New Atheists Need to Get Their Narrative Straight

New Atheists Need to Get Their Narrative Straight December 13, 2011

If you are going to proclaim yourself the hardened, tough adults who stand for Humanity Come of Age as you glory over theists, the weaklings on crutches whose beliefs originate in the “bawling and fearful infancy of our species”, then for heaven’s sake (get it?) man up and stop sniveling, you wusses!

Mature adults don’t sue because they had to turn off the television to avoid the topic of religion or news announcements about a Day of Prayer. They don’t offer girly sobs about how they had to alter their conversation to avoid the topic of religion. Metallic men of the future who look into the abyss and laugh don’t get a tremble in their voices about how they feel like “outsiders” when mean theists at the Cool Kids table talk about prayer.

Dearest atheists, consider taking some free advice from somebody who bats for the opposite team. You know who you guys could take a cue from? Christian martyrs. Roast ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew, they take a licking and keep on ticking. Gouge out their eyes and they laugh and turn it into a fun feast day. (Happy Feast Day to my grand-daughter, the Cuteness). Barbecue them and they say, “You can turn me over. I’m done on this side.” Heck, Perpetua was so badass that she actually helped the unnerved executioner in the arena by holding the tip of the sword to her throat so his trembling hands could deal the coup de grace. So New Atheists: Next time, pay attention to all those Christians you butcher by the millions and see if you can pick up some tips about how to cowboy up and deal with a little suffering. Those were men and women who could take it. Atheists who screech like little girls at the sight of a world not to their liking are not going to be very effective Vanguards for the Revolution because, you know, sheesh! What a bunch of sorry pantywaists!

My advice: learn to cope with the fact that, with the exception of brief moments in history when people with major personality disorders who lack normal social and affective abilities take over and impose their will with blood and iron on a prostrate populace, atheists will always comprise a small minority, and even 21%of them are so confused about what “atheism” means they declare that they believe in God. So yeah, there’s a reason you feel like an outsider: you are. As a Catholic who is also an outsider in American culture, my suggestion is: have fun with it. One of the pleasures of outsideriness is that you get to be a subversive weirdo who is as exotic as a Hottentot. You can actually make friends who are fascinated by your counter-cultural lifestyle–that is, unless you are a sullen grouch who files suit and mutters about everybody around you praying. Then, you can just expect to be the unhappy isolated person you will inevitably be.

It needn’t be that way. There are alternatives such as the happy, engaged-with-life, intellectually curious (and, I expect, not going to be an atheist forever) Leah Libresco, who does not get the vapors when confronted by the fact that most people are theists. Instead, she cheerfully conducts open-minded, open-hearted conversations with them in a spirit of bonhomie. Try to be like that. To be sure, there is always the risk that when you stop sealing yourself in an airless vault of resentment and wimpy self-pity you might actually find yourself liking and agreeing with theists and questioning your own fragile ideology. But if Leah can man up and do it, so can you.

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  • Brian Westley

    Hey, more atheist-bashing from Shea, a mindless atheist-basher. What set you off this time, a bunch of atheists in Santa Monica getting public display areas in a park that were “supposed” to go the Christians?

    • Mark Shea

      Brian: Thanks for Failing to Grasp the Concept so beautifully. Quite funny.

    • Will

      How about mailings from the Council for Secular Humanism (which I did not request, although, of course, it would be slanderous and hurtful to say they are being “evangelical”) whining about how people say ‘God bless you!” when they sneeze? (And how they are “literally bombarded with customs, denials and situations”, indicating they can not be bothered to LITERALLY open a dictionary.)

    • I’m curious: what did the atheists display?

  • Mark Hartman

    Hey, more Christian-bashing from Westley, a mindless Christian-basher. What set you off this time, Brian – did Mark Shea hit too close to home?

    • Mark Shea

      To be fair, Brian is not bashing. It’s more like whimpering self pity from somebody who cannot engage an argument. The alternation between preening pride (“I believe in Reason, not childish superstition!”) and whimpering self pity (Christians at the Cool Kids Table who make fun of atheist inconsistency are mean and hurt my feelings! I feel like an outsider! Boo hoo! Some God of love *they* worship! O the humanity!”) is one of the most striking features of New Atheist rhetoric. It reminds me of debate class in my sophomore year in high school.

      • Brian Westley

        I can just feel that “Christian love” from both of you.

        • Mark Shea

          And again, you fulfil the template perfectly, Brian. Thank you.

          • Brian Westley

            And again, you show your “Christian love”.

            • Mark Shea

              It is not unloving, particularly for somebody devoted to reason and the intellect, as you claim to be, to be shown the elementary lapses in reason with which your rhetoric is routinely plagued. That I take it lightly when atheists such as Jerry Coyne routinely combine boorishness with censoriousness and willed ignorance is only “unloving” to people who think it the height of uncharity for a Christian to dodge a punch. In short, if you truly value you the intellect as you say you do, then consider learning to use it and not merely worship it, Brian. I have nothing against atheists per se (witness my fondness for Leah). I merely don’t feel myself obligated to take atheists very seriously when they tell my how brilliant they are and how dumb I am, all while sobbing about their hurt feelings when I point out a hole in their rhetoric you can drive a truck through–and laugh about it. Welcome to life in the adult world, Brian.

              • Brian Westley

                “It is not unloving”
                “Welcome to life in the adult world, Brian.”

                More of that “Christian Love”, eh? Oh, and you forgot to blame me for Communist killings again.

                • Mark Shea

                  Grownups recognize that when they choose to identify with a particular demographic advocating a particular idea, they are stuck with the sins of that demographic. So, for instance, when I chose to become Catholic, I recognized I would have to put up with the Brian Westley’s of the world everlastingly bringing up the Crusade and the inquisition. Yet atheists routinely complain when it is pointed out that atheist materialists known as Communists are responsible for the world’s biggest bloodbaths. You can pick your friends, Brian, but you are stuck with your family. If you are going to moan about mean Christians, you really should give some thought to why it is atheism has racked up such an impressive Mt. Everest of human corpses and ask yourself whether there might be a mistake somewhere. That’s not “blaming you” for Communist killings. It’s pointing out that there are one or two problems with your chosen religion.

                  • Brian Westley


                    Just MORE of that “Christian Love”, eh?

                    “If you are going to moan about mean Christians”

                    I’m not. I’m talking about YOU, and your “Christian love”. I don’t apply your faults to other people who happen to resemble you in other ways; that’s something you do with atheists. Don’t think I use the same fallacious “reasoning” you use.

                    Go ahead and keep demonstrating your “Christian love” via insults.

                    • Mark Shea

                      Refresh my memory, Brian. Where was it you repudiated and rejected all that stuff about theists being emotionally immature relics of the fearful and bawling infancy of our race? You have such tender sensitivities for your own equisitely sensitive feelings. Could you remind me of the many times you have remonstrated with your fellow atheists for their perpetual deployment of charges of immaturity against theists? You know: all that stuff about babyish believers who need a cosmic Daddy? You’ve run across it, surely. Could you point me to the places where you’ve made a sustained attempt to get atheists to be more “loving”? I’m all ears.

                • Mark Hartman

                  It’s interesting, in a pathological sense, to see how an immature intellect will set up a strawman, pick and choose from a well-reasoned response, and make a half-hearted (perhaps half-something else as well) attempt to turn the whole mishmash into a criticism.

                  Brian, are you sure you’re not just posting for comic relief? It sure comes across that way.

                  • Brian Westley

                    “Refresh my memory, Brian. Where was it you repudiated and rejected all that stuff about theists being emotionally immature relics of the fearful and bawling infancy of our race?”

                    Sorry, I defend MY views; I don’t see any need to defend someone else’s views. Red herring attempt fail.

                    Now, if you’d like to attempt to defend some of the things you’ve said, go right ahead. Perhaps you could explain how using deliberately belittling language constitutes “Christian love”.

                    • jcb

                      Are multiply nested replies getting very badly formatted for everyone, or is it just me?

                    • Mark Shea

                      In other words, you only care about charity when you are feeling sorry for yourself. You aren’t interested when atheists are–as they routinely are–inclined to use all that language about immature theists. You will take offense on their behalf, but not responsibility on their behalf.

                    • Brian Westley

                      “In other words, you only care about charity when you are feeling sorry for yourself. ”

                      Not at all; thanks for demonstrating your dishonesty.

                      I defend MY views, not views you try to slap onto me because some other atheist, somewhere, may have said it.

                      “You aren’t interested when atheists are–as they routinely are–inclined to use all that language about immature theists.”

                      Wrong again. I simply pointed out that I would defend MY OWN views, not the views of someone else. But you can’t conduct an honest debate. You have to keep trying to fob off someone else’s statements against me, when I had nothing to do with it.

                      “You will take offense on their behalf, but not responsibility on their behalf.”

                      I pointed out a failing of yours (your practice of bashing atheists). Instead of attempting to defend your own statements, you keep throwing out red herrings on what other atheists have said. You’ve done nothing to defend your own statements. I think that speaks volumes.

        • Matt B

          BW – Love, Christian or otherwise, comes across much better in face-to-face interactions. If I were to “love” you via a blogsite, in black and white – would you even know it? My proof for this skepticism is that Scripture, dripping with Love, redolent with passion, and overwhelming in its depth and breadth, you consider some kind of bronze age artifact. Can you expect to find love in a blog? Maybe if you were hit over the head with it.

        • Amy P.

          See, the thing is, your definition of “Christian love” is, well, sorely misinterpreted. Christian love does not require us to be meek or tolerant of that which we find morally objectionable. Nor does it require us to stand still as you steamroll us with your demands for a secular society (where atheism is the endorsed state religion).

          Where’s the famed tolerance and “brightness” atheists are “known for” exemplified in your posts?

  • math_geek

    A funny, well written bit, and very much true. However, as true as it is for athiests, the advice is even more apt for Christians who have the aforementioned examples of bravery and general badassedness in the face of persecution against the Faith. It seems to me that there are a lot of examples of Christians complaining about horrible persecution such as someone wishing them Happy Holidays, etc. Which says nothing about Mark Shea’s own comments about Gay Brownshirts who’s agenda apparently involves leaving nasty notes in comboxes and petitioning to cut of Caesar’s funds to Catholic organizations.

    We should all strive for the joyful calmness in the face of persecution so ably demonstrated by St. Lawrence.

    • As a general rule, people have been saying happy holidays and seasons greetings for years. And nobody really cared. It became an issue when some began to say ‘but from now on, nobody can say C-mas.’ There’s something Americans have about being told ‘you can’t say that any more’ that sets off warning bells. And rightly so.

      • math_geek

        I wish people Merry Christmas all the time, but I don’t really care if I offend anybody. I’m more referring to people who choose to or threaten to boycott stores that dare to wish them a Happy Holidays rather than a Merry Christmas

  • Marcus Letz

    It doesn’t seem to me that the Freedom From Religion Foundation operates much differently from the Catholic League when it comes to reacting to public affairs it finds odious or discriminating. In this country, atheists have just as much right as anyone else to try to influence society, thus it seems disingenuous to suggest that they should instead play the roles of ancient, silent martyrs being slaughtered under a totalitarian government. I will agree, though, that some atheists come across as having an enormous persecution complex (not unlike a good number of conservative evangelicals), and that they ought to be more dignified in their approach.

    Personally, as a former Catholic now atheist, I am quite used to being an ideological outsider, and rather enjoy the opportunities for intellectual stimulation and humor that such a status provides. Indeed, I wouldn’t read and enjoy your blog if I felt otherwise.

    • Well, as a former agnostic turned Protestant (even – gasp – a conservative Evangelical) turned Catholic, I can say there are a few similarities. And yes, thanks for admitting that everyone has a right to influence society (that’s better than the old stuff about you can’t do what everyone obviously tries to do). But there are also differences. Those differences can’t be ignored.

  • Matt B

    There’s a new crop of atheist martyrs. But in keeping with their modernity they’re only “virtual” martyrs. So instead of bleeding red, they bleed lavendar. Its the official color of the world wide web.

    Didn’t you catch the memo?

  • Hezekiah Garrett


    Quite regardless of whether you find God, I do so hope you find love, and become very familiar with it.

    Since you seem not to be at present.

  • Gilbert

    Um, with regard to so few atheists being as likable as Leah Libresco, it probably doesn’t help to turn the few that are into rhetorical weapons against their community.

  • Metallic men of the future who look into the abyss and laugh

    Does this person exist anywhere? The reason Christian martyrs can sack up and take it is because they earnestly believe that God exists and is merciful to those who are persecuted in His name. Evangelical atheists have no reason for such hope and need to look for comfort and approval in this world only, for in the next there is only death. Anyone who looks into the abyss and laughs simply doesn’t have a very good imagination as to what “eternity” and “oblivion” are.

    • The Deuce

      Does this person exist anywhere?

      Well, there was Nietzsche. Oh wait, he destroyed his own sanity in the attempt, and had to have his broken mind dragged to the asylum. Nevermind.

  • Confederate Papist

    Brian –

    God loves you unconditionally, even if you don’t.
    May God continue to bless you.


  • The Deuce

    How could you Mark? If you really had Christian Love for Brian, you’d never hurt his feelings by telling him that he’s wrong, or pointing out the inconsistencies in atheist rhetoric, or pointing out how the implications of his beliefs have played themselves out in history! And for that matter, it’s really unloving to say that God exists! That’s not inclusive! Christian Love demands that you turn off your rational faculties and make yourself incapable of discerning logical implications, contradictions, or chains of causality, so that atheists can more easily mock you for being irrational, and not have to worry about any backtalk from you (like this entry, for instance) when they turn around and whine that nobody likes or trusts them!

  • Mark Shea

    Brian writes:

    What set you off this time, a bunch of atheists in Santa Monica getting public display areas in a park that were “supposed” to go the Christians?

    Then explains this by saying, “I pointed out a failing of yours (your practice of bashing atheists). Instead of attempting to defend your own statements, you keep throwing out red herrings on what other atheists have said. You’ve done nothing to defend your own statements. I think that speaks volumes.”

    Um, given that the statement I refuse to defend is something you, not I, said I think my point about logical failings you can drive a truck through stands, Brian. I don’t care if atheists want to do something in a Santa Monica park and in fact said nothing about it.

    • Rosemarie


      Wow, reading his redundant harping on “Christian love” was as annoying as listening to Pee-wee Herman saying, “I know you are but what am I?… I know you are but what am I?” It came across as awfully childish.

      Where is Mark’s Christian love? It’s right there; it is called “tough love.” The real question is, Where is Brian’s atheist logic? Where is his rational argument? John Cleese’s character in The Argument Clinic sketch used more logic than Brian:

    • Brian Westley

      “Um, given that the statement I refuse to defend is something you, not I, said I think my point about logical failings you can drive a truck through stands, Brian.”

      Nope, you just can’t read. My statement was clearly speculation on what may have set off your latest hatefest, not a statement for you to defend. Statements that you haven’t defended are, for example, things I quote that you have actually written, like “Welcome to life in the adult world, Brian”

      You, however, write:
      Refresh my memory, Brian. Where was it you repudiated and rejected all that stuff about theists being emotionally immature relics of the fearful and bawling infancy of our race?

      Here, you’re attempting to put the onus on me, for something I didn’t say. That’s dishonest.

      But then, I don’t expect anything else from you. When confronted, you just spit out red herring arguments of things other people have written and expect me to answer for it, not something I’ve written. And more of your mindlessly insulting “Christian love”. You can’t run away from your own hatred, all you can do is point the finger at other people and whine that I haven’t defended statements I haven’t made, as an attempted distraction.

      • Mark Shea

        No. Brian. What I do is point out that if you are going to take offense on somebody else’s behalf, then you need to take responsibility on their behalf too. If you are going to compound that by attributing to me an opinion I don’t hold while ignoring the opinion I do hold, don’t be surprised if I don’t take you seriously.

  • Deb

    Mark, that was a very nice piece of writing. Compared to Mary Kochan’s piece about the atheists who sued over having had to turn the tv channel to avoid the National Day of Prayer, yours was the height of Christian Love.
    I am thinking that Brian does not understand what Christian love is. It is basically goodwill and charity towards others and wanting the good for another person. We also have the spiritual works of mercy, which include admonishing sinners and instructing the ignorant. Sometimes when we do works of mercy, the ignorant and the sinners get offended and they even accuse us of not showing Christian love. While I am at it, turning the other cheek, has nothing to do with running away from a confrontation. As I am on a tangent now, let me also say that Christians are human, we are sinners, we are not saints and we do lose our tempers, get frustrated, show impatience and a zillion other human attributes, just like atheists. The difference is that we are mostly aware of it and we work very hard to overcome our weaknesses. Course, Catholics have confession, so we get forgiven by God and He pours grace out upon us. which aids us in becoming more adept at Christian Love.
    I will say that if I, as a Catholic, filed a lawsuit every time I was offended by something my government does or something on televison, radio, print etc., I would need every attorney in the entire country working just for me. So, atheists who whine because someone said God bless you when they sneeze, do need to grow up and shut up. I will pray for that to happen.

  • Heartfout

    While I don’t think that it was worth suing over, I agree with the FFRF that declaring a statewide day of prayer should probably not be done. It manages to be both useless (what’s to stop you praying anyway?) and exclusionary to those who do not pray at the same time.

    Feel free to organise your own if you wish, but don’t use the government to do so.

    • Matt B

      Great attitude, Heartfout – let’s cut government out of everything.

      On the other hand, the more time they spend on innocuous things like days of prayer, the less time they have to plunder and pillage. And maybe the prayertime will give them pause… I know I left off my rampage of murder when a kind older gentleman got me to pause long enough to utter a decent “Hail Mary.”

      But maybe it’s too much to hope for: institutional repentance between the glad hands and the donuts.

      • Heartfout

        Actually, I’m a mixed economist who would probably be regarded as socialist in the US (given my views on things like universal health care). It’s not that I think the government is always bad, I just think that they shouldn’t be promoting days like this.

        Also, are you seriously claiming to be an ex-mass murderer?

        • Matt B

          It’s just a bit of histrionics. That part about prayer is sincere, however.

  • keddaw

    Can we please leave the sins of Communism at Communism’s door? There is a reading of Marx’s work (or Mao’s Red Book) that allows for those massacres to take place for the greater good of a Communist state. No-one blames the Holocaust directly on Christianity (apart from Hitchens I guess) or the atrocities carried out by the British empire simply because Germany and England were Christian, so why must atheism carry the can for Stalin or Mao?

    • Mark Shea

      You mean at the door of atheistic dialectical materialism which is foundational to Marx? Sure! Now can you stop kidding yourself that atheism is not soaked in blood and that cocky boasting about being the only grown up in the room is one of atheism’s most amusing lies?

    • Your statement would have read better if you said everyone blames those things on Christianity. One of the hallmarks of ‘New’ Atheism is to take any and all war, slaughter, and genocide and lay it firmly at the feet of religion in general and Christianity in particular.

      I’m willing to admit that much bad was done by Christians in the name of Christianity. But what the New atheists want is to blame anything and everything possible on religion, while then dodging the fact that the Communist states most passionate about eradicating religion from the social fabric were also the states that engaged in some of history’s most horrible mass slaughters. That, of course, doesn’t even get into other pleasant moments in modern history linked to the pursuit of ‘reason above all things.’ They can’t have it both ways, in other words.

      • Matt B

        I’m not at all willing to accept that “much bad was done by Christians in the name of Christianity.” You’ve obviously bought in to the “mad monk” theory of Christianity. A hundred years from now it will be the “perverted priest” theory. But you and I know that good Christians, and the good of Christianity far outweigh any slander or disparagement. As a stylistic point, you may safely ignore anything “serious” written in the last two centuries, except as an example of left-handed farce.

        • I don’t see a problem with saying Christians did bad things. They still do. I don’t say ‘real Christians never do such things, so they can’t be real Christians.’ Sure they are. They consider themselves real Christians. And through the ages have done bad things in the name of their faith. That’s what you get when you get people. Same with atheism. Horrible things have been done by atheists in the name of eradicating religion, promoting ‘reason’, or any one of a hundred secular rallying cries. That’s what happens when you get people.

          I’m also fully aware of the good that Christainity did, and the unique good at that. It was studying Western history as an agnostic that made me look at Christianity in a new light, even if my profs and textbooks seemed to favor looking at the bad.

          Same with atheism. I don’t think atheists are worse than others. I think societies that eradicate anything higher than the highest person had better hope that person is of good heart. But on the whole, I say bad happens in history despite religion, not because of religion. It’s to answer those atheists (and you know who they are) who go around with the narrative ‘religion is stupid, religion is evil, religion is why bad things happen, atheists who did bad treated atheism like religion, that proves religion is bad’ garbage. It’s a strike against the quality of our education systems and media outlets that such rubbish has a hearing in the first place. That’s where I was aiming.

          • Matt B

            1- If you’re saying that: all people sin, christians are people, therefore christians sin – it’s a bit of a tautology, and doesn’t add anything. You might as well complain that the sky is blue.

            2- Something being commonplace is not the same as something being true. It only means the moles have had a greater chance to dig out the foundation.

            3- If humanity is sick, as in 1) above, then Christianity is the medecine. Purveyors of the “christianity is bad” motif are like three-card monty on the street corner: Monty dazzles with sleight of hand while Shill picks your pocket.

  • Mark, I don’t quite see why atheists pointing out that a State Governor is in breach of the constitution is ‘girly sobbing’.
    Trying to maintain respect for the law is the act of a good citizen; and any fool can see that the state or federal executive telling all citizens to pray is a breach of the Establishment Clause, just as much as proclaiming a “Day of No Prayer, for contemplation of the fact there is no god” would be. It is the government showing a preference for a particular religion – explicitly for one including prayer, and implicitly for Christianity.
    American Catholics used to be very good on church-state separation (see Kennedy’s speech on it What happened? Did they lose all sense of why it is a problem as soon as Catholics became accepted as part of the US mainstream?

    Additionally, I want to take issue with your assertion that “atheists will always comprise a small minority”. Sweden has only 23% of the population believing that there is a god; in the Netherlands the equivalent number is 34%; even in the UK only about 40% claim a belief in a god, which matches with the 42% of adults who report that they pray. The fact that the USA is behind the secularising trend of the rest of the industrialised world doesn’t mean you can ignore the data from the rest of the world.

    • Mark Shea

      There is no “one” religion that includes belief in prayer, so there is no Establishment happening (unless you want to argue for the existence of a Synamosquechurch of Vague Theism and the state’s attempt to establish it. Do you likewise believe that Thanksgiving should be abolished as a federal holiday? Since nobody is required to observe the day, just as nobody is required to observe Black History Month, why do you care so much? Nobody’s being “told” to do anything. Get a life! Relax! Life is too short, particularly if you don’t believe in heaven.

      • keddaw

        The real problem is that religion, and in particular Christianity, gets its privilege by thousands of small steps. When a judge wanted the Ten Commandments* in his courthouse he cited the frieze of Moses** in the Supreme Court and “In God We Trust” on the currency as precedent. He was wrong but if we don’t fight the small fights we become a religious state gradually and before we know it we have teacher led school prayer, creationism being taught in school (even if only as an alternative), Bible verses on our army’s guns, troops handing out Bibles to people in other countries, troops being discriminated against for not going to religious ceremonies etc. etc.

        * Even though only two of them are actually against the law – stealing and killing***.
        ** Mohammed is also depicted – where is the Muslim outrage at that?
        *** Kind of ironic in a state with the death penalty.

        • The problem is, too many secularists have made it clear that their vision of a secular nation is where everyone free to practice their own religious faith…in the right place, under the right circumstances, based on the right attitudes and beliefs, and people who are ‘too religious’ might need to rethink their desires to serve the public trust. All this when, by their own statements, they claim to be a persecuted minority. If that’s what people in a persecuted minority pine for, I would hate to see them in the ruling majority.

          • Sorry, like whom?

            As far as I’m concerned, secularism is the radical notion that supernatural beliefs should be a private affair, and that they should never be an excuse for breaking the law.
            Yes, that means that if you believe the Earth was created six thousand years ago maybe we should think twice about allowing you any influence over educational policy or scientific funding. It’s not about being ‘too religious’ though, it’s about showing you reject reality when it conflicts with your pet beliefs.
            The only restriction on “in the right place, under the right circumstances” is that you not rope in unwilling participants (e.g. all children at a school), and not hijack a public event or space that should be open to all members of society.
            So a religious group can have a festival or parade in a public space – as long as other religious groups, and non-religious ones, get to do likewise at other times. A school can have a carol service, as long as they mark other festivals and/or make it opt-in. Etc.
            Does that sound all too oppressive? Would you really struggle with living in a city where it’s not only your religion that has public festivals, and not everyone at your child’s school goes to the carol service, and creationists struggle to get elected to public office?
            Because if so, you are expecting your feeling of entitlement to have a dominant place in the culture, not an equal one.

            • You just demonstrated my point. The Constitution never said that Congress shall establish a secular nation by banning the free and public exercise of religion thereof. Should schools force kids to learn Christianity? No, that does go against what the Constitution clearly says, and the intent of the Founding Fathers. But should a community be able to have a display here, or little Suzie acknowledge her belief in God there? Yep. The freedom clause was to protect all from government mandated religious indoctrination. It was also to protect everyone from religious censorship and oppression.

              By the way, the lack of awareness of the complexities and diversities of religious belief also show why such approaches to the issue as yours are dangerous. You think the people here believe the world is 6000 years old? Really? That says that not only is the desire to eliminate religious thought from the public against the heart of the Constitution, but can be based on an ill informed understanding of religious thought. One of the many problems so many people of faith have with the ‘new’ secularists.

              As for your first question, go to some place like the Huffington Post and read the comments (if not the odd article here and there). Should take you about a minute to find an answer.

              As for your other question, I have no problem at all with other groups using the public square. Hopefully they’ll do it with a maturity level that suggests puberty has taken place. But I am fine with others having that same right, as are most believers that I’m aware of.

    • I was just going to comment about the secularization of Northern Europe. I guess I missed it when people with major personality disorders who lack normal social and affective abilities took over and imposed their will with blood and iron on Sweden and the Netherlands and the UK.

      Also, I was reading the 2008 ARIS study yesterday and noticed that although something like 82% of Americans claimed to be Christians, only 70% of Americans said they believed in the existence of a personal God. It’s 60% in that Pew poll that Mark linked to. So those self-described “atheists” who said they believed in God aren’t the only confused ones.

      • I think the point is that some atheists, who try to take the intellectual upper hand, who claim religion = dumb, non religion = smart, would do well to pay attention to those numbers. Most people of faith understand that there is a massive diversity within the Christian sphere alone, not to mention non-Christian religious believers. Of course. But for atheists who try to gobble up as many in their fold as possible, it’s worth being reminded that atheism is not monolithic either, and there are many, many who aren’t traditional believers who also aren’t secularists in any way, shape, or form. At least as some atheists would like to claim.

        • Most people of faith understand that there is a massive diversity within the Christian sphere alone

          Well, yes, but I think you’d have trouble finding too many people who would agree that not believing in a personal God is religiously correct for a Christian.

          I don’t actually care about this point too much. There are a lot of confused people out there; some call themselves atheists, some call themselves Christians. I don’t have any problem saying that someone who labels themselves an atheist but also believes in a personal God is labeling themselves wrong; words mean things. (I’m a little iffier on the people who believe in an impersonal “life force.” I think it would depend on the specifics.) I also think that someone who doesn’t believe in any Gods is by definition an atheist, even if they also identify culturally with a religious tradition. That doesn’t mean they’d join American Atheists or FFRF, but then I’m an atheist and I wouldn’t join them either.

          • Matt B

            You’re missing the rich anthropology of religious belief, which also includes atheism, as well as the inherent dumbness of statistical information gathering.

            What your statistical slice gleans is that many people are angry with God, or resentful over injustice, and refuse to yeild to God over the grudge.

            Otherwise it would seem pretty straightforward to answer a question like: do you believe in God; are you religious, are you an atheist? Even an otter could handle it.

            But this proves the richness of the human spirit, which can simultaneously acknowledge God, and deny him.

            This in itself is a proof of God, and a scandal to idiotic atheism. For the essence of God is love, which is possible. The essence of atheism is understanding, which is not.

          • Heh, but the point there is just cutting down on the numbers. FWIW, I know some mainline Protestant ministers who, in fact, questioned the idea of a personal God who cares about our day-to-day, so there you go. The point somewhere, I think, is that it’s more complex than 12% of Americans are atheist, 60% of Americans are Christians who believe thus. It’s complex enough to say most Americans are Christian, few are actual Atheists, and leave it at that.

        • You seem to identify “secularists” solely with atheism. Are you aware that many religious believers support a secular state, so that they are not discriminated against by the dominant religion?

          • I use the term for those who prefer a secular world view. Based on your defintion, I’m a secularist. Most Americans, based on ‘secular state with religious freedom’ would probably consider themselves ‘secularists.’ But I prefer the term for those who have a secular world view, and more to the point, also want a secular state – not by allowing a state of religious freedom from government control, but demanding one that all but eliminates the free exercise of religion from as many public corners as possible.

    • Dave Pawlak

      The “Establishment Clause” was intended to prevent the support of a particular church (like the C of E in England, the Presbyterians in Scotland, or the Lutherans in Sweden). Had the mention of God or religious concepts been banned absolutely, we would not have Congressional sessions beginning with prayer, “God save this honorable court” being said when the Supreme Court convenes, or various presidents declaring days of thanksgiving to Almighty God, even to the point of making such a day a national holiday.

      As far as religious inscriptions in a courthouse, I’m very tolerant and inclusive of what could be displayed. Let’s not stop with the Decalogue. Bring in the Q’uran, the Hindu scriptures, the Analects of Confucius, Buddhist texts, and the Guru Granth Sahib. I’ll even allow for the Book of Mormon. All will give testimony to the Golden Rule, and the Law written in man’s heart. If you wish to save time, C. S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man has an index with quotes from ancient religious texts regarding the Natural Law.

      • Amen. Thanks for reminding us that it doesn’t read ‘Congress shall establish a secular nation by censoring and banning the open and public display of religious belief and practice thereof.’ One of my biggest problems with the secular movement is its willingess, as a self-proclaimed oppressed minority, to show us that the goal is a nation devoid of religious belief at best, or at worst, allowing a diversity of religious belief that must only be practiced in homes, churches, temples, and other places of worship with the blinds drawn and the doors locked – all other forms being banished from the growing public sphere, and individuals determined to be ‘too religous’ likewise cut from serving in various public capacities. That all comes from a gross misreading of not only Jefferson’s legendary letter, but the overall history of the founding of our country. Well said.

        • keddaw

          Read you Bible much?

          “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6).

          • Matt B

            I wouldn’t mind praying in the secrecy of my chamber, but am I now being required to eat, drink, work and vote, get married, raise children, take recreation and rest, buy and sell goods, educate myself and my children, live and die in similar secrecy?

          • You know, that’s an interesting passage. Could you break it down for me? Work with me a little and explain how it pertains to the discussion. Don’t be afraid to delve into the Greek now, I’ll try to keep up. Oh, and please feel free to take me through various interpretations of this passage and the various ways in which theologians have sought to apply it to the lives of believers as individuals as well as the overall body of the faithful. Then, of course, let me know how this fits with calls for censorship and oppression. Does this mean anyone seeking to ban any religion or religious practice can use this? Only those seeking to ban Christianity? I mean there’s a lot to work out with this biblical retort, so please, go on and start educating me.

            • Matt B

              Dave, Dave, Dave

              keddaw is obviously a born-again atheist who rejected faith after struggling with it in college. The scripture he/she proposes is one which caused significant difficulties for him/her during the “conversion.” It obviously communicates an abject hypocricy in the life of established Christianity. I bet this contradiction was thrown at him/her by a professor or other intellectual type.

              The key thing is thte he or her has shared with us this seminal passage from her rite of passage – disclosed, as it were, the lynchpin of her doubt. This, then, would be a critical time to apply Christian charity and understanding – it may go far.

              Sincerely keddaw, the Bible you indirectly reverence, can come alive in the way you had once hoped for. I ask the Holy Spirit to annoint this book for you, so that God may leap from it’s pages, and declare his love and forgiveness to you in all the beauty and majesty he is capable of.

              In Christ!

              • Matt B, you are a troubled man.
                From the basis of one Bible verse, quoted in an appropriate context and showing that even Christian ethics should stretch to a secular state, you assume:
                1) that Keddaw was once a Christian.
                2) that Keddaw is an atheist.
                3) that Keddaw went to college.
                4) that if 1-3 hold, Keddaw left Christianity during 3.
                5) that the verse quoted holds personal significance for Keddaw, especially during assumption 4.
                6) that a professor is responsible for 5.
                7) that Keddaw is in any doubt about zir religious beliefs.
                8) that Keddaw reverences the Bible (or did you mean ‘reference’ here?), rather than just quoting a Christian text to Christians because it’s appropriate in context.
                9) that Keddaw wishes for the Bible to come alive AND does not see it as alive already.

                Nine unjustified assumptions and a conversion attempt in three paragraphs? Are you a Ray Comfort fan, by any chance?

                • Matt B

                  It was the tone.

          • Amy P.

            The Bible also says “Go and make disciples of all nations”…something seemingly forgotten here.

            The passage regarding praying privately was discussed in the context of it being better to be private than a public for-show-only “religious” person. In other words, the hypocrisy, and not the public expression was the problem.

            • Rosemarie


              Exactly. Look at the context, heck, look at the passage itself:

              “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them.”

              Jesus is telling us not to pray in a showy way, with the intention of getting praise from other human beings. He’s not condemning all public prayer, otherwise even prayer in houses of worship would be out since He specifically mentions praying in synagogues!

              Christians have been praying both in public and in houses of worship since the beginning; even during times of persecution they would pray and/or sing hymns publicly on the way to martyrdom. They obviously never understood Our Lord’s words as a blanket ban on public prayer.

  • bones

    Poll numbers? Mark wasn’t addressed general atheism/agnosticism as a societal trend, he was responding to the brittle ‘new’ atheist movement that’s so popular among internet warriors of the 21st Century. I thought he made it very clear that there’s a reasonable approach to atheism (Libresco) and an unreasonable one (Coyne), and that his beef is with the latter.

  • SouthCoast

    “At best, the judge said, those challenging the governor’s actions have incurred a “stigmatic injury” or “feeling like an outsider.” None of that, said Silver, gives them the right to sue.” So, I’m still legally stuck with Superbowl Sunday? Dang.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    Yeah, if I want to support my assertions about the future of humanity, I’m gonna point to Sweden and Holland.

    Only a modern European mindset produces that kind of mind numbing stupidity.

  • Brandon

    I’ve seen some pretty over the top concern/tone trolling, but this guy’s just about got to take the cake. It’s amazing that someone could write with such dripping condescension and say that he’s actually just being helpful.

  • Chris

    While I agree with you that atheists whine about a lot of stuff and really need to suck it up, I would say the same thing about our brothers and sisters in Christ. We whine because the cashier at Target says Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas. We whine because out school choirs no longer sing away in a manger at the holiday program. We whine when the city council stops opening meeting in prayer at the request of a well meaning atheist, Hindu, or whatever…We cry that there is war against Christianity in America and that we are being persecuted. We cannot even begin to start trying to understand the meaning of persecution faced by believers in some parts of the world. Let’s face it, the atheists are not alone, we are a whole nation of pantywaists.

    • Actually no. They never fussed when the cashier at Target or Walmart or anywhere else said Happy Holidays. They got upset when the corporate offices of those chains told their employees that from now on, they shall not mention C—. Sure, they noted the growing tendency to use ‘holiday’ or ‘season’, but didn’t fuss too much. They got upset when various group attempted to mandate it, that’s what pushed them over.

      As far as being persecuted, I think most American Christians know that there are Christians who have it worse. Don’t ever think that Protestant and mission-minded Evangelicals aren’t aware of the plight of Christians in the world. They just don’t want to sit around and wait until it’s that bad there.

  • enness

    This…I cannot find one iota of this to disagree with. 🙂

    The older I get the more I see the wisdom of picking one’s battles (at the very least, it saves energy and frustration). Fight when it counts, don’t turn into the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

    Catholicism is no place for sissies either. If somebody wishes me Happy Holidays, I say thank you and move one. I think there are a lot of people in this country who would be in for a real surprise if they experienced serious persecution.

    Brian, all you’re accomplishing is sounding like a broken record — and a whiny one at that.

  • Love the “getting the vapors” line. The new atheists make my decades of atheism almost embarrassing.

    I have my own thoughts at

  • JB

    “man up and stop sniveling, you wusses!”
    “Atheists who screech like little girls”
    “What a bunch of sorry pantywaists!”
    “get the vapors when confronted by the fact that most people are theists.”

    I find it interesting that you praise Leah Libresco’s “happy, engaged-with-life” and “open-minded, open-hearted” style, while in the same post whitewashing all those who disagree with theism as whiny little girls. Maybe a suggestion would be to occasionally mimic her style and disposition that you praise so often?

    Also, I love how “being female” is an insult. Even Leah had to “man up” to be considered a worthwhile human being. Lovely.

    • Mark Shea

      Learn to cope.

  • HMSBeagle

    Mark Shea,

    I think you need to get your narrative straight. First you tell us we are a bunch of wimps, then you suggest that we should shut up and die in gruesome ways, then you accuse us of being ruthless psychopathic killers who will slaughter millions of people.

    (If you really believe the latter, BTW, you ought to be recommending that atheists be rounded up and imprisoned immediately).

    You wrote: “So New Atheists: Next time, pay attention to all those Christians you butcher by the millions”

    Actually, I’m not aware of a single death, or even a single physical injury, caused by those who are called the New Atheists, in the cause of atheism. (Well, who knows. Maybe someone somewhere slipped and fell while reading Dawkins’ The God Delusion, or Harris’ The End of Faith, or Hitchens’ God is not Great). The fact that you have to resort to citing statistics from murderous communist regimes, only shows the bankruptcy of your position and your desperateness because of this bankruptcy. This would be like someone blaming modern western Christians for the imperialist Muslim slaughters of Hindus centuries ago. After all, you Christians and Muslims all happen to be theists, right? Indeed, as absurd as this position is, it is less absurd than the one you stated, because both Muslims and Christians have core texts that demonize polytheists and urge them on to kill polytheists, and to kill them because they have committed polytheism. Moreover, Muslims and Christians are operating in this Abrahamic tradition.

    In contrast to your supposedly divine or divinely-inspired religious texts, the texts authored and inspired by mere fallible mortals such the New Atheists don’t contain any exhortations to kill or injure religious people. It’s just argument, and all of it is legal. This is in sharp contrast to all that illegal and immoral stuff that is commanded in the Bible and Koran.

    • Mark Shea

      First you tell us we are a bunch of wimps, then you suggest that we should shut up and die in gruesome ways

      Sorry, I only read this far and then realized I was dealing with another person who worships rather than uses his intellect and is rather more impressed with what a Bright he is than he has warrant to be. Go back. Re-read what I wrote and give a literate account of it and then I will bother with what you have to say.

  • HMSBeagle

    Nice try resorting to ad hominem, followed by dodging the content of my comment which addressed your statement, followed by an empty and unwarranted request that I reread your what you wrote (suggesting that I am illiterate–again, ad homimem, unsupported).

    My claim remains: The New Atheists haven’t advocated killing anyone, yet you accuse them of killing millions.

    Listen, if you don’t believe your own rhetoric and aren’t really being serious, then just say so. Otherwise, you as the author are obliged to defend what you actually wrote. You are free, of course, to ignore that obligation or put it aside in the interest of other matters more important to you. But the empty nonsense you provide in your response doesn’t cut it.

  • HMSBeagle

    You wrote:

    “…atheists will always comprise a small minority, and even 21%of them are so confused about what “atheism” means they declare that they believe in God.”

    To the first point, “atheists” according to this same research organization and others is a growing category in the U.S. (and Canada, and the U.K.), so it is not necessarily the case that they will always be a small minority in the U.S. In addition, they are not a small minority elsewhere in the free modern western world where there is free expression and it is legal to criticize religion and religious figures in public. It is the U.S. as such a free western country that is odd, compared to most of those modern western countries, in having a very small percentage of atheists.

    To the second point, I know lots of atheists, but I don’t know any who believe in the real existence of God or gods, do you? Can you name me one? If they believe in God or gods they are by definition not atheists. The confusion here is more likely to have arisen due to the vagaries and limitations of the classification scheme and questions used by the researchers. If there really are such odd people who claim to be, simultaneously, theists and atheists, though, perhaps the researchers should have put them in a separate category (e.g., “undecided,” “ambivalent,” etc.). There may also be some people who are relatively uncertain or undecided, and for whatever reasons did not get fit into the agnostic category. Anyways, an atheist is not someone who is “confused” about whether or not she or he believes in God or gods. He or she is someone who does not in fact believe in God or gods. That simply follows from the definition.

    Regarding those aforementioned vagaries, here’s a possible example: In the PEW report to which you linked, it is written that

    “…a closer look reveals considerable diversity with respect to both the certainty and the nature of these beliefs. Americans’ beliefs about God are a good example of this diversity. Nearly all adults (92%) say they believe in God or a universal spirit, including seven-in-ten of the unaffiliated. Indeed, one-in-five people who identify themselves as atheist (21%) and a majority of those who identify themselves as agnostic (55%) express a belief in God or a universal spirit.”

    Note the unfortunate conflation of belief in a “universal spirit”–which could mean some kind of (non-theistic) animistic force or spiritual power, or New Age, (non-theistic subtype) Buddhist, or even vague deistic type of belief–with belief in God. Technically, these people could be considered atheist on a strict definition that atheism entails a lack of belief or disbelief in a personal god, whereas a spirit may not necessarily be a god, or a personal god. That, of course, is probably not usually what is meant in popular usage by “atheist,” but these individuals in the study may have ended up in this ill-defined combined category for such reasons. It must be kept in mind that these New Age and other such non-theistic “spiritual” beliefs have been popular in the U.S. at least since the 1960s.

  • HMSBeagle

    p.s., yes, from what I’ve read, the frff case looks pretty frivolous and weak. But the frff is not representative of all atheists (despite what the ffrf may claim); nor were the members of the ffrf involved in this particular case exclusively atheist.

    If this Day of Prayer, carried out by tax-payer funded officials, doesn’t cost anything to those tax-payers, then I have no problem with the decision.

    The appropriate response then would seem to be debate and discussion, even mockery of the absurdity of such an event. Or vote for someone else.

  • HMSBeagle

    typo correction: ffrf

  • @Slow Learner:

    Trying to maintain respect for the law is the act of a good citizen; and any fool can see that the state or federal executive telling all citizens to pray is a breach of the Establishment Clause, just as much as proclaiming a “Day of No Prayer, for contemplation of the fact there is no god” would be. It is the government showing a preference for a particular religion – explicitly for one including prayer, and implicitly for Christianity.

    I was thinking along similar lines as you. Sometimes, it seems like people favor secularism only so long as it protects their freedom of religion — but once their own religion becomes part of the mainstream, then they’ll help the majority discriminate against a different minority group.

    @Mark Shea:

    So New Atheists: Next time, pay attention to all those Christians you butcher by the millions and see if you can pick up some tips about how to cowboy up and deal with a little suffering.

    See, here’s the thing: Communism isn’t some kind of holy text/ideology for atheism. By comparison, the Bible is the holy text of Christianity. And yet, people talk about how Communist horrors were due to atheism while claiming the Bible and Christianity had nothing to do with horrors committed by people who actually were citing the Bible to justify their actions.

    And, by the way, most Christians in America aren’t martyrs. They’re the ones getting special treatment. It’s a bit insulting to all the Christians who really have been persecuted for you to bring them up in an article in which you’re basically complaining that secularists try to stop Christians from getting special treatment.

  • HMSBeagle

    Mark Shea: “…atheists will always comprise a small minority, and even 21%of them are so confused about what “atheism” means they declare that they believe in God.”

    This statement indicates, among other things, (1) illiteracy, i.e., incomprehension, miscomprehension; and (2) , to paraphrase Shea, someone who is not using his intellect.

    1. Illiteracy, incomprehension or miscomprehension. What Shea’s linked article’s table (ultimately linked from PEW) says on closer inspection is that, of that 21% of so-called “atheists” who were somehow put in the category “NET Believe in God”*, the breakdown showed that 6% were put into the category of believing in a “personal God,” 12% were classified as believing in an “impersonal force”–whatever that is!**, and the remaining 3% were classified as “Other/Don’t Know.” Thus, only 6% of the atheists in this study were classified as believing in some kind of personal God*** based on this report.

    In any case, the table Shea linked to doesn’t show that 21% of atheists “declare that they believe in God.” “NET Believe in God” is the summary classification by the researchers, not the self-declared response of these participants. And the breakdown clearly shows that only 6% of the so-called “atheists” were put in the “Personal God” category.

    *Whatever that means according to the PEW study in question.
    **”Impersonal force” could mean different things to different people in the study. For some, it may have no spiritual connotations at all, depending on how the researchers have presented it and how people understand the questions, questions which unfortunately are not provided in the report.

    2. When a reader encounters a strange report of a “finding” that “21% of atheists” (or for that matter 6%, or any % greater than zero) “believe in God,” that ought to automatically raise red flags indicating in the mind of the reader that there is something seriously wrong with this report. That would, one would hope, lead the reader to be curious or skeptical about the finding, particularly when there are unexplained terms and discrepant figures as I noted above. For Shea to naively pounce on this spurious factoid and then to fatuously present it as evidence of atheists’ “confusion” suggests that he has disengaged his intellect, specifically his critical faculties.

    Note that one does not need to do a detailed assessment of the material. All one needs to do is read the table presented at the blog site Mark Shea linked, to (1) make a proper reading of what’s there in the table, and (2) respond by engaging one’s intellect in attempting to make some sense of these apparently strange “findings”, and then handle them with the appropriate caveats and cautions, if at all. It appears that Mark Shea has by-passed these basic reading and thinking processes in passing on this bizarre claim.

    • Richard

      “Impersonal force” sounds to me like a general term used to describe the sort of God associated with deism, which is a common way to categorize how people believe in God. According to deism, God is like a great clockmaker who got the “clock” of the universe going, but afterward left the universe and those within it to fend for themselves without necessarily intervening in their lives in any way. This “impersonal force” would be contrasted to a “personal God” who is concerned about and reaches out to those he made. Nonetheless, deism usually asserts the definitive existence of God, albeit one who is “impersonal”.

      • HMSBeagle


        Yes, there could be some deists thrown in there too, as I noted in a previous comment.

        On your definition of deist, someone who definitively believes in (an impersonal) God, that’s clearly not an atheist on the usual definition of atheist. (Also if you look at the table linked there are large minorities to majorities of religious believers who don’t believe in a personal God but who will agree to the idea of this impersonal force. Probably for these people impersonal force means something different than what it would mean for those who wound up in the atheist category). To me, a deist is not an atheist, except perhaps in some narrow or technical sense. (Some definitions of theism include deism, pantheism, etc, whereas others don’t; and some definitions of atheism include deism, pantheism, etc. while others don’t)

        Anyways, these researchers have presented a very muddled picture for the atheists, and to some extent for the theists also. Clearly there are some kinds of problems in the study or in its presentation.

  • Matt B

    These are rhetorical devices. They would only be dishonest tactics if something important was at stake, in which case dishonest tactics are the only sort you should expect.

    This discussion obliterates the entire mootness of the point. Regardless of the self-identification of that “huge majority” as Christian, or believing in God, how many actually act on this belief? In practice, there’s almost no difference between the majority of “believers” and the vast minority of non-believers.

    When people start acting like what they say they believe, I’ll expect to see a difference. As it is, the only real believers are the population controllers, reproductive health providers, and gay-rights activists, who though numerically small, control the world in fact.