Boghossian, Linday and Torres extol New Atheism in Time Magazine

September 16, 2016 • 2:30 pm

It’s a sign of the times, and of Time Magazine itself, that three atheists—Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Phil Torres—can publish piece at that venue arguing that atheism is a useful way out of the malfeasance of religious extremism. You can read the short piece yourself, but I’ll give two quotes from “How to fight extremism with atheism“.

This I like:

To that end, New Atheists have begun reaching out to collaborate with moderate Muslims and, arguably more importantly, ex-Muslims. Many of those former Muslims have become New Atheists and gone back into their communities to advocate for reform. For example, Maajid Nawaz (a former member of a radical Islamist group who became a counter-extremist) and Ali Rizvi (a self-identified “Atheist Muslim”) have been intimately involved in an ongoing Islamic reformation by helping to erode blasphemy laws.

The way ahead requires being able to speak honestly about religion, and New Atheism has been the most effective cultural effort to broker this conversation. Its endeavors going forward, however, must recognize the humanity in religion while maintaining a candid dialogue about deep-rooted conflicts between reason and faith. A matured New Atheism is needed more today than ever before to offer a unique alternative to irreconcilable conflicts of faith, some of which wish to end the world.

This I don’t:

New Atheism may have inched into the Islamic world, but it has not found deep roots. And its current approach isn’t well-suited to further penetrate Muslim societies. The condescending speech of New Atheists—calling religious people delusional, for example—is not an effective cross-cultural strategy for generating change.

Seriously, how many New Atheists call the faithful “delusional”? I don’t often hear that. Boo!

60 thoughts on “Boghossian, Linday and Torres extol New Atheism in Time Magazine

  1. There might not be “many” New Atheists who call the faithful delusional, but some of the most visible and prominent ones do. Dawkins’s book is after all entitled “The God Delusion” (which sounds harsher than Freud’s “The Future of an ILlusion”.)

    One shouldn’t generalize about atheists from Richard Dawkins, but when his book is one of the top atheist bestsellers of the 21st century, it is very tempting to do so.

    1. Of course it is rather weird of the authors to write that bit (“calling religious people delusional … is not an effective cross-cultural strategy for generating change”) directly after saying this:

      “The Arabic translation of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, for example, has been downloaded ten million times, and pictures of people holding it while overlooking Mecca are remarkably commonplace given the draconian penalties for doing so—ranging from ten years imprisonment to death.”

      1. I feel like that part of the article should have been left out completely as it makes the whole thing pointless. If NAs are the only ones who have made genuine in-roads because they’ve pointed out the falsity of religious beliefs, who exactly is going to take up the baton if they can’t take it any further?

        It seems to be a bit of an apology to the religious for criticizing their (delusional) beliefs after they’ve just acknowledged that N. atheists are the only ones who’ve really got anywhere.

      2. But it then continues “the next chapter in New Atheism will require a more nuanced, if not gentler, pen. The Dutch-American Somali-born author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for example …”

        It’s arguing that the arguments have to develop. Which may or may not be a good argument itself, but I think the language they use is consistent in talking about an evolution in strategy.

      1. A good point, or rather, question.

        Based on the etymology of “delude,” (ludus is a game) the idea is to intentionally lead someone astray. If someone is deluded, strictly speaking that person has been convinced of something that is not true.

        Now the question is, was that person deceived (yes, generally), and intentionally (not necessarily, but possibly).

        The question is whether a religious delusion should be considered a symptom of a mental disorder. And to my knowledge, there isn’t universal agreement among atheists about that. To the atheist, a believer in God is definitely deceived, but is it a mental illness? If so, then being deceived into thinking that a certain political candidate suddenly has the country’s best interests at heart, when all his priors scream otherwise, should also be classed as a mental illness.

        1. If I am not mistaken, the DSM requires the delusion to be *impair function* before it counts as a symptom of a disorder. This would make god belief only a symptom in sufficiently atheistic group, which is odd. (And, unfortunately, raises guilt-by-association tropes with the Soviet Union, etc.)

          1. ” This would make god belief only a symptom in sufficiently atheistic group, which is odd. ”

            I’m not sure what you are saying here.

            1. God belief is *not* dysfunctional, usually, because there are so many people willing to reinforce it. So if society becomes more atheistic, then god belief will become more dysfunctional, and *then*, it seems, will theistic delusions be diagnostic for whatever condition.

    2. I know I’ll get push back for this, but I see a subtle difference between calling a belief a delusion and calling a person delusional. I get that it’s a difference many won’t think has much meaning.

      I’ve been told that NOT believing in God is a delusion, but I don’t feel like that’s the same as calling me delusional. Of course, while I’ve never been called delusional to my face, there are plenty who think atheists are delusional (and more).

      1. Of course. The same is true of the word stupid. Saying that something said is stupid is not the same as calling the person stupid. One might say stupid things from time to time but it does not paint the person as stupid. If it does, I am right up there with stupid.

        1. Paleoartist Julius Csotonyi posted something pertinent on Facebook the other day:

          There is a subtle misconception floating around regarding religious fundamentalist anti-science thinking. I have heard many people call young earth creationists “idiots” or “morons”, with the view being promoted that young earth creationists and other science-denying theists are too stupid or uninformed to realize how wrong their position is compared to scientifically sound models of the natural world that are buttressed by mountains of carefully acquired scientific evidence.
          Whereas many people do accept fundamentalist explanations without question and also happen to be highly uninformed about the amount of objective investigation that has been conducted on the subjects in question, there are many literalist fundamentalist theists who reject rational scientific models even though they are quite familiar with those models.
          These people are not stupid or ignorant of the knowledge available. They are often highly enthusiastic and intelligent. Instead, many of them reject legitimate scientific models on the basis of the strength of their faith in the religious writings that they understand to oppose scientific models. What they are very good at is rationalizing to make a claim appear to be supported by evidence. In reality, what this rationalization accomplishes is a highly biased, cherry-picked consideration of evidence.
          And this is precisely why I consider faith-based thinking (when it is applied beyond simply a personal emotional or spiritual field, spilling over into interpretations of the structure and function of the natural world) to be highly deleterious and dangerous compared to critical evidence-based thinking in which one’s model of reality is open to alteration upon the presentation of new and opposing physical evidence.
          Many would argue that only a small proportion of the population truly applies “blind faith” to the extent that they reject scientifically derived models of the natural world. However, the fact that approximately half of North Americans have a problem with the theory of evolution (especially as it pertains to human origins) on the basis of religious position indicates to me quite starkly that the problem of faith-based thinking trumping evidence-based thinking is certainly big enough for us to still be concerned.
          So in short, it’s wrong to blanket-label fundamentalist science-deniers as simply stupid. However, the problem is more insidious than simply ignorance. Neutral ignorance is relatively easily rectified by education. Rejection of reason on the basis of a preconceived faith, by contrast, is far more difficult to address.


          1. From Ant’s Csotonyi’s quote:

            “…….position indicates to me quite starkly that the problem of faith-based thinking trumping evidence-based thinking is certainly big enough for us to still be concerned.”

            “trumping” is a very apropos word in this American election season. I wonder if that was intentional?

        2. “Intelligence” and “stupidity” are on two different spectra of mental capacity. There are very intelligent people who do and say very stupid things – being intelligent is not the same as being smart. There are people who are not intelligent who can be very smart about certain things.

      2. This is an important distinction and one that you’re absolutely correct to point out. However, the main problem is that theist’s beliefs (in my personal experience) are so often tied into their sense of self and self-worth that criticizing their beliefs, or indeed referring to their beliefs as delusional, is seen or taken as a personal attack. It’s very difficult for many theists to separate what they believe from who they are (again, based on my personal experiences with theists). Having said that, I do think that belief in a god is in fact delusional…which makes my interactions with theists perhaps not as productive as they might be.

      3. I think there is a difference between how the word “delusional” is used by atheists (describing faith) vs. theists against atheists.

        I’m biased, of course, but I say faith is delusional for the same reason that belief in invisible pink unicorns is delusional… The rules for describing the delusions are the same, only the fantasies are different.

        When a theist calls an atheist delusional it is generally just done as an insult. I don’t think this form of use is often seen in a systematic critique that shows common characteristics of atheism and, say, thinking the moon is made of green cheese.

        1. Why indeed do we need a word to be against theism? as you quite correctly indicate we do not have a word to be against pink unicorns or the Easter bunny etc apart from being delusional and I am not the first individual to point out this fact.

  2. Believing in an invisible sky daddy (Santa Claus for grownups) is indeed delusional. NAs don’t typically say it, lest we be accused of political incorrectness, but we certainly think it.

    1. New Atheists will see a diminishing need to use the description ‘delusional’.

      In the 1950s a citizen could hold a book by CS Lewis and claim this is what gives faith justification. Today one might still do it, but on a large scale, society penetrates the un-rigorous nature by which faith can justified.

      It’s only going to get worse. The religious world is no longer insular. And those who hold faith close to their hearts know they are dealing with something that a reasonable portion of our civilization considers delusional…and we do not have to say a thing because they already know it.

  3. I will cop to saying several decades ago that in order to be a theist, one had to be deluded or a dolt, or both. But seriously when I say someone is deluded it is not as an insult, as if they bear some blame for having been deluded. They have been taken in by a lie, it happens, no shame in that because the odds are they were taken in as a young impressionable child. What they need to do, is quit denying/pretending that they haven’t been lied to, and cease living with mythology taken as factual truth.

    Please, let us not ourselves be deluded about them not be delusional.

  4. Expletives, flat out statements, writings,synonyms, body language, facial expressions, etc. all are used by some atheists to convey negative views of religionists. Yes! There are certain religious extremists that not only are delusional but dangerous. It’s a quandary how to maintain humanitarian beliefs and not want to remove them from the earth. But, if most of us are to survive, atheists have to find common ground with religionists (at least, the more moderate types on both sides.)

  5. Being a religious apologist and also being an atheist is also a strange combination and not very useful. If we do not bend over backwards for Christians we should not for others. But as always, we will leave the intimidation to the religion.

    1. Holds tongue and does not write the corollary to bending over backwards — the play on words/insult is just too easy but also cruel given that it’s a play on words based on reality for some children abused by clerics.

  6. Seriously, how many New Atheists call the faithful “delusional”? I don’t often hear that. Boo!

    I don’t know about ‘often’, but I referred to your own article on religion and delusion and the DSM-5 in arguing with another atheist that whatever his personal opinion, general run of the mill religious belief was not a delusion as defined by the DSM-5.

    He kept sidestepping and insisting that it was.

    Which ironically enough, is one of the criteria for delusion.

  7. Faith is belief without solid evidence. If such evidence existed faith would be superfluous. Faith leaves the door open to nonsense. Sometimes widespread infectious fanatical nonsense. When all is said and done the only sure and permanent guard against the violence and hatred which plagues the world is to insist on good scientific evidence before taking any assertion seriously. The new atheist is committed to spreading this most rational and noble idea.

  8. I suppose it is too much for some people to recognize the difference between being faith-deluded and being generically insane.

  9. The article gives the impression Maajid Nawaz is a New Atheist. I think I’m correct in saying he identifies as a secular liberal Muslim.

    1. I have friends who are Gnus who describe themselves as secular liberal Jews. I don’t think the terms are exclusive.

      1. I have a Muslim friend who identifies as this. He has basically all the same values I do except he believes in God and I don’t. He believes in freedom of/from religion, separation of church and state and pretty much all the secular things I believe in. Tarek Fatah is a secular Muslim.

      2. He’s a Muslim with secular, liberal values. He wants secular law rather than sharia, and his values are humanist e.g. equality for women, LGBT people, religious and non-religious alike, different ethnicities etc.

  10. If it’s not delusional, it’s childish. What should one call those who want the master-slave relationship to be true for the Abrahamic religions?

  11. I have always thought that atheism will out perform religious moderation as an antidote to religious literalism, superstition, fundamentalism and extremism. Atheism works better than moderation because it doesn’t require any lying. Like pretending that deity belief isn’t delusional.

    Tough love. Plenty of smokers have been shamed, embarrassed, and ridiculed into quitting that nasty good for no one habit.

  12. The arrow of time is outing the god believer as delusional thinking and really why do we bother arguing with someone who holds the god view no matter how insults, sly, persuasive sophisticated arguments are formulated.
    Facts don’t argue they make statements about the world as it is, like atheists, let them deal with that and update along with the rest of us.
    If they are fearful of the truth and wish to remain in a delusional state and i am calling it that, mockingly so) so be it.

    “A delusion is a false belief that is based on an incorrect interpretation of reality. A person with delusional disorder will firmly hold on to a false belief despite clear evidence to the contrary. Delusions can be caused by mental illnesses called psychoses. These include schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.Jun 8, 2013”

    The last sentence is the only delusion I would except as being a true delusional state, they have no choice in any meaningful sense, where as…

  13. If one believes that the evidence militates against the existence of God, then it seems entirely logical that one would think anyone who believed in God was delusional. And a theist would think an atheist delusional if they honestly believed the evidence shows God exists. So I’m not convinced that simply calling a belief delusional is all that insulting, or overstepping the mark of polite discourse.

    After all, here’s British PM Theresa May being called delusional in that august organ The Economist:

    …and here’s Jeremy Corbyn being accused of being delusional by leadership contender Owen Smith:

    I’ve not seen howls from anyone claiming that The Economist seriously think that Theresa May is mentally ill, or that Owen Smith thinks the men in white coats should be called for JC (although he may think that!).

    The difference, perhaps, is that people are a lot more sensitive about their religious beliefs than their political ones. Well, tough, I think; people need to get used to their religious beliefs being treated the same as their political ones.

    On the other hand, I don’t think it’s helpful to call most religious (or political) beliefs a symptom of mental illness, since these beliefs are so widespread it rather devalues the notion of mental illness. Oddly, one of the authors of the Time piece, Peter Boghossian, called faith a ‘cognitive sickness’, didn’t he? (

    That seems worse than calling God a delusion in my book, and maybe ‘not an effective cross-cultural strategy for generating change’!

    1. There’s general usage of the term, then there’s the clinical definition. Another example would be “paranoid”. I have several friends who I’ve called paranoid, but only one who a psychiatrist would label as such. Many believers are delusional, IMO, and some are clinically delusional. If they really, really believe that they’ve been visited by jebus and conversed with, touched, can describe him, etc., then they may be clinical.

  14. “how many New Atheists call the faithful “delusional”?”

    My thoughts exactly. Where has this “journalist” been?

  15. As far as I know, the heroes of European Enlightenment also didn’t mince their words about Christianity and those who believed in it.

    Because I have no access to the Time – what approach is recommended instead of the current “condescending speech”? To admit that Islam is better than atheism and to beg conservative Muslims not to imprison and kill atheists, as they currently do?

  16. It is difficult not to consider the faithful delusional. I mean, if you have a delusion, you actually are delusional, at least in that area.
    I’m an ‘Old Atheist’, but I like the ‘New Atheist’s more assertive stance.
    I was kind of ‘that will be counterproductive’ about the God Delusion and assertive atheism, but apparently it did work in many cases. I stand humbly corrected.

    1. You do realize, don’t you, that there’s a difference between characterizing religion as a “delusion” and calling religious people “delusional.” It’s like calling someone who tells a fib (and we’ve all done it) “a lying person.” “Delusion” characterizes the belief, “delusional” characterizes the believer.

      1. A distinction without a difference and sophistry at best… This is not analogous to somebody who tells a “fib.” It is characterizing a deeply held and lived belief as “a delusion” therefore is functionally equivalent to calling somebody “delusional”… Furthermore, the author is on record as saying that religious believes should be reclassified as mental illness. Are you going to try to argue next that somebody with a mental illness is not “mentally Ill?”

  17. I have come to the belief that atheism is indeed the only assured pathway to end the violent jihadist tendencies within areas of the Islamic faith. The hope that many commentators express (e.g. Maajid Nawaz) that a new widespread reinterpretation of Islamic teachings is actually possible with an adoption of a more nuanced, moderate and humanistic approach is, in my own opinion, a totally forlorn hope. Although ALL religions profess to be the “perfect, complete and final truth” and include doctrine to resist any reinterpretation, no other religion seems so brilliantly structured to so inoculate itself against any such possible reinterpretation- in the teachings themselves or in mechanisms to police against any variation – e.g. in fatwas or in treatment of apostasy. And one thing seems certain to me, if any reform is ever to come to Islam it must come out of the Muslim community itself.
    When I first came to this conclusion it seemed depressing indeed. I did however find some real hope when I made some efforts to meet ex-Muslim atheists for myself and talk with them about these issues. These are quite amazing (and exceedingly brave) people. Their split with their religion has been done at a great personal cost, a cost that we “ordinary” atheists can hardly imagine. They are indeed an inspiration. In the UK they express themselves through organisations such a “The Council of ex-Muslims” and “One Law for All”. There meetings, which I have occasionally had the chance of attending, are held at venues that must be announced a the very last minute to protect members from attack or worse.
    And who provides the greatest barrier to the efforts of these courageous ex-Muslim spokespeople and activists? It is the misguided liberal left extremists who attack and discredit these ex-Muslims atheists and secularists, who brand them as misguided, and who in effect destroy any hope that we will ever see an end to all this strife.

  18. I would say all people are deluded in some way; some more than others. But it’s unfair to criticize humans for not running the 100 meters in 10 seconds; likewise it’s unfair for me to criticize people for the views they hold. The only thing we are justified to do is to criticize incoherent views and hope that others pick this up.

    Political correctness is hiding ideas and truth from others because you believe they are mentally inferior. It tries to prevent the exchange of ideas and thereby creates the right environment for the flourishing of harmful views.

    Christianity has become peaceful because it doesn’t follow the bible anymore; it has become an hypocritical ideology. I don’t see how this could have happened without identifying the problem-areas it has.

Leave a Reply