Journalist: I’m No Longer an Atheist Because I’m Not a “Negative Person”

Sally Quinn, the longtime journalist and author, is also the founding editor of OnFaith, a site full of religious opinions/essays that used to be hosted at the Washington Post. She just published a book about her own religious journey called Finding Magic: A Spiritual Memoir, which means she’s doing a lot of interviews about religion and spirituality.

That’s not a comforting thought for me since Quinn has a history of maligned atheists.

After a 2012 presidential debate, for example, she argued, “This is a religious country. Part of claiming your citizenship is claiming a belief in God, even if you are not Christian.” When atheists criticized her for it, she wrote a follow-up piece explaining that what she meant to say was that it’s a de facto religious country. In other words, it’s hard to be an atheist in an overwhelmingly Christian nation… which is absolutely true. Had she left it at that, I would’ve let it go, but she went on to highlight the nastiest messages she got from atheists, insinuating that all non-believers were just like those haters. It was as absurd as claiming all Christians were just as bad as the people at Westboro Baptist Church.

So her book tour now is another opportunity to discuss atheism… which can’t be good. And that fear was confirmed on Morning Joe yesterday.

While chatting with the hosts, Quinn relayed a story about how her fellow OnFaith founding editor Jon Meacham was the person who led her away from atheism. How did he do it?

By insulting atheists, of course.

… We were having lunch one day… we were talking about faith because Jon is a religion scholar and a practicing Christian, and I announced that I was an atheist, and I had been an atheist since I was four years old.

And Jon said, “You’re not an atheist.” And I said, “Yes, I am.” And he said, No, you’re not.” And he said, “You are not a negative person. And the word atheist is a negative word. It means you’re against something. That is not who you are.”

… That was a new thought. And he said, “Look, you don’t know anything about religion. If you’re gonna be an atheist, at least you have to learn something about it.” And so he gave me this long reading list of religion books. And said, “Go off. Read these books, and then come back and tell me you’re an atheist.”

So she read those books, began OnFaith, explored spirituality, and apparently fell into the world of irrational thinking. The way she tells the story suggests she agrees with Meacham’s beliefs about atheists.

But she wasn’t done trashing us yet.

… The other thing that was clear is that I was an angry atheist, and that really doesn’t make any sense. Because if you’re angry at God, then you must believe in God… Jon did point that out to me as well.

For someone who spent years exploring religion, it’s clear she failed to read any of the rebuttals to Christian Apologetics 101.

Atheists are not “negative” people. We don’t believe in something most of the world accepts as true because we don’t see the evidence for it. It’s an unpopular position to hold, to be sure, but it squares perfectly with the observable, verifiable facts. Just because people disagree with you doesn’t mean they’re negative.

For what it’s worth, people who don’t believe in unicorns aren’t considered “negative.” They’re just right.

I can at least accept that “atheist” is a negative word. It’s by definition against something. But it’s a necessary word since the majority of the people hold belief in a higher power. There’s power in saying you’re not part of that group. More importantly, that’s not a bad thing. The idea that being an atheist is somehow derogatory, as Meacham suggested, is insulting.

So is the argument that atheists “don’t know anything about religion.” We know quite a bit about religion. That’s why we’re atheists. According to a 2010 Pew Research Center survey, atheists and Agnostics scored higher than any single faith group when it came to basic religious knowledge. Many of us read those religious books and come away even more convinced that biblical stories are no different from ancient mythology. As the saying goes, “The road to atheism is littered with bibles that have been read cover to cover.”

Finally, that idea that atheists’ anger must mean atheists believe in God is the clearest indication that Quinn has no clue what she’s talking about.

We’re not angry at God. We’re angry at what belief in God leads people to do in His name. (Greta Christina wrote an entire book about it.) Quinn’s failure to understand that suggests that in her long journey to spirituality, she never once bothered to talk to other atheists about the doubts she was having.

At least she admits right in her book’s title that she’s “finding magic.” She sure as hell hasn’t found reason.

(Thanks to @brigadam for the link)

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