LA Times publishes atheists’ letters

April 18, 2020 • 11:00 am

First, if you haven’t seen Ron Reagan’s video ad on behalf of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which has now been aired several times on national television, including during CNN’s Democratic debate, have a look. (It’s very short, and yes, he’s Ronald Reagan’s son.) I love the jab of the last bit: “. . . not afraid of burning in hell.”

In 2014, however, the ad was rejected by CBS when offered by the FFRF for placement on the popular “60 Minutes” show; indeed, it was rejected for any show on that network. It was a hot potato! Six years later, however, despite the claim of Social Justice Atheists that people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have been counterproductive in promoting unbelief, atheism has become more mainstream than ever.

Submitted for your approval: today’s piece in the Los Angeles Times, sent by reader Paul Topping. According to the paper, someone wrote a letter to the Times criticizing Reagan’s ad, and over a dozen readers then wrote in defending it. This was deemed noteworthy by the paper’s Letters Editor, who published his own take and some excerpts from the letters. Read and smile:

These are good letters, and their number and straightforwardness are heartening. And, as the editor notes, the proportion of disbelief continues to grow.

Here are data from a Pew study last year showing the percentage of those who declare that their religion is “nothing in particular”—a figure that’s grown to the current value of 17%. Atheists and agnostics, too, have doubled their numbers in a bit more than a decade. The percentages are still relatively small, but declared atheists are at 4% and agnostics at 5%.  I think we can safely say that a lot of the “nothing in particulars” would fall into a definition of atheists, so let’s put the proportion of nonbelievers at 20%.

Since the number of Americans over 18 is about 254 million, that makes about 50 million Americans who don’t hold a belief in God (I’m just doing a back-of-the-envelope spec-calculation here). That’s a lot, and what it means is that we aren’t alone—not by a long shot.

A certain odious segment of the Internet, including nonbelievers who simply cannot stand prominent atheists, say that “New Atheism is dead.” I say, “Well, its proponents have moved on to other things, but they gave nonbelief a shove whose momentum continues.” All over the West, religion is waning, driving believers into defensive positions or even hysterics.

Now is the time, what with religion on the run and atheism no longer the equivalent of leprosy, to come out. Write letters, have discussions with people, and, like the writers of letters above, fight back when someone goes after atheists and atheism. We don’t have to let religionists spill their delusions all over the media. No, we don’t have to prosyletize by bringing up nonbelief at inopportune times. But we shouldn’t hide under a bushel, either.

At least, like Ron Reagan, we should assert our right to nonbelief, and call out the believers when they stick their camel noses in the public tents.


50 thoughts on “LA Times publishes atheists’ letters

  1. Apropos the rise of atheism, you might find the blog of Peter Hearty,physicist, ‘Platitude of the Day’ rather gratifying. You have excoriated the Beeb on several occasions for their fatuous brown-nosing of religion. This is a cheering corrective and the comments give one a lift in these testing times.

  2. To let you know of the decline of religion in Europe, I visited Ely Cathedral recently, built 1083, with its impressive octagonal lantern or roof feature. The place, built to seat thousands, was empty. A bell rang… “Are you setting sail?” I asked the doorman. He replied that the service was about to start. So I took my place on a pew. Utterly alone. A young bearded man in robes gave a commendable talk upon looking-out for each other. I went to him for a chat, and slipped-in that I was an atheist. He shook his head glumly, and admitted that only atheists take the trouble to attend his services. If this impressive gothic building were in the USA, I think my many atheist colleagues would be glad to come….

      1. Ely is a lovely place – and the cathedral is impressive, even to an atheist such as myself.
        No wonder the medieval locals were in awe of g*d, which was obviously the intended effect.

        The local economy was based on eels, with the abbot of Ely counting his income from surrounding villages and estates in them. (In 1086, Stuntenei was worth 24,000 eels – don’t ask me what that is today with inflation!) The connection between the names of the city and the fish is disputed, btw.

        1. It has been suggested that all cathedrals will one day be converted into museums. I’m pretty sure some already have.

        2. Back in the 1970’s Eel fishermen discovered that a hovercraft is the ideal means of transport through the mostly completely flat and often flooded fens that surround Ely. They became so ubiquitous that, if you ask an eel fisherman how they are, instead of saying “very well thank you” they will say “my hovercraft is full of eels”.

          True story.

  3. A story like that is heartening. But as an example of just how far there is to go, the most recent Pew Research study shows that about 50% of Americans feel that the Bible should have “some” influence on laws of the U.S., and 25% feel that it should have “a great deal” of inluence. It’s no wonder that U.S. laws carve out such privileges for religion.

    1. Maybe but I am mostly skeptical of such polls. How many respondents heard the question as asking, “Should laws be based on good moral judgments, like in the Bible?”

      1. Well, that wasn’t the question, and all you have to do is look at the laws, which have thousands of exceptions for religion, to know a lot of people feel this way. There are also the two thirds of evangelicals, a not insignificant number, who feel that when the law and the Bible are at odds, the Bible should take precedence.

        1. Of course evangelicals would think that.

          I’m just saying that there are perhaps a lot of people that believe that religion and the Bible are a valid source of moral guidance while not really believing in God themselves. It’s a transition phase between being truly religious and being a card-carrying atheist. They have a hard time believing in God, and don’t want to go to church themselves, but still have a soft spot in their heart for friends and family who do. They are generally in favor of morals and still associate them with religion.

    2. Yes, we need to import European attitudes or grow more of our own. The trends here do have many positives though, if we can get through the present spasm of insanity.

  4. As long as atheists are in the minority, the religious will be a problem. Apparently the religious cannot stand much competition. They should know however, that atheists would leave them alone if they simply followed the law. FFRF shows us everyday that religion does not follow the law and the battle lines are drawn. Intrusion into our rights at citizens are particularly deep in the south and Midwest. If you do not think this, then you probably do not live there or are not paying attention. In Kansas now for several years, the only abortion clinic in Wichita must fly in doctors from out of state to stay in business. There are no doctors in state that will do the work, especially since the last doctor who did this was murdered while attending church. You can look it up.

  5. “I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots.”

    A pearl of goodwill and beneficence from George H.W. Bush (as he constantly kept a wet finger to political wind).

    (But not as bad as [whom I perceive to be that spoiled brat)] Teddy Roosevelt calling Thomas Paine “a filthy little atheist.”)

      1. “There is some doubt that he [Bush] said this.”

        Perhaps Hemant Mehta is the go-to guy for corroborating quotes, whether from Bush or TR or from anyone else, from whatever point in the past.

        With all our technology, humans still can’t agree on what they see or hear on a video.

        (AFAIK it’s still true that Bush let it publicly be known he didn’t like broccoli. That of course incurred the wrath of the broccoli growers association, who had a palette delivered to the White House, which in turn distributed it to the needy. Of course, my only source on the matter is the media.)

        1. Well, I suppose the problem is that there is no video or audio or even a newspaper column from anyone present when the remark was said. Rob Sherman was hardly the disinterested bystander either. Other than people asserting it happened, there appears to be one and only one source for this quote and that is Sherman.

          As our local gadfly in the Chicago area, many of us here were very familiar with him. I remember the interview quote he provided to, I think, a Tribune reporter who was doing a feature story on him and one of his cases. Basically it went:
          Reporter with Sherman’s daughter present: Did you celebrate Christmas?
          Daughter: No.
          Reporter: Why didn’t you?
          Daughter: Because we’re, daddy, what is it?
          Rob Sherman: You remember, it begins with A.
          Daughter: Assholes?

          Not that that has any bearing on the validity of the quote. It’s just what I remember most about him.

        2. There is no evidence, save one report by a known-to-be non-objective on this matter reporter (Robert I. Sherman), that Bush ever said anything like this. Hemet is not the only one to question this report.

          The repeating of an anecdote does not qualify as multiple data-points.

          See also:


  6. It seems that the plot is also compatible with increased polarization away from moderate belief. For example, perhaps the percentage of devout protestants is also increasing. But they only have a generic protestant category so you can’t tell.

  7. Freedom from religion is truly liberating; I wish more people could try it out. I still remember the self-torture of “knowing” there was an omnipotent god who knew my every thought and deed and could banish me to eternal fire if I slipped up. What an incredible burden to carry, especially as a child. I remember asking forgiveness probably 100 times a day…I would ask forgiveness if I saw something “sinful” or even if I heard a curse word from another person; I heard it, so god must have heard it, so I better ask his forgiveness. The mind of a true believer is not a fun place to be; not is it healthy.

      1. Well, surely an exaggeration, but when you’re brought up Evangelical, if you peak out of the car window on the way to the grocery store, you’ll be confronted with SIN. Billboards, bumper stickers, girls…I was brought up in that toxic environment and my folks are Trumpites. Sucks. It’s hard to take them seriously, and it’s not healthy to disparage one’s own parents; or maybe it’s not a big deal. Is what it is.

        1. My advice, for what it’s worth, these are your parents. Don’t discuss subjects you don’t agree on. Not entirely satisfying, but, in the long run, it’ll make things better.

  8. Mark R, your experience was truly awful.
    I have been a non-believer since I was a fetus. When, at the age of eight or nine, the young woman teacher first discussed stories from the bible… I remember it was the story of Daniel in the furnace,… I tried to inform her that it was like those many lovely fairy-stories about kings and castles, and of princesses waiting to be liberated by a kiss…But it served to make her angry. But I did take with me the idea that girls like to be kissed, and that has held true all my life, even though the bible proved to be the thoughts of goat-herds.
    How come the writers of the bible never mentioned bacteria, nor viruses? Could have been helpful…

  9. “Six years later, however, despite the claim of Social Justice Atheists that people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have been counterproductive in promoting unbelief”

    In reality, regressive, anti-science and abusive bullies such as PZ Meyers are the ones responsible for promoting the narrative that unbelief comes tied to unthinking, abusive, and bullying beliefs. A lot of these anti-skeptic types are also antisemitic, and enablers of Islamists (i.e. ‘Eiynah’).

          1. There are large areas of antiscientific dogmatism over at PZ’s. At least there used to be. But, I’ve not visited his site in 2-3 years so if that’s changed, good, and I apologize. But it used to be pretty poisonous over there. Years ago it was very good and I read regularly, then it turned pretty rotten and cultic.

            If Sanderson just has a personal grudge, he should let it go and move on, but that’s a separate issue. I wonder what caused him to have this alleged grudge. Could it have been the abuse and general nuttiness that used to be prevalent over there?

            1. I stopped visiting PZ Myers a long time ago too because I saw a big change over time in how and what he wrote. I don’t know what he’s like now, but if things are still moving in the direction I saw I don’t want anything to do with him. I don’t know why Richard doesn’t like him, but I know a lot of people feel the way I do.

              1. Heather…trust me, he is a *lot* worse.

                And his “horde” is far more vile and anti-science than they ever were.

                Last time I checked, they were moaning about how the antisemitism scandal surrounding Corbyn and the Labour Party, was “all a smear”. That’s only something Far Left antisemites and Far Right racist cranks say.

              2. Anyone who doesn’t think Corbyn is anti-Semitic is blind. It’s like saying Trump isn’t racist.

          2. PZ is one of the most abusive people formerly associated with “movement atheism”, and his increasing anti-science dogmatism is repugnant.

            He caused irreparable damage, abused and slandered good people, has enabled regressive extremists, so I don’t care if there are some stooges out there who pop up to defend him and the indefensible.

        1. Partly.

          He certainly believes that unbelief comes tied to beliefs. Just read any of his posts on the subject of the meaning of the word “atheist”. The actual definition “somebody who does not believe in God” is triggering to PZ.

  10. It’s good to see this, and I hope we see more of it. The US is a big outlier amongst OECD countries when it comes to the level of religious belief, especially in politics.

    If a NZ politician from a major party started saying “God Bless you and God bless NZ,” every time s/he ended a speech everyone would start looking at them sideways. Many other countries are the same. If you asked people the religion of the PM, most people wouldn’t even have thought about whether or not she had one. (She was brought up Mormon but is now agnostic.)

  11. Sadly there is a new religion, they worship the black man and abjure the white devils, it’s followers, the Woke…

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