Once again: Why atheism is toxic—this time by Chris Stedman

November 8, 2017 • 9:30 am

I don’t want to write too much about this, since this new Washington Post piece by Chris Stedman, formerly a humanist chaplain at Harvard but now a “freelance humanist”, is pretty much a clone of all the articles in Vox, Salon, and BuzzFeed claiming that atheism (or New Atheism) is toxic and moribund: it’s sexist, racist, and xenophobic. Atheism, it’s said, makes fun of religious people, thus not fostering “dialogue” and driving away possible converts.

So your assignment this morning is the short piece, “I’m an atheist, but I had to walk away from the toxic side of online atheism”, and I ask for your reactions in the comments. I’ll put a few of mine here:

1.) Note that the title is “online atheism”.  Well, yes, many people—and not just atheists—tend to turn nasty when they can post anonymously online.  Some atheist websites are cesspools, which is why I try to keep the atmosphere civil around here. That said, there’s no evidence that atheist websites are worse than other secular websites.  Further, when Stedman raises the usual victim trope about all the nasty names he’s been called (and I do deplore those who made fun of his sexual orientation, appearance, and so on), it’s not clear that all of it, or even much of it, came from atheists. He gives several examples of online name-calling, but how many of those were from the faithful, or people who weren’t atheists at all?

2.) While online trolls may make some atheist sites unpleasant, my own experience giving talks and attendng many humanist and atheist meetings is not one of pervasive sexism, racism, or bigotry. Yes, I’m a man and not subject to sexual harassment, but all I can say is that I haven’t ever seen it—not once. It is true that there’s a paucity of minorities at these meetings, and in the community as a whole, but I’m not convinced it’s because “movement atheism” is racist. Rather, blacks and Hispanics, for instance, tend to be more religious than other groups, which may make them less likely to join atheist organizations. We need to do better in welcoming minorities, but I think nearly all atheist groups now make a conscious effort to include women in the program. While some people may have left atheism because of its so-called toxicity, I haven’t seen the egress that Stedman has, nor does he give any data supporting that. If so many people are leaving atheism, why is it growing?

3.) To repeat, the data in fact show that nonbelief is increasing in the U.S., and not just among men. If atheism has failed, why this growth? (Granted, many “nones” are “spiritual”, or accept a god but don’t affiliate with a Church, but pure nonbelievers are also becoming more common.) If you simply look at the data, atheism is winning, regardless of whether a few individuals leave “the movement.”

4.) Contra Stedman, I have talked to many people who have been exposed to atheism (and converted to it) by the Internet. In fact, that’s the main way atheists found each other, and found support, over the last two decades. Many people have been converted by listening to videos of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens, regardless of any statements they’ve made that have caused them to be demonized.  Not everyone can afford to travel to meetings, but the Internet is free. And even if some website commenters were nasty and ad hominem, those talks (and their books) will remain as eloquent critiques of faith, and will continue to deconvert the faithful as the years pass.

5.) Personal note: Right at the beginning of his piece, Stedman includes me along with the Blog That Shall not be Named as one of his nasty critics after he appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show. But I reject his implication that I was unfair. Here’s what he wrote:

A number of prominent atheist bloggers criticized my interview, saying I was awful and suggesting I was allying with O’Reilly. The comments were worse. Anonymous posters ridiculed me, saying I should decline future television invitations because I was too “effeminate,” my physical appearance made atheists seem “like freaks” and my “obvious homosexuality” made me an ineffectual voice for atheists.

Well, check the second link for yourself. I maintain that my post was constructively critical, did not make fun of Stedman, and, in fact, neither did my commenters. Since Stedman says he welcomes constructive criticism, what’s he beefing about here? (I’ve added the O’Reilly/Stedman clip to the original post, and you can see it here.)

6.) Stedman argues that the nastiness of online discourse impedes the course of mutual understanding:

My experiences helping people better understand atheists have been deeply rewarding, and so has working to support atheists struggling with life’s challenges or with families that don’t accept them. I can say without hesitation that my shift from blogging about atheism to community-building was the right decision.

h/t: Diane G

148 thoughts on “Once again: Why atheism is toxic—this time by Chris Stedman

    1. That’s the way all these articles operate: pretend that things were said and written about them that were just horrible, traumatic, the worst!, and then assume the reader won’t bother to check if it’s true. Extra points if the author can provide a handful of nasty tweets and then use them to generalize the behavior to the entire population of the group he’s discussing.

      1. I was going to say exactly that!

        These articles show that accommodationism is alive and well, that’s all. I don’t necessarily take issue with accommodationism. It seems like it could very well have some benefit. But the penchant that many accommodationists have for telling other non-believers who oppose religion more directly to stop being mean and shut up is tiresome.

        I also think there is more than a bit of virtue signaling at play in articles like this.

        1. Not sure exactly where I stand on accommodationism versus confrontationism. Maybe depends on waking mood. There are issues such as church/state, creationism and social justice that atheists into those endeavors can seek common ground with liberal believers. But there are times to draw the line with religious proselytizers and creationists and be more assertive.

          From following blogs over the years I have come to recognize a potential for online atheist toxicity (eg- post -gates). But I don’t see it in the freethought group I attend. Never been to a -con.

          But perception of toxicity itself runs the gamut from not holding back on your disagreement with religionists (which is acceptable behavior IMO) to misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and racism (not acceptable). May be in eye of beholder but I know where I stand.

          1. That all sounds pretty reasonable to me. I don’t go through my daily life confronting believers every time I come across them. I hardly ever reveal in any way that I am an atheist. Even though I am constantly awash in believers confronting me with their religious beliefs while taking it for granted that I respect them (the beliefs not the people).

            In typical social contexts it is only if invited by believers to discuss their beliefs that I’ll confront them. Though I admit my idea of invite might sometimes differ from theirs.

        2. I detect a lot of “atheist butters” on line and elsewhere (I didn’t know what to call them but now I do)and I spend a lot of time analyzing their motivation and actual beliefs.But I am still puzzled as to whether they are closet believers, agnostics hoping against hope that someday evidence will appear that will let them move over into the faith or “spiritual” community where they don’t have to associate with troublesome questions and rational skeptics. There is no doubt that the whole New Age shtick has created a space for these people so they can appear to be rationalists or skeptics but can still appear “reasonable”. It is self deception of the highest order. In the meantime we have to put up with their insecurities which they transform into hostility towards those who have already chosen the path of reason. We just have to accept the fact that even mild criticism of faith and theism is going to bring out these attacks. But they really dont matter in the big scheme of things, which is as stated the unstoppable secularization and abandonment of faith. Let’s take courage in this trend. And let the grumblers grumble as the world moves on without them (at least the western civilized world).

          1. The type of atheist-butters that are so offended by more straight talking atheists seem so similar to me that I wonder if there is a common underlying trait, or a combination of just a few traits that commonly occur together, that it arises from. I am not quite sure what to call it but all of these “butters” seem to have in common a very delicate sense of offense. To them hurting someones’ feelings is highly unethical, nearly taboo, regardless of any consideration of intent of the offender or consideration that the offendee has as much to do with themselves being offended than the offender does. If someone is offended they are a victim and the person(s) that offended them have behaved immorally, and the only data necessary to reach that conclusion is the fact that someone feels offended.

            When you couple that with the undue respect for religion that is ingrained in our culture you have a person that is ridiculously sensitive to believers’ hurt feelings. So much so that when you also consider that any criticism of their religious beliefs hurts believers’ feelings makes it impossible to even have a conversation with believers’ about the veracity of their beliefs or the ethical positions based on them.

        3. @ darrelle

          Yes, I’ve always felt that there are some people who are going to be more inclined to consider atheism if it’s offered from an accommodationist position and others who’ll prefer the, uh, less accommodating approach of the Gnus. I could live with the Big Tent approach if only the former didn’t insist on throwing the latter under the bus all the time.

  1. “Finally, why do these articles continue to appear?”

    It’s repetitive marketing – say it enough times and it’s assumed to be true. Has worked well for Fox.

  2. Atheism, it’s said, makes fun of religious people, thus not fostering “dialogue” and driving away possible converts.

    I dunno, good-humored ridicule can be a powerful tool against cant and superstition. But, like a torque wrench, it’s a tool best restricted to suitable tasks and limited to such force as is sufficient to the circumstances. Little bit goes a long way.

    1. I like this analogy. I have found making fun of religious people doesn’t get me anywhere. I’m kind now to religious people because I do want to talk to them to try and convert them.

      1. Yep, The Good Book makes mention of “heaping coals of kindness” on another. It is a good test of the religioso to have to bear up under an atheist so heaping on him, the former having persecuted the latter over the millenia.

  3. Stedman’s view is classic accommodationism: atheists should keep their mouths shut. Perhaps in time the dominant religious culture will forget them, maybe even tolerate them, as long as they remain second class citizens. Of course, he makes no similar call for the vast religious propaganda machine to shut down. After the failure of Reconstruction, similar advice was dispensed to African-Americans. Ultimately, they rejected the advice and launched the civil rights movement.

    Nasty people are not unique to any belief or ideology. The fact that some atheists are less than pleasant (a distinct minority in all probability) should not stop the majority from speaking out often and forcefully to demand their equal place in society, which includes not being ashamed to make known their rationality and rejection of superstition. It is a civil rights issue.

  4. Why is this atheist bashing happening even though secularism is on the rise?

    In the end, I think you’ve summed it up pretty well;

    “Does this reflect some public appetite for atheist-bashing, perhaps because (even if the authors are atheists), they don’t want to be seen as part of a group of people who actually go after religion? Is it a way of garnering public sympathy if you’ve been called names?”

    I think it is part and parcel of our victimhood culture. If you can claim to be a victim -of anyone by anything- you can claim a special place in the vox populi.

    1. I suspect that there is also a prejudice against people who are thought to be leaving a social group (and by inference rejecting it) before it happens naturally.

      So Islam is famously tough on apostates, some Christian variations shun people who leave, and so on. But this is not just religious groups. Smokers tend to be hard on ex-smokers. Members of a sports club disregard people who leave. Even mothers who leave a ‘mothers and toddlers’ group (before the toddler moves on naturally) are thought to be less than perfect mothers.

      Atheism is no different. People leave or decline to join the favoured local religion which is vaguely unsettling, and New Atheists don’t even have the grace to slink away quietly.

  5. The “atheism is dead” trope is popular because of the “if it bleeds it leads” media. If atheism is slowly increasing in size and influence, where’s the pizazz in that?

    And how do you explain to someone that “you’ve been duped” in just a “kinder, gentler” way. I intend to keep referring to idiots as idiots, but only when they make that fact implicit in their public statements. If people want to believe there is a teapot in orbit around a moon of Mars, I am in favor of that, but when they make claims like “Christianity is anti-slavery” I draw the line. As I have said over and over: if Christianity were anti-slavery, it never would have become a state religion of the Roman Empire and would likely be a minor, obscure religion today.

    1. Religion can be used to justify anything. Such is the case of the relationship of Christianity to slavery. Certainly, slavery and religion have gone hand-in-hand. But, there are exceptions. The abolition movement in the North prior to the Civil was created and led by devout Christians. As the Civil War approached, more and more people turned against the South and slavery. There were many reasons for this, some not out of sympathy for the plight of the slave. Nevertheless, one reason was a growing moral disdain for the institution of slavery. This development needs to be credited largely to the work of religious abolitionists, starting at the time of the Revolution and gaining steam in the 1830s.

      1. Thanks. That has been my understanding that Quakers and other Christians played a role in abolitionism. Similarly religion was the rubric within which much of civil rights played out. Interestingly MLK was perhaps indirectly inspired by the Jains via Gandhi.

      2. Yes, and religion was used just as much by the south to justify slavery as it was by abolitionist to argue against slavery. Therefore, I would not give religion much credit one way or the other. Unless you want to credit religion for the civil war? Lincoln was disgusted by the idea of slavery and it did not have anything to do with religion. He did not declare as a religious thought that I can recall.

        1. “Therefore, I would not give religion much credit one way or the other.”

          Actually, I credit religion both ways. Religion played a major role in both the North and South in promoting the sectional schism. Most abolitionists in the North were evangelical Protestants. In general, Catholics were not particularly hostile to slavery. An analogy can be drawn between abolitionism and the gay rights movement. Both groups were marginalized for decades. It took a long time for both to meet their goals, although perhaps not totally. By the time the Civil War broke out, the abolitionists were successful in that a growing number of Northerners viewed slavery as a moral evil. In the absence of polls, it is impossible to say exactly how many. But, certainly there were still many Northerners that were not particularly agitated by slavery or opposed it for economic and political reasons, not moral one. In the South, abolitionists were viewed with horror and were one factor in compelling the South to gamble on secession.

          Also, Lincoln was NOT an abolitionist, despite what many people think. In fact, it was not until well into the war did he have anything good to say about them. Lincoln was what was called at the time “anti-slavery.” Abolitionists called for the immediate ending of slavery. Anti-slavery folk wanted to end the expansion of slavery with the hope that in some vague undefined future the institution would wither away. Abolitionists did not believe that slavery was legal anywhere in the country. Anti-slavery people readily conceded that slavery was legal and protected by the Constitution in the states where it already existed. Anti-slavery was a political movement; abolitionism was a moral movement based on its adherence to religious principles as it understood them.

          Anti-slavery people considered abolitionists radical agitators, who were bent on destroying the country. Most abolitionists were not racists; many anti-slavery people were, including Lincoln. Until at least near the end of his presidency, Lincoln did not believe blacks and whites could live together on a basis of equality. This is why for most of his life he supported the American Colonization Society, which was dedicated to the idea that free blacks should be shipped to Africa. Lincoln’s political idol was Henry Clay, a leader of the ACA, a slaveholder from Kentucky, and one of the most famous political figures of the first half of the nineteenth century.

          So, despite Lincoln’s disgust with slavery, he had little to do with arousing the Northern public’s moral disdain of slavery. In fact, outside of his moment of glory in the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, Lincoln was little known on the national scene until he won the Republican nomination in 1860 when several favorites for the nomination could not accrue enough votes at the party’s convention.

          1. I believe I agree with everything you are saying here. But back on the idea about religion in all of this – if both sides use religion as their justifications, to me this means it is a non plus.

            I believe Lincoln’s attitude on African-Americans was an evolutionary process throughout the war. He was moving as politics allowed and dictated and he was a master at doing this. The south was too radical and crazy to listen to him at the beginning, which would have saved them but after that, it was too late. He kept the draft of the Emancipation for months before initiating the proclamation after Antietam. He then allowed Blacks into the army in big numbers after others had been calling for it.
            He stopped talking about the ship them back crap later in war and began the push on the 13th Amendment. Lincoln was always a work in progress and that is what made him great.

          2. Although Lincoln didn’t own slaves, as far as I know, his wife and his wife’s family did. He also had close friends who were slaveowners.I would draw a parallel for Lincoln’s situation as being somewhat akin to the atheist vs. religionist brouhaha we’re in. I’m sure we all have relatives and friends on both sides of the spectrum that we’re trying to live with.

            Lincoln tried his best to come up with a solution that acknowledged the monetary wealth southerners had invested in slaves and to recompense them for the loss of that wealth. He also worked with organizations to not only buy slaves but to find a home in another country such as Africa or Central/South America in which the climate was thought suitable for slaves. Yes, Lincoln did not think blacks and whites could live together in equality. That battle has yet to be won.

            Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln tried to get each state to come up with a solution to the slave problem that met the needs of their particular state and constituency. Not one of them did. The Emancipation Proclamation was intended to forward the war effort by removing the support of blacks to the Confederate military. It applied only to blacks in states that seceded, not all states with slaves. When a black neighbor in Missouri said of my great grandfather(who fought on the Union side in the Civil War), “This is the man who freed me!” He was wrong. That took a constitutional amendment later.

            1. Yes, the Emancipation was only for the states in treason for purposes you stated, to get the slaves in the south to leave the south in increasing numbers. This would be big in the war because their would be no one to do the work and raise the crops while all the whites were off fighting. But it also did one more thing for the north who were tiring of war. It gave them one more reason to fight. Lincoln knew the Emancipation was only good while the war was on – that is why he was pushing for the 13th amendment before he was killed.

        2. I think what it really says is that anything which can provide a basis of argument for any issue will be used by both sides at all times. It’s just the nature of humanity.

          People can argue that atheism is anti-slavery because the lack of god’s existence means we only have ourselves to count on, and we must try our best to be good to one another and create a world that best cares for everyone. One could just as easily argue that if there’s no god, then there’s no higher power to judge you or, perhaps more importantly, establish an inviolable moral code, and therefore slavery is as acceptable as any other thing in this world.

      3. “Religion can be used to justify anything.”
        Yes. But it’s usually just used to justify the unjustifiable isn’t it? If you could justify something without religion, you just would. It’s what’s left when there’s nothing else. Want to justify chopping off heads for gay sex? Only religion will do!

  6. It is likely Stedman is drawn towards the toxicity he abhors. I have found nothing toxic in any sector of online atheism, but then I tend to trend towards “science-atheism” not “social-atheism”.

    Portions of the online atheism community can be disagreeable, and portions, still can come from places that maybe only the reader identifies as humanist and not the source. This can lead the user to be misguided about what constitutes atheism, new or old.

    I rarely encounter racist or sexist remarks from atheists. What I do find, more often, is accommodation, i.e., hijab wearing is not subjugation but a freedom. It is a freedom, but it’s also a symbol of oppression. Many online (probably young) atheists appear to be afraid to make that criticism.

  7. Someone claims to be an atheist and then writes an article which can be reduced to a single sentence ” Look how good I am, and how nasty all those other atheists are.” Repeat.

  8. Stedman’s article basically just says

    1) Some people say horrid things on the internet

    2) Some of these people are atheists

    Clearly both statements are correct, but so what? It can’t be said often enough:

    Do Not Feed The Trolls

    1. “Do Not Feed The Trolls”

      So true. And this has been known since before the web – trolling and spam started on USENET from what I recall.

      However, the game is now to feed the trolls. People make their livings by trolling, getting trolled in return, then claiming victimhood and getting a TedX mic (or what have you) or high-profile article. Just like Stedman is doing. It’s a job.

      1. “However, the game is now to feed the trolls. People make their livings by trolling, getting trolled in return, then claiming victimhood and getting a TedX mic (or what have you) or high-profile article.”

        Ding ding!

        You left out one crucial step: create a Patreon and tell people you need them to donate money so you can “fight harassment” (mainly by tweeting things).

  9. Right at the beginning of his piece, Stedman includes me along with the Blog That Shall not be Named as one of his nasty critics after he appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show

    I think he was referring to PZ Myers. I found a debate on YouTube involving Stedman and Myers where that specific criticism is mentioned and attributed to Myers and Myers agrees.

    1. I will credit Stedman for assuring O’Reilly that not all atheists fantasize about murdering priests or stabbing Christians in the belly.

      1. I think “that not all atheists fantasize about murdering priests or stabbing Christians etc” is an important point to keep in mind (the same is no doubt true of Muslims, Jews, etc.) and it seems to be a salient point that Stedman isn’t keeping in view; he is criticising the behaviour of some atheists that is by no means typical of all.

        One thing that puzzles me is the implication that anyone would think “Those atheists sure are nasty, maybe a god does exist.” That is just absurd. Some people might be turned off by the behaviour of some atheists, but while that might make them refrain from identifying as atheists why would that impact their non-belief in gods?

        As for PZM, one of his greatest mistakes was trying to conflate atheism with various other social justice issues. It was as if he was trying to take some good ideas associated with Christianity and combine them with atheism, when in fact those ideas were (for the most part) humanist concepts that are merely coincident with belief or non-belief and not essential for either.

        As for nasty criticism, check this out, for the content, the target, and qualifications and philosophical position of the author:


        I totally agree with him. And people wonder why some atheists are angry.

    2. This would be the PZ who has “resigned” from “movement atheism” several times because he hasn’t managed to influence it sufficiently to his liking?

      Yes, if Stedman wants to claim that PZ and his blog are often quite deliberately obnoxious then fine, it’s true, but that blog is only one part of online atheism.

      And these days PZ is often just as obnoxious towards Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris (I’ve not seem him go after Dennett but I may have missed it), and indeed our own host for that matter, so it’s hardly representative of “New Atheism”.

        1. He’s taken shots at pretty much anyone who is anyone. If there’s one silver lining to the ‘atheist toxicity’ meme it’s that M****s’ hostility to the rest of atheism hasn’t paid off and those hostile to atheism still lump him in with the rest of us.

          1. Myers has done one thing for the online atheists community: he has managed to draw all the worst, most toxic, absurdly self-righteous people to one website, where they can all congregate and leave the rest of us alone. When you look at the community he’s cultivated, it’s remarkable that someone could cultivate such a remarkably nasty group, all based around the idea that hey, god doesn’t exist. It’s not even an ideology! How do you get that many people with that much toxicity from atheism?

            Oh, I guess it helps that they mixed in social justice/intersectionality. I guess that was the missing ingredient.

            1. I think a big reason that Pharyngula became the cesspool it has is because from the very beginning PZ espoused the attitude that it is perfectly okay to be rude for shock value. He normalized the “fuck you with a rusty porcupine sideways” kind of venting. That attracted people that get a feeling of righteousness from doing that.

              I am not one that is overly bothered by cursing, ridicule and the like. I was actually okay with the early years of Pharyngula. Heck, I liked it. There was some very good stuff, and a few bad things. But, at least for me, it was a good lesson for what can happen when you champion nastiness and provide an arena for people to come and get their nasty on and then feed them.

  10. I’ve watched as many of the activists and writers I respect most in atheism — especially women and people of color — have left the movement, each expressing (privately, if not publicly) that the state of the discourse among atheists was one of the primary reasons they were leaving.

    So his data points come exclusively from his own small circle of entryist activists who tried and failed to parasitize atheism to promote their sociopolitical agenda.

    … the atheist movement, especially online, has resisted efforts to address racism, sexism and xenophobia among our own.

    claims of. Rejecting your unevidenced claims is not the same as refusing to do anything about a real problem.

    NB: Stedman’s links go to 1) a piece by that vile race-baiter, Sikuvu Hutchinson; 2) a piece quoting that mendacious radical feminist, Amanda ‘Duke Lacrosse’ Marcotte; 3) a piece decrying Dawkins, et al. for daring to criticize Islam, and including a quote from CAIR’s useful idiot and islam-apologist, Nathan Lean. None of the links contain any substantive evidence of those three ills, just ‘muh feelz!’

    So no, this SJW humanist is not a good choice at all to speak for atheists.

    1. … the atheist movement, especially online, has resisted efforts to address racism, sexism and xenophobia among our own

      Where he sees efforts to address racism, sexism and xenophobia I see skepticism towards postmodernism, cultural relativism and assorted quackery being pushed under the labels of gender studies, cultural studies, anti-colonialism and alternative medicine.

      1. Exactly. And this all really blew up a few years ago in the online atheist community relating to things (but not exclusively) like elevatorgate.

        This happened in these communities (which are largely progressive in both the liberal and in the radical sense at times) before the mainstream acknowledgement or bigger bubbles like gamergate.

      2. Exactly. He thinks anyone who doesn’t “listen and believe” when someone like Rebecca Watson says atheism is a bunch of white supremacist harassers is “resist[ing] efforts to address” these issues. Whenever people say something like that, what they really mean is people are refusing to take everything they say at face value and anoint them and their colleagues moral leaders.

    2. Somebody citing just one out of Hutchison (who was the first person I noticed come up with the “white supremacist” line and apply it anyone they disagree with), Marcotte (the very definition of a batshite third-wave pro-harasser feminist), or Lean (a Saudi-funded pro-Islamist enabling shill); can be dismissed with utter contempt, and have a good slap on the wrist to boot.

      To cite all three takes an amount of chutzpah I can’t imagine.

  11. … blacks and Hispanics, for instance, tend to be more religious than other groups, which may make them less likely to join atheist organizations.

    As has been noted numerous times on this site, religiosity is strongly correlated with a lack of economic and social well-being. It’s a sad fact of modern American life that it’s still easier if you’re white to scale the bricks of Maslow’s hierarchical pyramid of needs to reach the “self-actualization” apex where concerns over Humanism and Atheism abound.

    1. I think a more important reason is that people in a strong community where lack of religious beliefs would create a problem will tend to keep their doubts to themselves. So, it may be difficult to judge the real number of atheists within those groups.

  12. Note: there have already been two nasty ad hominem comments in this thread, with one clearly sent by a religious person. Stedman doesn’t mention, of course, that a large percentage of the nasty comments that don’t get published here for Roolz violation come not from atheists, but from pissed-off religious people.

    1. I’ve reread your post on the O’Reilly fracas and have a hard time seeing how you could’ve made your points with greater civility and equanimity.

      Plus, in his column, Stedman calumniates you as a “bl*gger”; that should even the score on any nastiness. 🙂

  13. Part of the issue, is that the most vocal people are perhaps the ones with the most noticeable posts.

    Atheism is (or should be) just part of whom each of us is. It’s why we don’t pray or go to church, but it’s far from the only thing that defines us or the biggest issue in most of our lives. I think that some of us have little energy or interest to try to convert others.

    In many other ways we are probably fairly different (my personal political positions are probably not in the mainstream here)

      1. It may not be the sole purpose, but a minor purpose for an atheist or freethought group to proselytize or convert believers to the cause. Groups may differ. Those who adopt a form of “street epistemology” following the exemplars of Boghossian and Magnabosco are subtle converters (or deprogrammers). There is more to atheist groups than this and perhaps not all advicate or practice such things.

        There are functions of church/state activism and providing a safe space within which people in faith crisis or newly minted agnostics or atheists can explore that identity. Yes I said it and atheism itself, sans the bugbear of intersectionality, can morph into a form of identity politics. Why otherwise sue gov’t bodies over establishment clause or fight against anti-atheist bigotry?

        1. In the atheist groups I’m familiar with, there have been a great diversity of reasons different people join. Agreement as to what the group is or isn’t, should or shouldn’t be doing is fragmented. My husband spent quite a bit of energy trying to get the printed reasons for joining one such group framed in a positive way rather than all negative: against whatever. We should be for the well-being of all humanity (and the planet), not against. I may have turned my back on religion and may wish many versions of religious beliefs didn’t exist, but I also can still wish that the golden rule were more frequently invoked by us all.

      2. Converting others was the entire mission of New Atheism. The only mission. To the extent the movement can be considered dead it’s because entryists strayed from that core mission.

  14. Another “I really hate how atheists act like they’re better than other people so I’m going to signal how I think I’m better than them” argument.

  15. Attitudes toward atheists and atheism:
    1. Atheists should be killed.
    2. Atheists don’t belong in society.
    3. Atheism is evil.
    4. Atheism is denial of or anger at God.
    5. Atheism comes from bad reasoning or ignorance.
    6. It’s okay if you want to be an atheist, just keep quiet about it.
    7. I don’t care if you want to talk about atheism, just don’t say anything critical about my religion or try to deconvert me.
    8. I understand why you don’t believe in God, but you’re wrong.
    9. I’m interested to know more about why you are an atheist.
    10. You’ve convinced me it’s okay to be skeptical about my religion, just as I am about other religions.


    1. In following this natural progression:
      11. I still believe there is a god but god does not intervene in my personal affairs. (this would go on through a variety of less and less religious statements). Eventually…

      20. I’m an atheist but

  16. “Despite the claims that New Atheism is dead, Dawkins and Harris continue to sell out their events.”

    Yep! I attended Sam’s talk a while back and just last weekend’s Richard Dawkins (with Matt Dillahunty) chat in Toronto. Both venues were very large and sold out very quickly.

    (BTW, I’d mentioned in a previous thread that I chickened out on asking Sam a question during the question period. I had one for Prof Dawkins – and the issue even came up in his talk so my question was going to be pertinent – got up the cojones to join the line but they cut questions off and ended the evening before I got to the mic. Ah well…next time…)

      1. Hi Jerry,

        My question concerned the issue of “What evidence would convince you that a God exists?”

        Prof Dawkins seems to have altered his response to this over time and IMO not in a promising direction. This subject came up when he and Matt were chatting on stage, and Dawkins said, to paraphrase, “I used to think it would be something like a booming voice coming through the clouds I CREATED EVERYTHING, or something like that. But now I’m suspicious even of that as there could always be other explanations; I could be hallucinating, or (adducing Arthur C. Clark’s dictum) it could even be aliens…”

        To this, I was going to raise the objection (in the form of a question):

        Isn’t that in danger of becoming special pleading, where you are making God, and only God, immune from the normal demands for evidence?

        Why propose a manifestation of God that mimics a hallucination? Instead, propose that God manifests in an empirical fashion – everyone can see and interact with him in the same way we interact with any other real thing, He stays around, does miracles for anyone, for scientists etc. If God appeared in a manner that satisfied the same methods of inquiry that we use to conclude anything else is real, it would seem special pleading to say only in this case “no, hallucination/delusion on a mass scale is the better answer.”

        The same goes for the “it could be aliens” proposition. That is compatible with ANY observation we make, scientific or otherwise.
        The moon could be aliens causing us a delusion, double slit experiment results could be the work of advanced aliens, etc.
        We don’t take “it could be aliens” seriously because no one is providing actual evidence of those aliens, they don’t explain our observations any better, so they are rejected on the principle of parsimony.

        We can conceive of a God demonstrated His existence unambiguously, and supporting His claims to be our Creator via sufficient demonstrations of manipulating nature, planets, galaxies or whatever. He could show us all sorts of evidence of his past involvement in creation.

        What then would “it could be aliens fooling us” get us? If we had no evidence for the additional aliens, and ALL the evidence we have pointed in the direction of supporting the claims of this Being, then why only in this case would we become unparsimonious and say “Despite what all the evidence suggests…we’ll adduce additional undemonstrated entities!” ???

        My reasons for asking the question were going to be more brief, but thought I’d expand a bit here.

        Dawkins seemed to me to be taking a step backwards, where once (when he wrote his book) he seemed to be a consistent empiricist when investigating the claims of a God, he is slightly retreating, giving ground to theism in the sense of treating God as something by nature special in terms of evidential reasoning.

      2. I’d add also that Matt Dillahunty in their chat gave his standard answer (which I also contest somewhat): “I’m not sure but an All Knowing God would know what type of evidence would convince me, and since He hasn’t provided that evidence and I’m still an atheist, it seems He doesn’t want me to believe in Him.”

        My objection to that answer is that it’s a dodge. It reminds me of when the atheist is questioning the Christian’s moral consistency
        in terms of turning a blind eye to God’s apparently evil actions and commands, and the Christian replies “but how do YOU justify calling God ‘evil’ in the first place? How do you determine good and evil?”

        It’s a completely fair question in of itself, requiring a philosophical justification. But it’s a change of subject, which had to do with the Christian’s moral consistency.

        Similarly, Matt is being asked if he is being a consistent empiricist when it comes to God; if he’s rejecting God for lack of evidence, he ought to be able to talk about what evidence he WOULD accept. To reply as Matt does changes the subject from Matt having to produce a consistent response, to the subject of why God would let him remain an atheist. That becomes a discussion about theology, with the Christian having to give theological reasons-why-God-might-do things (crappy responses like “free will” and all that).

        Again, it’s a valid line of reasoning from Matt, but in the context it occurs, it strikes me as the type of change of subject that we usually criticize theists for making.

        1. Phenomena that can have no other explanation than the agency of a deity. Note: not ‘don’t yet have an explanation’, but rather ‘have no plausible mundane explanation.’

        2. “What evidence would convince you that a God exists?”

          The vagueness of the word “God” is a problem here. First you would have to agree on a definition. Are we talking about YHWH from the Bible specifically, or some vague Diest God? Can a mindless “first cause” be God, or does it specifically need to be a mind of some sort? I expect that for some definitions of “God” it is indeed utterly impossible to gather evidence. A “creator of the universe” who didn’t want to be known presumably could cover his tracks and leave no evidence that we, trapped inside the universe, could perceive. For other definitions of “God” there might be an abundance of evidence that could bear on the question.

          I think if my life story resembled the life story of, say, the Noah or Moses characters in the Bible, I hear voices in burning bushes and corresponding amazing things happen in the world that other people experience too I’d definitely believe in “God”. Now I might wonder if “God” were merely a powerful alien, but in a lot of practical senses, like whether or not I think it prudent to go along with what the burning bush wants, that wouldn’t matter. I don’t think that distinction would have mattered to the Moses or Noah characters either, TBH. Their stories were a lot more about doing things, building boats, burning goats, visiting leaders, than about epistemology. It’s only later that, in Borges words, we “supplied the words omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, which make god into a respectable chaos of unimaginable superlatives”. That chaos of superlatives is part of what makes the modern, muddled, word “God” a tangled evidential proposition.

          And while the “God would know what to do to convince me” is kind of lame in it’s lack of effort, one has to admit that in reality if there is a God it’s safe to assume that, whatever his other qualities, he’s not really making much effort to convince anyone he exists. I mean, sure we might dismiss various spectacles in some way or another but it’d at least be something we’d have to grapple with. Something as simple as a Book of Pi in the Bible would go a long way towards making skeptics say, “Woah, how on earth was such a book made?” But the Bible lacks any such thing and is instead rather obviously a product of the times it was written and of the limited understanding of the people who wrote it.


          The Book of Pi would be a book of blocks of digits of decimal expansion of Pi. Each block of digits (say 20 digits) would start at 10^n digits into Pi. As time goes on, humanity computes more and more digits of Pi, which can be checked against the blocks in the book. Currently we know about 10^16 digits of Pi. If such a book had been embedded into the Bible the past 2000 years would have had periodic moments when we were able to validate the book versus our knowledge of Pi. A mere 320 numbers of this form would get us to where we are today. A book of a million numbers of this sort would keep people checking the digits until the heath death of the universe. Now this wouldn’t be proof that the Bible is backed by any particular conception of God or that’s it’s not the result of amazing alien tech or something, but it would prove that someone not to be trifled with is trying to impress us.

          1. Nice commentary, gluonspring.

            Among those who propose no evidence would suffice for God’s existence, there are generally two types of objections:

            1. “If I perceived a Godly Being, there are always alternative explanations I couldn’t disprove, e.g. hallucination, aliens, etc.”

            2. There could be no evidence for God because the very concept of God is incoherent, and you can’t have evidence for an incoherent proposition.

            They are different arguments (though often used by the same person – I believe Matt D. uses both IIRC). So I was concentrating on my objection to #1.

            As for #2, the problem is when someone defending that argument begins slipping in to the No True Scotsman Fallacy:

            1. No concepts of God are coherent.

            But when presented with a concept of God that is coherent the reply is:

            2. Then that wouldn’t truly be God, because God is an incoherent concept!

            When various well known atheists (e.g. PZ Myers) began saying they could think of no evidence they would accept for a God it really bothered me. First because I think it’s a conceptual mistake as I’ve argued, but also because it’s a consequential mistake, playing right into the hands of theists/apologists, seeming to affirm the caricature or fear that atheists are close-minded to the concept of their being a God.

            1. I agree. I think saying there is no evidence that would impress you is pretty bad on several levels. I mean, sure, you could always think of dodges, of philosophical limits to such evidence, but that’s exactly what religious people do when confronted with evidence of evolution or deep time: maybe God planted the dinosaur bones, maybe the whole universe was created last Tuesday with memories and an illusion of history, etc. It’s requiring a level of proof that is unattainable and using that to try to undermine actual evidence in-hand.

              As esoteric as science can get (i.e. quantum mechanics), at core science is a sort of formalized common sense. This is one of the ways that it differs from philosophy. The philosopher will insist on the importance of the concept of Last Tuesdayism as a possibility. And, sure, maybe it’s important to give that a moments thought to understand the limits of evidence. But after that moment, Science tends to shrug and say, “Yeah, well, I don’t have anything work with on that idea, but I’ve got these rock layers here so I’m going to go with that and see where it gets me.”

              I think IF there were compelling evidence of powerful natural-law defying (seeming at least) intelligence at work in the universe we’d have to take that seriously. In a Bayesian way our priors are very heavily against it being supernatural, since no claims of supernatural have yet held up to scrutiny. Similarly, every “mind” we know about comes from some kind of brain, giving us a strong prior to expect that minds are a product of mindless stuff, not the other way around. So a powerful alien hypothesis would probably be the go-to based on our priors. But, you know, if a guy appears who is the singular exception to all the physical laws, can float without apparatus, can bend light beams with his will, etc., and we fail long enough at working this entity’s abilities into physics, then maybe it’d be rational to start to consider that they are outside the laws of our universe, that the term “God” might not be inappropriate. It just seems obstinate to deny it.

              At the same time, contemplating how striking a true God could be, waltzing into labs anywhere in the world and causing things that should never happen to happen, again with no apparent mechanism, and it just emphasizes how far we are from having anything remotely like that, that the evidence for something that can defy laboratory physics is zip.

              1. “It’s requiring a level of proof that is unattainable and using that to try to undermine actual evidence in-hand. “

                Yes, that’s my critique of the “it could be hallucination/aliens” rejection of evidence for a God.

                All our judgements are made in the context of our non-omniscience and inability to disprove countless logical alternative explanations. That’s why we have methods to deal with that dilemma.

                Why, only in the case of a God, pretend we don’t have ways we normally use to discern between fantasy and reality (e.g. between hallucination and real things)?

                Why only in the case of a God pretend we have
                no epistemic strategies for rejecting logically compatible yet unfalsifiable alternatives like aliens? (E.g, principles of parsimony etc).

  17. “I’m an atheist, but I had to walk away from the toxic side of online atheism.”

    I have to say I am an atheist too, and have never walked towards online atheism. I’m not sure atheism is even a thing. It’s really just not being religious.

    It seems to me that that there is not enough to discuss about atheism, so online discussions devolve into sniping and funk.

    The main point of new atheism was to put atheism on the map as a valid point of view, and it has done that.

  18. If a self described atheist spends a lot of time bashing other atheists and flogging the idea that new atheism is dead, I have to question – is this person really an atheist? At the very least this person is grinding an ax that, in the end, does him no good. Maybe one day this person will come out of the closet and declare their religion.

      1. Yes, either he is an apologist for the religious or he is really just a believer himself, pretending to be an atheist. Or, here is a third idea. Maybe he spends too much time listening to the on line noise.

        1. Fine, but even if his behavior is questionable, to declassify atheists based on their apologetics or accommodationism veers into no true Scotsman territory. It would be similar to a Christian questioning bona fides of another Christian based on perceived heresy.

  19. It is perfectly understandable that someone might believe there’s more to reality than we know or can know by natural means and that things will all work out, if not in the life we know about, then maybe later. On the balance of the evidence, I think both of these claims are so unlikely that, for all practical purposes, I consider them false, though I think it impossible to prove such a belief false unless the believer elaborates it more and says something sufficiently specific to be susceptible of disproof.
    In a seminar room or blog comment section, I will cheerfully engage in a discussion with someone who disagrees and press my point vigorously, but in everyday life I have zero interest in whether someone else sees the matter differently. If a had a knock-down proof that this basic belief was wrong, I would think it indecent to urge the proof on a dying friend who has experienced comfort from believing it.
    As far as I am concerned, you can enjoy the company of your imaginary friend as long as he doesn’t tell you to do awful things in his name or insist that I pay for your relationship, or treat people who don’t have imaginary friends as moral and social misfits. I suspect that many atheists feel the same.

    1. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t even enjoy the company of your imaginary friend because your friend tells you how to vote. So I disapprove of your friend.

  20. As with the ‘more lesbians like cats’ post last Saturday(??), I suspect a confusion between quantity and quality.

    It may very well be there is a distinction and unique quality or flavor to toxic atheism when it turns toxic, but that does not mean there is a higher quantity of toxicity in online atheism as opposed to online sites promoting any number of other causes.

    (Last Saturday, I suggested there may be distinctive and unique reasons lesbians love cats, but that doesn’t mean that love cats more often than the population.)

  21. I recently listened to The Thinking Atheist podcast about the death of the atheist movement linked by the very friendly Mehta. I would link Mehta’s post but I am not sure if that’s a faux pas given the ever shifting fault lines that grow every day. Suffice to say I follow this blog from time to time and though I may not agree with him on everything I have Jerry’s two recent books on my ereaders (bought BTW) and find them very useful. The one named the same as this blog dovetailed nicely with Shubin’s Inner Fish. The Fact vs Fact book helped me reconsider Gould’s NOMA, which concedes morality to religion. Yet rereading Rock of Ages still helped me delineate Humean is/ought, but not as well as Owen Flanagan. Even Jerry opines on the distinction in his book. Where do you currently stand versus Harris on that?

    1. Far as I can tell, it’s never a faux pas around here to link to someone else’s ideas, shifting fault lines be damned.

    1. No wonder Pius XII showed him all the love; excommunicated Goebbels, though, for the mortal sin of marrying a divorcée.

    2. Give one quote of Hitler espousing atheism.

      Here’s one:

      “Hence this song [The German anthem] also constitutes a pledge to the Almighty, to His will and to His work: for man has not created this Volk, but God, that God who stands above us all. He formed this Volk, and it has become what it should according to God’s will, and according to our will, it shall remain, nevermore to fade!” (Speech 1937)

      Ooops, no, that’s not one, is it? How about this:

      “For their interests [the Church’s] cannot fail to coincide with ours [the National Socialists] alike in our fight against the symptoms of degeneracy in the world of to-day, in our fight against a Bolshevist culture, against the atheistic movement, against criminality, and in our struggle for a consciousness of a community in our national life.”

      Ooops, no, that’s not one either.

      1. Or perhaps this:

        “I believe that it was also God’s will that from here a boy was to be sent into the Reich, allowed to mature, and elevated to become the nation’s Fuhrer, thus enabling him to reintegrate his homeland into the Reich. There is a divine will, and all we are is its instruments”

        Err, nope, I’m not doing very well, am I? Maybe you can do better?

        1. Coel,
          You are citing public statements of a politician. And not just any politician but one of the most dishonest and manipulative who ever lived. If we are discussing his actual beliefs then the place to look for evidence is his private conversations. These are clear enough that he was contemptuous of religion and Christianity. He might not have been an atheist in that he rejected all “higher powers” or providence (there is controversy) but he was certainly not religious.

          1. It might be the case that Hitler was really just wrapping his ambitions into the local religion as a cynical ploy to gain support for his ambitions. But his anti-Semitism must derive from from religiosity, does it not? At least I don’t understand how one can be anti-Semitic without also self-identifying as a Christian or a Muslim.

            1. “But his anti-Semitism must derive from from religiosity, does it not?”

              Just as there are plenty of people who are racist, sexist, and every other -ist for reasons other than religion, one doesn’t need religion to be antisemitic. Hell, I’ve come across atheists who are antisemitic, espousing all sorts of conspiracy theories about Jews.

              1. I agree, it wouldn’t be necessary to be religious to be anti-semitic. Xtians can blame the Jews for killing Jesus, I guess. But an atheist can blame the entire blood-soaked Old Testament – and Jesus – and all the mess that has caused over millennia – on Jews.

                (I don’t think one can hold today’s people responsible for their ancestors, btw, but that’s my personal view).


              2. It’s funny, the blood-soaked Old Testament never made Jews back in the day violent conquerors, but it sure inspired many Christians to be so (and since it’s the inspiration for the Koran, we can extend this to Muslims as well). It’s like Jews wrote the book, then Christians found it and asked “hey, can we use this book? It seems pretty useful for some…uh…stuff we wanna do,” and then the Jews shrugged and said “hey, nobody’s stopping you…it’s your life…but take a coat, it’s cold outside.”

              3. @BJ Well, I’ve forgotten most of what I had to endure in the way of Biblical history/mythology, but my impression was that the OT was full of massacres being carried out either by the victorious Israelites or their chosen god Yahweh.

                IIRC Ben Goren ranted on the subject many times when he frequented this website.

                But I think most nations/races/religions could be indicted based on their holy books/legends/history.

                Now I don’t think that’s valid grounds for antisemitism but it’s at least as good as what the Xtians have got. (So the Jews ‘killed’ Jesus – or more accurately the Romans did it for them. So what? G*d made them do it anyway.)


              4. P.S. I think we may be talking past each other. I would agree that since the Roman occupation, the Jews were not violent conquerors (and they weren’t in a position to be, anyway). But the OT Jews pre-Roman were apparently quite a different proposition.


          2. He was also one of the most megalomaniac politicians, and such people don’t tend to hide their opinions. I think it highly likely that what he said in speeches and Mein Kampf was exactly what he thought.

            His private conversations also show that he did believe in God and was religious. He was indeed highly critical of the Churches, but lots of religious people can be highly critical of organised religion.

      1. Untrue. He was born to a catholic family. That can be said of many non-Catholics. Hitler’s exact religious beliefs in terms of god or gods are contoversial, and it is wrong to expect coherence or consistency in his thought. But he was scornful of Christianity specifically in his private conversations and was not a communicant of the RC Church.

        1. Fair enough, I just posted he was Catholic too, but you make a good point. He publicly pronounced on many occasions his belief in Christianity, but it’s the consensus that this was merely a tactical choice and he was very much an opponent of Christianity’s influence.

          We do know he had great interest in the occult, so it’s highly unlikely he was an atheist (much as that may disappoint the believers). And as for the argument that Nazi Germany happened because Hitler created an atheistic society: Hitler actually gladly used and made pronouncements in favor of Christianity and the Church before and during his reign.

          1. Actually it was Himmler who was occult obsessed. Hitler at one point explicitly condemned such stuff. I forget the details but i think it’s in Kershaw if you want a quick read 😉

  22. People always accuse atheists of tarring Muslims with the same brush when they criticize Islam, ignoring the fact the connections that are to be drawn between doctrine and behavior. Here Stedman tars atheists with the same brush but without relating it to doctrine in any way. So really all he’s saying is that there are a**holes in the online atheist network.

    So what? Is there an online group that *doesn’t* have its fair share of a**holes?

  23. Quoth the PCC: “Yes, I’m a man and not subject to sexual harassment”

    Off topic I know, but of course you are. That is, subject to sexual harassment.

  24. The article reflects well the three-split of the atheist “movement”, where each faction believes some element of the other two factions are “toxic” which in their mind fuses into one type of toxin they see always in the “others”.

    Which means that there are tree different types of toxins, composed of the nasty parts of the two other factions. The three toxins are:

    New Atheists
    They find toxic, Toxin A: dishonesty and end-justifies-means, call-out culture. They see in the other groups a lack of truth, and lack of honesty, dubious agenda pushing and false narrative. Themselves accused of Toxins B and C. Stonghold: YouTube, followers of Dawkins and Harris, and International (because more ideas oriented, travels better).

    They find toxic, Toxin B: stridency. Their point is that the debunking and critiquing, and the call-out are not nice. They prefer to seek common ground with religious people and as Jerry points want a nice reputation for US atheists. They are themselves accused of Toxins A and C. Stronghold: US movement, bigfoot skepticism, humanist orgs, the Brights, philosophy.

    Intersectional Atheists
    They find toxic, Toxin C: bigotry, misogyny and racism. The new kid in town, ironically emerged especially after Elevatorgate and see atheism as an intersectional aspect in the greater (intersectional) social justice movement, in particular with intersectional feminism. Stronghold: US blogging networks esp. FTB, Orbit, Skepchicks, bloggers, US conference “middle-celeb” opinion leaders (Silverman, Dillahunty, Seth Andrews, Aron Ra etc) and especially SkeptiCon.

    So far my attempt to stay neutral. But I stressed often enough that the core intra-atheist-conflict is with the Intersectional lot, who hate everyone else and who have wholly immersed themselves in a bizarro universe safe space that by now is an impenetrable, shives-sealed echo chamber that make even their moderate people (like the names I gave) look like loons on occasion.

  25. “Atheism (or New Atheism) is toxic and moribund: it’s sexist, racist, and xenophobic. Atheism, it’s said, makes fun of religious people, thus not fostering ‘dialogue’ and driving away possible converts.”

    I’ve never seen any evidence of sexism, racism, or xenophobia among atheists—certainly not on this site. Quite the contrary–people have consistently been called on the carpet for entertaining or expressing such attitudes.

    As for making fun of religious people, however, I have to say that repeatedly referring to such persons as “goddies” does, unfortunately, fit the bill.

    1. There are people like ** ******** and Dan Arel, who have a history of racism.

      They have both gone down the old route of “recalibrating” their venomous sludge, and taken aim at “centrists”, liberals and other atheists who are not extremists, like them.

      They quickly find a new, extreme, audience to lap up their sludge.

      1. Of course, the people you mention are the very types who accuse atheists of being racist, sexist, etc. for not being as extreme as them. To people like ** ******** and Arel, if you’re not being racist to white people and sexist to men, you’re a racist sexist 😛

        1. As Jerry rightly pointed out, “Some atheist websites are cesspools, which is why I try to keep the atmosphere civil around here.” I think he’s doing a good job of that, and, for the record, I qualified my comment by saying “certainly not on this site.” I don’t see that the responses to my post are relevant.

  26. I think he is being unfair. The problem with online toxic behavior is not really an atheist problem, it is a problem the culture at large has when it comes to discussing contentious issues online. Also, he states that he is trying to humanize the atheist community and reduce the stigma against atheists, but I don’t see how this article aligns with that goal. There does need to be room for constructive criticism of the atheist movement, but he really does appear to be promoting ideas that contribute to the stigmatization of atheists. He makes it sound like online atheists are particularly racist, sexist, and xenophobic. I think that is a false and unfair characterization.

    I followed some of the links and did some searching of his past disputes with other online atheists. My sampling was not an in depth analysis, but it did seem like he was just as guilty of personalizing disagreements about ideas and often was the first to do so. I don’t think the link to this site supported his claims of toxicity and it seemed odd to include it.

    1. This site has over 50,000 followers. If you’re going to claim victimhood, you need the attacker to be someone well known.

  27. Comparing the Steadman argument of the old post and this, it seems to me he has simply stepped upon his desire to tell atheists how to behave (besides being simply atheists).

  28. As many have mentioned above, the toxicity is probably due to online culture and not specific to online atheism. Any conversations around gun control and LGBTQ rights are just as toxic.

    I’ve heard some say that deconversion is largely a personal journey and I think that’s why they they prefer an accommodationist approach. I agree with that, although I wouldn’t have started that journey without the help of creationist-debunking atheists, which is why I would prefer to be vocal about atheism as well.

  29. I skimmed it. I say a hearty Bravo to Stedtman, in the big sense.

    Two randomly percolated thoughts:

    Title of the piece suggests a truth that is a triviality – there are jerks in the Internet. So what.

    A quote that occurred to me the other day – from Lawrence of Arabia, when Lawrence extinguishes a lit match, and the officer tries it and says it bloody hurts. Lawrence’s reply :

    “The trick […not exact quote…] is not minding that it hurts.”

    … not sure that fits here, but….

  30. “While some people may have left atheism because of its so-called toxicity…”

    I expect JC was talking about atheism as a movement here, and not atheism as a belief set. Still, I think it’s worth mentioning how this wording strikes me. I didn’t choose to be an atheist any more than I chose to believe the moon is made out of rock of some form and not, say, cheese. In fact, I exerted tremendous effort over multiple decades trying NOT to become an atheist, but it happened anyway. It wasn’t something I choose, it was the net product of all the information and arguments I’ve engaged with over decades. In that sense I can’t really “leave” atheism any more than I can choose to believe the moon is made out of cheese, no matter how horrible the “moon is made out of rock” people might behave. It’s just not a choice in that sense.

    This is a common source of misunderstanding when talking to religious people. People have said things to me like, “How can you be an atheist, doesn’t that make life seem bleak to you?”, or something to that effect, and my initial reaction is always to want to explain how content I am with my outlook, to defend myself against the charge of bleakness. That whole line of discourse, however, is based on an utterly false premise about my atheism. It’s a bit like asking, “How can you believe leaping from a 50 story building will lead to your death? Isn’t that so confining and grim?” I’d like to float if I walked off a tall building, but that has little to do with my beliefs about the physics of walking off of buildings. I think for many people their religious commitments really are much closer to simply wish fulfillment. They want it to be true, so they “choose” to believe it. But beliefs of this sort more like stating a wish than they are convictions about what the universe is actually like.

  31. (Reason for my goof is, right at the moment I can’t read xkcd in my browser, I have no idea why, so I had to find 774 copied somewhere else on the Interwebs


  32. Online response to an article or lecture is often biased toward the most outspoken in the community. In fact, some responders are probably not even part of the community in that their only participation is their online trolling. Stedman and others should bear in mind that online response, especially when anonymous, doesn’t necessarily reflect the mainstream opinion.

  33. Here’s Stedman condensed:

    “Wow, atheism is so cool!”
    “…wait? You’re criticising Islam as well as Christianity?”
    “…you mean this might need some princoples and taking some risks?”
    “Fuck this, I’m outta hear.”

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