Why do many atheists hate the New Atheists?

September 13, 2015 • 12:00 pm

One thing I don’t fully understand is the depth of rancor that many atheists have towards the “New Atheists,” especially people like Dan Dennett, Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Richard Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens. We’ve all seen it, and I’ve written about it many times. One example is a new book by An Atheist Who Shall Not Be Named, The New Atheist Threat: The Dangerous Rise of Secular Extremists, discussed on The Godless Spellchecker‘s site. (Hemant Mehta has just written his own take on the book.)

The critique of New Atheists by other atheists seems to consist largely of ad hominem accusations, distortions of what they’ve said (Sam Harris is particularly subject to this), and, most of all, complaints that they dare criticize religion publicly. As Nathaniel Comfort said in the comments section of his own Nature review of Dawkins’s new autobiography:

I do say. You’re making an absurdly large leap and insulting the many atheists (including myself) who are perfectly happy to leave people alone with their views if they let me alone with mine. Dawkins, et al. are evangelists for atheism. That’s what I’m criticizing. Just as not all straight people are homophobes, not all atheists are eccesiophobes. And you can be scientific without being scientistic.

This is an explicit statement that if you publicly and passionately criticize religion, you’re the Wrong Kind of Atheist. You’re insulting the Quiet Atheists.

Now I’m perfectly happy accepting that it’s not the style of some nonbelievers to openly declare their atheism, much less to publicly criticize religion. But why go after the ones who do, especially when they’re simply articulating the reasons why the non-vociferous atheists have rejected religion?

I can think of a couple of answers. The first is simple jealousy: some atheists haven’t achieved the fame or public profile of people like Hitchens, and so attack their character rather than their arguments. It’s also a way to get attention for yourself if you feel unappreciated.

The second is the feeling by the Quiet Atheists that “New Atheists don’t represent me,” and so they must be called out. But since when have prominent New Atheists ever said they represent all atheists? They are representing their own views, and I doubt that any of them have said that they speak for all nonbelievers.

The attacks by atheists on New Atheists stand in strong contrast with how religionists act when they disagree. Christians, for instance, don’t spend lots of their time attacking the character and arguments of other Christians like William Lane Craig or Pat Robertson. Yes, I know that there is some criticism along those lines. But I can’t think of a Christian or a Muslim who makes their living writing article after article criticizing individual coreligionists. Nor, do I think, do believers try to damage other believers by consistently misrepresenting their positions or questioning their characters. When they do engage in such criticism, they’re usually straightforward about their disagreements, not prone to distortion, and are rarely snarky.

Finally, believers who do criticize coreligionists—Maajid Nawaz and his criticisms of radical Islam, for instance—usually don’t engage in character assassination or personal attacks: they go after what they see as the palpable dangers of extremist faith.  If your response is that “well, some atheists see New Atheism as extremist, too” I’d reply that the New Atheists aren’t even close to damaging society in the ways that Boko Haram or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his ISIS organization are. New Atheists just write books and give talks; they don’t urge their followers to kill people, forcibly impose their views on others, or urge the murder of those they oppose.

These are just some tentative thoughts, but the rancor of atheist criticism about New Atheists repeatedly surprises and saddens me. And I don’t fully understand it. Readers are invited to share their opinions below.

h/t: Barry

288 thoughts on “Why do many atheists hate the New Atheists?

    1. That’s my take, too. It’s a kind of “I’m more open-minded than they” one-upmanship. …a way of signaling over-the-top progressive ideals. I bet it sometimes works as a courting strategy, too.

      1. I have noticed that some progressives think that being progressive is to pretend that ALL of the various made-up religions contain an equal amount of violence and misogyny.

        For this to be true, there would have to be a god supervising, to make sure that nobody had a PARTICULARLY shitty idea that lasted for thousands of years, or to make sure that anyone that had a much better idea had to accept some measure of bullshit to go along with it.

        There’s egalitarianism, and then there are games of pretend. I choose not to play games of pretend. I dislike religion in general, but cannot be convinced that the Quakers and Muslims are equally prone to violence.

        1. Spot on. Although even among Muslims not every Muslim group is equally prone to violence: Wahabites and Salafites are much more dangerous than Sufis, for example.

          Ultimately the problem of violence in Islam is due to a lack of secularization in many Muslim countries, with all that secularization entails (separation of church and state, a privatization of religion, the end of religious privileges, the end of the political power of the clergy, etc.).

          Secularized Muslim states (like Turkey) are less prone to producing or financing violent extremist groups than theocratic states (like Saudi Arabia). This is true even though now Erdogan is trying to bring Turkey backwards, since he is an authoritarian who frequently flirts with the clergy.

          The best way to reduce the power of violent or authoritarian religious groups is to reduce the political power of religion in general.

          If the “West” really wants to sort out the problems of Muslim terrorism and ISIS they should stop cuddling theocracies just because it’s convenient and seriously promote secularism.

          Progressives who are actually interested in promoting a respect for human rights should also heavily criticize religion, and not shy away from criticism of Islam just because it’s not “politically correct” or accuse people who point out the many flaws of Islam of “supporting imperialism” and of being “racist”.

      1. Oh, I see Prof CC mentioned that already. My fault for banging in my instinctive comment on the headline before I’d read the whole article.


    2. I agree. There is also a large element of “phobia of Islamophobia”. Some of the most vocal critis happen to be postmarxist postcolonialist types whose worldview is dominated by the notion that White people run the world and are extremely unfair to childlike brown people; as long as you take this to be true, it makes sense to criticize critics of Islam because Islam is identified as a “brown faith”, a victim of colonialism, imperialism and racism and so on. From there, it is not too hard to get to extremely harsh criticism of people like Sam Harris.
      From within the Western Social-Justice-Warrior universe (a very Eurocentric and “White” universe) this all makes perfect sense.

  1. Reblogged this on Nina's Soap Bubble Box and commented:
    I think it’s simple jealousy of attention. there are no atheist leaders and the only new thing is that we are not quiet anymore. the atheist community needs to pay more attention to the range of strategies used by the queer community

  2. I suppose secular extremists are possible, and may even have had significant negative impact in the past.

    Nevertheless, I cannot help equating “extreme secularist” with a bald guy who’s going to get really, really bald.


    1. I don’t think it is possible to have an extreme secularist. The point of secularism is neutrality. Does “extremely neutral” make sense? In music, tempo indications often take the form “adverb adjective” in Italian: “molto adagio” for “very slow”. There’s a joke tempo marking “molto moderato” – extremely moderate.

      Of course, one could go to extremes trying to enforce secularism, but that’s a separate issue and doesn’t have anything to do with secularism. In any event, I’d hardly call anything the New Atheists do “going to extremes”.

  3. Everybody hates the boy who speaks aloud of the Emperor’s nudity — even those who are fully aware that the Emperor is naked. One simply doesn’t embarrass the Emperor with his nudity, after all.


    1. I think you hit it Ben. For many people – and atheists are people too – telling someone else that they are wrong is crossing too far over the line of nice behavior. But if you can’t look at this and see that the line is a mile wide, that there is no kinda god, well, I just don’t get it. I *do* get it if you are agnostic and claim to sit in the middle of the road until something new shows up.

        1. Or one could nail the ninety-five one thesis of non-belief to grandma’s screen door, along with a note saying “Here I stand, grandma, I can do no other.”

    2. Daniel Dennett: ”There is no polite way to suggest to someone that they have devoted their life to a folly”

      So anyone trying to “be nice” ends up saying almost nothing.

      And anyone who says anything at all is perceived by accomodationists and faithiests as strident, militant, hateful etc.

      He Who Shall Not Be Named has even more weird emotional issues and needs some help, but the above is a big part of the problem.

      1. There’s a lot to Dennett’s statement, and apparently many of those atheists/agnostics who are so critical of “new atheists” are terrified of being labeled as “extremists” if they don’t openly criticize those atheists who rightly point out the many, many flaws of religion and the horrendous damage it has caused in the past and continues to cause in the present. Some of this may also go back to memories of the witchhunts of the McCarthy era against anyone who seemed less than an absolute pro-capitalist, god-fearing, gung ho patriotic, heterosexual American, and they’re fearful of a backlash by the right-wingers. Considering the viciousness of their attitudes against even a moderate, practicing Christian (even tho’ they insist on referring to him as a Commie-Muslim) Obama, I don’t understand why they think those ignorant nuts can be in any reasoned with.
        I don’t consider myself an extremist by any means, but given that I’ve written quite a few newsletter articles denouncing religious and other supernatural non-sense many theists and at least a few “don’t dare point out that the emperor doesn’t have any clothes” atheists would regard me as an extremist. But at least one friend who I met through our local freethought society over 10 years ago and who used to tell me that he thought Jesus was all right but it was just the religious nuts who ruined it, now agrees with me that it’s highly likely that Jesus never existed and that anyone whose argument is, “agree with me and accept my arguments despite my complete lack of any supporting evidence or you’ll be tortured in hell for all eternity” is not in any way “all right”.

    3. Many people seem to truly believe that being confrontational will just not work at changing peoples minds. That it will only ever have the opposite affect desired. They claim this as if it is obvious and that to doubt it is ridiculous. I think the root of it is that challenging someones self-image-defining beliefs is taboo. The ultimate in impoliteness. No need for rational justification or evidence, it is a taboo.

      Interestingly, I’ve been rewatching the 1st Beyond Belief conference and Lawrence Krauss was quite the accommodationist at that time, several years ago. I had not remembered that. But his behavior was a perfect example of what I was trying to describe above. It seemed to never occur to him that the premise that criticizing someone’s religious beliefs could only have negative results could be inaccurate. Though it does seem like he has come over to the dark side over the intervening years.

      1. Well said…I noticed that of Dr. Krauss also during that Beyond Belief conference several years ago. It’s pretty much an issue of being too politically correct in my opinion.

      2. “Many people seem to truly believe that being confrontational will just not work at changing peoples minds.”

        I think it’s striking how situational this belief is. I mean, I think you’re right that the most accomodationist people sincerely that arguments against religion can’t change anyone’s mind. But on another topic, like politics or race or gender or etc. they will turn out to be the most obnoxious, hectoring voices around. Even when confronting other atheists, you find that they are hardly gun-shy about telling New Atheists exactly what they think of them.

        1. Only the most rigorously intellectually honest of people – if there are any such people – will “change their mind” right there in front of you. What real people who are intellectually honest with themselves actually do is go home and think about it. If your argument is good and true, they will find they have changed their mind.

          Such mind-changing on their part not only takes place out of the sight of others, but largely out of sight of their own conscious mind. This means that at some point they suddenly think, “Blast, they were right! I have to agree.” This the point at which the conscious mind has been finally informed of the “conclusion” already reached by the unconscious mind.

          Don’t hope for the neurologically nearly impossible – sudden agreement by the other side. Humans are largely defective reasoning machines.

  4. Well one reason I often hear, and I don’t know whether it’s an honest one, or an excuse, is that new atheists criticizing Islam for example is that while they don’t “urge their followers to kill people, forcibly impose their views on others, or urge the murder of those they oppose” they fan the right wing bigoted flames of people who they believe might do such things.

      1. Further, many of us are also outspoken or even notorious pacifists; see Coyne v Nixon, for example.

        And those of us who are hawkish — Sam Harris, most notably — propose violence only in response to threats of violence. As much as I vehemently disagree with Sam on the subject, I must acknowledge that the “ideas so dangerous those who hold them should be killed” he describes are ideas of committing horrific violence. He would be as aghast as I at the suggestion of using violence to dissuade somebody from believing and declaring that there are no gods but Allah and his Messenger.

        That is, even when Sam (inadequately) makes the case for preemptive holocaust in extreme hypothetical situations, his case remains one of, in his (incoherent) hypothetical, only doing so in order to reduce the total number of casualties. And the instant that DAESH, for example, stopped using violence and threats of violence and instead started using rhetoric to achieve their ends, I’m confident Sam would similarly de-escalate.

        As such, Beetlejuice’s arguments that we’re fanning the flames of violence, when even the most violent amongst us only proposes the use of violence to counter actual and threatened violence.


        1. I don’t see the alternative to Sam’s rhetorical situation – i.e. Those with a wish to destroy other and track record of doing so, combined with a death-wish get their hands on nuclear weapons.

          In such a situation, if conventional means were unavailable surely a first strike is the only reasonable course of action? I think you over-play this as a ‘genocide’

          1. I don’t think this is the place to rehash the debate over Sam’s nuclear fantasies. The short version is that you’re not going to detonate an Hiroshima-scale device on American soil unless it’s atop a ballistic missile or similar device, and doing so is far beyond the financial and technological capabilities of any Islamic state — let alone any terrorist group. Further, the ability to do so anonymously simply doesn’t exist…which is where old-school MAD kicks in in a very one-sided fashion: a small country causes less devastation than Katrina did, and the US turns the entire attacking country (and, possibly, all its allies) into a glass parking lot — something no mad tyrant would even dream of risking. That’s the worst realistic real-world scenario…which, it should be obvious, is so far removed from Sam’s justification that…

            …well, to finish that sentence would demonstrate why this isn’t the time nor place for this debate.


            1. I think you’ve complicated the scenario such that it becomes impossible to answer. I think he was presenting it almost as a thought experiment a la ‘the trolley problem’. I don’t think he mentioned the U.S. as a target, that suicidal jihadist would have allies nor that you’d need to destroy the entire country as the pre-emptive strike. In fact I think the natural assumptions would be; the target is Israel or India, they have no-one willing to act in unison and the strikes would be limited to take out their capability or leadership.

            2. I think you are misrepresenting Sam’s position. Have you watched his latest blog post, where he attempts to clarify that position?

            3. There’s this strange new phenomenon I’m noticing, where intelligent people bend over backwards to disagree with Sam Harris where no disagreement exists. Everything you just said has been addressed multiple times by Harris over the years, it’s unclear where you disagree with him at all on this issue, and yet you go to great pains to label his rhetoric “incoherent” and/or “inadequate”. Quite honestly, this also comes off as “progressive signaling”.

              Seems many people don’t want to get caught agreeing with Harris these days, and in fact want to be on record disagreeing. If that’s your aim, choose one of his weaker positions. Like profiling.

              1. “There’s this strange new phenomenon I’m noticing, where intelligent people bend over backwards to disagree with Sam Harris where no disagreement exists.”

                I so agree with that comment. Ben’s remarks struck me as bordering on something Glenn Greenwald, or he who shall not be named would say.
                That being said I don’t so much agree with “profiling” being a weaker position, not to any significant degree anyway. Very recently (the last week) Sam had a long sit down with Dave Rubin which was also edited into segments entitled things like “Sam Harris: Nuclear First Strike on the Muslim World?” or “Sam Harris: For Racial Profiling of Muslims?” Where he clearly explains his positions. I didn’t see anything any rational person would feel they had to distance themselves from, even if for some reason they didn’t entirely agree.

              2. I haven’t heard his latest. But, in fairness, every time somebody’s said that he’s got a new clarification out…it turns out to be the same idealized oversimplifications as the previous time. For starters, all his pro-torture arguments assume divine perfect knowledge utterly immune to deception on the part of those committing the atrocities. And, on racial profiling, he doesn’t get the basic statistics that, even with 99% accuracy, a 1% false positive rate can be disastrous.

                …and so on….


              3. I forgot to mention that “The Rubin Report” is available on YouTube if anyone was interested in watching the interview. The full interview is about 80 minutes, or you can watch the 5 5 minute segments where he responds to the most common misrepresentations of his positions.

              4. Roughly transcribed on a single listen:

                “If you have a regime that is the psychological equivalent of the 9/11 hijackers, that is, a regime who is not composed of rational actors or who believe they’re going to paradise…we have to avoid this circumstance at all costs, and there’s nobody who should be more cognizant of this than secular non-jihadist Muslims.”

                “We have a first-strike nuclear policy. This has all been thought out in a cold war context. We haven’t had to worry about anybody else doing this to us.” This was followed by a description of the globally suicidal mentality of jihadist Islam in contrast to non-suicidal Soviet and Chinese mentalities.

                I don’t see where I’ve mischaracterized him.

                Yes, he presets this as an hypothetical that doesn’t apply to today’s circumstances. And I’ve been arguing that his hypothetical is absurd to begin with, and, even if we grant his hypothetical, still indefensible.

                …on racial profiling, he’s claiming that little old ladies can’t possibly be jihadists, ignoring the fact that little old ladies are perfectly capable of being crazy suicidal nutjobs with nothing left to lose, and may well be non-Islamic terrorists. He even gives Betty White as an example, fer chrissakes!

                Sorry. Nothing new here.

                Sam’s got lots of great stuff to say on all sorts of subjects, but he couldn’t be more wornger on nuclear policy, torture, and profiling.


              5. “…he’s claiming that little old ladies can’t possibly be jihadists…”

                No he’s not. He’s saying that the probabilities of some categories of people being jihadists is negligably small compared to others. You persist in mis-characterizing his views.

              6. You yourself just selectively quoted me there. Could you at least have had the decency to quote the entire sentence, or at least ellipses instead of a period?

                The whole sentence, again, this time with added emphasis: “…on racial profiling, he’s claiming that little old ladies can’t possibly be jihadists, ignoring the fact that little old ladies are perfectly capable of being crazy suicidal nutjobs with nothing left to lose, and may well be non-Islamic terrorists.

                You might not know very many little old ladies, but the ones I know are some of the most passionate and dedicated people I know. None are violent…but, then again, few people I know are violent. If any of these little old ladies did have a violent anti-authoritarian streak to them, they’d be far more than capable of wreaking all kinds of havoc.

                And Betty White’s public persona (all I know of her, of course) would be a perfect example. I would not want to get her pissed off at me — and said fact is her stock character. The sweet-looking little old lady who’s actually tough as iron and spits nails, with a mouth that embarrasses seamen.


              7. Ben, it is simply preposterous to assert that everyone is an equally probable jihadist. It is as if you don’t understand the concept of probability and how there are many points on the scale between 0 and 1.

              8. I’m not objecting to profiling as a tool for law enforcement and security. Indeed, profiling is one of many very important tools for such professionals.

                …but racial profiling? And the types of reverse “this person can’t possibly be a terrorist” profiling Sam suggests?

                Those are, respectively, the most useless and worse-than-useless forms of profiling — with the added bonus of the first one being the one guaranteed to be abused, and abused badly.

                Real profiling concerns itself much more with behavior and responses in interviews. Skin color, age, physical prowess, costume, accent…not relevant — distractions.


              9. “..racial profiling..”

                I wasn’t aware that “little old ladies” was a race, Ben. Nor did I realize that “males between the age of 55 and 45” was a race. And I did not know that “public entertainers” was a race.

                I stand corrected. I guess I haven’t figured out what the word “race” means.

                I don’t understand why you insist on remaining a member of the Aslan/Hedges Misrepresentation Society.

            4. Ben, you’re misrepresenting Sam’s argument, though in a bizarre fashion as you’re essentially restating Sam’s argument, calling it your own, agreeing with it, and then criticizing Sam for not considering it. Also, below, re: torture you’re being far too dismissive and not engaging Sam’s actual position – which is that torture should, always and everywhere, be illegal, but that there may be a situation in which it is not morally wrong, but is in fact morally imperative. If you think such scenarios can’t actually happen in the real world, please read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on torture – specifically the story of The Beating. Here’s the link: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/torture/

              At the risk of going to far, I’d suggest that your disagreements with Sam have to do with the fact that Sam likes to do “thought experiments” and you are, to put it mildly, not a fan of thought experiments (see: The Trolley Problem).

              1. Er…you’re a bit late to the discussion. The Beating has already been beat to death; it presupposes that the police are correct in their analysis, haven’t been deceived intentionally or otherwise — including about the basic question of whether or not there actually is a child in danger. And Sam thinks it’s a reasonable possibility that a batshit fucking insane suicidal Islamic state could manufacture or otherwise acquire a fleet of ICBMS and launch them…an hypothetical that, yes, is about as far removed from reality as a philosopher saving the day and winning the girl by hurling the trolley off the bridge in order to stop the fat man from interfering with the torture of the ticking time bomb terrorist.

                In the real world, ICBMs aren’t something that you acquire without being a major industrial force and devoting significant un-hidable resources to. Even North Korea hasn’t managed to pull it off, and their industrial base, sorry as it is, is leagues beyond what DAESH can currently muster. And Even North Korea, monomaniacally suicidal as it is, isn’t idiotic enough to launch; witness their ability to, no joke, obliterate Seoul with conventional artillery and the fact that they’ve never actually pushed things to the point of war.

                So, no. I don’t buy any of Sam’s hypotheticals, nor the premises he argues from, nor the conclusions he draws.

                And, frankly, for him to keep banging that drum at the exact same time as we’re on the verge of a breakthrough with Iran…it’s irresponsible in the extreme. He himself knows, repeatedly complains, that people think he’s advocating preemptive nuclear genocide in order to prevent a radical Islamic state from becoming a nuclear power — and, one must admit, that’s exactly his position, if only one qualifies “nuclear” with “ability for distant deployment.” So why should he be so upset that people are horrified at the notion of a preemptive nuclear strike against Iran, which is a fucking close fit for his hypothetical?

                TLDR: he’s splitting hairs, and surprised to learn that nuance isn’t characteristic of nukes.


              2. “And, frankly, for him to keep banging that drum at the exact same time as we’re on the verge of a breakthrough with Iran…it’s irresponsible in the extreme.”

                Except he doesn’t keep banging that drum. Almost every one of issues you find problematic were things he mentioned years ago, and probably never wished to revisit. It’s because people, including you to a degree, misrepresent his positions that he’s had to repeatedly mention them order to defend himself.
                I mean look at this page. A significant amount of the discussion is bringing up his positions that you think shouldn’t be brought up, and in large part you’re to blame. If you hadn’t, what several people perceive as misrepresented him, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Next time take your own advice, and leave the drum alone.

              3. I’m sorry, but he just devoted the opening segment of the first episode somebody’s brand new interview show to explaining how he doesn’t want to nuke Iran; he just thinks we should consider the potential wisdom of preemptively nuking an hypothetical radical Islamic state with the ability to project nuclear force, and he simply can’t understand how any rational person could disagree with his obvious conclusions. That’s not just banging a drum, that’s him doing a Keith Moon impersonation.


              4. Of course, what he actually said was that the logic of mutually assured destruction that the world has relied on fails to work when parties to a conflict see suicide and death as a positive thing, not one to be avoided.

                But why address that when you can just mischaracterize the comments with a drum metaphor?

              5. Of course, what he actually said was that the logic of mutually assured destruction that the world has relied on fails to work when parties to a conflict see suicide and death as a positive thing, not one to be avoided.

                Oh, you mean like North Korea? Whose population actually is suicidally prepared to see death as a great glory, and the rest of the world as evil incarnate? And who actually does have nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them to their archenemy?

                But why address that when you can just mischaracterize the comments with a drum metaphor?

                Because this isn’t the first time you’ve ignored my citation of North Korea in this thread, but it is the first time I’ve developed the beating drum metaphor. I’m hoping something I write might get through to you.


              6. “Oh, you mean like North Korea…”

                No I do not mean that which has not engaged in an endless series of suicide attacks premised on the promise of paradise.

                Nor does Sam.

                But by all means, don’t allow reality to interfere with your misrepresentations.

              7. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/north-korea-fighter-pilots-vow-destroy-its-enemies-suicide-attacks-1486301

                Kim Jong Un told his troops they should be ready to fight a “sacred war” in the days leading up to the exercises in 2012

                North Korea threatens to attack US

                Anybody who thinks an hypothetical ICBM-armed Islamic state is more deserving of preemptive nuclear strikes than the actual nuclear-armed North Korea is either ignorant of global politics or hasn’t thought these things through or, subconsciously or otherwise, pushing some other agenda. Maybe even an agenda I’d otherwise agree with — but that still doesn’t excuse justifying hypothetical nuclear holocaust in Iran but declaring that North Korea is totally different and an irrelevant distraction.


              8. Sometime, in a spare moment, you may want to consider that there is a difference between a long and deep history of actual suicide attacks and a long history of threats.

                They aren’t exactly the same sort of thing.

                But don’t let such subtleties get in the way of mischaracterizing other peoples positions.

              9. Okay. I’ll remind my Dad that he did not, in fact, spend the coldest, most miserable winters of his life in Korea and that he was not, in fact, in the middle of the second-biggest American war since WWII. I’ll tell him that, in fact, it is a myth that more than twice as many Americans were killed by North Korean soldiers than have been killed by Iraqi and Afghani soldiers combined. And I’ll assure him that the DMZ is not filled with land mines, and that the largest massed concentration of artillery in human history is not within firing distance of Seoul.

                Granted, he was in the band; I suppose that means his time on armed base patrol doesn’t really count, too. All those times he played Taps for flag-draped coffins…I guess those were empty boxes? His clarinetist friend who was missing an arm the next time they met lost it in an agrarian mishap?

                Would that make you happy? Would it preserve your subtle mischaracterization of historical fact in a pleasing manner?


              10. You’re not engaging with the actual issue, Ben.

                I’ll stop now and leave you to generate mis-characterizations.

                But I’ll take away a new understanding that jihadist’s motivated by religious delusions of paradise and state warfare are pretty much the equivalent dangers and that it is just as probable that old ladies are jihadists as are young Islamic men.

              11. “it is just as probable that old ladies are jihadists as are young Islamic men.”

                Maybe Ben’s afraid that if we spend fewer resources strip searching old ladies, jihadists will start wearing dresses and blue wigs.

              12. Maybe Ben’s afraid that if we spend fewer resources strip searching old ladies, jihadists will start wearing dresses and blue wigs.

                Or, even simpler, just recruiting their own grandmothers. Some of whom would be more than eager to enlist.

                How often do we hear the accusation that we Gnu Atheists should be ashamed for running up to Grandma on her deathbed in an attempt to disabuse herself of her fallacious religious beliefs?

                Well, that presupposes that Grandma has such beliefs, no? And that she’s got nothing left to live for.

                Are we to be so naïve to think that the only fallacious religious beliefs that grandmas have are the lovey-dovey “Cheeses laughs ewe!” types? That no grandmas eagerly await the imposition of an Islamic state? That no grandmas would hold down their granddaughters and sexually mutilate them, and so on?

                Hmm…I wonder if Sam has ever heard of this new invention called, “Wikipedia.”

                In terrorist organizations war and counter terrorism are enthusiastically promoted towards women as a means of women’s liberation. These women have been proven as a more lethal and effective weapon of destruction as they are able to use their feminine features to camouflage the explosives. They use the ability to produce to hide the bombs disguised as their pregnant belly which also make them look more vulnerable as a woman in this state. Women participating in these events do not bring on any suspicion in crowded areas as they are appearing a harmless mother to be and perhaps fragile and weak. These walking bombs avoid invasive searches, that are seen as taboo as it threatens the woman’s honor, in these areas and often not realized until it is too late to avoid the explosion. These women have proven to be more deadly with higher success rates with more casualties and deaths than their male counterparts. These bombers are often seen as stumbling or calling out in distress to get more people to crowd around her to provide assistance when the explosives are set off.


                …but, of course, there’s just no way that a pregnant woman could be a suicide bomber, and it’s a waste of resources to pretend otherwise.


              13. “Or, even simpler, just recruiting their own grandmothers. Some of whom would be more than eager to enlist.”

                Several problems there. First of all we don’t telegraph our “profiling” policies. Secondly yes, they may recruit grandmothers, but I suggest it would be far more difficult to find ones willing to do it, particularly home grown ones, which is the primary problem at the moment. Additionally your Wiki reference states “(women)avoid invasive searches, that are seen as taboo as it threatens the woman’s honor”. Clearly this a problem that in Muslim areas, or when Muslim security forces are the ones expected to do the searching. It won’t be when it’s necessary for US security forces to do them on US soil. Finally if we see a spate of attacks by grandmothers we change our policy as needed, they are not set in stone.

              14. Clearly this a problem that in Muslim areas, or when Muslim security forces are the ones expected to do the searching.

                Of course. There haven’t been any suicide bomb attacks in the States, let alone by pregnant(-seeming) women.

                …which highlights the absurdity of the debate even further. Never mind that domestic police have murdered far more innocent civilians than terrorists have killed anybody in America…all the focus is on airport security, and how the police have a moral obligation to torture us to protect us from the terrorist bombers. Like, what the fuck?

                It won’t be when it’s necessary for US security forces to do them on US soil.

                If you aren’t aware of the (more-than-justified) outrage at pregnant women and families with young children being manhandled by airport gestapo, and how this has already created a substantial pushback against the insanity, it’s because you’re not paying attention.


              15. “which highlights the absurdity of the debate even further. Never mind that domestic police have murdered far more innocent civilians than terrorists have killed anybody in America…all the focus is on airport security, and how the police have a moral obligation to torture us to protect us from the terrorist bombers. Like, what the fuck?”

                And there I agree with you completely, and suspect Sam would as well. Hell more people have choked to death on pen caps over the last 30 or so years than have died as a result of terrorist attacks on US soil. But the fact remains we are engaged in ridiculously overreacting to the terrorist threat, and then you go on to make my point.

                “If you aren’t aware of the (more-than-justified) outrage at pregnant women and families with young children being manhandled by airport gestapo”

                I, and Sam are the ones suggesting we stop targeting such people for the sake of appearances. How about we at least limit the gestapo activity where we can?

                Also outrage or not we’re still doing it, which was my point. They apparently aren’t, if your wikipedia article is to believed, in the Muslim world.

              16. I, and Sam are the ones suggesting we stop targeting such people for the sake of appearances.

                I don’t know about you, but Sam is most emphatically suggesting that we target people based on appearance, and has repeatedly and passionately made that point. In the very interview linked elsewhere on the page, he said we should not target people who look like Betty White, and instead we should focus all our attention on people who look like him.

                That fails on lots of grounds.

                First, it presupposes that this type of security screening is even hypothetically effective in the first place — which even a moment’s reflection reveals it isn’t. Sure, maybe it’ll stop somebody wearing a dynamite vest from boarding a plane…but it definitely won’t stop that exact same person from killing just as many people standing in line to go through the security checkpoint.

                Next, it presupposes that somebody who looks like Betty White is at least significantly less likely to commit such a dastardly deed than somebody who looks like him. The evidence most emphatically indicates otherwise.

                And even that presupposes that any sort of appearance-based profiling, whether to increase or decrease attention, is a good idea; basic math tells us that, no, if you’re going to do this kind of screening at all, pre-filtering in such ways is a very, very bad idea.

                I’m especially depressed that nobody’s willing to consider a real solution to the problem of Islamic violence: STOP FUCKING KILLING MUSLIMS! And it would be a good idea to stop suggesting that we should nuke the ever-loving shit out of them if they get too uppity for comfort, too.

                It again goes back to the insistence that something must be done, so we’ll do the only thing we can think to do, even if doing so will make things far worse.

                Yes, the situation is intolerable. But pouring more and more and more and more and more and more gasoline on the flames just makes things worse and worse. We shouldn’t have started killing them in the first place, but we did and it made things worse. We shouldn’t have kept killing them, but we did and it made things worse still. We shouldn’t keep killing them, but we are and the firestorm is fueling itself now…

                …and so we’re going to fan the flames even further and keep making things worse and worse and worse and worse?

                It is an empirical fact that, though pre-war Iraq was a nasty place, it was one of the least nasty places in the region…and, today, it’s one of the worst hellholes on Earth. Iraq would still be a nasty place today had we left Saddam Hussein alone, but it would be a much less nasty place than the one we created.

                Is it really too much to ask that we stop the Einsteinian insanity, and that we ask the leaders of the rationalist movement to not be so damned academically hypothetically abstractly clinically bloodthirsty?


              17. “I don’t know about you, but Sam is most emphatically suggesting that we target people based on appearance”

                By appearances I meant how it will look. As in “let’s frisk Betty White so the dark haired young men don’t accuse us of racism, or sexism, or ageism, or favoritism”.

              18. But that’s not why people are arguing that profiling is bad. The argument is that profiling is ineffective, doesn’t solve the problems it purports to solve, and creates worse problems than it claims to solve. To suggest that the only argument against profiling is the optics of the situation is an actual strawman argument, as opposed to what Sam claims are strawman mischaracterizations of his own arguments.


              19. “But that’s not why people are arguing that profiling is bad.”

                Oh please. That is not why people argue it’s bad. It may be ineffective, which I think is a ridiculous across the board claim to make, but the discussion rarely gets beyond the idea of it being discriminatory. If it weren’t for that almost no one would be making the argument it was ineffective.

              20. If something is obviously ineffective and obviously unjust, is it at all surprising that people would leap to the equally-obvious conclusion that the injustice is the whole reason for its existence? In Sam’s case I’m willing to grant him naïveté as his excuse, but we can be quite certain that that’s not the case in the typical conservative Republican proponent of these policies.


              21. Ben, you wrote, “Next, it presupposes that somebody who looks like Betty White is at least significantly less likely to commit such a dastardly deed than somebody who looks like him. The evidence most emphatically indicates otherwise.”

                I would love to see that evidence if you could point me in the direction of where you found it.

              22. I already quoted Wikipedia on the effectiveness of women suicide attackers elsewhere in the thread. The bit I quoted was specific to pregnant women, but much of the rest of that part of the article was about non-pregnant women in general. TLDR: if you’ve just droned her grandkids’s wedding party, look out….


              23. Ben, the fact that there are women suicide bombers (regardless of their efficacy) does disprove the presupposition that “somebody who looks like Betty White is at least significantly less likely to commit such a dastardly deed than somebody who looks like [Sam].”

                You said the evidence “emphatically indicates” your assertion that middle aged male suicide bombers are not more common than elderly, white skinned, white haired, women suicide bombers. Surely you can see how you did not actually provide evidence for your assertion. Will you concede that your assertion is false?

      2. “I think those flames are fanned by the right-wingers like Pam Gellar, and not so much by the N.A.’s. Any fanning of flames is surely not deliberate.”

        I absolutely agree, but what is it that many of them like to say? “intent isn’t magic”. They don’t care what your motivation was.

        1. I absolutely agree, but what is it that many of them like to say? “intent isn’t magic”. They don’t care what your motivation was.

          Save in cases of deceptive manipulation, that chain breaks down as soon as another person picks it up…if I may twist my metaphors.

          I’ll criticize Sam most stridently for his hawkish positions, but I’ll be the last to hold him accountable for somebody else who distorts his words to some other effect.

          If you commit “ticking time bomb” torture or launch preemptive nuclear war against an Islamic country and cite Sam for justification, I’ll agree that at least some of the blame probably rests on Sam’s shoulders. But shooting a neighbor over a parking dispute? Not Sam’s fault, not even hypothetically, no matter whether or not the shooter does or doesn’t cite Sam for justification.


          1. “I’ll criticize Sam most stridently for his hawkish positions”

            I suspect I’m a hawk in the same sense Sam is. We have a first strike policy. Since such a thing exists we need to be as rational and act in the most humanistic way possible. My policy would be we only strike first if it limits casualties on both sides. Currently our policy is probably kill 50 million of them if we have to to save 1 million of us.

            Now I don’t see how my position is hawkish except compared to complete pacifism. Could we ever trust the government to act in such a manner? Probably not, but not encouraging such behavior allows the 50 million to 1 hawks free reign.

            1. We have a first strike policy. Since such a thing exists we need to be as rational and act in the most humanistic way possible.

              Sorry, but that’s not a defensible position. Try a simple substitution; the fact that we still have the death penalty is reason to abolish it, not to find the best excuses to put it to use.

              There’s no morally-defensible argument to be had for initiating a nuclear war — especially not considering that we have conventional weaponry more devastating than some of the smaller nuclear weapons.

              Even if we wish to claim the mantle of the global cop, “Do unto others before they do unto you,” is the mantra of the Mafioso thug on his extortion rounds, not of Officer Friendly walking the beat and making sure Grandma Brown made it home okay from her weekly bingo game.

              And we haven’t even gotten to the obvious consequences of a nuclear first strike. Assume that Iran did make nuclear weapons, and made them in a form that they could launch them at Israel.

              And, as Sam suggests, we went ahead and nuked the living shit out of Iran before they could launch against Israel.

              …this would make the world a better place…how, exactly?

              Iran armed with nuclear missiles, even ones with a limited range, is scary, yes. But glassed-over Iran is far more horrific still…and the global thermonuclear destruction that would inevitably follow as country after country escalated and was retaliated against…that is MADness defined!

              In reality, it’d just be India and Pakistan all over again. It really would just mean that Israel would be much less likely to launch attacks against Iran…but it would also make Iran that much less likely to launch attacks against Israel.

              Sam’s fear is that Iranians are less rational than North Koreans — a fear I have a difficult time understanding. But, even if his fear plays out…if Iran nukes Jerusalem, there’s still no need for the US to get involved, because Israel will nuke Iran and probably every other Islamic state, without the US doing anything. Which is the end result Sam is calling for…save, if we stay out of it, Russia and China stay out of it as well, and only the Middle East burns and the rest of us stay out of it.

              “But Israel has still been nuked, and we should have done something to prevent that.” Sorry. It’s terrible that that happened in this scenario, yes. And we really wish we could have stopped it. But there’s nothing to be done, and Sam’s proposal only makes things infinitely worse.

              Will somebody please explain to me why making things infinitely worse is preferable to doing nothing? It’s at the heart of so much of the world’s evil these days, especially the evil committed by America and the West. It makes no fucking sense…but, time and time again, we choose making things infinitely worse rather than simply doing nothing.


              1. Ben, you wrote, “Assume that Iran did make nuclear weapons, and made them in a form that they could launch them at Israel.

                And, as Sam suggests, we went ahead and nuked the living shit out of Iran before they could launch against Israel.”

                Where exactly does Sam suggest that America should “nuke the living shit” out of Iran if they become a nuclear threat to Israel? (Don’t bother to answer; we all already know the answer)

                As has been noted repeatedly in this thread, you have a habit of putting words into Sam’s mouth and ideas into Sam’s head when arguing against “Sam’s positions.”

              2. Where exactly does Sam suggest that America should “nuke the living shit” out of Iran if they become a nuclear threat to Israel?

                Sam’s argument is that a radical Islamic state with the ability to project nuclear force would be irrationally suicidal to the point that the Cold War doctrine of MAD would not serve as a deterrent; therefore, a preemptive nuclear strike against such a state is necessary to prevent the state from lighting the fuse itself.

                Iran meets all of Sam’s specified criteria save for the possession of nuclear weapons, and the fact that they’re working on and not that far from building their own nuclear weapons is the subject of intense diplomatic efforts.

                I’d use the term, “dog whistle,” to describe Sam’s language on this, but that implies far more subtlety than he’s actually displaying. If Obama said what Sam has, Russia and China would have positioned every one of their SSBNs just outside American international waters and surfaced them — and it’d be Cuba all over again.

                Yes, Sam is a private citizen and not the President — and, right now, that’s a very, very, very good thing. As much trouble I have with Obama, as much as I vehemently criticize him for his horrific war crimes…at least he’s seeking a diplomatic solution with Iran rather than calling for their obliteration.

                And, make no mistrake. Despite all Sam’s protestations to the contrary that that’s not what he wants, not what he really means — and I’ll even grant him his sincerity that he believes it’s not what he’s saying — it’s what his actual words actually mean as actually used by actual people actually in a position to actually act.

                Even if sincere, and he very well likely is…he’s playing Humpty Dumpty on this, and badly.


              3. Ben, you’re moving the goalposts again. First you assert that Sam has said America should nuke Iran if they become a nuclear threat to Israel. Of course, Sam never said that. When I point this out, you re-iterate Sam’s concerns about nuclear threats *to the United States of America* and declare that “Iran meets all of Sam’s specified criteria save for the possession of nuclear weapons.” They don’t. They don’t have the long range ICBMs capable of delivering a nuke to U.S. soil. You seem to consider Israel the 51st state, but Sam has never said anything like that.

                You may have a good point to make, but it is hard to take it seriously when you blatantly mischaracterize Sam’s position like that and then refuse to admit it and correct it.

              4. “Try a simple substitution; the fact that we still have the death penalty is reason to abolish it, not to find the best excuses to put it to use.”

                Tell that to the attorney who’s trying to keep his client from being executed. Since the nuclear genie is out of the bottle, and it’s unlikely there will be the political will to put it back anytime soon, finding the best excuses when to, and NOT to use them, is the best solution.

              5. This is the court of public opinion, not a court of law. The debate strategies in the two are radically different. In this court, to concede your point before you’ve even begun the argument is folly of the first order.


              6. “to concede your point before you’ve even begun the argument is folly of the first order.”

                Which is exactly how I perceive your position. I’m essentially saying the death is wrong, and should be abolished. In the mean time we shouldn’t be executing children, or people with the mentality of children. We also need to do everything possible to assure the person is guilty. Your position is end the death full stop, and I won’t engage in discussions about it’s implementation because it might imply I support it. And while you’re standing on some ridiculous principle, and ignoring reality, the morons who have no problem with the death penalty are killing people with the mentality of a 6 year old.

              7. I wanted to add, and clarify. You said “There’s no morally-defensible argument to be had for initiating a nuclear war”. I would say hypothetically there is, but for sake of this discussion let’s say that’s true. The people who set those policies don’t agree, and the people sit on the jury in capital cases are asked, and have to say they are willing to impose the death penalty, or they don’t get on the jury.
                Simply arguing to the jury, or those establishing first strike policies that the death penalty. or first strike are not morally-defensible positions will get you nowhere or laughed out of the room, and is comparable to teaching kids abstinence only.

  5. I think “jealousy” is too easy an answer. I think embarrassment might be more likely… Embarrassment that “one of us” would be so impolite as to break the veil of respect we’re supposed to show to faith. But who knows?

    1. But an easy answer might be partly right. Michael Ruse, for instance, repeatedly contrasts his own book sales with the immensely higher sales of New Atheist books. Sometimes the jealousy is barely hidden!

      1. Perhaps. But I encounter such folk from time to time on Facebook and they aren’t authors jealous of book sales. IMO the main reason some atheists love to hate other ones is simply that they have inherited and still maintain the attitude that atheists are bad people and despite their own non-belief they don’t want to be disapproved of by their communities.

        There’s this fuzzy area where the liberal almost-not-a-believer and the atheist believer-in-belief hang out. I think those are the people who are most likely to be bashing gnu atheists.

        1. …and despite their own non-belief they don’t want to be disapproved of by their communities.

          That hits the nail on the head. The notion that faith is a virtue remains dominant, in America at least. Those perceived as attacking faith are perceived as attacking virtue. And who doesn’t want to be seen as defending virtue?

          1. I have had this very experience with two of my most thoughtful, xtian friends. the one that graduated philosophy (yes, still xtian) has not taken it personally, the other surprised me and, to some extent, has. the point that I tried to drive home was that morality existed before it’s inclusion in the holy books, something they both reject…in various ways. I thought that if someone they knew and believed to be a moral person, that was also an atheist, explained this in a gentle enough discussion, they might give it some thought…nope

          2. Yep. I read in the NY Times a few days ago of one Nashville, TN mayoral candidate running an ad accusing another candidate of not uttering “under God,” when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

              1. “I have never understood why it is virtuous to believe in an imaginary friend.”

                Because the clergy needs you to believe it is, so that their institutions must still have some power.

                Most clerics, even those who are the high places of their hierarchy, do not defend this system consciously and they might be “true believers”.

                Some of them are less naive, but ultimately the process of negating that a moral life is possible even if you do not believe in a god or more gods isn’t due to the wishes of a single or more person, but to the sociological dynamics of organized religion.

                While religious beliefs are simply a by-product of the irrational nature of human beings, organized religions are social and political institutions.

                The best interest of those institutions is to acquire or preserve privileges and money for their clergy.

                In exchange for the money and privileges that people give them they have to offer them something, some kind of service.

                In the case of religion the service offered is, most of the times, a promise of a future reward.

                People adhere to a specific religion for many reasons, and some might simply do it because they like going to church and being part of a religious community, but many (probably most) religious people also do it in order to get some kind of reward.

                It doesn’t really matter whether the reward is some kind of Heaven, the release from the circle of reincarnations or becoming “One with the universe”.

                Another policy that organized religions use is to threaten people with some kind of punishment if they do no follow the rules of their church.

                Again, the nature of the punishment isn’t important.

                The important thing is that the organized religion promises that the reward and the punishment exist only if you follow (or don’t follow) certain conditions, which usually include the idea that you should obey the church and give it your support (in many ways).

                Of course all organized religions have the incentive to promote their specific church as the best, and to demonize in some way those who do not choose it.

                However a believer of a different church is still a likely future “customer” for your own, especially in a free society where there is a free market of religions and conversions aren’t against the law.

                Someone who points out that there is no evidence for the reward or the punishment is much worse for the organized religions’ “business model” than someone who simply buys another product.

                This is ultimately why atheists are demonized. Our ideas the biggest possible threat to organized religion, to the privileges of their clergies,

  6. Along with deriding the new atheists there is also the similar behavior of atheists going out of their way to accommodate the religious and come up with any reason to justify religious belief.

    There is a cottage industry in twitter, blogs, and other outlets of so-called atheists engaging the religious in apologetic terms or what they call “philosophy of religion”. Invariably these guys are hostile to the new atheism and consider them to engage in “scientism” and not addressing the “philosophical issues”.

    A rationale the accommodationists provide is that it is a way to entice the religious without offending them in the hope that they’ll come to reason, even though there is no evidence this has ever actually worked, and not to mention the implicit dishonesty.

    1. good post, tried to follow this page via email, it doesn’t work as I missed this and finally came back to the page. this is the territory that is seemingly inserted as a divider of the atheist camp (whatever that would look like). they claim the high ground and have, seemingly, made up their minds.

      1. Interesting thought. I’ve never tried issuing a fatwa before…let me see if I can get it right.



        Was that close?


              1. Yes — that’s it! I’ll fatwa his mediaeval donkey!

                Er…wait…I’m not sure this is coming out right, though it sure does have an Islamic ring to it….


    1. Ha ha! Loved this exchange:

      “Oh, has @(a certained unnamed atheist) gone into hiding because of death threats by violent atheist extremists?”

      “Or is this just narcissistic hyperbole? Hmm…”

      My own take is that it’s simple jealousy; if I might be permitted to paraphrase Acts 19.15 here, “One day the evil spirit answered them, “Hitchens I know, and Dawkins I know about, but who are you?”

      1. In the case of He Who Is Not Worth Naming, I think it’s jealousy. That tweet is just bizarre! To compare the criticism he’s receiving with what Rushdie went through is delusion at best. One of his fanboys even equates Dawkins with DAESH.

    2. It’s worth reading the comments to that tweet, most of which are critical, many scathingly so.
      ‘dickhead’, ‘narcissistic hyperbole’, ‘get over yourself’, ‘sanctimonious, insensitive asshole’, ‘delusions of grandeur’ to quote just a few… 🙂

  7. To me, that particular “atheist who shall not be named” is just a crank, and not representative of the anti-new-atheist sector.

    The more common variety are ones who want to be more accommodating to religion, in the same vein as those claiming that science and religion are not in conflict.

  8. Cowardice? Why engage in the unpopular criticism of the ruling majority when you can engage in the popular criticism of the unpopular minority? How well would the following statement work as an analogy: “I don’t agree with slavery personally but abolishionists are naive and un-nuanced in their understanding of the economics involved and some of the benefits that slaves receive. Surely if they think slavery should be abolished, they must come up with an alternative source of labor or else society will crumble. Really their arguments should be seen as anti-slave rather than anti-slavery as they are simply so strident and militant in their statements.” I’m sure people like this would have been very popular with the plantation owners of the south.

    It’s the militant stridency of these fundamentalist anti-new-athiests that really gets my goat!

    1. It’s the militant stridency of these fundamentalist anti-new-athiests that really gets my goat!

      Me too! It’s like the proverbial circular firing squad.

    2. “It’s the militant stridency of these fundamentalist anti-new-atheists that really gets my goat!”
      you have put into words, a group I suspected existed, since I have witnessed their wrath for quite some time now. it is a series of words that I never would have thought could actually describe anyone/anything, but does so, perfectly (for me)

  9. And of course I’m going to bring up the Little People Argument again, as a contributing factor to accomodationism. Many atheists hate to see religion “attacked” because they feel that religious people identify closely with their religion. They therefore need the benefits they get from it. Unlike atheists who can take a stronger, more objective approach, the Little People can’t handle the truth; they don’t care about the truth; and they can’t be reasoned with.

    New atheists are always “punching down.”

    Another huge factor in this phenomenon I think is a tendency to assume that the only way to defang religion and make it less aggressive is to treat it as if the most aggressive aspect of religion — and therefore its most dangerous aspect — is its desire to proselytize. To spread its beliefs by going around discussing them. In this view there’s nothing worse than arguing with someone or trying to persuade them that they’re wrong about their religion. That’s fundamentalism: “telling other people you’re right and they’re wrong.”

    This is where that branch of atheism which hates proselytizing more than anything else bears fruit. “I’d be fine with religion if they’d just keep it to themselves and left me and others alone.” Now apply that across the board as a principle we should all live by. Accomodationist atheists have adopted the liberal theist solution of entrenched ecumenicism, that happy clappy form of tolerance where other people’s religious views are what’s right for THEM and are respected by being treated as part of the lovely tapestry of human diversity.

    The New Atheists are seen as attacking diversity. More over, new atheists are attacking isolation-as-solution. They are not spreading the gospel of Leaving Others Alone so therefore, they must be spreading their own gospel. They’re preaching. That’s “just as bad as the religious.”

    I have never thought that the worst aspect of religion is its tendency to want to argue its case — any more than I’ve considered that the worst aspect of political groups I disagree with. On the contrary, I respect people who respect me enough to challenge my views: if I’m wrong then yes, I’d want to change my mind. No, the worst aspect happens to be the beliefs themselves. They’re wrong.

    The desire to get into a debate is actually the BEST thing about religion. When it becomes preaching that means they’re no longer honestly trying to change minds. They’re dishonestly trying to “change hearts.”

    Those are very different things, crucially different. It seems to me that accomodationists don’t see that. Preaching and rational persuasion are lumped together into one big category labeled Disrespect. An otherwise open-minded “No right; no wrong; just different” mindset is being shoved into an area where a genuinely liberal and open-minded approach ought to be “I’m right; you’re wrong; let’s talk.”

    1. The desire to get into a debate is actually the BEST thing about religion. When it becomes preaching that means they’re no longer honestly trying to change minds. They’re dishonestly trying to “change hearts.”

      The difference between advocacy and advertising….


      1. That is not my perception. Most New Atheists are precisely the most diverse. They don’t care if you eat bacon, drink this Scottish beer over than Italian Chianti, or have sex in any manner that is desired.

        “What is, is mine.” That’s a good motto for New Atheists. If it’s real and there is evidence for it then it is something to deal with, otherwise bugger off.

        Religion is orthogonal to diversity. That is plain as the arbitrariness of the of the beliefs religious people hold that restrict their lives.

    2. I’m with you completely except in one relatively trivial respect: I don’t think the difference between argument and preaching is the difference between changing minds and changing hearts.

      Indeed, I don’t really have a problem with changing hearts, either. (Advertising, to use Ben Gorem’s term, has its place. I don’t mind animal rights activists trying to get us to feel more about animals, for instance.)

      I think the problem with preaching is that it is one-sided. It’s someone attempting to change my mind without showing any willingness to change their own. Getting into an argument should be an even compact, which each party enters because they want to persuade the other, but in return for this is willing to run the risk of being persuaded. And I think this applies whether it’s hearts or minds that are at stake.

      1. Yes, you’re right. I was going too quickly over complicated territory — and I think your point helps illustrate what I was trying to get across.

        With preaching, the ‘arguments’ tend to be one-sided because the preacher doesn’t really believe the other side is (poorly) grounded in facts and reason: instead, according to the spiritual narrative, the nonbeliever is grounded in the spirit of rebellion. The entire concept of religious faith sets up an uneven hierarchy in which one side is open to the dogma (God) and the other side has closed themselves off for deep-seated emotional reasons. Heart, not head.

        That’s why I was emphasizing the heart/mind distinction. It’s always a bit of both, yes, on every issue. But atheists approach the existence of God as a conclusion which ought to be reached as objectively as possible — and theists approach God as a commitment made one way or the other once one has been “presented” with the truth. Thus the mindless, repetitive, disengaged nature of preaching vs. the rational compact of honest debate.

  10. Another example of the ‘left’ going full circle. They think (pretend?) they’re standing up for liberal principles (right to practice religion) by paradoxically attacking free speech. Knights in shining armour defending poor religious folk vs the big bad bully aka the new atheist.

    1. I keep seeing people misconstrue vociferous criticism as an ‘attack on freedom of speech’. The “quiet atheists” have a right to their point of view. They’re not preventing the new atheists from having their fair say.

  11. Atheists simply do not believe in supernatural forces, that goes for persons, fairies, unicorns or any other imaginary being. I don’t see how one can be extreme about the bloody obvious, though I can well see if attacked by theists some might give as good as they get. Hit hard.

  12. Comfort expands on his accommodationist views in a later comment.

    “Nathaniel Comfort said:
    First, my review represents my views, not Nature’s.

    Second, it was once a “fact” that a substance called phlogiston that conferred combustibility and was released during burning. That wasn’t superstition–it was based on the best science of the time. But we don’t accept that fact anymore. We say that fact was wrong. Similarly, in 20 years, many of today’s facts will no longer be true.

    Science is precisely that way of learning about the world in which facts can be revised, updated, nuanced, or rejected. No scientist would disagree with that statement in reference to their own field. But it can be hard to generalize outside of one’s sphere of expertise. That’s why god made historians.

    And third, lighten up! Look, the joke above notwithstanding, I’m an atheist. I also agree 100% with those who are disgusted by egregious, criminal, immoral acts committed in the name of faith, god, or religion. But where faith does no harm–in the inner cities, for example, where church communities help keep people from getting killed or overdosing–let it be! I’ll take another storefront church over another liquor store any day, even if I personally don’t attend. So, chill.”

    1. I love it! Religion (of certain types) is not as bad unrestrained drunkenness. I can almost get behind that sentiment; it reminds me of the christians (nowadays; I’m not talking about the 19th century) who defends slavery in the bible on the grounds that “the system of slavery in the bible was less oppressive than that in the nations surrounding Israel.”

      The point is fine, but the religion is unnecessary. Secular organizations can, and presumably do just as much good in the specific situation under discussion.

      For, as Steven Weinberg so famously remarked, “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

      1. it reminds me of the christians (nowadays; I’m not talking about the 19th century) who defends slavery in the bible on the grounds that “the system of slavery in the bible was less oppressive than that in the nations surrounding Israel.”

        Ah, yes. The, “Yes, my shit really is godawful and stinks to high heaven like you wouldn’t believe, but at least it doesn’t smell quite as bad as what that diseased hippopotamus just cut loose with,” argument. A guaranteed winner every time!


        1. As usually, you’ve stated the salient point in much more incisive and picturesque language than I can command.

          The important thing, however, is that I’ve actually heard this pro-slavery argument at least three times in the past year or so, twice from fundamentalist wack-a-loons, and once from one of the liberal, accepting, non-dogmatic christians who really should have known better. And if I’ve heard it three times, you know it’s out there in depressing numbers.

    2. Always choose booze over God (not that you should choose booze either). People can do good things without the boogeyman. Storefront churches represent repressed intelligence, even if the deeds help humanity out, religion is always an epistemological black hole and it leaves its patrons at a deficit to understand their own existence.

    3. Let’s see, we have the “people were wrong about scientific ideas” argument, the “history is not science” combined with an implicit “scientism” argument, and a straightforward “lighten up” appeal.

      1. Phlogiston as an exemplar undermines the point. It totally was superstition, or at least as good as. It was a speculative “just-so story” made up as an explanation without actual empirical evidence. Indeed, it was immediately contradicted by the first evidence that anyone came across. If it was science, it was shoddy, poorly done science.

      2. There’s nothing that fundamentally distinguishes history from any other historical branch of science such as palaeontology, since it still relies on the same forensic and evidence-based issues that any other scientific field would. Besides, what is this field that doesn’t involve “learning about the world in which facts can be revised, updated, nuanced, or rejected”? Is that supposed to be a laudable thing?

      3. Saying “chill” is to use an implicit ad hominem, and it is thus dishonest. It implies that critics of religion are only justified when religious people do harm, totally ignoring whether or not their beliefs and claims are actually true. It even assumes that faith is a good thing. And it implies that those self-same critics are busybody hotheads, i.e. it suggests emotionality.

      It really is depressing when people keep falling headlong into the same fallacies over and over.

      1. I agree with points 2 and 3. I think the first one is a miss, however. Phlogiston, as an idea, was a hypothesis. It was a bad idea because it didn’t find confirmation in reality. But when people were using the term they used it while doing actual science. The activities of science generate a great many ideas that get discarded when they turn out not to be useful.

        1. I don’t remember the details underlying Phlogiston, but it might have played the role of the Higgs boson or cold fusion in modern times. One of these hypothesis was confirmed while the other was not. You have to look a little more carefully to find the real scientific blunders, like the Vista operating system.

        2. I agree about phlogiston. It was a proper scientific theory (or maybe I should say ‘hypothesis’). It explained a lot of observed phenomena quite well, but eventually came against results it couldn’t explain. It was incorrect but I don’t think anyone could say it was unscientific.

          Vista, now, the less said the better… 😉


  13. Dawkins should have titled his book: There are no good reasons to believe in god

    Then it would have been philosophical instead of strident. Despite meaning the near same thing. And with the same consequence, many people believe in some thing which there is not a good reason to believe in.

  14. At a guess they feel tared by association. You can’t be a good faux-religious person and be vocal, so when people criticize religion, accommodationists starts to clutch their pearls.

    How you can be a scientist (historian, whatever) and construe rational criticism as bad is beyond me. You have to adopt the same special pleading as religious use, but also go against your better judgment.

  15. Here’s a paragraph from Stephen Batchelor’s essay “Atheism”.

    Having been brought up not believing in God, I have no particular axe to grind with Him. I just find the idea unintelligible and of little use. I feel no need to rail against the deity or condemn people who believe in Him as misguided and deluded. Some for whom atheism has become a quasi-religious creed strike me as being as much in thrall to God through their rejection of Him as are believers through their faith in Him. As hard as they try, such atheists cannot seem to get God out of their system. They appear either incapable or unwilling just to let Him go.

    1. I can see Batchelor’s point if religion was innocuous like believing in UFO’s. But it is NOT…religion kills, religion hates, religion is intolerant, religion welcomes the end of the world. In short religion is dangerous for the world and humanity. That’s why I hope the New Atheists never let Him go. This is another argument that reads to me as arrogant and shallow.

      1. I can see Batchelor’s point if religion was innocuous like believing in UFO’s.

        I cut it no slack here. If religion consisted of nothing more threatening than embarrassingly silly beliefs, to characterize atheists the way he does is still a combination of exaggeration and ad hominem (or just plain unfair).

        Not to mention that it still has no intellectual defence. If anything, the idea that faith is OK so atheists are stereotypically meanie is full of problems.

    2. They appear either incapable or unwilling just to let Him go.

      Never mind the obvious question of, “Which ‘Him’?”

      It’s not Batchelor’s “Him” or anybody else’s “Him” we’re unwilling to just let go.

      It’s all those “Him”s out there that are getting inserted into our schools, our medical care, our courtrooms, our reproductive lives, our foreign policy….

      Were it just a matter of personally moving past childish angst, of throwing a temper tantrum at “Him” because of a dead goldfish…we’re way past that. As much past that as a teenager mowing lawns to save up for that bike that Santa never brought.

      The problem, what we’re arguing against, is all those who still insist that Santa really will bring us our bicycles, but only if we’re good little boys and girls…and, surprise surprise, they’re the keepers of Santa’s magic secret list of what is and isn’t good behavior. And we mustn’t question nor criticize them for speaking Santa’s behalf, mustn’t even question what they report as Santa’s orders…because Santa.


  16. AH! I should have looked at the title and author before posting above. I don’t know about other atheist writers but this guy attacks so-called NA becasue he is on life support. Gasping the last breath of a life poorly lived. Give him two years and he’ll be the darling of The 700 Club shilling his new book “A New Atheists Finds Jesus.”

    1. Rats, you beat me to it. I was going to post: Hey, am I the only one here cynical enough to believe that (a certain unnamed atheist) is going to come out soon as a believer, and make a fortune off the religious talk-show circuit?

    2. Let’s put that prediction to the test by… sitting around and waiting. We can pass the time with Caturday posts.

      OMG, I feel so militant and strident for having written that.

  17. I think it’s more of an ambivalence rather than hatred outright — a thrill (even if only tacit) that gnus are sticking it to the faithful, mixed with concern over a possible backlash redounding against secularism.

    Kinda like the black bourgeoisie felt about the Panthers getting all up in whitey’s face.

    1. I don’t think it’s ambivalence so much as a kind of low-grade contempt. “Oh, it’s those New Atheists, trying to proselytize to people again about their favourite hobby horse. Those guys need a humble pie in the face.”

  18. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no one here seems to be considering that many non-New Atheist atheists find the New Atheist atheists to be relentlessly unpleasant people – pitiless tyrants of the Kingdom of Emptiness, full of presumption, pretension, and aggression, unwilling or unable to confront or acknowledge the limits and uncertainties that others within the larger tradition or history of skepticism are happy to engage upon, in other words zealots like other zealots too obsessively committed to their narrow precepts to consider the harm they do their own cause.

    1. These unnamed many non-New Atheists of yours certainly like to paint the New Atheists as such…and, yet, they do so not merely despite a perfect lack of evidence to support such claims but overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

      You’ll find few people more enthusiastic, more passionate about the Cosmos and the wonders therein, especially the living world, than Richard Dawkins. And he’ll also be one of the first people to answer, “I don’t know,” when he doesn’t know.

      Again…I think a big part of the reason people hate him so much is that he expresses fully warranted certainty about certain topics, accompanied by irrefutable evidence and reason to justify said certainty…and, in so doing, lays bare the childish foolishness of those who persist in certainty of the opposite conclusion for truly asinine reasons.

      In other words, much of the anger directed at New Atheists is the result of cognitive dissonance, anger at the self redirected to those who remind them of why they’re ashamed of themselves.


    2. I would suggest that that is the case because it is, quite simply, wrong.

      Kingdom of emptiness? Really?

      Take all the works of Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Jerry Coyne, Lawrence Kraus and many more ‘new atheists’ and you have an unsurpassed pool of knowledge, experience, wisdom, opinion, ideas, philosophy and wonder.

      All in the best skeptical tradition.

      Narrow precepts? Really?

      I don’t think so, and the fact that some do, despite all evidence to the contrary, is the puzzle.

    3. This does seem to be how some misguided atheists view New Atheists: high-functioning psychopaths who would take apart a kitten to see where its cuteness is stored, or reduce a music score to its constituent chemical parts to find the element harmonium.

      But to express their disgust of New Atheist behaviour, some ‘non-New Atheist atheists’ proceed to act as jerkily toward the New Atheists as they think NAs behave toward religionists, like casting, maybe, ‘New Atheist atheists’ as ‘relentlessly unpleasant people – pitiless tyrants of the Kingdom of Emptiness, full of presumption, pretension, and aggression, unwilling or unable to confront or acknowledge the limits and uncertainties that others within the larger tradition or history of skepticism are happy to engage upon, in other words zealots like other zealots too obsessively committed to their narrow precepts to consider the harm they do their own cause.’

      Yeah, I can see how that makes them *so* much better than NAs.

      1. I’m not here to defend non-New Atheist atheists – old atheists or post-atheist atheists or softer atheists or however they choose to identify themselves – but merely to suggest an answer to the main question. It wasn’t any OA or PAA who called the NAs pitiless tyrants, etc. Those were my words, not theirs. I don’t identify with any of those schools, and was merely trying to describe a reaction. The people who felt it might never put their feelings that way, for the same reason that they wouldn’t put Breton’s instruction, to throw up in the face of every priest, into action: They’re gentle people. They reject the New Atheist style, the seeming determination to destroy both the opponent’s argument and the opponent as well. Maybe, though they cannot shake the familiar atheistic feeling, they are somewhat persuaded, given the vagueness of central terms and diversity of approaches to them, that agnosticism remains a philosophically sustainable or responsible position. Or they may personally know and love and depend on or admire “people of faith.” Or they may have a greater respect for the uses of traditional faith, or a greater appreciation for the range of thinking conventionally placed under the heading of “theology” or “theism” or “religion.” There are many other explanations why they reject a caustically polemical approach to questions of belief and non-belief. Could just be they were born that way. Whether NAs want to figure out how to include them is up to NAs.

        1. We’re all familiar with the reaction you describe, as exemplified by the book mentioned in the OP for example. The question is where this attitude arises from, since its depiction of New Atheists doesn’t bear much resemblance to reality.

          Case in point: many (most?) New Atheists personally know and love or at least admire believers of various stripes. Nor do they want to ‘destroy the opponent’, rather they want them to discard what they see as irrational and often dangerous deceptions. And while agnostics and atheists might quibble over the appropriate terms for describing their unbelief, there is really no reason for the animosity one sometimes sees from the former to the latter.

          1. “The question is where this attitude arises from, since its depiction of New Atheists doesn’t bear much resemblance to reality.”

            The usual reason: never let facts get in the way of a good story.

            The story itself is a watered-down version of the ones the “right” religious people themselves tell: that faith is a good thing, that it’s OK to believe in something else, that it’s wrong to take away peoples’ faith, etc.

            1. I think there’s something to that. Stories have inherent value to many of these folk. They put a lot of emphasis on the word narrative.

  19. I think that atheism is a rational and humanist way of thinking, live and let live. Thus, “conventional atheists” want to continue the live and let live philosophy. The live and let live philosophy may have been acceptable in the 1950-1960’s where politics was less obviously theocratic. The new atheists differ from the “conventional” in recognizing the pejorative effect religion has on society, social programs, political discourse and direction. In the 21st century, however, where religious tests of candidates and social programs are threatening the peace and quality of life, it’s time for atheists to make their rational thinking process and priority known.

  20. Unfortunately, there seem to be a lot of liberals who think they have to attack other liberals to prove that they are “open minded”. And a lot of those liberals are atheists who thus attack other atheists to prove their open-mindedness. And they are so caught-up in proving their open-mindedness, they don’t care if their attacks are true or not.

    1. I agree.
      It does seem to be a factor in the frenzied rush to judge that is cursing what should be the good side.

  21. I think it largely depends on whether you, as an atheist, think that religion is a quaint anachronism that will fade away politely or a malignant force that will need to be actively destroyed.

    1. Yes, I agree. And I know that many of the New Atheist variety have criticized not only religion and the foibles of the religious, to maybe help it fade away, but they have criticized the ‘faithiests’ as well. So there has been plenty of back and forth in both directions.
      I can accept that the faitheists will respond to criticism, but as we see their criticisms seem very poor and inaccurate. Calling New Atheists ‘shrill’, or even ‘dangerous’. WTF. I do not recognize the New Atheists as they describe them.

  22. It probably doesn’t help that atheists are such a disperse demographic group. I think this sets them a part from religionists; there is a big broad category called “atheist” and a diverse demographic that fits it.

  23. Charles Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus, once wrote about Unitarianism (a mundane but still christian doctrine) as being a “feather bed to catch a falling christian” Perhaps in the context of the “New Atheist debate it is appropriate to paraphrase “quiet atheism is a feather bed to catch a falling atheist”

    1. Unitarianism is NOT Christian. It has always denied the divinity of Christ. It originally was sort of a semi-deistic religion, and many UU “churches” are still sort of deistic. The “church” in Michigan, where I met my wife of 30 years, was quite atheistic. When they needed a new “minister”, they specifically told Boston to only send atheist candidates. Even here in WNC [western North Carolina], the “church” is called a fellowship, not church, and about half the members are atheist/agnostic. I define the UU “creed” as “You can believe any damn thing you like, as long as you are a nice person and respect other people’s rights.”

  24. I expected a different article based off the title. I was pleasantly surprised; commends to you.

    These “atheists” who feel the need to title “new atheists” often express the same reaction as religious evangelicals: anger and contempt, followed by disparaging comments. Nothing at all in regard to the topic of discussions presented. It’s almost as if these “atheists” despise civil discourse. Stranger even, is that they often challenge the status quo, but berate “new atheists” for doing the same.

    I quote both because we all know they’re bogus titles. As proven by the weirdly unrational haters of Dawkins and Harris, “atheisism” really only means an absence of belief. Dawkins and Harris are both anti-theists. I don’t know why their haters won’t use a title that’s accurate, instead of trying to make a derogatory one.

  25. I think that people with oppositional personalities tend to arrive at atheism, and when they arrive they don’t just cease their oppositional ways–they are inclined to reject other atheists for trivially small differences.

  26. Oftentimes the quiet atheists are trying to signal superiority, in the same way that agnostics try to do, i.e. “Well, I’m so smart that I rise above BOTH sides!” (One prediction here is that there would be no quiet atheist coalition because you can’t feel superior as a result of your opinions when you’re surrounded by people who have the same opinions. And witness, no quiet atheist coalition.) It’s also clear that there are a lot of people who can’t tolerate conflict of any kind, for any reason (and there are good ones) and are upset at the people most directly responsible for the conflict – over something that they identify with.

    1. (One prediction here is that there would be no quiet atheist coalition because you can’t feel superior as a result of your opinions when you’re surrounded by people who have the same opinions. And witness, no quiet atheist coalition.)


  27. This has been very much on my mind, and its always important to discuss it. But what puzzles me is the title of the book that is mentioned. ‘Secular Extremists’? Really?? Their rise is ‘Dangerous’???? How so?

  28. From thousands of pulpits prelates present a view of the universe that atheists consider absurd. Moreover, these prelates attack as damned atheists who do not share this view. They induce their “flocks” to hate atheists and to be bigoted against them. New atheists say “No More!” We no longer will be silent. We will stand up for our rights and exercise our freedom of speech. Theists can believe what they want, but we will resist their efforts to foist their delusions and the social policies that derive from them upon us. People who claim to be atheists and remain silent, indeed attack those who have the audacity to speak up, are a sad and pathetic lot. Of course, if what the New Atheists fight for should ever come to pass, the “silent atheists” will reap the benefits as well. There are few if any instances in history where oppressed groups got anywhere by remaining silent.

    1. There are few if any instances in history where oppressed groups got anywhere by remaining silent.

      Yes — that’s very much it.

      “Hey, I’m with you, man. Sure, I’m a woman who’s lived with her best girlfriend for decades — but at least I’m not one of those flaming faggots. Do they really have to be so flamboyant?”

      “I know exactly what you mean. Yes, I’ve got dark skin, but at least I’m not one of those uppity niggers like that Parks woman. Does she really have to make such a fuss about this? Couldn’t she just sit at the back of the bus like her mother should have taught her to?”

      “Your pain is mine, kemosabe. The white man is our friend, and we should be grateful for the blankets he gave us to comfort our sick women and children during this terrible plague.”


  29. I am among those Atheist who are still low key. Not wearing it on my sleeve just yet. Being in an extremely hated minority, making the religious masses more angry with us and to use us as scape goats doesn’t help. I don’t see any bridges being built with those religionists who are open minded enough to want to join forces. Burning all bridges isn’t the way. However we shouldn’t be silent either. So it is a conflicting dilemma. Interpersonal vituperation isn’t a good plan either.

    1. I think you’ll find lots of militant Gnu Atheists have built plenty of bridges with people who happen to be religious on all sorts of fronts. It’s a slam dunk that a significant number, perhaps even a majority, of the doctors in Doctors Without Borders are religious, yet they’re this Web site’s official charity. The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the ACLU regularly work closely together, and there’s no shortage of religious people in the ACLU. A number of regulars here have indicated that they’re members of a local Unitarian Universalist congregation. Richard Dawkins is famously friends with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

      I could continue, but you hopefully get the point.


      1. Hitchens especially had many compatriots among the faithful, famously including Francis Collins. Unlike Dawkins or Dennett or Harris, the religious (at least some of them) had a special affection for Hitch; they would mutter and shake their heads at the prodigal bad boy — always with the drinking and the smoking and the making of blasphemous wisecracks — but with a gleam in their eye the vicar reserves for the sinner who might yet return to the fold.

        They couldn’t have been more wrong about that last part, of course.

    2. -I don’t see any bridges being built with those religionists who are open minded enough to want to join forces.-

      I assume you intend ‘join’ sociopolitical forces, for the purpose of improving human well-being. If so, as Ben Goren noted in this exchange, there are plenty of such bridge-builders among atheists, old and new.

      However, it is difficult to find theists (I’m thinking of liberal Christians here) who are ‘open minded enough’ to join with me in averring that ‘the very probable case with the universe is that god doesn’t exist.’ In other words, what is very probably true is a priori unacceptable to them, while I know of no atheist of any stripe who would deny this truth in the interest of sociopolitical accommodation (see ‘FvF).

  30. Within theistic religions {There are many non-theists who consider themselves religious. Humanists have wrestled with this through three manifestos).

    Within Christianity there are many who consider theirs the one true faith, especially between some Orthodox and non-Orthodox denomination.

    It’s human.

  31. These people who belong to the regressive left (aka. Anti-West left) are of the belief that Islamists are their natural ally in doing whatever it takes to overthrow Western power.

    They are simply not interested in a rational, logical debate about the merits of these kinds of issues. They have a desired end-state (i.e. overthrow of the West) and they will use all means possible to achieve this – which brings us to this dishonest, plagiarised, deceptive, unethical self-published garbage from Werleman.

    People need to appreciate that trying to engage the anti-West in rational debate or calling the anti-West left “useful idiots” is futile and useless. They are not “useful idiots” for this reason – they know exactly what they are doing in joining forces with Islamists to try their best to weaken Western power. They aren’t “inadvertently” supporting Islamists, they are in fact actively supporting Islamists as a matter of policy and ideology.

    Atheists who oppose Islamism/Islam/religious bigotry/etc are enemies of the allies of the anti-West left… and under far-left ideology, the enemy of one’s allies is one’s enemy.

    “New” atheists who publicly oppose Islamism are interfering in the anti-West left’s attempts to empower Islamists seeking to overthrow (or at least weaken) Western power.

    1. Those on the very far left are few in numbers and have little influence on American foreign policy or anything else. I really don’t know what you mean by “Western power.” But, if you are concerned about the threat to western beliefs, such as democracy, science and a modicum of concern that even the poorest in society deserve basic benefits such as healthcare, then the real danger is from the far right that has many times more adherents than the far left and controls a major political party in the United States.

      I do not know what percentage of atheists are liberals or conservatives, but your rant will not win over many liberals to your side.

      1. I am a liberal – I am analysing the situation – I am not trying to win anybody over.

        I do suspect, though, that we might be on the same side.

        As mentioned in my post, I am talking only about the “regressive left” and the anti-West left. These are subsets of the left as defined by Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris. They are not part of the mainstream left like me and, I assume, you.

        It is irresponsible and intellectually deficient to avoid analysing the policy and ideology of the “regressive left” and the “anti-West left” – I reject any implication that the mainstream left should not engage this issue.

        By West, I mean all the institutions and power dynamics that people on the regressive left want to overthrow, including the ones you mention above.

        You’ve made the common error of assuming that “regressive left” or “anti-West left” are the same thing as the “mainstream left”. You’ve also somehow turned this into an “either/or” fallacy by trading off the far-left against the far-right.

        The far-right, the regressive-left and the Islamists are strange bedfellows.

        1. You will note that I distinguished between the very far left and liberals (whom I consider synonymous with the mainstream left). So, I far from consider these two groups the same. Certainly, most liberals vigorously oppose ISIS, even if they are reluctant to use the term “radical Islam.”

          You may engage the far left (whom you call the regressive-left, a term I have not heard before) as much as you like. I have no problem with that. But, you should understand that this is purely an intellectual exercise. As I mentioned, the far left is insignificant in American politics. Even the views of Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist, hardly meet the definition of a classical socialist. I doubt that he wants the government to take over the means of production.

          I find it odd that you consider Sam Harris on the “regressive-left” since those people despise him.

          You claim to be a liberal. As such, you need to be careful when criticizing the far left because when you do so you may, perhaps unintentionally, give the impression that you are faulting all people on the left, most of whom have little regard for those on the furthest left of the political spectrum.

          1. Thanks for your feedback.

            Intellectual exercises are important in order to understand the full spectrum of ideological thought (i have no interest in “engaging” the tegressives; rather just properly understanding them and their shameless dishonest unethical practices). The original article was about werleman and the regressive left (aka “pro-Islamist left”, “anti-West left”), which is why my mere humble posts address this narrow issue. Unfortunately, these kinds of lefties are not an insignificant group on a global scale – even if not a major force in the US. That said though, the likes of greenwald, poitras, sarota et al do have a not insignificant public profile.

            So it is not really possible to talk about werleman, his “book” (if it can be called that), and his fellow travellers without analysing what they believe – that’s all i am doing.

            Also, I didn’t say Sam Harris is regressive left – he is a mainstream liberal. I was referring to the fact that Nawaz and Harris have created this term “regressive left” for the very reason that they want to ensure people don’t confuse regressives with the mainstream. If you haven’t already, i strongly encourage you to read and watch everything Maajid Nawaz has written on this very topic – essential and enjoyable reading.

      2. I think Simon has a point.

        I don’t know about the US but here a large part of the left has socialist leanings. There would be a spectrum of course from strong to weak dogmatic beliefs but it is a factor.

        I find it strange that genuine socialist left party’s do align themselves with theocracies. These peoples fundamental philosophy, from which they derive their theoretical basis for their beliefs and actions, is dialectical materialism.

        That is the exact opposite of any religious belief system, especially Islam and sharia.

        That they do align themselves with those who should be their main ideological enemy is largely due to what Simon was saying.

        There is does seem to be a very strong anti-west, anti-so called imperialism feeling in the left. Maybe due to misplaced guilt.
        Whatever though, it is there and it is strange and it is a factor.

        1. I don’t see it as misplaced guilt. The left has always been opposed to big business, right-wing capitalism, the military-industrial complex – and for very good social reasons. Traditionally, that right wing has also included established religion – which in a western context means Xtianity. Insofar as Muslims have often been the victims of those very groups, traditional leftists have an instinctive sympathy with them. I think that’s where it comes from.

          If Islam became the establishment religion in the west, any leftist sympathy for them would I think evaporate pretty quickly. I don’t see much leftist sympathy for e.g. Saudi Arabia.


          1. I had second thoughts about ‘misplaced’ guilt due to the things you mention.

            Perhaps something like unbalanced guilt.

        2. Interesting points.

          Though i do not agree that regressive left’s anti-West ideology is driven by “socialism”. That is coincidental, not causal.

          They seem more driven by a strange combination of quasi-anarchism and an anti-establishment / anti-government world view, as well as what they see as exploitation of people by western power. Almost a far-left version of extreme libertarianism.

          1. Perhaps not driven by.

            Not causal, but strange bedfellows.

            Socialism, to me in a simple form is people using there rationality to take some control over the environment and there fellows, together, to form a better ‘society’.

            As opposed to leaving it to a gods plan or some other invisible hand.

  32. TALLpoppy syndrome.
    Don’t make waves just to get noticed. Haven’t you got enough attention from your books. Live with others without making a scene about how wrong YOU think they are. How you feel about the non existence of god is a private matter, like a medical condition.
    Note, no consideration is given to the evidence against religion it is you they have a problem with. To carry on…
    Why Mr and Mrs Bland are peaceful religious citizens of the community, they donate their time to all manner of charities, so don’t YOU be bawling them out, it makes us all look grotesque and hideous.
    Yes, I feel very uncomfortable and emotional, how do I as a humble atheist going to explain away these aggressive hyperactive crusaders to The Blands, isn’t there enough disharmony in the world.. I wish they would just, SHUT UP!

  33. There is one reason and one reason only that atheists like Werelman hate the New Atheists.

    That reason is Islam. All else is just commentary. Sam Harris has the facts straight on Islam, and they can’t say where he’s actually wrong, so they have to throw accusations of bigotry and whatnot at them, because they have no argument, and they know it.

  34. Many unbelievers I know seems to be very hostile towards Richard Dawkins at least. To the degree that they articulate any reason at all, it appears that they consider him unnecessarily rude towards well-meaning and decent religious people and are worried the claim that science provides evidence against the existence of gods will damage science.

    I tend to try to point out that his perceived rudeness is nothing compared to what the Dalai Lama or the pope daily say about atheists, and that there is no really nice way to tell somebody that you believe that their deeply held beliefs are wrong, but there we are.

    1. Yes — exactly!

      Atheists say that Christians are deluded and believe in faery tales.

      Christians say that atheists are unrepentant sinners damned to and deserving of infinite torture for all eternity by the command of their love god.

      …and we’re the strident ones!?


    2. I would like to think of myself as a New Atheist in that I support its spokespersons and spend a lot of time reading and ranting online for atheism and against religion.
      But when it comes to in-person dialogue with close friends and family who are religious, I try to minimize bringing it up. Oh, I do if it comes up, and I will defend the evidence and criticize the b.s. if the conversation meanders in that direction. But if I can avoid it I am pretty much a wuss about atheism vs theism to my close religious friends and family.
      There, I said it.

    3. Many unbelievers active on the internets seem to be very hostile towards Dawkins because they think he is a racist, sexist, misogynist, aristocratic pig. I think it all dates back to “elevatorgate” (none of them seemed to have any problem with him before that). They thought he did a bad thing and said so publically. Then they said it again. Soon the need to reduce cognitive dissonance took over (see the book, Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)). They consider themselves to be fair-minded, rational, intelligent people. If they’re saying bad things about Dawkins, it must be because he deserves it. If he deserves it because he’s a bad person. If he’s a bad person, I hate him. Reasons must be supplied, and so they are invented. And on it goes…

      1. I don’t think that is right. People started freaking out about him when he published The Selfish Gene. It got worse when The God Delusion was released. E-gate came along later on simply took advantage of an existing “narrative”.

        1. It probably didn’t help that Dawkins took the side of the hard sciences in the ‘science wars’ and was scathingly critical of the more lyrical, errm, narratives of the postmodernist left. (cf Sokal hoax…)

          That does not make him right-wing, by the way.


  35. I am surprised at the claim that atheists squabbles are more harsh than the religious.
    This is clearly false in the case of the religious sect I grew up in. A more harsh “Our Way or you’re Pure Evil” group of people one can not imagine. As for the wider religious world, I don’t know as surely but I’m skeptical of their supposed comity towards one another. There is, after all, all that history of wars and violence over doctrine, some of which continues to this day, to weigh against this idea. Just yesterday I read a story about how many religious people are reacting negatively to Pope Francis, with some considering him the anti-Christ and possibly the harbinger of the end times as described in Revelation. The words these people use to attack Pope Francis are every bit as harsh and ad-homineum as are directed at new atheists by other atheists. So I wonder if there isn’t some selection bias here, that we hear and pay attention to atheists more than to the religious so we notice the harsh criticisms more.

    Of course, there is no doubt that there are large swaths of the religious who have indeed learned to bury their differences, at least publicly, and say few harsh words against each other even when they disagree, especially the ones in politics. I submit, though, that there is no shortage of religious people who regard other religious people of even slightly different views as the incarnation of evil and do not hesitate to say so.

    1. I’m right with you, Mr. Spring. Some people on this list did not have the good fortune (?) to spend considerable time as an adult involved in religion, and so cannot even conceive of just how nasty the infighting can be.

      As for your last line, the original Protestant split, between Luther and Zwingli, was caused because they disagreed on one (out of 15) point of doctrine. Luther could not handle this, and dismissed Zwingli and his followers as “having a different spirit from us.”

      There’s an old joke, “Why are academic politics so vicious? Because the stakes are so small.” In spades for denominational issues. At least academics are (usually) talking about things that actually exist.

      1. Well, if it weren’t for the inter-religious rancor, this Die heretic! joke wouldn’t be so funny. It’s funny precisely because there is such intense inter-sect hostility. If there weren’t, there’d be maybe one or two churches resulting from a couple of conquests or other accidents of history, instead of the many hundreds, if not thousands, of varieties that actually exist. Where I live there are four churches on four corners of one intersection, and they will have nothing to do with each other even though all four claim to be devout followers of Jesus Christ and claim to have the same basis for their beliefs. They might unite at the polls to vote for God-pandering politicians, but they never unite on Sunday morning.

    2. I agree that atheist squabbles pale in comparison with those between the religious; for a modern example just consider the furious reaction of high Catholics to Francis’s perceived liberalism:


      For a good laugh check out the blog of some very right wing Catholics in Scotland; here they are clearly approving the message that the Pope is wrong on the issue of migrants:


      These Catholics, it seems to me, do spend a lot of their time attacking their fellow Catholics.

      And no-one needs reminding of the centuries long problems arising from the Reformation, or the outgrowth of Islam, or indeed the outgrowth of Christianity from Judaism, which involved, and continues to involve, pretty furious debate (to say the least!) between the sects.

      Just about the only thing that unites them, however, is the sight of a damned atheist, so maybe that’s why we atheists often perceive a united theist front (of Judea).

  36. I wonder if PCC ever feels some of the rancor among those who should be his friends for being an outspoken evolutionist? Back in my college days I made a great friend with a prof who taught evolution and virology at my univesity. We sat around all the time talking about biology and evo. He truly felt like a scourge in his own department. He felt that his colleagues all felt like ‘okay – we’re all evolutionists but do you really have to talk about it?’

    1. That is strange in a bio department, but maybe it was at a place steeped in religion. I have seen my share of colleagues who would sort of shun shun each other because of specialization. The old time zoologists/botanists versus the ‘gene jockies’ . I had seen plenty of tension between those groups.

  37. People who call Richard Dawkins an ecclesiophobe (spelled correctly by Nathaniel Comfort in his main article but misspelled by him in the comment cut and pasted by JAC above) have not read


    from which I give the following extended excerpt

    “Prof Dawkins admitted he would consider going into a church, and would miss ‘aesthetic elements’ such as church bells if they were gone. And he said he was “grateful” to Anglicanism which he claims has a “benign tolerance” – enabling people to enjoy its traditions without necessarily believing in them.
    He told the Spectator: “I sort of suspect that many who profess Anglicanism probably don’t believe any of it at all in any case but vaguely enjoy, as I do… I suppose I’m a cultural Anglican and I see evensong in a country church through much the same eyes as I see a village cricket match on the village green.
    “I have a certain love for it.””

    Daniel Dennett is clearly not an ecclesiophobe either. No one who occasionally goes to a church to hear a Bach organ recital (as Dennett has admitted to doing) can reasonably be so labeled. Even moreso, Dennett’s suggestion that we replace believing churches with “churches as theatre” further disqualifies him from the ecclesiophobe label.

    Now I think I WOULD call Christopher Hitchens a bit of an ecclesiophobe. But an awfully funny one.

    1. “Now I think I WOULD call Christopher Hitchens a bit of an ecclesiophobe.”

      CH married his first wife in a Greek Orthodox church. Love conquers all, as Clinton Cards has probably TMed. x

    2. I hate church bells. No private citizen would be allowed to make that much noise, but say it’s your religion and and you can have at it, every hour. Fuck that. There’s too much noise in the world as it is.

        1. In Long Island, New York, most fire departments are still volunteer. I can hear the church bells here when I’m within maybe half a mile of the church. But that’s the least of the noise disturbances. The system used to alert the volunteer firefighters to an emergency is the old air raid warning system put in place during WWII and that noise carries much farther. Add to that the commuter and freight train whistles, which can easily carry 3-4 miles ( I have tracks both 2 miles south of me and 1 mile north tracking diagonally to about 1 mile east) when they’re blown and church bells are among the quieter disruptions.

          I actually don’t mind the noise for the most part. It has a bit of nostalgic feel to it and serves as a reminder that the hustle and bustle of The City That Never Sleeps is not far away. The suburban noise here pales in comparison to the noise at my office in midtown…

  38. I second what darwinwins said. I am a “quiet atheist” because I know numerous progressive Christians (most of whom are VERY critical of the religious right) and see little benefit in picking fights with them. That said, when criticizing some of the more unseemly aspects of mainstream religion arise (e.g. “Praise God for saving my child!,” when an infant 2 blocks is crushed by an i-beam), I am no shrinking violet. And I also reject the term “New Atheist” — an atheist doesn’t become something different just by more frequently opening one’s mouth. I can be either a “quiet atheist” or “new atheist” depending on the circumstances.

  39. To me it looks like quiet atheists are offended by New Atheism because of an apologist mentality they have – quiet atheists want room to be themselves in peace, but they have not come to terms with the idea that defending secular freedom may require contradicting religious doctrine (i.e. homosexuality will cause hurricanes, embryos have souls, atheists eat babies, ect). In other words, that it may not be universally practical for theists and atheists to simply ignore one another. Quiet atheists may even be embarrassed by their Atheism because it’s so distinctly unpopular among theists.

    At the end of the day, maybe it plays out like bullied nerds reluctant to stand up for themselves because the bullies always tell them they talk funny, so they take it out on their friends by telling them they ought not to draw attention to themselves for fear of worsening the matter.

  40. Reminds me of a quote: “don’t be so open minded that your brains fall out” – I never appreciated that quote until I came across this subject matter.

    Atheists who attack “New” atheists merely do so out of the fear that they will be seen as “militant atheists” and think they’re being “fair and open minded” – that’s laughable.

    What they’re afraid of is CRITICISM.

    They don’t have the audacity to criticize anything, even extremely bad ideas because they think they’ll be parallel to the likes of white supremacists.

    They need to understand – the PEOPLE of the religion are NOT being criticized, the BAD IDEAS of the religion are, especially when non-believers in Bangladesh are being hacked to death purely for not believing in God. Or gay people in India are being burnt alive, etc etc.

    These “traditional” ideas MUST be challenged.
    It is through “new” atheism that that’s achievable.

    These are the people who drive change for the BETTER in our world.

    While the other so called atheists sit around and do nothing, allowing bad ideas to flourish so that they’re not tainted, apparently, by “new atheism’s” drive for TRUE equality among all men and women.

  41. I am generalising about the left but I believe the following is broadly true of the left as a whole in today’s world. The Left prefer to sympathise with or support non-secular models especially as Russia has not been communist and China only nominally so for a number of decades now. However the shift away from secularism began with Habermas, Pomo and constructivist scholars in Europe that appear to have been a reaction to the ravages of extreme [apparently] secular nationalism in WW2 (well actually the final denouement of inter competitive imperialist colonialism which left only the US and the USSR as world powers). It is interesting that the modern Left has no real position on China and India although these are now major global powers. The Left are especially inclined to support non secular causes if they are anti west or strongly critical of post Enlightenment western society. The attachment of the Left to science is weak or at least very much secondary to ideology. Their atheism is part of an ideology – a semi metaphysical philosophical belief system based on Pure Ideals. This is not to deny the West has many things to be critical of but the Left assumes the West is the ultimate evil (even as they enjoy and expect the benefits of high technology and science. They back non secular cultures, ideologies or belief systems so long as these are anti Western/anti imperialist/anti capitalist/anti globalist/anti consumerist/technology [fill the box for the negative characterisation of modern Western culture). Funny that “globalisation” has been going on since part of humanity left Africa. I personally found the article in Dissent magazine on more or less the same topic very interesting

    1. You sure are generalizing. I consider myself part of “the Left” (as opposed to “the Right”) and don’t see myself in your generalization at all.

      You are describing some people on “the Left”. The generalization, I think, fails.

      1. But I think I know of the members of the Left that is being generalized. If I am reading it right, they are not comfortable with criticisms of Islam, for one thing.

      2. GB James is correct. Somer Rose’s characterization of the “left” is absurd and is typical of right-wing lunacy. The vast majority of people on the left of the political spectrum do not subscribe to the notions that Somer Rose ascribes to them. Only a politically insignificant number of people on the very far left even remotely believe in them. This statement is particularly ridiculous: “The attachment of the Left to science is weak or at least very much secondary to ideology.” Just who does Somer Rose think denies evolution and climate change?

        Most people on the left view themselves as liberals in the mold of Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson (at least on domestic affairs for LBJ). Liberals are not radicals. If you want to see true radicals, just look at the far right that controls the Republican party.

        1. And I am certainly more radical than those US figures, and I think the left that denies or poopoos science (and it exists, primarily in academia) are crazies. The only way that I know of to genuinely develop alternatives to *anything* is to understand how the world works. That’s why science is liberating. (Technology, of course, is ambivalent.)

    2. Great article, Rose. Thanks for posting that link. Some of my friends, unfortunately, have that sort of strange “the U.S. is horrible, needs to be taken down” attitude, and anytime I rage against the horrible crimes of Islamist militants, they go on about crimes against humanity Christians committed decades or centuries ago rather than admit that such crimes should never be excused no matter who commits them and whether they were committed five hundred years ago or five minutes ago. And excusing it as, “oh, but that’s their culture” is total idiocy.

    3. The attachment of the Left to science is weak …

      Say wha??? Somebody’s doing science, and it sure as shit ain’t the Right …

  42. Naturally there are plenty of reasons for atheists who hate the so-called “New Atheists”– I too have trouble seeing that title as anything but insulting. Definitely many are jealous, and definitely many sincerely resent anyone publicly saying out loud the uncomfortable truth that religion is silly, etc. What most burns me up about people who attack Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins et al for doing this is that it’s an incredibly hard thing to do, personally dangerous, and the rest of us reap incredible benefits from what they do. Frankly, I think other atheists public and non-public should be grateful to the ones willing to slug it out on the public stage. If you disagree on specific points, debate it civilly. There’s no good reason or excuse for the personal attacks.

  43. Jealousy is certainly one reason but I also think guilt is another.

    The New Atheist is vocal, proactive and making progress to bring critical thinking skills to the masses and challenging the religious status quo. This is something the quiet atheists rarely did, either for fear of being out or simply politically uninterested, both of which are valid but that doesn’t exclude people from feeling guilty that they didn’t or couldn’t do what the New Atheists are not only accomplishing but being revered for.

    I have no animosity for any atheist who goes out and speaks their mind. Atheists are not a collective or a cult and whatever the New Atheist proclaim, they do it for themselves and for those who willingly align themselves with them.

    The “group think, group blame” is a religious tool of exclusion. If nothing else we as atheists should shy away from that kind of ideal because of where is was designed and perfected.

    1. I think guilt is close, but shame/embarassment might be closer.

      I imagine many anti-NA’s have someone they know closely, perhaps a family member, who is quite religious but whom they consider nonetheless to be a “good person”.
      They feel shame that while they know this person is misguided, they rationalize their silence as in the other person’s best interest. Thus the rabid over-reaction when a New Atheist publicly states what they know is true is motivated both by embarrassment for the person they care about and shame for themselves for being too weak-spined to reach out to them lest they be turned on by their religious friend.

      1. I can see that. I have always been open about my atheism. I don’t advertise it as a whole but I don’t deny it when asked. I have also been very public and political about separation of church and state so I do agree with the “go public and confront the idiocy” format.

  44. New Atheists aren’t dangerous or a threat, but they do vastly overestimate the importance of beliefs. Creed is secondary at best, not only in details (whether the cracker is really the body of Jesus) but in the big picture too (whether there is a God). Not that creed, even minor details, can’t be a convenient excuse to bash someone you hate over the head. But it’s just that, a convenient excuse. If that excuse is lacking, another will be found.

    Look at the recent violence of Buddhists in Burma against the Rohingya minority. Not only are Buddhists atheists, but their creed explicitly avows compassion and loving kindness.

    There is a correlation between violent tendencies and violence-sanctioning beliefs. But the causation, I submit, is primarily that violent characters embrace violence-sanctioning beliefs. And the explanation of violent characters usually traces back to real and imagined mistreatment. With the imagined part often supplied by leaders who helped inflict the real part.

    So, while I wish the New Atheists luck, and look forward to improved scientific thinking on issues like consciousness, in the political realm I don’t expect much benefit. Even if the deconversion is wildly successful.

  45. This is a silly book by someone with no credentials. A much more serious book is Stephen LeDrew’s The evolution of Atheism due out in November.

  46. For me, the question whether to be an active/strident/evangelical (call whatever the f#%k you want) atheist or not is quite simple. If I see a child terrified about a monster under the bed, I’ll tell him/her not to worry, because there are no monsters. If I just keep my lack of belief in monsters to myself, because I wanna look cool and tolerant, I’m being an asshole.
    Religion terrifies and deceives people with the promise of eternal damnation, thought crime, guilt, etc. etc. Every opportunity that I’ll have to tell people that religion is bullshit (and there are no monsters), I will. If that makes me strident, annoying or evangelical, oh well.

    1. well, what if the child is unimpressed by your assertion that there are no such things as monsters? what if it is, on the other hand, by some cool anti-monster ritual? like calling monster-hotline, asking to spare the kids address?

  47. I think there are some aspects that haven’t been captured in the discussion yet.

    The focus seems to have been primarily rational reasons why non-NAs would react to NAs this way. I think there are a lot more emotional ones, and certainly more than I would list here.

    We don’t live in a vacuum. Family, friends, people we grew up with. Being an atheist when a large number of those around you are religious can be challenging.

    It can feel like a success just to be able to say you don’t believe in God (or anything else) without having to get into debates about it and still feel like you can go home. New Atheists can make that feel far more tenuous. Very much like ascribing the preachings from the pulpit to the followers of a religion (though not all may feel that way). The fear of ostracism for those deeply connected can be excrutiating: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2015/07/22/ex-hasidic-jew-cut-off-from-her-family-after-leaving-the-faith-jumps-to-her-death/. For others they cannot risk coming out at all for fear of death.

    For some (as I once believed) it was simply a matter of believing the general trajectory of society was positive–becoming less religious and more secular and didn’t require the push (interpreted in many cases as stridency) to help it along (possibly that such pushing was in fact negative). Very much along the line of Michael Shermer’s The Moral Arc. It is only recently that I have really opened my eyes to nonsense beliefs and some resultant bigotry and hate it produces. It wasn’t adults either but the education of children in private religious schools. I no longer believe that this trajectory happens passively. It requires our direct involvement to address nonsense to achieve this goal. It is one thing to want to have a better society (or write a book or become a great athlete), it is another to invest your energy in doing so. Some aren’t ready to admit or commit to that.

    Emotionally it feels like a striking similarity between delivery of NA via media, etc to preaching from the pulpit. I have a strong negative emotional response to hearing preaching and it isn’t hard to see how a negative emotional response can be coupled to preaching instead of the message. Particularly if you have had other negative reactions to preachers.

    Perhaps there is also the general thought that perhaps NA is drifting away from solving the problems instead focusing on winning the arguments. With regard to solving problems, what historically are the critical factors that resulted in the rise of secularism and the improvement of society? Can we identify and consciously implement those processes leading others by the hand to it instead of fighting tooth and nail? (I honestly don’t know–too much of a n00b in this regard). But perhaps captures some feeling about the approach of NA that may rub the wrong way.

    I think the scope and breadth of emotional responses far exceed the two described in the original post (though I do think the post has generated a lot of discussion and some interesting points). There is vodka to be had, so I’ll stop here.

  48. I think there is a time and a place for being loud and being quiet about (y)our Atheism…

    At my son’s funeral, we had many of his friends come up and talk about him, the one rule being that they had to tell at least one story of him being a dick. Yet as I gave the final eulogy I was aware that, even though neither my son, nor I, were religious many of the people listening to what I about to say were. That would not have been the place to tell people that I think they are deluded,. That I couldn’t understand how in an age where so much scientific discovery is readily available to read, that them holding on to Iron Age superstition was beyond my comprehension. What I did do though, was explain that we weren’t religious and that what I was about to say, wasn’t against anything that they believed either

    I said that I could take comfort in my lack of belief in an afterlife, because there was still a chance that Jamie (my son) and I would be reunited at some stage. I explained how all of the matter that is in the universe now, was created at the instant of the Big Bang, how the stars were created and how the most dense, but brightest burning and short lived ones, were often destroyed in super nova and from them we get the heavy elements. I said that “We are all created in the heart of a star, we are literally made of stardust”, (stealing from Sagan’s “We are all made of star stuff”). I then explained how our ‘matter’ is constantly recycled and that in 10-20 years, they should kick off their shoes and take a barefoot walk on the grass, maybe sit down with their back on a tree, because there may be some of what makes Jamie now, in that grass or that tree by then.

    I ended by saying that as there are more atoms in a human body, than there could be stars in the universe, there is a decent chance, (even if it takes a few hundred million years), that part of what makes me now and what makes Jamie, could end up back in a star together, but that Jamie had just gone on ahead.

    I think that people can become entrenched in their beliefs, no matter what facts you give them, especially if you give them in an aggressive way and call them stupid, (look at anti-vaxxers and climate deniers), when at times, a softer approach*. The almost constant sledgehammer approach of some “New Atheists”, (a stupid expression, but one I will use to make my point), can at times be counter productive. I love Richard Dawkins’ scientific books, I don’t even mind The God Delusion, but when he was doing TV programmes about Charles Darwin in 2009, for the 200th/150th anniversaries, he kept dropping in digs at religion. That would have put off a lot of people watching and the overall message about Darwin and Evolution would be lost

    *I am talking about trying to change peoples’ beliefs, not about criticizing religion(s). When religions do or a religious person says, something that is ridiculous or abhorrent, they deserve the sledgehammer approach and I’m quite happy to swing it

  49. Something similar happens in the gay community. You often hear gay people distancing themselves from public gay-rights activists, saying that they’re too strident and militant (sound familiar?), and that they give all gay people a bad name. (Of course gay rights wouldn’t have come as far as they have today if it hadn’t been for the activists.) I suspect in both cases it stems from a desire to stay ‘under the radar’ with friends and family.

  50. I wish the New Atheists would dig into the whys of belief. Sure, religion shouldn’t be coddled, but it seems sorta hypocritical when NAs say that science is the best way of figuring out what’s real in the world, but then completely ignore any science into why people believe what they do.

    If you’re gonna appeal to science, you should, you know, appeal to science.

    (Dan Dennett is the only one of the horsemen who actually tries to understand belief using science.)

    1. There’s Michael Shermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things” and “The Believing Brain,” and Carl Sagan’s classic from 1996, “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark”…

    2. I agree that’s an important issue often neglected. Probably the reason is it’s taken for granted that the faithful are that way primarily because they find them selves embedded within a religious culture and have not yet taken the time to see the light of reason. It’s the fault of history. The strategy seems to be that if you write a book and do the lecture circuit you can break the spell.
      A more nuanced understanding of religious belief might suggest more effective means to that end. Do we need a church substitute to provide succor to the “masses”? Alain De Botton thinks so. How about pushing science in public schools? How about actively promoting atheist candidates for office? How do you rewire the brains of 50% of the U.S. population and more worldwide?

  51. Well, I do think that if a Catholic group was strongly criticizing the ideas of, say, Protestants, you’d certainly have Catholics saying this doesn’t represent me, please note that I am not taking part in that, etc. I think given the history of the U.S., a certain degree of tolerance – outside of politics – is a sort of sacred value. Religion straddles a line between ideas and culture, and criticizing the latter is pretty much taboo in this country (no idea if this is true in other relatively liberal countries or not). So I think people are responding to form more than content, the form here being unspoken societal expectations.

  52. “Christians, for instance, don’t spend lots of their time attacking the character and arguments of other Christians like William Lane Craig or Pat Robertson. Yes, I know that there is some criticism along those lines.”

    ‘Some’? For real? Do you actually believe this? You must be a post Jerry Fawell, post Jimmy Swaggart, etc. observer of religion. I suspect you’ve never sat in a Free Lutheran, Evangelical, Baptist or Assembly of God pew–because if you had, you would know all they do behind the pulpit is spend an inordinate amount of time pointing out the flaws of other sects of Christianity. How do you think they get people in the those pews….granted, their favorite target is the Catholic Church, but more generally Christian ministers spend an inordinate amount of the time behind the pulpit extolling exactly why their specific variation on Christianity is correct relative to other christian sects. Perhaps things have changed, its been a long time for me since I was in a church and was a teen missionary while growing up, this was the most common flavor of the day sermon.

    As for the subject of this essay–I think the fact you feel there is a ‘correct way’ or ‘alternate way’ to be an atheist demonstrates that a corner has been turned and atheism is no longer a fringe, closeted element amongst the masses. However, it was for a very long time, right. People lost family and loved ones not to mention job prospects over this. The church has ruled with an iron fist for centuries.

    Like you, I am not a fan of the arrogance and vitriol often displayed by those like Hitchens—but I think I get why they sound like that at times. They are brave and one of the first atheists to push back and speak out. The attacks they have faced through the years were often rabid and viscous. So I look past the vehemence with which they sometimes make their case. I guess its the scars talking at times–to face such hatred dead on takes its toll I am sure.

    I deeply respect their efforts to take on the challenge directly put to them by the theists. I respect them for speaking up rather than shrinking back into silence when their values and beliefs are derided and demonized. More people should speak out I think. No more polite silence. For me, the very fact there are “can’t we all just get along” type of atheists out there are because of the efforts of people like Dawkins and Hitchens.

      1. I suspect you’ve never sat in a Free Lutheran, Evangelical, Baptist or Assembly of God pew

        Quibble: These are very conservative/fundamentalist churches, not liberal.

        Most members of these churches regard theologians as useful fools for Satan.

    1. In public, what I witness is a union of Christians. They will put aside their differences, if, for example, the local pubic elementary school provides kids with ‘prayer time’. All sects of Xianity appear to be in favor of such movements.

      When they look at a Cross on a mountain top they see what they want to see and though the meaning is vastly different for each sect, if not person, the symbol gives them equal delusional strength.

    2. Every nasty comment an atheist writer has received online from a believer is likely matched by nearly identical, or worse, nasty comments directed by one Christian to another who is thought to be wrong in some way. Sally Quinn for example, the founder of the website OnFaith, has stopped reading her own comments because she can’t take the name calling (e.g. “whore”) and hostility from her Christian readers.

      Humans. It’s humans who are like this. Not all, of course, but enough. Tribalism, a dose of fear, and the pitch forks and torches are always ready to hand.

      1. To be fair, she also got hate mail from atheists “usually of a more intellectual persuasion, and they have never been violent, but they are extremely contemptuous, insulting, and condescending.
        I once wrote about a barrage of hate mail I got from atheists and received dozens of apologies from other atheists.”

        (I’m not sure I’d class ‘contemptuous and condescending’ as ‘hate’ mail exactly, or at least not in the same class as “I hope you’re in an auto accident and burn to death”.)

        But there’s an explanation for the hate mail, and it’s not Christians, or atheists, it’s the nature of the Internet. We sussed this out in the old BBS days, when flamewars were real flame wars. You’re having an argument on-line with someone you’ve never met, in front of an audience, you have the immediacy of typing and hitting ‘send’ on your reply, without the moderating influence of facing that person in reality, and without the risk of having to make good on your threat to pulverise his sorry ass.


  53. Because New Atheists are right and everyone hates someone who is right.

    Truthfully, many people feel some need not to offend others. This compassion is misplaced, with regard to organized religion, which, of course, deserves no respect for its poisonous effect on our species’ ability to see the universe for what it is.

  54. You all realize that this guy has just labeled the New Atheists as “dangerous”, right?

    Often, and for years running, many mainstream commentators have been calling us “militant” or “fundamentalist” or “extremist”? These are words which, when taken together, properly describe terrorists.


    Why am I reminded of Berlin in the 1930’s? This s**t needs to stop.

  55. I dislike new atheists because I see them as shallow. They concentrate on the worst, and attribute it to religion as a whole. They have little or skewed knowledge of history and/or philosophy.

    I know these are generalizations, but that is something I associate with the movement.

    1. You may have a point in with regard to Dawkins and Harris both being scientists. But Dennett is a philosopher so his knowledge of philosophy (and I’m sure history as well) is hard to question. The Hitch was a thoroughly schooled and well read man of letters and was able to include appropriate references to history in his debates, presentations, and writing.

    2. The New Atheists are some of humanity’s best advocates for science. They are not shallow, they are the embodiment of the desiccation of religion that began five centuries ago.

    3. The accusation of being shallow in this context is usually a deepity. If by shallow, you mean that New Atheists don’t accept heaping mounds of bullshit piled atop premises that have no evidence, then yes shallow fits. But usually this charge is asserted along with the request to read more theology before you speak about religion.

      I don’t think the focus is only on the bad that religion does either. With regard to the good, Hitchens’ question applies, “Name a moral deed accomplished by a religious person that could not be accomplished by a secular person.” We understand that some people do good because of religious faith, but we also point out that there are reasonable secular paths to do good as well without the necessity of putting faith on the pedestal as a virtue. Faith in and of itself can lead you to justify anything, good or bad, and that’s the problem.

    4. The actual ones being shallow are those atheists who say other atheists should keep quiet and the theists who won’t look deep into what they claim to believe and why, especially when there is no evidence supporting their beliefs. The most shallow are those who won’t go beyond, “all the evidence I need is right here in this holy book, and it says I’m going to heaven because I believe it and you’re going to hell because you don’t, nyaah, nyahh!” I’m exaggerating, but I’ve met a few too many Christians with that outlook, and I’m related to some of them.

    5. Ahem, I don’t normally flash my credentials, but I *do* have some in philosophy, and I want to know precisely *what* is shallow about (pick any of the “new atheists”)? For example, there’s a *one line* check on Plantinga’s ontological argument: which modal logic is being used. Now, P. in his more inaccessible works does address this, though in my view unsatisfactorily. But in his popularizations, and amongst his thousands of net.followers, *not a word* is mentioned of this vital topic. Consequently *there is no deep research needed* to refute these views.

      I assert that this can generalize to many cases, though without specifics there’s not much to argue about.

    1. “quiet” atheists comments on HL Mencken’s reporting during the Scopes monkey trial,

      “He is extremely arrogant in his portrayal of WJ Bryan’s defense of religion. These new atheists are a threat to status quo!”

  56. I have never heard of atheists going door to door, bringing people the good news, “There probably is no god!” I think that most books, articles, and talks, are read/listened to other atheist. If New Atheist are evangelists, then they are mainly preaching to the choir. But some believers do read these things and do deconvert, and this makes for a more secular society. This us a good thing.

  57. I tend to agree with Comfort’s statement that he is “perfectly happy to leave people alone with their views if they let me alone with mine.”

    The problem is – of course – that since before written history, religionists have proved, and continue to do so daily, that they are most definitely NOT willing to leave us alone with our views, but continue to beleaguer, belittle, beat, persecute and murder not only atheists but those of other religions. Anyone who hasn’t noticed this hasn’t been paying attention. So…more power to the courageous “new” atheists.

  58. Atheist are a very heterogeneous group of people; a lot of disagreement within such a group seems to me likely.

    New atheist stand out from the crowd.

    It’s quite difficult to hit things who aren’t visible, so it’s quite natural that they are targeted.

  59. Very good article! I’ve been so confused by the atheists who can’t seem to stop evangelizing against other atheists.

  60. It is my sense that critics of the New Atheists feel that they don’t represent them because they find the New Atheists to be too confrontational and off-putting, and assume that the religious feel the same way. However, I think the old phrase “different strokes for different folks” applies here. What some people find offensive, others find compelling. What some find to be pandering, others might find attractive. Some people lead intellectual lives, others lead emotional ones. A single-pronged approach is probably not optimal. However, the Quiet Atheists who think that vocal atheists are the Wrong Kind of Atheist, seem to assume that a roughly single-pronged approach would be optimal. Why?

    Critics of the New Atheists, I assume, seem to operate with the hunch that the vocal approach works not just less well, but actually works negatively, setting the cause of atheism back. This is what I think they are probably most often afraid of, and is the reason why they feel the New Atheists need to be called out, if not stopped. It’s not an idea that I’m unsympathetic to in principle, it just doesn’t happen to be my hunch. One thing is for sure, however, there is an absence of good data on this topic, and often good data has a way of proving our hunches in regards to things like this to be more incorrect than we’d like to think.

  61. One of the reasons why I am not an accomodationalist is because I think it’s a worse idea for what is most reasonably probably true to be scarce because it might be offensive to some and risk its absence in the marketplace of ideas being the reason why others don’t come to their senses, than for it to be too widely available, and thus risk offending too many people. The reason why I feel the accomodationalists are probably wrong about this risk assessment is because, I expect, apologies to Jack Nicholson, that most people can handle the truth, and those than can’t need to grow up.

    I don’t think it’s a good policy to assume that adults are children and treat them as though they are too fragile for the truth. For that matter, I don’t even think it’s a good idea to shield children from truth usually either. Evolution is a harsh theory, and I think that species evolve and survive in accordance with some very harsh truths. We do not exist because nature mollycoddled our ancestors. I think our general commerce should be in what we have reason to judge to be provisional truths, not in kinder, gentler fictions.

    Some could turn my evolutionary argument on it’s ear and argue that historically the branches of humanity who believed these kinder, gentler fictions were the survivors, and those not so predisposed to overactive agency detection perhaps, are the branches of humanity that were not successful. Even if this is true, does this represent what will be successful in the future? If so, for how long? Indefinitely? Ultimately, whatever is true will come home to roost, whether we like it or not, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, and even if it’s something we’ve never figured out. The future of our species, if it has one, will not depend upon fictions. I feel, in principle, that making peace with fictions that are held as though they were truths can only yield an approach that nets out to be counterproductive.

  62. I’ve found that if you attack Scientology you don’t get called out as an extremist for saying that Scientology is not something people should believe in.

    I think this is because Scientology is less respectable than other religions.

    For example, there are 26 seats in the House of Lords reserved for whoever the Anglican Church want to put in there.

    If you criticise that or even question it, you get attacked as a ‘New Atheist’.

  63. No secrets involved.

    Ultra-left Progressives, who merely happen to be atheists, have applauded the ‘New Atheists’ for years and years when they were attacking Christianity. Now that the focus has shifted on Islam, they start feeling icky because they sense “racism” behind the clear and deconstructive language the ‘New Atheists’ are using when describing the many ills of Islam and its followers. Christianity is a white man’s religion, therefor oppressive. Islam is the brown man’s religion, ad therefor oppressed. And whatever is in conflict with their deeply ingrained identity politics, has to take the backseat. Common progressive means of poisoning and manipulating public discourse are used. No mystery involved.

    Then there are the faux atheists, whose atheism is superficial and largely unreflected, and who’re not at all uncomfortable with the grip religion has on society, because their own moral emptiness leads them to believe that religion is overall a positive influence. Plus, appeasing their fellow religionists and siding with them against the oh so militant ‘New Atheists’, pays the bills.

    tl;dr Marxists and submissive heathens are banging the drum against ‘New Atheists’.

  64. A reason I haven’t seen mentioned in your piece is hyperliberalism, which we see a lot from individuals such as Glenn Greenwald (from what I’ve read), Ben Affleck and quite a number of politicians. Almost a sort of scaredy-cat “please don’t wake up the religious giant” type of thinking, who then muddies the water by uttering things like “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam”. I think there are valid reasons for criticizing New Atheists such as Dawkins and Harris and I do that gladly, but it doesn’t help to make sweeping statements such as “all atheists read the same books and worship Dawkins as a god”. I think another reason is that some atheists don’t want to hear the same old tune of “atheism is just another religion” – I suspect that they tire of that very quickly and anything that just smells a little like religion – such as people getting together for a shared cause – is avoided like the plague.

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