Matt Dillahunty drops the hammer on Lindy West.

This is a face you don’t want to fuck with.

Lindy West, who must’ve studied at the Chris Stedman school of activism, wrote an article in Jezebel titled How to Be an Atheist Without Being a Dick About It.  Matt Dillahunty went through it with a scalpel, opening with the obvious:

We begin with the standard unsupported claim…

“so many people insist on being such condescending dicks in the name of atheism. “

Who? Where? Examples please. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are atheists dicks – but “so many”? I think you need to define terms and cite some actual examples.

And snowballing from there.  Here are a few highlights:

“Whatever your views on Christianity, you have to acknowledge that at least the Bible tells people to be nice. There are a lot of people who really love that book, and they only follow the “nice” parts. Those are the people I’m talking about here. “

I was unaware that there was an epidemic of people being nasty to those who only follow the ‘nice’ parts of the Bible. Can we have a source, please? Also, which parts of the Bible are nice? Do you know much about what the Bible actually says? I do and I’m betting that those parts that you think are ‘nice’ are parts apply to how Christians should treat each other, and not how they should treat you. That said, there are a few nice verses (some even written by a non-believer)…but they’re nice irrespective of whether they’re in that book, and no one needs that book to recognize how nice it is.

I wonder if you’d be so charitable to other books. What’s the percentage of niceness in the Bible? How bad does a book need to be before you’ll stop making excuses for it? Why is it that “But I don’t really like the parts about slavery and misogyny…I just like turning the other cheek” somehow disqualifies their thought processes from criticism?

Meanwhile, is it wrong to try to help those people escape to reality? Is it wrong to point out that the liberal and moderate Christians, by pointing to the same holy book provide support and cover for the nastier Christians? Is it wrong to point out that they donate money and time, in the name of those good parts, to organizations that should rightly be considered criminal organizations?


“It’s not my nice neighbor’s fault that some Twitter troll called me a baby-murderer.”

And I wonder what that nice neighbor’s views are on abortion. A lot of those cafeteria Christians who only focus on the ‘nice’ parts of the Bible are still opposed to abortion. A lot of them may think you’re a baby-murderer, even if they don’t say it to your face. They’ll vote for the same people as that troll. They’ll donate to the same organization. At a minimum…they’re unlikely to stand beside you and agree with you.

Some will. There’s no doubt that some will. I happily stand along side champions of Church-State separation like the Reverence Barry Lynn…but that doesn’t keep me from pointing out where we disagree.

And…fuck it, just read the whole thing.  It’s Matt at his finest.  Casually (and kindly) tearing ideas apart without losing the firmness of his convictions.

The claim in the article that got to me the most is that some people need false beliefs to get by.  Jesus Christ, if I hear one more person say that…

First, insisting that a person needs a demonstrably false belief that you don’t is the very zenith of being condescending (a dick move if ever there was one).  Second, what does a false belief give someone that a genuine understanding of reality couldn’t?  We only know if the happy products of delusions are good by examining them in the light of reality.  That’s how we can say “Yeah, the bible’s crap, but being charitable is still nice.”  If reality confirms that charity is a virtue, then people don’t need the bible and stories of someone rising from the dead to realize it.  We don’t need bad reasons to be good.

What if someone read in their holy book that a purple fairy with three ass cheeks and poison saliva impregnated a magic mule who gave birth to several species of snakes, which is why some snakes are poisonous?  Yes, the conclusion that some snakes are poisonous is correct, but who on earth would think someone needed the convoluted story to understand that concept?  Why would someone need a bunch of false ideas in order to maintain a correct idea?  Sure, in the snake example anybody can see how ludicrous (and demeaning) that claim would be, but why is the idea that people need a bunch of obviously untrue stories for morality, hope, community, etc. any better?

That is the major difference between the apologist atheists and the “new” atheists that I’ve always seen.  The apologist atheists seem to think it’s respectful to coddle and to placate someone, as if learning that they were wrong would cast their lives into depression meaninglessness.  Meanwhile the atheists like myself and Matt criticize people’s beliefs because we believe they can handle the truth and, indeed, that they want their beliefs to mirror reality as closely as possible.

However, we do need bad reasons to support inequality and make decisions that negatively impact the well being of individuals and society, all made with a caring heart and a desire to do good.  That is the power of delusions and bad ideas, which is why we atheists like Matt and myself wish to combat faith, the mother of all bad idea-enabling forces, and to erase the influence of religion from every mind that will allow it.

Contrary to Lindy West’s opinion, this is a noble but thankless task undertaken out of concern for the world and love of our neighbors.  It’s about as far from being a dick as you can get.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • John H

    Too bad, I was just starting to not dislike everything Lindy West writes. The irony of she in particular tone-trolling atheist activists is pretty funny, though. Change “atheism” to “feminism” and she’s arguing against her own past decade of writings. *sigh*

    • baal

      Ideologists have a hard time with being intellectually consistent outside of they preferred ideology. I’d call it a definitional problem but it seems to be part of how humans actually think (one mental model / pathway get’s stuck in your head and you just ram everything thing through that regardless of how poorly it fits).

    • Doug B.

      the heart of the article is near the end where she complains about anyone telling a victim of rape that “finding Christ” to cope with her trauma is stupid.

      Of course drugs and alcohol also help people deal with trauma but you don’t have people look the other way when a victim chooses those methods.

      • Composer 99

        Given today’s article by Libby Anne over at Love Joy Feminism (discussing how harmful “surrender to God” or similar advice can be to victims of abuse in the context of deconstructing just such advice) this is a very apt comment.

        • Composer 99

          That said, I would agree with West that just out and out telling a victim of childhood rape that she is stupid for her choice of coping strategy is being a dick – if that was the end of it.

          But it’s not: West ignores the possibility that atheists can be considerate of people’s suffering while still arguing that “finding Christ” isn’t the best way, or even a very good way, to cope with it.

      • Brian Pansky

        oh dear. i actually just yesterday saw someone online asking if “losing her virginity before marriage” was still a sin if she had been raped.

        everyone who replied to her did their best to tell her, no, it isn’t her fault. but sadly it was obvious that she remained very afraid of that.

        this unfalsifiable stuff can’t be moved out of the way when you need it to, because it’s unfalsifiable.

  • Composer 99

    Meanwhile the atheists like myself and Matt criticize people’s beliefs because we believe they can handle the truth and, indeed, that they want their beliefs to mirror reality as closely as possible.

    Ah, see, there’s your problem right there.

    Presuming peole want their beliefs to mirror reality strikes me as going one presumption too far.

    (I was going to emphasize “they can handle the truth”, but to be fair, I agree: people can handle the truth, if they give themselves the chance. Here again, though, if people don’t want to handle the truth, they won’t. And what is personal or social denial but a refusal to handle the truth?)

  • Art_Vandelay

    What she’s suggesting is even beyond placating them. It’s treating them like children whose belief in Santa Claus needs to be protected so that they can enjoy the fantasy. It’s the most condescending bullshit I’ve ever heard and I’m glad Matt pointed out the irony of the whole thing.

    • Composer 99

      I don’t think it’s condescending to accept that, due to their sociocultural environment, people will choose poor coping mechanisms to come to grips with their circumstances, or to be understanding towards such choices.

      The caveat is that the coping mechanism should on balance help, not harm, the people doing the coping and those around them.

      Where West goes wrong is two-fold:

      (1) Suggesting that people need religious beliefs to cope with their circumstances. That is condescending.

      (2) Failing to consider the above caveat. Quite clearly in many cases choosing religion as a coping mechanism for poor circumstances is harmful to the person making the choice and to those around them. As such it is entirely reasonable to intervene, to “tell them otherwise”, when one sees evidence of such harm occurring.

      • Art_Vandelay

        Yeah, I agree with you completely. #2 is exactly what I’m referring to in regards to placating them.

  • baal

    “The apologist atheists seem to think it’s respectful to coddle and to placate someone,”
    Yes; this is the part about the Stedman’s of the atheist movement that I don’t really get. It’s so insanely easy to offend the true believers. Just go, “Hi, I’m an atheist.” while smiling and with a hand out. When that’s the starting point, the amount of back flips and hiding in the corner you need to placate them becomes unreasonable to the point of irrationality.

    • islandbrewer

      I just have to share this somewhere:

      My wife and I and our two boys, 5 and 3 at the time, were eating at an outdoor table in front of our favorite burrito hole in the wall on our local pedestrian businessy area.

      Our boys are exceptionally cute, you know, for kids that age, and they were acting particularly endearing to each other.

      A woman in her 60s, beatific smile, too much makeup, came up to us and said, “You have the most adorable children! They’re so precious!”

      I immediately got the creepity-jeebies and refrained from eye contact, but my wife, the eternal diplomat, smiled and offered innocuous chit-chat.

      The woman, ready to leave, then said, “Well, your family is just so adorable and precious! I do hope you’re Christian!”

      I immediately met her eye, and before my wife could offer platitudes, smiled and said, “No, we’re atheists.” With a big happy grin on my face.

      The look of horror on her face was the kind you have after hearing that someone was planning on eating their own children alive after viciously torturing them. She immediately scurried down the street, staring at us in horror with a look of disgust on her face all the while. It probably didn’t help that I kept my big stupid grin on and waved at her all the way down the block.

      • JTEberhard

        I’m going to buy you a pizza.

      • Jasper

        Can we start calling them “New Christians”? It seems to better fit them.

      • Compuholic

        I do hope you’re Christian!

        WTF. If I had been in that position I would have gotten flipping mad at that point.

        • islandbrewer

          I’m very non-confrontational by nature, and I found the woman just more annoying than anything else. And it was really my wife, kung fu grip on my arm and dagger eyes piercing my skull, and her unspoken shut up, shut up, shut up that kept me from doing anything more.

          Gosh, you should see her jump whenever anyone within earshot of me says something about homeopathy or not vaccinating their kids. She immediately gets this panicky look as if she’s scanning for sharp objects and ready to dive for cover.

          • Feminerd

            Heh. My husband gets annoyed at me for saying things too, but his critiques are usually of the “you should use arguments they’re more likely to believe, instead of unloading your scorn upon them” variety.

            I can get quite rude when I get … irritated.

          • Compuholic


            Usually I’m very unconfrontational as well. But there are just a few things that really tick me off. And it seems that we have some of those things in common: Homeopathy and anti-vaxxers are definitely on my list as well.

            If they are only doing it to themselves I usually don’t care but if they start to dispense advice to others or tell them what they should be doing – which is how I usually get to know about their position – I really have a hard time holding back.


            I would agree with your husband most of the time. Arguments are better than scorn. But in situations like this I don’t know what you could possibly argue. Instead I would be determined to find out how fast this person can run…

          • Feminerd

            Yeah, I agree with him too. But in this sort of case, I would feel like they ‘started it’, and just want to make them go away again.

  • invivoMark

    I want to ask West where she got all the straw to construct her version of the “atheist movement”.

  • do what you want to do

    the summary version of this article: you’re too stupid to know what’s good for you, so let us tell you instead.

    • Zinc Avenger

      Summary version of this article: It’s disrespectful to you to pretend you’re too stupid to live without your grown-up Santa Claus fantasy.

      • do what you want to do

        that’s quite an interesting analysis.

  • do what you want to do

    also, have you noticed how all the dickish atheists are straight white men?

    • baal

      Sigh. I used to be one of those and would be easily confused for one. No, don’t stereotype please. I’ve been annoyed at the behavior of variously gendered and raced humans of all sorts.

      • do what you want to do