Anti-Atheist Bigotry in the Daily News

Although the New York Daily News has no problem endorsing astrology on its news pages, the idea of giving sympathetic coverage to atheism is apparently too much for them to swallow. In a recent issue, they published this obnoxiously bigoted column from Gabriel Gillen, a Dominican friar, which manages to cram just about every anti-atheist slur in the book into a brief space.

We start with the old standby: pick a controversial atheist, accuse him of hypocrisy or some other charge, and assume that he somehow speaks for or represents all atheists:

…the well-known atheist Peter Singer. When his own mother lay helpless with Alzheimer’s disease, he broke all of his own rules, thus throwing away his credibility as a utilitarian philosopher onto the tracks: He came to her rescue.

Let me explain: he went against his own moral code, which in this case would have required him not to help his mother because it is more logical to help others with a better probability of surviving. There is logic to Singer’s reasoning, but it just seems too… heartless. Thankfully, Singer’s heroic actions speak louder than his radically rationalistic vision.

And of course, what column attacking atheists would be complete without trying to taint us by association with the Nazis and Communists:

The atheistic ideologies of Nazism and Communism did not produce earthly paradises, but only tragic regimes of terror that trampled human dignity and freedom.

Just for the record, these would be the the Nazis who handed out translations of the Bible and wore “God With Us” on their uniforms, and the Communists who made alliances with Christian clergy and persecuted atheists for not falling in step with their political goals.

It’s good to see the vast majority of the comments on the Daily News’ site shredding Gillen. I took it upon myself to write a comment in response as well:

I’m stunned at the lapse of editorial judgment that evidently must have occurred to permit this brazen bigotry to be published in the Daily News. This column is a parade of offensive and revolting stereotypes that no newspaper would even have considered printing if the target was anyone other than atheists, and most of its accusations are outright falsehoods.

Recent surveys have found that up to 15% of the American population are atheists, and that in New York and other northeastern cities, that percentage is even higher. Whether you know it or not, you meet atheists on the street every day. We are policemen, firefighters, military veterans, doctors, teachers. We give to charitable causes, love our friends and neighbors, and care about the welfare of humanity every bit as much as religious people. How dare this despicable apologist imply otherwise? And how dare he accuse us of lacking moral values, when he represents a church that sheltered sex predators and moved them around so they could continue to prey on children; a church that still opposes equal rights for gays and lesbians; a church whose irrational and superstitious opposition to contraception is contributing to the deaths of millions of people around the world from AIDS and other preventable STDs?

Before you criticize atheists, Mr. Gillen, you should set your own house in order. Don’t presume to lecture us as long as you still represent the cruel and irrational values of the medieval era.

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://lostaddress.org Ray

    Good to see that the paper’s readers are more rational then the columnists. If, as the author says, things were takn out of context and misrepresented, I am sure that he will put things right in his next column. Right? Right? Of course not,

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    In general, I chuckle when you get so offended by what you perceive as “anti-atheist bigotry.” Specifically in this case, Gillen’s comments aren’t bigotry. In fact, I’ve seen closer to bigotry here (from both sides) than what you linked to. That being said, Gillen is not without historical mistake here, though even then his claim is still half-correct, but he’s certainly not committing the “brazen bigotry” you complain of. I agree Hitler and many of his high-ranking officials were certainly not what we’d today call atheists (occultists would be more accurate), but that doesn’t make Nazism an “atheistic ideology.” OTOH, communism as practiced last century can legitimately be called an atheist philosophy, regardless of who some communists have allied with or persecuted.

    Again, I’m not saying I don’t think Gillen couldn’t have improved his article – for example, in the same paragraph where he cites Nazis and Communists, even before reading your similar sentiments I agreed he would have done well to have also lambasted the error within the Church – but if you read his article without looking for a fight and grant that he’s a priest, not an historian, he’s actually agreeing that atheists can be heroic and moral, and complimenting Singer as a “concrete example” of such heroism and morality. Before you or any of your usual lapdogs scoff, just try to give me a decent read here.

    If you would provide context and analyze his article without quote-mining his words, maybe you might be able to recognize the genuine positive in it? In reference to the “atheist bus ads” that say, “you can be good without God,” look right here in full context:

    If the ad’s claim is true, that an atheist is capable of the same type of heroism as, let’s say, Wesley Autrey – the construction worker with two small children who risked his life to save a stranger who had fallen onto the subway tracks – **I would not only agree with this assertion but point to a concrete example from the well-known atheist Peter Singer.** When his own mother lay helpless with Alzheimer’s disease, he broke all of his own rules, thus throwing away his credibility as a utilitarian philosopher onto the tracks: He came to her rescue.

    Let me explain: he went against his own moral code, which in this case would have required him not to help his mother because it is more logical to help others with a better probability of surviving. There is logic to Singer’s reasoning, but it just seems too … heartless. Thankfully, Singer’s heroic actions speak louder than his radically rationalistic vision. (Gillen, emph. mine)

    Gillen not only agrees with the assertion that “an atheist is capable of the same type of heroism as, let’s say, Wesley Autrey,” he then goes on to cite Singer as a “concrete example” of such heroism. Nowhere in Gillen’s article does he make any statement that can be construed as bigotry against atheists. Here he is agreeing with the content of the bus ads, and complimenting Singer, and you rip him a new one that’s far beyond a simple tit-for-tat. Look at your complaint in the thread:

    Recent surveys have found that up to 15% of the American population are atheists, and that in New York and other northeastern cities, that percentage is even higher. Whether you know it or not, you meet atheists on the street every day. We are policemen, firefighters, military veterans, doctors, teachers. We give to charitable causes, love our friends and neighbors, and care about the welfare of humanity every bit as much as religious people. How dare this despicable apologist imply otherwise? And **how dare he accuse us of lacking moral values,** when he represents a church that sheltered sex predators and moved them around so they could continue to prey on children; a church that still opposes equal rights for gays and lesbians; a church whose irrational and superstitious opposition to contraception is contributing to the deaths of millions of people around the world from AIDS and other preventable STDs? (Ebonmuse, emph. mine)

    Why make false accusations? Read the article. HE DIDN’T ACCUSE ATHEISTS OF LACKING MORAL VALUES. He said he agreed with the assertion of the bus ad and cited Singer as a “concrete example” of heroism. Further, why all the red herrings Ebon? The percentage of American atheists was never an issue so why bring it up? That atheists are policemen, firefighters, military veterans, doctors and teachers who give to charitable causes, love friends and neighbors, and care about the welfare of humanity was never an issue, so why bring it up? Gillen never implied otherwise. He never said anything about anything you’re complaining about. He agreed with the assertion that atheists can be heroic and moral, and cited an atheist (Singer) as an example of such heroism and morality.

    I think you’re simply overreacting and that it’s unfortunate to see this whole thing made into such a battlefield. Yours is the same type of overreaction I see from Creationists in response to evolution, Muslims in response to cartoons, Fundies in response to the ACLU, etc. Lighten up. I’ve seen more brazenly bigoted statements from you and your commenters.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    cl–

    This fragment here:

    thus throwing away his credibility as a utilitarian philosopher onto the tracks

    undercuts your argument that he credits atheists with moral codes. The clear implication is that our morals are easily discarded. He credits Singer with morality only to set up the inference that atheist morality is disposable. Certainly you’re intelligent enough to see this.

    and

    …but if you read his article without looking for a fight…

    Physician, heal thyself.

  • Penguin_Factory

    I have to disagree with cl here- he did accuse atheists of lacking moral values by asserting that atheists who are moral are living as if they believed in God. The flipside of that statement is that the only way to actually live as an atheist- to live as if God doesn’t exist- is to be immoral or at least ammoral.

    Furthermore, the section you quoted isn’t saying what you think it is. Look at it again- “If the ad’s claim is true [...] I would agree with it and point to an example.” The “if” is the telling part. He’s not holding up Singer as an example of a good atheist, he’s using him as an example of an atheist going against his own beliefs to be good, which is the only way Gillen thinks atheists can be good.

    He quite obviously does not agree with the ad’s point as you claim, otherwise why put the “if” in there? Why state that good atheists are living as if they believed in God (ie they aren’t really atheists)? Why bother even writing this piece?

  • Alex Weaver

    I say we lobby the paper to print a response statement from Adam. ^.^

  • Alex Weaver

    The clear implication is that our morals are easily discarded. He credits Singer with morality only to set up the inference that atheist morality is disposable.

    I read him as implying that atheists adhere to a prescriptive system that runs counter to the dictates of “morality” but occasionally “slip” and let their humanity and decency shine through. Which is a slanderous misrepresentation of utilitarianism in any form, really…

  • misshani

    cl: Mr. Gillen clearly stated that an atheist helping his mother is “against his own moral code”. That is blindly and ignorantly judging the atheist viewpoint (and indirectly the atheist himself) as morally bankrupt and anti-compassion and against our basic humanity. He’s WRONG. That’s NOT what atheism is.

    Atheists don’t try to rationalize abandoning their loved ones any more than Christians do. Spreading that lie dehumanizes us and rallies Christians against us, which is bigotry. Whether intended or not.

    Atheists feel love, understand love, treasure those we love, and express love just the same as Christians do. Love is not against our moral code. We just disagree on where love comes from. We understand love as being a natural human emotion, not from a supernatural God. What’s so horrible about that? Why is that so hard to understand?

  • Mark.V.

    A Dominican Friar, weren’t the Dominicans the people who carried out the torturing and burning of women believed to be witches? I suggest he take a long hard look at himself before accusing others.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Which is, Alex, as valid a reading, if not more so. I was merely arguing cl on his own terms.

  • Alex, FCD

    When his own mother lay helpless with Alzheimer’s disease, he broke all of his own rules, thus throwing away his credibility as a utilitarian philosopher onto the tracks: He came to her rescue.

    Let me explain: he went against his own moral code, which in this case would have required him not to help his mother because it is more logical to help others with a better probability of surviving.

    Anybody know exactly what Gillen is talking about here? I’m a bit confused as to what kind of life-saving Singer might have been doing while he was caring for his mother.

  • ashling

    There have been a whole bunch of opinion columns in the Australian newspapers recently, filled will jaw-dropping stupidity and hypocrisy. For example:

    Celebrity atheists expose their hypocrisy

    A plague of atheists has descended, and Catholics are the target

    Fortunately there have been good follow-up pieces on each of them.

    Atheists are good humans, too

    The new crybaby theists

    Seems to me that all four articles score points for the same side, the first two by being so mind numbingly awful.

    (As an aside and out of curiosity, anyone else here going to the 2010 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne this coming March?)

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I actually did write to the Daily News offering to write a response column. I don’t expect them to answer, but if they do, I’ll be sure to post about it here.

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

    I don’t know much about this Singer fellow, except that he’s a radical philosopher (not “radical” as in “kowabunga, dude” but instead “boundary pushing”). Anyways, for more details on his mother’s situation, here (scroll down to “The Peter Singer who has just moved to America…”):

    …His mother, Cora, who was once an intellectually active and vibrant woman, has fallen ill with Alzheimer’s disease. She no longer recognizes Singer or his sister or any of her grandchildren. She is in a state that Helga Kuhse, who is her medical executor as well as her son’s closest academic collaborator, described to me as one in which she would clearly not want to be alive any longer: “She always said, `When I can’t tie my shoes and I can’t read, I don’t want to be here.’Those were her criteria, physical and mental. And she knew what she was saying–she was a doctor. We don’t have active euthanasia in this country, but she certainly would not want drugs to treat an infection or anything else that could prolong her life.”

    Singer would never kill his mother, even if he thought it was what she wanted. He told me that he believes in Jack Kevorkian’s attempts to help people die, but he also said that such a system works only when a patient is still able to express her wishes. Cora Singer never had that chance; like so many others, she slipped too quickly into the vague region between life and death.

  • Valhar2000

    I say, Cl, have we been sufficiently lapdoggish to validate you prejudices, or would you like some more?

  • Tacroy

    Uhm. Despite what Mr. Gillen intended to say, this is not attacking atheism, this is (if anything) attacking strict utilitarianism. I don’t know anything about him, but it seems that Mr. Singer espouses the moral philosophy of strict utilitarianism – which is an ideal, and honestly very difficult to live up to.

    The thing is that there’s no one set of atheist morals. We all pick our own. Singer chose to use the framework described by James Mill, but that doesn’t mean that another atheist can’t choose to live by Kant’s categorical imperative or even following the Ten Commandments (obviously with the caveat that the ones about God are invalid, and sometimes you have to pay too much for car insurance).

    It’s weird, honestly. You’d expect that a Dominican friar would know the difference between a philosophy of morality and a philosophy of theology, and know to not conflate the two. Perhaps he wrote the article with a boatload of unstated mental reservations?

    Seriously, this is like a chef saying hey, that vegan atheist ate an egg! His atheism is compromised!

    He should have known better.

  • Alex, FCD

    Thanks Modus. I’m still very unclear on what part of Singer’s actions Giller thinks runs contrary to utilitarian thinking. He can’t really think that Singer’s time would have been better spent declining to euthanize people other than his mother, can he?

  • Archimedez

    Nice work, Ebonmuse, in responding to this.

    As I recall, you’ve also written here at DA previously in refuting the myth that the Nazis were atheists. (Indeed, atheists were persecuted by the Nazis, and Hitler boasted that he and his henchmen had “stamped out” the “atheistic movement.”) Hitler never formally left the Catholic Church, though later he did apparently want to reject that particular subsection of Christianity and phase in his own version of “Christianity,” which he called the “German Faith,” his mixture of theism, racism, nationalism, and where he cast himself as a kind of quasi-religious leader or prophet. The history of anti-Semitism in Germany is traceable at least to Martin Luther, who had based his hatred of the Jews at least partly upon his interpretations of quotes from the New Testament. I should add that many Christians in Germany opposed Hitler, but evidently these were in the minority.

  • http://www.jamichon.nl John A. Michon

    The kind of defamation presented in friar Gillen’s piece would seem to derive from higher up in the RC hierarchy. In Germany the archbishop of Cologne came up with similar regurgitations during his all-saints sermon. How incidental are these incidents really, given the neo-medieval attitudes of the current pontiff?

    The Giordano Bruno Stiftung (for evolutionary humanism) has reacted quite unequivocally. I have translated some of their reactions, as I think they are relevant for the present discussion.

    In his All-Souls sermon, the bishop of the German city of Cologne, the cardinal Joachim Meisner has accused secular scientists, critics of religion, of being close to national-socialism. The cardinal warned for “the ideologically-inclined biophysicists, neuroscientists an evolutionists” who try to persuade people “that there is no God, and consequently there is no truth or falsehood, no good or evil.” The systems of national-socialism and communism in the past century have shown where this leads us: namely “right to the edge of the abyss and in the end to the extermination of humanity. That is what concentration camps and gulags are for.”

    The spokesman of Board of the Giordano Bruno Stiftung [the German Foundation for Evolutionary Humanism: http://www.giordano-bruno-stiftung.de/ ], Michael Schmidt-Salomon, qualified Meisner’s sermon Monday morning [2 November 2009] as “propaganda of a particularly vicious kind”. Not only has Meisner completely misrepresented the positions of these critical scientists, he has also committed a “colossal act of history falsification.” In contrast with what the cardinal said, the human rights ideas were originally advocated mostly by people who were declared critics of religion. Meanwhile the catholic papacy kept rejecting such ideas as “intolerable arrogation.” Only in 1961 did the Vatican half-heartedly and only after much internal debate accept the human rights principle. Since then it has indeed become fashionable to advertise the catholic church as champion of the human rights, but this has little to do with reality.

    Schmidt-Salomon also identified as “demagogical” and “frightfully uninformed” the comparison with nazism that Meisner made in order to discredit nonreligious people. After all, national-socialism never was atheistic. If one nevertheless insists on making a comparison with national-socialism, one should realize that there are substantially greater parallels between Meisner’s faith and the nazi-ideology than there are between the scientists who are critical of religion and national-socialism. The catholic church has thus far never really apologized for her share in the responsibility for the nazi-crimes. Said Schmidt-Salomon: “The fact that Meisner dares to insinuate a connection between the nazi-regime and precisely the worldview that has been persecuted by this regime right from the beginning, adds to the tragedy.” And he added that he has little hope that Meisner will be impressed by facts: “We have good reasons to expect further defamations by mr. Meisner.”

    And to end with a useful direct quote in German: “Die vollständige Pressemitteilung finden Sie auf dem Portal des Humanistischen Pressedienstes: http://hpd.de/node/8113.”

  • Boudica

    How about using the example of Pat Tillman instead of Singer? Stories abound of his dedication to the military, his fellow soldiers and the war even after he lost his belief in its purpose. And he was an atheist in a foxhole.

  • Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Daylight Atheism > Anti-Atheist Bigotry in the Daily News [daylightatheism.org] on Topsy.com

  • 2-D Man

    The cardinal warned for “the ideologically-inclined biophysicists, neuroscientists an evolutionists” who try to persuade people “that there is no God, and consequently there is no truth or falsehood…

    I’m sure we can all agree that scientists never say, ‘That isn’t true.’

    On a more serious note, maybe I can get this bishop to talk to my profs, informing them of what they’re supposed to say. It’d free up a fair bit of my time.

  • Pingback: NEWS FLASH – Catholic Clergy Member Dislikes Atheists « Blogging with Badger

  • KShep

    cl:

    HE DIDN’T ACCUSE ATHEISTS OF LACKING MORAL VALUES

    Learn to read. Here’s Gillen’s actual words, quoted by you:

    Let me explain: he went against his own moral code, which in this case would have required him not to help his mother…

    Gillen is saying Singer has a “moral code” that would “require him not to help his mother.”

    And Gillen didn’t accuse atheists of lacking moral values?

    Pay attention, man!

  • Alex, FCD

    KShep:

    Gillen is saying Singer has a “moral code” that would “require him not to help his mother.”

    Singer is a proponent of euthanasia, and his mother has apparently stated that she would prefer not to continue living if her Alzheimer’s disease reached a certain point, which it has. As I understand it, the complaint is that Singer is being inconsistent by not giving his consent to stop life-prolonging treatment for her, at least according to the article that Modus linked above (although this article suggests that he would prefer to withdraw care but his sister would not).

    Not that you would learn any of this from Giller’s article. He makes it sound like Singer is a medical doctor who failed to triage properly.

  • KShep

    Alex, thanks for the clarification, but my point is still valid. Gillen did indeed accuse atheists of lacking morality, which is obvious from the complete quote, which I left out because I didn’t think it relevant:

    Let me explain: he went against his own moral code, which in this case would have required him not to help his mother because it is more logical to help others with a better probability of surviving.

    You’re right, though—you wouldn’t have known from Gillen’s article about the entirety of Singer’s true predicament. How convenient.

  • Alex, FCD

    Alex, thanks for the clarification, but my point is still valid. Gillen did indeed accuse atheists of lacking morality…

    I disagree. What Gillen is saying, in the passage you quote, is that Singer has a moral code that would require him not to save his mother’s life under certain circumstances*. This is entirely true. According to Singer’s moral ideas, if his mother decided, while competent to do so, that she would prefer not to live after her disease reached a certain stage, it would be immoral to continue to extend her life beyond that. Gillen criticized that stance (really incompetently), but he certainly never accused all atheists of holding it.

    The thesis of Gillen’s column isn’t that atheists lack morality, it’s that atheists only act morally when they’re behaving like theists. That is bigoted, not to mention circular.

    If anybody’s interested, by the way, Singer gives a nice rundown of his views in this lecture at the Centre for Inquiry.

    *He doesn’t seem to understand what those circumstances are, but never mind.

  • KShep

    Yeah, I understand that Gillen’s thesis isn’t a blanket criticism of all atheists. But he still accused one atheist of lacking morality (I guess I should have made that distinction more clear), and that’s what Adam reacted to. At least I think so.

  • http://godlessrandall.wordpress.com Godless Randall

    Man, you guys call ^that^ bigotry? The man is obviously not a historian, maybe, but I guess I’ve just seen way worse examples of bigotry. Hell, I’m from the midwest, where it’s ^their way or the highway,^ and that with signs along the highway saying as much!

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Godless Randall,
    Just because you feel that one example is more harsh than another, it doesn’t mean that the “gentler” example is not also bigotry.

  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/U612575 Timothy (TRiG)

    There have been a whole bunch of opinion columns in the Australian newspapers recently, filled will jaw-dropping stupidity and hypocrisy. For example:

    A plague of atheists has descended, and Catholics are the target

    Satirised beautifully (as always) in Jesus and Mo.

    TRiG.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X