Al Lewis Digging Himself a Deeper Hole

A couple days ago, Al Lewis of The Denver Post wrote an article on the St. Joseph statues “helping you” sell your home. I didn’t like it.

It seems the print version (not the one I read) ran the headline “There aren’t any atheists in a Front Range real estate foxhole.” That’s not Lewis’ fault. He doesn’t write the headlines.

Still, and not surprisingly, he got feedback from atheists:

“As an atheist and the coordinator of the Atheists and Freethinkers of Denver, it was prejudicial and false to assert that ‘there aren’t any atheists’ in the local real estate ‘foxhole,’” wrote David Eller. “I imagine that you or your editor would not have published a headline like ‘there aren’t any Jews’ in the market, or ‘there aren’t any blacks’ or ‘there aren’t any gays,’ etc.

(Are there even foxes in foxholes?)

“Besides being patently false, the use of this saying reinforces the prejudices and misconceptions about atheists. We are citizens, patriots, home owners, parents, spouses, and perfectly normal people who do not care to be misrepresented or ridiculed,” Eller wrote.

One man added this:

“I wanted to update you on a fact that there are plenty of non-religious believers in the real estate and mortgage industry,” wrote a Sarasota, Fla., man. “As the times get tougher, we rely on hard work not statues of imaginary saints.”

That wasn’t the only flak Lewis for talking about the idiotic statues:

“Had I the desire to read superstitious nonsense, I would have attended a church yesterday. I read the Business section of The Denver Post for intellectual logic and verifiable facts, not religious trifles,” wrote a woman from Centennial.

That’s when Lewis makes another mistake. While correctly stating that the headline wasn’t his fault, he goes ahead and insults atheists anyway. It’s just as bad as if he had written the headline himself:

I am NOT going to apologize to all atheist for a headline. I respect all atheists and their right to not believe in God. They need to respect my right to not believe in ridiculous demands for apologies.

Obviously, God did not give them a sense of humor. Maybe I should start praying for them.

The line about atheists in foxholes is a common expression. Atheists ought to be FOR freedom of expression — not against it.

Also, I do not write the headlines on my columns, and did not write this one. In fact, I didn’t see until Eller called it to my attention.

It’s unfortunate when a headline offends an entire class of people for no good reason, but when you’re slamming words in the paper as fast as you can, well, it happens. Nobody meant anything by it — and I will certainly try to never mix the words atheist and foxhole again.

This whole episode has got me to thinking, though.

If atheists are really offended by such an innocuous line, how are they any different than Jerry Farwell, who was offended by Tinky Winky, the allegedly gay Teletubbie? Or Muslims who didn’t like cartoons?

Atheism is starting to sound like just another intolerant and irrational religion to me.

You know what else is a common expression? “The Jews have all the money.” But no newspaper would ever put that in a headline because it’s not true. It’s an offensive stereotype.

To Mr. Lewis: Atheists are all for freedom of expression. And no one’s slamming your right to express your belief. We’re upset that you’re supposed to be working for a credible source of information, and yet, you’re writing about complete pseudoscience.

As for the headline, it’s denying the fact that there are atheists fighting for this country. There really are people out there who don’t believe atheists would fight in a war. The foxhole quotation perpetuates that. It’s far from “innocuous.” It also shows a lack of fact-checking from the person who wrote the headline (something a simple Google search would’ve fixed).

And how dare you compare that outrage to Jerry Falwell or Muslim Imams? No one is stopping you from criticizing atheists and our beliefs. You have that right. But don’t misrepresent who we are. At a newspaper, no less, that’s the least you could do.

We’re not going to kill you over your comments like some extremist Muslims killed over the cartoons. We’re not asking the newspaper to fire you or censor you like Falwell wished of the Teletubbies. Hell, we’re the people who actually read what you’re writing.

And no, you shouldn’t have to apologize for a headline that you didn’t even write.

But I do think you should apologize for wasting minutes of our time reading superstitious nonsense about burying idols to sell a home… and then getting pissed off that we were upset.


[tags]atheist, atheism, St. Joseph[/tags]

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    Sigh. How many times are people going to use this dumb trope that criticism is the same thing as trying to shut down freedom of expression??

  • Aimee

    **Hanging head** I’m embarrassed to be a Denver citizen right now. I hate when stories like this happen because people start saying F*cking Denver, or Denver Sucks! The state or city has nothing to do with the moron that wrote that stupid article. I’ve heard about others burying the statues in other states, what he said in the article responding to the outcry shows how ignorant this man is. I myself don’t read The Denver Post, I don’t plan on it now either thanks to this a-hole.

  • http://www.agnosticatheism.wordpress.com HeIsSailing

    All I could think of when I saw ‘Al Lewis’ in the title of this article was, ‘I didn’t know Grandpa Munster was still alive!’

  • Richard Wade

    Portrait of a man choking on his own foot. Oh Saint Dymphna, patron saint of dumbasses, shut us up in our hour of need! Speaking of digging holes, Al should dig a new one for the headline editor. I’ve never understood the practice of somebody else writing the headline for an article. It’s just asking for trouble like this.

  • Siamang

    Oh, St. Joseph STATUES.

    Here I’ve been burying bottles of aspirin.

  • Richard Wade

    LOL! Probably more useful. You can dig them up in case of a real estate-related headache.

  • Aimee
  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Uhoh, Hemant, I was afraid you’d discover that subhead! I agree with you this time. I guess the guy’s true colors came out in that response to his letter-writers. It was completely rude.

    Aimee, I live in Boulder County and I am thinking of leaving this state because they’re building a commune here in my city. It is really starting suck here. It used to be sort of limited to Colorado Springs, but it seems like stupidity is growing here, right along with the megachurches on every corner. Sigh.

  • Vincent

    I agree with Bad.
    People who react to criticism by claiming it’s infringing their free speech right are deluded.
    You are certainly free to express yourself, but whatever you say, there will be consequences. In a free society, those consequences come in the form of angry letters and a demand for an apology. In a restrictive society, they come with firing (and maybe the bullet kind).
    Just because you are free to speak does not mean everyone else will keep their mouths shut. If you use that freedom to say bigotted things, you will anger people, lose readers, and to the corporation, lose money.

  • Kate

    He called atheism a religion. If he wasn’t stupid and totally lacking in credibility before that, he is now.

  • PrimateIR

    Richard Wade said

    Oh Saint Dymphna, patron saint of dumbasses, shut us up in our hour of need!

    Hilarious Richard. There are times when I need Saint Dymphna.

    As for the Denver Post – there is something really wrong when Editor of the news paper has a lower IQ than the populous. What is the publisher thinking?

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Yes, it’s an incidence of a newspaper printing a religious slur. Yes, atheists and those who object to bigotry have every right to take offense. Yes, they should complain to the paper that printed it. Yes, they should look at the beam in their eye even as they notice the mote in the columnist’s. This is mild compared to some of what you’ve published yourself, Hemant, and it’s nothing to the stuff the blog atheists have lauded when PZ Myers or others regularly spew it forth. Just here the other day, some minor commedienne, wasn’t it?

    See what I mean, columninsts?

  • Vincent

    Not until you provide specific examples, no.

  • http://www.apilgrimsprogress.wordpress.com Calvin Moore

    I think this is ridiculous. How can one even begin to equate “The Jews have all the money” with “There are no atheists in foxholes”? One is a race AND a religion, while the other is a nebulous group of individuals who have no real core beliefs except the ones they have developed for themselves. And the term “There are no atheists in foxholes” does not suppose their are no atheists fighting in our armed forces. That has NEVER been what it means. It supposes that when the bombs start falling on the battlefield, everyone starts hoping and praying to SOMEone–whether that be Buddha, Mohammad, Krishna, or Christ. No one is saying atheists are too cowardly to fight for what is right or that they are devoid of a moral backbone. Lewis is right. This complaint sounds no different than the fundamentalists who see subliminal sexual messages in every Disney cartoon, homosexual agendas on Sesame Street and Teletubbies, and deride the depiction of violence and R-rated films (unless, the violence being depicted is depicting the suffering our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ).

    There is no reason people should be up in arms over this. If the worst persecution you can handle is words in a newspaper, then you’ve got A LOT of growing up to do.

  • BryanJ

    It supposes that when the bombs start falling on the battlefield, everyone starts hoping and praying to SOMEone–whether that be Buddha, Mohammad, Krishna, or Christ.

    That is widely understood. And false. Maybe some lapsed believer will return to religiosity in the heat of the moment, but for an atheist it would be no different from calling on a magic eight ball for help.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Saint Dymphna, patron saint of dumbasses

    Richard, is that any way for an enlightened psychologist to refer to the mentally ill?

    You do know that Dymphna was taken out of the calandar in the 60s because the Vatican said she almost certainly was mythical. Though I’m kind of glad she was there, Dymphna being the name of many people in some of my favorite Irish jokes.

  • http://www.sadcrc.wordpress.com Calvin Moore

    comment deleted by author (because he’s an idiot and can’t figure out this commenting thing)

  • http://www.sadcrc.wordpress.com Calvin Moore

    That is widely understood. And false. Maybe some lapsed believer will return to religiosity in the heat of the moment, but for an atheist it would be no different from calling on a magic eight ball for help.

    I wasn’t saying it was a TRUE assumption, rather that the impetus for the comment in the first place was a philosophical one, rather than an insult (in the classic definition of the word). My point was that no one assumes atheists are cowards because of their lack of a belief in a god.

  • HappyNat

    Lewis is right. This complaint sounds no different than the fundamentalists who see subliminal sexual messages in every Disney cartoon, homosexual agendas on Sesame Street and Teletubbies, and deride the depiction of violence and R-rated films (unless, the violence being depicted is depicting the suffering our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ).

    No he is not. The article in the paper mentions a group of people (atheists) by name and repeats a false assumption about them. Thinking a teletubby is gay is creating a problem where none exists. I’ll agree that Bert and Erinie were totally gay though. :)

  • Richard Wade

    Olvie, I’m neither enlightened nor a psychologist. You keep trying to use bits and pieces of personal information you gather about people here to discredit their remarks. You don’t need to use sneaky ad hominem tactics. I wasn’t referring to the mentally ill as dumbasses. Put words into your own mouth, not mine. As Foghorn Leghorn would say, “That’s, ah say, that’s a joke, son.” Lewis is not being mentally ill, he’s being a dumbass. But the huge list of patron saints I found didn’t list one for dumbasses, so I picked the patron saint of the mentally ill as the closest one. I suppose the good saint could branch off a little, since so many of the others are patron saints of a variety of things. Yes, I know that a large number of saints were declared mythical and thrown out of the club, but that neither stops some people from worshiping them nor stops other people from using them in a joke about dumbasses.

  • http://hulz.livejournal.com Julia

    HeIsSailing said,

    All I could think of when I saw ‘Al Lewis’ in the title of this article was, ‘I didn’t know Grandpa Munster was still alive!’

    Thank you. I was NOT the only one. HA!!

  • PrimateIR

    Calvin Moore

    That has NEVER been what it means. It supposes that when the bombs start falling on the battlefield, everyone starts hoping and praying to SOMEone–whether that be Buddha, Mohammad, Krishna, or Christ.

    And you don’t think that it would insult someone to suggest that they would abandon their ideology and their reason and adopt your ideology in the face of death?

    That special noxious brew of Christian self absorption and lack of compassion. Mr Moore, if it wasn’t so common you could bottle it. Ish.

  • http://sethmanapio.blogspot.com Seth Manapio

    I can’t believe how much you’ve all missed the point, Hemant included: dude asked how it is different for an atheist to be offended by the headline “No Atheists in Real Estate Foxholes” than for Jerry Falwell to be offended by a teletubby.

    Thats the issue here: he asked that question because he doesn’t know the answer. The answer being, of course, that the teletubby isn’t going around saying “No Christians in Foxholes”, the teletubby just appears to maybe, just maybe, have some gay symbolism. And the gay symbolism offended Falwell.

    The difference being that in the one case, someone actually specifically said “There are no atheists in foxholes”. Mentioning atheists. Specifically.

    Which would be equivalent to saying “There are no Hindu’s in the real estate foxhole”, not equivalent to having a character from which a symbol could be interpreted that might offend your sense of good and bad.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Sorry, Richard Wade, I guess I might be offended if someone mistook me for a psychologist too, though I’m sorry to hear you are not enlightened. It’s just that I’d never experienced that level of ire due to a skeptical look at the psych industry from someone who didn’t have a retail franchise before. Ad hom, is ad does, I guess.

    Patrons for dumbasses, there are certainly more fitting choices. I’d suggest Austin Cline but, while perhaps appropriate, it might open me to more of the old ad h. charge. Given his last book, Daniel Dennett might be a good choice. Talk about clueless.

  • http://theradula.blogspot.com doridoidae

    You’d think someone who works at a newspaper would discern between what is an “opinion” what is supporting prejudice, and what is hate speech. While he hasn’t gone so far as to support hate speech yet, I suppose that he feels no remorse over supporting prejudice.

    Words have power. Too bad he uses them in such a careless fashion.

    And for a newspaper writer to use words carelessly and to promote prejudice… well… I think he SHOULD be fired.

  • Richard Wade

    Olvie, you just cant disabuse yourself of your misconception that somewhere I took offense about something you once said about psychology. No, you’re mixing me up with someone else or you are imagining it. As I said before, very very clearly, I share much of your skepticism about it, but I don’t write the whole thing off as completely useless. But apparently you don’t want to hear it when someone actually agrees with you. You said elsewhere that disagreement is good for your character development. Well don’t worry, you’re one of the most disagreeable characters I’ve ever encountered. :)

  • Vincent

    For some reason my comment did not post.
    I have forgotten it but I’ll try to summarize:

    Calvin Moore said,

    September 14, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    That is widely understood. And false. Maybe some lapsed believer will return to religiosity in the heat of the moment, but for an atheist it would be no different from calling on a magic eight ball for help.

    I wasn’t saying it was a TRUE assumption, rather that the impetus for the comment in the first place was a philosophical one, rather than an insult (in the classic definition of the word). My point was that no one assumes atheists are cowards because of their lack of a belief in a god.

    You miss the point. “There are no atheists in foxholes” is not about cowardice. It is calling atheists liars. (you may call yourself an atheist, but when the chips fall, you believe just like me. Your profession of atheism is nothing but a cheap lie)

    It is just as much an insult as saying all jews are greedy, all priests molest children, all blonds are dumb, etc.
    That’s an insult by every definition.

  • Karen

    This shows me that atheists are one of the few minority groups that it’s still okay to bash unapologetically.

    If this columnist had run an offensive story under the headline, “We all know Jews never pay retail!” or any other nasty minority stereotype and gotten called on it by local letter writers, not only would he be printing a publisher-mandated mea culpa immediately, he would also be going to sensitivity training or perhaps even be terminated.

    Responding with what amounts to, “Get over it, you stupid crybabies!” is unbelievable. I can only assume that his editors don’t see any value in the local atheist community, and so don’t care if he treats them unfairly. That’s pretty sad.

  • Siamang

    It supposes that when the bombs start falling on the battlefield, everyone starts hoping and praying to SOMEone–whether that be Buddha, Mohammad, Krishna, or Christ.

    I propose a counter-slander then..

    There are no Christians in war. Once Christians get scared, they abandon their faith.

    Equivilent? Fair?

  • Siamang

    Responding with what amounts to, “Get over it, you stupid crybabies!” is unbelievable. I can only assume that his editors don’t see any value in the local atheist community, and so don’t care if he treats them unfairly. That’s pretty sad.

    I think there’s a deeper idea here, and I need to tease it out…

    Let me work on that.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Olvie,…. you’re one of the most disagreeable characters I’ve ever encountered.

    Really, Richie, or should that be Wadesie. More disagreeable than AJ? Come on, you expect to retain any cred that way?

    I thought you guys were supposed to be relentlessly rational and fact based. That’s what I’ve been going on. You want me to hold you to a less rigorous standard, stop pretending to a rigorous one you don’t practice and stop being arrogant about people who don’t pretend to it.

  • Jen

    You miss the point. “There are no atheists in foxholes” is not about cowardice. It is calling atheists liars. (you may call yourself an atheist, but when the chips fall, you believe just like me. Your profession of atheism is nothing but a cheap lie)

    I think Vincent hit the nail on the head, here. The saying isn’t about fear, its about the idea that secretly all atheists really believe in a god and are willing, when facing death, to reach out to he that they are “angry at” or “pretending not to believe in”. I think the equivalent would be saying, “When facing death, all Muslims really pray to Jesus and not Allah.”

  • Richard Wade

    Okay, olvlzl, no ism, no ist, For the sake of this blog I’ll back off. It’s always a mistake to respond to your initial taunts. There’s only one direction that conversations with you go: downhill. I made my latest objection to your repeated untruth about me having some beef with you over your opinions about psychology, but you have ignored that again, so I won’t be surprised when you state it again. You will always think that I have some beef with you over your opinion of psychology, no matter how many times I say no, that’s not so. I may or may not object when you state that falsehood again, but I’ll have no illusion that you will ever listen, or will ever stop. You cannot disabuse yourself of that misconception, so I have to somehow disabuse myself of the misconception that there is any point in responding to you.

  • Aimee

    writerdd,

    About the commune, if you leave though, doesn’t that mean they won? Don’t let them make you run out of your own neighborhood. The fact is, if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere. All that they are getting away with their tax free this, tax free that though is enough to make one want to puke.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Richard Wade Okay, olvlzl, no ism, no ist, For the sake of this blog I’ll back off.

    You’re a Christian martyr, yes, honey, that’s what you are, a Christian martyr! THE GLASS MENAGERIE: SCENE 4,

  • http://www.sadcrc.wordpress.com Calvin Moore

    I can concede the point that many of you believe the adage to be insulting. Though, I must admit (to me and most people–as most people believe in some sort of deity) that it rings much different than an all out attack on any specific belief. As many here often posit, atheists are fighting for the right NOT to believe in God. The distinction is often made that atheists believe all sorts of things, just not in God. When talking about the philosophy of religion, however, one must realize that you are both operating from differing philosophical frameworks. Taking this into account, it is not an insult. But, I understand where you’re coming from. When someone innocently says, “Calvin, you’re the whitest black man,” to me, it is said because they are operating from a philosophical framework they don’t fully comprehend, but yet it still informs them. What I HEAR (and every black person who has ever had this said to them hears) is, “Calvin, you’re not like other black people. Because of your education, you’ve somehow transcended your race and the stereotypes I’m buying into right now by making this statement.” So, while I am insulted by the statement, I also realize that it is not made from a DESIRE to insult me or my intelligence. Does this make sense? So, I can understand how the statement “There are no atheists in foxholes” might come off as insulting to you. But, when I’ve said it in the past (and when most people say it) it is more from a philosophical framework, rather than a desire to alienate those who don’t believe like I do.

    (I’m out of town for a few days, so I’m sure I’ll come back and see my arguments all torn apart. So, go ahead…quote away! LOL.)

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    Calvin, I guess I don’t see how the philosophical framework you are alleging explains the remark better actually does so. It’s just as bad and just as arrogant. Just because you don’t desire to insult someone doesn’t make the remark less insulting. Someone claiming that women are inferior to men intellectually might not want women to feel insulted, but that’s neiher here nor there: it IS insulting.

  • PrimateIR

    Calvin said:

    As many here often posit, atheists are fighting for the right NOT to believe in God

    No. We don’t believe in God. Period. Until the day of thought police that is not something we need to “fight for”

    We demand what ever individual wants. Respect.

  • Vincent

    Calvin, since you mentioned you are black, can I, as a white man, comfortably use “the N word”? I don’t mean it to be insulting. You just come from a framework that makes you think it is insulting.
    Same with calling you “boy.” (or perhaps that doesn’t carry the same weight as it used to) Boy is not an insulting word at all – unless you have a certain framework.
    Honestly, saying that something is acceptable because the person who says it doesn’t think it’s a problem is patently ridiculous.

  • Calvin Moore

    Okay. Now, you’re TRYING to be insulting. I think very few would agree with you that the term “boy” or “nigger” were ever misinterpreted by anyone as anything but deragatory. For anyone with any sense of history, you know that is comparing apples to oranges when something is said innocently and heard as insulting as opposed to something insulting said with the intent of being insulted. Your point is not well taken because it is wrong.

  • ash

    I think very few would agree with you that the term “boy” or “nigger” were ever misinterpreted by anyone as anything but deragatory.

    well, sorry if this offends further, but…

    i wouldn’t use the n word myself, but to claim it has never been used in a less than derogatory way sweeps entire sections of young black sub- and counter-culture under the rug.

    i have heard the term ‘boy’ applied many times by people of any colour to male children of any colour without it being remotely derogatory. i myself regularly use this term with my friends, without regard to age, race or even gender; for us it’s an affectionate term.

    by claiming right to offense for terms that can and are used with non-offensive meanings whilst also arguing against the same, you’re in danger of debunking yourself.

  • Vincent

    Calvin Moore said,

    September 17, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    Okay. Now, you’re TRYING to be insulting.

    No I’m not. I’m trying to prove a point. I think ash made that clear. Boy is a good example. It is a word that has absolutely no derogatory denotation. It means an underage male. But you hear it and interpret it to be offensive.
    You claimed the foxhole statement was innocent, and people offended by it should not be because it’s not inherently offensive.
    I showed you some non-inherently offensive words that many people clearly are offended by.

    Here’s the difference though. “Boy” has no inherent insult.
    “There are no atheists in foxholes” does.
    When you say it, you mean: 1- there are no atheists in the armed forces (patently false) which has the underlying insult that atheists are either cowardly or unpatriotic; or 2- when faced with impending death, everyone turns to god, which has the underlying insult that atheists are lying.

    Of course, if you can tell me some other meaning of the phrase I may reconsider.

  • Calvin Moore

    If I say I am done with this conversation you will call me a coward. If I say nothing, your comments will go unchallenged. So…before I leave this particular conversation, here is what I WOULD have said in response:

    Both of you are forgetting one thing–context. While “nigger” is ALWAYS offensive (despite what some would have you think), “boy,” as you have stated, is not. I can concede said point. However, if you innocently called me, such as “Boy, you’re so crazy,” and pushed me, laughing, there’d be no misunderstanding as to what you meant. If you said, “Boy, you better know your role,” well then the context has changed, as has the meaning. Admittedly, this is slightly different the “There are no atheists in foxholes,” argument, but I believe we’ve now moved away from that topic to make you feel better. You and I BOTH know you’re not about to go out and call anyone a nigger. You’re not about to derisively call a black male “boy.” Why? Because you KNOW the connotation. You KNOW how it will be perceived. The difference here is you are upset with someone who is ignorant of your feelings. I, for one, will no longer utter the statement, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Why? Do I believe the statement is true? Sure I do. I’m a Christian. That’s like…the default button or something for us. But, apparently, it is offensive to a group of people I ignorantly believed to be nebulous, rather than apparently more organized than crime and religion. (That’s not a jab, just waxing poetic.)

    So, ultimately, I think the difference is between ignorance and knowledge. I have knowledge that this is offensive speech. As a Christian, this is something I don’t believe it is my job to push the point on just to be offensive. As for the author, I’m not sure what his position is now after the complaint and a few days to think about it soberly. There are, of course, other non-negotiables, but that is a conversation for another day.

    That is what I WOULD have said. I’m not going to respond to this thread anymore. If we still disagree, we’ll just have to agree to do that. Pax.

  • Vincent

    We only disagree in that you think the statement is true.
    So you think atheists are either cowards or liars. You haven’t given me another meaning to think about.

    You’re not about to derisively call a black male “boy.” Why? Because you KNOW the connotation. You KNOW how it will be perceived. The difference here is you are upset with someone who is ignorant of your feelings.

    Actually, we’re upset because he was informed of how offensive the statement was and STILL stood behind it. He could not claim ignorance but didn’t do what you say you are doing and change his ways.


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