct, but I think better explained by identifying magic not merely as impossible, but as a literary plot device whose whole point is to be impossible.

            Characters do not perform miracles because they are possible; they perform miracles because they are not possible. Were the task in question possible, the author would have picked a different one that was not, in fact, possible — that being the entire point of the exercise.


            1. Agreed.

              For example, if we discovered that Jesus (had he actually existed) was able to cure people infected with leprosy because he somehow had access to antibiotics, we would no longer count those cures as miracles.

              Magic is not magic just because someone says so. The medically-ignorant Gospel authors said those antibiotic treatments were magic. Two years ago when my daughter was three she said all sorts of stuff was magic.

              Magic has to be impossible. It is, as you wrote, an invention, a literary device which requires that there be no explanation. In the real world, an unexplained phenomenon is not magic, it is simply a phenomenon for which we have yet to discover the explanation.

              1. …and we should probably also add that magic can and should be a very good thing. I got a real kick out of Harry Potter, and I love watching great stage magicians like James “The Amazing” Randi at work. And I’m a sucker for cheesy space opera like Star Wars or the particle of the week on Star Trek.

                Magic only becomes a problem when you neglect to stop suspending disbelief once the curtain comes down and the lights come up.


              2. I’ll cop to being one of those who doesn’t “get it”, re: Bach. They leave me unmoved. Give me a Verdi aria any day, or put on his Requiem. Then I’ll melt.

              3. Well, listening to Bach trio sonatas is as much fun as it’s humanly possible to have, isn’t it?

                Besides, my fun horizon is broad. I also enjoy Mendelssohn organ sonatas.

              4. @Ben

                Oh, excellent choice. That’s got to be close to a definitive performance.

                (I’m very doubtful because this concert was in ’99 and he’s not wearing glasses, but is that baldy on the tromba Perkins?)

              5. He sure plays like Crispian, though I haven’t found the credits. And everything else about it sounds like a live performance version of the studio CD recording I have with the same conductor, ensemble, and soloists.


              6. I don’t want to overburden this thread with a lot of musical gumflapping, but…

                @GBJames –
                A big orchestra Romanticist like you might warm to Bach if you check out some of the transcriptions for large orchestra that’ve been made of his music.

                Like this. Be sure to listen to the last 4 minutes or so.

              7. So much for not overburdening this thread with music, but…

                I detest those Stokowski arrangements. They do the original material no favors and don’t really demonstrate a gift for orchestration, either.

                One transcription of that T&F I do like is by Stanislaw Skrowacewski. Not sure if it’s on YT.

              8. Better than Stokowski. Orchestral transcripts of Bach organ works isn’t really my thing, but I’ll definitely recommend this one over the Stokowski.


              9. (Last one I promise)

                I’ve seen it performed live, and while my real concern is of course the music itself, I nonetheless found the indication, at certain cadences, for the French Horns to play “bells up” very striking. Powerful even.

              10. There’s often a bit of choreography to live musical performances in addition to the “pure” music. Much more so in popular music, of course, but the original impetus to coordinate string bowings, as I recall, was for the visual aesthetics rather than to ensure consistence of phrasing.

                …a month or so ago, the Scottsdale Philharmonic did a pops concert that included the William Tell overture. Just before the famous trumpet call, I and the other trumpet player reached below our seats, grabbed white cowboy hats, and put them on our heads. The audience loved it. And, let’s face it: Rossini is often fun music, meant to be played with and laughed and smiled at. Not always, of course; the opening of the overture is one of the most precisely programmatic and detailed storm sequences in all of literature, complete with the slow initial raindrops and slight zephyrs of impending doom.


              11. @Ben, re: the oratorio…


                I know I’m supposed to love Bach’s music for its brilliant structure and all. But it doesn’t move me even though I’ve given it a boatload of chances over the years. But when I listen to Bach I’m always stuck with the impression I’m watching an Animusic video.

                Mozart came along and added humanity to classical music. I enjoy his later music, and the great composers who followed him, more.

              12. Ah, well; I can see you’re simply an incorrigible barbarian beyond hope. ‘Sokay. We won’t hold it against you…much….


              13. Well, maybe you’re not completely hopeless.

                I played in the pit for a production of the Threpenny Opera, and it was right after I had been rejected by a girl I had had a crush on…talk about wallowing in self-pity!


      2. There is no such thing as the supernatural, because if it existed, it would be natural. Perhaps science couldn’t explain it but that wouldn’t matter.

    3. Indeed. After I finished reading Harry Potter the first time I entered a bit of a funk because I knew Hogwarts wasn’t there. It *felt* real enough while reading that it’s absence in the real world felt like losing something.

      I was mostly relieved, on the other hand, when I stopped believing the fundamentalist Christianity of my youth. Simply ceasing to exist while your body rots seems absolutely pleasant compared to the unending and hopeless nightmare of Hell that I was raised believing.

      1. Agreed. I was raised Catholic, but even as a kid the idea of god didn’t make any sense to me and I have never missed religion. My comment at the start of this string was directed toward the idea that when you reject the granddaddy of supernaturalism (i.e., god), then all of the other supernatural possibilities (e.g., genies and leprechauns) inevitably evaporate as well. In truth, I don’t think I really ever wanted to find “god” as badly as I wanted to find Aladdin’s lamp.

      2. I felt the same way about Narnia not existing when I was a christian, and had just finished the Chronicles.

        And, I feel the same way now about death; not only that I won’t end up in hell, but neither will my parents and friends.

        Nowadays I read lots of fantasy, and have absolutely no difficulty in separating it from reality. And, I make frequent use of the quote (don’t remember from where; it was the tag line for someone in an on-line forum somewhere), “There is no magic anywhere in the universe.” I expressed this once to an evangelical pastor with whom I was discussing religion, and he just shrugged his shoulders; later in the same conversation, he stated that (in his opinion) there was *no* core to science, that is, no principles or facts to which it would be unreasonable to withhold assent. I guess that’s how he resolves the science vs. religion debate in his head, but it’s pretty sad when a reasonably well-educated person in a position of intellectual influence over several hundred others turns his back on the facts, and prefers the fantasy.

      3. Some people (including myself) have felt this sort of disappointment in more or less realistic fictional contexts too. I wonder what it is us that makes us so vulnerable to such displays of agency (I think that is what it must be).

  3. I think there are many sub-categories of reasons for this anger, but that most, maybe all, fit into one major category. And I think it is the same for faitheists, theists, and all humans generally.

    It seems to just come down to a fact, that humans get angry, offended or defensive, when their beliefs are belittled by others. It is not something that is arrived at by reasoning or any kind of premeditated process, it is just a reaction. That seems to just be the way we are.

    It also seems to be the case that indignation is positively reinforced behavior. It feels good. Especially when supported by a large group.

    1. “It also seems to be the case that indignation is positively reinforced behavior. It feels good. Especially when supported by a large group.”

      That certainly seems to be the case with contemporary politics doesn’t it?

      1. In spades. At least one party’s sole tactic at election time is riling up as much indignation among certain demographics as they can. It is an old tactic I’m sure, and Karl Rove codified it.

    2. “It’s because the critics want God to exist, and are angry that he doesn’t.”

      Imagine for a moment that you are one of the simpering subjects as the child pipes up, “But why is the emperor is naked!”

      Sorry, but I don’t buy for an instant that it’s the emperor you’re actually annoyed with!

    3. I suspect the same. Indignation. No one likes to feel a fool which is precisely why children should be taught that rather than chosing the correct beliefs the whole point of developing the mind is to treat all facts as provisional. The process is what progresses us, not the information itself.

  4. As he’s a comedy writer (generally) I suspect he had more than half his tongue in his cheek.

  5. There was a bit in the Sunday Times yesterday by one Camilla Cavendish, on those lines, that put me on the verge of emailing her…
    (pay wall though – read it in the paper)
    “I can’t see God but since my mother’s death I can see the value of his house”.
    What she seemed to be saying was that her mother, who appeared to be atheist or agnostic & had read Dawkins inter alia, towards the end of her life started going to church. She seems to say that churches & religion fill a gap. She managed a sort of side swipe at ‘militant atheists’ as well. She did not say she suddenly belived in a god, but it was if she WANTS to believe in a god. A christian god.

    I think the gap is in the minds of those who think you need that crutch of religion, or who think that a fantasy is better than reality.

    1. I did not see that article: Camilla Cavendish seems to have been banished (temporarily, I hope) from the Scottish edition of the Sunday Times in favour of repetitious and ultimately
      irrelevant articles about the independence referendum. Normally she writes extremely good sense. I suspect that her example simply illustrates that emotional stress is the enemy of rationality.

      1. Some of these authors (though not Cavendish particularly as I have not read the article in question) are simply supplying content for which there is a demand. There are enough column inches in the world reserved for the even the most trifling of would be public intellectuals willing to lay hands to the pathetic old saw, “I’m an atheist, . . . BUT!” I think, more often than not, that these articles/columns keep appearing because, A) they get us all riled up and thus drive traffic to a particular site and B) No one in American History has ever gone broke while saluting the cross.

      2. I suspect that her example simply illustrates that emotional stress is the enemy of rationality.

        “Hard cases make bad laws,” as used to be a principle of government, but now seems to be lost in the baying for heads on platters. And apples to stop up the whistle-blower’s mouths.

  6. I think this is a hasty generalization. I’ve always had the impression that the most committed Atheists were those who grew up religious. I know many such Atheists.

    From my own perspective, when I write about Atheism or religion I rarely attack religion because I’m concerned that I will end up with my head on a spike (metaphorically, I hope). I tend to write critically of Atheists as a safety measure. I want to be public about my Atheism in a way that doesn’t threaten my social or professional position, and hopefully in a way that makes people more inclined to recognize and accept the presence of Atheists in their social circles.

    I live in one of the most religious places in the US. My students, colleagues and administrators are mostly religious (and mostly members of the same religion). My professional allies are mostly also religious in some way.

    Even in my research discipline (electronic engineering), I regularly encounter editors and reviewers who are outwardly religious (mostly muslim, with some evangelicals and hardcore catholics). Early in my career I managed to push a couple of religious-rage buttons during downtime at conferences (I never solicited the conversations; religious people frequently want to talk religion and then get angry about it). Based on that experience, I don’t feel I can trust these people to behave ethically when reviewing my articles if I’ve inflamed their sense of theistic justice. I therefore try to keep a low profile and distort my writing accordingly.

    1. IMO you misread Jerry. He’s not claiming that being formerly religious necessarily leaves you as a faithiest. Rather, the claim is that if you are a faithiest then you are very likely to have been a former believer. A rather different assertion.

      1. I see the distinction, but it is still a hasty generalization. My point is that the “disappointed Atheist” theory is not the only or best explanation for why someone would promote accomodationism. We shouldn’t infer that they “want” god to exist; it is equally probable that faitheism emerges as a compromise position for people who are surrounded by religion.

        1. The OP is not about reasons people promote accomodationism. It is about the hostility expressed by faithiests. Why would this position, “as a compromise”, lead anyone to such hostility? I can’t see that this is a reasonable alternative to Jerry’s hypothesis.

            1. Well, it is a hypothesis. (Aren’t all hypotheses “generalizations”?)

              I’m not sure how you’d test it, and it may be “hasty”. But in the absence of alternatives that make more sense, I’m willing to grant it tentative legitimacy.

              1. Not necessarily: Consider the hypothesis “There is a cat in this box.” One can make a logically equivalent hypothesis that is a generalization (in many logics), but arguably that’s a different one.

        2. Jebus, this is a website where I write what strikes me, not a textbook of psychology. It’s just an idea I had.

          Anyway, I didn’t say that I was trying to explain why people promoted accommodationism; I was trying to explain why credophiles are so nasty in attacking New Atheists.

          1. And here I thought I’d have to advocate for the reinstatement of my preferred term when it comes to these particular faitheists.

            1. And credit where credit is due — Thanny was the one to suggest the term in Jerry’s 2009 contest.

    2. Moreover, it’s not as if people generally have trouble believing in something they really want to be true in spite of evidence. Examples abound of atheists buying into all sorts of woo.

          1. I dip them in LOX before I light the blue touch-paper. Then I retire very immediately.

    3. cjwinstead wrote:
      “I think this is a hasty generalization. I’ve always had the impression that the most committed Atheists were those who grew up religious.”

      Speaking of hasty generalizations … And committed to what? Atheism? I grew up non-religious, in a non-religious household, and now, 60+ years later, I would put my committment up against anyone. I think your impression may result from your environment.

      1. My generalization is hasty, and I’m not married to it. Perhaps I should have said, “According to my personal basket of unscientifically sampled anecdotes…” The resulting “impression” is not any more valid or binding than Coyne’s, it’s just my impression. The “environment” does span my personal interactions in four different countries. My non-scientific conclusion is that, among Atheists who had a religious upbringing, their degree of tolerance for faith is proportional to their childhood religion’s tolerance for doubt. Former fundamentalists often become energetic Atheists. Former mainline (liberal) protestants seem comparatively apathetic or more favorably disposed toward their former religions. This is how it seems to me, based on my bundle of anecdotes and experiences.

    4. ” . . . regularly encounter editors and reviewers who are outwardly religious (mostly muslim, with some evangelicals and hardcore catholics). . . managed to push a couple of religious-rage buttons . . . I never solicited the conversations; religious people frequently want to talk religion and then get angry about it . . . .”

      Perhaps the evangelicals were acting on the exhortation of “The Great Commission” – go ye unto all nations, preaching, etc.

      Did you ever witness some combo of Muslim, Catholic, Protestant evangelical going at it with one another?

      Did they ever get angry because you simply, politely declined to say anything about religion?

      1. I’ll answer in reverse order: 1. No one gets angry if you evade the subject from the get-go. 2. Yes, I have seen others go at it. 3. The thing that initiates these confrontations is simply the fact that I’m from Utah: everyone asks immediately if I’m Mormon. Then they either want to know all about Mormons or, if I tell them I’m an Atheist, then they want to know why, etc. An instant theology debate ensues, almost everywhere I go. In my experience, though, Muslim men from the mid-East seem the most interested in pursuing these discussions, and sometimes have a very low tolerance for disagreement.

  7. As ever so often, I’m reminded of what HL Mencken:

    “The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.”

    Apparently even sometimes if one doesn’t believe.

          1. And, if bad stuff happens to you, it’s because you didn’t have enough faith. Also, very convenient; if there weren’t victims, we wouldn’t have anyone to blame at all!

  8. “They’re not angry at New Atheists; they’re angry at themselves—for being unable to believe in a God that they know doesn’t exist. And they’re angry at that God for not existing. They just take it out on us.”

    In other words they are not at peace, while gnu atheists tend to be less at war with themselves in this regard — accepting/resigned to the gritty reality of mortality and lack of eternal justice.

    Minds are shaped by our brains which in turn are molded from our nature and nurture. Just as it is impossible for my grasping adequately the raison d’être of psychopaths, that is, the quest for power/demonstration of aggression, covert or not, which is not expressed reactively from fear or anger, but for itself, similar incomprehension is most likely felt by minds who don’t have fulfilled lives without god belief, regardless if atheist or not.

    They conclude instead that we are ill-informed, that we are fooling ourselves, that we are inadequate in some important way — they need to point it out to us because you know, they are nice. And they worry in that semi-charming way of theirs, that the world will go to rack and ruin if religious belief is not coddled.

    In Europe, religious belief is one’s own business while societal interaction is completely secular. I do not see that culture being in a stark state of dog-eat-dog.

    But when I am feeling less charitable, I just wish faithiests would do some bio-feedback and strengthen their darn pre-frontal lobes or something. 🙂

    1. In other words they are not at peace, while gnu atheists tend to be less at war with themselves in this regard — accepting/resigned to the gritty reality of mortality and lack of eternal justice.

      Would your hypothesis predict that people of faith would be less strident about fighting for temporal justice-on-Earth compared to atheists, since the people of faith (generally) have the mental crutch of justice-after-death to fall back on? Seems so to me, providing a way of testing your hypothesis.
      But we’re immoral atheists – how dare we attempt to judge people of faith against [hawk, spit] evidence?

      1. I think there are several confounding factors that would render that particular prediction not one that necessarily follows from Michelle’s hypothesis.

        For instance, many theists have an over active sense of vengeance and would indeed vociferously call for earthly “justice”.

        Conversely, many atheists recognize that libertarian free will is an illusion, and therefore retribution for retribution’s sake is not justified. Based on my experience, atheists are more likely to call for the minimum punishment necessary to sequester the perpetrator and/or provide deterrence.

        1. The main problem with ideas of deterrence is having a high enough probability of getting caught.
          Yes, “MAD” seems to have worked, for a while. But it’s harder to cover up a city being turned into a glazed radioactive wasteland than it is to cover up one (or several) buggered choirboys. And in this, it seems that many clergy (and other kiddie fiddlers) have judged correctly that the likelihood of getting caught is low enough to not be concerned over deterrence questions.
          The current rash of “historical sex abuse” cases in Britain following on from Jimmy Savile’s case is providing strong evidence that future abusers should ensure their victims die after they’re too old for future abuse. But that’s an old lesson, just being publicised again by the UK courts.
          The Catholic clergy (and such people as Mormon family-rapists and an abundance of other Xtian denominations, not to mention the Buddhist monks at the start of this thread) have addressed their members concerns about getting caught in their own institutional way.

  9. You may be right about the motivation of some faitheists. They really should look at “believers” to see whether they actually are so “comforted” by their faith. As a group, they seem to suffer at least as much angst as atheists. Sure, there are some religious space cadets who have ‘turned it all over to God’, but such people hardly tempt me to convert.

  10. So, what should I call myself then? Faithiest is kinda catchy.

    I was raised baptist, sent to christian schools for most of elementary school and high school. I’m a secular humanist, and remain in communication with about 5 family members as a result. We have a decent sized family.

    I’m about as militant as one can get without weapons when it comes to interfaith relations, to put it mildly.

    So, ExceptioFaithiesAtheist?

    1. I’d recommend “Atheist who has an extended family of believers who he tries to get along with”. Not exactly catchy, I’ll admit.

      1. I took him to say that *only* 5 members will still talk to him, that he’s not exactly just trying to get along but quite the opposite.

        You’re thinking of someone like me. I post under a pseudonym mostly for the purpose of not upsetting my family (and I have one financial interest as well that might be threatened). So I’m an unabashed atheist online and to my friends-I-trust, but an obscurantist oddball who doesn’t give away what I believe among my believer friends. I’m not much of a word coiner, but it’d be nice to have one:


        Got to be a better one.

  11. ProfCC://One thing I do recognize is that the vitriol is stronger when someone used to be religious or was raised in a religious home. That’s one clue to what’s going on.//

    Good observation. The atheists are an affront to everything their parents told them, and they can’t remain indifferent to dishonoring their parents, maybe.

  12. certain writers…excoriate the New Atheists—even if those critics are atheists themselves!

    Embarrassment. These people don’t want to call attention to their own atheism. They want the theists to think they’re one of the good guys, so they rush to distance themselves from those that say what must not be said.

  13. I disagree strongly. A contrary voice that cuts off wishes is more likely to inspire wistful acceptance or haphazard hostility to all involved, not denigration of the critic’s character. Based on their own words, they are just respectful appreciators of religions, not necessarily people who want to join the club. If true, this phenomenon should be more common in areas where what someone thought was true turned out to be wrong. I doubt researchers publish character-attacking condemnations towards their peers after a negative review, even though they wish their work was accepted and appreciated, even hailed, every time.

    On “faitheists”, I think it more parsimonious to take them at their word: they genuinely see some good in faith, religious practice, and religious stories, and consider atheist criticism as genuinely boorish, arrogant, and condescending, even potentially destructive. And I think I can see why.

    The problems, I think, are twofold:

    1. NOMA, alternate ways of knowing, diversity of opinion, multiculturalism, whatever you want to call it. The common thread is that there is some aspect of religions that justifies what they do, what they teach, and why they are here. Yes, the doctrines and stories and texts are bunkum, if treated as meaning just what they say. But then we’re missing the allegory, we’re lacking something deeper, we’re excluding some important information, telling experience, or insight. It might be a subjective truth that can’t be easily explained or put into words, but the feeling, the natural and even intuitive understanding, is there.

    Of course, this can’t be the whole deal, since any dupe can miss out on the works of Shakespeare or Bach, and still not receive any vitriol from all but the most die-hard art snobs. Nor does it apply that well to interdisciplinary issues: I doubt most quantum physicists would publicly diss a zoologist’s intelligence, soullessness, or arrogant character for trying to criticize his work, even if it was painfully obvious the zoologist had no clue what he was talking about.

    2. Your attitude to this other way of knowing reveals what kind of person you are. If you accept other people doing it or following it or believing it, then you are a broad-minded, open, kind, and reasonable person. If you don’t, then you are a narrow-minded, hostile, nasty, and unreasonable bigot. That’s because the other way of knowing is not simply a field of knowledge, like how the techniques and knowledge of geology and botany might be different from those used by doctors, economists, or political scientists. It is not an esoteric issue that just depends on your training and learning and skill. It matters. It has moral, aesthetic, and “higher” import. It is “soul”. It ennobles people: it makes us human: it’s who we are. And God forbid you have anything bad to say about it.

    Once in the past, the celestial world was an incorruptible, clean, tidy, and spiritual place (now it’s the field of astronomers). Galileo and Bruno were targeted for daring to say any different. Then, our biological essence, our flsh, was something fundamentally different from the lowly, earthly animals (now we all know the evolution of humans from apelike ancestors). Darwin and “evolutionists” still face resistance from many religionists who fear the alleged moral implications. Where the noble soul and mind have been tackled by psychologists and neuroscientists, the mind sciences get some push back and have done for years, and consciousness monism is a no-no or a faulty position in some quarters who prefer to think of irreducible souls and fundamental selves, with impenetrable walls around them to keep the amoral, cold, ruthless, and uninspiring sciences out of their identity.

    The seemingly last refuges to draw the line between humanity and soulless, obscure, and possibly even dangerous science is in the humanities: art, literature, religion, maybe even history and anthropology to a degree. If these become sciences, then humanity is going to be debased, doomed, and possibly even endangered by its own hubris.

    On this view, “faitheist” hostility to more critical atheists is a watered-down version of the hostility Catholics felt to heliocentrism, creationists feel to evolutionary theory, and some people feel to the notion that the mind is no more grandiose than the computational workings of the brain.

    It’s a reaction to the “boorish”, “unlearned”, “marginalizing”, and “outrageous” naivety of “scientistic”, “arrogance”, which does not “respect” other people’s nobility, sucks the life out of the human subject, and “dehumanizes” them to nothing more than science’s guinea pigs.

    In short, it’s asserting control over a group that’s considered naively uneducated at best and thoughtlessly or carelessly, even nihilistically, evil at worst.

    Another way of looking at it is how Sastra put it here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/05/25/the-diversity-of-diversity/.

    1. I doubt most quantum physicists would publicly diss a zoologist’s intelligence, soullessness, or arrogant character for trying to criticize his work, even if it was painfully obvious the zoologist had no clue what he was talking about.

      I would hope that they would! To publicly diss a zoologist who is mostly ignorant of quantum physics – no, of course not. But a zoologist (or anyone else) who publicly criticizes a quantum physicist while being ignorant of the subject, deserves whatever s/he gets. Isn’t that what climate deniers and creationists do?

      1. I meant that the quantum physicist, unlike a “faitheist”, wouldn’t feel threatened if some ignoramus revealed his or her own stupidity. Embarrassed for them, maybe. Annoyed by their antics, if they think it’ll harm public understanding of quantum physics. It’d take a lot to get them to belittle the offender’s character, as opposed to their intelligence, much less disassociate from zoologists in general.

        By contrast, if a “new” atheist claims there’s no evidence for the beliefs held by the religious public and contained in the holy texts involved, “faitheist” responses treat it as if the “new” one has just declared war on everything we value, has just said something racist or homophobic, or is advocating nihilism and propaganda/censorship in schools. It’s this moralistic and emotional level of the response I was trying to capture.

    2. “I doubt researchers publish character-attacking condemnations towards their peers after a negative review, even though they wish their work was accepted and appreciated, even hailed, every time.”

      Did you ever read any Croizat? e.g. this posthumously published piece, in this volume. Most of his other stuff was self-published, you’d be surprised to learn.

  14. I’m not normally keen on amateur (or indeed professional) psychoanalysis, but this seems a very reasonable hypothesis.

    So, who’s going to volunteer to collect the data to test it? Any ideas for the best source of research grants for it?

  15. But given that New Atheists aren’t nearly as strident, arrogant, or dogmatic as are some believers

    This is actually overly-kind; the “strident” atheists are less strident than the average Baptist preacher.

  16. I can’t find the exact quote, but there was a wife of an English nobleman who, when Darwin’s theory was first published, said something to the effect of, “If we are indeed descended from monkeys, let us hope that it does not become generally known.”

    In other words, she was apparently open to the possibility that Darwin was correct, yet wished to see that knowledge “reserved” for certain people; it would seem that the only reason she would feel this way is that she considered the widespread acceptance of (or, at least the knowledge of) evolution as somehow leading to negative consequences.

    I feel that the opposition of some atheists to “strident” atheism is a similar phenomenon, and is based on several different reasons (“Human behavior is notoriously complex”- Michael Shermer):

    (1)I’ve learned over the years that there’s a big difference between saying you believe something, telling yourself you believe it, or even believing that you believe it, and actually believing it. As long as “true” belief is not achieved, the mental and emotional “attachments” to the previously held, often competing, belief will continue to function on some level (a man may conclude, rationally, that there is nothing “evil” about homosexuality, yet still feel nervous and threatened when around gay men)- I, myself, still occasionally feel a tiny bit of “deep-level” uncertainty as to the existence or non-existence of an “afterlife”, a “hold-out”, no doubt, of the religious doctrines imposed on me when young (thankfully, I was raised Methodist- they’re not real serious about it: the National Lampoon once had an article on various religions’ ideas of Hell- it said that “Methodists’ idea of Hell was living in a suburbs where the crabgrass was always going to seed”). This happens even though I’m certain that there is no biblical “Hell”- I just hate to see this adventure of life coming to an end.

    (2) Simple fear, as well, enters the equation: to declare that you no longer believe in a supreme being automatically sets you against the monolithic bloc of organized religion that has ruled, and continues to rule, mankind’s thoughts and behavior for millennia, usually with negative (and often extremely painful) results for those who don’t toe the “party line”. I believe (really) that our brains are “hard-wired” to seek gain (to avoid a “loss” is considered by the brain to be a “gain”, as well)- a good strategy to avoid the “loss” of attracting undue attention from those whose beliefs you oppose is to “keep it to yourself”; share the information only with the new “tribe” of like-thinkers of which you are now a member. To do otherwise may be considered by many as tantamount to being a soldier under fire, huddling with other soldiers in a foxhole, and sticking your head up: “Hey, GET DOWN, you wanna let them know where we’re at?”

    (3) Another phenomenon I have observed concerns anger: it seems that “anger is contagious”- when I see an angry person, one of the first things I feel like doing is to get angry myself- at THEM; for creating an unpleasant scene, upsetting or defying social “norms”, causing fear of physical violence, etc. I believe that this is an ancient animal behavior: observe animals, especially social ones, and you’ll see examples of overly-aggressive behavior on the part of one individual producing aggressive action on those around him, possibly as the result of the excitation of “mirror-neurons” that spills over in actual action (I saw a video of three dogs penned in a yard, leaping and barking furiously when the UPS truck drives up- the largest, apparently “alpha” dog, becoming more an more furious, is eventually set upon by the other two, although they, too, hate the UPS man).

    (4) “Egotistical” anger and “envy”- who doesn’t enjoy “taking someone down a notch”, especially when their views are in opposition to yours? The same phenomenon, however, can occur even when shared beliefs are concerned: to see someone “stealing the show” (in YOUR opinion) or espousing their views a little too vociferously (this of course, has to do with the responding individual’s held beliefs of what is “proper” behavior) can be viewed as a “territorial display” (once again, our animal origins raise their ugly heads) that must be opposed, no matter when the belief involved is a shared one, or not.

    1. The full quote goes “Let Us Hope It is Not True, But If It is, Let Us Pray It Does Not Become Widely Known” and is investigated here.

      Reminds me of Voltaire’s “We never discuss atheism in front of the servants”.

  17. I call atheists sympathetic to religion “faitheists.”

    Given their nastiness, I would humbly suggest we move to another term in the “atheists who are soft of faith” contest, namely “credophiles”. I think it is a more clear term, as its Latin and Greek roots clearly express the idea: “a love of religious belief”. (Of course, the rather pejorative similarity to “pedophile” is completely coincidental…)

      1. I’d love to take credit, but It’s actually from the contest you had here in 2009 — the link is in my original post.

        1. How about “credulist”? Or, “Fabulist”? (which I heard Carl Sagan use to describe someone).

      2. I like credophile better than faitheist, too; it instantly communicates the idea better than faitheist and also conveys that it’s something undesirable.

        1. Count me in, too.

          I think “faithiest” is still good, and was likely the right initial choice. But I also think it’s time to turn up the heat a bit.


          1. I’m in too (gotta love the “coincidence”), especially because I originally read “faitheist” as “faith-ist” and thought it would be a synonym of “faith-head”.

        1. Doubtful. I put the two roots together for Jerry’s contest, but I can’t have been the first. It’s a word that just begs to be thought up.

          I’ll add that mixing roots is perfect for a mongrel language like English.

          1. If Google permitted true relational queries to their database, we could settle this with a few lines of code:

             SELECT	[Pages].[URL], 	[Pages].[Timestamp] FROM	[Pages] INNER JOIN ( 	SELECT	MIN([Timestamp]) AS [Timestamp] 	FROM	[Pages] 	WHERE	[Text] LIKE '%faithiest%' ) AS [Earliest] ON	[Pages].[Timestamp] = [Earliest].[Timestamp] WHERE	[Pages].[Text] LIKE '%faithest%' ; 

            …that would be pretty universally “good enough,” though I’m sure they’d have a schema with unique identifiers that would permit something with less chance for ambiguity and that wouldn’t require repeating the text being searched for….



            1. Well, if it has the gravitas of long history and invention by de Camp, plus endorsement by Thanny, how could the credophiles possibly object to the use of the term?

              Besides, the first dictionary definition is a non-pejorative description of religious faith:

              1. One who gets positive pleasure from belief and pain from doubt; one who collects beliefs not for utility but for glitter and whom, once he or she has embraced a belief, it takes something more than mere disproof to make to let go.

              2. One who is especially gullible.

              Perhaps the faithful religious would substitute some other word for “glitter,” but the rest could easily be sincerely spoken by a pastor from the pulpit.


    1. Gratuitous mixing of Latin with Greek roots is an abomination!
      May I suggest instead pistophile, from the Greek for ‘faith’, πιστις (pistis)?
      (Also, Google doesn’t seem to know it in English, though it seems to have been used in Latin, French and German contexts)

        1. And most people know what a credo is, while pistophile sounds either like a NRA member or a bee.

      1. I agree with you in the abstract, but it is too common to really be a complainable offense. Television, anyone?

  18. I think you are spot on with this analysis, Jerry. Lots of people would like to believe, but they can’t. Pascal’s wager is all very well, but you can’t force yourself to believe. It’s almost like a sour grapes sort of thing.

    1. Or DisneyLand, or champagne, or American football, or country music. I am sure these are great experiences for some people, but I cannot get into them…like sour grapes. I think faitheists should think of Heaven like Disneyland…a place where I am sure lots of people love to go, but would be god-awful boring if it really were the outcome of non-terminating existence based on some democratic selection process, i.e, not one you get to decide.

      1. Oh, no one over 13 goes to Disneyland because they themselves enjoy it. Adults go to Disneyland because they have small children.

        (I just took this trip with my 5yo daughter. Were the attractions themselves entertaining for me? Not really. But it was extremely gratifying to see her having so much fun!)

        1. You’ve clearly lost touch with your inner child. My wife and I had a wonderful visit a few years back, without having to pander to children. Huge fun!

          1. I was actually born without an inner child. It’s a rare disorder that affects about 0.002% of the population. Nothing can really be done for it aside from managing the symptoms.

  19. It is foreign to me that someone cannot use their imagination in their lifetimes and think about what a marvelous fantasy heaven could be. You could even do this for ten minutes everyday. It could be therapeutic. But life will eventually get in the way and for most they will see that what makes a fantasy pleasureful is the contrast to reality. Without this life, this world, there is no point for heaven. Pratchett should know better. If he is angry he has forgotten to be imaginative, which seems impossible in his case.

    Jerry is right: these people are angry, first and foremost, with themselves and/or their lives.

  20. I do think there’s an additional related issue at play: faitheists who come from a religious background are likely to still have strong social and familial ties to all things churchy.

    I grew up very religious, my father an Episcopal priest and mother an enthusiastic convert from (casual New York style) Judaism. If I were to try to maintain a non-combative relationship with them while being intellectually honest, I could see myself being motivated to think like a faitheist. My other options are

    1. A combative relationship, since the simple (and correct) position of the new atheists calls out religion for what it is, that is childish, to which they take great offense and start victim-mongering;

    2. No/minimal relationship, which cuts me off from those social ties. This is the path of least resistance I’ve taken since I’m not a very good debater and am kind of a wuss about conflict.

  21. I was raised without religion for the most part. I went to church some because of babysitters or friends’ parents taking me but I remember telling people I didn’t believe in God extremely early in my life. However, I probably fit your definition of faitheist pretty closely in my late teens and early 20s. I self identified as a pragmatist and/or relativist and generally thought faith was a virtue (that I just didn’t have). For me, I think my relativism and value for faith came from a realization that almost all the arguments I’d every heard for any proposition I’d ever been presented with was flawed in some way. I didn’t know what to believe and I came to a hasty conclusion that there just wasn’t any good way to determine truth and that the practical effects of beliefs were way more important. These realizations also happened around the time I took my first philosophy class in school so I was also being bombarded with ancient arguments and their refutations which didn’t help much either.

    I think my anecdote is only barely relevant to this discussion but I thought I’d add it anyway. I was argued out of these stances in large part by the new atheist movement (mostly Harris) and by arguing on the Internet. I sought out good arguments that actually seemed to substantiate propositions and once I found some, I gained a ton of respect for rigorously objective philosophy and argument and I guess the fact that it’s basically 100% antithetical to faith based belief just made me lose all value I ever might have had for it as a virtue.

    1. “I was argued out of these stances in large part by the new atheist movement (mostly Harris) and by arguing on the Internet.”

      Me, too, although the first Horseman I stumbled upon was Dawkins.

      Those YT videos, blog articles, and long comment threads are effective. How effective? Don’t really know, but I suspect there are a lot more atheists out there than openly admit it, and that the internet is to thank for that.

  22. Last comment and I’m out. I think the feeling about which you’re writing is disillusionment. It’s the feeling of disappointment when you find out that some cherished belief isn’t really true. Whom are you going to blame for this unpleasant feeling? Not yourself, probably. You have to transfer it to someone else. Not your parents who reared you, they are usually off limits. So as you point out that leaves God (who doesn’t exist) and the new atheists. Perhaps anger toward the latter comes from the fact that they are the salt in the wounds of your disillusionment. I think that is what you mean.

      1. Just had the thought that “letting go of God” can be a grief experience for some persons. If you’re grieving a loss you don’t take lightly to people making fun of the departed.

  23. I can’t really see this. For one, the “angry at god” thing rings too close to what many theists purport and most atheists vehemently deny, but that’s the least of it.

    Atheism is definitely not a one-way ticket to rational and skeptical thinking (the opposite is much more true). Looking at examples of woo-believing atheists and theists who should be intelligent and informed enough to know better yet believe in spite of themselves should confirm what we already know quite well: Everyone is at least potentially susceptible to magical thinking. So I can’t really get on board with the theory that someone just can’t bring themselves to believe in a kind of woo they want to be true. Lots of people manage that trick just fine.

    1. Seriously, based on a few woo-laden atheists, you’re willing to claim that atheism actually makes people MORE credulous and less skeptical and rational than religious people?

      Before you post again, could you provide some evidence for that? Because I can’t get on board with that theory.

      1. I did not claim that it makes people more credulous. Where did you get that?

        I claimed that there are some atheists who believe in woo.

        I claimed that there are some theists who are intelligent and informed enough that by all rights they should not be theists, yet they are anyway.

        1. Oh, wait, I see.

          When I said “the opposite is more true” I meant that skepticism and rational thinking tend to be a ticket to atheism.

  24. We already have science-bashing scientists like Sheldrake. I guess it’s now time for atheist-bashing atheists…

  25. I’m reminded of a passage from Small Gods by Pratchett, which has the reflection that the gods of the Discworld would take atheist-angry-at-God as almost as good as actual believers because the depth of emotion is still there. Basically, they buy into the system, even if they are opposed to it.

    Then again, said character was raised in a theocracy, so it’s hard to ignore the system (which actually had a lot more power than the god it was supposedly worshipping).

    1. The atheists of DiscWorld also developed a habit, early, of wearing copper-soled boots and lightening conductors, because the Gods of DiscWorld were not averse to smiting with lightning bolts. At least, those atheists who survived long enough to be middle-aged atheists wore the boots and lightning conductor. Those who didn’t, didn’t get old, but may have got well-roasted.

  26. ” It’s because the critics want God to exist, and are angry that he doesn’t.”

    Possible, and yet I’m reluctant to jump on this bandwagon if nor no other reason than it is a play on the falsehood leveled at atheists by theists all the time “You hate god.” I’m wary of falling into the same, or similar fallacies used by theists.

    1. I don’t think Jerry means angry at god; I think he means just angry. And that this anger is ill-directed at hard-line atheists.

      See kryztof’s comment at 27.

  27. I think I see some of myself in this. I am angry. I was indoctrinated as a child and even now afters years of atheism, belief is always trying to sneak back in like just one little drink for a alcoholic, or maybe just one cigarette. I am angry at what feels like permanent damage to my ability to reason.

    I hate that I was lied to and taken to be a fool.

    I wear my skepticism like armor and a sword. I use it to beat back the constant drone of religion and turn it inwards to fight my childish need for simple comfort. I have experienced so much loss from age and illness and now my wife at age 55 is terminal. I would love nothing more than a God to appeal too or at least a God to blame and hate.

    I sometime react to the religious with a great deal of anger almost frothing at the mouth. They have nothing to offer but lies and foolishness.

    I hate that reality is random and that meaning and purpose is up to me to provide. I have done such a poor job of making my life meaningful. At least part of that is because I was waiting for the “plan to come together”.

    I think the observation that some atheists are angry is true. At least for me.

    New atheism has a substantial tool set to use to combat both the continued existence of theism in the long haul, and to mitigate the damage being done currently by the incursions of religion into secular life.

    The future of this planet and humanity depend on this. The stakes could not be higher.

    But sometimes even the proudly rational atheist skeptic could stand a little moderation and recognize what a believer gives up. Religion is not real, but the pain of separation is.

    Make fun of me and laugh at my weakness if you must. But have a bit of compassion as well. As I gaze down at my dying wife moaning with deep bone pain from end stage Multiple Myeloma, I admit I wish I had a god to appeal to.

  28. It’s because the critics want God to exist, and are angry that he doesn’t.

    I don’t think that’s right. Many of us, in our youth, go through a period of wanting God to exist, but I don’t think it ever makes us angry. My sense (and, partly, my experience) is that faitheists fancy themselves Defenders of the Faith and of those poor believers, lacking the faitheist’s emotional fortitude, who need their God. Gnu atheists seem to be mocking the poor dears, which simply can’t be allowed to stand.

  29. Am I the only one who thinks is one big case of religious stockholm syndrome and that the major player is fear?

    After having escaped the insane mood swings ( tyranny by definition ) of the god on display in the bible, some people can’t let go entirely and there is what some people would call love of authority left there even though they’ve been lied to.

    But there is no one in particular to blame for the deceit since the one to blame doesn’t exist anymore.

    So where to turn your anger?

    At those who are trying to steal away god from others.

    And then of course there’s those ex-believing people who think religion is the only thing keeping the neighbours from going bonkers and that anarchy would soon prevail if religion would vanish. But that’s just good paranoia and fear of change.

    Don’t rock the boat, people. The other passengers aboard this secular boat apparently haven’t got their sea legs yet.

  30. One should be especially wary of

    a) those who make sweeping negative statements about New Atheists !*as a whole*!

    b) confuse alleged atheist nastiness with simply stating plain facts about religious harm

    c) exercise a double standard on who gets to say what. Dawkins got a lot of flap for some rather acerbic remarks about Pope Benedict but I know some Catholics with similar sentiments, but they’re not going to get as much flack for it.

  31. Perhaps related is this strange Theist “Cult of Nietzsche” (and Albert Camus) I’ve noticed the past couple of years. I just posted about it on my blog.

    The favourite character is the “Tragic Atheist”. This is someone like Albert Camus or Nietzsche who rejects theism at an intellectual level yet still feels great loss at losing religion – either because it’s something he would like to be true, or something he admires, or is the “foundation” upon which our society rests.

    Perhaps the Faitheist … at least as Jerry Coyne portrays them (I don’t know if they’re all like this) … is one of these “Tragic Atheists” which many theist writers out there are pining for these days (they’ve been replaced with “New Atheists” who do not show their God as much respect at all.

    1. As demonstrated by an ex-believer in another thread on this site, some people seem to relish the idea of atheists as existentialist nihilists who’s only pleasures in life consist of tearing apart the dear leader of the masses.

      But of course if you think our societies are build upon religion, then it’s no wonder you’re afraid of the future.

  32. Jerry seems to be floating two different hypotheses:

    1. If you’re at atheist who was once religious, you’re more likely to be a faitheist.

    2. If you’re at atheist who wants God to exist, you’re more likely to be a faitheist.

    They’re not the same. But perhaps Jerry would assert:

    3. If you’re an atheist who was once religious, you’re more likely to be an atheist who wants God to exist.

    It would be interesting to see someone compile the relevant data to put these to the test.

  33. I’m not angry, but sometimes I get sad and frustrated.

    My father was a very good man who made a lot of stupid financial decisions. He was struggling to work a 40-hour week at age 74 when he died, instead of enjoying a retirement. In the Jewish faith, his soul should be getting a nice relaxing time waiting for the coming of the Messiah. Instead he’s just dead, without ever having had a chance to really enjoy some peace and quiet.

    And a few years ago, when my best friend gave birth to a baby in distress, there was nothing I could do. If there were a deity, then I could offer prayers and know I was doing all in my limited power to help and heal this child. Instead all I could do was sit and wait for the child to either improve or die. (She lived, thankfully.) I cannot tell you the joy I felt when my friend told me that her daughter had been cold in the incubator, and that she had covered her with a blanket I had made her. I felt like since it was my blanket keeping her daughter warm that I was helping her healing in some way.

  34. I think it’s more that “Faitheists” want to be at the forefront of the current Zietgeist so that they can accrue the group benefits and approbation that comes from being politically correct: Everyone’s a winner, baby, that’s the truth… except of course those who are currently being excoriated such as smokers and atheists.

    1. My thoughts, too. And some of the outspoken are just trying to find a new pulpit; or a remunerative writing theme. They want attention and/or monetary rewards.

  35. My own disappointment in realizing there is no god, at all, is that there will never be an opportunity for him to show up, like the expert in “Annie Hall” who steps forward to definitively provide the answer to a question the two movie characters are arguing over, and say something like: The Republicans are wrong wrong wrong.

  36. As with any hypothesis, it needs to be tested.

    Certainly if there is a strong correlation between religious upbringing and faitheism it should be measurable – as compared to those of us brought up in rational households. At first glance Jerry’s thoughts make sense to me.

    But what other variables could be at play?

    If anyone does take the time to investigate this, it would be great to try to uncover at the same time whether the faitheist has a spouse or still living parents or other close loved ones who are still believers, whom they do not want to offend (think of Bill Gates who is married to a Catholic and apparently letting his daughters be exposed to that poison).

    I have known atheists who refuse to use the word (they generally call themselves agnostics even though they have no personal belief in a god) and are trying to play neutral/nice and be disdainful of “fundamentalist atheists” so as to not offend believers they love.

    In Michael Robbins’ Salon article he wrote “My father and sister, most of my friends, and many of the writers I most admire are nonbelievers.” Would be interesting to know if his Mom is still alive and a believer.

    I know I wouldn’t want to want MY mom to read something I wrote saying she had been living her life based on a delusion. Fortunately, SHE inoculated me against superstitious beliefs right from the get go, so I can be quite obnoxious about religion without hurting her feelings at all … Thanks Mom (and Dad)!

  37. One can admire some things about !*specific*! religious communities and still think that faith is a vice and creeds are stoppers of critical thinking.

    What atheists like Sam Harris, Dan Barker, Jerry DeWitt, and Jerry Coyne here have done is given clear and convincing reasons of why faith (especially as Christians- particularly Protestants) is not a good thing. (All four have written books or given a recurring lecture [JC] with “faith” in the title used pejoratively).

    One can still admire religion’s ability to build community, be sanguine towards the non-violent ethos of Jainism or the person of Gandhi or the Amish (while decrying the anti-technology of the latter) and note the relatively non-creedal nature of some forms of religion that are focused on social good rather than persuasion of dubious supernatural propositions (Quakers, Buddhists, etc.- Quakers originally coined the phrase “deeds not creeds” which was later taken by Unitarians).

    One can do all this and still agree with Sigmund Freud that religion is a fraud for all of the joy that it brings some people, and a fraud that in the late 1900s and early 2000s has taken on a very menacing aspect both re Islamic terrorism and the American religious right.

    Some atheists may use rhetoric that is too blunt an instrument. (I can think of several that intermittently do so, but none that that I would describe as consistently bad). But dissing the New Atheists !*as a whole*! in sweeping generalizations just seems like sour grapes.

  38. I don’t think it’s necessarily anger at God, but a combination of several things. On one end it’s just plain fear. Many people in secular countries have the idea that after the religious wars of Europe people established an agreement that everyone would at least pretend to respect his neighbor’s religion in public, leave his own as a private affair and that prevented all sorts of nasty conflict. So in their minds, it’s fundamentalists on one side and outspoken atheists on the other threatening to upset a good thing. (Even though the fundamentalists hate the secular culture and don’t need the atheists at all.)
    People get angry and nasty when they are fearful, even if it means targeting the proximate cause (outspoken atheists) rather than the fundamental problem.

    Moving away from explicit fears, some people have still absorbed the idea that too much criticism of religion is simply gauche. An atheist who isn’t obsequious is rather rude to them. Those among this group who care a lot about a particular social order want to keep the status quo.

    This, I suspect, is where the turf-defenders like Ruse stand. He views himself as an ivory tower intellectual engaged in gentlemanly mock-combat with his opposite numbers on the religious side. He doesn’t actually have much to his intellectual credit so it is galling to have someone like Dawkins demolish his opponents, it shows he wasn’t in the league he thought he was. It’s rather like the master of an esoteric school of wooish martial arts having to watch his buddy in the ‘rival’ school get crushed by a professional, no-nonsense fighter.

    Then, somewhat related, you have the people who can’t really give up magical thinking. They may not believe in God but they can’t stand to see things completely reduced to science and evidence. There has to be something more for them and of course it has to line up with their gut feelings. This also holds out hope that the scientists and truly good critical thinkers will get their comeuppance. Sure they were better with math or science or whatever, but those aren’t the really important things.

  39. I certainly am not angry at God for not existing. Certainly not the Yahweh of the Old Testament or even the more refined, loving God depicted by so many believers (with the notable exception that you may be damned to an eternity of suffering). Of course, I spent a good deal of my childhood absolutely terrified that I would be burning in Hell, so that wouldn’t be something I yearn to get back.

    I can see how it may be difficult for someone with a more nuanced and liberal belief system to have a soft spot for religion if there was no dogmatic or terrifying element to it. How these people manage to live with their liberal message of tolerance for just about anyone except atheists escapes me though.

    1. “How these people manage to live with their liberal message of tolerance for just about anyone except atheists escapes me though.”

      Because a more nuanced and liberal belief system, while ethically a big improvement, is intellectually not much better. Atheists are “crude” and “arrogant” enough to put science on a pedestal when it comes to truths, which unfortunately also targets the more nuanced and liberal belief systems.

      It’s like that cartoon with the two castles shooting at each other. These two castles are reason/science and “other ways of knowing”. The latter one is shooting at an errant balloon of its own (fundamentalism, or at least obvious fundamentalism) but harmlessly floating the other balloons. Meanwhile, the science/reason one is blasting apart its base. So they return fire, probably with a bit of tu quoque involved too (“Lay people have literal beliefs different from biblical scholars, but lay people also have misconceptions about science too, so don’t you start pontificating!”).

      Basically, they’re of the school of thought that science is just one way of knowing things, and that religions – or, more accurately, subtle and nuanced interpretation of the allegory of the stories – are just “other ways of knowing”. Science is just a baseless “perspective” that has no strong claim to reality, so it’s presumptive arrogance to use it to call into question someone’s “nuanced” religious interpretation.

      1. I agree with all that and commented about some of this on the post about literalism. There are “other ways of knowing” but they don’t give us objective, reliable knowledge about the Universe. And, as Jerry has pointed out, these “other ways” fit into a definition of science, broadly construed.

        Nevertheless, even understanding the differences in worldviews, I am still awed that so many people preach a message of tolerance and then can’t tolerate a different viewpoint. The cognitive dissonance must be overwhelming. Add to that, many of them tolerate religions which are contrary to their own that cause massive amounts of harm in the world. In this regard, fundamentalists actually have a more consistent worldview. Consistently loony, but still consistent. I’ll leave it to the faithiests to use their “other ways of knowing” to figure out if this consistency should be valued over attempting to understand the world as it actually is or whether it may be more prudent to strive for both. 😉

        1. “I am still awed that so many people preach a message of tolerance and then can’t tolerate a different viewpoint.”

          Really? I find it pedestrian and easy to comprehend. It’s the “everything’s OK so long as no one gets hurt” principle applied to truth claims and methods. Heartfelt convictions of faith are still “sacred” to a degree.

          Unfortunately, any claims that touch buttons (i.e. are offensive) are going to be indignantly shot down, especially if they tread into “scientistic” territory like human minds and “souls”. Steven Pinker gives copious examples in The Blank Slate, and it’s probably behind some of the fair play ethos that gets liberals to consider creationism an OK topic to introduce in science class.

          And what’s offensive and hurtful? Sexism, racism, homophobia of course… and religious claims people emotionally invest in.

          Honestly, I can’t link to Sastra’s claims enough. She’s got it bang to rights:


          “Add to that, many of them tolerate religions which are contrary to their own that cause massive amounts of harm in the world.”

          I think that’s too sweeping a claim, if you meant all religious liberals. But even applied to a subset of those, I think it’s not so much the harm they’re denying (they’re just as outraged as we are, I imagine), but their conviction that religion had nothing to do with it. How could it? Religion is supposed to be good, or at least not bad so long as it’s not bigoted, like those fundamentalists (who are the only ones taking it seriously, if you notice). Pinker calls that a “benign hypocrisy” – pretending to be honestly religious, but quietly not actually following through with that. That’s what humanism has done to them.

          1. “Really? I find it pedestrian and easy to comprehend.”

            Pedestrian? Yes. Even quotidian. But I would only file it under easy to comprehend by looking at the sheer number of people who behave this way. But, it still takes some analysis to get the root cause, which is probably some complex mix of human psychological factors including self-doubt, cognitive dissonance and to varying degrees, fear of death. I’m still not so sure it can just be dismissed as easily explainable, despite its ubiquity.

            “I think that’s too sweeping a claim, if you meant all religious liberals.”

            I don’t know whether it’s too sweeping or not. Naturally, when we categorize millions of people into only a handful of groups, there’s going to be some assertions that don’t apply to significant portions of the group. I do see your distinction though. The left far more often makes up excuses for acts like suicide bombings as if some more diplomacy or better economy of any of a dozen other societal maladies having been cured would prevent it from happening. They don’t want to pin it on religion.

            I still stand by my claim that they are tolerating the contrary religions. Yes, they may be outraged at the behaviors, but my pinning it on problems other than religion, they are still tolerating the religion. It’s as if they expect a fundamentalist reading of the Qur’an (or in other cases, the Bible) to suddenly and magically no longer create problems if only enough Western wealth, sympathy and tolerance is applied.

        2. I think a good part of it is also a paranoia over society’s health and welfare. If, in our open and liberal societies, we start dictating that there are only a few reliable ways to get at the truth, the first thing some people are going to suspect is that this is opening a door to authoritarianism and censorship. That’s why they lump fundies in with “scientistic” “new” atheists, however misguidedly: because both are saying something like this.

          1. “this is opening a door to authoritarianism and censorship”

            And discrimination, of course.

  40. I don’t know why you say “of all places, in the New Zealand Herald.”

    New Zealand may be hours by air from anywhere else, but perhaps for that reason we’re very connected. (You should visit, just to see our unique biota. If Pratchett can…)

    Despite its name, the NZ Herald only serves Auckland and the upper North Island. I worked there in 1969-70. It was a conservative paper then, not to say stodgy, commonly known as “Granny Herald”.

    It was founded in 1863 to promote the war against the Māori (which it termed “the native rebellion”) while a rival paper opposed it.
    Not a lot had changed when I was there. It wouldn’t publish a single sentence in the Māori language (with translation) about the first TV programme made entirely in Māori.

    I think it’s tried to move with the times technologically, but not politically. But remember that atheism is not radical in NZ, with 40% of the people professing “No religion” in the census.

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