Why are “sophisticated” newspapers, websites, and magazines so clueless about atheism?

April 14, 2015 • 11:35 am

I’ve been wondering for a while—and I’m not alone—why venues like The New York Times and The New Yorker, the newspaper and magazine that have the highest reputation for quality and sophistication in the U.S., are so wonky about atheism.  They either ignore it (the NYT sporadically gives it a tiny nod), or, when they mention it, do so in a mealymouthed way, equating it with faith.  In contrast, the Times regularly gives space to religious philosophers in its philosophy website The Stone, and has a true “believer in belief,” Tanya Luhrmann, regularly osculating the rump of faith in the op-ed section. What you’ll never see, among all the defenses of religion, is a hard-hitting attack on faith, the kind that Jeffrey Tayler publishes weekly in Salon. And when people like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins (or even Steve Pinker) are mentioned, it’s invariably something negative.

This is also true of NPR (National Public Radio), which broadcasts a lot of faith-y stuff (e.g., Krista Tippett), yet I’ve never seen a thing on their site or on the radio about atheism. You will find instead the faith-stroking of people like Tania Lombrozo.

Yet nonbelief is a big story in the U.S.: it’s the fastest growing category of “belief”, if you lump atheists and agnostics together with people who don’t identify with a church: the so-called “nones”.  Religion is on the wane in America, and yet the most visible and influential magazines ignore this. Or, they may point out the trend, but ignore the reasons for it. Yet the import of this trend, and its causes, are huge, for, given America’s religiosity, it has the potential to affect nearly every aspect of American life, from how science is regarded to the nature of politics and policy.

I don’t have an answer, but a friend recently suggested that since most of the recent cogent attacks on religion come from science, these venues, which aren’t particularly science-friendly (especially The New Yorker, which publishes mostly “soft” science like medical stories or compilations of anecdotes) prefer to ignore those attacks, leaving discussions of atheism embedded in pieces on the humanities, which they consider the proper arbiter of religious belief. It’s obvious to everyone with eyes that The New Yorker is simply soft on faith.

It’s frustrating to see these major venues deliberately overlook something that’s not just of concern to readers here, but should be important to the U.S. as a whole. Perhaps readers can give their theories below.

As for The NY Times‘s column “The Stone”, which regularly infuriates me with its pro-religion stance and forgettable interviews and articles (see here), Greg Mayer pointed me to a piece by Brian Leiter (a colleague at Chicago who is a liberal philosopher and legal scholar) on his widely-read website, “Leiter Reports.” Leiter pulls no punches in his piece “What is the NY Times thinking?

What is the NY Times Thinking?

They create a blog forum related to philosophy (“The Stone”), and then choose a complete hack as its moderator.  Simon Critchley?  Even among scholars of Continental philosophy (his purported area of expertise), he’s not taken seriously, let alone among philosophers in any other part of the discipline.  (When Michael Rosen [Harvard] and I edited The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy, the idea of inviting Critchley never came up–how could it?)  If the APA weren’t fatally compromised by its need to pander to everyone, it would launch a formal protest.  Unbelievable.

I would urge readers to send a short note to the public editor, Clark Hoyt, stating, roughly, that you are pleased to see increased attention to philosophy in the NY Times, but are concerned that someone who is not taken seriously as a philosopher or scholar has been invited to serve as “moderator.”  Keep it short and sweet.  If they get a couple thousand e-mails to that effect, maybe they will wake up to the spectacular mistake they’ve made.

Leiter wrote that in May, 2010, and Critchley is still editor of “The Stone.” And the site continues to be a real embarrassment to the newspaper.

At any rate, I suspect some writers for both The Times and The New Yorker read this site, and I’d ask them this: “Why are you so soft on the insupportable superstitions of religion?” and “What are you afraid of?” Or “Are you going to continue supporting faith as opposed to reason?”

115 thoughts on “Why are “sophisticated” newspapers, websites, and magazines so clueless about atheism?

  1. There is no money in atheisim. In fact you start to recognize it and the Christers will be all over you like a chap cologne.

      1. Based on my experience living in the dormitory of a religious college, albeit 40 years ago, the answer is yes. Far too much. Especially on Saturday night. Just writing this triggers olfactory memories of Hai Karate and Clearasil.

      2. My neighbor across the street is a deacon at the creole Baptist Church down the street. Nice guy, but he douses himself in stinky cologne before he leaves the house.

    1. I don’t know. In general controversy sells real well. If sales were the primary factor in deciding what to print, I’d have to recommend firing whoever is responsible for not taking advantage of the conflict between believers and atheists.

      1. Salon, that festering sore of a yellow rag, relies more on clickbait for revenue, and can afford to promote controversy, whereas “upscale” publications are structured differently.

      2. “In general” is the key part here. 😉

        Unfortunately, when we enter the realm of religion, all laws (not only physical) break down…

      1. And yet a great many atheists, including many here, read the NYT & New Yorker. They should take us into consideration as well.

    2. I agree, and also think that it’s more fear of losing business, i.e. religious subscribers, than anything else.

      Given how emotional religious people tend to be about their inherited beliefs, the fear of losing some of their religious readership, as a consequence of giving space to infidel writers in their magazines, is not entirely irrational.

  2. I wouldn’t be so harsh on The New Yorker re: science. It has published large portions of Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, that well-known Jonathan Schell piece a few decades, many good John McPhee pieces on geology and other subjects…It’s never touted itself as a science mag, and I do get tired of some of the Malcolm Gladwell pieces, but I don’t expect The New Yorker to be my source for science.

    1. I don’t see a photography magazine as a source of information about geography either. But if a particular magazine consistently printed photos of India and labelled them as photos of Fiji, I would probably dash off a letter asking them WTF was up.

    2. Where are the scientists writing in the New Yorker? After all, they get writers writing about writing, journalists writing about journalism, so why not scientists writing about science? (And I don’t mean doctors.)

    3. Writing for the New Yorker is probably one of the hardest jobs – their long form essays weave meticulous research and substance with flowing readability. It’s not a science magazine, but publishes some seriously good stuff that showcases science and skepticism – just about anything by Michael Specter, Elizabeth Kolbert, Oliver Sacks… It’s intentionally meant to be digestible even by liberal arts types. I suspect most of their writers are actually secular down to their toes. But New Yorker’s readers like most Americans are religious to varying degrees. From a business perspective they have no choice but to tread carefully.

  3. Many of the commenters on The Stone abuse the writers’ accommodating stances. And this is heartening. There must be a motivation from within the papers that contention gets readership.

    What suffers most is the epistemology of the situation. We are all part of the same existence, governed by physical laws, and these papers allow writers to NOT take existence seriously but sit on a mountain of metaphysics that crumbles with simple arguments that a nine year old can make.

    1. +1. I am amazed at the conflation of sophistication with wordiness. If I see one more argument from ignorance buried in the middle of an impenetrable mound of rhetoric, I am going to puke.

      Or so I said about 400 pukes ago.

      1. And a +1 to you.

        A bit off topic (although PCC did mention writing in the humanities), but conflating sophistication with wordiness (preferably wordiness involving lots of obscure trivia) goes beyond being endemic in writing about art/literature/music. It has become not just an accepted style but the expected style. Straightforward discussions focusing on the actual artistic content itself are almost impossible to find.

        Here’s a perfect example I ran across this morning. The author purports to explain what makes Bach’s music so great and why it’s so compelling. Nowhere in the article does he discuss the actual music. I can’t even.

        1. “I can’t even.” I’m sure there’s a sentence in there somewhere struggling to get out.

          I agree about the wordiness of that article, by the way. I would have though J.S. Bach was popular because he wrote good music. But that’s probably far too simplistic a view. 😉

  4. I’m a believer in analytic philosophy, pace Krauss et. al., but when it comes to Continental philosophy, I lose my patience.

    After reading Alan Sokal, I had no problem pushing most of it away. My ethnic background being no secret now– I read a book by Indian feminist Nivedita Menon which suggested that medicine was sexist for positing that sperm traveled to fertilize an ovum! This being because the sperm’s behavior sounded “masculine.” I’m not a biologist, but according to her, the ovum expends more energy during fertilization, and the fact that intro biology textbooks don’t mention this is sexism– and not, you know, just the fact that introductory textbooks simplify things.

    Maybe I should give the Oxford Handbook a shot though.

    1. Well, this seems like an appropriate opportunity to quite from one of my favorite Dawkins essays/reviews: Postmodernism Disrobed.

      “The feminist ‘philosopher’ Luce Irigaray is another who gets whole-chapter treatment from Sokal and Bricmont. In a passage reminiscent of a notorious feminist description of Newton’s Principia (a “rape manual”), Irigaray argues that E=mc2 is a “sexed equation”. Why? Because “it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us” (my emphasis of what I am rapidly coming to learn is an ‘in’ word). Just as typical of this school of thought is Irigaray’s thesis on fluid mechanics. Fluids, you see, have been unfairly neglected. “Masculine physics” privileges rigid, solid things. Her American expositor Katherine Hayles made the mistake of re-expressing Irigaray’s thoughts in (comparatively) clear language. For once, we get a reasonably unobstructed look at the emperor and, yes, he has no clothes:

      The privileging of solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the inability of science to deal with turbulent flow at all, she attributes to the association of fluidity with femininity. Whereas men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids… From this perspective it is no wonder that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model for turbulence. The problem of turbulent flow cannot be solved because the conceptions of fluids (and of women) have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated remainders.

        1. Thank god Sokal & Bricmont read that so we don’t have to!

          The question is, why do universities countenance this shit?

          1. In the spirit of being open-minded, I guess.

            You know, “so open-minded your brains fall out”

      1. I find her comments extremely sexist. Men can’t be fluid? I guess she never saw Baryshnikov dance or The Harlem Globetrotters handle basketballs. And the lack of male attention to fluid dynamics, fluid mechanics and turbulence (really?) would be news to the many males who pioneered and advanced those fields.

        It’s interesting when people rebel against sexism or racism and then describe alternative modes with stereotypes and, essentially, ignorance of the fields they find so oppressive. I would have thought the whole point of feminist (or at least anti-sexist) critique was to eliminate unnecessary genderization not to add more. And also to advocate equal value for women’s ideas and modes by raising them up, not simply to denigrate men’s contributions. Weird.

        1. “Men can’t be fluid? I guess she never saw Baryshnikov dance or The Harlem Globetrotters handle basketballs.”

          Also, for some reason I’d been under the impression that erections were a result of fluid mechanics and ended up producing fluid.

          (To return the discussion to Irigaray’s level…)

          1. Besides, aren’t all humans “ugly bags of mostly water”? You can’t get much more fluid than that.

    2. ‘This being because the sperm’s behavior sounded “masculine.” ‘

      I should hope so. Isn’t that kind of the point?

      (For some reason I found that comment hilarious).

    3. Not *another* fertilization and embryology canard?! Paul Gross debunked one of the favourites (that somehow scientists thought that eggs were passive) years ago and it still gets press.

    4. Leiter poses a question in his commentary on Crritchley,

      “Was it entirely an accident that at the same time that deconstruction became the rage in literary studies (namely, the 1980s), American politics went off the rails with the Great Prevaricator, Ronald Reagan? Is it simply coincidental that the total corruption of public discourse and language–which we may only hope has reached its peak at the present moment–coincided with the collapse of careful reading and the responsible use of language in one of the central humanities disciplines?””
      (Sorry for the long quote)

      The first thing I thought was, is that not what has happened, at least in part to liberalism and feminism. A couple of topics which have been commented on here before.

      It seems, by the content of this comment thread that others had noticed this too.

      There is so much kneejerk reaction to the simplest constructs of a few words, without the trouble being taken to fully understand an argument or position. To explore contexts and possible subtleties that usually accompany a reasoned position.

      That and (less so) the seeming licence to just throw a lot of pretentious complex sounding words into any virtually incomprehensible mumbo jumbo and then claim a meaningful position.

      But it is the loss of depth and breadth, context and subtlety, to both convey and understand meaning, “the collapse of careful reading and the responsible use of language”, structured argument, and provision of and comprehension of evidence, if required, in language now, that bugs me.

      Hopefully it has reached a peak at the present moment.

      I think it was Dianna who commented a while back that we cling to a more traditional notion of Liberal and Feminist until the PoMo stuff dies some kind of death.

      Lets hope it does soon.

      (Apologies if I got that wrong.)

  5. Because there are so many cases where the media both lead and shape opinion, we tend to look to them to always do it. However, oftentimes they are well behind public opinion. In order to retain readers, they write so as not to offend the majority. Only when it becomes clear that public opinion has shifted, do most start moving in the same direction.

    It’s also about conservative opinions traditionally being the ones with the money, and keeping the advertisers happy. It’s only fairly recently companies started producing advertising that showed an “ordinary” family as being anything other than white, middle class, mum, dad and two or three kids, although that hasn’t been typical for decades. The thought was that showing any other type of family alienated some people and turned them off the product. (Also, therefore, the penchant for sports stars and animals.)

    1. Not only are atheists a small fraction of the readership they are also probably less likely to create a fuss than the religious. If you publish an anti-atheist piece, you will probably lose very few atheist readers and get only a small amount of complaints (perhaps because atheists are used to being disparaged in any and all venues so their expectations are low). If you publish an anti-religion piece, however, it will be much more of a bother for you.

      1. Yes I was going to say basically the same thing. In advertising and media pandering, the squeaky wheels most often get the grease…and we don’t squeak all that much.

        I say let ’em get the attention. Every time a bad pro-theism argument gets made in public, some people are going to read it and become more skeptical. Heck, it even turns off fundies. The accommodationists “doth protest too much,” and this, I thin is already obvious to many people and getting more obvious as time goes on.

        1. Whenever a ridiculous religious argument is made when I’m listening with my theist family, I point it out and get them also either agreeing, laughing, or scoffing too, depending on the context. They’re all secular anyway, so they don’t get offended. There seems to be this switch that’s quite hard to flick because the god concept was introduced so early, even when people are intelligent and recognize the faults in the argument.

          Most people seem not to think about whether their god is real, it’s just something they’ve always accepted is true. Raising awareness is important in turning the switch off.

      2. ‘If you publish an anti-atheist piece, you will probably lose very few atheist readers and get only a small amount of complaints[.]’

        I think the reason nonbelievers don’t much complain or cancel subscriptions is what I call (for want of a better phrase) the “arrogance of justified belief.” (I use “arrogance” here not in any pejorative sense, but merely to indicate a distancing from the fray.)

        Nonbelievers are not as emotionally invested in these questions because nonbelief is not who we are, but how we approach the question. Unlike believers, we bring no a priori commitments to the inquiry, save a robust skepticism and the desire to hold true, justified beliefs.

        Also, were the facts to change — if evidence and rational thinking supported some form of supernatural belief — then most of us would (like J.M. Keynes) change our minds. Need we ask of the believers the Keynesian rejoinder “What would you do, sir?”

        1. You need a better word than “arrogance” which basically means to claim things for oneself, and has nothing whatever to do with distance. Especially since “arrogance” is such a pejorative word. I suggest you try something like “serenity” to imply the calm contentment which comes with knowing that you’re right.

          “c. 1300, from Old French arrogance (12c.), from Latin arrogantia, from arrogantem (nominative arrogans) “assuming, overbearing, insolent,” present participle of arrogare “to claim for oneself, assume,” from ad- “to” (see ad-) + rogare “ask, propose” (see rogation).”

          1. I agree we can do better than “arrogance.” But I don’t think we should arrogate “serenity,” since it is so closely associated with the so-called “Serenity Prayer.” (“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”)

            1. Anyway, I didn’t mean “distancing” in terms of actual physical distance — “emotive aloofness,” would be more like it (though, you ask me, that phrase is worse than “arrogance”).

            2. As a life long atheist I am not very familiar with prayers, but the serenity prayer you mention I thought had “strength” in place of serenity. Having Googled it, to no one’s surprise it comes up with many variations. You’ll be hard pressed to find any complimentary word that the religious have not already arrogated to themselves. I don’t think we should let that bother us though.

    2. Ha, yes. Recently one of my professional mags wrote about love at workplaces, and illustrated it with two girls flirting.

      I will admit I had to think it over before I realized the photo was an illustration of the text. Because it didn’t pander to my expectations of magazine images, and because it didn’t pander to my expectations of targeting me on this issue.

      I don’t think there were any negative comments in the following web discussion. So, good for the magazine and good for diversity!

      1. Yeah, good on them. I wonder how the magazine would have fared in Bible Belt USA though instead of a more secular and tolerant country – I bet there would have been a real furore in some sectors of the community!

  6. As someone who has been an anthropologist for 45 years now and has had continual dissatisfaction with the discipline since graduate school (U of IL C/U) when my program (human ecology) disintegrated. I am disgusted with Tanya Luhrmann and have told the NYT as much. No response. The Stone is so stomach churning that I will not read it. During the Vietnam fiasco anthropology went pomo in a big way. By no means are all anthropologists as worthless as Luhrmann, but she typifies much of what once was at least a discipline and even a science to a few. Modern philosophy is just lost with few exceptions. I agree completely that the New York Times has sold out to the muddled middle and that the New Yorker could surely find many fine scientists who are also fine writers who would be quite welcome by readers. One can only blame editors and the motives of those who hire them.

  7. The slogan “All the news that’s fit to print” has been replaced by just the news you will pay for.
    Its like radio programming; only the top 40 gets airplay. No classical or jazz in the St Louis market except public/community radio.

    I subscribe to the Times because they do offer news on arts, books, politics & science but they give the supernatural legitimacy not deserved.

    1. There used to be real independent radio stations in my favorite cities. They played a true variety of music, popular stuff (but not top 40), folk, blues, instrumental (clutch my pearls!), even that now-dormant form, “New Age” music.

      They’ve all been bought by the money people and turned into money factories playing nothing but the current run (and I mean run) of industrially-manufactured pop-icon squeakings.

      I can’t listen to the current crap (almost all of it). Or watch TV.

      Give me a stereotyped fake yodel! 🙁

  8. I’ve never regularly read the NY Times, and I long ago gave up on the New Yorker, but all I can suggest is that, while, taking into account that they try to both shape opinion and react/report it, mostly they’ll do whatever it takes to sell copy, and in this case, perhaps they are writing from a perspective that they assume is shared by the “muddled middle” (great term, Michael) and probably is, since they continue to survive in an era of declining print readership.

    They write it because it sells because they write it…and they’ll stop when there is a significant alteration in the expectations and opinions of the majority readership. After all, their purpose is first, to make money, and second to inform the public from a certain point of view, followed by all the other purposes of media, but none of which can take place without the dosh, just ask the hundreds of failed, closed, or significantly curtailed newspapers and magazines that have given up the ghost in this digital age.

    or, as Monty Python put it,

    “There is nothing quite as wonderful as money.
    There is nothing quite as beautiful as cash.
    Some people say it’s folly,
    But I’d rather have the lolly.
    With money you can make a splash.”

    so until our society reaches that critical tipping point, expect a whole lotta pandering.

  9. Just to say that I saved this rumination from an articulate “atheist” because it is such a good illustration of the the argumentative voice from “atheism,” which like the argumentative voice for any “ism” — fundamentalism, Republican conservatism, pre-current pope Catholicism, Calvinism, you name it — has a “put-down” quality that ends communication instead of opening conversational issues. I happen to pay my .99 a month for “opinion” access to the New York Times primarily because of Simon Critchley and others who ruminate with a mixture of affirmations and critiques and leave me making a little more sense of the world and my own experience. Somehow “atheism” seems to attract personalities that feel compelled to oppose any of the pluralistic contexts for meaning in the life of human beings without finding anything at all to inspire meaningful aspirations that might be shared by those of us who like to relate warmly and positively with others. I find the same stern anti-everything in the voice and facial expressions at the meet-ups of “atheists” and “humanists” I sometimes attend. By the way, Critchley’s books and scholarly essays earn him plenty of respect except for philosophers of a “different” school, and it strikes me that some philosophers, like too many of the “atheists” I have encountered, like to argue as though every issue can be reduced to two sides — the right side, and the stupid side.

    1. Thank you for your rude commentary. By the way, you might want to know that the one thing that was written about this website in the New Yorker, by Adam Gopnik, doled out a modicum of praise for my being interested in a variety of things–what you call “pluralistic contexts for meaning.”

      The only reason I can divine for why you claim that I evince no meaningful aspirations, no zest for the nice bits of life, on this website is because you never read it.

      As for Critchley, I don’t know him; I’m just quoting someone who does. I suspect your knickers are just in a twist because of the comment on Critchley. Regardless, it’s both unkind and inaccurate for you to say that all I do here is negative commentary. I will impart to you what Andrew Sullivan once said to me: “Have you READ the fucking thing?”

      1. Here’s my translation. By “argumentative voice” s/he means “telling people there’s no God.” By “without finding anything at all to inspire meaningful aspirations that might be shared by those of us who like to relate warmly and positively with others” s/he means “not following it up with the reassurance that it’s fine to believe there IS a God if you want.”

        In other words, it’s not what atheists say about the joy and wonder of life which is at fault. It’s what atheists say about religion. But only if they’re negative.

        Accomodationists, atheists or not, are going to come across as nice enough for sophisticated readers like dkrenner. In the context of spirituality, there seems to be a large faction of intelligent people who think a “live and let live” attitude towards religion is more advanced than treating it as factual claims. Religion = identity. Just as one shouldn’t condemn someone’s race or sexual orientation, one shouldn’t condemn someone’s faith.

        It’s hard to press the point that ‘truth matters’ when the audience is so eager to fall all over itself respecting everyone’s truthiness.

    2. “… “atheism” seems to attract personalities that feel compelled to oppose any of the pluralistic contexts for meaning in the life of human beings without finding anything at all to inspire meaningful aspirations that might be shared by those of us who like to relate warmly and positively with others.”

      Which kind of misses the point that the thing that is offensive about these pieces is usually their reflexive and content-free attacks on atheism. That and the fact that they use phrases like “…pluralistic contexts for meaning in the life of human beings…” without any regard for the rooting of those contexts in reality.

      The “put down quality” of an argument can often be precipitated by the recipient’s uncomfortable realization that they are, in fact, full of crap.

      1. I find offensive the assumption that because I don’t share someone’s wonder in their made up god concept that my life lacks meaning. My life has become better since I abandoned religion, and my mind is much clearer. For example, I am free to embrace humanism in a way that is impossible when you’re trying to reconcile it with the hateful parts of religious scripture and the exclusion/exclusivity of religion.

        1. I learned that there is a diversity and human rights group where I work and within that there is an interfaith working group. I wondered if they would welcome an atheist voice to the working group. I am debating finding out; if they didn’t the irony would be almost too hard to stand since they deal with “diversity and human rights”. However, my personal experiences with the faithful is they are much more judgemental of me for not embracing their god and no longer want to associate with me simply because I am an atheist.

          The few religious friends I have accept me atheism & all and I think they do so because they tend to be open and liberal despite their religious background which tells them to shun the unbelievers.

          So, in other words, this concept of the unhappy atheist may be because atheists have gone through a lot of rejection and are frankly sick of being told they either have something wrong with them or they are evil and going to burn in hell forever.

    3. “Somehow “atheism” seems to attract personalities that feel compelled to oppose any of the pluralistic contexts for meaning in the life of human beings without finding anything at all to inspire meaningful aspirations that might be shared by those of us who like to relate warmly and positively with others.”

      That is your belief, but it is not an accurate portrayal of atheists. I think it may be that you are sensitive, defensive, about not having certain beliefs of yours respected. Beliefs that sound good, make you feel good, but for which there is no good reason to think are true.

      But the inspirations, the desires, that cause you to search for / build and commit to those beliefs? Well, atheists feel all of that just as believers do. What they don’t share is a penchant for adopting and holding beliefs without, or even against, good reason and evidence, in order to satisfy those things. In some cases because it never dawned on us that it was necessary in order to satisfy those things, or we came to realize that it is not. We know it is just as easy to satisfy those things without the “make believe” as with it, because we do it every day. Perhaps easier. Especially once you consider all of the other, considerable, negative affects that go along with the “make believe.”

      It is a huge fallacy on your part, though common among believers, to think that not believing in your unevidenced spiritual beliefs means atheists are cold, negative, anti-pluralistic, uninspired automatons. You really need to open your eyes and get over the ancient, stale, cliche stereotypes of atheists that are, apparently, so important to many believers’ self images.

        1. Thank you NewEnglandBob. I agree, ‘self delusion’ is better. I was stumped for several minutes trying to think of a better term than ‘make believe’, but was drawing a blank and had to run.

      1. “We know it is just as easy to satisfy those things without the “make believe” as with it, because we do it every day. Perhaps easier. Especially once you consider all of the other, considerable, negative affects that go along with the “make believe.””

        Hear, hear.

    4. “Somehow “atheism” seems to attract personalities that feel compelled to oppose any of the pluralistic contexts for meaning in the life of human beings …”.

      This doesn’t compute.

      It is theists that claim meaning is commanded by magic agents. Skeptics observe that human beings have to create their own individual meaning.

      “… without finding anything at all to inspire meaningful aspirations that might be shared by those of us who like to relate warmly and positively with others.”

      This does compute.

      You are saying that you don’t like criticism of belief, because you will take your religious special privilege to raise a strawman of criticism of your person, ‘so STFU’!

      I think all respondents to you agree that you are uninformed about the subject you pretend to discuss, and most that you are rude about it.

    5. “atheism” seems to attract personalities that feel compelled to oppose any of the pluralistic contexts for meaning in the life of human beings without finding anything at all to inspire meaningful aspirations that might be shared by those of us who like to relate warmly and positively with others.

      Jerry posts on cutting edge biology research, on philosophy (i.e., determinism), on politics, on a Polish cat, on boots, on food from all over the world, and on pictures of nature from his readers. If you can’t find at least one thing in that list that ‘inspires meaningful aspirations,’ in you, then you must be dead inside. I’m not saying you have to like everything he writes, but its pretty laughable to imply that Jerry reduces everything to two sides given the breadth of his subject matter.

      Post on cats and somebody gives you crap about writing outside your area of expertise. Post on atheism, somebody else complains that your subject matter is narrow and not humanistic enough. I guess some days you just can’t win.

      1. I guess PCC is not diverse enough. He needs to comment on wildlife who is talking about the weather in Chicago while wearing boots while dining in India.

    6. The constant enclosing of words in “quotation” marks jars so much I find this piece unreadable. I have no idea what you meant by them but they are not helpful in conveying your ideas, they merely convey unease with the written word.

    7. Atheism attracts people who believe that evidence should be at least a part component of assertions they make.

      I attended an atheist meet up a while ago.
      The Global Atheist convention in Melbourne.

      After Ben Elton or Jim Jefferies there weren’t too many stern faces.

      And I can’t recall too many stern faces after any of the presenters.

      Ayaan Hirsi Ali got a standing ovation.

      There was a tribute to Hitch, no stern faces, maybe sad though.

      Over 4000 not stern faces.

      The stern faces belonged to Evangelical preachers protesting outside with loving messages like “Hell is horrible, no warning is too strong”

      Or the Muslim protesters with, “Ayaan Ali Hirsi, burn in hell forever”.

      Oh! but, regarding stern faces. The security guards escorting Ayaan Hirsi Ali to the waiting black dark windowed security limo did, most certainly, have stern faces.

      I saw this happen, out the back of the facility as I was ill and trying to find a quiet spot, no one else was around.

      I suppose the faces of those who would do harm to Ms Ali if they got her would not be stern, they would be ecstatic in their viscous hatred. Check out Sam Harris the misuses of ecstasy. I am sure you can see it for your self though. See the faces of the religious as they commit one atrocity after another.

      Come to think of it though, maybe there is cause for atheists to have stern faces on occasion, having to face the relentless religious absurdities, without phantasmagorical wish thinking to rationalise any and every atrocity, perhaps a stern face may, on occasion, be appropriate.

  10. I do feel atheism has made some sort of evolution. First it was a full frontal assault on faith and nowadays it’s more about answering the question: “If not faith, then what?” Sam Harris is a good example of this evolution. From attacking one position to defending your own.

    Both are important ofcourse, but I prefer attacking faith, like Hitchens, Tayler and ofcourse Professor Ceiling Cat do.

    1. I can’t work up the effort to ponder “If not faith, then what”, because I live in a nation that have realized that answer many ways to Sunday in the last century.

      So I rather grip magic belief around its throat,* and shake it,* and ask**: “Why haven’t you bothered to deliver evidence instead of insults to humanity for _2 #%?! millenniums_? When will you start to feel ashamed of yourself!?”

      * Not really.

      ** Really!

      1. It’s one of the more persisting arguments from religion. When Nietzsche said: “God is dead”, he was mourning God. For him, there was christianity on the one hand and nihilism on the other. Or, in the USA, christianity and communism. You and I know these are false dichotomies, for we are both western/northern European (I assume that because of your name).

      2. Yeah, I agree. I’m not asking “then what.” My Sundays are pretty meaningful, I spend them with my kid going to the zoo, or parks, or museums, or sports events.

        In short, being nonreligious gives me that ‘quality time’ to spend with family that everyone seems to complain modern families don’t have enough of.

        So I will respond to the original pithy rhetorical question with another one: “Why faith, when family?”

      3. As do I. Last I heard approx. 7% of Australians go to church, and we’re not suffering any existential crises. The churches are, but not the rest of us.

  11. Somewhere in the cranial nooks-and-crannies of the American body politic, there is an ephemeral, atavistic fear that outright atheism (one that admits of nothing spiritual or supernatural) is of a league with blasphemy, satanic ritual, perversion, and the Seven Deadly Sins. That’s the best explanation I can conceive.

      1. Well, maybe not so ephemeral then…although I don’t think the magazine, and newspaper, and website writers and editors and publishers that Jerry is talking about harbor a conscious belief in Satanism or link it to atheism. It’s more a general unease, a vague feeling that there is something wrong, or antisocial, or maybe even slightly evil about professed hardcore rejection of religious belief in all its myriad forms.

        1. I think they’re scared of atheists because deep down they know we’re right. When they have doubts about their faith, as they all do, it’s not evil trying to get in as their religious leaders tell them, it’s their own minds trying to escape the prison of faith.

          Yes, I know that sentence was a bit long!

  12. NPR is under constant threat from Republicans in congress and the right in general so they tread very carefully around religion.

  13. I’ve been wondering for a while—and I’m not alone—why venues like The New York Times and The New Yorker, the newspaper and magazine that have the highest reputation for quality and sophistication in the U.S., are so wonky about atheism

    I don’t think we can blame the NYT or TNY; we can only blame ourselves for not getting ourselves a chair at the table.

    Being quietly reasonable demands no attention these days. Ever since LBJ beat Goldwater, the Republicans have ceaselessly and threateningly demanded their chair at the table – and they have received it. They have been able to make outlandish ideas mainstream because of it.

    We have a lot of smallish atheist, humanist, and agnostic groups – but none are devotedly politically aspirational. Bill Donohue, basically a one-man operation, gets more air time than all the atheist organizations put together.

    If we want political power – and it seems to me unethical not to acquire it and use it considering the times we live in – we have to seize it ourselves. This, it seems to me, is the issue we should be spending time on, not, for instance, feminism.

    The nones will soon be the largest single religious constituency in the U.S.; we could and should be directing the conversation, not wondering why no one wants to hear us.

    1. I believe you are right but the chair needs to be demanded at the democratic table. And we need to have some important issues to add or push to this table.

      The republicans went wacko almost totally because the nuts over there demanded a nice fat seat and it has been crazy city ever since.

    2. ‘ Ever since LBJ beat Goldwater, the Republicans have ceaselessly and threateningly demanded their chair at the table…’

      In ’64, Goldwater seemed about as Far Right as a politician with aspirations for national office could be. (If he hadn’t have been walloped by LBJ, my family was prepared to decamp for Canada faster than you can pluck the petals off a daisy.}

      The further away we get, the better Goldwater looks in the rearview mirror. At least he had the sense to enlist William F. Buckley, Jr., to read the Birchers out of the Republican coalition. And in his latter years, he was especially vocal in his criticism of the Religious Right. If Goldwater were still in office today, he would undoubtedly get “primaried” from the right by a Tea-Party candidate, particularly in a state as far out as Arizona.

      What was once Extremist Right, is mainstream in today’s GOP. The equivalent of the John Birch Society now has its hands on the Republican tiller (and, indeed, the JBS itself is now welcome back at supposedly mainstream conservative events, like CPAC.) The trope about Obama being a socialist (and the one about Benghazi and the one about “Fast and Furious”) recall Robert W. Welch, Jr.’s claim that Ike was guilty of treason for being a knowing tool of the Communist Party. Can little old ladies in tennis shoes and JBS nametags handing out anti-fluoridation leaflets at the Republican convention be far behind?

  14. Brian Leiter has long been a voice of reason. Although a legal scholar, he wrote a very readable book, Why Tolerate Religion, a few years ago, which examines why religion is singled out for preferential treatment in the law, and in society in general. (He’s against it.)

  15. Journalists generally know very little about science and since science is the area of human endeavor that most directly questions religious beliefs and, more importantly, the entire religious outlook/worldview, you won’t find many writers at the NYT or, especially, the New Yorker, who really deeply understand where scientific atheism is coming from. Scientifically-oriented atheists will look at what the Pope has to say, for example, and think “Well, the evidence long ago made it clear that the fundamental beliefs of Catholics and all other Christians are all built on a foundation of sand. Therefore, the Pope has no more authority to speak about anything than anyone else. In fact, because of the damage his faith-based beliefs inflict on his general credibility, he’s probably someone whose opinions we should be leery of.

    This is not an attitude that establishment institutions like the NYT or the New Yorker are ready to adopt. They might adopt such a stance towards homeopathic “physicians”, or psychics, or an Alien abduction aficionados, but not adherants of established bollocks like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or Hinduism. No matter how goofy these belief systems are, and no matter how calmly or articulately or even convincingly atheists demonstrate religion to be nonsensical, establishment journalism will not yet openly adopt the atheists point of view. Since they can’t be entirely with us, and because we are implacable concerning religious nonsense, to make sense of atheists, we have to be understood as a bit lacking in some way: cold or artless or at least rude. If atheists are none of those things, if they’re isn’t anything systemically wrong with atheists, then your in tough position as a rational journalist. You’d have to treat the atheists’ viewpoint as sensible and that makes you a lot of enemies.

  16. But nobody can serve up softball interview questions like Krista Tippett. And she goes way beyond “Faith.” She now covers “Being.” NPR doesn’t need to provide any coverage of Atheist views now that its coverage includes Being.

    1. She has had a few atheists on her program (very few). I can’t stomach the show anymore; but I heard her interview some atheists and she handled them pretty softly as well.

      Though she did try very hard to maneuver the guest into admitting some vague form of “spirituality”.

      Unlike my local NPR station’s Kerri Miller who nearly licked Karen Armstrong’s shoes while being an attack dog to Richard Dawkins (who was promoting his memoir, not an atheist book, at the time.)

  17. My hypothesis would be that generally emotion sells better than logic. At a 30,000 foot view, religion = emotion, science = logic. It’s like wondering why YouTube videos of cute animals get more hits than videos about cool math tricks or Physics.

    They can simply sell more papers by writing on a more emotional level. Religion provides (a false) message of hope and love and eternal life, at least the Sophisticated Theology kind of religion that appears in more liberal papers. Atheism, and I think this is key, can’t offer an eternal afterlife and isn’t this really the root of all kinds of insidious and irrational religious belief? Atheism can offer hope and love, but these two elements are so tarnished by religious people attacking the very notion that it’s simply not going to sit well with a wide audience. Remember, the majority of Americans still think that the Bible’s ad hominem attack on atheists, declaring them as fools, is a valid form of argument. Better understanding of logic, reason and science is necessary before we can expect to see popular media outlets promoting them over woo and emotion.

  18. I think the editorial board of the NYT is largely composed of the PC, SJW-leaning left, where criticizing religion is considered taboo.

    I’m basing that on the stances I’ve seen in the editorials from the board over the past couple years. Largely liberal, but increasingly illiberal identity politics (such as the recent one claiming that the earnings gap between men and women must be due to discrimination, simply because it exists).

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