Daylight Atheism in the News

I wasn’t going to post today, but I was going through my Google news alerts and what do I find:

The Daylight Atheism author states, “Over the past several years, I have observed to my dismay the forces of militant religious fundamentalism gaining in strength, both in my home country, the United States of America, and worldwide. This ominous development, driven by those who are dedicated enemies of all the progress and enlightenment that has been achieved over the past several centuries, threatens the liberty and happiness of all people everywhere. As a result, I have been compelled to grow more involved in political causes to help oppose it. We need as many voices as possible calling attention to the evil of the religious right and shining the light of scrutiny on their true goals. Only by doing so can we hope to stop them, and I hope to play some small part in that.”

This brief article appeared in the Navasota Examiner, which printed a howler of a column back in December wondering if America’s separation of church and state was meant to punish Christianity for the Inquisition, and fretting that the atheist cabal which apparently controls our country now is about to ban the celebration of Christmas. In “The Real Enemies of Christmas“, I gave the column’s author, Joy Stephenson, a brief lesson in American history and encouraged readers to write in to correct her faulty understanding. Evidently some of you took me up on that, and evidently, Joy Stephenson’s bosses at the Examiner are just as blinkered and ignorant as she is.

The letters sent in which were reprinted in my comment thread were very reasonable and polite, but the Examiner’s Evalynn Christiansen immediately takes a tone of huffy dismissal, gasping in shock that we dare to disagree with her:

These atheists have declared themselves intellectually superior to all who do not hold their beliefs. That sounds like hypocrisy to me.

In the first place, if disagreeing with someone amounts to declaring yourself their intellectual superior, then one can only assume that Christians must consider themselves the intellectual superiors of everyone who believes differently. I doubt most believers actually feel that way, but it’s a direct consequence of this columnist’s own logic – which, as usual, she selectively applies only to people she dislikes, with no thought to how the same reasoning would affect her own position.

Second, Christiansen apparently doesn’t know what the word “hypocrite” means. Hypocrisy means speaking for one position and acting to support a different one. We atheists are clear and consistent: we advocate free speech, religious neutrality in government, and the use of reason – but since she doesn’t like that, she evidently gropes for the first term of insult that comes to mind and then throws it out without thought for its relevance.

Joy Stephenson writes witty op-ed pieces with her audience in mind and was really “preaching to the choir” with this one.

Joy is a delight to read. Keep it up!

Keep what up? Making foolish errors based on a pervasive misunderstanding of America’s laws and history? It’s notable that Christiansen doesn’t even respond to the corrections sent to her, nor does she acknowledge that her columnist was in any way mistaken. She just insults the letter writers, assumes that by doing this she’s dealt with their criticisms, and then cheers on her laughably uninformed colleague.

To finish her column, Christiansen announces that most of her paper’s subscribers “believe in Christian values” – as if that somehow excused their getting the facts so outrageously wrong. Like many believers, she assumes that her religion should be exempt from criticism and that everyone else should treat her pronouncements with unquestioning assent. Perhaps we need to show her the error of that way of thinking. Here’s a link to send a letter to the editor. Anyone care to join me in giving this paper another volley?

About Adam Lee

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

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Here’s my letter:

    To whom it may concern:

    I’m the author of Daylight Atheism, and I don’t appreciate Evalynn Christiansen insulting my readers the way she did in her recent column “Example of Hypocrisy”. I commented on an earlier article in the Examiner by Joy Stephenson last month on my blog and pointed out that it contained several elementary errors of fact. I encouraged my readers to write in to this paper pointing out these errors, and I saw the letters they sent, which were rational and polite.

    It seems the Examiner has chosen to respond with personal attacks on my readers’ integrity, while ignoring the manifest misunderstandings of American politics and history in Stephenson’s column. Whether your subscribers “believe in Christian values” is not an excuse for getting the facts so outrageously wrong, unless you believe that religion is a license to be ignorant. Shame on you!

    Your prejudiced attitude, that the nonreligious can be dismissed with insults rather than taken seriously, is an example of all that is wrong in America, and an example of how excessive religious belief makes its holders arrogant and condescending toward their fellow human beings. I’ve made it my mission to fight this bigotry wherever it appears, and you can be sure that I will continue to speak out and to publicize the errors and fallacies of religion, whether they appear in the Examiner or anywhere else.

    Sincerely,
    Adam Lee

  • SteveC
  • JoshH

    Regarding her latest post, it’s nice to see she still didn’t try to counter any arguments. She knows she’s wrong so instead of admitting it she tries to make atheists out to be nothing more than insulting, disrespectful snobs.

  • Alan

    Somewhat off topic, but I think that the reason why Christians need to have a nativity display in town hall is so that they can feel secure believing that everybody else in town believes their particular brand of fantasy. To them, it’s an affirmation that that they’re not crazy in believing this nonsense.

    If town halls did what they’re supposed to do, and not display ANY religious symbols, then Christians will lose that security blanket. Oh well, I guess putting up an atheist monument achieves a similar result. Or maybe it becomes an affirmation that the devil does exist!

    I guess my point is that Christians are going to battle us over every minute issue to hold on to their fantasy. So we need to keep fighting.

  • Entomologista

    Apparently it was hurtful for Joy to find out that people like her make small towns virtually uninhabitable for people who aren’t straight, white Christians. (Good for whoever sent her that email!) Because everything is about Joy and how it makes her feel, she couldn’t possibly take a step back and ask herself why somebody might feel compelled to write such an email to her. It will probably also shock Joy to learn that not everybody from the North is a pot-smoking Commie, and that small town Northerners are just as capable of bigotry. My friends and I in high school were the freaks – nerdy, brown, queer, gender-bending, non-Christian – and we pretty much all left the town ASAP. Why? Just to be left the fuck alone. Harassment isn’t actually that much fun. And even if you’re not being actively harassed by the local morality police, it’s fairly tiring to be a novelty item to hicks.

  • Judy

    On a similar note, The Dallas Morning News printed a letter in today’s edition that is unbelievably dumb and insulting:

    “There are no atheists

    Re: “Schools’ moment of silence upheld – Judge says law C-FB couple challenged doesn’t mandate prayer,” Saturday Metro.

    I laugh every time I read anything regarding an atheist. If the truth were known, there are no atheists. They know in their heart there is a God; they just like to pretend he is not there.

    Thank God, we live in a free country where people can protest and express their views. However, it is a shame some people have nothing better to do than challenge other people’s God-given right to do the same.

    Believe it or not, God smiles on all people, including those who claim to be atheists.

    Jean Roberts, Addison”

    *

    As an employee of this newspaper, I am not allowed to respond to this woman’s affront. But I know that the atheists in my community are going to let her have it, and I can’t wait!

  • D

    I wrote in:

    Dear Editor,
    I read Evalynn Christiansen’s response to Andrea McCormick’s letter (which in turn was written in response to Joy Stephenson’s “Don’t You Dare Say ‘Happy Holidays’ to Me!”). Before realizing that Evalynn was not on your staff, I had thought to criticize at length her failure to refute (or even address) a single point made by the authors of the letters written in response to Joy’s column, but after discovering that she was just another citizen writing a letter, the wind largely let out of my sails because I could no longer appeal to things like “journalistic integrity.”

    However, I can still appeal to yours. After consideration, one thing still sticks in my craw about your decision to post her letter, and that concerns her use of the term “hypocrisy.” My understanding of hypocrisy is that it involves speaking in favor of one set of values while acting in favor of another; not practicing what you preach, in other words. Evalynn specifically cites Andrea McCormick’s letter when speaking of hypocrisy, so I re-read it with a critical eye. Andrea’s response said nothing of stopping Christmas or Christians, but instead contained a message largely of inclusion, in response to Joy’s demand that people on the street pay special attention to her particular holiday and nobody else’s. Andrea spoke against exclusion and for inclusion, making her case by shedding light on facts of the matter and encouraging toleration of a general expression of good will to all; would you please point out exactly what it was that you found hypocritical about this? Where is the “self-centered, ignorant” viewpoint to which Evalynn evidently takes exception?

    I would advise you to pay closer attention to the letters you post in the future. While you can make the case that you do not explicitly endorse Evalynn’s viewpoint, you clearly saw fit to publish it, and that decision reflects on you just as poorly for not catching the muddled thinking therein.

    -D

    I didn’t feel the need to comment that publishing the libelous statements of others is, itself, a form of libel; it seemed that would be construed as a threat and would therefore be ultimately unproductive.

  • Eric

    You ever been to Navasota? I have! It’s on the way to College Station and on the old hwy past Magnolia. Like most small TX towns it’s massivly god bothered, Even so, a good chunk of Navasota’s sales tax revenue comes from that naked swingers recreation area up in the Brazos.

  • Eric

    As for that “there are no atheists” BS, haven’t these people read the Psalms. It’s chapter 14 IIRC. “The fool hath said in his heart ‘there is no God’” I take “said in his his heart” to mean “believes sincerely”. Thus the Bible itself itself states there are completely sincere atheists. Those “no atheists” people are going against the Bible.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    My letter:

    To the editor:

    I understand that you have published an opinion by Evalynn Christiansen criticizing the Daylight Atheism blog and its founder, in particular calling him a “hypocrite”. Furthermore, you slur all atheists by characterizing us as “ignorant” and “self-centered”. You claim that we hold ourselves to be intellectually superior to all those who do not share our “beliefs”.

    Permit me to respond.

    Firstly, although I do not know Daylight A’s publisher personally, I have read his work regularly for about a year now, and have had occasion to exchange thoughts with him. I find that even in disagreement he is courteous, civil, and well-thought-out. I have yet to see him support a position he doesn’t propound, and so I cannot agree at all with Ms. Christiansen calling him a hypocrite. Would she be so kind as to provide specifics?

    Certainly some atheists are indeed ignorant and self-centered. Others volunteer at homeless shelters, still more are scientists or researchers, others like myself perform volunteer work for veterans’ organizations and so on, thus showing the emptiness of that stereotype. Even if you must sling such barbs, Ms. Christiansen, you’d ought to know that an ad homineim attack is a plain admission of a weak argument. Believe me, as a native Texan (born and raised in Grand Prairie, living in southern California), it rubs me wrong to be thought of as a racist hillbilly who can fix a tractor but not read a street sign. But as an atheist, it bugs me even more to be thought of as heartless simply because I lack your faith and wish to be left alone.

    Finally, atheism is not a belief. It is a lack of belief. It is the absence of faith in the supernatural. It is religion, and only religion, that is a belief in this context. My atheism isn’t a belief; it is a working theory with plenty of supporting evidence. Can Ms. Christiansen say the same?

    My apologies about the length here. Thank you for taking the time to consider my points.

  • DamienSansBlog

    Well…congratulations for making it to print, I suppose. I wish it were under better circumstances, but c’est la vie. I’m looking forward to the first Navasotan to post here. Let us know how the letter-writing campaign goes.

  • Gary

    I sent in this letter to the The Dallas Morning News:

    Today, the blog Daylight Atheism alerted me to Jean Roberts’ recent letter to this newspaper, regarding atheists. She writes “They know in their heart there is a God; they just like to pretend he is not there.” Is this not tantamount to telling Hindus that they know there is only one god, but that they just like to pretend that there are many others? It seems very dishonest to me, to speak of the beliefs of others without attempting to understand that millions of people in this country have come to the sincere conclusion that people create gods, and not the other way around.

    There are many forms of belief. Some people believe in the God of the Bible, others believe in other deities, and still others lack belief in any form of god. To say that these people know “in their heart” that they are wrong, and hypocritically behave otherwise, is to remain ignorant of the diversity of religious and nonreligious belief.

  • Jeff T.

    The paper’s article that was linked earlier in this thread seemed to be one of reconciliation and expressed a wish for a happy new year.

    I found the original opinion piece to be hilarious and I laughed for quite some time. I didn’t email the paper as Ebon suggested because laughter is the best medicine. As I begin to feel the weight of age, I need some bouts of uncontrollable joy here and there.

    I hope the paper continues to publish such humor for many years to come.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    I will take a crack at it tomorrow night Adam. But I am pleased that you and your other readers above did a great job rebuking her.

    As for feelings of superiority, I like to tell Christians, “The worse thing I can think about you is that you are stupid for believing that their god exists. The best thing you can think about me is that I am going to burn in hell for all eternity after I day, and that you feel sad about it. The worst thing you can think about me is that not only will I burn in hell, but that you gleefully look forward to it.

  • Alan

    My family likes to pull the persecution card, that I’m putting them down or making them out to be intellectually inferior. This is because I quote their own goofy bible to them, and to their astonishment, I’m always right.

    Typically, I respond by saying that it was only a year ago that I admitted to myself that I was an atheist. Prior to that, I was a church-going catholic like any other whose doubts about faith slowly built up over a few years. I don’t consider the Alan from a year ago to be intellectually inferior to the Alan of today. My mental capacity has remained pretty constant.

    Rather, the only difference between myself and the rest of my family is that I made a conscious effort to answer the question, “Why do I believe what I believe?” After months of research of the Bible and other religions, skepticism and science, I could only conclude that there was nothing to religion. I’ve asked myself a question that they’ve refused to ask themselves, or perhaps, I do not fear the answer.

  • velkyn

    well, color me shocked that things were printed. I’m Andrea McCormick and I brought you that message ;)

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I have received the following letter in reply to the one I sent in (shown above):

    “I am amazed by the reach of The Examiner never in my wildest dreams would I have thought the opinions of our readers and columnist would reach so far and generate so much dialog.

    I commend your volunteerism and know it is greatly appreciated by the organizations and individuals touched by your actions.

    First I must again explain… The Examiner is an inanimate object incapable of thought or action. Our columnist has been most gracious and despite personal attacks by some avowed atheist has never labeled anyone. Mrs. Christiansen’s letter expressed her thoughts and met our requirements for publication.

    I would challenge your definition of atheism as a “belief.”.. I believe it is a lack of faith and without faith what is there. A belief is a personal opinion…”I believe you are a good person” leaves room for proof. “I have faith in your goodness” is an affirmative statement and requires no other action.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.”

    I am assuming that this man is the paper’s editor, or publisher. Notice that as an answer it is seriously lacking in cogency. I’m considering a reply, but don’t honestly feel that it would be productive. Hmph.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Well, here’s an interesting development. In response to the letter I reprinted upthread, I’ve received a personal reply from the editor and publisher of the Examiner. Judging by his hostile and angry tone, it seems we’ve struck a nerve. Check this out and tell me if it doesn’t seem like an utterly inappropriate thing for the editor of a newspaper to be writing to a reader directly:

    =

    From: Dave Kucifer
    To: ebonmusings@gmail.com
    Date: 11 Jan 2008 10:53
    Subject: Last word

    As Editor and Publisher of the Navasota Examiner I make it a general rule not to respond to letters-to-editor unless they cross the line which yours has certainly done.
    First let me explain- The Examiner is an inanimate object incapable of action or thought. Secondly Mrs. Christiansen’s response where her own, just as your letter is your thoughts. To accuse her, and us, of a personal attack is ludicrous. It was no more a personal attack than the letter you submitted. If you remember you accused Mrs. Stephenson of being uninformed, and biased.

    You and other of your ilk are quick to take offense when someone shares the truth, yet think nothing of referring to Christians as ignorant, uninformed, bigoted and an entire litany of other derogatory descriptions. You are quick to take aim at religion, implying yet if you will consult the dictionary you will find Atheism is in fact a religion, that being the case perhaps you,too, have a license to be ignorant.

    Mr. Lee I do not intend to get into an extended discussion, it would serve no purpose for either of us, and would only end in a protracted diatribe on both our part.

    One of the great things about being a Christian is our ability to love, and be loved by a forgiving God. A God who is willing to accept anyone, yes even an avowed Atheist such as you, asking only that you accept His Son as the savior of the world.

    Before closing I would like to know what an Atheist believes happens after death… Do they believe they simply cease to exist?..Do you and others such as yourself truly believe the world does not have a creator? It is easier to explain creation than evolution….all things must have a beginning.

    The First Amendment of our Constitution, which was authored by men of faith guaranties the right of free speech for everyone even those who disagree with you.

  • OMGF

    Has the editor of the Navasota Examiner never heard of spell check or proper grammar and sentence structure? Wow. Reading that was almost painful. A tip to Mr. Kucifer in case he surfs over here. If you really think that atheists think Xians are ignorant, uninformed, bigoted, etc. then why did you pretty much confirm that those things are correct in your case in your letter?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Here’s my reply to that letter:

    =

    Hello Dave,

    Well, I have to say, this is a surprise. I wasn’t expecting a personal response, and I particularly wasn’t expecting the editor and publisher of the paper to write directly to me. I have to say that, given your angry and hostile tone, this strikes me as inappropriate. However, if you’d like to have a man-to-man discussion rather than one between reader and publisher, I’d be glad to respond to your questions.

    On 11/01/2008, Dave Kucifer wrote:
    >
    > As Editor and Publisher of the Navasota Examiner I make it a general rule
    > not to respond to letters-to-editor unless they cross the line which yours
    > has certainly done.
    > First let me explain- The Examiner is an inanimate object incapable of
    > action or thought.

    I assume you’ve never heard of metonymy. (When the president issues a statement and reporters say, “The White House said…”, do you send them irritated corrections because everyone knows that houses can’t talk?) Since you’re the editor of a newspaper, it seems odd to me that you’re not familiar with that device, but I’m glad I was able to bring it to your attention. Please don’t hesitate to ask if I can supply you with additional editorial assistance in the future.

    > Secondly Mrs. Christiansen’s response where her own,
    > just as your letter is your thoughts.

    I see now that Evalyn Christensen isn’t an employee of the paper, as I had mistakenly assumed. My apologies. Nevertheless, given that you chose to exercise editorial discretion in publishing her letter, and given the sentiments you’ve expressed to me, I think it’s pretty clear that her attitude is shared by the editorial staff of your paper.

    > To accuse her, and us, of a personal
    > attack is ludicrous. It was no more a personal attack than the letter you
    > submitted. If you remember you accused Mrs. Stephenson of being uninformed,
    > and biased.

    Both of which, I believe, are valid criticisms. She obviously doesn’t know much about the history of the United States if she thinks the reason we have separation of church and state was to punish Christianity for the Inquisition. And if she assumes that atheists want to ban the celebration of Christmas or are about to do so, then I think that is reasonable evidence of bias. Evalyn’s response, on the other hand – now *that* was a personal attack, and a quite vicious and nasty one at that.

    > You and other of your ilk are quick to take offense when someone shares
    > the truth,

    But what she wrote was *not* the truth. It was factually incorrect and, frankly, dreadfully ill-informed. Neither her, nor you, nor Mrs. Christiansen, nor anyone else speaking for your paper has so far acknowledged this obvious point. It seems to me that many Christian believers thoughtlessly write and say the most incorrect and ignorant things about atheists and atheism, and then accuse *us* of being the angry ones when we take umbrage. Also – a related tendency which is sadly on display here – I find that many Christians are quick to rally around one of their own and defend that person against atheists’ criticisms, even when the person being defended was factually in the wrong. Regrettably, among theists, group loyalty often takes the place of allegiance to the truth.

    > Before closing I would like to know what an Atheist believes happens after
    > death… Do they believe they simply cease to exist?

    Yes. That’s why it’s so important for us to make the best of this life while we have it: to live to the fullest for ourselves, and to promote the happiness of others.

    > ..Do you and others
    > such as yourself truly believe the world does not have a creator?

    Yes. That’s pretty much the definition of an atheist, isn’t it?

    > It is easier to explain creation than evolution….all things must have a
    > beginning.

    And what was the creator’s beginning? Or are you now going to declare for yourself a special exception to the principle you just proclaimed? As the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has said, if you’re going to say “God was always there,” you might as well save a step and say “The universe was always there” or “Life was always there” and be done with it.

    > The First Amendment of our Constitution, which was authored by men of faith
    > guaranties the right of free speech for everyone even those who disagree
    > with you.

    Indeed. But it does not guarantee immunity from criticism, and my readers and I have used that same right to bring to your attention the factual errors in Joy’s original column. I’m disappointed that you’ve chosen to react in this way.

    -Adam

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    I assume you’ve never heard of metonymy. . . . Please don’t hesitate to ask if I can supply you with additional editorial assistance in the future.

    Adam, I almost choked when I read that. And he is going to choke, too, you know.

    I feel bad for finding this so entertaining.

    Not very bad, though ;-)

  • Eric

    I fired off a letter to Mr. Kucifer (what a great name for the dude!) in response to his less than professional response to Ebon. I was polite and direct, but did manage to get a dig in at the end saying that through his inability to grasp literary concepts and techniques, and being he is a citizen of the Lone Star State, that it appears Davey Crockett died in vain…

  • Alex Weaver

    Why do some people insist on citing their “right” to do things as if it protected them from criticism for choosing to actually do them? Is it merely a sign of muddled thinking, or is it (as I’ve come to suspect in many cases) a symptom of moral bankruptcy (IE, the only reason they can conceive of for choosing not to do something that they might be inclined to do is if it were illegal)? :/

  • TSJones

    I’ve asked myself a question that they’ve refused to ask themselves, or perhaps, I do not fear the answer.

    Thank you Alan, and thank you Adam I’m glad I stopped by and paused to read. Entertaining and meaningful in so many ways. Keep up the good works.

    TS

  • OMGF

    Did anyone else happen to catch this letter to the editor in the same paper? Scary.

  • goyo

    OMGF: I just read the letter. It is scary. I’m a schoolteacher here in Texas, and for her information, we have a state-required “moment of silence”, where just before we do it, our principal says,”let’s all give thanks to god for our many blessings”. If that’s not prayer in school, I don’t know what is.
    Also we study American Govt., and my students most definitely know what the American flag means. (I teach fourth grade). Do you think she is inferring that the flag somehow holds some christian meaning that I should be teaching?
    This kind of thought is rampant here in the “buckle” of the bible belt.

  • Eric

    Found this on Distpatches From the Culture Wars on Texas Sceince Teachers and Evolution. It seemed relevant here.

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2008/01/why_teachers_dont_teach_evolut.php#more

  • Crotch

    C’mon, Adam. I’m desperate for an update here. This whole thing is just too funny.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    I don’t have any further updates to report. If I hear back from anyone at the paper, I’ll post about it. However, I suspect they’ve decided to ignore me and hope I’ll go away.

  • Gary

    Dallas Morning News did not print my letter, but I am happy to say that they printed others. I will reproduce them here:

    http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/letters/stories/DN-monartletters_0114edi.ART.State.Edition1.377c5dd.html

    Prayer is far from banned in public schools

    Re: “There are no atheists,” by Jean Roberts, Thursday Letters.

    I laugh every time religious people think that their rights are being threatened when a special privilege is at stake.

    Prayer is far from banned in schools. Schoolchildren have ample opportunity to pray if they so wish. Why students’ rights to “express themselves” would depend so highly on a mandatory “moment of silence” is beyond me.

    Atheists do exist, and we have every right to object when people try to turn America’s classrooms into churches.

    Michela Brumfield, senior, Trenton High School, Trenton

    We’re asking for acceptance of a different view

    The extraordinarily provincial view (i.e., that all atheists believe in God) presented by Jean Roberts illustrates the wacky logic in the heads of some religious people. Yes, Ms. Roberts, there really are plenty of people like me who don’t believe in God. Or in Zeus. Or in Santa Claus. I accept that you do believe in at least one of those things.

    The world would be a much kinder place if folks like you could accept that some of us believe in one less God than you do. And that we are no better or worse than anybody else for believing that way.

    Brad Stone, Dallas

    Thanks for telling me what I think

    Thank you, Jean Roberts, for explaining to me what I think. I thought I knew what I thought, but she explained to me in her letter what it is that I believe in “my heart.” Please continue to write about what I truly believe, because apparently I don’t know what I think.

    David Armstrong, Poetry

  • http://brazilbrat.blogspot.com/ James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil

    We are all wasting our time. We cannot expect theists to be open-minded and respond to facts and logic when the basic requirement for any religion is to close the mind to facts and discard any semblance of logic.

    As has been noted elsewhere, “If you could reason with theists, there wouldn’t be any theists.”


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