A Good Riddance

Almost lost in the crush of recent religion-related news, there was one important story I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss: Larry Darby, the atheist, white supremacist and Holocaust denier who ran for attorney general in Alabama and lost, announced soon thereafter that he was converting to Christianity and closing down his Atheist Law Center. He is not, however, abandoning his racist views – far from it – and recently announced his intentions to run for Congress, saying that the Democratic party “needs to be cleaned out”.

Darby made a surprisingly strong showing in the Democratic primary for attorney general, winning more votes than the arrogant Republican theocrat Roy Moore received in his failed campaign for governor. Though I think Darby is a disgusting bigot and I am glad that he lost, that outcome must have humiliated Moore to no end and that can only be a good thing. Notably, in the above-cited article, Moore condemns Darby as “the former head of the atheist party” – apparently he considers this to be a greater insult than mentioning Darby’s unapologetically racist, anti-Semitic views. Moore’s opinion on the fact that Darby now professes to share his religion was not given.

Should Darby follow through on his promise to campaign for Congress, I doubt he will win. There is good reason to believe that he gained the support he did this time only because voters were unfamiliar with his actual views, and because his name appeared first on the ballot. (Granted, this fact may itself say something disheartening about the attentiveness of the voting public.) If he participates in another election and becomes better known, I strongly suspect he will lose by a wider margin, and I will be glad of that. Even in the conservative South, I hope, American voters know better than to confer the privilege of office on such an obnoxious bigot.

In retrospect, there is good reason to question how genuine or deeply felt Darby’s atheist views ever were. Reading his rambling screed in which he explains the reasons for his conversion, it emerges that Darby opposed Roy Moore’s theocratic transgression not because it violated the First Amendment, but because the Ten Commandments are a Jewish document. As far as the First Amendment goes, Darby apparently never had a problem with governments establishing religion, so long as it was not Jewish religion. Here is an excerpt:

Other aspects of Jewish Supremacism advanced by powerful government officials or condoned by the federal government that were challenged by the Atheist Law Center include the placement of Jewish idolatry in government buildings and the reciting of prayers to a [nameless] god or moments of silence in government schools, all of which are consistent with the de facto establishment of Judaism as our national or state religion.

Regarding Jewish idolatry, the Atheist Law Center consistently spoke against Chief Justice Roy Moore’s efforts to maintain a monument to Jewish law in the rotunda of the Alabama judicial building in Montgomery. The Atheist Law Center recognized that States Rights are a part of the U.S. Constitution and therefore had no issue or disagreement with Justice Moore’s claim that the U.S. government had no jurisdiction to interfere with his actions as an elected official of Alabama. However, the Atheist Law Center opposed Justice Moore’s claims that the United States is a Judeo-Christian nation and that the U.S. Constitution was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, specifically what is popularly known as the Ten Commandments but more accurately known as the Aseret ha-Dibrot.

Regardless of the reasons for his conversion or the truth of his former state of mind, I am heartily glad that Darby is no longer an atheist. His vile and ignorant views were a stain on the names of good-hearted nonbelievers everywhere, and although no atheist speaks for or defines all of atheism, it is nevertheless good to hear that we no longer need to defend ourselves against the taint of guilt by association with him. Christians, you can have him; and Mr. Darby, I strongly urge you never to come back. We atheists do not want you, we do not need you, and we are glad to be rid of you.

The encouraging part of this story is that the atheist community was similarly unanimous in their rejection of Darby’s evil beliefs, which apparently was part of the motivation for his conversion. Darby complained at length about the lack of support he received from atheists, and people such as Mark Potok of the Intelligence Project said that the atheist community dropped Darby “like a hot rock” after hearing his views on race. Darby’s conversion may have been sincere, or he may simply have been cynically gambling that he would find more support among Christians. Either way, again, it is a good riddance.

* * *

Speaking of atheists who give other nonbelievers a bad name, there seem to be developments on the part of the Raving Atheist, about whom I wrote in a post from June titled “Cleaning House“. Other atheists who criticized him stated their belief that his own conversion to fundamentalist Christianity was imminent; and while I dislike making pronouncements on the motivations of others, I find that conclusion becoming difficult to avoid.

Witness several of his latest posts, including one titled “More Than Matter”, in which he argues for dualism and the existence of a soul, using arguments from emotion seemingly drawn straight from a Christian apologetics playbook. Nowhere is any evidence for the existence of such a thing presented; instead, RA asserts that we must be immaterial souls because it would be very sad if we weren’t. (Sample quote: “How can people think of themselves this way? I despair at those explanations which reduce us to nothing more than slowly-decaying heaps of steaming matter, to the proverbial robots made of meat.”) Another post, entitled “Dust To?”, defends the existence of an afterlife, and a third announces that he intends to revisit and criticize some of his old posts starting soon. A fourth coyly announces that he intends to “jump off” the mountain of atheism, but “[w]hich side I won’t say”. And for the clincher, his latest Quote of the Day is “So much for the atheist”. If these are not the words of a person planning an imminent conversion to Christianity, or at least to some form of theistic religion, they are a convincing imitation.

I wrote in my earlier post about RA that I was dismayed at the aggressive irrationality of his anti-choice position, at the way he held this belief without even attempting to justify it rationally. Darby’s racist views, likewise, were and are founded on a paranoid, irrational view of the world. And one of these two is now a theist, while the other is drifting in that direction. It is tempting to wonder if there is a causal relation. Irrationality begets irrationality, and I suspect, though I cannot prove, that their pre-existing acceptance of unreason and faith-based beliefs created a vulnerability, a gap in their skeptical immune systems where other bizarre and unevidenced ideas could creep in. On balance, I believe that both these two were a detriment rather than a credit to the cause of atheism, and so we should be happy that they both seem to be leaving us soon. Nevertheless, their stories serve as a useful reminder to true nonbelievers about remaining vigilant against the insidious effects of superstition.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Alex Weaver

    I’m just glad that the religious right, for the most part, don’t seem to read much, otherwise we’d be getting “guilt by association” attacks related to the Marquis de Sade…

    Oops. I shouldn’t give them ideas. ;/

  • Jeff T.

    Atheism is based on logic and reason. There is no room in the scientific model to support irrational prejudice and racism. But there is plenty of room in any number of religions to support such hatred and bigotry.

    I think we can read between the lines of his words to discover this ‘conversion’ of opportunity to win over the bible belt voters.

  • Philip Thomas

    Atheism can be based on logic and reason, and so can theism: only the premises change. Irrationality is not unknown amongst atheists (or theists, of course). And the scientific model has nothing to do with atheism/theism.

  • http://patwhalenaustin.rr.com Boelf

    Philip, theism is inherently irrationality. It relies on faith to believe the the bible or koran is the word of god. Atheism makes no such demands.

  • Philip Thomas

    theism is not the beleif that the bible or the koran is the word of god.

  • Archi Medez

    I have to agree with Philip on this one, at least regarding logic/reason*, and provided that we are talking in the abstract, in principle, and not in regard to the major extant doctrines. Some case of theism could, in theory, be supported by logic. This does not mean that any example of theism is built on logic that is free of internal inconsistencies, contradictions, etc. Nevertheless, in principle, theism and atheism can each be made and adjusted to be however logical/rational as we like, as long as neither makes any commitments to empiricism.

    *For the moment, I’m using “reason” as synonymous with logic. I do recognize that in common use, “reason” is often in reference to real-world reasoning, i.e., common sense and science.

    Suppose I say “All pigs that have wings can fly. This pig has wings. Ergo, this pig can fly.” Logically, there is no problem whatsoever with that statement. Any text of formal logical will tell you that it is a logically valid conclusion, given the premises. But we know from experience that the premises are empirically false, and the conclusion is absurd.

    I think the key distinction between science and most religions is that the former is based heavily on empirical methods (experiments, observational studies, etc.) whereas the latter is ultimately based on certain foundational assumptions that cannot be subjected to empirical testing. (This need not, of course, be the case, but it is the case with all of the major religions of interest). Scientists and theologians alike can make mistakes in reasoning/logic. The difference is that science focusses more on testing premises and conclusions that are of the empirical kind and which can be subjected to empirical methods.

    To say that X exists is an empirical claim that cannot be answered until some empirical evidence is obtained about the validity of that claim. Most extant forms of theism make the claim that God exists. It is an empirical claim for which there is no evidence. Although theists typically remark that absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence, that doesn’t help the claim. Any empirical claim must be supported by empirical evidence. Lacking empirical evidence, there is no basis for the positive claim.

    A while ago I pointed out, probably stemming from one of Adam’s posts, that atheists do have a positive theory about the truth of the claim that God exists. In a nutshell, atheists generally have a causal, scientific theory about this claim and its status, and where it comes from. It’s origins are in human psychology, mythmaking, erroneous assumptions and analogies based on limited evidence, etc. Thus, we can say that God exists as a concept, even though a God that corresponds with the contents of the concept cannot be found in the real world (i.e., as an entity external to the concept). In other words, it is a mythological concept in the same category as elf, unicorn, etc.

  • Philip Thomas

    Thankyou, Archi Medez.

    I think that the major religions do claim to have empirical evidence for God’s existence. In Islam, the Koran is seen as the inspired word of God, and obviously if this were true it would be evidence for God’s existence. In Judaism there are the various signs of divine presence allegedly afforded to the patriarchs, and the testimony of the Prophets. In Christianity there are the claims surrounding the indvidual known as Jesus of Nazereth (not least, that he existed at all). Now, this empirical foundation is relatively slender by comparison with the vast amount of scientific data gathered in even a single year. But its still an attempt to make an empirical claim.

  • andrea

    A claim of empirical evidence is certainly not actual empirical evidence. I could claim that I can fly but until I prove it, it’s just words. There is just as much claims of empirical evidence for the Greek Gods as there is any others (as Adam has shown in his essay).

  • Philip Thomas

    “A claim of empirical evidence is certainly not actual empirical evidence”

    Of course, Andrea, but what else do we have? How can we tell the difference between a claim of empirical evidence and actual empirical evidence? That is where method and analysis come in. Anyway, Archi Medez was highlighting a distinction in the claims made by science and the claims made by relgion- saying that one relies on empirical evidence and theb other does not.

    A claim that you can fly is not empirical evidence that you can fly, of course.

  • http://politecompany.blogspot.com/ Thursday

    I had a friend in high school who used the modern wicca movement as a protest against her Christian upbringing. I always thought it rather odd that her arguments in favour of her supposed faith were never about the positives of wicca, but exclusively about the negatives of Christianity.

    Unsurprisingly, she converted back again one child, one divorce, and a few years later. I’m wondering if the Raging Atheist had similar motivations…?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    That’s a good question, and it’s one that only the Raving Atheist can answer. Of course, for him to do that, he would have to stop dancing around the topic and give a straight answer on whether he intends to convert or not. Judging by his latest posts, though, he apparently has no intention of doing that yet.