In atheist blitz, where’s the other side?

Evangelical atheists again?

I confess: That’s generally my reaction when I read news stories (and the mainstream media seem to publish them with increasing frequency) about atheists trying to win nonbelievers to their cause.

A new Religion News Service report caught my attention today. The top of the story:

(RNS) The young man in the video pulls in close to his computer camera with the trappings of a typical college dorm room — a loft bed and the clutter of cast-off clothes—piled behind him.

Alex Fiorentini isn’t talking about girls, beer or football. Instead, it’s a coming-out moment of sorts.

“Is it acceptable to the majority of the population to be an atheist?” he asks the camera. “Nope. Are all of your friends going to accept you as an atheist? Probably not all of them. And yeah, those things are gonna suck. But the real question is, ‘Is it OK to be me?’ That is the real question if you are an atheist.”

For Fiorentini, a student at the University of Illinois, the answer is yes. He and scores of other atheists, young and old, have made similar videos for a new campaign designed to build community and support among nontheists around the world.

As puff pieces go, this one isn’t terrible. It contains the relevant facts. It does a nice job of explaining the concept behind the “We Are Atheism” campaign.

The story draws a connection between gays who have been bullied and atheists:

Brown was inspired to start the campaign with her husband and a friend when she attended a talk by Jessica Ahlquist, a teenage atheist who was taunted and bullied after she objected to a “school prayer” banner hung in her Rhode Island high school.

These stories are valid, of course.

However, my problem with most of these pieces is that they only tell their stories from one perspective: that of the atheists. Specifically, it’s framed through the lens of those atheists trying to draw attention to their cause — which, of course, a news story does.

But while the heroes in the story are quoted by name, the villains — those God-believers out there allegedly persecuting atheists — are left vague and nameless. No one who believes in a higher power get to react to the atheists. No one gets to debate the facts in any of these clashes. No one engages in dialogue. No traditional theologians are enlisted to discuss whether, in fact, the atheists are becoming a religious group. Minus the F-word (faith), that is.

Maybe I’m alone, but I read this type of story and want to scream: Wait a minute! I believe in God, and I think atheists are wrong, but this is a free country and they have every right not to believe. Is it asking too much to want to see that point of view reflected?

My point is this: If we’re going to keep reading evangelical atheist stories, wouldn’t it be nice to see journalists approach this topic from a wider, more diverse, perspective? Wouldn’t it be nice to see some believers and scholars quoted? Wouldn’t it be nice to see some actual journalistic skepticism brought to the atheists’ publicity campaigns?

Just asking.

<a href="michael rubin / Shutterstock.com“>Atheist photo via Shutterstock.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • sari

    Proselytizing atheists? No question. But who should have been interviewed? Should Ahlquist have named names, so that the journalist could track down her tormenters to get their side of the story? Very few religious leaders will publicly condone teasing or bullying of non-believers, though members of non-mainstream faiths deal with religious intolerance as a matter of course. Think of it as the “not my child” syndrome.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    If there are names to name, sure, name them. Call the opponents and get their side of the story. Obviously, that’s impossible to do when it’s an anonymous harassing letter. But at the same time, there are a lot of people in that community who spoke out on the other side. Why not quote them?

    I’m speaking about Ahlquist specifically since you asked about her. In relation to the story in question, it’s not really about Ahlquist so much as the overall issue, so I think a more general source – such as a scholar who has studied religious movements or even atheists – would add a relevant voice.

  • Bern

    “Atheist Blitz”? Is that blitz as in football or blitz as in WWII? :-)

    I suppose the writer could have asked a or some “traditional theologian” or “believer or scholars” to comment. This “”blitz” is minority-syndrome, where everybody who is different–from the non-athletic in football crazed communtities to the non-mainstream believers (hi, sari!) have to deal with everything from mild disrespect to harrassment and violence.

    Blitz indeed.

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    “Wouldn’t it be nice to see some actual journalistic skepticism brought to the atheists’ publicity campaigns?”

    As before, I advise continued and regular respiration while waiting on that to happen.

  • sari

    Bobby,

    My point is that atheists are experiencing entrenched behaviors sanctioned by the majority in this country. If they weren’t at least tacitly accepted, the behaviors would have died down. They haven’t, because no consequences exist for what is considered a socially appropriate behavior.

    My daughter had a classmate intent on saving her soul. This girl’s behaviors ranged from telling my daughter that she would burn in hell, that she was a sinner, and that Jews killed Jesus which made them bad people who could only be redeemed by becoming Christians. Not content to belittle my daughter to her face, this girl made derogatory comments about my daughter and her religion to mutual classmates and in front of one of *my* friends, who called me appalled over what she heard. Over a three year period (gr. 2-4), this girl targeted my child, sent religious tracts to our house by mail, and followed her around trying to convince her to attend vacation bible school. In the adult world, this would be considered harassment.

    I called the school and got no relief. Freedom of speech issues, unless a teacher witnessed the behaviors or the girl got physical. No relief from the parents, who told me that this is what their church believed and their pastor advocated. Finally I called the pastor, who told me that these were good people and that I must have misunderstood. One time is understandable, Bobby. But three years of no, please leave me alone?

    Some Christian leaders are tolerant. Many more are not. Same with scholarly experts. You can find people on both sides, but unless they’re involved with the particular incidents, all they can do is speak in generalities about how they feel Christians should or do act.

    My lovely neighbor is a not-in-your-face atheist and her kids are encountering the same nastiness at the local elementary.

  • Daniel

    At Bobby: “If we’re going to keep reading evangelical atheist stories, wouldn’t it be nice to see journalists approach this topic from a wider, more diverse, perspective? Wouldn’t it be nice to see some believers and scholars quoted? Wouldn’t it be nice to see some actual journalistic skepticism brought to the atheists’ publicity campaigns?”
    Yes!
    It might be argued by some atheists and by some journalists that as theists have sometimes used unfair tactics against atheists, it’s now equal time for unfair tactics to be used against theists. I don’t think this increases the quality of journalism. If the debate is framed from the vantage that Christians are mean, and atheists are nice, the contest is easy. But the question is, is such a contest legitimate?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant

    So the next time there’s a story about Christianity or Tim Tebow or Joel Osteen, are you also going to advocate that they interview an atheist who can point out that they’re delusional?

    This particular story doesn’t deserve a Christian reaction. It’s not about them. It’s about the atheists who have been treated badly as a result of things that are said by Christians/pastors/etc.

    What can a Christian contribute to this piece? That atheism is wrong? That’s irrelevant here. That not all Christians are jerks? We know that and no one is implying that. What the heck can a Bible scholar contribute to this article? I don’t even know where you’re trying to go with that suggestion.

    You ask for “journalistic skepticism” without pointing to what we ought to be skeptical of… are you doubting that this campaign exists? It does. And that’s all this article is about.

    And what’s with this “Evangelical atheists” phrase, anyway? These videos aren’t about converting others. It’s about saying “we are atheists and there’s nothing wrong with that” and “Don’t let Christians treat you like second class citizens.” It’s kind of like the “It gets better” campaign for LGBT people. They’re not trying to convert you to “gay.” They’re explaining what certain people go through and they’re speaking to people who are already in that position.

    You have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • R9

    Hemant’s already said it, but… in this case the “cause” is to do with encouraging closeted unbelievers to come out, and to encourage public acceptance of them. It’s not about converting believers to unbelievers, which is what comes to mind when Bobby says “Evangelical atheists”.

    And since this is really about the social status of atheists, while I agree opposing voices are needed, the relevant skepticism here is more “are atheists so badly treated”, as opposed to “Christian scholars claim atheism is incorrect”.

  • http://songe.me/ Alex

    This article wasn’t to evangelize atheism, it was to report about atheists who want others to “stand and be counted”. When people know a hated minority, they are less likely to discriminate against other people of the same class who they don’t know. The “other side” of this article wouldn’t be Christians, it’d be those who think that atheists should not be public about their beliefs. What you’re suggesting is that a Democrat making an appeal for people to volunteer at a homeless shelter needs a Republican response…you’re mixing categories.

    But to the point of your ill-formed article, in the interest of balance I’d easily trade for equal time. Hell, I’d easily trade for representative time. Atheists/agnostics/non-religious humanists make up something just shy of 10% of the US. That means for every 8 or so Christian articles (how the Christians divide their time between Catholic, Orthodox, mainline protestant, and evangelical would entertain me to no end), there’d be a freethought article. This would also put us at 3 times that of Jews (though Jews and atheists are actually not a mutually exclusive group). Or, rather, for every other article that has anything to do with religion where 3 christians would be interviewed, an atheist would provide opposition.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    So the next time there’s a story about Christianity or Tim Tebow or Joel Osteen, are you also going to advocate that they interview an atheist who can point out that they’re delusional?

    I’d welcome you to provide links to mainstream news coverage of Tim Tebow and Joel Osteen that quote at least four sources, all of them speaking glowingly about Tebow and Osteen with no attempt to provide a different perspective.

    Speaking of Osteen, here is a GetReligion post I did criticizing uninformed coverage of him. And here is another one in which my colleague George Conger references some cringe-inducing coverage of Osteen. And here is the feature on Osteen that I did as an AP religion writer, including “the other side”:

    The Door, a religious satire magazine published by the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, panned Osteen in its July/August issue with a mock interview headlined, “If You’re Happy and You Know It…” A caricature of Osteen flashing gigantic teeth accompanied the article.

    “To me, it’s cotton-candy theology,” said Ole Anthony, president of Trinity, a Dallas-based religious watchdog group. “There’s no meat. They just make everybody feel good.”

    In a similarly biting criticism, a Publishers Weekly review characterized Osteen’s book as an “overblown and redundant self-help debut” marked by “shallow name-it-and-claim-it theology.”

    At GetReligion, we’re here to discuss media coverage of religion. Folks who’d like to comment on journalism and media issues are welcome and encouraged to do so. Those who just want to advocate for one side or the other will be spiked. Spiking away …

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    …those God-believers out there allegedly persecuting atheists — are left vague and nameless

    Here’s a name: Maura Siegenthaler.

  • Ed N

    For a story about Red Sox fans to be “journalistic” you must also interview Yankee fans.

    Thanks for clearing that up.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Bobby –

    I’d welcome you to provide links to mainstream news coverage of Tim Tebow and Joel Osteen that quote at least four sources, all of them speaking glowingly about Tebow and Osteen with no attempt to provide a different perspective.

    That’s not what Hemant asked, though, is it?

    I mean, critiquing public displays of religion isn’t the same thing as critiquing religion itself, right?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Ray,

    My point is that serious journalism requires a range of voices and perspectives. Read the post.

    From Ed:

    For a story about Red Sox fans to be “journalistic” you must also interview Yankee fans.

    Thanks for clearing that up.

    Yes, if the story is about how Red Sox fans are facing increasing persecution from people wearing Yankees hats.

  • Ed N

    Bobby,

    Reverse the story. If it was about Theists coming out, and the difficulties they faced would you have worried about the Atheist position not being adequately represented?” Would you be looking for quotes from prominent Atheists? Would you be asking for dialog from the Atheists to better understand their position?

    I can’t imagine a world in which you would.

    If you do believe you would insist on fairness for Atheist side, then I will have to spend the day tracking down all of your writings and commentary to ensure you have been consistent on this point…. and I really have better things to do.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Reverse the story? OK, Ed:

    Brown was inspired to start the Christian support group with her husband and a friend when she attended a talk by Jessica Ahlquist, a teenage evangelical who was taunted and bullied after she objected to an “Atheists Promote Free Thought” banner hung in her Rhode Island high school.

    Should a journalist include an atheist voice in that story?

  • DR

    So, according to your argument, any and every story about Christianity (or any other religion, for that matter), should automatically contain the views of atheists on the matter? Because if not, you are applying a pretty obvious double standard, no?

    And considering the avalanche of Christian media, both on and offline, don’t you think that it would be a little hard to accomplish?

    The reality is that you are annoyed that atheists get to speak at all. Christians speak unchallenged all the time (do we atheists go into your Churches and tell the “other side of the story” after every sermon? Do we get equal time at the National Day of Prayer?); if you believe atheists are not entitled to the same, you are acting as nothing short of a bigot.

  • Stan

    Bobby, I agree that serious journalism requires a range of voices, but the problem is that GetReligion seems highly selective about this principle. I remember Mollie H. criticizing a perfectly benign NY Times feature story about the entertainment on Rosie O’Donnell’s cruises for gay family. As I recall, she said the story was “cheerleading” for same-sex marriage (even though marriage was not mentioned) because the reporter did not interview anyone who was opposed to same-sex marriage (or perhaps, same-sex families). I can’t imagine a reporter being told that a feature story about a heterosexual couple needed to be balanced by a quotation from a gay scholar in order to be journalistically balanced. In general, GetReligion seems to think that stories about gays, atheists, or other minorities need to include critical comments by their opponents, but does not think that stories about their opponents need to include the voices of gays, atheists, etc. Or am I misunderstanding your point?

  • sari

    “Brown was inspired to start the Christian support group with her husband and a friend when she attended a talk by Jessica Ahlquist, a teenage evangelical who was taunted and bullied after she objected to an “Atheists Promote Free Thought” banner hung in her Rhode Island high school.

    No, because the situation boils down to believing one party over the other. The atheist movement’s leaders stated their rationale, one which is valid to them -and- tracks with documented mistreatment of other non-mainstream groups. Think about it this way. You tell me that you believe X (in Jesus) because of Y (the N.T. says he was resurrected). Can’t prove it one way or the other, but it is what drives you to do Z (say, do charitable work). Whom do I interview to *prove* your assertion?

    Back to the article. The reporter could have delved into the sociological antecedents of the movement rather than focus only on the bully aspect. Bullying non-believers/non-Christians has a long, ugly and ancient history. I had openly atheist friends in high school, y’know, back before the Flood , who were targeted just as I was. As were gay students. This was the height of the Jesus movement. So what changed? Has the number of atheists reached a critical mass? Is it the “Net and social media? Legislation that has reduced the fear of being open about one’s beliefs?

    What’s changed? That’s what should be examined and where experts should be consulted. You are watching a new belief system being born–the belief is old, but the organization and the need to define and assert beliefs are new.

  • Ed N

    Bobby,

    You pulled the graph out of context. Here is the context.

    “It’s time for us to all stand up, speak out and be counted,” said Amanda Brown, 25, one of the co-founders. “It is time for us to put up our videos and change the face of atheism. We want people to see we are normal people who have children and lives and do good in the community.”

    Brown was inspired to start the campaign with her husband and a friend when she attended a talk by Jessica Ahlquist, a teenage atheist who was taunted and bullied after she objected to a “school prayer” banner hung in her Rhode Island high school.

    Brown, who had founded a gay-straight club in her high school, patterned We Are Atheism on the gay community’s “It Gets Better” video project, launched in 2010 after a string of suicides by bullied gay teens. It Gets Better features self-made videos by gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual people who share their coming-out experiences and offer encouragement to those who remain closeted.

    The context is about Amanda Brown and what motivates her. Not the banner. If the story was about the banner you would have a point.

  • http://pixelstampede.wordpress.com Emily
  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Thanks for the link, Emily.

  • Martha

    Atheism is not a monolithic entity (as many atheists like to point out when discussing campaigns such as this one: there is no ‘official’ representative group that speaks for the atheist community as a whole).

    And I would be inclined to believe that the girl was teased and taunted, perhaps not so much on the strict grounds of atheist versus religion as that anyone who is seen to be different or – horror of horrors! – critical of a school programme is likely to be teased and taunted. I’m fairly sure the same thing would have happened if she had objected to a banner urging the school sports team to crush its local rivals.

    Atheists do range from the militant to the ‘let’s all get along’ in their views, and it’s quite possible for atheists with one set of views to attack atheists with a different set just as fiercely as the believers would attack.

    If you want an example of what I would consider a reasonable atheist, you could do a lot worse than go here. On the other hand, the mere fact that I (as a believer) consider Leah to be a reasonable atheist would lead some of the militant atheist types to consider her to be a sell-out or crypto-believer herself.

  • Steve

    The whole idea of journalistic balance as practiced in most cases is absurd. Balance can be found in reporting about different points of view in different articles and with op-eds.

    But not by including both views in one article. All that means is to have some token opposing voice who gets a sentence or paragraph or two towards the end. You can wait for it as you read along. But it provides absolutely nothing of value. Like the usual token opinion of of Tony Perkins, Peter Sprigg or some random priest in gay rights articles. Everyone already knows what they are going to say. It doesn’t have to be repeated. Just as we already know what religious people have to say about atheism. At that point it’s time to stop reading

  • Dave

    I take issue with your “evangelical atheist” tag. It looks to me like these publicity-seeking atheists are not trying to convert believers, but to reach out to fellow non-believers and say, “You are not alone. You have rights, too.”

  • Daniel

    When there’s a story about Christianity or Tim Tebow or Joel Osteen, their critics are usually named, and not anonymous.
    The story is more interesting, and even elicits more sympathy, when the critics are named. “Many critics say,” is a poor excuse for an article. Flesh out such assertions with a quote from a named source. OK?

  • Rich Wilson

    I believe in God, and I think atheists are wrong, but this is a free country and they have every right not to believe. Is it asking too much to want to see that point of view reflected?

    You really don’t think ‘that point of view’ is reflected? It’s reflected by the necessity of a reaction to it. If it weren’t for the history of ‘atheists are wrong’ then atheists wouldn’t need the ‘we exist’ message. This IS the ‘alternate point of view’ to the original religious point of view. This is the diversity of view that you claim to be asking for.

  • Daniel

    It’s not that stories about gays, atheists, or other minorities need to include critical comments by their opponents. It’s that stories about gays, atheists, or other minorities that include critical comments by their opponents need to tell us who those opponents are, instead of leaving them unnamed. Then the opponents can be held accountable for what they said and did. You’re missing the point entirely. Open your eyes and read the comments above, and the post itself. The point I’m making was made repeatedly, and you missed it anyway. Apparently you injected what you wanted to complain about into the piece, when it wasn’t there, so you missed what was written explicitly. Unnamed sources should be named, or not included in the article. If you as the author of journalism can’t get names of sources or quotes, don’t write the article.

  • Mike

    Since the article in question never argued for atheism, there was no need for journalistic skepticism. There was absolutely no need to present the other side. This is not about a difference in belief; this was simply about the fact that atheists sometimes stay hidden because of discrimination. That discrimination is wrong, but we can decrease that discrimination by “coming out of the closet.” What kind of opposition were you looking for? Did you want a prominent pastor to argue, “atheists should keep quiet. They shouldn’t make internet videos.” The fact that you were bothered by your perceived lack of another viewpoint, suggests that believe that there should be another viewpoint. Those atheists should keep quiet. I propose that if an atheist tells you that they do not believe in god, you should argue. And if an atheist tells you that they are concerned that some atheists are harassed and bullied and we should encourage atheists to come out of the closet so that more people know us… what is your argument against this. Is there a prominent scholar who argues that people should keep their beliefs about religion or lack thereof completely bottled up inside? Is there a prominent scholar who believes that we should not tell our friends/family about our beliefs? Is there a prominent scholar who thinks that atheists and only atheists should not make internet videos or organize social clubs on campuses, and etc? I am perplexed why you read an article that stated that discrimination is wrong and this is what we should do about it, and your initial reaction was that we needed to get the other sides opinion on the matter.

  • R9

    Mike I think the Other Viewpoint here isn’t “atheists should keep quiet” but rather “atheists don’t need to keep quiet and don’t face any real prejudice. And so a movement like this is unnecessary”.

    Which I don’t agree with, btw. Just trying to clarify what I think the situation is.

  • Will

    Like others, I do not quite get what the problem is here.

    If a story was covering the “I’m Mormon” PR campaign, should anti-Mormon voices be included to make it “complete”?

  • Ed N

    Bobby, It’s over…

    A fair minded, thinking person, who will come across your post and the comments it received can only come to the conclusion that your original complaint has been totally demolished. Few fellow Theists have rushed to your defence.

    So my question is, do you have the intellectual courage to admit you may have not thought out your position carefully enough? That the article in question was not deserving of your critique? Or are you like most Theists that when backed into a corner by reason and logic you still cling to you position no matter how absurd.

    Atheist’s are used to seeing that, it’s nothing new.

    Tried hard to consider our position. Really, go ahead, give it a try… Self-reflect, use your brain and not your dogma.

  • James

    Do I understand the story correctly: “Hey, world, my voice isn’t being heard!”? And if that is, in fact, the problem you have with this campaign (that you aren’t being heard), I further ask: are you a regular writer here? Do you have an audience?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Ed,

    My complaint has been “totally demolished”? :-)

    I’m not certain that leaving comments that make it sound like you belong on one of those sports blogs where rabid fans make outlandish defenses of their particular teams helps your credibility. Nonetheless, I stand by my post. And no, I — like CNN — am not surprised to see a number of comments from atheists. And those comments are certainly welcomed as long as they stick to journalism and media issues.

    We do prefer respectful, constructive dialogue (see regular commenters such as sari and Dave for examples how to disagree agreeably) rather than name calling.

  • Ed N

    Bobby,

    I am a hack, untrained, unknown, nobody who happens to read blogs and occasionally comments on them, poorly at best. That should be evident to anyone who reads my comments. So prove me wrong. Provide a link any to Christian commentary or article you wrote, where you have reconsidered and changed your position based on either facts or augments made from non-theistic viewpoint.

    A quick scan shows your writings going back to at least 2004. If your point is you are not dogma driven, but hold to a high level of journalistic excellence, I should think you would have written at least one article that required reassessment.

    You are an award winning Christian journalist who makes a living writing and editing. Yet here is a comment board full of very logical and well thought out rebuttals to your article and yet not a glimmer of consideration or reassessment from you. Just “I stand by my post”. Looks like regular old Christian dogma to me.

    BTW you never addressed how/why you cherry picked that line out of the original article in your response to me. Clearly the context is about Amanda not the banner. Can you make a case otherwise?

  • John

    I’d like to comment on the whole “if you know One of them, you won’t hate them” aspect of the article…

    Fact is, atheists are s minority in this country, most people won’t have direct contact with them in daily life. In fact, I would hazard that the only place where people have contact with atheistic viewpoints on a regular basis see on Internet comment boards like CNN belief, where needless to say the level of civility is very low indeed.

    Now, it’s not surprising that a lot on nonbeliever a will have issues with believers, especially in a religious nation like ours. But if the issue is to bring atheists out of the cold and into some measure of acceptance, starting the conversation by telling Christians they’re a bunch of delusional idiots and headed downhill from there is the wrong way to go. A believer who likely has never knowingly to an atheist could look at such things and understandably walk away thinking that all atheists are a bunch of angry fanatical trolls who deserve a collective punch in the mouth.

    Do unto others and all that…

  • sari

    “… I am a hack, untrained, unknown, nobody who happens to read blogs and occasionally comments on them, poorly at best.”

    And I am but a lowly housewife, Ed, incapable fo writing a grammatically correct sentence.

    Bobby, journalists of faith might benefit from a little self-reflection and try to distance themselves when covering stories that contradict either their beliefs or their experience vis-a-vis their religions. It is harder for me to be objective about dissenting members of my own faith than it is to discuss others’ religions. As a member of the Christian majority, it may be hard for you and others to understand how minorities are treated by your coreligionists or to accept that this is the status quo rather than the exception.

    If I understand what’s been said correctly, people here are saying that discrimination and marginalization of non-Christians by Christians (using the term in its most general sense) is a given. In math, one does not need to prove axioms when doing a proof. Axioms are like self-evident givens. This is the same thing. There is no need to consult experts or even the perpetrators (who are unlikely to admit their misdeeds, anyway), because the behaviors are known, documented and even condoned. To pretend otherwise is to ignore close to two thousand years of history.

  • Mark Baddeley

    The reason ‘theists’ didn’t come to Bobby’s defense is that these amazing rebuttal comments showed all the signs of the things they were accusing Bobby’s article. Trying to have a rational conversation with an ideological atheist in an online comment thread is rarely productive, and most of us have better things to do with our time.

  • R9

    Bobby do you at least acknoweldge that “evangelical atheist” was a bad choice of words for this piece?

  • http://GetReligion.org Bobby

    R9,

    Perhaps. Some of the comments have been extremely helpful in providing a fuller picture. I think my choice of words probably made some readers see my post as anti-atheist instead of pro-journalism.

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    Bobby:

    It’s not a matter of word choice but–perhaps among other things–rather about an idea you communicated fairly unambiguously, specifically your skepticism about the idea that there are “God-believers out there allegedly persecuting atheists”. People in the article talked about it; people in the comments talked about it; polls show consistently (http://bigthink.com/ideas/41044) that atheists are a very unpopular minority.

    Being skeptical about the idea that a group whose members have been persecuted and can point to external evidence of their unpopularity is subject to persecution and unpopularity isn’t a very good idea: it disrespects the facts, and it isn’t very nice.

  • Rich Wilson

    I think my choice of words probably made some readers see my post as anti-atheist instead of pro-journalism.

    I think if journalism was your only concern, you’d have much bigger fish to fry than this minnow. I don’t think you set out to be anti-atheist, but the reason this story jumped out at your for criticism is, IMO, largely because you think “they’re wrong”.

  • http://GetReligion.org Bobby

    Randy,

    Now we’re getting somewhere. By citing poll data, you’re attempting to provide evidence to back up the anecdotal claims in the article. Such poll data, if it exists, would greatly have improved the story in question. As would actual evidence (reports of hate crimes?) that atheists suffer persecution and harassment because of their lack of religion. And again, expert analysis from an independent source to comment on whether atheists are truly outcasts in American society would be nice too. My point remains the same: This story, while not terrible, suffered from a lack of thorough journalistic inquisitiveness and skepticism.

  • Will

    Bobby do you at least acknoweldge that “evangelical atheist” was a bad choice of words for this piece?

    Not nearly as bad as “the New Atheist crusade against religion” in, e.g., Wired.

    And there are probably plenty of atheists (like, say, the bus poster campaigners) who think that “There is no God” is “good news”.

  • Daniel

    I agree that “the level of civility is very low indeed.” I am sorry that the experiences Sari reports about herself and her daughter occurred. All I can say is I wouldn’t have gone about it that way, and I’m sorry someone else did. See the recent post on bullying. ““If the polls are correct, there are literally millions of nonbelievers in America,” said Richard Haynes, president of Atheist Nexus. “However, many atheists feel all alone.” What data do those poles show, how and where were they conducted? And what were the various percentages and breakdowns of the poles? To which poles does Atheist Nexus point? I guess this wasn’t considered worthy of reportage in the article. I guess one ticklish area of journalism is, direct quotes are rarely attributed to one person by another person. It’s only a newspaper, after all, and if it says Mary says Bill said something, Bill can always say he denies it or he was misquoted. I don’t even accept the definition of persecuted from Christians when they say they weren’t invited out or were snubbed at a party. That isn’t persecution; it’s rudeness. Now if there house was burnt down, or they were passed over for promotion, that might be persecution.

    Some in the loosely knit but apparently growing movement of military atheists see the recognition of lay leaders as a step toward the appointment of …” Who are these some?
    “A growing number of atheists in the military are calling for the appointment of lay leaders to give spiritual guidance to service members …” Are any of these growing number of atheists” named. I’m giving three examples of poor wording in these articles. Here’s another: ”

    So far, spokespeople from Fort Meade have indicated that the army is unlikely to respond positively to the request, since atheism is not a recognized faith. …” Do we know who these spokespeople are?
    So all along, my complaints have been about unattributed quotes, poor wording, and I do not support or defend attacks made on atheists.

  • MJBubba

    Bobby is not going to get a vigorous defense from Christian readers of GetReligion. We know from experience that once the topic turns to atheism, we can just enjoy the post and skip reading the comment thread. When atheism is the topic, we can invariably expect an avalanche of bitter, resentful comments, some very snarky, and others just very lengthy, to the effect that Christians have been keeping the atheists down and the atheists are the superiors of religious people because they have superior intellects.
    We will pass on the opportunity, and just wait for another post. We are greatly appreciative of GetReligion for a well-monitored discussion of media coverage of religion, and we look forward to the posts on all topics, but we rarely read the discussion thread when atheism is involved in the post.

  • Dave

    MJ, you’re saying on behalf of GR’s Christian commetariat that they refuse uniquely to engage with atheist thought. That’s a claim (or admission) they should be left to make for themselves, carrying as it does a hint of moral cowardice.

    I would say that what they are declining is more likely to be defense of the indefensible. But that’s just my guess, too.

  • Matt

    MJBubba,

    If Christians are supposedly skipping the comments thread, then why do the comments supporting Bobby’s view have some thumbs up on them? Why are they being marked as “Hot debate” rather than “Poorly-rated”? Clearly there are Christians reading the comments and marking them. Your claim that they are skipping the comments is false.

  • Julia

    One commenter said Christians probably don’t know any atheists in person and only see their negative comments on-line.

    I have 2 close friends who have recently told me they are now atheists; and insinuate that I’m stupid for continuing to believe in God. Both have PhDs and have said they are smarter than believers. On the other hand, I have other friends and relatives who are Jews, non-Catholics or unchurched. Not a one of them has ever said I was an idiot for being Catholic ; although there were a few snarky comments about my church derived from the daVinci Code phenomenon.

    I regularly read about 5 religious blogs every day. The ones that allow nearly all comments routinely have atheist commentators who parachute into the middle of thread discussions – usually making insulting comments about the “sky fairy” and other such comments having nothing to do with the subject matter.

    I have never seen disparaging comments about atheists on the better-known Catholic sites.

    Here’s my ideal of a respectful atheist. Penn of Penn and Teller.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSJV8mC8GYk&feature=relate

  • R9

    Will I don’t think you understand, this item isn’t about Atheists spreading (what could be interpreted as) their Good News, it’s about support for Atheists who feel alone andor under attack.

  • Will

    Well, more details on “attacks” could have been helpful.

    The mailings I used to get from the Council for Secular Humanism (who ignored repeated requests to stop) complained about such hardships as hearing people say “God bless you!” to a sneeze.

    They also complained of being “literally bombarded with customs, denials and situations”. Apparently their superior rationality did not extend to LITERALLY opening a dictionary to see what “literally” LITERALLY means.

  • Michael

    “My point is this: If we’re going to keep reading [...] [positive] atheist stories, wouldn’t it be nice to see journalists approach this topic from a wider, more diverse, perspective? Wouldn’t it be nice to see some believers and scholars quoted? Wouldn’t it be nice to see some actual journalistic skepticism brought to the atheists’ publicity campaigns?”

    With the exception of the label “evangelical atheist” – which I’ve changed in the above quote because I believe it is a total misrepresentation – I completely agree.

    I also agree with the following…

    “My point is this: If we’re going to keep reading Christian stories, wouldn’t it be nice to see journalists approach this topic from a wider, more diverse, perspective? Wouldn’t it be nice to see some skeptics and atheistic and/or agnostic scholars quoted? Wouldn’t it be nice to see some actual journalistic skepticism brought to the Christian’s publicity campaigns?”

    Have you ever seen a story like this: Man lives through car crash that killed 8 other people. “The Good Lord was looking out for me, and it is only by the Grace of God, praise Jesus, that I’m alive today!”

    Sure you have. You’ve probably seen dozens of stories like that. And in all those stories, have you ever seen an atheist or agnostic quoted to dispute the claim that “God” saved this man from certain death?

    What about the man in India, in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami that ravaged his country? He floated in a small boat for days until, by miraculous chance, a helicopter happened to spot him and he was rescued. His claim was that Shiva was looking out for him and by divine intervention, saved his life. Wouldn’t that be a good story to bring up each time someone claims that “God” or “Jesus” saved their lives? Just for the sake of balance and “journalistic integrity”?

    Sure, I’d like to see fair coverage. But it has to be really fair. Christians shouldn’t get a free pass if everyone else has to play by the rules. And if Christians are going to continue to get a free pass on the “God saved me” stories, or any other Christian topic, then atheists/agnostics and non-Christian religious followers should get the same free pass too.

  • Dave

    What Michael said!!!


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