Are They Really ‘Bad Atheists’?

Ian Murphy wrote an article for Alternet about “The 5 Most Awful Atheists.”

Two of the most awful atheists around, apparently…

Here’s a summary of his list:

  • Sam Harris: He thinks religious profiling might have merit and defends torture in some instances.
  • Bill Maher: He’s misogynistic, condescending, and anti-flu-shots.
  • Penn Jillette: He’s a libertarian.
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali: She’s practices “neoconservative lunacy” and is excessively anti-Islam.
  • S.E. Cupp: She’s a self-loathing atheist

I’ll give him S.E. Cupp. When it comes to atheism, she’s pretty embarrassing, talking about how she openly wishes she were religious and how she refuses to vote for an atheist. It’s arguable that her atheism, true or not, is more of a schtick she uses to get attention.

But the rest of them? Please. None of those things makes them bad atheists. Bad skeptics? Absolutely. (And we should keep criticizing them when they deserve it.) But those four people have done more to get people to stop believing in God than almost anybody else out there. That alone sets them apart.

Sam Harris’ The End of Faith ushered in an atheist revolution in publishing; it was the first “New Atheist” book that went viral and it made atheism sexy and ok to talk about. Even if he never wrote another word, his contribution to our movement is monumental. This is speculation, but of all the people who know who Sam Harris is, I would guess relatively few of them are even aware that he has opinions on racial profiling.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the few writers out there brave enough to criticize Islam and become popular doing it. She’s done it in more than one book and she’s a walking contradiction to the stereotypical view of atheists as old white guys. No one cares what she does at the American Enterprise Institute. If she’s well-known, it’s because of her books denouncing religion. (And if you read her books, you’ll see that she has damn good reasons to criticize Islam specifically.)

Bill Maher and Penn Jillette talk about atheism to *huge* audiences, many of whom have never before given (and never will give) a damn about any of the atheist books or blogs or podcasts out there. Whether you like them or not, they are celebrities who refuse to hide from the “A” word. Because of that, they have helped make atheism a mainstream phenomenon, perhaps even moreso than the bestselling authors. I guarantee that when most of Maher’s fans (women included) hear his comedy, they’re not thinking “He hates women.” And I’ll bet that no one has ever sat at home with the TV on and said, “I would stop believing in God… but Penn’s politics make no sense! I should go pray.”

If you think people like Maher and Jillette and Harris are bad for atheism, then get your head out of the blogosphere every once in a while and stop thinking so insularly, because outside of a handful of websites and critics, very few people care about these side issues that Murphy mentions. That doesn’t mean we should ignore them, but it doesn’t “undermine” atheism, either.

If only more atheists could make it this “tough” for the rest of us.

None of the people on this list (except Cupp) are bad for atheism. They popularize it and get more people thinking about it. That a huge net gain, even if some of the things they say turn a few people off. Even Richard Dawkins has said things well worth criticizing and I don’t see anyone blaming him for being a bad atheist.

You know which atheists are the bad ones? The ones who refuse to admit they don’t believe in god even though they have no reason to hide it.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=700480741 Joel Sassone

    Thank you!

  • http://www.bricewgilbert.blogspot.com Brice Gilbert

    I don’t know. It seems he is talking about rationalists/critical thinkers. Or more specifically people who identify as an atheist and insist that atheism is just another aspect of their reality based outlook. Yet they hold some pretty irrational ideas. I don’t think he’s arguing about definitions. Just pointing out prominent atheists who he thinks are ass holes, idiots etc.

  • http://fontofliberty.blogspot.com/ Rarian Rakista

    Libertarianism is a purely ideological political system based on historicism; much like communism, there is no methodology to discover the course of action one should take in the present.  It is entirely based on the assumption that the theories presented on humanity by libertarian authors is axiomatic to some future Utopian society.  

    Because of this, libertarians are moral objectivists, just like religious folks in theocracies.  So the only way a society like that could be founded and maintained is through authoritarianism; because democracy would upset it through value pluralism,  libertarianism is ostensibly anti-authoritarian, this makes the philosophy wholly incoherent.  

    I think that is a bit more dangerous than you give it credit for.      

    • Kodie

       I have a friend who is an atheist and a libertarian and it’s really hard to communicate with him because he thinks he’s always right, but I think with what I understand to be libertarian principles, he’s a really terrible one and he wouldn’t adjust well if a libertarian government ever came to pass. Thank you for explaining just a little more and from a different angle than I’m used to seeing  just how implausible and impractical it is. I want to copy and paste it for my files and refer to it next time he wants to get into it, if that’s ok.

      • brianmacker

        You must not understand libertarianism if you thought his comment was “explaining just a little more”. Note: I’m a terrible libertarian because I’m not a libertarian, but at least I understand their position before making such a claim. Explain exactly what criteria you used to judge your friend a terrible libertarian, and why you think he’d do poorly under a libertarian government? What if he didn’t care how poorly he’d do as an individual just so long as what he thought was fair was in place? Maybe I will agree with you and maybe not.

        I’m a bad libertarian but not because I agree with democrats or republicans either. For example I think that government can justifiably force some individuals to buy insurance, but I insist that the criteria be in fact justifiable whereas many if not most democrats and republicans are not at all rational about it, and have no stated philosophy or criteria for setting boundaries on government action.

        • Kodie

          I was going to go into it but then I remembered you’re a troll. I would if you were sincere about discussions, but I think I know my friend and how he’s bad at being a libertarian. It’s ok if you don’t trust me to make that assessment, I’m cool with you imagining you’re better at it than I am as long as I can save myself some time here.

          • brianmacker

            The problem is that I am not a troll. I like to be precise about things so that mistakes are not made. I use my real name and that’s a big clue I’m not a troll. I don’t at all trust you on this subject because you started of on the wrong foot believing a guy who is obviously ignorant on the topic. If you don’t believe me well just look at some of the other responses to his comment. Just because I don’t agree with you or believe you are not making a valid argument, if you don’t ken a point I made doesn’t mean I’m a troll. Lots of other people made the same exact points I made on the other thread where you made your assessment. I think what got you mad is when I said you didn’t understand me. I apologize if I wasn’t clear but I didn’t call you dense like you did to me.

            • Kodie

              I did understand you, but I don’t have to air my laundry. I made a general statement about one person I know and you don’t know him. I doubt the earlier comment from Rarian Rakista will sway him because he is someone that always has to be right about everything, even if we are arguing about Big Mac ingredients or Scooby Doo characters or whether a shower curtain liner is the same thing as a window curtain. If he can cite one reference, he has no rigor as to its quality or truth. He only cares that he can cite the internet. And so I know I’m not that articulate, but I know when he’s wrong. He is too lazy to win at libertarianism and it would hurt him in ways he’s not prepared to accept. He only wants what he wants, but if everyone had libertarian liberty, he’d have bigger problems than he thinks he has now.

              And I know when you’re side-stepping issues and arguing about tangents. And I don’t have time for that, so if you want to say you win, go right ahead. It’s not that big a deal to me.

              • brianmacker

                Yeah because when I ask you to back up a claim that’s a tangent. It’s not my fault if you can’t back up your claims because they are so derogatory of your “friend”. You also aren’t really impressing me with you mind reading skills here. I don’t comment to “say I win”, and I am the best judge if my motivations. In this case the motivation was to squelch some very ignorant defamation, and maybe educate some ignorant people.

                Next to no one will ever let you “win” in these comment sections anyway. Most people never admit when they are wrong precisely because like you they see discussions that include critical thought as an adversarial instead of educational exercise. I actually make a habit of responding to comments and admitting where I’ve made a mistake. Like on the Saudi thread where I admitted to forgetting about the fact that only the first leg of a relay is started from a stand still. I even said I feel like a dope.

                Now you’ve got me thinking your friend is probably quite reasonable and it is you who is the problem.

                You are very confused if you think there is such a thing as “winning at libertarianism.” Libertarianism isn’t about winning. There is so very much you do not understand, and you are so afraid of losing you probably never will. You first have to understand before you can criticize. Libertarianism is about solutions to the problem of mutual cooperation among self interested actors. The world is not a zero sum game.

                • Kodie

                  But that’s because it is my friend who is confused, not me. See? Didn’t you read what I wrote? And you claim to have good reading comprehension! HA!

    • Wild Rumpus

      Very interestng perspective and I’m goIng to have to think about that! Innever realized the inherent paradoxical nature of libertarianism!

      • brianmacker

        I’m reminded of the blind leading the blind. His perspective is based on ignorance more than anything else. One example being his false claim that libertarians are moral objectivists. This is a laughably false claim, as is the claim that they are theocratic. You’d do well to ignore this guys claims in the future because he has proven willing to make false claims in public.

        Note that Objectivist founder Ayn Rand wrote a scathing article on libertarianism so it is kinda hard to confuse the two.

        Kinda silly to brand a political philosophy that is live and let live with regard to drug use, homosexuality, and a host of other private activities with the charge of wanting to impose a theocracy.

        • 3lemenope


          Note that Objectivist founder Ayn Rand wrote a scathing article on libertarianism so it is kinda hard to confuse the two.

          Mostly she complained that they stole her ideas and made them milquetoasty, which is risible, since the history of libertarian thought predates her “philosophy” by a comfortable amount of time. She complained that they let people in that didn’t swallow all of her ideas and instead had a few ideas of their own. In essence, she didn’t like the fact that the libertarian tent was broader than her philosophy.  Her influence, such as it is, has been more on political instantiations of libertarianism in modern times, which she whined about, as far as I can tell, simply because she didn’t play well with others.

          • brianmacker

            The article I was referring to is not available on the Internet. You are referring to an interview she made not the article I was referring to. That interview is the first item on a google search. In the article I was referring to she when into great detail on why libertarianism would not work, and why it was not Objectivist. Since she didn’t indicate which ideas she thought were stolen in the interview we’ll never know what she was talking about.

            Even in your the interview you refer to it is quite clear she does consider her philosophy to be a kind of libertarianism. Here is the link to that interview for the convenience of others: http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_campus_libertarians

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      You are confusing libertarianism in general with one extreme form of it, perhaps something like Randism.

      Libertarianism as a philosophy simply places a high value on minimal government and maximum individual freedom- a rationally defensible viewpoint that need by no more dogmatic than any other political viewpoint. Many, perhaps most, libertarians are not extremists, have no close attachment to the ideas of various well known libertarian authors, and  don’t envision any future utopia. Libertarians may be moral objectivists or moral relativists like anybody else.

      In any case, even a more Randian libertarian like Jillette is not “awful” simply for his views. Jillette is a strong skeptic, which means I very much doubt he takes his political philosophy entirely without question.

      The very suggestion that simply being a libertarian (or any other political philosophy) is sufficient to characterize a person as “awful” is offensive and tells me a lot more about the ethics of the person making the assertion than it does about the person being characterized.

      • brianmacker

        Objectism isn’t an extreme form of libertarianism. So you are both wrong.

        • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

          Do you mean “objectivism”?

          Randian objectivism is a broad area, of which morality is only one aspect. As I noted, many people who think of themselves as libertarian, or who base some of their political viewpoints on libertarian ideas, are not moral objectivists.

          I’d bet that more than 90% of people who call themselves libertarian don’t even know what objectivism is.

          • brianmacker

            I’m on an IPad and the spelling check is on. Not having physical keys increases the odds of a typo significantly and the the spelling check makes it look intentional. Of course I meant Objectivism, because there is no philosophy called objectism. Nor is there any philosophy called Randism. Libertarianism is NOT a form of Objectivism, nor is Objectivism a form of libertarianism. Otherwise your comment was mostly correct.

            • http://dogmabyte.com/ C Peterson

              Of course there is something called Randism: it is obviously just the name I’m using for the philosophy espoused by Rand. Would you prefer Randian Libertarianism? I need to call it something, because “libertarianism” is far too broad a description.

              I certainly didn’t suggest that libertarianism is a form of objectivism, or visa versa, so I’m not sure where that comment is coming from.

              • brianmacker

                You certainly did in your first sentence. You used it as a extreme form of libertarianism. Ayn Rand didn’t found a philosophy called Randism.

                • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                  I don’t know what you’re reading, but you obviously need to tune up your comprehension skills, because I said nothing remotely like what you’re suggesting.

                • brianmacker

                  You wrote, “You are confusing libertarianism in general with one extreme form of it, perhaps something like Randism”

                  That sentence structure is using “Randism” as an example of a “more extreme form of it” where “it” refers to the earlier “libertarianism”.

                  My reading comprehension skills are fine.

                • Kodie

                  My reading comprehension skills are fine.

                  I know they’re not.

                • brianmacker

                  Look it’s clear you have a grudge and now want be a troll. Get over it. My prior comments were NOT a characterization of your arguments and so could not be straw man arguments, you just didn’t understand that.

                • Kodie

                  If someone is saying your reading comprehention is lacking, I’m inclined to agree with them as per our last back-and-forth, and you can say your reading comprehension is just fine, but you’renot the best juce of that, IMO.

                • brianmacker

                  Despite the fact I just provided the quote that shows I’m correct. Apparently you don’t care about the truth. So analyze the sentence if you think it doesn’t mean that “Randism” is one extreme form of libertarianism.

                  If someone says, “You are confusing dishonesty in general with one extreme form of it, perhaps something like Kodieism.” do you think they are paying you a complement? Apparently so since you are siding with Peterson here.

          • Patterrssonn

            I bet you 90% of people who call themselves libertarian don’t even know what libertarianism is.

            • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

              Well, what is it then? Seriously, libertarianism represents a broad spectrum of political and economic ideas. “Libertarian” by itself is about as useful in figuring out what somebody really believes as “liberal” or “conservative” is. Only in the case of extremists are we likely to formulate a good sense of their philosophy.

              • Patterrssonn

                Personally I think it’s the philosophy of perpetual male adolescence. Libertarianism the politcs of never having to grow up.

                I’ve never one of the moderate majority, perhaps you can point me in their direction.

                • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                  I consider myself a libertarian social democrat. The libertarian part has to do with judicious use of private services by government, minimal limitation of individual liberties, and the powerful motivator of self interest. All are key parts of libertarianism. The social democrat part recognizes the value of society, supports a degree of redistribution of wealth, high taxes to support broad government services.

                  There’s no way to put a single name to my political/economic viewpoints, but in some contexts I identify as libertarian. I’m not remotely Randian, and I think the only good Teabagger is a dead Teabagger.

                • Patterrssonn

                  IInteresting, I’ve always been hard pressed to come up with a political label myself so I just go by pragmatist.

                • brianmacker

                  That seems like a sexist and ironically childish claim.

                • Patterrssonn

                  Really? In what way

                • brianmacker

                  You’re the one who inserted the sex marker. How about you explain yourself. Are females somehow superior at growing up, or inferior at understanding natural rights theory. Isn’t it childish to make the kinds of unfounded insults you just made?

                • Patterrssonn

                  No, it’s funny. Just as it’s funny to bait those sad losers who not only think there’s such as sexism against men but get excited about it.

                  And yes women do tend to be better at growing up, probably because they have less of a choice. Natural rights theory? Oh I imagine young women are better at that then young men too, unless of course you’re referring to the “waaaah it’s mine, I don’t wanna share! and you can’t make me!” natural rights theory that underpins Libertarianism these days.

    • Crappyman

      So what’s the alternative then? What is less dangerous?

    • advancedatheist

      Some libertarians also give horrible financial advice based on a fringe view called “Austrian economics.” They overlap with people who make ignorant or nonsensical claims, including conspiracy theories, about the Federal Reserve System, fiat money and fractional reserve lending. For example, I have a friend with a Ph.D. in physics, obviously a pretty smart guy in that area, who gives talks to cryonics groups like the following:

      http://cryonicssociety.org/apr/downloads/aprbook/marks-money-lecture.pdf 

      I laughed at the part where he claims that the Fed never gets audited, because you can find public Fed audits easily available online. The Fed by law also rebates most of its profits back to the U.S. Treasury, which debunks the claim that it somehow keeps all the money it earns in interest. 

      • brianmacker

        Hitler gave bad political and ethical advice based on Darwinism. I tend to think he misinterpreted the theory.

        That fringe theory accurately describes and predicted many of the effects of past and present economic policy. You wouldn’t know that because you confuse fringe with false, and therefore do not explore outside your narrow viewpoint. If you did then you’d know that none of these claims are relevant to Austrian economics. You are ignorant, and your comment is the equivalent of claiming Darwin is false because of Hitler.

        • Revyloution

          Hitler didn’t like Darwin, or his theory.  He followed Lamarckism.  Many laypeople don’t know the difference,  as they both claim that today’s modern forms evolved from simpler forms in the past.  The difference is the driving mechanism.  Under Darwin, the force is natural selection working on random variation.  Under Lamarck,  it was the creatures desires and motivating factors.   A good example of Lamarckism is the giraffe,  he thought that the desire to eat from taller trees caused the neck of the progeny to be longer than it’s parents.  Lamarck was wrong, of course,  but it was this idea that you can directly pass on your desired traits to your offspring that appealed to Hitler.

          • brianmacker

            That may or may not be true. Hilter is however quoted as himself quoting Darwinists, and using Darwinian, not Lamarckian terms like “selection”. There is nothing in either theory which advocates the forced extermination of Jews, homosexuals, and the crippled. Which is my point. Just like you can’t use some of the bad advice given out by new agers to discredit quantum physics.

            There is nothing in Austrian Economics that depends on conspiracy theory and the founding Austrians made none of the claims that he quoted. Their theory does not depend in any way on whether the Fed is audited or not and they never mentioned that in describing their theory. I know because I have read all the major Austrian treatises from front to back page and have understood them.

            Kooks quote all sorts of science to justify their ill founded advice, and that does not mean the underlying science is flawed, or says anything they claim it does.

      • brianmacker

        Also mainstream financial advisors gave lots of bad economic advice based on both Keynesianism and Monetarism. Funny that you criticize Austrian economics as “fringe” when the non-fringe economic schools were completely blindsided by this economic crash and completely at a loss as to why their solutions are failing over and over.

      • brianmacker

        I find your use of overlap to be a form of extreme intellectual dishonesty. Democrats overlap with people who advocated black slavery, and commies who murdered close to 100 million people. It’s guilt by overlap, instead of guilt by association. I think you can make much broader overlaps than associations.

      • brianmacker

        That’s a cryonics web site. You think that’s a credible source to quote. I don’t see any Austrian economics at the link.

    • david hanley

      I think you are not well informed on libertarianism.  First of all, it is not one single intellectual system designed by an individual, like communism, so that is a bit of a ham-handed comparison.  The core belief is that force is chiefly warranted only as a response to other force ( or fraud ).  The corollary to that actions that would be immoral for an individual do not suddenly become moral when they are carried out by “the government”.  So, while it would be moral for me to intercede if my neighbor is abusing/starving his/her children, it is not moral for me to demand that he educate them in a specific way or with specific beliefs.  Same goes for his ingesting certain substances, or fighting in wars i believe in and he does not. 

      I honestly don’t understand what sort of logic by which the rest of your post is derived; how such a system could be construed as ‘authoritarianism’ or depending on ‘moral objectivism’ is beyond me. 

      • revaaron

        Sounds like you’re just about as misinformed about communism as the other posters are about libertarianism. Even if your replaced “communism” with “Marxism” I don’t think you could call it “one single intellectual system designed by an individual.”

        • brianmacker

          There is a single system developed by a single guy named Marx, there just also happen to be people who consider themselves heirs to Marx who’ve put their own spin on his ideas. Libertarianism didn’t arise in that way. There isn’t one guy you can trace it to. Admittedly he was loose in his terminology referring to Marxism as communism, but that is an extremely common usage. If he indeed meant the broader term then he was wrong because communism includes many different varieties including even many voluntarist kinds. Of course why would we thing he was using the term more broadly when he narrowed the possible meaning to the totalitarian brands that were invented by one man. Pretty clear he was talking about Marxism.

          • revaaron

            I agree that he was talking about Marxism, regardless of whether or not he knows that communism is a superset of Marxism.  You can certainly trace Marxism to Marx, but the fact that Marxism isn’t a “single intellectual system designed by an individual,” but a group of them which use Marx as a common source. Clearly, Marx saw himself as an analyst and a theoretician more than a policymaker; Lenin and his successors took his ideas and pounded them into something a bit closer to a system of thought.

            For what it’s worth, I agree that libertarianism was not authored as a turnkey ideology.

  • Stev84

    I like Maher when he talks about atheism. But altogether it’s true that he can be an asshole and he indeed has some blinders about other things. That’s not great, but it doesn’t make him much worse than a lot of other people on television.

  • Georgina

    There are plenty of christians out there who like strawberries – does this make them bad people, or bad christians – who knows. Nobody is perfect.
    We atheists are not looking for a messiah, just information and facts.

  • http://twitter.com/bnt0 brian thomson

    If Maher really hated women, the panels on his show would be sausage-fests, and they definitely are not. He’s anti-flu-shots, but he’s not an anti-vaxxer in general. An anti-unnecessary-vaxxer would be a better description. I think he brings a welcome skeptical sense of humour to this arena.

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      I think you’re seriously understating Maher’s embrace of quackery.

    • Rillion

      “If Maher really hated women, the panels on his show would be sausage-fests.” This does not follow. It assumes that a) all women recognize a woman-hater when they see one, and b) all women care more about avoiding woman-haters than they do anything else, including fame and public discussion of politics. 

      • david hanley

        The point is, he would not invite women on the show, or would be so hostile to them, they would not come back.  

        • Charon

           Exactly! Just like the Republican Party can’t possibly have strong anti-women stances because, you know, there are a few Republican women senators.

          Or… possibly you are mistaken, and some women support things that hinder women as a group because these things help that specific woman personally…

    • jdm8

      Maybe hes not overtly sexist to panel guests and women who are on his side, he has called Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann boobs and bimbos numerous times.

    • brianmacker

      So having a woman present is an effective defense of woman hatred? I don’t think so.

    • Artoo45

      He denied germ theory on one episode . . .

    • happydog

      If only he were funny, I would agree with you. Maher ranks somewhere between Tosh.0 and cancer on the funny scale. 

  • Blutowski

    The only thing I would say about this is that while I agree that they are not “bad atheists” (with the exception you note) they may be bad representatives of atheism. That’s because I believe the best intellectual defense of atheism requires some combination of rationality and pragmatism. If a representative of atheism is inconsistent in that regard–if he or she holds irrational beliefs or puts ideology ahead of evidence-based thinking in other areas–it is easy for theists to suggest that the supposed rationality is merely a cover for some other motivation.

  • Discobisc

    What does bad atheist mean? Are we talking about bad people, who happen to be atheist (e.g. Pol Pot or Stalin) or people who arrive at the conclusion that there is no god based on faulty logic? Looking at this list it seems they are just atheists who do things that some people object to.

  • http://twitter.com/Bridges009 Martin James Bridges

    I’ve no idea who Ian Murphy is but you could just as easily accuse him of  “eroding the credibility of all atheists” (assuming he is one) for writing yet another lazy ‘top x’ article for Alternet with less substance than a Zynga game.

    • brianmacker

      By his own criteria he is a bad atheist. He’s not especially reasonable, rational, logical, nor skeptical as he seems to think either.

  • http://twitter.com/JMRooker JM Rooker

    You just called all closeted atheists bad atheists? Very classy.
    Goodbye.

    • http://twitter.com/bnt0 brian thomson

       Wrong. Some atheists are closeted for good reasons, but Hemant was talking only about atheists who have no reason to be closeted.

      • 3lemenope

        …but Hemant was talking only about atheists who have no reason to be closeted.

        Which would be whom, exactly? I used to think where I lived was a pleasant and accepting enough place to be an atheist, and then Jessica Ahlquist demonstrated (rather inadvertently) that I was wrong.

        While I’m not closeted, everyone who is (in my experience) has their own reasons, and I would look askance at anyone who would judge them for those from the outside. Often, closeted people are closeted in order to preserve family or friendship relationships where the other person is a valued person except they are irrational about religious subjects; who are you or anyone else to say that not being closeted ought to be more important to them then their family or friends? Some people are in precarious employment positions and don’t have the resources or want to suffer through the mess of defending their rights legally, or may be in a position where they simply can’t prove they’d been discriminated against for being an atheist; is it appropriate to tell someone that it is more important to be an out and proud atheist than to put food on the table?

        • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

          I really don’t think you’re arguing against Hemant’s point. If you have to choose between being out and putting food on the table, then you have a reason to stay closeted. And I live in a pretty religious area and know plenty of people who have chosen to be out. Hell, I’m mostly out, and I’m only semi-closeted because I’m a teacher and don’t want it to become an issue with my religious colleagues and students.

          • 3lemenope

            My point is, shortly, that generally speaking people don’t stay closeted unless they have a reason. So the set of people Hemant is talking about is *tiny* and statistically insignificant. 

            On the other hand, there are lots of people who are closeted for no apparent reason, and since the reason isn’t apparent people assume there isn’t one. I’m just pointing out that there almost always is.

            I’d exclude from the entire analysis atheists who are simply apatheists. Apatheism by nature is not giving a damn about one’s own religious identity because you don’t have one. I wouldn’t expect such people to go out of their way to talk about being an atheist because it runs sort of contrary to why they are an atheist in the first place; most such people don’t even think of themselves with the atheist label, mainly because they don’t think about the topic at all. I’d say it’s fairly illegitimate to criticize them on that basis too. It’s supposed to be religion’s shtick to make people care and demand investments of time and resources and psychological pain. Some folks just don’t have time for any of it.

            • brianmacker

              Thanks for saving me the effort of writing that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=625024380 Jake LeMaster

    I still think S. E. Cupp is a plant.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IKVVNPKPMBDXQJDAIREAS5IQLM Mike

       The vegetable kind of plant?

      • http://www.facebook.com/rogi.riverstone Rogi Riverstone

         solid waste

    • jdm8

      I do too. At least, that is the most logical explanation for her statements. Alternatively, she’s possibly a very ignorant atheist, or just haven’t thought her statements through at all. She says she’s an atheist, but doesn’t trust atheists (at least in office), she doesnt see the risks of religionism in government, and would or plans to raise children religious because she thinks the belief in an invisible eye in the sky is required to teach honesty and morality.

      • Pseudonym

        The “most logical explanation” is rarely a conspiracy theory.

        In this case, the simplest explanation which fits with all of the facts is that people can be weird. Everything you describe is, after all, perfectly compatible with the absence of belief in deities.

        • jdm8

          Nothing I mentioned require a conspiracy. It only needs a cynic that plays into Evangelical (mis) conceptions of atheism.

      • http://twitter.com/CaraColeen Cara Coleen

         It baffles me she would say she doesn’t trust atheists, nor would she vote for one (etc). Doesn’t she realize she’s saying she herself is untrustworthy? Well, I suppose by the time she runs for office, she’ll have found Jebus and will then be trustworthy.

    • LesterBallard

      No, I like plants. 

    • brianmacker

      No, it’s a bra size. :)

  • Geoff Cavendish

    The End of Faith capitalized heavily on the hysteria generated after 9/11, that is all. Harris ideas on reincarnation, the supernatural and eastern mysticms are simply abdurd. The less said about his political views the better. Were it not for Pat Condell, Sam Harris would be number with a bullet.   

    • Dan

      Obviously you know nothing about Harris’s beliefs on reincarnation and the supernatural. I find it absurd that you would critique someone for holding positions they clearly don’t. Harris has said many times that he thinks there is a lot of wisdom in Buddism, but that the supernatural and the idea of reincarnation have to go.

      • Geoff Cavendish

         No he has not.  Harris states in the End of Faith 

        “There may even be credible evidence for reincarnation”. ( P. 242)

        The footnote for this religious assertion takes one to books that
        Harris finds compelling such as “20 Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation”
        which includes colourful tales of past-life regressions and children who
        speak dead languages. And, even more good news in store for mind
        readers and psychics: “There also seems to be a body of data attesting
        to the reality of psychic phenomena, much of which has been ignored by
        mainstream science.” (p. 41)

        In in an with Salon ( Read for yourself here,http://www.salon.com/2006/07/07/harris_24/)
         
        Harris comes out with more quackery:

        Salon: It sounds like you’re open-minded to the possibility of
        telepathy — things that we might classify as psychic. You’re saying
        it’s entirely possible that they might be true and science at some
        point will be able to prove them.

        “Yeah, and there’s a lot of data out there that’s treated in most
        circles like intellectual pornography that attests to there being a
        real phenomenon. I just don’t know. But I’ve had the kinds of
        experiences that everyone has had that seem to confirm telepathy that
        minds can influence other minds.”

        Tell me about one of those experiences.

        “Oh, just knowing who’s calling when that person hasn’t called you in
        years. The phone rings and you know who it is and it’s not your mother
        or your wife or someone who calls you every day. I’ve had many
        experiences like that. I know many people who’ve had even more bizarre
        experiences. But that does not rise to the level of scientific
        evidence. The only way to determine if it really exists is to look in a
        disinterested and sustained way at all of the evidence.”

        Nuts.

        Recently, Harris appears to step
        back from the crankdom: “My position on the paranormal is this: While
        there have been many frauds in the history of parapsychology, I believe
        that this field of study has been unfairly stigmatized.”

  • Geoff Cavendish

    ** Harris’ ideas**

  • http://neamhspleachas.com Molly Rene

    If this list was called “People Who Are Atheists Who Also Hold Shitty Viewpoints On Other Subjects,” it would make more sense.

    • http://flyingdingo.com/ Rick Roberts

      Exactly. Atheism is simply the lack of something: belief in gods. It is not a religion unto itself.

      • Miss_Beara

         I don’t know why this is so difficult for a lot of people to understand.

    • Pseudonym

      Exactly. Sam Harris is no more a “bad atheist” than Pat Robertson is a “bad Christian”. They are people who happen to hold a viewpoint on the existence or otherwise of deities, who also happen to hold some dumb opinions, and seem to be impervious to any reason or evidence which contradicts their bigotry and stupidity.

      That is to say, they’re human just like the rest of us.

      • compl3x

         Although, it is different if one belief influences another. I don’t know if Sam Harris’ atheism has anything to do with his ideas about racial profiling. For some reason I highly doubt it

        I’m damn sure Robertsons social views are entirely influenced by his conservative Christian beliefs.

  • kdp

    Well said, Hemant, well said.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FXEFIE2LGYHO3PY7J2FKJRGKT4 Bribase

    Excessively anti-Islam? Absolutely.

    I mean, what did Islam ever do to her?

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/TVURXCJIBBMFDRGEI32CPTNIJ4 K G

      Not just anti-Islam, but she’s a “no mosque should ever be allowed to be built because all Muslims are evil and dangerous” type. That’s not courageous atheism or courageous feminism – that’s bigotry.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IKVVNPKPMBDXQJDAIREAS5IQLM Mike

    Ian Murphy hoped to make it onto the list himself with his ranting, incoherent, bigoted babble. Obviously the religionistas do not have the monopoly on bullshit.

  • Ian Reide

    As atheism is simply a way, a correct way, to view the world, it is impossible to correctly label someone as a “bad atheist”. Much the same as if I called someone a bad non-believer in Santa Claus. Is Billy Bob bad because he is a Bad Santa? haha sorry.
    Libertarian—I consider myself to be something of a libertarian, though I have been called a socialist libertarian. ummm. 

    Over the course of my life I have met many people. Biased as this sample is, the vast majority of the “good” people I have met, certainly the more interesting and intelligent, are atheists or agnostics, or at least believe in a rather amorphous divinity. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-De-Fleuriot/611844223 Mike De Fleuriot

    “You know which atheists are the bad ones? The ones who refuse to admit
    they don’t believe in god even though they have no reason to hide it.”

    aka Agnostics.. grin

  • Paul_Robertson

    I’m pretty sure that S.E Cupp is to atheism what Stephen Colbert is to conservativism. I’d love it if she broke character oneday.

    • godlessveteran

      More like what Alan Colmes is to liberalism.  A shill and a whipping post for the conservatives.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/47IDX2QAR6VU6ZAILFU6I23ACQ Joseph

      Except that Stephen Colbert’s character is part of a comedy routine.  There’s nothing (intentionally) funny about S.E. Cupp.

  • Loren Petrich

    These “bad atheists” are atheists with beliefs that the author considers bad.  I think that the champions of those would have to be Communists.

    There is another sort of “bad atheist”, one who accepts atheism for bad reasons. These might be
    - Conformity (following party line, or to please some people or to be like them)
    - Rebellion (like being different for the sake of being different)
    - Trolling (just to provoke a negative reaction)

  • http://flyingdingo.com/ Rick Roberts

    It would be more fun to talk about hot atheists. Sam Harris. Just sayin’.

  • http://twitter.com/Moctavius Moctavius

    Ian Murphy seems to have a hard-on for Ayn Rand and those who subscribe to her views.

  • dangeroustalk

    The list is ridiculous and it really makes Murphy bad for atheism. But I also want to defend some of my fellow atheists. Harris’s book, The Moral Landscape, really puts into plain language what moral philosophers have been saying for a long time. It really is nothing short of brilliant.

    Maher hates women? Since when? Is that because he goes to the Playboy Mansion? Who comes us with this stuff? Also, I think his view on vaccines is just a little bit more nuances than some people in our community are willing to acknowledge. I still disagree with him, but it certainly isn’t to the level of others anti-vaxers.  

    Penn is a Libertarian and I think he is silly for being one. But that has nothing to do with atheism. There are actually a lot of Libertarian atheists out there. While I don’t agree with them, they certainly aren’t being irrational.

    Ayaan focuses on Islam because she grow up Muslim! I focus on Christianity and Judaism because I grew up in America where Islam makes up .6% of the population. Islam isn’t a race and just because there are some crazy racists who also hate Islam for irrational reasons, doesn’t mean that anyone who criticizes Islam must be a racist. That’s bad reasoning. Cupp is the obvious wacko in the room, but at least she is on Fox News telling people that she doesn’t believe in a God. Many of those people don’t think they know any atheists and yet here is an atheist they like (for some strange reason) and even though she is a self-hating atheist, she is still an atheist. No one has shown her any convincing reasons to believe in deities… yet. So I won’t even give Murphy his easy target.

  • Loren Petrich

    I think that Communism was a BIG setback for atheism and freethought, because it made religion look good. Never mind that there are numerous atheists who hate Communism and love capitalism: Ayn Rand, her followers, and other right-libertarians.

    But Communism has fallen in eastern Europe, and most of the remaining Communists have embraced capitalism in varying degrees, with the most orthodox remaining one being North Korea.

    That’s left many Cold Warriors without a great enemy, though some of them have found a new one: Islamists. However, Islam and Xianity are too uncomfortably similar.

  • evidence_reason
  • Gunstargreen

    Other than S.E. Cupp none of those things are related to those people being atheists. No one is right about everything.

  • Tainda

    Yeah, because you know, we should all be EXACTLY alike and have the same views.  Wait no, that’s what the other side is like.

    I work in a hospital and Maher’s views on immunizations are flat out crazy but I still love him.

  • idea1013

    Hemant, thank you so much for speaking to our group yesterday. You continue to inspire others to tell their stories openly and without fear!

    As for “bad atheists,” I’m not sure what that means. How can one be a bad atheist? Perhaps Ian could have been more clear and said “bad for atheism,” in which case- where is David Silverman on this list? Though I personally enjoy him, I cringe whenever I see him on the news, knowing that many people watching are thinking “see THAT’S why I don’t like atheists.” His rude, condescending manner does nothing positive for the image of atheists. Bill Maher has the same effect. We need people with “friendlier” dispositions representing atheism in the public eye… ahem… Hemant?

  • godlessveteran

    If S.E. Cupp is an atheist, then I’m the facking Pope.  

  • Kodie

    I have some problem with especially prominent atheists, but really anyone, failing to see faulty logic when it’s pointed out to them. Mostly familiar with Penn Jillette – what I notice about his show, Bullshit! is that Penn & Teller are illusionists, which is easy to forget when you think you are seeing some smart arguments. And I think some of the episodes are very smart, while others cheat and arrive at a conclusion with a lot of bold assertions and misdirection, which is their specialty. You can’t take for granted anyone always knows what they’re talking about especially when they are experts at fooling their audiences, even when their claim to fame is showing exactly how they did the trick.

    On the other hand, I don’t say atheists are always very smart. I just don’t particularly care for on one hand, they have their arguments together in the “religion is false” department, and meanwhile cling to some other pet nonsense. Maybe I do it wrong too. I tend to leave a lot more gray area than most and don’t feel easily persuaded to land on black or white. Some things are only partially nonsense which would be a terrible idea to take a 100% stand against, and by standing against something, what partially terrible idea do you stand 100% for? Is it libertarianism? I agree sometimes the government is not the most efficient agent for providing social good, but I still think it’s the government’s responsibility. Libertarianism has some things to think about but it has some terrible ways of executing those processes, and like above it was compared to Communism, presumes a theoretical perfection of system that I think would be a disaster in practice. I don’t know how to reconcile these things, as it seems you are either on one side or the other, firmly. Theoretical perfections can be appealing but that doesn’t make them work.

    What I see is these examples planting their stakes on an idea that may not be too wise and not having the ability to see another side or modify their ideas to a realistic world or account for flaws in their logic. And I’m sure all of us are sometimes this way.

    And as much as I dislike S.E. Cupp, if I take her at face value, I think there are a lot of atheists like her than we’d like to admit or acknowledge. They don’t tend to come out of the woodwork, but calling her out as a “bad atheist” is saying there’s “one true atheism” and a lot of people who don’t believe in god don’t count. My grandfather was an atheist and I think my mother is one, and both had other personality issues. My mother is non-analytical and hierarchical, which means she is obedient to authority unless she’s the authority. I dislike the idea that there’s one true atheism that we all have to be one way without flaw. I dislike the idea that in atheism there is someone handing down the priorities we all must have and the associated causes. If Penn Jillette is a libertarian, there will be some fanbois and fangrrls who follow the leader (like my good and stubborn buddy that I mentioned), but I don’t think that’s “very atheist” of anyone not to think for themselves. And so, whatever, sometimes people are wrong, doesn’t mean they’re not also right. I do like the idea of challenging people to think and be less complacent and more logical, but like libertarianism, I’m not sure society is actually up for that big a change.

    • Wintermute472002

       I agree that nobody else should try to say that S.E. Cupp does or doesn’t believe anything. I don’t know her, and I certainly can’t read her mind. Perhaps she is utterly sincere in her atheism.

      I do however thinks it’s fair to point out that a lot of the statements she makes appear to be inconsistent with her purported beliefs. It’s kind of weird to say that you don’t believe there’s a god, but you wish you did (so wait, you mean you wish you believed something which you’ve already said you thought was false?). I think it’s perfectly reasonable to call her out of the stupid things she says, assuming that you feel it’s worth the time to think about her at all.

      • Kodie

        I don’t really pay too much attention to her since I don’t have cable; what I see of her online, I think, I guess what I’d say about her is she doesn’t represent me, and she doesn’t represent atheists I know or secular issues. I don’t think she even ought to be on tv, but if she never said again that she was an atheist, she would surely blend right in anyway. I don’t particularly like anyone seeing any atheist in the media (the above listed or anyone else) and saying “that’s what atheists are like” or “that’s why I hate atheists”.

        However, when Christians seem to hold to a belief that being a Christian makes someone a good person automatically, while being a bad person (however they define bad) makes someone not a real Christian, much less represent them and their beliefs. I do know people of a similar ilk as S.E. Cupp, but that doesn’t mean she should be on tv, and yet, it doesn’t really mean she shouldn’t be on tv any more than anyone else. Sort of runs into a 1st amendment issue, I think. Beyond that, companies that want to promote popular guests and commentators and make money are allowed to be shitty and we can’t force people who like it to turn the channel.

        I hardly feel like she matters all that much, could be my limited access to her, but the other 4 are actually influential of fellow otherwise intelligent atheists. Nobody I know looks to S.E. Cupp for a model to work off of, but I’m sure they exist, so it makes her a bad atheist (to us) but nothing to really concern ourselves with. The rest of us divide ourselves between, say, hating Penn Jillette for his flaws and arrogance more than we admire him for being right a lot of the time and intelligent and pulling it off (the arrogance) in our favor some of the time; same with Maher and Harris and maybe Ali in their own respective ways, among others. What I think is wrong is idolization for someone just for being a vocal atheist and then picking them apart for going about it the wrong way. I don’t know Bill Maher’s sexism, I thought that was Jillette too, and maybe he’s wrong, but I also get the sense about him that he’s one who likes to say out loud what (he assumes) everyone is secretly thinking anyway. We can be too polite and humorless. Is it right to criticize women we don’t like or agree with by reducing them to body parts? It’s not intellectual, it’s pretty crude, and he gets away with saying things a lot of people are thinking even though it’s terrible to say. Does that negate everything else? Should we ignore him until he cries and goes off the air? Does none of them have positives we can still admire or are they negated by rubbing people the wrong way? People are too worried about atheists’ image resting on too few “wrong-headed” attitudes by famous atheists and whether it works against us, but I don’t worry about it.

  • mthrnite

    Thank you, Hemant, for taking what I consider to be a reasonable look at that article and voicing a balanced assessment of it. While high-profile atheists should and will be challenged on their views that seem irrational, it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater by vilifying them, along with the people who rightly admire them. While some of these views are troubling, they should be addressed through (at least marginally civil) debate, not through hurling invective. Atheism isn’t a religion, but it will be much easier to mistake it for one if everyone has to be in lockstep on every issue lest they be excised from the body politic.

  • Guest

    >>>perhaps even moreso than the bestselling authors. I guarantee that when
    most of Maher’s fans (women included) hear his comedy, they’re not
    thinking “He hates women.”

    Clearly, we know different women.

    • http://twitter.com/ylaenna M. Elaine

      I also think Palin and Bachmann are boobs/bimbos. Does that mean I hate women?

      • brianmacker

        No but if you thought that about Elizabeth Warren you would be.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

      Actually, I mostly just find him funny. I don’t watch him very often, but I was trying to look up different clips of his sexist remarks, and I really couldn’t see what the big deal was, and I get offended pretty easily if a public figure says something sexist.

      • Nova

        This is a pretty good explanation of the problem: 
        http://www.shakesville.com/2011/03/bill-maher-feminist-troll.html

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

          He does say shitty things sometimes, I just don’t see it as particularly sexist when he insults Palin and Bachmann, he’s just looking for creative insults. And I really don’t mind that he’s insulting them, because they deserve to be insulted. They’re morons and should not have nearly as much power as they do. Maher makes fun of male politicians all the time, so I don’t see how it’s sexist. I tried looking up the clip where he calls Palin a cunt, but I couldn’t find it, so I can’t really judge that one. But I don’t think there would be much of an outcry if he called a male politician a dick.

          I agree with that writer about the “other people are just too sensitive” comment. That’s unfair because as soon as people try to argue with that, he can just say “See, you’re too sensitive.”
          However…I kind of agree with him…I just don’t see why people got mad in the first place.

          • Kevin S.

            I’m fairly certain calling a guy a dick isn’t nearly as demeaning as calling a woman a cunt, just as calling a white person a cracker isn’t nearly as bad as calling a black person a nigger. I’ve been called both a dick and a cracker before, and I never felt I was being dimished simply for being a white man.

            • http://www.facebook.com/Tracy.Bradley1 Tracy Bradley

              I really think North American* women need to take back the word ‘cunt’.  I’ve no idea why it’s so much worse than ‘dick’, or why it seems to carry so much shock value.

              *North American, bc in the UK and other places ‘cunt’ (and ‘twat’) is used for both sexes, ie: he’s a silly cunt.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      I don’t think he hates women.  He can be a bit of a jerk, and I doubt I’d ever want to hang out with him in real life, but I enjoy his show.

    • Tainda

      I watch Real Time every Friday and I have seen Maher live.  I don’t think he hates women.  I think he hates STUPID women.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

        I think what happens is that there are much less women in politics, so they tend to draw more attention. Since people can be very cruel to political women, people in that woman’s political party are very protective and will come to her support if anyone says anything offensive. I think that’s generally a good thing, but it means that they can get oversensitive to the point where any negative comment is a sexist comment, even if it’s not.

        • Tainda

          I do believe you are right!

          Women supporting Palin just because she is a woman makes me ill.  She is a complete waste of air and a moron.  Why should I feel guilty for saying that just because I have a vagina?  That’s the way some people think I should feel though.

          • Nova

            You shouldn’t. The point is that instead of focussing on the stupidity of their policies/beliefs, he goes for the easy, sexist insult. They’re such wide targets at a legitimate level that using sexist insults against them is, again, lazy, and sexist.

  • CrappyMan

     Can’t they  just say what they mean: these atheists are heretics. They
    have views that aren’t perfectly consistent with a kind of Leftist
    fundamentalism. Therefore they are ‘bad’. Read more Pinker. 

    • brianmacker

      I’m pretty sure Pinker would classify as a bad atheist under that criteria. He is a heretic against blank slate dogma. Your last sentence reads like you were saying leftist fundamentalist would recommend more Pinker. Are you saying they should? It’s ambiguous unless you know Pinker and I’m not sure you do.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    I find the topic title misleading, with “bad atheists” in quotes, given that the expression is not used at all by Murphy.

    That said, the article is pretty ridiculous. Of course there are bad or awful atheists- why wouldn’t there be? Atheism tells us nothing about a person’s beliefs or ethics. But Murphy’s choices are poor. Who do we have here as strong intellectual voices for the concept of atheism? None of them. Harris comes closest, but I have to say I’ve never been very impressed with his argument skills or knowledge base, and I don’t think most people outside of the activist atheist community know who he is. Maher, Jillette, and Cupp are entertainers, and it’s impossible to separate their schtick from their actual beliefs. They are not contributing to the shift away from theism and religion in any significant way. Hirsi Ali is primarily an anti-Islamicist, not an activist atheist.

  • MegaZeusThor

    I may not always agree with the point that  Sam Harris is trying to make, but find him an engaging speaker and writer. He honest and wants dialogue where others would say “we don’t talk (openly or honestly) about that.

    Love Sam talking here: 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wi2IC6e5DUY#t=8m30s

    Penn can be a loud mouth, but I still like him. 

    Bill Maher’s a comedian. They push the envelop. I’m happy he finally started calling himself and atheist.

    I’d rather have supper with these folks than a group of Creationist leaders…

  • http://www.facebook.com/angus.bohanon Angus Bohanon

    I’m becoming more and more convinced that Cupp isn’t an atheist at all; rather, she says what she thinks atheists should say, with a healthy dose of her true religion shining through.  She wouldn’t vote for an atheist, she doesn’t believe in God “yet,” she won’t say that religious people are wrong in their beliefs, etc.  The entire idea that an atheist president wouldn’t have the requisite humility that belief in a higher power brings (not true anyway) is preposterous from an atheist’s point of view.

    • Loren Petrich

       S.E. Cupp seems almost like a royal-lie atheist, a term I invented that’s inspired by the religion that Plato had proposed for his Republic. He proposed that it have an official religion that he called a “royal lie” or “noble lie”, a religion for making its citizens virtuous.

      But at least Plato did not hate himself for not believing in his “royal lie”, as S.E. Cupp apparently does. He was also commendably honest about what seems to be a common school of thought.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

    I don’t take too seriously the fact that the article calls them “the most awful atheists”.  If I read a list of “the best movies of all time”, I don’t seriously expect it to list the best movies of all time.  It’s just a way of bringing attention to good movies, or in this case, bringing attention to a few awful traits of well-known atheists.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    So, there are “bad atheists,” are there? Hmm. By what measure are they really that “bad”? Yeah, Harris advocates racial profiling … but really, how horrific a recommendation is that? Jillette is an apologist for most of what the teabaggers want … but again, how terrible is that? 

    Compare these things to the types of things that truly “bad” theists do … e.g. rioting, terrorism, assassinations, etc. … and I honestly find it hard to believe that any of these folks could possibly be in the same league as the worst theists. 

    Enough already with the comparisons. There is none. Until I hear that non-believers are blowing up churches and killing clergy in order to promote atheism, I can’t really get behind any of this kind of crap.

  • Lamont

    Actually post-1995-ish Dawkins would have totally made my list, he lost the plot, as an Atheist I think he no longer particularly represents me well.  And I’m honestly a bit happy that Christopher Hitchens is dead because Atheism is about the only thing I have in common with him, and everything else that came out of his mouth drove me pretty batshit crazy.  He derived his own crusade against Islam out of Atheism that I think was every bit as bad as George Bush’s crusade against Islam (I’m fundamentally anti-Crusade, even more than I’m an Atheist).
    Maher I think is misanthropic and condescending, but that’s kind of okay with me since I’m a bit of a cynical misanthrope as well.  But, I’d consider him a bad Liberal before I’d consider him a bad Atheist.  He’s actually opened his mouth and come out of the closet about Atheism, but I don’t think we need to start automatically judging him on the basis of being a formal spokesperson.  People having “conversions” to Atheism on the basis of Maher holding up a T-shirt are, well, a bit odd to me — read a book about Atheism or something and get a bit more grounded inspiration please, because you’re still acting a bit like a herd animal.Sam Harris is certainly a spokesperson.  I might have an argument with some stuff he writes, but overall he’s pretty damn good.  Calling him ‘bad’ is crazy.  Dawkins starting frothing at the mouth about individualism and libertarianism after around 1995 or so and seemed to forget whole sections of the Selfish Gene where behaviors that were bad for the individual organism but good for kin could be selected by selfish genes.  He lost the plot completely, so I’ll ding him for that.  Harris is still having an intellectual argument.Penn Jillette I’d also say is pro-Atheism and a public figure, but I just don’t feel like he’s a spokesperson for me.  And he’s a libertarian.  Whatever.  I’m sure there are Atheists who vote Republican, that makes them jackasses I disagree with (world seems to be full of those, very annoying, and even most liberals drive me insane most of the time — I said I was a cynical misanthrope) not bad Atheists.And the difference I see with Hitchens is that his crusade about “Islamofascism” I think he really derived from his Atheism, so he really was taking something that I believed in and deriving something that I abhor.  I can’t separate Hitchens beliefs, because they are grounded together .  Similarly, Dawkins annoys me because he took his Selfish Gene theory and forgot half of it and derived naive selfish Libertarianism from it and started yapping about Atheism and selfish politics that I didn’t agree with.  Jillette is an Atheist and also a Libertarian.  Maher is an Atheist and also a Liberal (and also an Ass).  I can pick and choose about the latter two just like I do with most of the rest of the people on the planet.  I don’t see Maher and Jillette saying that because I’m an Atheist I must agree with their politics.  

    And, sorry, the latter two on your list I don’t even know.

    So, both the one I think gets the title and a possible honorable mention are two guys that you didn’t mention….

    • Lamont

      I do actually know how to use paragraphs, but apparently this blog software doesn’t…

      • brianmacker

        Welcome to the club. I think I’ve had that happen when pasting from MS Word.

    • http://profiles.google.com/whoreslie joe smith

       ” And I’m honestly a bit happy that Christopher Hitchens is dead..” ah such kind-hearted tolerance from ‘progressives’. You should write his kids an email….

  • Philo Vaihinger

    Is Ian Murhpy as stupid as this piece of his indicates? And he runs that site?

  • http://www.facebook.com/eggfulaura Egg Fu Laura

    To be fair, he called them awful atheists, not bad atheists.  He never said they were bad at being atheist.  He said they are atheists who also happen to be awful people and through the humanist and liberal lens of alternet, this list is spot on.  

  • amycas

    I pretty much agree with Hemant here. While I personally don’t like Bill Maher and I have had a couple problems with a few things Penn has said in the past, I don’t think they are overall bad for the movement. I had no idea about Ali’s politics until I read that article, and I don’t think anybody actually takes S.E. Cupp seriously.

  • http://www.facebook.com/briancposey Brian C Posey

    Sam Harris isn’t even being a bad skeptic.  He’s reached different conclusions than I have on the racial profiling idea.  But a persons skeptical credentials are established on how they reach their conclusions, not the conclusions you reach.

  • http://northierthanthou.com/ northierthanthou

    I don’t understand where the notion comes from that being an atheist carries a set of responsibilities beyond the semantics of the term. Being an atheist doesn’t amount to a claim on superlative moral behavior. So, it should come as no surprise that folks claiming to be atheist show a range of different moral standards in their conduct.

    As to Ali, I think there is a world of difference between the criticisms of someone who ash faced the negative implications of Islamic traditions and those who are simply whipping up the anti-Muslim bigotry for their own ends. The degree to which the one feeds the other is a tough question, but I still think she’s earned the option in ways that the Faux News crowd hasn’t.

  • Heather Applebury

    Thank you for writing a coherent assessment as to why this article is absurd.  Thanks for continuing to give me reasons to come back to your blog.  

  • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

    And so, y’all do the usual song and dance: you circle the wagons and defend a number of prominent faces in atheism who have regressive philosophies.  Hey, they might have disagreeable ideas–ideas that reenforce the oppression of certain groups of people–but that doesn’t make them “bad atheists.” They’re published!  They’ve gotten us great PR!

    I keep on hearing how atheists are so much more rational and forward
    thinking and that religion and spirituality are the road to irrational
    ruin. Then, when I witness atheists defending such awful people, it dawns on me
    that this sense of superiority is a self-congratulatory facade.  You are as human as the next person, religious or not.  You defend rogues and rationalize oppression just as other groups of humans do.

    So, I wonder.  Where is the cutoff point?  Is Stalin a “bad atheist”? Benito Mussolini?  Pol Pot?  Where’s the dividing line where you stop defending people and admit that maybe, just maybe, the philosophies of the person in question are lending atheism some rather unsavory undertones?  Given that many atheists practically shit themselves in rage when someone brings up the fun historical figures I mentioned above, there must be a cutoff point somewhere.

    Where does the “good PR factor” and the “oppressive asshole factor” break even?
    Just wondering…

    Oh, and given that y’all are defending folks who are racist, sexist, economically elitist, and politically regressive, I’m sure your appeal outside of the white, male, middle class demographic will grow.  Just give it time.  People will come to their senses soon.  After all, it’s only rational.

    • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

      Oh, and given that y’all are defending folks who are racist, sexist,
      economically elitist, and politically regressive, I’m sure your appeal outside of the white, male, middle class demographic will grow.

      Actually, I just realized that Republicans and the religious right have been using that formula for some time now, and currently hold a huge amount of power in the US.  I see your strategy now and it might work.  Scratch what I said earlier.  You should embrace these people.  Your political success awaits you.  You might not be very popular with folks further down in the social food chain, but with a recipe like that, those in power will come to love you.

      If you can’t beat ‘em.  Join ‘em.

    • Neil

      The only things I can deduce from your pathetic rant is that you seem to think that anyone who sees value in libertarian ideals must be a priviliged white male imperialist, that anyone who harshly criticizes violent theocracy based on gruesome personal experience is a right-wing bigot, that anyone who is concerned by islamic terrorism and radicalism must be a racist, and that the once in a while use of a gendered insult makes one an unrepentant woman-hater. 

      Fuck you and your ignorant, self-righteous delusions and knee-jerk bigotry.  Each of those four people has done more good in the world than you likely ever will, and thus they deserve the audience and recognition that they have, which your pathetic idiotic rantings will never receive.  Grow the fuck up.

  • Bob Becker

    Not familiar with Cupp, so can’t say. But I don’t consider Bill Maher a particular asset to the atheist community.  Not particularly funny, and often crosses the line between trenchant and just plain nasty.   

  • http://profiles.google.com/whoreslie joe smith

    ” Penn Jillette: He’s a libertarian.” So fucking what? Non believers have all kinds of different views. I am so goddamn sick and tired with the sanctimonious assholes  deciding we all gotta  fit in the same political box. And the Ali stuff is just laughable. 
    Gee, I wonder what her beef is with the wonderful  religion of peace. Somebody who actually grew up a muslim (a woman no less) has the guts to say it’s a shitty deal all around. 

  • Guest

    Sam Harris book made atheism sexy? Please. Sam Harris made atheism sexy. ;)

  • http://www.littleapocalypse.com/ Carbonickid

    I disagree with the statement ”
    But those four people have done more to get people to stop believing in God than almost anybody else out there.”   

    They have been vocal in their beliefs giving thinking people the courage to finally stand up and say “I’m an atheist. I do not believe in a god. I do not believe in an afterlife. Fairy tales are beautiful, but I cannot call them reality as a rational person.”

    The idea that the reason for speaking on the subject is to convert is as fool-hardy as “being a witness” for a religious experience. 

    The job of the atheist is not conversion. It is to enlighten and promote forward thinking.  

    • thebigJ_A

      What? Who said the reason was to “convert”?

      Promoting enlightenment and forward thinking gets people to stop believing superstitions, which is what people like Dawkins or Harris have done. 

  • http://www.SketchSepahi.com/ SketchSepahi

    It’s just not true that Maher refuses to hide from the “A” word. Unless he’s had a change of heart of which I’m not aware he actively distances himself from calling himself an atheist in favour of ‘agnostic.’ He does so for much the same (bad) reasons that Neil deGrasse Tyson does.

  • jim_emerson

    Maher and Jilette aren’t popularizers of atheism; they just discourage critical thinking, while embracing the worst religion has to offer (the hysterical, apocalyptic nonsense concluding Maher’s “Religulous” for example; and Jilette’s Ayn Rand-ism). They simply apply superstitious, religion-style thinking to science and rational discourse, without understanding why those things are incompatible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BillionsBillions Zach Vogt

    I wish I were religious too. It would be a lot less annoyed by people in general if I could just buy in, but that’s only because it seems much more of a pipe dream to wish that everyone give religion up and move on.

  • Agnostic

    I am not so certain what those atheists did to qualify as bad atheists but I do notice that I have never seen atheists, and atheists through their photos, who look happy.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

      Perhaps because many of the photos you see of them are professional photos, and people look more serious in professional photos?
      I have plenty of smiling pictures on my Facebook and I’m sure most other atheists do as well.

  • brianmacker

    Wow, it is going to be hard for anyone else to top the poor reasoning that Ian Murphy did in his hit piece complaining about the reasoning skills of others. It would take a long article to cover all the mistakes he made in his reasoning so let me cover just one, and just for one of his targets. I will cover the fact that to properly reason when attacking a position you must first understand it.

    Murphy claims that Harris is pro-torture when it comes to certain circumstances. Sam Harris’s position is that torture should be strictly outlawed and the penalty large and uniformly applied. Under certain circumstances, what are essentially moral dilemmas, he holds that it may not be morally wrong for someone to torture someone as long as they openly accept the penalty. The ticking time bomb scenario is the moral dilemma and it is so unlikely to occur that it’s hard to fathom why it gets Murphy so upset.

  • brianmacker

    The only way to be a “bad atheist” as in being bad at atheism would be to be a theist. You either are or are not an atheist.

  • http://twitter.com/CaraColeen Cara Coleen

    Thanks for writing this. It seems the “atheist movement” has become almost cannibalistic. It’s very disheartening to see all the infighting. CONSTRUCTIVE criticism is fine, but the fact that any of us think we get to decide what a “good atheist” is means we’ve missed the entire point. How many times have we insisted, to theists, that the only thing atheists NECESSARILY have in common is the fact we don’t believe in god(s). Each of these people are individuals who have different world views and have one common denominator: atheism. We don’t have to agree with them… we don’t have to like them… but we don’t get to decide if they’re “good atheists” because we’re really defeating ourselves. It’s destructive. We’re undermining our own progress, and that is a tragedy.

    • http://www.SketchSepahi.com/ SketchSepahi

      Hmm. I take your point that there’s an inconsistency in insisting that atheists have no necessary communality save godlessness while at the same time endorsing a hierarchy of who’s better or worse at their atheism. However, I feel compelled to point out that “good atheist” might be interpreted as “atheist who is also moral” rather than “atheist who is good at atheism.” Not that I’m defending this list, mind. It’s fairly nonsensical. All of their supposed “sins” are probably exactly what many would consider their biggest virtues.

      • http://twitter.com/CaraColeen Cara Coleen

         I get your point as well. In context, I don’t think anyone is saying these atheists are immoral or “bad”, they simply have worldviews we disagree with, yet those views have nothing inherently to do with their atheism. In fact, so many atheists would rather the term “atheist” not so heavily define them. We shouldn’t be talking about “good” or “bad” atheists; we should be talking about good and bad people. As it has been repeated over and over, in every forum I’ve ever visited, atheism means one thing and one thing only: a lack of belief that there are deities of any kind. But yeah, what makes these atheists “bad” is that they are allegedly making the rest of us look bad. I disagree. I think the infighting makes us look bad.

  • Alexander

    I would argue that even SE Cupp isn’t ‘bad for atheism.’ She holds views that most atheists don’t, but she is showing hardcore conservative Christians that not all atheists are the same and we aren’t evil. She humanizes atheists to a group of people (Fox News) who would normally want nothing to do with an atheist, and that is a good step forward in my opinion.

  • Zach Harris

    It is true that there are some bad atheists. There are also bad Christians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, etc. There are bad PEOPLE in the world. Sorry but some people are just shitheads.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X