Smug Atheists?

Andrew Sullivan, whose blogging I usually admire and emulate a great deal as he’s really my blogging hero, had an astoundingly nasty post about the fact that atheists dared to meet up together to listen to Daniel Dennett mock the emptiness of apophatic theological gobbledygook last weekend.

They’re really charming, aren’t they? It is as if everything arrogant about the academy and everything sneering about cable news culture is combined into one big snarky smugfest. Maybe these atheists will indeed help push back the fundamentalist right. Maybe they will remind people that between these atheist bigots and these fundamentalist bigots, the appeal of the Christianity of the Gospels shines like the sun.

To his credit he published some really good e-mails he got in return.  Please go read them.  Here’s one expressing what it’s like to be one of the few minorities it’s politically correct to vilify (always without any factual basis) and who are denounced as smug merely for speaking out about their views and for having the temerity to self-identify and group together around their minority viewpoint:

I’m 55 and have been an atheist for as long as I can remember. Throughout my life I’ve had to listen to smug preachers railing against the evil of atheism, gleefully describing the torment we’d endure after we died.
I was very active at one time in state politics as an employee of the state Democratic Party. I got interested in running for office, but was told unless I was willing to join a church, preferably a Baptist church, I could forget about it. I listened to the U.S. president publicly state that “atheists should not be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots.” On those few occasions where I let people know about my lack of belief, reactions ranged from supercilious pity (“You poor, pitiful lost soul…I will pray for you that you may see the light.”) to outright hostility.
I was a scoutmaster for 10 years, well liked and appreciated by the kids and their parents. But, the entire time I knew that if a parent ever found out that I was an atheist; I would have been immediately removed. With all that, and more, do you really wonder why I have a general disdain for religion and all the wonderful things it does for our society? Throughout my life, religious belief has been nothing but a sword hanging over my head, ready to fall the moment my lack thereof was discovered. Do you really wonder why I would like to see that sword broken and cast into the forge?

Sullivan also notes he apologized already.

Look, I’m not going to say that I don’t understand getting testy over being philosophically challenged all day but  the ad hominems against atheists that we’re allegedly smug and vitriolic is practically the only coherent argument leveled against us.  And it is essentially a diversion and usually false.  It’s not just when Sullivan or other theists lose their temper that they level this emotional charge against us, it’s one of the first lines of defense they have because their arguments fall apart in about 10 seconds flat.  They are defending superstition, they are defending a genocidal Old Testament as the revealed word of a benevolent deity, they are defending ridiculous fantastical stories like that a man was both human and God, they are defending the right to believe not only without sufficient evidence but contrary to evidence, they are defending the right to rationalize, they are defending baseless traditionalism, they are defending institutions which bear no marks of anything but normal humanity while claiming that they are divinely guided—on and on and on, they are defending the rationally indefensible and often the morally indefensible.  And the fact that we don’t pull punches in pointing out actual absurdities, logical and empirical absurdities and calling them what they are—ridiculous and untenable options for belief, does not make us mean, does not make us smug, and it does not make us vitriolic.  It makes us rationally consistent and intolerant not of persons but of absurdities.   And that’s what reason requires of us, whether or not you like it.

And the only difference between Sullivan’s nasty tone and the ad hominems of smugness that he and other theists and deists use to besmirch us where they have no arguments but only deflecting vagaries about “mystery” and “the need for faith” is that in this case the tone matched the content.  But the content is always nasty and evasive.  Face the arguments.  Face the fact that you are claiming that squares are round and that the laws of nature can be violated for purposes you wish them to be violated for.  If you don’t like the feeling of being told that this is absurd bullshit and impermissible then stop claiming such nonsense is true or good or necessary for humanity or, worst of all, necessary for morality.  Because it’s not. And it’s a lie to say otherwise.  And we atheists will keep calling you on that lie no matter how many times you object that you don’t like how it feels.  It’s perfectly within the bounds of reason and fairness for us to do so.  You don’t get to redefine a fair and polite argument to be only one which treats nonsense as plausible simply because you want to say it is and it emotionally means a lot to you to say it is.  It’s not. I know it hurts to hear this.  I was there once and it ripped my guts out to have to admit that my religion was bullshit.  But it was my obligation to be honest.  And it’s yours too.   So own up to your obligation to be honest or STFU about how moral you are and how necessary your religion is for morality while it is making you into a liar.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://sendaianonymous.wordpress.com sendaianonymous

    Yeah, but notice how in his apology he links to a vid by Karen Armstrong. So, IS THIS REALLY AN APOLOGY? *facepalm*

    (Ok, I read it once more. It’s a typical non-apology: he misrepresents the other side’s arguments, and derails like a crazy derailing person, sort of like here: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=187 )

    Also, the fact that he linked to KA can be interpreted thus: theists: they can only like you when you hate yourself :

    • Daniel Fincke

      In my first draft I attacked his apology as self-congratulatory to his religion, etc. and not even a direct acknowledgment of how he misrepresented the atheists, etc. But I opted not to push those points because, to be fair, he did give a long vent to his atheist critics themselves in a way that gets the word out about atheist marginalization in a way that the rest of the atheist blogosphere (minus Pharyngula who skews the numbers) combined cannot do. And that’s worth more than a good apology anyway.

  • http://sendaianonymous.wordpress.com sendaianonymous

    Yeah, on the one hand, he did allow atheist to voice their opinion, but in the end only apologised for “being tetchy”. Which means he didn’t change his mind at all, and only basically “regrets if he offended somebody”. I really dislike that sort of thing.

    On the third hand, I sort of don’t really like him, and am generally irritated by his religious views, so >.>
    On the forth, I dislike KA even more.
    What to dooooo!

  • Pingback: On smugness (this will be a lot like the arguments for religion that theists make from personal experience) « 梅雨眠中

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  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusopera Modusoperandi

    Face the fact that you are claiming that circles are round…
    I assume you meant “square” instead of round.

  • Marcel Kincaid

    Here’s the deal: A large number of extraordinarily intelligent people sincerely believe religion to be irrational pap for excellent reason, and people like Sullivan cannot abide by that — understandably and expectedly; they don’t want to be thought fools by people whom they should, by all rights, respect, so they have to make those people wrong to have the opinions that they (sincerely, and for excellent reason) do have.


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