“Whining atheist” stereotype

Charlotte Allen of the right-wing Manhattan Institute has an op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times, “Atheists: No God, no reason, just whining.” (Thanks to Eddie Tabash for the heads-up.)

It’s not much worthy of attention except for its airing of some common stereotypes about nonbelief the wave of “new atheism” seems to have activated. Allen describes atheists, represented by Dawkins, Hitchens & Co., as angry, whiners, suffering from a persecution complex, intellectually shallow, etc. etc.

Thing is, I agreed to give a folklore colloquium on campus in the Fall semester. (Yes, I do carry interdisciplinarity to the point of madness.) I figured I could best make some connection to folklore if I brought in a pop-culture stereotypes angle. The title of my talk is “Angry Atheists and Soulless Scientists: Stereotypes of nonbelief in the era of the ‘New Atheism.’”

In other words, I should be collecting stereotypes about nonbelievers, especially those current in the media and those activated by the new atheism. Articles like Allen’s are helpful examples.

While I’m at it, do you have any suggestions about stereotypes that strike you as being very prominent? I welcome comments.

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212226607537999506 Brent Nichols

    The most common stereotype I hear is that a non-believer has some kind of grudge because of some personal, bad experience with a religion, when he/she may not have ever been a believer in the first place.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12963476276106907984 Sabio Lantz

    Taxonomy is inevitable to our analytic minds. I though it would be fun to try and sketch a “Atheist Taxonomy” – check the link. It was off the top of my head. I would love other ideas for axises and perhaps names of actual famous atheists in the square.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16228604623909763499 David

    Amorality is also a common nonbeliever myth, as in:

    Atheists < moral IFF religion = morality

    The response, of course, is:

    religion ≠ morality

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Taner Edis said: “Charlotte Allen of the right-wing Manhattan Institute has an op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times, ‘Atheists: No God, no reason, just whining.’

    That was an interesting read. On the other hand it seems to me that its author, by emulating New Atheists’ style of picking out the worse of what the other side has to offer and by personally disparaging some of its more visible advocates, only too well emulates those she set out to criticize.

    Taner Edis said: “ Allen describes atheists, represented by Dawkins, Hitchens & Co., as angry, whiners, suffering from a persecution complex, intellectually shallow, etc. etc.

    Well, considering that the books on theism/atheism written by scientists such as Dawkins and by political journalists such as Hitchens far outsell books written by philosophers such as Mackie, Drange or Parsons – kind of shows that most atheists are intellectually shallow, doesn’t it? Which may not say much, for most theists too are intellectually shallow I suppose, but which is an accurate assessment nonetheless.

    As for the “persecution complex” I am sorry to note that what you write in another post, namely “In highly religious societies, lack of belief, never mind opposition to belief in God, can be a significant social handicap”, appears to support that stereotype. Assuming that by “highly religious society” you mean the U.S. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that lack of belief is a significant social handicap there. I don’t think it’s even a social handicap if a non-believer wants to make friends with a group of highly religious people, or even take part in their social gatherings where a well-mannered atheist would probably be welcome. Further, non-belief is clearly not a professional handicap in the academia, or in business, or in art. Perhaps it’s the other way around: arguably a professor or a CEO or an artist would be handicapped by an overly explicit demonstration of religious belief. Non-religion is not even a handicap for holding political office in the U.S. for politicians can as easily fake spirituality as they can fake patriotism.

    Now in your quote you kind of throw together “lack of belief” and “opposition to belief”. These are quite different things, aren’t they, especially considering the most stringent forms of opposition. I mean it is obviously a social handicap if in a religious gathering a combative New Atheist would loudly proclaim that religion poisons everything, or that only morons can possibly be religious, or that to teach religion to one’s children is a kind of child abuse. I mean a fire breathing fundamentalist shouting “you’ll all going to burn” would also be socially handicapped in a meeting of secularists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03034292023591747601 PersonalFailure

    dude with the long name: it’s not a persecution complex if you actually are persecuted.

    atheists are the most hated group in the US. “never trust an atheist” is SOP for most people.

    6 states in the union have laws forbidding atheists from holding office. belief is an accepted test a presidential candidate has to pass in order to even think of running.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Atheists do think that teaching children they are going to burn in Hell if they do not accept Jesus as their saviour is a form of child abuse.

    As is calling a one year old child a Protestant child, or a Catholic child or a Muslim child.

    Imagine if 1 year old children were called Republicans or Democrats by their parents and had to attend politically segregated schools.

    Dawkins comes from Britain, a country where religiously segregated schools still exist, and where such schooling caused a lot of harm in Northern Ireland.

    As for the article, any article which says that atheists are crashing bores just begs for the rejoinder that theists are crashing planes…

    Non-religion is not even a handicap for holding political office in the U.S. for politicians can as easily fake spirituality as they can fake patriotism.

    By the same logic, being a rapist is not even a handicap for holding political office in the US provided you are never caught or suspected.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12763971505497961430 Jeffrey Shallit

    Here’s my account of Tim Kenyon’s talk at Waterloo, which might be relevant:


  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05868095335395368227 vjack

    I surveyed my readers on the subject of atheist stereotypes awhile ago. Here’s what I found: http://tinyurl.com/b5gwu4

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00763792476799485687 J. J. Ramsey

    I don’t know if this is exactly a stereotype, but there is often an attempt to paint atheists (sometimes justifiably, sometimes not) as out of their league and engaging in “trailer park scholarship,” as one apologist put it. The implication is that atheists are being intellectually dishonest and grasping at whatever straws they can find to uphold their beliefs.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12888150403073706635 Charles Echelbarger

    Another stereotype of athiests is that they are simply dishonest.
    Even though they feign unbelief, they are still believers underneath. Thus, they either harbor some malicious agenda or are
    merely pretending for the sake of getting the attention of religious people. Thus, the best one can say about atheists is that decent people need not take them seriously. Yet another way of avoiding even the best of the atheist arguments.

    Charles Echelbarger

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12527831796334892300 Charles

    Another stereotype:

    Atheists deny the existence of God on the grounds that God is invisible; but they have no doubts about the existence of other invisible things like the wind. They are just shallow, unreflective people. This stereotype is an example of the "straw target" fallacy. No need to worry about atheists because they are like foolish children.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13173136227783184296 solomon

    Dear steven carr,
    Taching children the truth is not child abuse as the Atheists puts it, its like teaching good morals for their future undertakings.

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