Chris Stedman’s Toxic Atheism

Salon has recently published a short extract from atheist and interfaith activist Chris Stedman’s upcoming book, Faitheist, which they titled “Toxic atheism drives people apart” (I know they chose the title because Chris told me so, and because it is common practice for publishing outlets like Salon). It has provoked predictable reactions from parts of the online atheist community, who have seen it as a “defense of accommodationism” (Larry Moran), “classic accommodationism” (PZ Myers), and, most strikingly, “corny shit” (‘Crommunist’ Ian Cromwell). “[W]e’re having the “confrontation vs. accommodation” fight again” he says.

I say predictable reactions because there is an established pattern when it comes to critiquing Stedman: start with “there he goes again”, attempting to paint the new piece under discussion into a pattern, making it easier to dismiss; call it “accommodationism”, a code-word which now has so many varied uses that it has ceased to mean anything cogent; attack Stedman’s character and motives (carefully avoiding the arguments); and ignore parts of the offending post which trouble the desired narrative.

To wit: Myers claims that Stedman, in the extract, “everywhere, makes excuses for religion, while treating atheism as inexcusable.” False. He clearly states the importance of his own atheism and criticizes religion for its flaws:

I was not naïve then, nor am I now, to the atrocities committed in the name of religion around the world. I do not pretend that religion has not played a sizable role in a great many conflicts since people first began to conceive of it, or that it does not do so today. Historically, religion has been at the center of many atrocities — this is an undeniable, important fact…I believe that many New Atheist critiques of religion are correct and have helped many people find liberation from oppressive beliefs

This is not “treating atheism as inexcusable”. It is not “making excuses for religion”. It is forthrightly criticizing religion for its role in inhumanity and underlining the importance of New Atheist critiques of religion. Myers’ description of the piece is false. It is anti-factual.

Moran’s criticism is equally untethered to reality. He quotes Stedman saying “I’m not a believer any longer, but I do believe in respect. The “New Atheism” of Dawkins and Harris is simply toxic.” Now, this is a quote I have some problems with. I would never say it, I don’t agree with it. I think that, taken alone, Stedman is wrong on this. At the same time, Moran’s gloss on the quote is simply fantasy. He responds:

I’m getting awfully sick of this nonsense. What he really means is that it’s okay to passionately disagree about all kinds of social and political issues (gun control, socialism, capital punishment, quackery, political parties, abortion) but if atheists challenge the existence of god(s) that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Somehow, it’s “disrepectful” to declare that belief in supernatural beings is wrong and it means that intolerant atheists can’t, and won’t, work with anyone who disagrees with them because their position is “toxic.”

Moran presents himself as gleaning the real meaning behind Stedman’s quote: “What he really means is…”. But what he in fact does is import his own prejudices and overlay them on top of Stedman’s writing. Nowhere in the extract does Stedman discuss agreement or disagreement on “social and political issues”, or suggest “declaring that belief in supernatural beings is wrong” is “disrespectful”. Here Moran simply invents an opponent to argue against, facts be damned.

This is clearest in the following passage, in which Moran decides simply to rewrite Stedman’s article so that it makes the points he would prefer to counter:

let’s look at what Stedman is saying about the New Atheist side of the debate. He’s saying that attacks on the evils of some religions (e.g. Christian fundamentalism, Islamic extremism) are “toxic, misdirected and wasteful.” Atheist who engage in such attacks are behaving unethically, calling into question the idea that you can be good without god. He’s saying that because some New Atheists point out the evils of some religions, this contaminates the entire New Atheist movement by making atheists intolerant. Because they highlight the worst examples of religious bigotry and hypocrisy—such as shooting 14 year-old girls, or murdering doctors who perform abortions, or abusing young altar boys—this means they can’t work with their religious neighbors because they treat all theists the same.

I can find nowhere in the extract where Stedman makes any of these points. Not one. I have heard these points made, on occasion – but not by Stedman, and not in this piece. Indeed, Stedman says the opposite, himself stressing the importance of critiquing the evils of religion (in the quote above). The whole point of the extract is to ask whether there are ways to combine robust critique of the problems of religion with appreciation of its potentials and value. That is what Stedman means when he asks “Can we learn to seek out our commonalities instead of solely fixating on our differences?” [emphasis mine]. What that means is that differences are important, and so are commonalities – not, as Moran would have you believe, “don’t criticize religion because then you can’t work together with theists”.

Moran is speaking to someone who is not in the room.

So, to Crommunist. Crommunist is a good blogger and a cogent thinker, but here I think he’s got it wrong. He, like the other authors, wants to plug the extract unproblematically into the “accommodationism vs. confrontationalism” narrative, a common story in atheist circles which I find hopelessly confused. What Stedman is doing in this extract is problematizing atheist discourse around religion, seeking to add nuance to a discussion he finds totalizing and unsatisfactory. He is suggesting that “some of these [New Atheist] critiques have…often neglected to account for the full range of religious expression and have resulted in segregation that has parsed the religious and the secular into opposing camps.” He is opposed to those expressions by atheists which speak in too broad, undifferentiated ways about religion, not to all criticism of religious belief. When he critiques New Atheism he is careful to delineate what precisely in it he is criticizing, even in his most forceful expression of disagreement:

I believe that this so-called New Atheism — the kind that singles out the religious lives of others as its No. 1 target — is toxic, misdirected, and wasteful. [emphasis mine]

He is criticizing a specific type of New Atheist, a type of New Atheist he has encountered and describes in the extract, which Crommunist also has a problem with:

There was an air of self-congratulation at the Imagine No Religion 2 conference that a number of fellow attendees found quite offputting – this is not new information to us. Some people think that getting one thing right makes them (us) somehow superior beings. Those people are annoying, even to those who share their nonbelief.

It reads to me like Crommunist agrees with what Stedman wrote, but not what he imagines Stedman to have written. This is clear when he says “The part that particularly chaps my ass is this idea that religion can be repurposed for good, and therefore we mustn’t criticize it or hurt its feelings.” Nowhere does Stedman make any point remotely like this. He may believe, as I do, that there are valuable elements within religious traditions which can be of value to nonreligious people – that there are diamonds among the coal – but he doesn’t advocate silence when it comes to religious criticism, and it is wrong to suggest he does.

To be clear: these critics are not required to agree with Stedman – I do not entirely agree with him myself – but they are required to abide by basic standards of intellectual honesty and respond to what he actually writes. Why this seems so difficult to some in Stedman’s case is a mystery to me.

What really seems “toxic” – at least to a subset of atheist bloggers – is the type of thoughtful, personal, self-critical atheism that Stedman represents. No other figure in the movement – no figure not embroiled in a scandal over sexism, at least – inspires as much personal vituperation and animus as he from self-identified New Atheists [thanks to Stephanie Zvan for prompting this clarification]. It is not enough to criticize his arguments: opponents have commented on his tattoos, his dress, his way of speaking. They speculate about his psychological state and imagine (for it is fantasy) about his yearning for religious faith. His motives and character are constantly questioned, as if he is somehow immediately suspect, always under suspicion. There is a sense, on these critiques, that Stedman simply is not “one of us”. He is a traitor, a turncoat, an appeaser.

The three critiques examined above are more restrained than some, and this is a good thing. But they are still wrong, untethered to reality and, fundamentally, confused. Criticize Stedman when you think he’s wrong – as I have – but don’t invent a Toxic Stedman which doesn’t exist.

About James Croft

James Croft is the Leader in Training at the Ethical Culture Society of St. Louis - one of the largest Humanist congregations in the world. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently writing his Doctoral dissertation as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist Crommunist

    but he doesn’t advocate silence when it comes to religious criticism, and it is wrong to suggest he does.

    From Stedman’s piece:

    In a culture that increasingly asks us to check our religious and nonreligious identities at the door — to silence the values and stories we hold most dear — the “New Atheist” brand of secularism isn’t helping.

    I’m not sure how that isn’t telling people to shut up. The most generous parsing of this I can come up with (without throwing out his words in their entirety) is that atheists are fine to speak as long as they do it in the way that meets Stedman’s particular definition of what “helping” is. At no point does he say “the problem is that their criticisms are without merit, and here’s why” because it is far more convenient to his thesis to talk about New Atheism as this world in which we obsess over the particular religious expressions of individuals. That is a caricature with so many exceptions (some of which he specifically names) that it completely blows his “self-critical” atheism (ye non-existent gods if only that were true, eh?) out of the water.

    Stedman’s counter-factuals to criticisms of faith is to hold up examples of individual people and say “THIS person believes, but SHE’S not a bad person! Therefore your criticism of faith is wrong!” He does this ad nauseum (so fulsomely that the Latin becomes near literal at times) without pausing at any point to even bother to engage with the chorus of people saying “that’s not our position, Chris”.

    As a personal aside, I find it fantastic that you are never short on complaints about how people selectively misinterpret your goals at HCH, and then with breathtaking speed carve out the substantive part of my post. The NEXT SENTENCE says:

    The fact is that good acts performed for bad reasons still deserve scrutiny. Someone who feeds a starving person out of a belief, however sincere, that a intergalactic space moose is going to fellate them in the afterlife is certainly doing a nice thing, and that’s just fine. That being said, when the same Alcesiest belief structure can be used to justify scooping out the eyeballs of cancer-ridden orphan children, it behooves one to stop and ask if we might not be better off disposing of moose-reverence altogether.

    Which is a vulgarized statement of the ACTUAL New Atheist position, not the one that Chris imagines it to be, where we pass judgment on every religious individual. The New Atheist criticism of faith is of FAITH, not of religious believers. And if Stedman were able to put away his broad brush and find five minutes to refrain from REPEATEDLY AND UNASHAMEDLY mischaracterizing the thing he’s criticizing, he’d find far less opposition from us. From me, certainly.

    That being said, the speculations about his personal life and agenda are indeed offside.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/ashleymiller Ashley F. Miller

      “The New Atheist criticism of faith is of FAITH, not of religious believers.” This, this, 1000 times this.

      • James Croft

        Except that this isn’t always true. There is a lot of criticism of believers in our community. It makes no sense (and is dishonest) to pretend it doesn’t happen.

        • Rodney Nelson

          While there’s criticism of believers by gnu atheists, the vast majority of that criticism is about believers’ actions. Pat Robertson using his religion to support his right-wing politics. Ken Ham and other creationists wanting to replace science education with mythology. The Catholic bishops complaining about nuns paying too much attention to social justice and not enough to homophobia and forced-birth. The same bishops trying to impose their anti-contraception agenda on the rest of us. The Mormon Church spending millions to defeat same-sex marriage resolutions.

    • James Croft

      “At no point does he say “the problem is that their criticisms are without merit, and here’s why””

      Except in the rest of the piece, which is an extended consideration of that question. He finds the attitudes expressed to him at the party and the event inconsistent with his own experiences of religious people and how they live their lives, and – like any good empiricist – he cannot sustain the simplistic critique in the face of contradictory data.

      Now, you say, the position he criticizes in the piece is not “the ACTUAL New Atheist position”. I’m not sure how one view or another becomes the “actual New Atheist position”. What I do know is that I have met and interacted with countless individuals like the ones Chris describes in the extract. They fill Atheist conferences and conventions, they accost me after speeches, they send me angry emails and (in one particularly striking case) a handwritten letter. And they display the specific behaviors which Chris criticizes – singles out for criticism – in the piece.

      If you feel that YOUR position is not the one criticized in the extract then that is because he is not criticizing you. He is criticizing other people with different views to you. So why the umbrage?

      • http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist Crommunist

        Because he’s using a label that applies to me to do it.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist Crommunist

    He is criticizing a specific type of New Atheist, a type of New Atheist he has encountered and describes in the extract

    Here it is. Absolutely criticize people who engage in this behaviour, but when you say “it’s because he’s a NEW Atheist” you’re introducing an irrelevant label. There are non-NEW atheists who do this too. There are NEW Atheists who don’t do this. The “NEW” part of the critique is irrelevant, and its inclusion is political. There is more support to be picked up for jumping on the “let’s agree that it’s the NEW Atheists who are the problem” bandwagon than there is for saying “hey guys, don’t do that”.

    • James Croft

      Sure, there are people who do this who are not self-identified as “New Atheists”. But can you really deny that “New Atheism”, insofar as it is a distinct thing at all, has become defined by a particular approach to religion which, in my view, has encouraged some pretty foolish and dehumanizing criticisms?

      • http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist Crommunist

        I can and do deny that. Liberals say some batshitty things too. Doesn’t mean I think liberalism is wrong as a concept. It doesn’t mean I think that because some people cannot stomach criticisms of a particular president that “liberals are what is wrong with America”, for example. And if I published an article alleging that the problem is that “some liberals” are the problem, my critics would be right to say “hey, the problem isn’t with their liberalism – the problem is they’re jerks”.

        This parsing fails when applied as sauce to the gander, because the criticism is that faith – by its nature – is toxic to human development. Yes, there are some people who use faith as an excuse to do great things, but their motivation is intellectually flawed and the exact same justification could be used to UNDO everything they’ve done.

        Stedman is attempting to say “New Atheism is toxic because these people are jerks”, and that’s simply not a logically-supported case. If he wants to upbraid us for our jerkiness then that’s one thing, but to say that the group’s philosophy is wrong because people do stuff that isn’t part of the philosophy is silly.

        • James Croft

          Where do you see him saying that the group’s philosophy is wrong?

          • http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist Crommunist

            Oh, so it’s toxic and counterproductive, but it’s accurate?

          • James Croft

            I read him as saying a specific subset of New Atheist opinion is toxic and counterproductive, not necessarily the whole thing. Hence the qualifications, limiting statements, provision of examples etc. which I quote above.

          • http://freethoughtblogs.com/ashleymiller Ashley F. Miller

            I see him painting everyone with the same brush, not referring to some subset.

          • James Croft

            Understood. Can you say where that impression comes from in the piece? I’ve quoted the sections which give me the opposite view.

          • http://freethoughtblogs.com/ashleymiller Ashley F. Miller

            I would actually point to exactly the same things you’ve pointed as trying to be all-encompassing and inclusive of all “new atheists”. I can see where you could get your interpretation, but it’s not what I read at all when looking at it. And it’s definitely not what I read following stories about how mean every atheist at meetings was to him and about the religious.

            I say this as someone with absolutely no problem with the guy, he’s super nice, but at best he’s been very sloppy with his language here resulting in people who are basically on his side being insulted for no reason. At worst he’s insulting people inaccurately to promote his own work by playing into what will lure a popular audience of atheist haters. I personally think the former is far more likely, but I understand people who feel, for lack of a better word, betrayed and somewhat used.

          • James Croft

            I agree he could have been clearer with his language, yes. I imagine the whole book will give a fuller picture of his views and concerns.

            My point is more that the specific posts I respond to make unjustified and inaccurate claims about what has been written, and that a careful and generous reading of the extract would resolve the problems those authors see. And I note few people have addressed that point directly.

          • http://freethoughtblogs.com/ashleymiller Ashley F. Miller

            My point was that “a careful and generous reading” is very difficult to do when the goal of the entire piece appears to be to insult you for being a new atheist.

      • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels Ophelia Benson

        “But can you really deny that “New Atheism”, insofar as it is a distinct thing at all, has become defined by a particular approach to religion which, in my view, has encouraged some pretty foolish and dehumanizing criticisms?”

        It’s become defined that way because people like Chris and you repeatedly label it that way. It’s a bit rich to pretend it’s defined that way because it just is that way. It’s like spreading a rumor and then when people deny the rumor, shouting that it must be true, it’s everywhere!

        • James Croft

          To be fair to myself (!) I have written very little on this topic. I don’t think I can be held responsible for what “New Atheism” has come to mean. I think most of the responsibility should be placed on the shoulders of the New Atheist authors themselves. And when Harris does his “let’s profile Muslims” bit, and when Dawkins does his “ridicule them” speech, are they really surprised when some people who read what they’ve written or hear what they say go further? There is an unpleasant minority of people who really do harbor very strong prejudice against religious individuals, and I think it’s right to call that out and say it’s unthinking and counter-productive.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/ashleymiller Ashley F. Miller

    I think the problem with what Stedman said and which Ian is latching onto is that you don’t get to just make up meanings to words — New Atheist doesn’t mean “someone who singles out the religious lives of others as its No. 1 target”, certainly not to the vast majority of people who identify with that term. Your emphasis is helpful, but it doesn’t change the fact that the sentence has “New Atheists” as its subject, not “atheists who behave badly”. Unfortunately, what Stedman accomplishes by using that term rather than just saying “atheists who do this” is 1. side with the mainstream narrative about how horrible atheists are ever since Dawkins came on the scene and 2. insult atheists. He is, in a lot of ways, denying the position of worthwhile atheist to “New Atheists” in the same way he complains about other people doing to him. It is very difficult if you identify as New Atheist, especially if you don’t behave in the way he’s saying, to not be offended and dismissive of the entire article. He is lumping everyone in together, and it’s hard to treat that as intellectually honest and nuanced.

    • James Croft

      “He is lumping everyone in together, and it’s hard to treat that as intellectually honest and nuanced.”

      I think he feels the same way regarding the criticisms some atheists often make of religious traditions. Are you open to that critique as well?

      And it seems clear to me throughout the extract (and let’s remember this is a short extract from a whole book) that he is separating out a particular subset for criticism: one which behaves in a way he finds problematic for reasons he outlines.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds Stephanie Zvan

    What really seems “toxic” – at least to a subset of atheist bloggers – is the type of thoughtful, personal, self-critical atheism that Stedman represents. No other figure in the movement – no figure not embroiled in a scandal over sexism, at least – inspires as much personal vituperation and animus as he.

    First off, uh, PZ. Far, far more personal vituperation and animus and for far longer.

    Secondly, what is truly toxic is Stedman’s criticizing behaviors that are not actually the behaviors of at least some of the people he names in his criticisms. Here I’m talking about naming individuals, not just using the overarching “New Atheist” label. Of course the people he names feel injured and are outraged. Of course people are trying to figure out what he’s really talking about–because what he’s saying makes no sense. No one knows whether they’re not supposed to act the way he describes or not supposed to act like the people he names.

    Stedman criticizes real behavior of some people who identify as New Atheist. Then he throws big New Atheist names into his arguments in a fashion that is, at best, irrelevant. I won’t speculate on why, because I have better things to do today. Don’t read into what follows from Stedman’s behavior anything other than confusion and annoyance at the repetition of that confusion. There’s no bigger anything there. It doesn’t tell you anything meaningful about the people who are doing it except that they’re trying to make sense out of something nonsensical.

    If these normally rational and smart people fail, don’t wonder why they’re suddenly not as good as usual. Blame the material they were given to work with.

    • James Croft

      You are probably right about PZ – and probably a lot of other figures – getting more vituperation than Chris. That was an overstatement due to my lack of clarity regarding what I meant by “this community”. I’ll make an edit to reflect this criticism.

      I’m not sure who you think he is criticizing by name unfairly here – you don’t specify.

  • http://facebook.com/donsevers donsevers

    I love crommunist’s point that the apparent richness and utility of religion does not mean we should nod and smile at it. Of course we must understand it, and this takes time. But then, we have an obligation to remind believers that they have options.

    I frequently hear faith defended as a comfort and necessity for some people. But is this true? Don’t many people cope with loss without faith? When we defend faith in these situations, we are keeping it around ‘just in case’, like the last vials of smallpox, nuclear weapons, suicide or relapsing into an addiction. We are saying that faith is sometimes necessary for some people. If that’s true, then fine, but are we sure? The worry is that treating faith this way encourages us to think it is sometimes essential, when it may not be. We might stop our search too early and miss out on something better.

    As humanists. we think we do have something better. Not just better for us, but better for others and for the world. We can explain how it’s better. Then, people can reject it, but not if they care about the same things we do.

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/don-severs/flesh-eating-bacteria-yea-leave-it-in/10150827095684005

    • James Croft

      I agree with everything you’ve written here, and I’m sure Chris would too. There’s nothing in the extract to say that he wouldn’t.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

    I just want to hop in the conversation to say that one part of Stedman’s piece did resonate with me, and that was what he said about working together with religious individuals toward commonly shared goals.

    The bulk of what I do is aimed at a the Christian Patriarchy movement that has come to so dominate Christian homeschooling, and at patriarchal aspects of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Combating all of that is my passion. And the thing is, there are a lot of liberal Christians out there, in the blogosphere and elsewhere, working on just that. I have utterly no problem working with them, partly because I know that most people embroiled in the Christian Patriarchy movement are about a hundred times more likely to come out of that movement through liberal Christianity than through atheism. My primary goal is to help women in situations like the one in which I grew up to realize their full worth and potential, and if they do that through a liberal Christianity that embraces full gender equality, I’m totally fine with that.

    There’s another part too that I think helps explain why I don’t personally spend a lot of time or energy trying to deconvert people, and that is my conservative evangelical past. First, my parents sought to dictate my beliefs to the extent that I had to leave home and not return for a time just to maintain my sanity. Second, the goal of every interaction with basically anyone was to convert them, convert, convert, convert, to the extent that that became more important than seeing people as people. This makes me a lot more comfortable saying “don’t let anyone tell you what you have to believe, decide that for yourself” and leaving it at that than trying to convince someone their beliefs are illogical.

    So all in all, I personally see working toward common goals with others who share my values across the spectrum of religious traditions as very valuable, and I don’t generally have a problem doing it.

    The thing that bothered me about Stedman’s article was his use of the word “respect.” I want to know more about what he means by that. I respect my liberal Christian allies a lot, but when he says “respect” does that mean we have to shut up about ever criticizing religion? I doubt he means quite that, but I’d like to hear more from him about what he does mean. I walk the line on this issue with religious allies, and I think it’s a balancing act. If I were to spend all my time attacking their beliefs rather than focusing on common values and goals, we couldn’t work together very well at all, but at the same time, I’m not going to simply hide what I think or how I see things. Been there, done that, no thank you. I have to be me. The way I see it, there is a difference between respecting people and respecting beliefs.

    • James Croft

      I think the question about “respect” and what is entailed by that is a very important one. What does it mean, precisely, to respect others? I’m sure Christ does not mean “shut up with your criticisms of their faith” – I’m sure because he criticizes. But I, too, am unclear as to where he draws the line.

      • http://synapses.co.za Jacques

        In this context, a quite amusing typo above – you mean “Chris”, not “Christ”, I presume.

        • James Croft

          Indeed – fixed ;)

  • Ashley

    I’m not sure what my biggest problem with the excerpt is, but a huge one is that I think Stedman is a liar. The supposed quotes he offers from the reception he attended sound completely fake to me: “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost,” said the woman with a flick of her hand that suggested she was swatting at an invisible mosquito.”

    I simply don’t believe he ever heard anyone say that or many of the other statements he quotes. His message will appeal to lots and lots of religious people, though, so I’m sure the book will do well.

    • James Croft

      Thank you for providing a neat example of the dynamic I try to describe in my post: dismiss him as a liar based on, what? A feeling plucked from the ether?

      It is so much easier to decide those who disagree with us must be lying than to consider the possibility we might have missed something.

      For the record, I’ve experienced numerous similar conversations in multiple atheist and Humanist spaces. They are not the norm, but they happen. Why do you doubt it?

      • Waffler

        They are not the norm, yet it is this contrast between the robotic atheists and the kind, generous theists that serves as the basis of his thesis in this article. Even if the encounter happened, the comparison is dishonest. You as much as admit it by pointing out it isn’t the norm.

        • James Croft

          So one shouldn’t be able to honestly report an encounter you have actually had in a memoir?

          Good to see you’ve retracted the claim of outright fabrication.

          • Waffler

            I didn’t make a claim of outright fabrication.

            One should not make contrasts between cherry picked encounters to serve rhetorical purposes. This is dishonest.

            If the encounter was not the norm, but was an exception (to ‘New Atheist’ behavior), then it is a poor example to illustrate a general point.

          • James Croft

            “Even if the encounter happened…”

            This implies some doubt as to whether the encounter happened, no?

            And I disagree. I believe that in a memoir an author is entitled to report what happened in their life, and draw inferences from that. For Stedman, at the time, this was his experience of the atheist community. We may wish it had to been, and that he had met people ore representative of the community at large, but he did not, and he has every right to report that.

          • Waffler

            “This implies some doubt as to whether the encounter happened, no?”

            Absolutely! Expressing doubt and claiming fabrication are not the same thing.

            Just as recounting experiences, and drawing unfair inferences from them are not the same thing.

            And we’re not talking about what Stedman is entitled to do. We’re talking about what he has done, and whether is is honest. He’s perfectly entitled to draw dishonest inferences from his own experiences. I suppose it is possible that he doesn’t realize what he is doing is dishonest — that drawing conclusions about whole groups of people based on personal encounters is fraught and leads to all sorts of unfair prejudices (including some he’s probably faced himself). If he were just talking about himself, his own personal journey, it wouldn’t matter so much. But this is more than a memoir: he’s making an argument. This is rhetoric — he’s trying to persuade that his way — the Faitheist way — is good, and another way — the New Atheist way — is toxic.

            He could do this honestly, by pointing to actual examples of actual harm, to actual research showing actual negative consequences of positions held by ‘New Atheists’ (if such research exists). Or he could spin out anecdotes, selected to provide a contrast (that you yourself have already admitted is false) between two groups of people, emphasizing details in one to alienate his audience to that group, and details in the other to connect his audience to that group.

            He did the latter. Unfortunately.

          • James Croft

            I think I thought you were the same person who posted the initial comment in this thread, who outright called Stedman a liar – my apologies. I not now you have only expressed doubt which, true, falls short of a flat-out claim of dishonesty.

            I have not admitted the contrast is “false” – the contrast is well-drawn and, for all I know, accurately describes his actual experience: he sought a community of nontheists; he had a negative encounter on two occasions; that compared unfavorably with his experiences among religious people at his school. He was spurred by that experience to consider the wider question of how atheists and religious people can get along better. Nothing false about that, as far as I have evidence to ascertain.

            He then goes on to use his years of experience as an interfaith activist to explain what he has encountered when he discusses these idea in public, giving examples of what he thinks is problematic. This seems to me a responsible way, within the memoir form, to convey his personal experience in this area. What is your problem with it, precisely?

          • Waffler

            What is wrong with it? You have admitted that the behavior of the atheists he describes in his encounter (which to many, not just me — I know you’ve been commenting over at Butterflies and Wheels and have seen Ophelia Benson’s reaction, among others — sounds exaggerated to the point of absurdity) is not the ‘norm’. By saying it is not the ‘norm’, you are saying that the ‘norm’ (the typical behavior of atheists at atheist meetings and such) is different than what he portrays. Therefore, his contrast cannot possibly be ‘well drawn’. If he is going to contrast atheist behavior with theist behavior, he must pick representative examples that are ‘the norm’ — i.e. that fairly and accurately represent what is typical. Otherwise his contrast is entirely pointless — not well drawn, but misleading.

            Unless he’s not making an argument. Unless he’s just saying, I had this really bad experience one day with a bunch of atheists, and the next day I had this good experience with some theists, and that random chance, that minor twist of fate pushed me down a particular road. But he’s not doing that. He’s using rhetoric (dishonestly) to influence his audience in a particular way.

      • Ashley

        Because they don’t sound remotely like real people talking. They sound like bad dialogue from a telenovella.

        If I’m wrong, and as you say these conversations happen but are not the norm, then why is he complaining about an entire group of people instead of a few rude individuals?

        • James Croft

          I believe it is called “giving an example to illustrate a more general point”.

          • Ashley

            I would call it “generalizing from personal experience.”

          • James Croft

            In which case the questions would be:

            “is the generalization sufficiently limited so that it is not an over-generalization?”

            And

            “Is the example an apt exemplar of the relevant characteristics of the broader group?”

            I think, for the reasons I have given, the answer in both cases is “pretty much yes”.

          • Ashley

            And I don’t. Based on my experience in the community and his excerpt, I believe he’s continuing a long trend of misrepresenting atheists who don’t agree with him.

          • James Croft

            And your evidence for this is…?

    • Waffler

      That section – the intro – just seemed completely dishonest to me. The cold atheists speaking ‘without inflection’, described in terms of their clothes and their canapes, making heartless pronouncements. Even if it was a real encounter, he surely must have encountered ‘new’ atheist activists full of wit and energy and passion — because they exist. So it is a false, unfair, dishonest contrast, even if the encounter was real (and it sounds embellished). For this alone he deserves some measure of scorn.

      • James Croft

        Indeed! Again, the magical lie-detector! How do you know these things?

        And do remember it’s a short extract from a whole book. There are other sections about other engagements with atheists like us.

        • Waffler

          No magic. Real or embellished, it’s a dishonest contrast to make. That someone making such a dishonest contrast would be capable of embellishing for rhetorical effect — it certainly raises the probability.

        • http://teethofthebuzzsaw.blogspot.com Buzz Saw

          I was going to write a lengthy reply, but I think the only thing I need to ask (for now) is the following: “Have you ever taken a college-level course in psychology?”

          • James Croft

            I am a fifth year doctoral candidate in Human Development. I have taken many courses in psychology, including graduate level courses, and have helped teach classes, at the graduate level, which included psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience.

            Your point?

          • BirdTerrifier

            That line of questioning seems a bit silly. Just make your argument.

          • Dan L.

            Making the obvious point that human memories tend to remember events in ways that are flattering to the remember-er and reinforce that person’s worldview.

  • Laurence

    It seems like every time I hear about him it’s in the context of him bashing other atheists for not going about things like he does or the context of him praising religious groups for being awesome. I’m 100% sure that he does more than that, but that has been my experience so far. And that doesn’t give me a positive impression.

    • James Croft

      That’s more to do with the outlets you get your news from, probably, than anything else. If you read the IFYC blog regularly I imagine you’d get a different view. Probably if you were to read the whole book, too.

      • Laurence

        IFYC?

        • James Croft

          Interfaith Youth Core, where Chris used to work :)

  • http://generallylinear.wordpress.com anm

    So….what, Stedman’s first encounter with the atheist movement was in 2009? Because the first time “faitheist” cropped up (as far as anyone can tell) in New Atheist circles was during Coyne’s contest. Certainly it wasn’t widespread in the movement before then, enough so to be something that “we” have name for.

    Basically, Stedman is taking an anecdotal encounter, something which, frankly, is difficult to believe is accurately recounted* for anyone whose actually been around New Atheism for a while and using it to make broad generalizations. Pardon me while I laugh.

    *No, I don’t think he’s lying. I just don’t trust (a) his memory and (b) his rhetorical flourishes, both of which are painfully biased. Even so, as above, his claims regarding New Atheists aren’t supported by anything more than his meager anecdotes, both I of which I can counter in full with plenty of anecdotes representing the opposite.

    • James Croft

      I don’t agree. I think he is using a vignette to 1) explain how he was feeling at the time, and give a sense of how he came to hold the views he currently holds, and 2) as a single illustration of a trend he has, in his work, seen played-out multiple times. It is not so much an anecdote as an exemplar, and the lesson he draws from it is, it seems to me, carefully bounded and quite specific – not nearly as broad as many here seem to think.

      What do you make of all the limiting and qualifying statements if not “I mean these specific New Atheists, not all of them”?

      • http://generallylinear.wordpress.com anm

        Then why refer to them as New Atheists? If the behavior he is criticizing is not tied to New Atheism but to something else, why on earth frame his piece around New Atheism?

        Suppose, for example, I wanted to talk about my problems with faith, but I wrote a piece in which I didn’t explicitly say that my problem was with faith itself, not, say, Islam, and all my examples of the problems of faith were Islam (but I still noted that some Muslims weren’t good examples of what I was criticizing.) I think people would still be justified in saying that what I had written incorrectly generalized this issue to Muslims: if my issue is with faith, I should criticize faith.

        If Stedman’s issue is not with New Atheists or even Atheists but simply with tribalism or something similar, he should write a different book.

        • James Croft

          It seems to me pretty clear that he is using the term “New Atheism” in a specific way which he offers in the piece. You can argue, if you like, that his definition of the term is inaccurate, but he’s very explicit with what he means.

  • James Croft

    It feel odd to respond to your own post, but I think it’s important to point out, given some of the comments, that I was responding to a specific set of criticisms when I wrote this. I accept you can come up with other criticisms which might well be valid – whether Chris’ use of the term “New Atheists” is optimally-accurate is a good question, for instance – but those weren’t the criticisms made in the pieces I was responding to.

    As I note in the post, there are at least a couple of statements in the piece I wouldn’t make and don’t agree with. This is not a simple “Stedman is right about everything” post. It is a “these criticisms, as presented, are invalid for these reasons” post.

  • John Figdor

    Let me try to put a fine point on the criticism. Chris aspires to be a Humanist Chaplain, which means he has to “minister” to students across the spectrum of non-belief – from Deists to New Atheists, from Ayn Rand enthusiasts to Utilitarians like Peter Singer. When you say that “the “New Atheist” brand of secularism isn’t helping,” you seriously undermine your ability to work with students who share that perspective. I’m a former Harvard student. And I can tell you that I would have felt alienated from Harvard Humanism if I knew that the Assistant Chaplain thought that the advocacy of New Atheist students like me “wasn’t helping.”

    How ironic it is that Chris, someone who extols the virtue of tolerance, is intolerant of the New Atheist perspective. Here’s some advice for Chris from someone who’s been doing his job for a lot longer than he has: “make sure all atheist, Humanist, agnostic, non-religious, etc. students feel comfortable talking to you. If you alienate some of the students you’re there to support, you’re not being a very good chaplain.

    It is also funny because the premise that New Atheists aren’t helping the Atheist movement is a position entirely detached from reality. People like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett moved the needle on secularism with their stridently written best-sellers. The wave of secularism that we’re experiencing right now is in part creditable to their books and advocacy.

    TLDR: Saying “the New Atheists aren’t helping” isn’t helping!

    • http://irritually.org Per Smith

      “People like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett moved the needle on secularism with their stridently written best-sellers. The wave of secularism that we’re experiencing right now is in part creditable to their books and advocacy.”

      I’m assuming you mean the disaffiliation trend we’re experiencing? As someone who focuses on the social science of disaffiliation I can say that there’s little evidence of this. If you mean the increase specifically in atheism and particularly as a label of self-identification then I would agree with you, but that’s a very tiny slice of the disaffiliation pie. The reality is that many of the people who are leaving organized religion (the “nones”) are leaving it precisely because of how strident it has become. These people are not attracted to the opposite extreme.

      • Nathan Bupp

        Hi Per, I liked your comment about disaffiliation. Your social science perspective is probably quite revealing and illuminating. When the militant new atheists point to the rise of the “nones” as proof that their angry and acerbic style is working they are deluding themselves. For one thing, if you look at the internals of these surveys you will find that the “nones” are hardly aggressive, activist atheists. Many still retain a vague deistic (or even theistic) believe in God and if not, at least an interest in spirituality. What they are rejecting–for good reason — is * organized* religion and its associated dogmas. But this has been a steady trend, which was underway before the famous new atheist books became a prat of the broader public consciousnesses. One of the trends I was hearing and reading about several years ago was the move towards more socially progressive views on the part of young evangelicals, much to the consternation of their elders. But there is something even more fundamental here, and that is the incredibly divisive and toxic dysfunctionality in the atheist movement. It is constantly on display all over the atheosphere, right there for all people to see. And it smacks of a high school mentality. Amazingly, the worst actors (most notably Ophelia Benson and PZ) seem to revel in it, for what I believe are essentially egotistical reasons. They have attracted hordes of small-minded discontents and malcontents who fawn all over them and parrot their vicious invective. They have continually defined the discourse down to such a low point that happening upon one of their blogs is like accidentally stumping on to the Jerry Springer show. (You can almost hear the fans who comment chanting “Ophelia, Ophelia, Ophelia” or “PZ, PZ, PZ.”) The sad part is that this incessant nastiness has itself become a meme, spreading like a scurge on the movement. What an extraordinary irony that many of these people claim to be about raising the social stature of atheists. They have sure found a way to do it! When will enough people have the courage to stand up and unequivocally repudiate these embittered bullies the way many have rightfully done vile sexism and misogyny on the internet? The sooner the better for the public image of this movement I say.

        • http://irritually.org Per Smith

          You are absolutely right about the timing. New Atheism is a post 9/11 phenomenon. That’s post-2001 for anyone who doesn’t remember. The initial “rise of the nones” was during the 1990s when they doubled from 7-14% of the population. Over the decade that followed they didn’t gain much ground actually, maybe 1-2%. Then in the lats two years there was another spike, by about 5%. It’s difficult to say what kind of lasting cultural impact a few books had over the course of the last 8 years, but one thing is abundantly clear – the Four Horseman had zilch to do with the initial disaffiliation spike in the 1990s. Like I said, social scientists tend to put most weight on the political explanation, and the issues that are relevant to politically motivated disaffiliation are not the issues one would associate with Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris or Dennett.

          Regarding the internal struggles of the atheist movement I’d rather not comment too much, but I will say this. Like I pointed out to Ophelia down below, as long as people consider offending the religious a part of their very identity I’m not sure how they can protest when people characterize them as offensive.

      • John Figdor

        When I said that Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett made an impact, I’m basing this on five years of academic study of the movement and 5 years working in the secular movement leading secular student organizations and several years serving on the BoD of the largest secular student organization in the world (www.secularstudents.org). True, it isn’t a statistically unbiased sample, but in my experience many Atheists, particularly New Atheists, cite the four horsemen as, if not the thing that changed their mind, at minimum a refreshing reminder that there are others who think like them.

        • http://irritually.org Per Smith

          Your sample is based on avowed (movement) atheists, which I already agreed with you about. I do not doubt the impact there. The problem is that while avowed atheism has grown, even taking up a larger share of the “nones” in younger generations, it’s still a very small part of the larger trend of disaffiliation. I think you would find that for every atheist that cites Dawkins as an inspiration there are several non-atheist “nones” who would cite Dawkins as a reason why they aren’t atheists. The culture war provides a good way to think about it. Most of the people who have left organized religion over the last 20 years did so to get away from the culture war altogether, not to join the other team. Cheers.

  • John Figdor

    As far as this: “It seems to me pretty clear that he is using the term “New Atheism” in a specific way which he offers in the piece. You can argue, if you like, that his definition of the term is inaccurate, but he’s very explicit with what he means.”

    I’m sympathetic to the idea that Chris used the word “New Atheist” in an unintentionally confusing way and could have phrased it better. If this is the case, I look forward to him clarifying it and removing the currently perceived slight against New Atheists.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    When I read that Salon article, it seemed to me that the title should be “The Naivity of Chris Stedman”. He attends an atheist party and is surprised that they criticize religion? What was he expecting? And then, at the party, he says something nice about religion and is surprised at the way people react. What was he expecting?

    I’m probably the kind of atheist that Stedman prefers. I don’t go around bashing religion. I probably would not have attended that party. But if I had, then I would at least have known what to expect.

    It seems to me that Stedman is erecting a huge strawman, then knocking it down.

    Sure, PZ and Larry Moran might have been a bit excessive in their criticism. But they can see that Stedman’s strawman argument is aimed at them. We shouldn’t be surprised that they reacted.

    • James Croft

      Let’s be very clear about this: Chris Stedman is not criticizing the individuals he describes for criticizing religion. He does that himself a lot, including in the rest of the book. He is criticizing them for a particularly narrow, monolithic and inaccurate VIEW of religion, which he saw expressed in totalizing statements like “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost”.

      Criticizing one type of religious criticism is simply not the same as criticizing religious criticism per se.

      • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

        He is criticizing them for a particularly narrow, monolithic and inaccurate VIEW of religion, …

        I suppose that explains why Stedman expresses a particularly narrow, monolithic and inaccurate view of atheism.

        …, which he saw expressed in totalizing statements like “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost”.

        When somebody says that, I look for the little smile that accompanies it. It is surely being said in jest.

        • James Croft

          I don’t think he does have a “narrow, monolithic and inaccurate view of atheism”. Remember, he is himself an atheist activist. He identifies, as he says in the extract, with many of the New Atheist critiques of religion. He is simply singling-out one particular form of behavior which he thinks is unhelpful. You can try to shift the point all you lilke, but unless it is contested it will stand.

          “When somebody says that, I look for the little smile that accompanies it. It is surely being said in jest.”

          I can honestly tell you I have had numerous similar experiences in this community in which individuals, in all seriousness, have made similar (and much worse) statements about religious people. I’ve repeatedly heard them derided as “stupid”, “morons”, “brain-dead”, “idiots” etc. It is not as uncommon as you seem to think.

    • http://irritually.org Per Smith

      “It seems to me that Stedman is erecting a huge strawman, then knocking it down.”

      This is exactly how liberal religionists feel when they read the Four Horseman, etc. I’m saying that as a nonreligious, nontheist and as a point of fact, not a value judgement. Whether or not New Atheist discourses on religion are straw men is not something I desire to adjudicate, but it’s always good to reflect on one’s own actions in situations like these. Cheers.

      • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

        This is exactly how liberal religionists feel when they read the Four Horseman, etc.

        That might well be true. I’m not a fan of what they write. But it is still mild, compared to what religious apologists are routinely saying about the non-religious.

        If I am willing to accept that religious folk regularly say over-the-top stuff about atheists, then why is it a big deal when a small minority of atheists choose to take direct aim at theism.

        • http://irritually.org Per Smith

          “If I am willing to accept that religious folk regularly say over-the-top stuff about atheists, then why is it a big deal when a small minority of atheists choose to take direct aim at theism.”

          It’s not a “small group” actually, and anyone who is familiar with the atheist blogosphere can attest to that. The Four Horseman are just the most prominent. I’m sure you could name many others who have smaller public platforms (Meyers, Coyne, virtually anyone associated with American Atheists, etc.). But the size isn’t really the point. The point is that Chris thinks it’s a big deal *because* he identifies with atheists (and yes we should take his word for that despite the insults claiming that he doesn’t). While all of these other people are busy pointing the finger at their enemies (however justly or unjustly) Chris’ project points inwards and asks self-reflexive questions about how he, and people like him, might do better living in this world, amongst those who are different from them. You’ll find that this is what interfaith activists of all stripes do, despite the fact that many of the people they identify with are, all the while, demonizing the “other” (and often demonizing the interfaith activists for being “accommodationists” or down right “traitors.”) It’s the job of interfaith activists to promote self-criticism and internal changes, but doing that is never popular.

          • Pseudonym

            It’s not a “small group” actually, and anyone who is familiar with the atheist blogosphere can attest to that.

            It is a small group actually. Something like 20% of Americans self-identify as non-religious, and only a dozen or so have blogs on FTB.

            The problem isn’t the number, it’s the prominence, and on that I think we agree. Much like the religious right, in the US, the prominence of your profile is more or less monotonic with how over-the-top you are.

        • http://irritually.org Per Smith

          I will add also, that it appears that this particular passage has struck a negative cord with some people who do not actually identify with strident antitheism. I’m sure Chris is well aware of that, and I suspect it’s something he’s thinking deeply about as a result. As James suggested somewhere this is just one little excerpt and not the whole book. It’s also not the whole Chris–and subjective interpretations of one passage of one book he has written are absolutely not the whole Chris. One of the most striking aspects of the criticism I’ve seen so far is how ad hominem it has become (not your criticism mind you). Myers opined that this was just “Stedman being Stedman.” Well I guess that’s case closed then! That doesn’t strike me as a particularly critical way to engage ideas nor does it strike me as a particularly scientific understanding of human behavior and thought. Anyway…

          • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels Ophelia Benson

            We’ve been reading Stedman’s published articles and posts for quite a long time. He returns to this theme over and over again. And I don’t think he is being self-critical, at all; I think he is praising himself by pointing a censorious finger at Those Other Atheists who are not nice and bridge-buildy like him. He invariably positions himself as the nice guy and “new” atheists as the meanies.

          • http://irritually.org Per Smith

            “He invariably positions himself as the nice guy and ‘new’ atheists as the meanies.”

            But strident anti-theists usually embrace that identity for themselves; in fact much tamer atheists may variably do so as well. Some actively claim that there is no reason for them to be nice when it comes to religion. Others might not defend meaness generally but may mock religion nonetheless. I don’t think the antagonistic attitude taken by many atheists is an invention of one man who just wrote a book.

            In regards to whether or not he’s praising himself, is that really a productive way of thinking about it? He’s praising (if we have to use that term) a certain way of interacting with the religious. It so happens that he also tries to embrace that way of interacting with the religious in his own life. So fine, he’s by extension praising people like himself. But does that mean that his intention is simply to praise himself? You seem to imply this. And even more importantly does that mean that what he’s doing isn’t good and should be dismissed from consideration? If I don’t kill strangers and then write about how everyone should not kill strangers as a rule, would you argue against not killing strangers because I’m praising myself? No, but that’s basically what’s going on with all of this ad hominem argumentation. Impugn the messenger instead of engaging the message.

  • Simon

    James: I have to agree that the quotes Chris uses don’t sound realistic to me either. I simply have not heard people talk in this fashion in their daily lives. Furthermore, he claims the events happened years ago when the term “faitheist” was hardly even used (and it still isn’t-though Chris has popularized it a bit). Just like Chris is allowed to add his personal experience into a book, I am also allowed to take MY personal experience into account in questioning its veracity.

    Do you think it is a fair question to ask him if in fact they are verbatim? I broached the subject on facebook/twitter and tagged him but did not receive a response.

    Note: I am NOT discussing his arguments. This is a separate discussion.

    • James Croft

      I would be astonished if the quotes were verbatim. It would be an extraordinary feat of memory to remember exactly what someone said to you at a party a number of years before. It is also not necessary that they be verbatim: the piece is an extract from a memoir. The memoir form is understood to include an individual’s recollections regarding their lives. It is not a sociological study or a piece of anthropological research: it is a young man’s memories of their own life. To make verbatim quotes the standard of judgment would be absurd.

      The question to ask is not whether the quotes are verbatim but whether they sufficiently capture the actual events such that the desired inferences can be drawn. I see no reason to doubt it: the term “faitheist” is a rather simple portmanteau which countless people must have used before it became currency on internet blogs. You are certainly in no position to assert that it was “hardly even used” – what evidence can you possibly present to support that? And I have myself had countless encounters with individuals who expressed a view of religion and religious believers similar to those expressed by the individuals described here – including prominent movement leaders.

      I remember one uncomfortable dinner at a Humanist conference in which I and another speaker on the circuit were reduced to eating our meal in stony silence after I challenged one of his simplistic and self-serving rants about how religious people are religious because they require cognitive closure and can’t deal with difficult questions. He was visibly agitated that I dare suggest a different view, and became quite aggressive. These attitudes are not uncommon: perhaps, if you don’t encounter them yourself, it is because you don’t challenge people on their prejudiced bullshit?

      • Simon

        Re: recollection, people do keep journals. People also sometimes write about the same topic more than once.

        Here’s a WaPo article by Chris from Nov. 19, 2009 that describes the same event he refers to on the salon.com article when apparently the panel he attended was just the previous weekend: http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/eboo_patel/2009/11/respecting_religion_staying_se.html

        You will note that while much of the text is very similar and in some places identical to the salon.com piece, there is no mention of the term “faitheist” or any dialogue that included it. The line about the “superior perspective” is included however. In fact, this is the only line of dialogue to appear in the piece at all.

        The main reason I have doubts about the veracity of his quotes is because documentation of the term “faitheist” being used in such a derogatory manner (it has been used sparsely before with different connotations) is very limited and as best I can tell traced back to a short-lived burst beginning with a Jerry Coyne blog post from July 2009 just a few months before this event is claimed to have occurred: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/07/17/we-have-a-winner/

        My source of said evidence is Google as well as my experience and others attending and organizing atheist events since 2006.

        Furthermore, I could not find any mention by Chris of this dialogue or even the word “faitheist” until his book was announced back in early 2011.

        • James Croft

          Ah – so you’ve found a considerably shorter, though much-the-same account of the same event, written sooner afterward, said to have occurred at the same time and to have had the same general thrust, and to have had the same effect on the author.

          And from this you conclude the author’s much-similar, though extended, description of the same day in the book must be LESS accurate?

          The mind boggles.

          • Simon

            You are speaking in generalities. I am talking specifically about items in quotations. And wasn’t it you who just said you’d be “astonished” if the salon.com dialogue was verbatim?

          • James Croft

            Yes I would be – its not a reasonable standard to hold a memoir to. They aren’t required to be verbatim!

  • Paul W., OM

    I don’t think it matters much whether Chris is fairer to New Atheists in his book than he is in his published articles, including the excerpt in question.

    A whole lot more people read his articles than will follow up by buying his book, reading it all the way through, and reconsidering things carefully after doing so. (Basic cognitive psychology says that even many of those people won’t change their basic views from what they gather from the excerpt, and from seeing it again as soon as they read the introduction to the book. The introduction is the most important part of a book, because of “primacy effects” and “advance organizers.”)

    Even if Chris much fairer to New Atheists only in his book than in his widely-read articles—which I do not believe for a second—that’s really not much better than being fair only in his private journal, and burying that in his back yard.

    Chris is entirely responsible for what he says in his articles, and in what excerpts he publishes, irrespective of what else he says in his book.

  • http://icbseverywhere.com badrescher

    I say predictable reactions because there is an established pattern when it comes to critiquing Stedman: start with “there he goes again”, attempting to paint the new piece under discussion into a pattern, making it easier to dismiss; call it “accommodationism”, a code-word which now has so many varied uses that it has ceased to mean anything cogent; attack Stedman’s character and motives (carefully avoiding the arguments); and ignore parts of the offending post which trouble the desired narrative.

    Other than attacking character & motives, this sounds so much like the typical pattern of critique that Daniel Loxton used to get from some of the same crowd. Chris should be proud! :)

  • Pingback: On Chris Steadman: a reply to James Croft

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carynriswold Caryn Riswold

    Having read the entire book in advance of next week’s publication, here is my take on “The Many Gifts of Faitheist” :: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carynriswold/2012/10/the-many-gifts-of-faitheist/

  • Pingback: Bruce Gorton’s Bollocks: More Straw Stedman

  • Pingback: Faitheist, heal thyself | Zach Alexander

  • Pingback: Chris Stedman’s “Faitheist” – a review | Towards a Free Society


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