Idiot compares atheists to village idiots

September 23, 2016 • 10:00 am

I know that I’m insulting the author of this piece, Sam Kriss, in my title, but his whole article in The Baffler, “Village atheists, village idiots“, is just so crazily misguided that I can’t help but turn his invective back on him. As far as I knew, The Baffler was a respectable literary journal, often sold in bookstores, but this one article has put me off it forever. What editors could possibly approve such an odiferous hunk of tripe?

I don’t know Sam Kriss, though his website says he’s a writer living in the UK. One thing’s for sure, though: he deeply, deeply hates “new” atheists, although he has no problem with “old” atheists. Below in bold I’ve put the major points he makes in his screed (excerpts from the piece have quotation marks around them):

  • All New atheists are idiots.  Have a gander at this:

“Something has gone badly wrong with our atheists. All these self-styled intellectual titans, scientists, and philosophers have fallen horribly ill. Evolutionist faith-flayer Richard Dawkins is a wheeling lunatic, dizzy in his private world of old-fashioned whimsy and bitter neofascism. Superstar astrophysicist and pop-science impresario Neil deGrasse Tyson is catatonic, mumbling in a packed cinema that the lasers wouldn’t make any sound in space, that a spider that big would collapse under its own weight, that everything you see is just images on a screen and none of it is real. Islam-baiting philosopher Sam Harris is paranoid, his flailing hands gesticulating murderously at the spectral Saracen hordes. Free-thinking biologist PZ Myers is psychotic, screeching death from a gently listing hot air balloon. And the late Christopher Hitchens, blinded by his fug of rhetoric, fell headlong into the Euphrates.

Critics have pointed out this clutch of appalling polemic and intellectual failings on a case-by-case basis, as if they all sprang from a randomized array of personal idiosyncrasies. But while one eccentric atheist might be explicable, for all of the world’s self-appointed smartest people to be so utterly deranged suggests some kind of pattern. We need, urgently, a complete theory of what it is about atheism that drives its most prominent high priests mad.”

What we learn from this is that Mr. Kriss likes to use pejorative language, but it’s hyperbolic and, worse, just plain wrong. Dawkins a lunatic? Tyson catatonic? Harris paranoid? Hitchens falling into the Euphrates? (What does that mean, anyway?) One could use the same language about famous theists, but we refrain from that kind of ad hominem stuff.

  • New atheists are idiots because they spend all their time repeating truths universally acknowledged. Kriss uses a long story from Kierkegaard about a man in a lunatic asylum who escaped and, realizing that he had to pass for sane lest he be re-incarcerated, he decides to affirm his sanity by repeating an undeniable truth over and over again—that the Earth is round. But that, of course, sends him right back to the hospital. This, says Kriss, is the equivalent of what New Atheists do: repeating boring truths over and over again, and appearing like lunatics by so doing. The tedious truths we are said to repeat are that God doesn’t exist, humans have no soul, and that evolution occurs. (Kriss also criticizes Tyson for making a rap video refuting a flat-earther, thus becoming just like the madman in Kierkegaard’s story). As Kriss says:

“In the time of Kierkegaard and Marx and Parallax, there was still some resistance to the deadness of mere facts; now it’s all melted away. Kierkegaard’s villagers saw someone maniacally repeating that the world is round and correctly sent him back to the asylum. We watched Tyson doing exactly the same thing, and instead of hiding him away from society where nobody would have to hear such pointless nonsense, thousands cheer him on for fighting for truth and objectivity against the forces of backwardness. We do the same when Richard Dawkins valiantly fights for the theory of evolution against the last hopeless stragglers of the creationist movement, with their dinky fiberglass dinosaurs munching leaves in a museum-piece Garden of Eden. We do it when Sam Harris prises deep into the human brain and announces that there’s no little vacuole there containing a soul.”

Seriously? The “last hopeless stragglers of the creationist movement?” Is Kriss aware that about 42% of Americans are young-Earth creationists, with another 31% thinking that evolution happened, but was guided by God? Does he know that 71% of Americans believe in God, with 63% being certain there’s a God? Does Kriss know that  72% of Americans believe in Heaven and 58% in Hell? The “atheist truths” that Kriss sees as boring and self-evident are, in fact, rejected by a majority of Americans—reason enough to not just keep repeating them, but to keep showing why they are truths.

  • The truth is way less important, and far more boring, than lovely fictions.  This is unbelievable for any rational person to say, but Kriss says it. Referring to creationism, a flat earth, and the human soul, we hear this (my emphasis):

“All these falsehoods are beautiful, tiny, glittering reminders that the world can be something other than simply what it is; we should nurture them and let them grow. Instead, they’re crushed, mercilessly, in the name of a blind, stupid, pointless truth. But who’s more wrong—the person who droningly insists, jerking like an automaton, that the world is round, has always been round, and will always be round? Or the one who knows that this earth is not a given, and that we can imagine a whole weary planet into new and different shapes?”

When I read the part in bold, I thought that Kriss must be writing satire. Clearly, the person who insists on truth, even if he’s “jerking like an automaton” (a bad attempt to imitate the prose of Tom Wolfe) is less wrong! And what is this crap about “imagining a whole weary planet into the shape of a pancake”? Or that the earth “is not a given”? This is so bizarre that it’s beyond the bounds of even postmodern craziness.

Finally, and I’ve already wasted too much time on Kriss, he says this:

  • Atheists are no different from believers because each group touts the beauty of the Universe. Yes, you heard it right: Kriss sees people like Dawkins—who says that there is still Magic in Reality, and that understanding doesn’t turn us into cold robots who don’t appreciate beauty—as identical to believers who say the beauty of Earth is God’s doing. Kriss doesn’t like this because he thinks that the world is often ugly and people often unhappy. But that insistence misses the point, which is that naturalism doesn’t erode away our emotions to nothing. Have a look at this nonsense:

“The real cleavage, in other words, isn’t between those who believe in God and those who don’t, but between those who want to change the world and those who just want to repeat it. Watch one of those interminable debates between an atheist and a believer—anything involving Bill Nye is best, but they’re all on YouTube, endless stultifying hours of two people babbling Aristotelian at each other and convincing nobody—and you’ll notice something strange. Both of them will, inevitably, enter into some orgasmic rhapsody about how beautiful the universe is. The theist, gazing upward to his heavens, will chant awestruck odes to the majesty of God’s creation, His churning nebulae, His shining tapestry of suns, all the wonders built from His cosmic perversion.

Meanwhile, the atheist, glancing down at his own miraculous hands, will say something similarly soppy about mountains and rainbows and how incredible it is that all this came about by a happy accident of chance. When they encounter a poetic-humanist critique of cold scientific rationality, the atheists will often argue a similar line: Keats was wrong, science did not unweave the rainbow; the natural world is all the more beautiful if you know how it works. (Dawkins even published a book in 2011 called The Magic of Reality.) This accordance ought to be very worrying. What it shows is that, for all their fiercely expectorated differences, these two people are actually on the same side.

It’s sometimes charged that fundamentalist atheism has become just another intolerant religion; here, at least, religion as it’s actually practiced is only a minor species of atheism. What if you don’t think the universe is beautiful? What if you wake up every morning in a tiny brick cell slotted into a lifeless city under a gray and miserable sky, and you think that the whole thing, as it stands, is utterly wretched? For most of history, religions have tended to hold the natural world in various forms of contempt: it’s cursed by sin, it’s the Devil’s playground, it’s Dunya or Māyā. God, the great theologian Karl Barth wrote, is a ‘No’ to the world.”

Here Kriss is criticizing atheists for a brand-new reason: he sees the world as horrible and atheists misguided because atheists have “so thoroughly trained themselves out of believing in Hell that they can’t see the real one right in front of them.”

Jebus. Yes, the world isn’t great for many people, but one reason it’s getting better is because secularism and reason are replacing religion and superstition. It’s better to promote that incremental change than stand around, as Kriss does, and kvetch about how crappy everything is.

Why did The Baffler publish such a worthless pieces of pablum? I have no idea, but shame on them, and of course on Kriss as well!

Sam Kriss. His world is hell, and he needs help. 


79 thoughts on “Idiot compares atheists to village idiots

  1. The only difference between the old atheists and the new atheists, is that the old atheists are dead. God is still imaginary.

  2. I like to think of us more as the wise men of Gotham!

    Poor Kriss – “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks”. Perhaps he is just a miserable git?!

  3. The whole piece looks like someone trying to be polemic and lacks nuance. Judging by the photograph he does like to strike a pose, and the prose supplies confirmation.

    1. I’ve thought the same of Kriss in the past, this confirms the same. He likes to play at being clever and having an audience. Attack the small group, then there’s more people to agree with you and laugh at them.

  4. I recommend the DPRK News Service twi##er account – just look it up, you’ll see what I mean.

    I think the author Kriss is only half-serious. Please let yourself laugh at the piece. Of tripe.

  5. Looking at his website does reveal a certain desire to be an enfant terrible (in its most literal definition). I was curious about his papers at the University of Sussex but looking at the categories I can’t bring myself to waste the time (deconstruction and semiotics are fine for an MA but this is the real world).

    1. “Precocious child throwing a tantrum” is the style he’s trying desperately to establish, but the attempt is so obvious that it fails miserably. His writing is phony as hell.

    2. I agree with your comment, all except the first sentence. That would only be true if he had more literary competence.


  6. I am not a real shrink but can play one on the net. Sam appears to be so interested in his own look and opinion that he stands alone as the judge for many greater than he. A lesson on the difference between an atheist and a religious sort may be in order.

  7. “The real cleavage, in other words, isn’t between those who believe in God and those who don’t, but between those who want to change the world and those who just want to repeat it.”

    No, you incomprehensibly disingenuous hack, it’s between those who want to change the world through rational, reasoned discourse and education, and those who want to cling to fairy tales. He has it exactly backwards.

    “Now, geneticists like Dawkins argue that what we see as animal life is really just a capitalist free market in genetic code. Whenever you hear a rapturous defense of the natural world, you should be on your guard: this is class power talking, and it’s trying to kill you.”

    Speaking truths about evolution by natural selection is now “class power trying to kill you”. Either this person is a B-grade novel writer trying to impress postmodernist nitwits, or he’s an elaborate troll. I despise him either way and wouldn’t mind him falling into the Euphrates himself.

  8. I wouldn’t take this too seriously. Sam seeks to entertain. When his target is someone you don’t like he can be very entertaining. Once in a while he’ll aim at a target you have sympathy for. That is just the price to be paid. His piece on Dan Hodges is great, but will probably mean little to anyone outside the UK.

    1. I think we are done with people just because they used to target people we don’t like. That stuff has ruined the atheist and skepticism movement.

      How many people started off targeting creationists before turning on fellow atheists when they realised that’s where the money is?

      An asshole is an asshole.

    2. So you’re saying he didn’t mean what he said. In that case, why publish it?

      Sorry, but I take his arguments seriously, and I’m growing less fond of hit-pieces that deal with people’s character rather than their arguments.

      1. I try to keep up with British writers but I must admit I’d never heard of this geezer whose twitter bio describes himself as ‘anti-logic, anti-reason, anti-facts’. Not really very impressive. It all reminds me of Dadaists or was it Ezra Pound’s crew this time last century? The dilettantish, posh-boy rebels from daddy who ended up as irksomely iconoclastic 30s flirters with fascism: tossers masturbating on their own self-defined outrageousness and hoping that anybody else cared.

        The man could bend any way, just like Milo, and nobody would believe, just like in the case of Yiannopoulos, that he really believed it.

        1. He’s clearly in thrall to the empty posturing of po-mo phi-lo. So-phy.

          Yet maybe with a tinge of the proto-fascistic romanticists who reacted to the Enlightenment by burying themselves in blood-and-soil ravings and hardcore anti-rationalism.

          In the end who gives a shit? If I still had the mind of a fourteen year old I’d maybe think there was something there – but he’s apparently a grown man, writing badly, through a veil of adolescent philosophy. Life’s too short.

  9. So Kriss condemns scientists for this:

    Keats was wrong, science did not unweave the rainbow; the natural world is all the more beautiful if you know how it works.

    Imagine if this idiot attacked professional musicians for enjoying music less than people who merely enjoy music without understanding it, or the same for artists, or for other such creative arts. I doubt that he could get published.

  10. The term “Village Atheist” was coined on the site of the American Humanists and is meant to refer to the typical New Atheist faction, that did not join the social justice “intersectionality” craze or is critical of it. The author, one Sincere Kiraboo, also writes for the “intersectional feminist” site Everyday Feminism, that are notable for postmodernist, anti-reason piece, such goldnuggests like “Rationalism is Irrational”. Also note that Mr Kiraboo thinks that to gain an “in-depth understanding of the world” you have to go with “critical conciousness” (of the postmodern family).

    Other than that, his criticism is in line with that faction, and e.g. PZ Myers old idea that atheism should be something more than just (as he calls it) “dictionary atheism”. The people around him famously took this further and founded “Atheism Plus”. The plus is akin to what is nowadays touted as “intersectionality” (though comically, the proponents often have no clue what it actually means).

    While the A+ term never caught on, the ideas and views proliferated and it all eventually merged in with the overall contemporary (so-called) “Social Justice” movement, i.e. social justice warriors or Regressive Leftists (not the same, but highly compatible).

    The inventor of “Village Atheist” is a newer face in this (defacto) postmodernist US secular “Social Justice” faction, which is also strong in organized atheism. Whenever several notables and conference speakers addressed the atheist “Deep Rift”, they always came out in strong support of this “social justice” side and its postmodernist tenets.

    You’ll find e.g. this interview by Aron Ra, also with Sincere Kiraboo, and released shortly after the piece above. After a while it became obvious that many of the US corner have started to dislike each other (e.g. Orbiters and Benson), but they non-the-less are a legitimate “social justice faction” that has largely replaced the former “New Atheist” zeitgeist. And they largely hate New Atheists now. Dawkins, Harris, Hirsi Ali, Maher, most YouTubers, etc.

    The Social Justice faction largely stayed under the radar as a “thing” since Atheism Plus failed, but they’re in fact most of the blogosphere, especially on the major networks FTB, Patheos, SkepChicks and Orbit; a few YouTubers/podcasters close to organized atheism (Aron Ra, Dillahunty, Seth Andrews), while the larger YouTube community is typically “anti-SJW”; organisations like American Atheists with David Silverman and Kathleen Johnson always had a stern word with rationalists and New Atheists, and defended the social justice faction, too. Look at the topics for Reason Rally 2016, etc. Likewise, SkeptiCon is full SJW and of course run by usual suspects. Finally, many journalists and writers are close to this circle, too, Adam Lee, Amanda Marcotte, Phil Plait and Kimberly Winston.

    So what this “idiot” here writes is in my view a now totally mainstream (organized) US atheism viewpoint.

    1. I also noted the connection to Atheism plus.

      This kind of anti-rational ideology has reduced my field (literature) to a chaotic mess of squalid scholars whose pretentious language masks a remarkable poverty of depth—and whose rejection of logic has justified deeply repressive ideologies.

    2. If you’re correct and Kriss is just taking up the usual complaint that ‘atheists need to move away from just arguing over the existence of God and concentrate more on social justice,’ then his inclusion of PZ Myers among the Idiots is rather idiotic.

      Kriss’ glowing description of how the old beliefs of the Simple Folk help make the world less round makes me suspect his point isn’t that simple. The entire article is a giant eye-rolling over virtually everything. Someone took a sullen teenager to a museum.

      Way back when, a “Village Atheist” was a term the atheist community used to identify an atheist who 1.) was stuck in the middle of God-land OR 2.) gave painfully bad reasons to not believe in God OR 3.) both.

    3. Kirabo didn’t coin the term village atheist; at best he coopted it for his own idiosyncratic views (which are SJW-ish as you noted.) “Village atheist” has been used as a pejorative term by theists (as well as a few crusty self-appointed “good” atheists) against popular atheism and the “New Atheists” long before. The idea is that the isolated atheist in his/her local “village” feels smart and iconoclastic attacking the local, and presumably unsophisticated, religious ideas. But, it is implied, the village atheist is simply unaware of the sophistication of true theology and is merely a dilettante blustering about matters he doesn’t grasp.

      It’s pure BS or course, and it doesn’t speak well of Kirabo that he is adopting schtick from anti-atheist religious apologists. He also doesn’t seem aware that he’s doing it, but he’s not nearly as sharp as he seems to think.

  11. To be fair, the article is at least baffling with a capital B. Some rather tortuous sentences in there. Maybe it’s all in jest.

    Perhaps he hails from the same miserabilist school as John Gray. I recognise the miserable around us (it’s one of the strongest reasons not to believe in the three Os God); I just recognise the happy too.

    If anything, the more facts we learn, the more of the universe we manage to analyze, the more new space our colossally fucked-up social order has in which to reproduce its idiocy.

    A counsel of despair, which sometimes appears to be coming true, when looking at Brexit and Trump (a great name for a firm of solicitors). But, frankly, those who keep repeating this miserabilist nonsense are surely just as much in danger of looking the lunatic as anyone repeatedly gainsaying the scientifically illiterate?

    Kriss is a master of critical theory, so, I guess, ’nuff said – truth is not something to find, but to smugly denigrate. Metaphor is all. But most of us (don’t we?) understand that Truth is a hard thing to establish, and none of us have access to the hard facts. That’s why we have science. Not because science gives us the hard facts, but because it’s the best way to be as sure as we can be about reality.

    This would not be necessary if we had, in addition to our other senses, a truth sense. Unfortunately God, in Her infinite wisdom, decided not to give us that, but to cut as adrift in a sea of confusing impressions.

    Or, maybe we just developed senses that were good enough to get us to this day in history. And it turns out that a truth sense was not necessary for that. So, we need science. More than critical theory, imho.

  12. Richard Dawkins – “Selfish Gene” is/was my favorite book ever, but I saw Dawkins on one of those fake-interview/supposed-to-be-comedy shows and he came across like an Asperger-ish kid.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson – heard of him; some affirmative action guy?

    Sam Harris – dunno anything about him other than a rather dumb quote in a previous thread here.

    PZ Myers – hate that guy, obnoxious and kinda stupid.

    Christopher Hitchens – loved that guy.

    Watch one of those interminable debates between an atheist and a believer

    No thanks.

    1. Sam Harris: The guy who wrote The End of Faith — not his best book in my opinion; but the one that pretty much started “it all.” (The New Atheists publications.)

      To me, he is one of the clearest thinkers and writers on current important issues (and plenty of side issues that he makes interesting to me).

      Have you read Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale? I think that’s my favorite of his. His two-volume autobiography is also excellent, as is Unweaving the Rainbow.

      1. eric: You’ve never heard of the Cosmos reboot?

        Heard of “Cosmos” but don’t watch TV.

        Sam Harris: The guy who wrote The End of Faith — not his best book in my opinion; but the one that pretty much started “it all.” (The New Atheists publications.)

        I’ve been an atheist my whole life (getting close to 70), and the last book about religion I read was my dad’s “The Golden Bough” when I was in high-school. Religion and atheism are pretty boring subjects except as to how/why religion (poor “reality testing”, egotism, etc) appears to be adaptive, in the biological sense, and atheism maladaptive, in humans.

        You’re right about Dawkins, though, just not “The God Delusion”.

          1. So you couldn’t care less that you’ve disparaged a person of demonstrable accomplishment — a person you’ve “heard of,” but know nothing about other than, apparently, the color of his skin — by suggesting he’s succeeded only on account of preferential treatment due to his race, even though you have absolutely no basis whatever to believe it’s true? That about the size of it, Flemur?

            Let me, then, paraphrase you:

            “Flemur — heard of him; some obtuse troll guy?”

      1. I missed that. What an odd thing to say: Flemur must’ve seen Tyson physically otherwise he wouldn’t have made the comment so you’d assume he knows perfectly well who the guy is.

        Flemur, you’re a berk and I think you might’ve come to the wrong website.

  13. My first thought is that the writing is appalling – histrionic and overflowing with pointless linguistic curlicues and grand metaphors which fall apart the second you think about them.

    It’s a style you often find used when the author is attempting to preemptively safeguard their work against criticism. They write like that because they think it lends their writing a fleet-footed, ironic, tongue-in-cheek tone which will be useful if they want to distance themselves in future from their own arguments. It was a common tactic of the French post-modernists: they would come out with absurd, overblown essays full of preposterous claims and when they were faced with the predictable backlash from the more sane members of the philosophical community they’d claim the work in question was simply an exercise in boundary-pushing irony. Anyone who failed to see that was a humourless oaf, anyone who disagreed was guilty of not keeping pace with the author’s razor-sharp sense of humour.

    Of course, if you agreed with the author that meant you got the joke, so it was a win-win situation for them. It’s a fantastically dishonest manoeuvre.

    1. They write like that because they think it lends their writing a fleet-footed, ironic, tongue-in-cheek tone which will be useful if they want to distance themselves in future from their own arguments.

      Its sarcastababble. Like technobabble, but for frustrated 20-somethings.

    2. So … “they’d claim the work in question was simply an exercise in boundary-pushing irony”.

      The basic Trump defense-of-last-resort, in other words?

      [eric:] ‘Sarcastobabble’, I like that!

    3. Well said Saul, bang to rights. He is like a child at kindergarten, trying to get the teacher’s attention by smearing his shit on the walls.

      He says he lives in the UK, but is trying to leave. The sooner the better! What an arsehole.

      1. A professionally obnoxious bell-end whose job involves desperately trying to rile random sections of society is trying to leave the country in which he lives? I wonder why.

  14. Sounds to me like someone turned down by Rolling Stone.

    But IMO his piece also represents a fairly common attitude with the left today, the attitude of “if you aren’t focusing on the particular social problems I think are worth focusing on, you aren’t doing squat.”

  15. I read the piece because it was posted to 3QD by Morgan Meis. I genuinely cannot understand why anyone would claim to find value in it. It seems to celebrate fabrication.

  16. Comparing Kriss’s piece to “an odiferous hunk of tripe” isn’t really fair … to tripe, which can be very tasty when prepared alla Rommana (though it does tend to odiferize the kitchen some during preparation).

  17. “Or the one who knows that this earth is not a given, and that we can imagine a whole weary planet into new and different shapes?”

    Actually, I can’t imagine that, since I know that any planetary body large enough to have an atmosphere [or a tenth that size, actually] must be essentially spherical. [Bar the final moments of such a body encountering a vastly larger gravitational well.] I’m sure Kriss knows that on some level, but it sounds too much like NdG Tyson for him to admit it, when he’d prefer dodecahedra.

    1. The whole contrast is bogus. Scientists imagine how things could be different just fine. Look at all the science fiction written by scientists. Look at all the scientists who read it too. Its not like when you get a Ph.D in physics the desire and enjoyment of Terry Pratchett’s diskworld suddenly drains from your body. The reverse is probably true – science nerds are probably the bigger readers of stuff like that, because their understanding of science makes that type of fiction more enjoyable.

      Scientists enjoy imagining different worlds and how our world could be different as much as the poet, the art critic, what have you.

      And in fact sometimes science helps us imagine things we could not otherwise ever conceive of. I’m sure Thoreau and Shelly could have imagined a flat earth. But would they ever have imagined a ringworld? A Dyson sphere? Probably not. Those fantasies came after we developed a fairly technical understanding of celestial mechanics, because we needed the understanding to even come up with the concepts. How about wormholes and Alculbierre drives? These things are only imaginable because Einstein gave us the notion of general relativity. Without it, they make no sense. Nobody would ever have come up with them prior to the early 1900s.

      Its irritating. Okay poet, you can imagine the weary world in a whole new shape. Did you ever imagine what a society of animals living on a neutron star might be like? Because aerospace engineer (sorry I made you snore) and Ph.D physicist (oh goodness, you’re asleep now) Robert Forward did. Scientists can’t imagine? Sheesh. Grumble grumble grumble.

  18. I view this kind of piece as the punk-rock version of writing, with perhaps Sam Harris as the – well, I won’t venture a guess, but give the guy a break – he might have been on a red-eye flight in that pic.

    1. Nah. Punk-rock was interesting, streamlined, focused, and it razed the landscape in preparation for Joy Division, Sonic Youth, The Smiths, REM, Radiohead, The White Stripes…every decent alt-rock band that came afterwards.

      This guy’s more like some kind of irritating tongue-in-cheek band, like Chumbawumba, or Half Man Half Biscuit.

  19. Another truth Kriss doesn’t like : Neil deGrasse Tyson is not an atheist.

    And in general atheist have a world view much closer to reality then religious humans, because they tend to believe in not so many fictional stories.

    Maybe Sam Kriss is right on one thing;
    for most people truth is not very interesting and often cannot compete with fiction. People are born escapists.

    1. I think NDT is an atheist but he chooses not to make it what he’s about. This is what I find especially funny about this person’s rant as poor NDT can’t even escape and he is often criticized by atheists (I’ve done it myself) for rejecting the atheist label.

  20. He needs to listen a few times to the Beatles song “Because”:

    Because the world is round it turns me on
    Because the world is round…


    Incidentally, he quotes the theologian Karl Barth as saying “God, the great theologian Karl Barth wrote, is a “No” to the world.”

    But Barth also wrote “Behind the No is a Yes.” The exact quote from Barth “The Yes cannot be heard unless the No is also heard. But the No is said for the sake of the Yes and not for its own sake. In substance, therefore, the first and last word is Yes and not No.”


    Kriss is also the author of a screed,
    “The Multiverse Idea Is Rotting Culture”
    which opens
    “What looks at first glance like an opening up of possibilities is actually an attack on the human imagination.”

    And the author of
    “Neil deGrasse Tyson Is a Black Hole, Sucking the Fun Out of the Universe”
    which largely complains about Neil pointing out scientific errors (like sound in outer space in Star Wars) in various movies.

    EVERY Post on his wordpress site is a screed against something or other including Harry Potter.


    I’ve been leaving readers on their own to find the links to Mr. Kriss, but here is a lovely acapella choir rendering of the Beatles’ “Because”

  21. … Dawkins is a wheeling lunatic … deGrasse Tyson is catatonic … Harris is paranoid … Myers psychotic …

    …and on and on and on it goes.

    Talk about overheated — Kriss needs to sit in the shade until the docs get his meds right.

    I usually like my polemic over the top, even when it’s incoming, for entertainment value if nothing else. But Kriss’s frothing prose and mangled metaphors (catatonics mumble? why’re Sam’s Saracen hordes “spectral,” PZ’s balloon “gently listing”?) should come with a mute button.

    (Though I would like to congratulate Mr. Kriss on the purchase of his new thesaurus.)

    1. And that photograph — they say a person gets the face they deserve once they are d’une certaine age. Kriss is working on it, hard.

  22. Gosh. Another critic of “New Atheism” who thinks it consists entirely of Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins.

    Weird how so many of these unimaginative drones are utterly fixated on this same short list of prominent atheists and have been so for the last ten years. It’s almost as if they reflexively assume the “leaders” must be privileged white males, but given they are liberals, that can’t be the reason.(/sarcasm)

  23. the world’s self-appointed smartest people

    A boring repeated STFU from a (self-appointed!) enfant terrible.

    Based on factual errors such as mistaking fact for opinion, or the statistics that tell us that on average atheists are smarter (and more well informed) than theists, et cetera… Not a very smart claim.

  24. I was going to go off on how he is just some sort of ridiculously demented person, but I am at present wondering if this is satire a ‘la Andy Kaufman. It would make more sense that way.

  25. Kris should pick up some Ingersoll or Russell OR he could just spend some time with a physicists, doing real research on real problems and examine for himself, just how secular the world really is without anyone claiming to be an Atheist or not.

  26. “But who’s more wrong—the person who droningly insists, jerking like an automaton, that the world is round, has always been round, and will always be round? Or the one who knows that this earth is not a given, and that we can imagine a whole weary planet into new and different shapes”

    Hahahahahahaha!!! This is up there with the rest of the all of fame (shame?) of completely bonkers quotes that fundagelicals spout. It reminds me of this gem:

    “urely this is the best quote on the site?
    One of the most basic laws in the universe is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This states that as time goes by, entropy in an environment will increase. Evolution argues differently against a law that is accepted EVERYWHERE BY EVERYONE. Evolution says that we started out simple, and over time became more complex. That just isn’t possible: UNLESS there is a giant outside source of energy supplying the Earth with huge amounts of energy. If there were such a source, scientists would certainly know about it. “

  27. I just read the first chunk that PCC quotes from this idiot and I’m utterly nonplussed. It’s like finding a steaming pile of elephant poop on the footpath. Where even to begin?

    Personally, I wouldn’t touch it even with a shovel with a very long handle. I would walk around it at a very safe distance, holding my nose. PCC is braver than I am. He has actually dug into the steaming heap and – unlike the Yorkshireman’s saying ‘where there’s muck there’s brass’ – there is nothing in the pile that would be worth the trouble of washing it off. Nothing, in fact, that would survive washing off.

    I don’t know the context of the photo of Kriss, but he looks like he’s just endured a very long overnight flight with a screeching baby being serially airsick in the row ahead and a six-year-old behind him kicking his seat back every ten minutes. Maybe that’s when he wrote this piece.


    1. Its such a disgrace this was published – its a shiite rant. Its rude about people, its silly, it associates criticism with religion with oppression and wrongly asserts that religious unscientific belief in the US is a tiny locus of oppression from bullying atheists, it assumes the ideas underlying modern science have no purpose and can be wholesale debunked

  28. Kris does not believe in the science that enabled him to sit and pout on that plane – and he’d rather we were dying of plague in the magical middle ages when most people were serfs and we all believed in the supernatural – where every significant town had a stone gibbet where people were torn apart alive and torturing people to death over fantasies was normal. In other places it was impalement or the moroccan hook.

    Kris however, has no problem with the Church criticising curiosity as a kind of sin. Only the right kind of imagination will do.

  29. It’s amazing how many gambits have been tried against Dawkins, et. al. We’ve seen everything from the ludicrous attempts of the David Bentley Hart school of “sophisticated Christians” to put their god so high up on a shelf that Dawkins can’t reach him to the furious ad hominem attacks of Kriss. Most of them have one thing in common; they never attempt to meet the arguments set forth in very simple and straightforward terms in books like “The God Delusion” and “Faith vs. Fact” head on. There’s good reason for that. They invariably look like fools when they do, and atheists aren’t the only ones who notice.

    The New Atheists can’t be too far off the mark. In places where their message can be heard belief in imaginary super beings is rapidly declining. See, for example, the article, “Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion—and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back,” published at the PRRI website on Thursday. In places where their message is suppressed, OTH, we are witnessing the emergence of ever more savage and fanatical versions of Islam.

  30. Atheists love fictions as much as everyone else. They love the imaginitive escapist variety perhaps even more than most other groups, as suggested by the large overlap with geek, nerd and fandom subcultures. Alan Moore, whom I admire, wrote once that fiction is entirely honest, because it comes right out and says it’s fake.

    There is however a common mindset out there, in opposition, where certain fictions must be true, perhaps understood as “authentic”, and at once, what is true is not really important. I had many discussions of that type where people clearly know on some level that religious claims are false, yet, they like something about it for what seemed emotional or aesthetic reasons, which then clouds how things should be.

    Aesthetic reasons can also drive someone like Sam Kriss to pigeonhole New Atheists, by anthromorphising ideas, rather than viewing ideas expresses as just one facet of a person. He doesn’t like this stereotypical character, birthed by his imagination and fed by confirmation bias — and sets himself against it.

    This ignores that public people are more like roles or characters, not fully rounded humans. Sam Harris, say, has his fears, hopes, dreams, wishes, too. He too, occasionally, visits the loo, or cooks himself an egg.

    Atheists can appreciate the beauty of a scene as much as everybody else. We don’t even have to defend knowledge, as Richard Feynman did, with an extra dose of marvel from knowing the structure of a flower. I can see how the anatomy of life is beautiful, yet would politely decline an offer to watch the opening of a corpse.

    In the end, Kriss assertions are the old dehumanizing. Kriss views us, in proper language, as Untermenschen, at least as as insane — incapable of seeing beauty, injustice, or love. We’re deprived of fantasy and imagimation, without fears, hopes and dreams, and if you ask the faithful, also have no moral. Maybe we don’t even count as humans, but are mere robots, who like to turn the planet into a factory, that consumes everything.

    I liked his prose, but he didn’t even hint to know where other people are coming from, why their’re doing it, and thus has built in a kind of corruption into the conversation that makes it impossible to take him seriously.

  31. If you read the eight (more or less) pages of the article carefully, in the end it boils down to Kriss accusing the New Atheists of having a social critique that is content with the socio-political status quo (which is a bad thing). After roughly six pages of comedy routines (a Kierkegaardian madman walks into a bar . . . ), comes the section entitled “Hell on Autopilot” in which Kriss describes the “two main planks of contemporary atheism’s social critique, such as it is.”

    Paraphrasing, Kriss appears to think that the first plank is that our current world is a wonderful place due to science and technology, and the second plank is that to the extent our current world is not wonderful it is because of religion. Now, based on my impression of the New Atheists and their fans, I think this formulation is simply wrong. Rewritten for consistency with what I recall, the first plank might be as stated by xkcd: “Science. It works, bitches.” The second plank would be that religion has always encouraged violence, war, bad social and political policies, and ignorance and we would all be better off without it.

    Kriss needs his exact formulation or his whole argument (“such as it is”) falls apart. He cannot tar and feather the New Atheists with the evils of the current social order until he first convicts them of adopting a social critique that somehow approves of the current social order. Basically he’s just making things up when he finally gets to his punchline.

    As a subscriber to The Baffler I was equally put out about the apparent lack of editorial supervision and prepared a much more detailed critical letter asking if they still had editors. In the end I decided I would simply not renew the subscription if they didn’t shape up. Strike one, as it were.

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