Questionable Motives

November 5, 2010

How should we write about gnu atheists?

Filed under: accommodation,Bias,New Atheists,Religion,Skepticim — tildeb @ 11:38 pm

Well, there are the standard canards. One of my favourites and perhaps the most common is the one that puts forth the proposition that non belief is another kind of religious belief, albeit of the fundamentalist and dogmatic kind. And those who believe in it are the militant, strident, and arrogant atheists who dare not only to question the god hypothesis but who reach a conclusion of non belief as the evidence now stands. It seems to be a nice way to balance the whack jobs on both sides while appearing reasonable. Of course, it’s no such thing: it is the religious equivalent of racial apartheid: separate but equal. That’s what accommodation is all about.

So what are the rules to denigrate atheists successfully? Is there some kind of accommodation-friendly argumentative path to follow that would allow otherwise reasonable people to pretend that the god hypothesis is really a problem for atheists rather than the faithful, an approach that seems reasonable enough to fool the majority of people who would prefer to dismiss atheists without having to really think about the issues and questions they raise?

From Salty Current comes this satisfying guide to all those who wish to write and complain about the New Atheists. I have extracted a few paragraphs as a teaser but the short guide is a fast an enjoyable read.

Gnu atheists should be presented as uncivil, strident, aggressive, arrogant proselytizers and rigid fundamentalists. Don’t worry about finding concrete examples to support these generalizations. If you absolutely must quote from a gnu, keep it short and divorced from the complex background and context which would only confuse the reader. You’re firmly within the consensus, so you’re on solid ground. At the same time, whenever possible – as when discussing large-scale surveys showing declining rates of belief – present nonbelievers as merely having “doubts” about God. This is perfectly consistent.

Similarly, gnu atheism shouldn’t be presented as an intellectual position. Repeatedly emphasize their hostility to organized religion as the source of their disbelief. It helps if you acknowledge that there are some legitimate reasons for this hostility – shows you to be fair and balanced while leaving aside those pesky ontological matters.

You’re also safe presenting gnu atheists as cold, hyper-rational, solitary automatons who lack an appreciation of beauty or sense of wonder. Pay no attention to those who are artists, writers, or musicians, or to any of their works describing the wonder of scientific understanding and the sense of cosmic connectedness that follows from this deeper empirical knowledge. Leave aside the enormous spectrum of atheist writing on any number of ethical issues. And no need to discuss gnu atheists as people with families, friends, and communities. There’s nothing dishonest about this. You’re writing about that one dimension that is the guiding focus of their lives: rejecting religion.

Enjoy the entire guide and comments here.

(h/t to WEIT)



  1. Well, well, I read up on Gnu-Atheists, and I must say, amusing bunch. Sarcasm and self-victimization is such a useful tool to further understanding. Who needs that though, when you know you’re right. After all, the idiots don’t count.

    Of course, even though I am now living a preodominantly Islamic society, I come a European background, so I probably can’t understand the trials and tribulations poor American saps have to go through. A candite for senator whose main election statement was that she’s not a witch. People thinking that Harry Potter is a danger to the souls of children or debating whether the idea that the entire world is younger than Egyptian culture should be taught alongside real science or exclusively. Millions of dollars poured innto the battle against same sex marriage. The prez so scared of the nuts that he breaks his promise to lift DADT even though the JCoS publically gave their okay. It would be so hilarious if it weren’t happening in the most dangerous, well-armed, murderous, and imperialist country in the world.

    The reason seems quite apparent from outside of that mess, though. The recent economic crash has finally revealed the limits of laissez-faire capitalism and put paid to the notion that the western system has any kind of future if it doesn’t seriously discuss and alter some of its basic tenets. And American society, so invested in that particular ideology, fears this debate so much that they have chosen to rather go collectively insane just to keep their eyes shut to the real issues for a while longer. I sure hope they will wake up before they drag the rest of the world down with them.

    I don’t see Gnus helping in any way, but then, maybe that’s not the goal. Like with Near Eastern terrorism, you always need both sides to keep the fires stoked. Giving up their comfy parasitic position in the world is probably as unpleasant for atheists as it is for Christians.

    I know that this insanity had infected the US Colony in Great Britain, but I didn’t realize that it had seeped into Canada as well, but, well. C’est la vie. I just wish you’d all get over yourselves and pay the piper. The price is only going to rise.

    Comment by FreeFox — November 7, 2010 @ 6:30 am | Reply

    • You missed the point entirely, FF: it’s about how typically common are the articles and books and letters supposedly answering and criticizing and rebuking the gnu atheists by misrepresenting what they say. In addition, none have successfully revealed any weakness of the central thesis we share that makes us gnu atheists.

      Your point about sarcasm is true and it is ironic that a gay male would think victimization is too off-putting to be of any value in the argument. Your greatest allies towards full citizenship and legal acceptance lies with the atheists; we happen to value human rights and personal dignity under the law.

      It’s funny you should mention ‘helping’; most atheists think a great number of social, economic, and environmental difficulties could be better handled by populations far less awash in wishful theistic thinking and much more knowledgeable and scientifically literate. I don’t see how it could do any worse.

      Comment by tildeb — November 7, 2010 @ 6:58 pm | Reply

    • Self-victimization? According to Bush Sr, we’re not even worthy of being citizens. And we are the most distrusted minority. You think this kind of publicity is self-applied, eh?

      Have you listened to Pope Palpatine in the last few years? We’re all nazis, donchaknow (this coming from a real nazi who directly aided and abetted child rapists), and secularism is the biggest threat to everything. How typical to frame this sort of attack as self-vicitimization when it is anything but. The single theme agreeable to all the abrahamic religious leadership is that atheists are the enemy of people and disbelief the root cause of secularism… the greatest evil imaginable. But wave your hands and delude yourself to make it all disappear into a cloud of self-victimization.

      How convenient.

      Comment by tildeb — November 8, 2010 @ 9:30 am | Reply

      • FYI: Bush Sr. certainly did not deny that he said that atheists should not be considered citizens or patriots, but I did some research into the story and there is not enough corroborating evidence that would allow me to repeat it…and I used to repeat it fairly often. But that is just my take.

        BTW: Did you (and FreeFox here) get my last post on before John deleted it?

        Comment by Mike (FVThinker) Burns — November 10, 2010 @ 11:33 pm

      • Hey Mike. Don’t know about the specific comment at John’s you’re referring to. Want to give a hint?

        Regarding John, I keep waiting for the shoe to drop on me but so far…

        Regarding the Bush Sr quote:

        From Atheism FAQ:

        The following exchange took place at the Chicago airport between
        Robert I. Sherman of American Atheist Press and George Bush, on August
        27 1988. Sherman is a fully accredited reporter, and was present by
        invitation as a member of the press corps. The Republican presidential
        nominee was there to announce federal disaster relief for Illinois.
        The discussion turned to the presidential primary:

        “What will you do to win the votes of Americans who are

        “I guess I’m pretty weak in the atheist community. Faith in God
        is important to me.”

        “Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of
        Americans who are atheists?”

        “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as
        citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one
        nation under God.”

        “Do you support as a sound constitutional principle the
        separation of state and church?”

        “Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I’m just
        not very high on atheists.”

        UPI reported on May 8, 1989, that various atheist organizations were
        still angry over the remarks.

        The exchange appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera on Monday February
        27, 1989. It can also be found in “Free Inquiry” magazine, Fall 1988
        issue, Volume 8, Number 4, page 16.

        If this were not true, then the responses from counsel C. Boyden Grey and Lund the associate counsel to various letters on White House stationery in response to the quotation makes no sense, particularly the ones between the American Atheists and the White House.

        Comment by tildeb — November 11, 2010 @ 7:28 am

  2. Yeah. I am quite familiar of the context and background of the Bush Sr. quote and I am inclined to believe it. But after I researched it further there was nobody who could corroborate the exchange. None of the other journalists there (at the hasty, impromptu tarmac press conference) had recollection of it. The White House was subsequently challenged on the statement and they didn’t deny it…but that is not the same as admitting it (still damning in itself). Last I knew, Sherman was waiting to get access to archives at the Bush Sr. library to locate corroborating documentation. Dunno if that panned out. All I am saying is that I am not confident enough in the accuracy of the exchange that I recite it without important qualifications.

    Comment by Mike (FVThinker) Burns — November 11, 2010 @ 8:55 am | Reply

  3. Re: John Shore…
    I posted the following as my last comment (knowing I would be excised from his site). I knew it would be deleted, but I thought the subscribers would at least get a copy via e-mail.

    Mike Burns’ Last Post and Testament

    “Smug”, “Passive-Aggress”, “Arrogant”. Mr. Shore has called me all these things and more….Most recently as a result my saying I would “rightly” disregard the purported evidence of God if it were comprised only of subjective/revelatory experience or if that experience was not fundamentally consistent amongst those having the experience. In the case of religious truth claims; this evidence must also distinguish itself by being observably different than what they would look like if there were no god.

    I guess he is right. After discussing the societal implications of religion for some years, I have developed zero tolerance for shitty arguments and I find no reason to feign respect for such. My standards for evidence that I related above are minimum standards for the real pursuit of knowledge. I, for one, revere the proper pursuit of truth above most things. Mr. Shore recently said that he wants truth no matter how ugly or uncomfortable that truth might be… but it seems to be lip service only. (Look up his take [and defense] of a well timed earthquake elsewhere on this blog).

    You see; proper inquiry is not something you can use selectively. If you can understand how the FDA determines whether a drug is safe and effective (blind studies, control groups, statistics), then you basically understand the proper method of inquiry. To my mind; if you know and appreciate that process then you are being disingenuous or self-delusional to not apply it to everything of import in your life. If you cannot appreciated the minimum standards of inquiry; then you are doomed to consume snake-oil. If you are planning on following a religious tradition that explicitly demonizes, isolates or subjugates large groups of people, then you have an obligation to be f**king sure that it is right. Not doing so is warrant for others to challenge and ridicule you if you don’t mount a defense of at least some minimum standard as described earlier.

    I have had a good run here. My smug, passive-aggressive, arrogant method is my way of cutting through the fluff and just pushing hard, uncomfortable facts in front people who have never really considered them (or may not be aware of them). I certainly wouldn’t expect to see deconversions in real-time but, as someone who has deconverted; I know that it can take years and years. If some uncomfortable facts fester in the back of your believing minds long enough, they might motivate you to actually start looking at the hard evidence regarding your religious narrative. At which point I have accomplished something. If you really wish to seek truth; seek truth properly. If you appreciate that your cholesterol medicine actually does what it is supposed to, then you need to use the same methods to determine if god-worship is energy well used.

    That said; I like John and his humor and his ability discard a good deal of the bullshit that is part and parcel with [in this case] Christianity. Maybe I will stop back some time in the future. I will be unsubscribing from his blog and blocking in my Internet router (so as not to be tempted…though I do have a smartphone). In keeping with your promise John; you may now block me from your blog.

    So …. CHOW!! …and keep high standards.

    Comment by Mike (FVThinker) Burns — November 11, 2010 @ 9:00 am | Reply

    • Nope. Didn’t get this from Disqus either. It’s fine comment.

      People tend to value what’s true but have a very hard with the cognitive dissonance various beliefs in general and religious beliefs in particular bring to their truth tables. I’m not talking about particular facts in conflict with particular beliefs when dealing with religion but a more general sense of growing mistrust between two very different ways of thinking and the products they yield. The products of religious beliefs are not trustworthy unless made so generic and metaphorical that they meld into a non specific sense of cohesion. For example, for those who believe god is not the paranoid and jealous god of the OT or the Qua’ran but one synonymous with love, the god part melds into a hazy background of some smaller constituent part of love. Sort of an Armstrong-ian sophisticated sense of god is the god behind the god that is unknowable. And it’s not necessary to know of it because – lo and behold – here is love so I’m safe in maintaining the belief. But does that belief now really serve any purpose?

      Because de-conversion is a process, I think it’s important to take the time and make the effort to draw people out in a safe way to look at why what’s true matters more than what is believed to be true – and why what one believes to be true has to remain in the personal domain. Carrying around a dead child in suitcase in the hopes of resurrection gets rather unpleasant and tedious even if the intention is so very hopeful. Facts of reality have this tendency to wear away at beliefs.

      Of course, as JS Mill so eloquently wrote, one’s personal beliefs can’t help but influence one’s actions but if one can understand why religious belief extended into the public domain through one’s personal actions is so very dangerous for those people over there, and causes so much unnecessary suffering over there, then one will dismantle one’s own religious beliefs that are similar to those over there slowly but surely while granting what’s true more and more dominance. As I wrote, people prefer to argue on the side of what’s true because its much more easily defensible and feels so much better because of the intelligent and articulate and educated company one keeps (like yours) compared to maintaining the inner conflict that comes with beliefs that are contrary to what’s true, along with the company of people who maintain them and who so very often are not very admirable people. Religious ranks are filled with such unlikable and nasty pieces of work over there that tend to counterbalance the earnest and nice people who share a similar belief set over here. But that distinction grows very thin even at the best of times.

      I am thrilled to see so many youth swelling the ranks of people who don’t buy into a religious way of thinking but far too many continue to use bad reasons of belief to support their preferred woo. This is another major battle to fight but a related one, I think, and subject to the same effective approach of those of us willing to promote what’s true (and how we can know that) over and above what we wish to believe is true. I suspect there will never be a shortage of work depending entirely on how much patience one brings to this rather formidable task! I’ve heard from several people how I have successfully written and explained (in my long-winded way) what they have had so much difficulty putting into words so it helps keep me motivated. I sincerely hope you have shared this experience to keep up the mojo. Your voice – and clarity of thought – is important to those who silently are being influenced… one comment at a time.

      Comment by tildeb — November 11, 2010 @ 10:06 am | Reply

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