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