Secularism and Atheism

Jacques Berlinerblau, the Director of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University (whatever that might be; I really don’t know), has an article in the Huffington Post trying to decouple atheism and secularism. He has the beginning of a good point, but he takes it entirely too far.

Claiming that secularism and atheism are the same thing makes for good culture warrioring. The number of nonbelievers in this country is quite small. Many Americans, unfortunately, harbor irrational prejudices toward them. By intentionally blurring the distinction between atheism and secularism, the religious right succeeds in drowning both.

Yet it is not only foes, but friends of secularism, who sometimes make this mistake as well. Nowadays most major atheist groups describe themselves as “secular.” Many are in fact good secularists. But others, as we shall see, are beholden to assumptions that are strikingly at odds with the secular worldview.

Let’s start with some brief definitions. Atheism, put simply, is a term that covers a wide variety of schools of thought that ponder and/or posit the non-existence of God/s…

Secularism, on the other hand, has nothing to do with metaphysics. It does not ask whether there is a divine realm. It is agnostic, if you will, on the question of God’s existence — a question that is way above its pay grade.

What secularism does concern itself with are relations between Church and State. It is a flexible doctrine that can embody a lot of policy positions. Strict separationism is one, but not the only, of those positions. At its core, secularism is deeply suspicious of any entanglement between government and religion.

There is a kernel of something valid here, of course. One can be a secularist and not be an atheist; lots of religious people are staunch advocates of strict separation of church and state. But while there are some theists who are secularists, it’s also true that nearly all atheists are going to be secularists, for reasons too obvious to require discussion here. But I think he takes this valid point too far:

Second, for secularism to reinvigorate itself it needs to reclaim its traditional base of religious people. As I noted in my forthcoming book, the secular vision was birthed by religious thinkers, such as Martin Luther, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (the last two, admittedly were idiosyncratic believers, but believers nonetheless).

Throughout American history it has been groups like Baptists, Jews, progressive Catholics as well as countless smaller religious minorities who have championed secular political ideas. But religious believers today, even moderate religious believers, will not sign on to secularism if they think it’s merely the advocacy arm of godlessness.

Finally, we need to distinguish secularism from atheism because some atheists, of late, have taken a regrettable anti-secular turn. True, secularism is a proponent of religious freedom and freedom from religion. It sees the “Church” as a legitimate component of the American polity. It doesn’t view religion as “poison” (to quote Christopher Hitchens) or hope for an “end of faith.” As noted earlier, secularism has no dog in that fight.

Most atheists, of course, are tolerant to a fault and simply wish for religious folks to reciprocate (and most do). Yet as long as some celebrities of nonbelief continue to espouse radical anti-theism (in the name of “secularism,” no less) the future of secularism is imperiled.

I see no reason to believe that last sentence to be true. It is as invalid as it would be if an atheist argued that we cannot allow religious people to be considered secularists because that will somehow couple secularism with religious belief. One can be a theist and a secularist or an atheist and a secularist; both positions are entirely irrelevant to the validity of secularism itself.

He seems to be making a pragmatic argument here, that as long as outspoken atheists advocate for secularism, some religious people will reject secularism because it is sometimes espoused by atheists. But even if that is true, so what? What does he suggest, that outspoken atheists just stop advocating for secularism? Sorry, that isn’t going to happen, nor should it. It should be enough for any rational person to simply have it pointed out that secularism is independent of every position on the existence of God; if that fails to convince them, why should it concern anyone else? They are behaving irrationally.

"Well, yeah, moderate human sacrifice is boring and doesn't impress the Gods."

Swanson Thinks Burning Man Wants to ..."
"If I remember correctly it only got approved by the UN Security Council because the ..."

Trump’s Meaningless ‘Shift’ in Afghanistan Policy
"...they will find a country that has renewed the sacred bonds of love and loyalty ..."

Breaking Down Trump’s Afghanistan Speech
"trumP is a lying coward, as are all of his supporters. At trumP's klan rally ..."

Republicans Refuse to Defend Trump on ..."
Follow Us!
POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • boopsey

    I think you misread that last sentence. He isn’t complaining about outspoken atheists advocating secularism. He’s complaining about outspoken atheists advocating anti-theism and calling it secularism.

  • Yoritomo

    I read Berlinerblau’s point differently. He seems to say that anti-theists, those who oppose all religion, have claimed the mantle of secularism for their agenda (instead of just for the anti-entanglement part of their agenda). I’m not sure whether that point is valid, but he doesn’t just say that it’s bad for secularism if it’s espoused by atheists.

  • http://thecyberneticatheist.blogspot.com/ RW Ahrens

    I would also take issue with his point about nonbelievers being a “quite small” number.

    The last census says 15% claimed that mantle, and given the demonization of such in this country, I’d bet that the true numbers are double that, at least, due to the incentives to stay below the radar.

    That isn’t a small number by anybody’s count, but heaven forbid that any clergyman admit otherwise! Geez, we might start organizing, and then where would the fundies be?

  • eric

    Yet as long as some celebrities of nonbelief continue to espouse radical anti-theism (in the name of “secularism,” no less) the future of secularism is imperiled.

    I think Berlinbau deeply misunderstands American secularism, which includes the concept of freedom of speech and mininimizing unnecessary government interference or entanglement in religious (and irreligious) practices. A truly secular government should not interfere in anti-theist speech any more than it should interfere in evangelizing.

    Not to point too fine a point on it, but he’s got it exactly backwards: secularism is emperiled when celebrities of nonbelief are forbidden from espousing radical anti-theism. Because if the government is forbidding such speech, its entangling itself in sectarian conflicts.

  • baal

    Jacques Berlinerblau seems to have a somewhat peculiar definition of “secular”. To be secular you must want church and State to be separate AND want church AND want State. How could you be secular if all you want is only State, that’s ‘stateism’ or anti-theism, not secularism(by his definition). Atheists who are also anti-theist are not secularist (by his definition).

    Atheists are logically able to be secular and anti-theist at the same time. They speak to different desired outcomes.

  • slc1

    Berlinerblau has been the subject of much ridicule over at Jerry Coyne’s blog. A recent example is linked to below.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/guest-post-the-conflation-between-atheism-and-secularism/

  • chrisdevries

    Very pragmatic and an excellent point. But we can’t all be splitting our group of non-believers into the anti-theist and pro-theist wings, the pro-feminism and pro-MRA wings, the pro-gun and anti-gun wings. There are so many differences of opinion within atheism that to accommodate them all would see us hugely Balkanized.

    Anti-theists are not anti-secularists. It is possible to believe that religion is “poison” and remain a secularist. We only ask that people who willingly take the poison also hew by secularist standards, wee little things like:

    1) Don’t force-feed others poison. People should be able to give their informed consent before they are fed poison; poisoning someone who is not able to understand the effects the poison will have on his/her life is profoundly unethical. This means waiting until children are old enough to be able to make an autonomous choice about whether they want to willingly swallow their parents’ preferred poison.

    2) Don’t use your poison to justify violating the rights of people who have swallowed a different poison, or who refrain from poisoning themselves altogether. This means treat all alternative-poisoners and non-poisoners with respect and equality.

    3) Don’t advocate for special privileges (especially legal privileges) for people who take your kind of poison, or special discrimination against those who do not. Others have a right to live their lives as they like, and that means that as long as they aren’t hurting anyone, they should be allowed to basically do what they want with their lives.

    4) Don’t assume that just because someone willingly poisons him/herself with your brand of poison (or any other) is a good person just because they’re a self-poisoner. There is no correlation between self-poisoning and being a decent human being.

    5) Don’t claim that all the rules governing good and moral behavior were revealed by your Grand poisoner and that everyone therefore owes a debt to your poison-cult. Any truly moral behavior advocated by your Grand poisoner, as interpreted by the lesser poisoners, is only moral because peoples’ moral intuitions make it so. There is plenty of amoral behavior that the Grand poisoner either engaged in himself, commanded others to engage in, or supported passively.

    All atheists and anti-theists would be happy to live and let live, if the religious were prepared to follow these rules. Heck, we’d rejoice in all the harmony and resolutions to conflict that universal acceptance of these rules would bring about.

    Honestly, I don’t think we’re the ones who need to change our behavior.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    But religious believers today, even moderate religious believers, will not sign on to secularism if they think it’s merely the advocacy arm of godlessness.

    Religious authoritarians have ALWAYS said that about secularism, even when atheists were rare and silent. This guy is basically saying that religious people can’t support secular anything unless the atheists just walk away and disappear. It’s nothing more than yet another tactic to keep the opponents of religious authoritarianism divided.

    Yet as long as some celebrities of nonbelief continue to espouse radical anti-theism (in the name of “secularism,” no less) the future of secularism is imperiled.

    In other words, this is just another way of trying to pretend “atheism is a fundamentalist religion.”

    Funny how this divisive, dishonest rhetoric seems to dovetail with the appointment of a right-wing Republican to head the SCA, who says almost the same thing.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Second, for secularism to reinvigorate itself it needs to reclaim its traditional base of religious people.

    Did secularism ever really lose that base? Or is this guy trying to pretend it has, in order to intimidate and demoralize progressives?

    This is a classic propaganda tactic: Don’t overtly make a false claim, just make arguments that are based on a false claim, so that when people argue it, they’ll end up quietly accepting the false claim without question.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    Fundamentalist Christians have been openly asserting that secularism is atheism, and they have been saying this for a long time. That poses a far greater problem for secularism then anything coming from atheists.

  • http://timgueguen.blogspot.com timgueguen

    Funny to see “Director of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University” mentioning notorious antisemite Martin Luther in an apparently favourable way.

  • Aliasalpha

    The last civilization I was director of was a babylonian one, if I remember correctly we got to alpha centauri sometime in the 2080s

  • http://www.facebook.com/Raznok anthonysmith

    Ed’s response and the comments here are very intelligent and rational, but they are coming from the point of view that everyone is like them…intelligent and rational. This is not the state of the american populace at large or on average.

    I think the articles point is that if the secular crowd’s loudest voices come off as sounding too anti-religion, the religious crowd will take that as an attack and attack back…which could push us closer to theocracy and away from reason.

    So it’s not that those who are anti-theistic need to be quiet or cannot espouse secular views…what we need is more loud deistic secularist and more loud atheistic yet not anti-theist secularist voices out there as well to prevent more demonization of secularism in the minds of the average american.

  • laurentweppe

    I think their is a clumsily expressed valid point in his text: sometimes, “anti-theism” arguments are most definitely not pro-secularism arguments:

    *

    For instance the “every believer is either an idiot or a cowardly closeted atheist” or the “Moderate Muslim/Jews/Christians/Whatever do not exist, they all secretly wish to kill/rape/enslave you” arguments are sometimes used either as a justification for systematic animosity toward religious people, or even as a dog-whistle for a sort of atheistic supremacism (courtesy of the objectivist douches who sometimes openly express their belief that the world would be so much a better place if they were allowed to rule it as they see fit and put the religious rubes back in the subservient position where they belong).

    *

    These sort of arguments are often described as “radical anti-theism”, but that is an incorrect definition: they are “anti-theists” not “anti-theism” and, both in their meaning and their intent, are quite clearly anathema to secularism. The rational response would be to conclude that secularism is threatened by these arguments and their apologists not because they are “too radical” (or too mean, or not polite enough), but because they are actually anti-secularism arguments made by anti-secularists pretenders who should not be treated any differently than the anti-secularism-for-Jesus crowd.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=597316935 ashleybell

    Another example….The whole ‘you’ll drive people away from accepting evolution if you’re too strident’

    What horseshit. That’s essentially saying…’ I was going to believe in evolution, but you were mean to me, so I won’t. That clearly shows a mind refusing to engage in good faith. And I think it’s pretty much a straw man too. Do those people really exist? I’ve never actually heard anyone say they will exept the theory of evotion on the condition of politeness on the part of those who accept evolution

  • Michael Heath

    Jacques Berlinerblau’s argument is worthy of our consideration. He’s abstractly and pedantically wrong from the secularists’ perspective as Ed, Raging Bee, and others point out. However, from a perceptual basis it’s important to know one’s enemies and advocate within a framework which wins the day rather than countering in an intellectual vacuum.

    I don’t find Mr. Berlinerblau’s argument convincing because I like to see a continuum of advocacy approaches – more speech not less, e.g., MLK Jr. and Malcom X, Barack Obama and Dan Savage. However its better for us if we’re at least aware of how we’re being perceived and misrepresented and react accordingly.

    And I’m not surprised Jerry Coyne’s got problems with this argument given he’s one of the most tone-deaf atheists with a bully pulpit I’ve encountered. Exhibit A – Dr. Coyne’s book, Why Evolution is True, has one primary premise, why evolution is true. His scientific case is almost flawless with one exception*. However Coyne couldn’t help but lead off his book trashing believers; which perpetuates the idea that conceding evolution is true require’s one to abandon their religious faith – which isn’t necessarily true. Far better to:

    a) leave religion out all together, or

    b) stick to falsifying creationist claims, which Coyne does very well, while not getting into bashing religionists or,

    c) put his political and anti-religionist’s argument in an appendix rather that starting the book out trashing the same. Build up some credibility with your primary argument prior to attempting to get people to move off their current position on a peripheral point held not by reason-alone but other motivating factors.

    * IIRC, it’s been about four years now since I read Why Evolution is True, Dr. Coyne spends hardly any time on how DNA evidence falsifies the claim common descent isn’t true, primarily because he’s making a positive argument where he concludes that DNA evidence isn’t convincing enough that evolution is objectively true. He wrote a good blog post in defense of his not focusing much on this topic in Why Evolution is True. I think he’s wrong on this point, which is why I recommend Dan Fairbanks’ book on the human DNA evidence supportive of the fact we’ve evolved from non-human ancestors.

  • brocasbrian

    At first he’s all

    “What secularism does concern itself with are relations between Church and State. It is a flexible doctrine that can embody a lot of policy positions. Strict separationism is one, but not the only, of those positions.”

    Then he gets all

    “Finally, we need to distinguish secularism from atheism because some atheists, of late, have taken a regrettable anti-secular turn. True, secularism is a proponent of religious freedom and freedom from religion. It sees the “Church” as a legitimate component of the American polity. It doesn’t view religion as “poison” (to quote Christopher Hitchens) or hope for an “end of faith.” As noted earlier, secularism has no dog in that fight.”

    Either a strict separation of church and state is a valid secular position or it’s not.

    As a secularist I want religion out of government. As an atheist I would like religion to go away. My position as an atheist in no way contradicts or impinges on my position as a secularist.

  • eric

    anthony @13:

    I think the articles point is that if the secular crowd’s loudest voices come off as sounding too anti-religion, the religious crowd will take that as an attack and attack back…which could push us closer to theocracy and away from reason.

    So it’s not that those who are anti-theistic need to be quiet or cannot espouse secular views…what we need is more loud deistic secularist and more loud atheistic yet not anti-theist secularist voices out there as well to prevent more demonization of secularism in the minds of the average american.

    I’ll quibble. Its not my role to get other groups to speak louder just so secularists present a wider front. They can speak as loud or as soft as they want to.

    The real solution to the problem is educating people on the difference between secularism and atheism.

    A smaller part of the solution is that (IMO) some on the left want to believe that it’s ignorance in most cases, when some groups really just don’t want their opponents to have freedom of speech/religion. There are serious conservative groups who want to block what is to them offensive speech and conduct. They don’t misundertand the issue, they understand it perfectly well: if society becomes more secular, atheists get to speak their mind. And they don’t like that idea. They just don’t see the 1st amendment as being as broad as we do, or see “secularism” as encompassing nonchristian faiths.

    So educate, yes, but also be smart enough to realize when the political disagreement isn’t just a lack of understanding. Remember this?

    “[Atheism is] dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!” Monique Davis, Illinois State Senator, in open session, April 2008.

    That is not someone confusing secularism for atheism. That is someone opposed to the state being secular when it comes to atheist speech.

  • chrisdevries

    @14 laurentweppe

    Let me see if I understand you. You are calling an anti-theist someone who is literally against theists.

    That’s an interesting observation. I am not sure how many people who are part of the new atheism movement as it stands today, are actually against theists, but my guess is probably not many (I won’t say none – we have bad apples just like any other group of people who share something in common with each other). However, it is true that an ordinary, liberal to moderate Christian (i.e. someone who might be persuaded by our rational arguments and have their faith weakened or destroyed as a consequence of engaging with atheists) might read PZ’s blog and think that he wants to diminish, persecute or harm him/her in any number of ways because they are a Christian. This could certainly discourage him/her from learning more about why non-belief can be a more rational, more moral choice than their religion, why secularism is actually good for people of all and no religious beliefs (including them), and could encourage them to double down on irrationality and become students of any number of lesser poisoners-in-chief (like William Lane Craig or Kent Hovind).

    A fundamentalist Christian, on the other hand, is already accustomed to dealing in “us vs. them” zero-sum terms, and will certainly read PZ’s blog and jump to the conclusion that if he had his way, Christians would be sent to concentration camps in which they would be forced into a deprogramming regime designed to turn them into atheists, while their houses of worship were turned into places where their children would be turned away from their one true God and condemned to hellfire for eternity.

    This would be the message they would take away from Pharyngula, because it is exactly what they themselves would do to people of other religious beliefs – and to atheists – if they thought they could get away with it.

    But I doubt any efforts to mitigate our rhetoric would convince fundamentalists that atheists are not a dangerous enemy that hates God and wants to send all of His children to Hell, forever cut off from his eternal love and abiding grace. We can do everything possible to show them that we have no problem with them practicing their religion as long as they abide by the five simple rules I mentioned in post #7, but they would hear the word “atheist” and immediately tune out, certain in their conviction that no argument cold ever convince them to agree with us on any point. This is irrespective of whether they believe any of the 5 simple rules could actually work in the context of them practicing their faith: if someone doesn’t hear the case for a secular society and the rules that would apply to everyone in that society to make it fair and equal, there is no chance that they could become champions of secularism.

    For a case in point, look at fundamentalist Christian Republican candidates – their position always happens to be the opposite of whatever the Democrats propose, EVEN IF it was a policy that they supported when they didn’t know Democrats supported it too. They know one thing only: that Democrats are evil, so whatever they want to do is automatically a horrible, dangerous idea that will destroy America.

    So what we need is not milder, meeker atheists. We need intelligent, somewhat conservative Christians to take the initiative and start supporting secularism. They won’t listen to an atheist, but they might listen to someone who is at least somewhat like them. There is, however, an infinitesimally small chance of a few lone Republicans championing secularism in the current political climate, even if they believed it would be the best way to create a better society – they’d be raked over the coals by the less rational members of their party so fast that their eyebrows would not even be singed.

    Our only recourse is to try and make it obvious on our home pages and blog headers that we have nothing against Christians as long as they play by the rules, while ensuring that a huge diversity of atheist viewpoints, from apologism to actual anti-theism are represented (and represented WELL) throughout the atheist blogosphere. There is no way reading a single blog would alter the perspective of a fundamentalist, but exposure to more and more blogs with more and more arguments taking place in the comments sections has the potential to achieve gradual change. We know this works, and are doing it already, but a few simple changes to the design of blogs and websites, informing readers that we aren’t anti-theist in the sense that laurentweppe has used the word could help us engage many more Christians in our debates. This should be a goal for us because if they aren’t arguing with us, they aren’t going to ever consider their own biases, making it highly unlikely that they will ever see things differently.

  • geraldmcgrew

    ashleybell @15,

    Yes, I have seen a creationist turned around in large part due to a change in the tenor of the discussion/debate.

    When this creationist was engaged in a combative, degrading, and insulting manner, he responded in kind and appeared to be digging into his trench even more deeply. However, after I invited him to another group where the tone was much more objective and professional, and people took the time to give thoughtful answers to his questions (rather than simply calling him an idiot for clearly parroting Kent Hovind), he was completely turned around in less than 2 months.

    You are correct to note that the article in the OP is another version of the “accommodationist vs. warrior” debate, but IMO are rather naive in thinking that tone doesn’t matter when trying to convince someone to abandon their deeply-held, personal beliefs.

  • laurentweppe

    @ chrisdevries

    The point is not whether moderate christians are going to run away from outspoken atheists if they are outspoken: as Raing Bee already noted: secularism has a value never lost and is not going to lose anytime soon its base of non-murderous religious people, no matter what style of speech Myers chooses to use.

    *

    The problem comes from intolerent impostors using atheism to justify a taste for social dominance and/or a tribal worldview while at the same time loudly claiming to be the real-true-paragons-of-secularism: it’s bad on its own merit and it may push secular people to be silent about the fact that they are pro-secularism because they do not want to be confused with dishonest people. The answer to it is not a change in rhetoric or style or some PR stunt: it’s to not give the impostors a free pass.

  • Michael Heath

    laurentweppe writes:

    The problem comes from intolerent impostors using atheism to justify a taste for social dominance and/or a tribal worldview while at the same time loudly claiming to be the real-true-paragons-of-secularism: it’s bad on its own merit and it may push secular people to be silent about the fact that they are pro-secularism because they do not want to be confused with dishonest people. The answer to it is not a change in rhetoric or style or some PR stunt: it’s to not give the impostors a free pass.

    Who are some of these intolerant impostors who are getting a free pass?

  • laurentweppe

    Who are some of these intolerant impostors who are getting a free pass?

    Well, I could do it, But you know what? When I read your comment I thought “Jesus, do I really have to write a list of well known examples just to answer a passive-agressive fake question asked in bad faith?

    And guess what:

    Someone actually did it for me.

    Yeah Jesus

    and Yeah the Almighty-All-Knowing-Sometimes-Even-Not-Bullshiting Internet

  • Michael Heath

    laurentweppe writes:

    The problem comes from intolerent impostors using atheism to justify a taste for social dominance and/or a tribal worldview while at the same time loudly claiming to be the real-true-paragons-of-secularism: it’s bad on its own merit and it may push secular people to be silent about the fact that they are pro-secularism because they do not want to be confused with dishonest people. The answer to it is not a change in rhetoric or style or some PR stunt: it’s to not give the impostors a free pass.

    I respond:

    Who are some of these intolerant impostors who are getting a free pass?

    laurentweppe writes:

    Well, I could do it, But you know what? When I read your comment I thought “Jesus, do I really have to write a list of well known examples just to answer a passive-agressive fake question asked in bad faith?”

    My response was not a, “passive-aggressive fake question in bad faith”, since I couldn’t think of anybody who met the criteria you laid out. So I asked for examples.

    laurentweppe responds to my challenge:

    And guess what:

    Someone actually did it for me.

    You really want to assert Bill Maher is not an atheist but an imposter? That he’s a mere tribalist, in spite of the fact he continuously holds politicians from both parties to the same standards and criticizes accordingly, becoming one of the most effective liberal critics of both Barack Obama and conservatives. What tribe is Mr. Maher attempting to promote with his supposed ‘social dominance’? Lastly, your cited article didn’t even address your attributes when it comes to Mr. Maher, let alone convincingly validate Mr. Maher possesses these attributes and demonstrates the asserted behaviors.

    Sam Harris – how is Sam Harris an imposter to his stated beliefs? Which tribe is he supposedly helping while posing as something different than how he presents himself? And given the fact Mr. Harris seeks out experts to debate on issues which don’t unthinkingly kow-tow to populist liberal positions, how is he a social dominator promoting some hidden tribe?

    At best as I can tell you’re frustrated with Mr. Harris simply because he doesn’t submit to populist liberal social dominators’ positions on a couple of issues. And again, your cited article never addresses or provides evidence for the claims you make here with the arguable exception that Mr. Harris is supposedly intolerant because he supports racial profiling in some security venues. But his argument on racial profiling is demonstrably not rooted in intolerance but instead in the most effective way to drive down the defect rate of successful terrorist attacks; as evidenced by his high quality arguments* against experts who oppose racial profiling.

    Re Penn Jillette: your citation doesn’t even refer to your assertions here in their description of Penn Jillette. The author of your article clearly despises these five subjects, but he doesn’t claim Mr. Jillette is an imposter atheist, intolerant, a social dominator, or even a tribalist; the qualities you claim Mr. Jillette possesses with absolutely no evidence presented he is.

    Certainly there’s an argument that S.E. Cupp is an intolerant imposter, that’s well understood prior to this blog post and was noted in this very thread previous to the assertions you made which I questioned. But Ms. Cupp is not receiving a ‘free pass’ in the public square; any informed person’s short list of atheists who demonstrate they’re merely opportunistic posers would have her on that list. She has little if any influence; she merely gets paid by Fox News to act as the atheist fall guy to reinforce positions their viewers already hold. She does provide some validation to your assertion, but I would argue a weak effectively non-threatening one.

    I concede Ayaan Hirsi Ali; she meets your criteria. Thanks for illustrating to me one person fits your criteria and has a influential voice.

    But as best as I can determine, this population you’re concerned about is a population of one, weakly two. I don’t find that worth getting our collective panties in a bunch. We can find small un-influential populations of almost anything; so if you still think your position is risible, you’ll have to provide far more examples or preferably an influential population for me to consider this to be serious.

    *Harris’ racial profiling argument is one I find unconvincing; but it’s an argument I certainly respect when it comes to its quality. That’s because he avoids logical fallacies, sufficiently frames his assumptions and premises, directly confronts the best counter-arguments, and comes to an arguable conclusion which his opponents can’t falsify. However, just like Harris’ critics haven’t effectively killed Harris’ racial profiling argument, neither has Harris effectively killed there’s. The only convincing observation I’ve made following that debate is Mr. Harris makes high-quality arguments.

  • Michael Heath

    One more follow-up on why I don’t think S.E. Cupp doesn’t convincingly meet the criteria laurentweppe asserts and is cause for concern: That’s because Ms. Cupp’s not identified as representative of the atheist movement in spite of claiming she’s an atheist. Analogous to how people don’t identify Clarence Thomas, a black American, as a person who represents the black American community.

    Cupp and Thomas are atheist and black respectively, but they’re not associated with what atheists and black Americans think. Except if one were attempting to describe outlier results which have no influence in the atheist and black American communities.

  • chrisdevries

    I’m with Michael Heath on this one. There may be a few anti-theists (i.e. people who openly hate theists), but there are only one or two people who actually represent this viewpoint who also have a good deal of power and a widely-heard voice in our community. A small problem; given that there is plenty of evidence that our master rhetoriticians, especially those on freethoughtblogs.com have been effective in deconverting the religious, it seems that anti-theists are not hurting our cause. This kind of goal is most often accomplished bit by bit; no one blog post will be successful, but there are certainly types of posts that will be more effective for certain stages of progress towards unbelief. Having a diversity of views is certainly the right approach to gain more allies. And it is my hope that however rabid the atheist rhetoric is, all of these people remain committed secularists.

    Bill Maher and Sam Harris are certainly secularists; Penn Jillette may be; S.E. Cupp probably is, but she’s not a very useful ally of the movement and nobody would confuse her as a respected leader of the unbelief movement. Only Ayaan Hirsi Ali might not be a secularist…she’s certainly more anti-theist in the sense we’re discussing here than the others, but I have no evidence to suggest that she wouldn’t be perfectly happy with a live-and-let-live situation resulting from the culture wars, where everyone respects the five simple rules outlined in post #7.

    One person out of the whole rabid bunch of atheists and anti-theists, apologists and instigators…versus thousands upon thousands of people of faith who publicly advocate for their version of theocracy. It seems that I was correct in saying that we’re not the ones with the problem; we’re not the ones who need to make changes if secularism is to become a possibility in our societies.

  • laurentweppe

    My response was not a, “passive-aggressive fake question in bad faith”, since I couldn’t think of anybody who met the criteria you laid out. So I asked for examples.

    Bull-fucking-shit: there’s no way you didn’t know the existence of at least some of the exemples cited in the Salon article: you know these people exist, you know some of them are famous and treated with way more reverence than they deserve and you’re just playing dumb and pretending that you “can’t think of anybody” to save face.

    ***

    You really want to assert Bill Maher is not an atheist but an imposter?

    See: you’re playing dumb again

    I never claimed that Maher or anyone else on the article was not an atheist: I was talking about atheists who are in fact opposed to secularism but lie about it, hence the term impostor: anyone too stupid to get my plainly written argument would be too limited to be able to use a keyboard, so there’s not the shadow of a snowball’s chance in Hell that you did not get my point.

  • Michael Heath

    me earlier to laurentweppe’s accusation:

    My response was not a, “passive-aggressive fake question in bad faith”, since I couldn’t think of anybody who met the criteria you laid out. So I asked for examples.

    laurentweppe’s response:

    Bull-fucking-shit: there’s no way you didn’t know the existence of at least some of the exemples cited in the Salon article: you know these people exist, you know some of them are famous and treated with way more reverence than they deserve and you’re just playing dumb and pretending that you “can’t think of anybody” to save face.

    Of course I know of those instances, but as noted earlier, your cite doesn’t even address your assertions for these people and instances; except Ms. Ali which I conceded met your criteria. And those instances in no way support your original argument I questioned, except again for Ms. Ali.

    So I wasn’t trying to “save face”, I was actually trying to me merciful to you in my response when it came to showing the enormous difference between your evidence-less assertion, followed by you citing an article which wasn’t even relevant to your claim except for Ms. Ali, which in the context of your assertions, has you making wild-ass claims that Maher and Harris are atheist tribalist atheist-imposters. Your defense which has you digging a hole so deep it has you characterizing people joined by no one I’ve encountered – especially when it comes to Maher and Harris.