Joe Klein Offers a Pathetic Rebuttal in Response to Criticism of His Attack on Atheists in TIME Cover Story

A couple of days ago, I posted about the cover story in this week’s TIME magazine, written by Joe Klein:

In the process of writing about how volunteering and doing service projects could help curb the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on our veterans, Klein made this comment:

… there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals — and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon.

I argued that that statement was not just a lie; it perpetuated a nasty stereotype often leveled against atheists: that we’re immoral people, incapable of doing good things for other people.

Indeed, many non-theistic organizations and individuals helped out in the wake of the Oklahoma tornadoes. I’ll reprint my list here:

So why didn’t Klein mention any of these things? Maybe because we, as atheists, don’t always wear our godlessness on our sleeves so everyone can see. Maybe because we’re too busy helping people to publicize our efforts.

Or maybe Klein didn’t even bother looking for us.

After I posted about the article, a *lot* of you wrote letters to TIME magazine and sent tweets to the magazine and Klein. No word yet on whether TIME will issue an apology or retraction, but today, Klein issued a statement of his own.

In short, he tries to get off on a technicality… and still gets it wrong:

Well, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle about my observation in this week’s cover story, that you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals in disaster relief areas like Moore, Oklahoma, after the tornados.

There is, I know, something mealy-mouthed and uncommitted about my squishy spirituality. And that is part of what I was thinking about when I made the observation about organized groups of secular humanists not being present in disaster zones. As a society, we’ve lost a good deal of our sense of communitarian commitment… But the churches — disdained and sometimes ridiculed in my part of the world, Acela world — still have it. Many of their teachings are improbably literal and sometimes close-minded to the point of ugliness; but the church groups are always out there, in droves, when a disaster happens.

it is certainly true, as my critics point out, that secular humanists, including atheists, can be incredibly generous. I never meant to imply they weren’t. But they are not organized. The effects of this post-modern atomization is something I’ve been trying to puzzle through for most of my career. That’s why I find the military, and the community values that are at the heart of military culture, so intriguing. That’s why I find the groups featured in my cover story about public service this week so inspiring. I believe that they sustain an essential part of citizenship that the rest of us have lost track of, the importance of being an active part of something larger than yourself.

Ohhh… Klein wasn’t criticizing atheists for not being generous. He was criticizing organized atheists for not being generous… even though, as I pointed out in the list above, there were organized groups of Secular Humanists on the ground helping out people who suffered because of the tornadoes. What more evidence does he want?!

Of course church groups are out there after a disaster, too. No one suggested otherwise, and given their incredible numbers, ample resources, and personal goodwill, it makes sense that they would be. The fact that non-religious groups (organized and otherwise) are also working to help people after disasters says more to me about how so many of us are willing to put aside our differences and help each other in times of need than anything else. Klein missed that entire storyline in his effort to cut down (or ignore) all those atheists who were out there doing amazing work.

The fact that Klein goes into a lengthy explanation of how he, too, is a Secular Humanist (despite actually being agnostic on God’s existence… which probably makes him a Humanist, but not a “Secular Humanist”) is a meaningless distraction.

He didn’t apologize.

He didn’t even use the word “sorry.”

He just doubled down on the awful thing he said in the first place.

It’s clear he didn’t even bother to look at the responses anyone sent him.

To make it worse, in his tangential comments, he argues that atheists hold on to some fictional “scientific certitude” — something that’s, again, completely untrue. Atheists don’t walk around saying “Science has all the answers!” We only believe science is the best method to arrive at answers, and that’s only if those answers are knowable at all.

And then, at the end of his lengthy pseudo-apology, he tells us he’s going away for a while to work on a book.

I’m going to be spending the next nine months on book leave, trying to drill down into this area. That means my presence here in the Swamp and the magazine will be limited…

Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out, Joe.

Since Klein won’t apologize for his cheap shot, TIME still owes its readers an apology — a real one — and an explanation for why they let that line make its way into the magazine.

***Update***: The Red Dirt Report responds to Klein’s non-pology.


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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.


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