Matt Stone: "Neoatheists Are Setting Atheism Back A Decade"

The usually genius co-creators of South Park Matt Stone and Trey Parker are profiled in a post on and they are harsh on Richard Dawkins and all-soft on religion:

As they told In Focus magazine a few years ago, “What we’re sick of — and it’s getting even worse — is you either like Michael Moore or you wanna fuckin’ go overseas and shoot Iraqis… We find just as many things to rip on the left as we do on the right. People on the far left and the far right are the same exact person to us.”

Consider, too, The Book of Mormon. For a play that includes the insertion of a holy text up a missionary’s rectum, it actually offers a nuanced view of religion. Mormonism may be odd, but it produces kind, thoughtful, mostly happy people. “They always look like they’re just about to break out into song anyways,” Stone has said.

Religion has its upsides — a position that rankles hardcore atheists such as Richard Dawkins.

“He’s such a dick,” said Stone. “You read his book and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I agree with that. But it’s the most dicky way to put it… I think the neoatheists have set atheism back a few decades. And I’m a self-described atheist.”

The profile goes on:

“I’m concerned about people being happy,” said Stone. “With religion I was always like, Does it matter if it’s true if it makes you happy?”

“As storytellers for fifteen years, we started looking at religions for their stories,” Parker said.

Stone illustrated the idea with the Parable of the Hipster Coffee Guy. Recently, Stone was at a New York hotel that was trying very hard to be cool. It had stuffed animal heads on the walls and exposed brass pipes. “I don’t know if <em>Luddite</em> is the right word, but it was back-to-basics. The guy making the coffee had a beard and tattoos. And I’m sitting there going, ‘What the fuck. I’m too old for this. This is not my scene.’ And then I drank the coffee, and I’m like, ‘Holy shit. That’s amazing.’

“And it made me think there’s something about dressing up and playing the part. To me, that’s religion. You can write down how to make the perfect cup of coffee. But to make it really good, you have to play something fictional, you have to dress up, you have to think, This is the most important thing.”

He continued, “The pride of the hipster food movement is sort of annoying, but it fascinates me. And the by-products are fucking great.”

I’m pressed for time—I have to be flying out the door in ten minutes, so I’ll just have to throw this chum in the tank and let you guys have at it yourselves. Enjoy!

Your Thoughts?

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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.

  • Cor (formerly evil)

    No comment needed. Your previous post is about an honor killer who massacred his family. Was he “playing a role”? Did it “make people happy”? How’s his coffee?

  • AMW

    The guys who made the “Dawkins Bangs Garrison” cartoon are “sick of” the lack of nuance of either/or thinking?

    I think I’ll just go back to bed.

  • strangelove

    I agree that the Left and the Right both need strong scrutiny and if one is a skeptic then one must subject both to a heavy dose of looking for evidence and using reason and logic. I DO not agree that people like Dawkins have set back atheism 10 years. Nonsense!

  • jasonmerrill

    South Park is one of the things that started me on the path from being a relgiously devoted person to an atheist. It seems pathetic, and it seems kinda lazy… and maybe it is. But later on, I started becoming more socially aware, and yeah, at first I didn’t like Dawkins either. He comes off abrasively (sp?) to christians and apologetics at times, but if you can just get past the emotion behind it and the defense mechanisms that are working so hard to do the mental gymnastics around your cognitive dissonance, he defends his reasons for being abrasive pretty logically.

    what impressed me is when I heard something from him to the effect of “we came from apes, but we dont have to act like them” or something like how we can rise above our evolution, we don’t have to act like savages anymore, etc… anyone know what I am referring to? I would love to quote it accurately.

    • mahler004

      Pretty sure that’s from the Selfish Gene.

  • leftwingfox

    I can see where they’re coming from, I was there before once. There’s a reason I’m not anymore.

    I would love to be in a position where we could treat religion the way we treat hobbies: maybe gentle ribbing between friends, but overall live and let live. Unfortunately, religion is a hobby that is actively interfering with education, science, medicine, pluralism, and basic human rights. How can you live and let live with that?

    There is a long way to go before religion can be treated as nothing more than an odd choice of fashion. To get there though, it means opposing the real harm religion does, which means being confrontational.

    They make the Accommodationist mistake: that being nice and non-confrontational is the ONLY correct path, rather than one of many useful strategies.

    And of course, the idea that atheists shouldn’t be “dicks” is rich coming from the creaters of fucking SOUTH PARK. =P

    The whole bit about polarization in us politics is a completely separate long-winded rant.

  • Dave D

    Spoken like someone who lives in a bubble.

  • GregFromCos

    I’d be curious what he thinks is “dickish”? Would have been a very good followup question. Generally those who think the new atheists are too mean, are simply referring to the fact that they directly criticizes religion (ironically something South Park is the master of). When I was first coming out of religion. I thought that Dawkins was a dick also. But then I read him and listened to him. For me, I had just carried over some of that distaste I had for anyone who criticized religion, while religious.

    Is this just a case of someone who wants to gain some credibility with a certain audience by criticizing someone the religious criticize? Even though they don’t differ much, if at all.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Mormonism may be odd, but it produces kind, thoughtful, mostly happy people.

    Mountain Meadows massacre

  • qbsmd

    I agree that Richard Dawkins is a dick; I think he saysdoes a lot of things to be as provocative as possible, then sits back calmly and says like “Why was that wrong? Why should I not have done that?” while other people loose their tempers. I disagree that it’s a bad thing.

    • fastlane

      Actually, that would be Hitch, not Dawkins. Seriously, Dawkins is about as mild as one can be and still actually criticize religion. He’s relatively plain spoken (one has to be for the religious to understand it), but not exactly ‘harsh’.

    • qbsmd

      If by mild you mean he’s always calm, articulate, etc. then yes. However he’s a master of a technique that probably has a name that I’m unaware of. He says something that provokes his criticssomeone he’s debatingetc. into ignoring most of what he said and focusing on that one statement, usually getting aggravated in the process. Then he can sit back calmly and say “what I meant was…” while whoever else is upset.

      When “The God Delusion” came out, every interview I saw focused on two points: the name of the book called believers deluded and how offensive that was, and the passage starting with “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction”. As another example, I remember him speaking after creationist Rabbi Boteach at some event, and comparing his rhetorical style to Hitler. Predictably, Boteach spent the next week or so calling Dawkins anti-Semitic and demanding an apology. Dawkins’ response was something like “I didn’t say your politics were anything alike; I said you shriek like Hitler.” Analogously, there’s his comment at which resulted in people calling him blinded by privilege if not actually misogynistic for quite a while.

      I’m not entirely sure what his goal is; it could be meme generation: at least one of his ideas will be transferred to his critics. It could be preventing critics from responding to other things he argued. It could even be that after writing “The Selfish Gene” and getting criticized (by idiots who hadn’t processed a word of the book) for thinking that selfishness is natural and good he decided to provide those kinds of critics with something to attack so he would at least be prepared for it.

  • Celeste

    There is a reason Mormons always look the way he describes: Social pressure. Utah, hotbed of Mormonism, has the highest prescription rate for anti-depressants in the U.S. and living here, talking to the people I meet every day, it’s rare for me to meet a non-Mormon who is depressed, (except for teenagers who suffer from many other societal pressures). That look on their face, Mr. Stone, is usually an act, especially if it’s a woman.

  • jacobfromlost

    What people find offensive is that atheists EXIST. It doesn’t matter how polite we are, if something is coming out of our mouths it will be seen as offensive–because it is living, breathing proof that you don’t have to believe in gods.

    We’re here. We don’t believe in your gods. We will say so loudly and repeatedly any time you try to push your way into our lives. If you are offended, too bad.

    I’m offended by all the irrationality, by all the evil done in the name of religion and faith, and by all the indifference paid to REAL harm being done in the world while people cry over the one page in Dawkin’s book where he calls god a “bully”. HE IS A BULLY! If that’s not the part you find offensive, it must be all the parts where he makes the case that your god doesn’t exist, and it’s a pretty damned good case. It must be SO offensive that reality doesn’t conform to your faith.

    Head slamming keyboard: lbjkbjkblbj,n

  • illuminata

    LOL what hypocrites. They are the most self-righteous, holier-than-thou “comedians” on the planet – visciously mocking any and everything thing and they’re whining that Dawkins is too mean?

    “People on the far left and the far right are the same exact person to us.”

    What is it with libertarians and their need to lie?

  • James C.

    Pot calling the kettle black?

    Well, if the pot is cast iron and the kettle is anodized aluminium, it’s an apropos analogy.

    “And it made me think there’s something about dressing up and playing the part. To me, that’s religion. You can write down how to make the perfect cup of coffee. But to make it really good, you have to play something fictional, you have to dress up, you have to think, This is the most important thing.”

    So in other words, coffee is only good if you surround it with bullshit aesthetics.

    And when Dawkins et al say “Dude, don’t waste your time with the hipsters. Just make good coffee and enjoy it.”, Parker and Stone call him a dick. What the fuck. This is only a step up from Insane Clown Posse rambling about how science is bad because it means they can’t wonder how magnet work anymore. Matt Stone is, in essence, saying “Fucking human flourishing, how does it work?”

  • ildi

    “I’m concerned about people being happy,” said Stone. “With religion I was always like, Does it matter if it’s true if it makes you happy?”

    So he chooses the blue pill… for others. Condescending much?

  • Jeff Sherry

    Makes me wonder if Dawkins hadn’t existed would people be whining how Sagan possibly set atheism back ten years?

    I’ve never watched SouthPark and wonder if the creators of the cartoon are trying to paint themselves as the good atheists for public consumption.

    • GregFromCos

      That is what I wonder also. It reminds me of David Eagleman’s “Possibilianism”. Sam Harris called him out on it in July, and Eagleman had said he would have a public discourse about it. But as far as I know Eagleman never responded to Sam’s initial questions. Sam posted about the lack of response in August, and as of yet there has no response.

      It really looked as if Eagleman was just posturing in attempt to win a few more readers, by gaining some trust by maligning the New Atheists. Even though at Eagleman’s core he was saying the same exact thing.

    • Dave D

      It’s kind of the show’s schtick. They’ll present some extreme position, mock it for 20 minutes, then have one of their characters (usually Stan or Kyle) say “But don’t you see!” and give the moderate view. They’re in love with the middle.

  • kagekiri

    “With religion I was always like, Does it matter if it’s true if it makes you happy?”

    Hell yes, it matters if it’s true. Sure, do what makes you happy, but the other part of that basic “happiness morality” is “as much as possible, don’t fuck with other people’s happiness”.

    I’m sure a serial murderer feels more fulfilled killing like a psycho, but I’m not letting him off morally just because it makes him happy. Same with honor killings, slavers, kidnappers, rapists and pedophiles (and think how many of those types of people can be connected to holy books and religions while being protected or considered righteous). You are perfectly justified to fight any individual or group whose happiness comes at so terrible a cost to happiness for others.

    Not interfering with others’ happiness is something that the biggest religions are just fundamentally incapable of (the only way to do it is if you could redefine the shit out of their holy books or make all their believers commit to being crappy followers that don’t actually obey their holy books), and those big religions are pretty much the only things I’ve seen or read Dawkins “be a dick” about.

    And the vast majority of believers think their belief is truth even when it demonstrably isn’t, which has easily tangible (and many crappy) effects on the world we share. The fact that those contradicting beliefs cannot all be true matters, which is why the religious go around killing “infidels” and “heretics”. The truth (or lack thereof) in religions matters greatly to the religious, and it should to atheists too.

    And yeah, making a ridiculing and skewed TV show that slams religions for humor’s sake isn’t dickish, but Dawkins’ rational dissection of actual theology and its actual harms worldwide is dickish. Fuck that ignorant noise.

  • GregFromCos

    I the the Book of Mormon Facebook page, posted the story.

    A few have put up some comments objecting to the Religion is fine if it makes you happy comment.

  • Daniel Schealler

    “With religion I was always like, Does it matter if it’s true if it makes you happy?”

    I’m with kagekiri on this one.

    The answer to that question is: Yes. Yes, it matters. How can it not?

    End of the day: Matt Stone produces humorous content for the purpose of entertainment. And I love his work. It’s funny and fun.

    But that’s not a reason to take his views on subjects outside of the production of entertainment any more seriously than we would for any other person.

    So Matt Stone doesn’t like Richard Dawkins?


    Don’t care. Not important.

  • widemouth

    Who Really Believes Jesus Existed Anyways?

  • King of New Hampshire

    “I’m concerned about people being happy,” said Stone. “With religion I was always like, Does it matter if it’s true if it makes you happy?”

    I’m agreeing with Daniel Schealler and kagekiri.

    Yes, yes, yes, yes. It matters.

    As was pointed out in the comments above: If someone murders another person (Mr. Doe) and is wracked with guilt over it, and the family and friends of Doe are nearly suicidal with grief, are Parker and Stone really suggesting that it might be best to stuff Mr. Doe, flop him on the couch, and pretend he’s still alive? Should we suppress and quell any hint of awareness when his creepy glass eyes never quite meet ours in a conversation, a conversation that always has such an awkward, one way feel to it?

    Religion is like that corpse. Most of us know religion is false to at least some degree. But everyone wants to tiptoe around the fact like we’re all stuck in an episode of The Twighlight Zone. We have freakishly stereotypical Americans in too much make-up and garish Sunday best exhaling through a clenched smile “Just go with it! Go with it or so help us, we will feast on your remnants.”

    This is not happiness. Mormons are not happy. They are ignorant. They are taught that a world filled with bigotry and child molestation is a fine world, taught to suppress concern for others, and taught to allow a delusion to sweep over them. They are no more happy than a man drowning in his own vomit as he dies of a heroine overdose.

    Reality is still here. The world the Mormons, Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans, and Evangelicals shape in the struggle to maintain the “goodness” of their fiction is here, and it does cause suffering, not happiness.

    And if Parker and Stone think neoatheists are the ones arguing that truth matters, they should perhaps speak with some of those Mormons. I guarantee the Mormons will freak more than we will when these two buffoons tell them it’s best not to care if Smith was telling the truth, so long as people are happy.

  • Jay

    What are the chances he is just messing with us to stir us up? I mean look at South Park -Is that not the formula?