Backlash Against the Charlotte Allen Anti-Atheist Piece in the LA Times: Part 3

The LA Times published Charlotte Allen‘s anti-atheist rant on Sunday.

Today, they published a response by PZ Myers.

Guess which of the two pieces makes more sense?

She should drop the pretense that the objectionable part of our character is our lack of excitement. What really annoys Allen is that in our books, blogs and media appearances, we challenge religious preconceptions. That’s all we do. It’s admittedly not exactly a roller-coaster ride of thrills, but it does annoy the superstitious and the fervent true believers in things unseen and unevidenced. We are also, admittedly, often abrasive in being outspoken critics of religious dogma, but it’s also very hard to restrain our laughter and contempt when we see the spectacle of god-belief in full flower.

Allen requests that we atheists take religious belief seriously. We do; it’s hard not to take seriously a bizarre collection of antiquated superstitions that are furiously waved in our faces in our schools, on television, in our politics and even on newspaper editorial pages. That we take the intellectually bankrupt beliefs of religion seriously is precisely why we do question it, and will continue to question it, in our boring way: by simply speaking out.

I love the piece, but I find it interesting that it doesn’t directly respond to Allen’s attacks (not that they really deserve a response).

It just uses a couple of her points to make a much larger statement: Atheists are everywhere and there is nothing abnormal about our way of thinking. He goes after religious belief in itself (the head of the beast) rather than going after Allen (a mere arm of the beast), and it works to his advantage.

The fact that they published Myers piece, though, should not exonerate the LA Times Op-ed team from the fact that they gave Allen space to write her tripe in the first place.

(Thanks to Claudia for the link!)

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    PZ’s comment is great. Although he does seem to attack the more rabid of believers, rather than those lovely nuanced believers :-)

  • http://stereoroid.com/ brian t

    Why should PZ or anyone bother replying to ad hominem attacks? There was little in that piece that required any thoughtful consideration. It’s just muck-raking to fill a few column inches and sell some dead trees.

  • http://www.midwesthumanists.com Sean

    Great article from PZ. Was it actually printed in the paper?

  • James H

    Can’t say I was very impressed with PZ Myers’ article, or with the LA Times in general.

    Between Allen and Myers, we’ve got two stereotypes going full-bore: the anti-atheist theist, and the anti-theist atheist, both with the hate and sarcasm turned up to 11. Substance? Absent. A modicum of research? Absent. Self-awareness? Absent. Admission that there are self-righteous twits on both sides of the atheist-theist divide? Absent, perhaps because both writers fall in the “self-righteous twit” category.

  • Aj

    It’s a good article, although not the usual brilliant PZ, it reads more like Sam Harris than PZ Myers.

    Equivocating this article with Allen’s really shows how out of touch with reality cowardly appeasing atheists are.

  • TXatheist

    cowardly appeasing atheists?

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    Argh! Just had the Jehovas at the door and gave them a run for their money. It’s fun to demolish them, and important too as the more time they spend talking to me, the less they spend trying to convert someone else.

  • dfledermaus

    Just had the Jehovas at the door

    Which reminds me…

    Q: What do you get when you cross an atheist with a Jehovah’s Witness?
    A: Someone who rings your doorbell at 7:30 in the morning for absolutely no reason at all.

  • Ron in Houston

    I think you need be careful in responding directly to the person. Apparently there is a certain amount of fame and fortune in being an atheist “baiter.”

    Apparently, Dinesh D’Souza found too much competition in the conservative commentator field and struck out in a new direction. The last thing the world needs is more folks like him.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I posted my comment at the LA Times at the 7:32 AM PDT mark.

  • James H

    Equivocating this article with Allen’s really shows how out of touch with reality cowardly appeasing atheists are.

    I think you mean “equating.” And are you calling me one of the “cowardly appeasing atheists,” Aj?

  • http://jakelsewhere.blogspot.com/ Jake L

    @dfledermaus so what’s the difference? =D

  • Reginald Selkirk

    It looks like PZ dialed down the snark for the MSM.

  • http://paravane.wordpress.com jimmy paravane

    “Q: What do you get when you cross an atheist with a Jehovah’s Witness?
    A: Someone who rings your doorbell at 7:30 in the morning for absolutely no reason at all.”
    As a nuanced believer, all I can say is; we’re not worthy. (grin)

  • Zar

    Between Allen and Myers, we’ve got two stereotypes going full-bore: the anti-atheist theist, and the anti-theist atheist, both with the hate and sarcasm turned up to 11.

    I have to disagree with you there. PZ questioned belief; Allen attacked people.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I just peeked at the LA times website and at the time of this posting, there are 166 comments to PZ’s rebuttal. Unfortunately, it seems like the LAPost website is having problems displaying all the comments so I can’t read most of them.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Unfortunately, it seems like the LAPost website is having problems displaying all the comments…

    They’ve been Pharyngulated! I noticed the bit about the comments earlier; they have it set up to display the most recent comments on page 1, and work numerically upward with reverse chronology. The rate of new comments is showing the shortcomings of that system.

  • Stephen P

    @James H:

    Between Allen and Myers, we’ve got two stereotypes going full-bore … both with the hate and sarcasm turned up to 11. Substance? Absent. A modicum of research? Absent. Self-awareness? Absent. … both writers fall in the “self-righteous twit” category.

    So can you actually point to a hateful sentence in PZ’s column? Or even any sarcasm? There were sardonic comments aplenty, but there was little, if any, sarcasm (you do actually know the difference?)

    Research? It’s a column, not an academic article. He did actually make some statements of fact which seemed pretty much correct to me.

    Lack of self-awareness? Self-righteous twit? I think I’d better restrain myself from spelling out the obvious.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    In general, I enjoyed the article, but I think it suffers from a problem common to articles written by outspoken atheists.

    That is, using inflammatory language that will widely be interpreted as insults by believers. From the article:

    it does annoy the superstitious

    a bizarre collection of antiquated superstitions

    the intellectually bankrupt beliefs of religion

    Admittedly, this is not as bad as it could be, but it’s not exactly going to endear us to moderate religious believers who may otherwise agree with PZ’s column.

    I see this all the time. Dawkins and Hitchens are certainly not exempt, and I’ve also noticed such language on this blog and others, with people using words like “sky daddy” and “zombie god” in the comments.

    The evidence is on our side. Why do we have to resort to cheap shots and low blows? It just makes us look bad. Theists will use any excuse to discredit us, so why give them ammunition? Why not be as nice and polite as possible so they can focus on our message and not our words?

  • Aj

    How would you phrase those ideas, Anna?

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    You’re right – giving PZ space for a rebuttal no more gets the LA Times off the hook than if they’d given space for a KKK rant and then later allowed a rebuttal.

    Allowing two different opinions to express themselves as if they were equal is not always “balanced”. Sometimes it’s simply half-completely-evil.

    Kind of like the line where one guy wants to kill all the kittens, to which the second guy responds with outrage. So the mediator suggests that the sensible compromise is to kill half the kittens.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    How would you phrase those ideas, Anna?

    Well, for starters, I’d completely avoid the word “superstition.” Using that word in relation to people’s most deeply held and cherished beliefs is pretty much guaranteed to make them unsympathetic to anything you have to say.

    it does annoy the superstitious (it does annoy believers / theists / the religious / the faithful)

    a bizarre collection of antiquated superstitions (what we see as a collection of antiquated / unfounded beliefs)

    the intellectually bankrupt beliefs of religion (what we see as intellectually unjustifiable / insupportable religious beliefs)

    In addition, I could have done without PZ’s apparent endorsement of “laughter,” “glee” and “contempt” in relation to certain theistic ideas.

    There’s a way to get the exact same point across without deliberately trying to provoke a negative reaction.

  • bill e

    Although I agreed with everything Myers wrote in his rebuttal, I’m afraid he might have played into Allen’s hands. Her attack was entirely ad hominem, true, but her theme, as Myers noted, was how boring atheists are. And Myers agreed. I think she was trying to deflect attention from rising nonbeliever population at the expense of religion (which she downplays) by trying to convince young people that they might as well not bother reading or thinking about this tedious stuff. She doesn’t want inquiring young minds to question their religious beliefs. After all, how exciting are apologetics and sermons?

  • James H

    So can you actually point to a hateful sentence in PZ’s column? Or even any sarcasm? There were sardonic comments aplenty, but there was little, if any, sarcasm (you do actually know the difference?)

    Stephen P:

    Anna, above points out some language in the column that was unnecessarily inflammatory. I will confess that in terms of Myers, I was thinking less of his actual column and more of an incident last year in which Myers desecrated a communion wafer. That particular stunt was completely and totally unnecessary and evinced a hatred and disrespect toward Christianity that casts all atheists in a bad light. It’s one thing to disagree with others in a civilized manner. It’s another to take torches to sacred cows.

    As for Myers’ piece itself, the phrase “bizarre set of antiquated superstitions” sets teeth on edge, as does the following sentence: “What really annoys Allen is that in our books, blogs and media appearances, we challenge religious preconceptions.” It assumes an incredible level of arrogance that illustrates Allen’s point that atheists are “crashing bores.”

    As to your point regarding research, you are sadly misled about the nature of an op-ed. At one point in my rather non-distinguished career, I did indeed write op-eds for a living. You would be surprised how many studies, papers, and sources you can cite in a mere 700 words. You would likely be unsurprised at the credibility such things can lend an otherwise strident op-ed.

  • Stephen P

    … the phrase “bizarre set of antiquated superstitions” sets teeth on edge …

    And this you originally phrased as “hate and sarcasm turned up to 11″. Now it’s setting teeth on edge. Well, I guess it’s better to back-pedal than to go off the cliff.

    I was thinking less of his actual column and more of an incident last year in which Myers desecrated a communion wafer. That particular stunt was completely and totally unnecessary …

    This is a sentiment which seems to be commonly held by people who never bothered to read up on the background to that incident. Myers’ action was not a spontaneous jape. It was a response to appalling behaviour on the part of the Catholics: physical assault, trying to wreck a student’s education, death threats – yes, death threats. Whatever descriptions – positive or negative – may be appropriate to his action, “unnecessary” is certainly not one of them.

    My own view is that his action was effective in further illuminating the moral bankruptcy of Catholicism, where pushing a nail through a bakery product is widely considered more evil than threatening to kill someone.

  • «bønez_brigade»

    @James H,

    [...] I was thinking less of his actual column and more of an incident last year in which Myers desecrated a communion wafer. That particular stunt was completely and totally unnecessary and evinced a hatred and disrespect toward Christianity that casts all atheists in a bad light. It’s one thing to disagree with others in a civilized manner. It’s another to take torches to sacred cows.

    H.L. Mencken handled these kinds of claims rather well, way back during the Scopes Trial:

    The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.

    True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge. Did Darrow, in the course of his dreadful bombardment of Bryan, drop a few shells, incidentally, into measurably cleaner camps? Then let the garrisons of those camps look to their defenses. They are free to shoot back. But they can’t disarm their enemy.

    [apologies for quotes taking up more space than my own text...]


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