Why I’m Not an Angry Evangelical Atheist, Part 1

Why I’m Not an Angry Evangelical Atheist, Part 1 February 11, 2019

Editor’s Note: The mild humanist chaplain we’ve come to know gets a little edgy.   In this two-part essay, he expresses his feelings about the “angry atheists” he has encountered.  Having already read this, I’m eager to hear others’ responses, and then to add my own. / Linda LaScola, Editor


By Chris Highland

In response to an article I sent to him, written by a skeptical biblical scholar, a pastor replied,

“I think he’s more of an evangelical atheist than you.”

I appreciated that he felt that way.

Unfortunately, the image many people have of non-believers comes from the most agitated atheists. The most aggressive, angry and anti-religious voices seem to get the most press coverage, resulting in all non-believers getting branded with a bad name. Can we blame the faithful for getting the impression that the faithless are rather tactless and unkind?

I’ve never felt “called” to be an “atheist evangelist.” I don’t feel the need to convert anyone to my viewpoint or use all the mocking and memes out there to prove what a great apologist for atheism I can be.

Ten or fifteen years ago I was reading books by the so-called “new atheists” including Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

While appreciating many of their logical positions, their arguments left me wondering: Why be so caustic and contentious? Are you aware how arrogant you appear? Who’s listening? Is anyone changing anyone’s mind in these matters?

Maybe it’s anathema to question these modern heroes of heresy, but I don’t mind becoming a heretic among heretics.

I often asked myself while reading the “aa” writers (agitated/angry atheists): Do they have any relationships with people of faith or do they simply not care? How does all their intellectual bombast go over when they’re talking with a loved one who believes? Are they only interested in sinking ships rather than suggesting alternate courses?

Some say they aren’t attacking believers, only religious beliefs. Yet, ask a person of faith how they feel about these aggressive attacks. Why wouldn’t they take it personally since these are deeply personal matters? And, I have to ask why these differences of opinion have to be skirmishes at all?

One blog editor wrote,

“I think there will be fewer ‘angry atheists’ when there is less to be angry about.”

Maybe. Though some seem intent to be bitter and grumpy, and besides, won’t we always find things to be angry about? The choice is, what do we do with our anger, whittle it into a weapon or get more creative?

Like many who have left faith, I went through a period of disappointment tinged with anger, but I refused to let that define me or determine my journey forward.

These tensions are illustrated by a story from the naturalist John Burroughs.

In his New York boyhood he witnessed regular disputes between his father and a neighbor who argued over beliefs in the Burroughs’ kitchen. The (Methodist) neighbor was the “aggressor,” whittling a stick while whittling away at old farmer Burroughs, an old- school Baptist. The neighbor was “more ready and smooth of tongue” with his arguments, but as John saw it, his father held “the greater depth of religious feeling.”

“Each looked upon the religious belief of the other with the utmost contempt.” The elder Burroughs “would not have been caught in [a Methodist church] on any account whatever.”

Looking back with the wisdom of years, Burroughs completes his description of these kitchen-table whittlings with this:

“The disputants of course never succeeded in changing each other’s views, but only in causing them to be held more tenaciously.”

In fact, he says that both old men “died in the faith they had early professed.”

How sad when people are so set in their ways they never seem to give an inch, learn or grow.

This story comes from The Light of Day (1900), which was John Burroughs’ own venture into the struggles and tensions between reason and religion, science, philosophy, naturalism and faith. The tone and manner in which he reflects on his family’s faith is admirable, sensitive.

“How impossible for me to read the Bible as father or [the neighbor] did, or to feel any interest in the questions which were so vital to them; not because I have hardened my heart against these things, but mainly because I was born forty years later than they were, with different tastes and habits of mind.”

What Burroughs touches on here is a major issue I have with those “aa”s who are so intent on converting (or de-converting) people of faith, so focused on forcing their arguments on “deluded” and “irrational” believers, so desperate to “win,” that they miss the humanity, the deep meaning so many find in faith. Why is that so threatening?

If a non-theist has family, friends or co-workers who have faith (who doesn’t?), is the mission to be an atheist evangelist? How is that any different than the old-fashioned evangelism? Unless we have a dramatic “game of thrones”-type clash of worldviews with combatants in a contest for superiority and domination, what purpose does any non-fictional evangelistic agenda serve?

I understand the need for “apologists” (defenders)—at least I understand their need to convince. I did that once upon a time. But I no longer have the need to argue my way into someone’s head or heart. “Do unto others” seems a reasonable guideline for atheists too. This is one reason I don’t go too deep in debate with intransigent atheists either (after all, with my “chaplain’s heart” and “natural mind” I consistently seek common ground with little time for seizing the high ground).

What purpose does it serve, these endless debates and arguments where people take sides and no side wins? We don’t see mass conversions to belief or non-belief. I’ve watched and listened to debates. I greatly prefer to view discussions and dialogues— honest conversations without having to put another person down.

I can appreciate some of what Hitchens or Dawkins toss out, though often with smirks on their faces. Yet, that’s how it seems to me: tossing stones at others while smirking with an air of superiority. This only convinces people that non-believers are elitist asses.

As one clergyperson asked me when we first met,

“Do you think religious people are delusional?”

He referred to The God Delusion by Dawkins. I responded by saying we all have our delusions, but no, I don’t think all people of faith are, on the whole, “delusional.”

Like so many in the religious community, many non-religious seem to be caught in the same loop of talking to themselves. I fall into that sometimes, primarily engaging online with people who generally think like I do about some things. There’s nothing inherently wrong with “hanging out” with others who share similar stories. It’s probably good to simply be aware of the bubble or echo chamber, realizing that people “outside” aren’t included or being engaged. That’s how I felt among friends and colleagues when discussing theology. It became a fun ping-pong game, but nothing ever really changed, except perhaps gaining a few new jokes.

Another great naturalist, John Muir, took a steamer ship from San Francisco to Alaska in 1890. Muir was a man of faith, though far more interested in this world than any other. Onboard the steamer he had a lively conversation with an old Scandinavian sea captain who was “a stubborn skeptic” but also “the kindest soul on board.” The sailor told Muir that he had no time “for nonsense and mystery and other worlds.” Muir the pantheistic believer was impressed with the old captain, “the best-natured growler” he had ever met. Muir stirred his shipmate’s curiosity about glaciers, the naturalist joking that the captain should “repent and be reformed” to go see Alaska’s glaciers for himself.

Wouldn’t it be good to hear more encounters like this, among respectful people who can both learn and laugh with each other?


Chris Highland was a minister and chaplain for many years in the SF Bay Area.  Now teaching courses on Freethought in Asheville, North Carolina, he writes a weekly “Highland Views” column for the Citizen-Times. His new book, A Freethinker’s Gospel, is now available from Pisgah Press.  Chris has been a member of The Clergy Project since 2012. To learn more, see www.chighland.com.

>>>>>>Photo Credits:  By David Shankbone – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1 ; By Cmichel67 (Christopher Michel), CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67540292 ; By Ernest Walter Histed – The Critic: http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=chi.74712517;view=1up;seq=146;size=175, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47477471

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  • valleycat1

    “The most aggressive, angry and anti-religious voices seem to get the most press coverage, resulting in all non-believers getting branded with a bad name.” That is how it is with any group. The ones who make the most noise and create controversy even where there is none are the ones that are considered newsworthy. The loud mouth conservative fundamentalist Christians drown out the more liberal ones just trying to help the world. The louder, angrier feminists get all the attention. Trumpeters in their MAGA hats being obnoxious are all over the news, making it easy to forget that they number below 25% of the voting population.

    We need the louder ones to draw attention to
    Issues and push for change, and also need the rest who are just living our lives the best way we know how.

  • I can appreciate some of what Hitchens or Dawkins toss out, though often with smirks on their faces. Yet, that’s how it seems to me: tossing stones at others while smirking with an air of superiority. This only convinces people that non-believers are elitist asses.

    Right. There’s an old saying: We hate others because we recognize their faults, but others hate us because they resent our virtues.

  • “I don’t feel the need to convert anyone to my viewpoint or use all the mocking and memes out there to prove what a great apologist for atheism I can be.”

    You realize, Chris, it’s not about proclaiming that you’re in the club, right? I mean, do you feel no sense of responsibility to help to stop religious murders and assaults? Do you have no idea that people kill other people for religion on a regular basis?

    I keep a list for times like these. It’s not a nice list, so by all means stop reading when you realize there might be some value in converting people away from religion.

    On 26 February 2006 in North Carolina, 4 year-old Sean Paddock was beaten, then suffocated to death by his devout Christian parents. The parents were following Proverbs 23:13-14.

    On 23 March 2008 in Wisconsin, 11 year-old Madeline Neumann was murdered by her devout Christian parents, when they refused to treat her diabetes with anything but prayer. The parents were following Luke 8:50, James 5:16.

    On 5 February 2010 in California, 7 year-old Lydia Schatz was beaten to death by her devout Christian adoptive parents. She was beaten for mispronouncing a word. The parents were following Proverbs 23:13-14.

    On 12 May 2011 in Washington, 13 year-old Hana Grace-Rose Williams was beaten and starved by her devout Christian adoptive parents until she died of hypothermia. The parents were following Proverbs 23:13-14, Joel 2:12.

    On 11 October 2015 in New York, 19 year-old Lucas Leonard was beaten to death by members of the Word of Life Christian Church, after he expressed a desire to leave the church. His killers’ actions were based on Deuteronomy 13:6-11, Deuteronomy 17:2-20, 2 Chronicles 15:13.

    On 20 October 2015 in Kentucky, 49 Year-old Laura Reid beat a disabled man using the man’s metal walking cane. She then kept him prisoner for three hours while she robbed him. She took his cellphone so he couldn’t call for help, then she left. The man was forced to crawl to a local gas station to get help. He suffered serious injuries, including a concussion and a broken arm. He was beaten because he said he did not believe in God. Reid’s actions were based in Deuteronomy 13:6-11, Deuteronomy 17:2-20, 2 Chronicles 15:13.

    On 24 December 2015 in Arizona, 20-year-old Crystal Hillman was shot to death by devout Christian Anitra Braxton because Hillman claimed not to believe in God. The killer’s actions were based on Deuteronomy 13:6-11, Deuteronomy 17:2-20, 2 Chronicles 15:13.

    On 22 August 2016 in London, England, Kennedy Ife, a 26-year-old marketing consultant, died after he had been restrained with cable ties, rope and handcuffs for several days by his family. The family was convinced that he was possessed by evil spirits. The family was following Mark 9:25-27.

    On 6 February 2017, the parents of newborn baby Abigail Piland declined to seek any medical treatment after she appeared jaundiced. Days later, Abigail was dead. A medical examiner later attributed it to “unconjugated hyperbilirubinemia and kernicterus,” both jaundice-related problems that are treatable. The parents were following Luke 8:50, James 5:16.

    On 31 October 2017, Amber James strangled her nine-year-old son, Ryan Rosales, to death to save him from demons. She was following John 11:25.

    On 20 April 2018 in Wisconsin, Ethan Hauschultz was ordered by his uncle, Timothy Hauschultz, to carry wood weighing 2/3rds of his body weight. Over the course of an hour and a half, Ethan was hit repeatedly by Timothy’s son, who kicked and stood on him, then buried him alive in snow, after which time Ethan died. He was killed for not being able to recite 13 bible verses. The family was following Joshua 1:8.

    And that’s just a few of just American and British Christians in the last 15 years – only the ones I could find. It’s probably just the tip of a very large iceberg.

    You see, the killings didn’t stop after the Holy Inquisition was disbanded. An unofficial inquisition continues to this day, in full force. Maybe you didn’t know that. Now you do.

    I have no problem with you trying to win people over with honey rather than vinegar. But we’ve tried it your way for decades, and clearly it isn’t working. Honey doesn’t work for everyone, and staying out of it and thus letting people believe harmful things definitely doesn’t work. To condemn other methods out of hand is not helpful. Innocent people are being killed, for nothing – we need to stop it, by all means necessary. Maybe if some of the murderers and abusers in my list got a taste of some harsher arguments, their victims might be alive or unharmed today and the killers and abusers might be living life outside of a jail cell. Your preferred way seems nicer, but it’s really not, because you don’t accept other methods, and your methods don’t work on everyone.

    If you got to the end of the list and to the end of this post without being convinced of at least some value in my argument, then maybe the problem is you. All I can tell you is that there has to be room for every method of stopping the horrors of religion.

  • Maybe if some of the murderers in my list got a taste of some harsher arguments, their victims might be alive or unharmed today.

    Are you saying you can prevent murder and child abuse with arguments?

  • Of course it is! Short of locking people up before they commit a crime (which is illegal and not possible outside of science fiction), rational argument is the ONLY way you can prevent murder and abuse.

  • Bubblecar

    “resulting in all non-believers getting branded with a bad name”

    Only amongst superstitious morons, so who cares? The religious are dying out, so we must be doing something right. I would suggest that their offspring are often much more amenable to rational persuasion, especially when we make it clear that their parents are not just wrong but laughably wrong.

    “Is anyone changing anyone’s mind in these matters?”

    Yep. As I say, the religious are dying out, very rapidly in most Western countries, and they’re not being replaced.

  • Lark62

    There is room for all approaches. We need Dawkins. We needed Hitchens to speak out about the cruelties of Mother Teresa. And the planet would be a sadder place without a juicy Hitch slap to savor.

    There is a time and place for courtesy. But religion is dumb. It simply is.

    Believing nonsense without evidence is not admirable.

    And the willingness to believe nonsense without evidence is not good for society. Global warming may have reached a tipping point because US politicians with pockets full of oil company money easily convince the public to ignore evidence and believe lies.

    Sometimes, it is necessary to call out ignorance. Bluntly. Forcefully. And yes, “Rudely.”

  • Tawreos

    I tend to view the more famous, or angry atheists, as the equivalent of the most well known apologists out there. Essentially, I see both groups as being primarily concerned with preaching to the choir. The apologists tend to try to make the faithful feel good and smart about their belief while the atheists do the same for non-belief. I am not sure that either groups intend to gain converts through what they say. I will say that I have heard of de-conversions from people after reading some of the works by atheists listed in the post, but so many de-conversions sound more like a journey with the moment of de-conversion being more the realization of where that journey has been leading rather than a moment that separates belief from non-belief. I know my own realization came from watching an Atheist Experience video and not from reading any of the books by those mentioned in the post, and to be honest I have never read any of their books.

    Some say they aren’t attacking believers, only religious beliefs. Yet, ask a person of faith how they feel about these aggressive attacks.

    I have said it before, but christians are encouraged to make belief their defining characteristic and allow that faith to supersede all others. When they do this any attack on the faith is felt as an attack on the person. If we respect that type of thinking then how do we push back? Respect that thinking and we might as well go back to being religious as there would soon be no other option. All we can do is limit ourselves to attacking the belief, as most of us do, and not the person. And if all they come away with is hurt feeling then they are luckier than many groups in history that the religious went after with a sword rather than with words. I am sorry, but I don’t think that we need to soften our words on the off chance they might get hurt feelings where none was intended.

  • Tawreos

    But only if the parties that are hearing the argument are rational themselves.

  • “Global warming may have reached a tipping point because US politicians with pockets full of oil company money easily convince the public to ignore evidence and believe lies.”

    Actually, not true. Most Americans want to combat climate change. The problem is, the US government hasn’t been responsive to what the people want in decades. This is true of many progressive issues: the people overwhelmingly want change, but government won’t give it to them, because their corporate sponsors don’t want to lose profits. For example, polls show 75% of Americans (even 51% of Republicans) want universal health care, yet there hasn’t been a bill passed on the issue since the idea became popular, decades ago. In fact, what’s happened in the last couple of years is that the government has made it more difficult to get health insurance.

    The US hasn’t been a democracy in some time.

  • Like I said, rational argument is the ONLY way you can prevent murder and abuse. In cases where the parties hearing the argument aren’t rational, then there’s no way to prevent it. But you can’t just assume someone is not rational – you have to try.

  • Is it okay to be “contentious” or “arrogant” or “superior” or “caustic” or “snide” when confronting climate change deniers, when confronting flat-earthers, when confronting anti-vaxxers, when confronting creationists? Why does religion get a pass, somehow requiring respect? While I generally believe in civil discourse, that does not mean that I must respect either the person I’m engaging, nor his ideas. Nor should I pretend otherwise.

    I look on faith-based thinking (which is what produces religion) as one of the most profound threats facing modern society, perhaps even our existence as a species. Should I somehow sugar-coat that?

    As Lark suggests elsewhere here, different methods serve different purposes, work for different people. We’ve seen large numbers of people in “atheist” forums who found their reason after encountering Dawkins or Hitchens. Maybe people like that piss of some, but they also win over others.

  • We’ve heard an awful lot of atheists tie their loss of religious belief to reading Dawkins and the others. It’s a very common theme. These atheist “apologists” have an audience that seems to extend well beyond the choir.

  • guerillasurgeon

    Two of those aa’s pictured above are products of the English public school and Oxbridge educational system, where arrogance is a given – or at least a product. Can’t speak for Sam Harris though. 🙂

  • Lark62

    The ACA was opposed by evangelical christians, and wingnuts holding signs like “Keep the government out of my Medicare.”

    Systematic science denial is intentional, leading to people voting against their own interests and the situation you describe.

  • Margaret Catlady

    “… the deep meaning so many find in faith. Why is that so threatening?”

    It’s threatening because part of their “deep meaning” is to consider me less than human because I am a woman.

  • I’m sorry this has been your experience. Most of the people of faith I know do not de-humanize anyone.

  • It may be “ok” for some to “confront” all those people, but there are more creative and effective ways of communicating. I don’t give the religious or the non-religious a pass when it comes to treating others with respect. No one is restricting the methods. I am merely saying I choose a particular method.

  • Thanks for the thoughtful response. I would offer one caution: not all Christians are as hung up on their beliefs or view their faith as superior to others. Yes, fundamentalists and many evangelicals. But they don’t represent the whole of Christianism. I definitely think the most narrow-minded need push back, esp. when they are attacking others. I’m also not suggesting we “soften our words” over concern for hurt feelings. Yet, it may not be a bad idea to consider feelings if we really must debate rather than discuss.

  • Oh, I get that. And I would rarely be confrontational at all in a one-on-one interaction. But I think the techniques of Dawkins and others are highly effective in situations like public debates, talk show visits, and books.

  • I agree we need different approaches, and choose the approach we think is most pragmatic. I do not dismiss the famous aa’s, but suggest there are perhaps more effective ways to actually communicate without defensive polemics.

    I think once a person has decided that “religion is dumb” and it’s all a bunch of nonsense and it’s fine to be rude, there is no positive way forward. We can agree to disagree based on our experiences with people of a variety of beliefs.

  • I don’t find that framing the disagreements with derogatory words does any good. People have talked about religion “dying out” for centuries. Some religions do but like it or not there will be faith through our lifetimes and far beyond. So we decide to have rational discussions, or laugh it off.

  • Unnecessary. I read the articles and lists from FFRF. If all the people of faith you know are these people, you need to get out more. For good’s sake, there are just as many good people who believe as there are who disbelieve. And just as many bad ones.

  • mason lane

    From your writings it seems clear that most of the people of Christian faith you refer to are very liberal and many are likely already agnostic. So when you talk about “people of faith” your observations and conclusions are highly skewed bro. … highly

  • Thanks for your point here. It’s good to hear the recognition that loud voices can drown out “the more liberal ones just trying to help the world.” (the parallel being the loudest “aa”s drown out the rest of us. . .but maybe not.) I’m encouraged by the voices of non-theists who recognize that rational discussion and community (of some kind) is possible and much needed. . .people like Neil Carter, Hemant Mehta, Bart Campolo and other Humanist chaplains, etc. These are the hopeful voices as I see it and hear it.

  • I agree. That’s why I think there is indeed a place for the “debaters” and atheist apologists, though they are not the only voices, the best voices or the most helpful voices, in my opinion.

  • Perhaps true that “most” are quite liberal, some lean toward agnostic, but I engage with the spectrum including the evangelicals in the Baptist church I attended last week. How might your views be skewed?

  • mason lane

    exactly …

  • mason lane

    Chris, You asked in your piece: (our debate on this subject continues … 🙂 )

    Why be so caustic and contentious?

    Because after thousands of years of abusing, defaming, and slandering rational humans who have the sense not to believe the nonsense, secular people are now finally giving aggressive push back that is more than deserved.

    Are you aware how arrogant you appear?

    Of course we can appear arrogant and are proud of it, like a “negro” in the civil rights movement, or a women battling for her civil rights and against the glass ceiling.

    Who’s listening?

    Millions of people in the US and around the globe.

    Is anyone changing anyone’s mind in these matters?

    Hell yes, look at the Pew Research statistics. The Internet social media, books, and the Clergy Project are loaded with stories of people telling how reading Hitchens, Dawkins, etc. played a major part in their deconversion.

    Your response to a clergy,… “I don’t think all people of faith are, on the whole, “delusional.” Assuming you always mean people who believe in the supernatural and Christian theism, I disagree with your answer. They are all delusional, it’s just a matter of by degree how delusional they are in their theistic supernatural “God” belief .

    You wrote:

    “I can appreciate some of what Hitchens or Dawkins toss out, though often with smirks on their faces.”

    “Toss out?” Sounds to me like you’re smirking Chris When it comes to addressing the absurd claims of theistic Christianity it’s almost impossible to smirk, and the fraudulent claims of Christianity deserve our finest ridicule; silly beliefs we both held and promoted when we were bamboozled.

    I rarely suggest a book, but I recomend you give this one a read “Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless” by Gretta Christina

    So specifically what quotes of Hitchens or Dawkins do you find inaccurate or objectionable. I sure you don’t object to the millions who have been highly influenced to become secular by their books and debates with theists.

    Here’s my smirking meme for the day. 🙂 It very recently was effective in the deconversion of a neice on my wife’s side. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/65f2091bad5b7f940e00bd2c1afb957a6da26411cfbd0c9a2346b0eb29c6051f.jpg

  • Margaret Catlady

    I don’t know what tiny liberal bubble you live in, or whether it’s just that you ignore the abuse aimed at people who aren’t white-cis-male, but here in the USofA one cannot turn on the news without hearing yet another way the religious hate-mongers are trying to deny basic human rights to women, gays, and non-whites. Or you could read the comments on the internet for the continual spewing of Christian hate toward women, gays, non-whites, non-Christians, and anyone else who is not just like them. I used to be as indifferent to religion as I was to sports fans, but I have not been that naive in years.

  • Bubblecar

    All the Western World statistics – even in America, which is well behind the rest of the West – show that religious belief is in steep decline. In the UK, 53% of the population now have no religion – in Netherlands it’s 68%, Denmark 61%, Sweden 55%, France 44%, New Zealand 42%, Germany 33%, Australia 30%, and these figures increase with each national census. Detailed research shows that the children of religious people abandon religion at a much higher rate than the children of non-religious parents take up religion. It really is on the way out.

    As for derogatory terms, if people choose to hold ridiculous beliefs then they can expect to be ridiculed. If those beliefs are also oppressive and intrusive, they can expect to be actively opposed. There’s a war on, haven’t you noticed?

  • mason lane

    Why then Chris does it seem IMHO you’re “hung up” on protecting (as if they’re under assault) that very liberal part of Christianity who are mainly in it for community, social benefit, and are likely already already or partially agnostic already ???? I know lots of them and they don’t feel they’re under attack by angry atheists although they realize churches are closing by the thousands and younger people are rejecting the irrational beliefs.

  • mason lane

    we need to be specific … “religion is dumb” is highly accurate because most religion, I assume theism not deism etc, encourages blind faith the the supernatural fairy tales, without evidence, and is the antithesis of critical thinking and reason. But is I use a deserved derogatory term I make it clear want brand of religion, e.g. Evangelicals, Mormons, I make it about the dogma, unless like the many Priests and Southern Baptist leaders not under attack for sexual abuse. I’m feel good about exposing the mental child abuse and dumb practices of Evangelicals like with attached meme. We are in a battle in the court of public and individual opinion/belief and we need to present out evidence, arguments, and case against theistic religion and their spokespersons who constantly deride Godless atheists and seculars.

  • mason lane

    many get pissed first because their silly beliefs have been challenged with new information, then they deconvert …a very common happening

  • mason lane

    when you challenge someone’s irrational religious beliefs, even when it’s not personal, they will take it personally and that’s just the reality of what transpires … I was very pissed and offended when I first heard Madelyn O’Hair on the Phil Donahue TV show …

  • Lark62

    Believing nonsense without evidence is not sensible. It simply isn’t, no matter how sincere a person is, how many other people believe the same nonsense, or how many millenia those beliefs have been passed down.

    This does not equate to “it’s okay to be rude” anytime one chooses. Why would you think those are interchangeable? That is also absurd.

    We all make judgments all the time, and most don’t express negative judgments willy nilly.

    Whether to be polite or blunt when conversing with a specific person is an entirely different decision than one’s opinion of another person’s beliefs. This decision rests on context, including whether the other party is willingly participating in a blunt / straightforward conversation. Consent matters.

    Another consideration is whether there is a need to call out harmful beliefs, for example Hitchens exposure of mother Teresa or protection of child molesters by a religious organization.

    What I say to my son privately when a friend invites him to an event at the friend’s catholic church is different from what I say when the friend is present.

  • Geoff Benson

    I certainly agree with the sentiment of everything you say.

  • Geoff Benson

    I’d add Matt Dillahunty and Jerry Coyne to the list of outspoken atheists, both of whom I very much admire. Dillahunty is the coal face of atheism, partly with his Atheist Experience show, where I have never heard him come close to being bettered in argument, and partly with his roadshow type debates and speeches. Coyne I admire for his unwavering position that faith and science are incompatible, strongly criticising ‘accommodationism’, something that more moderate atheists try to achieve.

    I think there’s a place for all kinds of atheist, but to include the less temperate sorts. Whilst Dawkins and Hitchens (especially) offended many, they also must surely have brought on board many people who were sitting on the fence, or perhaps never even thought about the matter.

  • mason lane
  • sweeks
  • mason lane

    We are such a broad and diverse army of atheists in this battle to rationalize and secularize the minds of humans war. I’m certainly not a advocate. Accommodationism”. (new term for me) 🙂
    Also I had to look coalface up in the Urban dictionary. Thanks for the schooling today. Dr. Tyson video about why religious faith and science not reconcilable https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yy5yWdVHv3o

  • “Do you think religious people are delusional?”

    This seems to be a dilemma. They are kinda delusional, but to say that puts us back in the angry atheist bin.

    Very few of us figure out things from first principles. Is that next step solid? Is that next breath safe? We assume a lot, and we learn how things work from society. We’d never develop science if we insisted on starting from first principles rather than standing on the shoulders of those who’ve come before.

    That’s a lot of throat clearing to say: No, I don’t think religious people are delusional. They adopt the religion of their surroundings without going back to first principles. Maybe eventually they will, to see that the supernatural claims hold up, but it’s not too startling (and not delusional) when they don’t.

  • See Noevo

    Hi, Bob Seidensticker!

    Do you remember me?
    You banned me from your Patheos Cross Examined blog a long time ago.
    I’m betting you booted me because you’re an angry evangelical atheist.

    At least the (often) angry atheists here at Rational Doubt
    have more respect for, and are more open to, dialogue and disagreement.

    You could let me back in. It would be fun! And interesting!

    What do you say?

  • Remind me: how many comments did you make, and why do you suppose (in my mind) I banned you?

    I’m betting you booted me because you’re an angry evangelical atheist.

    If that’s the case, why would I let you back to comment? If your arguments were too tough for me before, I can’t imagine that’s changed.

  • mason lane


  • Linda_LaScola

    When I first read Chris’s post, I noticed the absence of my colleague, Dan Dennett, among the “angry atheists” though he is one of the “four horsemen of the new atheism.”

    This happens a lot.

    He wrote the book “Breaking the Spell – Religion as a natural Phenomenon” that spurred me on to conduct a study on non-believing clergy that ultimately led to The Clergy Project. The thing about Dan is that he doesn’t come across as angry. He comes across as Santa Claus. I think that’s why he gets left out a lot – though he’s just as adamant about religion as the other three “horsemen.”

    He also is friendly to liberal religion. Like me, he doesn’t see it as a threat. I don’t want to characterize his feelings too much, so I’ll talk about mine instead. Liberal religion already welcomes atheists and agnostics. I’ve known many, including clergy. Seems weird and I personally don’t want to participate but I recognize that tradition goes deep and that some people not only don’t mind saying a bunch of things they don’t believe but they enjoy doing it every week, along with a community of other good people. These religions are dying fast – faster than fundamentalism. I wish it were the other way around.

  • See Noevo

    Remind me: how many comments did you make, and why do you
    suppose (in my mind) I banned you?

    I probably posted many hundreds of comments on your site, before being banned in
    December 2016.

    What do I suppose led you to ban me?
    As I implied above – You apparently have little respect for, and
    are not open to, dialogue and disagreement.

    SN: “I’m betting you booted me because you’re an angry evangelical atheist.”

    BS: If that’s the case, why would I let you back to comment? If your arguments were
    too tough for me before, I can’t imagine that’s changed.

    Maybe I bet wrong, and you have “evolved” since then.

    This December 10, 2016 article appears to be the last one I posted to and on which we
    dialoged. (Must have been damnable dialog!)


  • ElizabetB.

    Hi Mason! Do the Pew Research data look at how many non-religious people there are, or at how people became non-religious? As I’ve been reading, I’ve been thinking that this would be a great research project — which approaches are most effective in changing minds away from religions, and specifically Christian ones.

    For me, if someone is snarky my first thought is that they don’t have any solid arguments…. if they keep it up I usually don’t keep reading them. What helped me evaluate the very conservative theology I grew up with was studying in college George Bernard Shaw’s plays, with their voluminous prefaces where he detailed the things that don’t make sense — and I had to realize I agreed with him. I hope you have some clues! Many thanks!!

  • I probably posted many hundreds of comments on your site, before being banned in
    December 2016.

    So you had many, many chances to make intelligent points. If you got banned, it doesn’t sound like you used your opportunity wisely.

    “What do I suppose led you to ban me?”
    As I implied above – You apparently have little respect for, and
    are not open to, dialogue and disagreement.

    Uh huh. I gave you the opportunity to make many hundreds of comments, giving you chance after chance, but it was still my fault for not allowing you enough chance to participate in dialogue.

    Somehow, I’m not buying that argument.

    BS: If that’s the case, why would I let you back to comment? If your arguments were
    too tough for me before, I can’t imagine that’s changed.
    Maybe I bet wrong, and you have “evolved” since then.

    You’re a funny guy! My evolution isn’t the issue. If you were more trouble than you were worth 2 years ago, the question is whether you’ve improved so that now you’re eager to engage in intellectual conversation and provide useful argument and evidence that is new to the readers of my blog.

  • Geoff Benson

    Yes Linda, I know what you mean about Dan Dennett. I do perceive him as the sort of wise, theologically academic, least strident, of the four. Funnily enough, I think his more liberal views tend to attract a little criticism from some of his peer atheists, and I am thinking here in particular of his compatibilist approach to Libertarian free will. Perhaps he’s seen as the one nearest to any sort of compromise with the faithful?

  • Ivan Beggs

    Also fundamentalist Christians are deeply antagonist towards science because it conflicts with their view of creation and other points. So, they deride global climate change and don’t believe their beliefs and actions will kill a billion or more people. They support any political action to impose their beliefs irregardless of the misery and murder that results.

    Being polite with them also reinforces their view. They won’t give up their free pass to heaven no matter what their he cost.

  • rationalobservations?

    It’s the aggressive and furious denial that is all that religionists ever offer that often provokes the frustration that religionists attempt to interpret as “anger” from non-believers in their particular superstitions and historically unsupported religious mythology.

    The major problem for all things “Jesus cult” is that there is no authentic and original, 1st century originated historical evidence that any man named “Jesus” existed and no historical record at all that validates any of the diverse and very different, confused and contradictory legends of “Jesus” that first appeared centuries after the time in which they are set.

    There are millions of undetected and undetectable gods, goddesses and god-men among which the originally Canaanite god “Yahweh” and Roman’s god-man “Jesus” appear nothing unique, original or special and there is no evidence of the existence of any of the millions of undetected and undetectable gods, goddesses and god-men among which the originally Canaanite god “Yahweh” and Roman’s god-man “Jesus” appear nothing special.

    It’s not that we atheists pretend to know that any particular god does not exist. We observe there is no evidence of the existence of any gods, goddesses and god-men, (including the one(s) you fail to justify or excuse) and simply do not pretend to “know” that any of the millions of undetected and undetectable gods do exist.

    Again (for those who have not read this before):
    Christians are often baffled how atheists could deny the existence of their originally Canaanite god, “Yahweh” and Roman god-man “Jesus”, but they really shouldn’t be. Christians deny thousands of the very same undetectable and undetected gods, goddesses and god-men that atheists deny. Atheists just deny one more god than Christians do (or is that three gods and countless demigod “Cherubim” “angels”, “saints” and other ridiculous imaginary assorted beings, maybe?).

    It’s not that we atheists are “anti” any of the many millions of gods and goddesses that have been invented by men to gain power and wealth for themselves down the ages. We simply do not believe in any and all of them. I wonder if any unreconstructed religionists are “anti” Zeus, Odin, Apollo, Quetzalcoatl, Pratibhanapratisamvit, (Buddhist goddess of context analysis), Acat, (Mayan god of tattoo artists). Or Tsa’qamae, north american god of salmon migration, or any of the millions of other undetectable and undetected totally imaginary deities among which the Judaeo/christian gods appear nothing special and about which there is nothing unique or original? Some religionists accuse atheists of hating their god but hating an imaginary entity would appear as ridiculous as believing in it.

    Atheists and religionists are not so different, after all! Let us celebrate our vast agreement on the non-existence of millions of undetected and undetectable gods and other hypothetical and imaginary beings!

    As for any of the many diverse and different creation myths (including the two contradictory creation myths in GEN 1 and GEN 2)? There is nothing that the science of cosmology has discovered that corresponds to any of the myths that were invented by ignorant ancient barbarians.

    The infinite 13,820,000,000 year old universe has been measured and inspected and we have images of the hot dense young universe as it was shortly after it emerged and started the rapid and accelerating expansion we observe and continue to measure today.
    We understand the material evolution of the universe and accept the growing mountain of evidence that confirms the fact of 4,000,000,000 years of past, current and ongoing biological evolution of life on Earth.

    The alternative to understanding science and accepting the fact of evolution is not religionism or creationism – it is ignorance and superstition.

  • Linda_LaScola

    Again, speaking for myself, I do not support any sort of “compromise” with the faithful. I simply understand that there are some “faithful” who do not pose a threat to people who do not practice a religion that includes supernaturalism. In fact, many do not believe in the supernatural themselves and actually interpret any such references to exclude the supernatural.

    Sounds weird, I know, but that’s what I’ve seen them do. Also, they are as opposed to fundamentalist beliefs as atheists are. They see fundamentalists as giving all religion a bad name.

  • You identify one reason I didn’t mention Dennett. There are plenty of atheists who are interested in reasonable and respectful discussion. These are the people I lean toward.

  • “Any sort” of compromise? Hmm. Any “compromise” I see is living in peace without incessantly trying to evangelize the other. I agree that there are people of faith who are no threat and who see fundamentalism as the main problem. So, what’s wrong with “compromise” if it means agreeing to disagree and then moving on to live cooperatively with or without a supernatural?

  • No question the truth of this, to a point. An appropriate statement to fundamentalists, but doesn’t apply to large numbers of religious folks who not only reject the weaponizing of the bible but who lead the way in liberation and civil rights. It’s why I teach courses on Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglass, John Burroughs, Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who wrote her own bible) and even Thomas Paine. All freethinkers, all reformers, and all people of (yes, liberal) faith.

  • There are ways to push-back without being “aggressive.” I wouldn’t be proud of being arrogant. Once again, why not “do to others” as we want done to us? If we don’t want to be stereotyped, misjudged and misunderstood, why not practice another approach? I don’t see any stats that prove angry evangelistic atheism is the cause of people leaving orthodox religion. Maybe they are reading and hearing other more humanistic voices as well.

  • Also, they are as opposed to fundamentalist beliefs as atheists are. They see fundamentalists as giving all religion a bad name.

    I agree, and I have to say the same about the kind of atheist Chris is talking about here. The vast majority of the people I know aren’t religious in the least, but they’re embarrassed by the immaturity, arrogance, and messianic sloganeering of the evangelical atheist. It’s not just a matter of tone or emphasis, either: it’s funny how wrong the “a.a.’s” frequently are about history, religion, science, and society. But that’s what happens when we only apply skepticism to other people’s beliefs.

  • Yes, certainly context matters, or should matter. Believing or perpetuating nonsense such as “Christians are all. . .” or “Religion has nothing good to offer. . .” and such needs to be addressed. Rudeness, like disrespect, often seems to arise from lack of interest in any relationship, merely making and winning one’s own point.

  • And the stats also suggest that the non-affiliated often continue to have “spiritual” leanings and supernatural beliefs. So, some “religion” may be dying out but not always the “religious sentiments.”

    And, I’ll say it again, if some atheists have to resort to ridicule in constant “wars” then some of the rest of us won’t be in the battle. We have other ways of modeling another, more compassionate and non-violent way.

    Are there major issues to address and confront? Definitely. And I have for years. But I’d rather follow the example of people like Gandhi, King and others, who effected great change, than spend time calling people names and singing “imagine no religion.”

  • Of course there are Christians who are good. So what? You’re completely missing the point I’m making. It’s not the good Christians who have not (so far) done harm that are the problem. The problem is, the Bible clearly tells Christians that doing harm is good, so, as Steven Weinberg writes, “for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

    I’m not sure why I need to repeat what I’ve already written, but, as I said, we’ve tried it your way for decades, and clearly it isn’t working, and just standing by and letting people believe harmful things (and telling the rest of us that we should not try to dissuade the religious from believing harmful things) definitely doesn’t work.

  • See Noevo

    … the question is whether you’ve improved
    so that now you’re eager to engage in intellectual conversation and provide useful argument and evidence that is new to the readers of my blog.

    You could get your question answered by giving me another try.

    You and I both would be interested in seeing and discussing
    ‘argument and evidence that is new to the readers of your blog.’

  • mason lane

    I was highly offended not to be included in the naming of “Angry Atheists” … 🙂 I evidently need to convey more anger and in a more notorious https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5d5b25aba01f1e6dcb3d230ab3dca99ed8867b23cce5856b11353900d8a93b6b.jpg way.

  • mason lane

    What’s wrong with compromise with fundamentalists, of any brand? Here’s just three reasons in memes, and of course we must not ignore all the divorces and family division they cause. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8ea4a46455babda2dca53cdcae30216b2c2e866b5aefc60525c2a4824551e537.jpg

  • mason lane
  • mason lane

    no he’s the same parrot troll as ever

  • mason lane

    and all not the “you” “you’re” target of memes like above …

  • mason lane

    The most common influence I keep seeing consistently are the books of Hitchens & Dawkins, and that goes along with the pattern I’ve seen in the over 900 bios about deconversion on the Clergy Project. They are leaving in droves for a myriad of reason which I’d summarize as a result of the Information Age & Internet. https://www.prri.org/research/prri-rns-poll-nones-atheist-leaving-religion/

  • Thanks for the tip! SN’s reputation precedes him.

  • mason lane

    Asking questions seems to commence the begining of the end, a common head water for TCPs also. … blind faith and honest inquiry don’t mix well. 🙂 https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/young-christians-are-leaving-the-church-heres-why

  • mason lane

    So the liberal Christian hybrid agnostic people you know feel under attack by atheists? Liberal churches are closing at a rapid rate due to disinterest and they are no threat to homosexuals, women’s rights, or commit child mental abuse or promote absurd creationism. You’re in a better position so see what of my views are skewed. 🙂

  • mason lane

    Discuss not Debate? Check out how many youtube views with discussion vs debates. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LP6R3R_UIH0

  • Linda_LaScola

    I should have said “formal compromise.” I don’t see the point of bigwigs in the atheist or religious community making any kind of formal statement. I think people can and do agree to disagree all the time. And religion is ultimately very personal, even if the denominations have institutionalized it.

  • Linda_LaScola

    They certainly sound arrogant when they speak, at least to an American ear.

  • mason lane

    There is no evidence for religious supernatural belief. People who say they believe, and have evidence are frauds.
    Hebrews 11:1 King James Version (KJV)
    “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
    You deserve another chance as much as Manson or Bundy.

  • mason lane

    Based on results world wide, who has gotten more results and been most often cited as helpful with a person’s deconversion than Hitchens & Harris?

  • ElizabetB.

    Wow, Mason! The PRRI study is fascinating! Looks like the most common reason for becoming a-religious is disbelieving the theology — but there’s still room for a study focused on whether there is anything in particular that initiated those ideas.
    A practical finding — Patheos Non-Religious needs to do GOTV — Get Out The Vote!!! —
    “By the last presidential election in 2012, religiously unaffiliated Americans had grown to comprise 20% of the public, but had grown only marginally to comprise 12% of voters. By way of comparison, in 2012 white evangelical Protestants also comprised 20% of the public, but they accounted for more than one in four (26%) voters because of higher voter registration and turnout rates.
    It is likely religiously unaffiliated Americans will again be underrepresented at the ballot box this fall. Currently, more than one-quarter (26%) of unaffiliated Americans report they are not registered to vote, a significantly higher rate than among white evangelical Protestants (10%), white mainline Protestants (11%), or white Catholics (12%).”
    Thanks so much for the finds!!

  • Bubblecar

    I suspect Highland’s problem is that he’s a “pastoral” type strongly motivated to remain in the good books of people who react positively to his churchy nature.

    This doesn’t include those atheists to whom the most important issues at stake here are not matters of personal pose, but matters of truth and justice. The fight against religion is a serious one that we really do need to win, for the sake of humanity’s future.

    It’s really a little demeaning to have to waste time deflecting criticism from supposed atheists whose main concern is retaining warm personal relationships with all their superstitious buddies.

    I would suggest that Highland’s problem with other atheists is indeed HIS problem, and should not be regarded as a problem for the rest of us.

  • Linda_LaScola

    Not all religious people are superstitious. Hard to believe, if you don’t know a lot of liberal Christians, but it is true, even if counter-intuitive.

  • Tempted to say, “Amen Bubble-bro! Ignore Highland. . .he’s too “pastoral.”

  • Amen.

  • Understood, Linda. I agree not to disagree with you on this!

  • Bubblecar

    Funnily enough, I do have a couple of liberal Christian friends, and they’re not offended by my “militant” (i.e., no-nonsense) atheism. They’re very much opposed to the ethics and politics of the Christian right, and very much in favour of science and reason, and tend to keep very quiet about their supernaturalist beliefs. We’ve only had one confrontation on that score and they admitted that they don’t have any rational defence for their beliefs.

    Such people may well be harmless but they’re also largely irrelevant. As you’ve noted, they’re disappearing the fastest, presumably because their “religion” is essentially a personal and rather fragile eccentricity, not a commitment to spreading the Faith and interfering in secular politics etc.

    The “war” is between the defenders of reason and its sworn enemies. We don’t need to worry about mild-mannered “spiritual hobbyists”.

  • mason lane

    Chris, This robust discussion reminds me of when I was in elementary school and there were still die hard believers in Santa Claus, flying reindeer and all that. Those of us who’d figured out we’d been bamboozled (but had no intentions of returning the gifts) were ridiculing the hard core believers. I think if you were in the class Chris, and no longer a Santa believer, you would have tried to protect the die hard Santaclausists from our derision and assaults on their belief. “Come on guys, take it easy on them, you were all once former Santaclausists,” you would counsel and plead to we Santaless kids.

    I’m reminded of that becoming a post-Santaclausist time in my life because we had a Chris in the class, Donald Sodeberg, who later became a permanent MIA in the Vietnam War.. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/86f41ecebfb66dd7ef72fdc3a19aef7897aa47b5ae185792cb54b4aac8d48aff.jpg

  • mason lane

    If they believe in a deity, are they not considered superstitious? def: “belief in and reverence for supernatural beings” Are the religious people you refer to the Golden rule type Christian who don’t believe in anything supernatural?

  • Linda_LaScola

    Great example — but too bad about Donald.

    Maybe it would help to hear more stories of how people reacted to learning about Santa Claus. I once remarked to new parents who didn’t want to fool their kid, that I understood their concerns (the mom was taiwanese, where there was no Santa tradition), but that I thought believing in Santa was OK, because I had yet to hear of anyone who had been traumatized, short- or long-term when they learned there was no Santa Claus.

  • Linda_LaScola

    Some believe (perhaps vaguely) in the supernatural, but would never believe in good luck charms or anything like that

  • Bubblecar

    I have heard of one person who was indeed traumatised upon learning that Santa wasn’t real. And oddly enough that formed a very strong part of her motivation for turning religious, although I don’t really understand why – she didn’t explain it in terms that made much sense.

    I can’t remember how old she was when told that Santa wasn’t real, but I remember being surprised because she was older than most kids are when they realise it’s just a story. But her immediate response was a deep sense of betrayal – she hated her parents for fooling her like that, and told me that this fuelled her determination to become devoutly religious, as a way of distancing herself from their cynicism or something. She ended up becoming a Pentecostal and speaking in tongues etc. She never married and had no close friends, even within her church. A strange and rather sad person.

  • Mark Rutledge

    I feel the same way about Dennett. He read (via Linda) some of my early kvetches about his articles. I went to meet him several years ago when he came to Duke to give a philosophical lecture and had our picture taken together holding the book he co-authored, Caught in the Pulpit. And when I complained that he had (only partly) mis-characterized me in one of his articles he responded that he would stop making that mistake. All of these things convinced me of his reasonable-ness and genuine empathy regarding clergy who were hurting; along with his non-angry critique of churches holding on to supernatural belief systems. So I’ve always appreciate his rational and humane approach. And by the way, his sister is a Clergy-person/pastor of a United Church of Christ church.

  • mason lane

    your days of “yet to hear” are over 🙂 When I found the Santa outfit up in the attic my Grampa Hemig had been wearing, I was stunned when I I realized

  • Mark Rutledge

    Also re Richard Dawkins…In a public exchange once with him he admitted to me in a response to a question i asked him that he had a “nostalgia” for the ceremonial aspects of Christianity…and if I wished i could call him a “secular Christian.” So things are not always as they may seem.

  • Linda_LaScola

    But the gifts keep coming after Santa belief stops. When losing religion, you also lose eternal life.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Linda_LaScola

    how awful! poor thing

  • Linda_LaScola

    Interesting that you say he “admitted” to you…. I also enjoy some of the ceremonial aspects of Christianity and don’t consider it an admission — just a predilection. I regularly go to Good Friday and Easter services because the music is so rousing.

  • Linda_LaScola

    And Dennett drifted away from liberal religion — as many do, with no animosity, while his sister stayed.

  • Mark Rutledge

    the exchange went something like this: I said that I and some of my clergy friends who have dispensed with supernaturalism could refer to ourselves as secular christians; and asked what he thought about that. He said “well then i don’t know why you’d want to be a minister, but i myself have some nostalgia for the ceremonial aspects of christianity so i guess if you wanted to you could call me a secular christian and it would be all right.” That comment made the next morning’s edition of the London Times.

    My use of the term “admitted” shows I am not totally unbiased–i still harbor lots of inherited stuff. May it dissolve little by little as I am called on it. I may have been reacting to his quick dismissal in some of his writings about (all?) liberal Christianity some aspects of which I still affirm as part of my evolving heritage.Or I may have been reacting to some aspects of his overall style.
    When I do go to the church of which I am a member (less and less as I get older) it is because of the opportunities for adult education, the experience of being part of a community of love and justice, and the relationships and friendships with good people..

  • mason lane

    Hmmm … I never thought of it as losing anything, (except cult membership) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c61a2f27791556c2c918deecf561b8b2d5745a5e87ceaff3380e514fcb3826c8.jpg not even eternal life … my atoms will go on and on and on as they always have for billions of years … as for gifts, they also kept coming after becoming Santaless, and all the wonders of life became accessible when I became Godless. 🙂

  • Linda_LaScola

    Ah, “dismissal” is another telling word choice. I’d think of it of his “acknowledgement” that there are some aspects of his experience with Christianity that he thought fondly of.

    I can relate – I love the chanting, the incense and so much of the really good Christian music (e.g., Bach, Vivaldi, Brahms, Verdi, Mozart, Faure– I could go on.)

  • ElizabetB.

    Then there’s also the philosophical theologian Mark mentions sometimes — Gordon Kaufman — who thinks “God” is a useful symbol for ultimate meaning. Kaufman started out in science, tried sociology & philosophy, but to study the meaning of words and the way everything fits together had to do that in divinity school. Where he was at life’s end in 2011, was thinking that “God” is a symbol for the creativity we observe. He said he just didn’t have the aptitude for “religious” experience, e.g. mysticism, but he wanted to become a minister in the Mennonite tradition he grew up in and be part of thinking through our relationships in the universe as part of this evolving activity. I’m still reading him by fits and starts so will know more later : )

  • Linda_LaScola

    That’s a positive way of looking at it and not one that is universally shared.

    There are people who are really looking forward to joining their loved ones in heaven. There are others who endure the trials of this life “knowing” that a better life awaits them

  • Good to have you in the conversation here, Mark. With your teaching I’m guessing you’re not much for evangelism yourself.

  • You make reasonable sense, Mark. There can be great value in holding to some of those community connections.

  • mason lane

    There’s no denying that human primates love myths, these irrational beliefs come with real costs though. Believing without evidence translates into other areas of life. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c5b71bba339d3eb2253678f6e123ef0a34f4926336653051ebe5f4796e553424.png

  • Andy

    I’m inclined to agree with others here that Chris reflects his pastoral position, and the need to be viewed as more ‘gregarious’. It reminds me of the Anglican cleric, and great New Testament scholar, Michael Goulder, who, upon becoming atheist, wanted to be known as a ‘non-aggressive atheist’ (as recorded in one of Bishop Shelby Spong’s books, Why Christianity Must Change or Die) I must admit that I have the same tendency in my work as an atheist pastor. I certainly don’t want my church to suffer because I turn people off, which translates into fiscal insolvency, which in turn translates into the loss of all the work of social justice my congregation does. That is why I don’t profess atheism. There’s plenty of other things to talk about–especially violence and injustice against others, as well as the capitalist rape of our environment. Those are the kinds of topics I pursue.

    On the other hand, I become quite edgy in the pulpit when I denounce Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals. I want to be an ‘agitational’ force against those who wish to make our country a theocracy. (Alas, even my liberal colleagues like to quote chapter and verse as a way of supporting legislation, even though religious texts, in my view, are totally irrelevant to our common, civil life.) In that sense, I justify what seems like ‘venom’ coming from aggressive atheists. We’re not on equal footing here, as if to say, ‘let’s all get in a circle, and share our viewpoints objectively.’ Everybody’s viewpoint is valid and welcome. Most Christians that I have known are unwilling to be teachable. Positions are entrenched; the final word has been spoken in the Bible, which must be legislated by elected officials. In other words, so many theists are not neutral and objective. Their views are DANGEROUS in the hands of legislators, presidents and justices who gleefully endorse and codify Christian prejudices. Accordingly, we need aggressive folk to be the resistance–regardless if they succeed in ‘converting’ anyone else. That doesn’t matter. (Think here of the resistance to Hitler within the Wehrmacht, and especially Valkyrie).

  • Appreciate the comment, Andy. I think what we’re clarifying in this “discussion” is that context matters. Interesting that you actually have a church. I’m not allergic to congregations myself and often visit a variety of them (sometimes interviewing the clergy). Those involved in social justice and compassionate works often welcome assistance from non-members and even non-believers. I have little time for the theocrats and religious privilege folks, though I’m a member of Americans United and address those issues with a vote, contacting representatives and some writings.

    Interesting that you say “most Christians” you know are unwilling to be teachable. There again, context matters. I’ve had the opposite experience, though I know plenty who, like many atheists, are not at all interested in respectful conversation.

    Those of us who have a role as teachers also stand up and speak in the face of those prejudices and dangerous legislation. All I’m advocating is doing that in a manner that people (who have ears and active minds) can hear–when there seems a potential for learning. I certainly agree there are times when “aggressive resistance” is called for. Yet most of what I hear from the loud “aa”s has little positive, constructive value other than to make a pointed point without a care for the other person as a person.


  • Andy

    In my experience, based on conversations and friendships, I think atheists in our country have the same problem the LGBTQ community has. Because the issues of religion and sexuality have been laden with vitriol, typically from traditionalists, I understand why spokespersons from these two groups come off as too aggressive. Nevertheless, in the fight for rights and recognition, neither of which is forthcoming for these two groups, sometimes it is necessary to push. Rights are not granted by the majority; rights have to be won by force. Theists and straight Christians so often don’t realize what it is like living as a minority. Their silence is taken as complicity. Hence the push-back, the desire to waken from slumber.

    In any case, I enjoyed your blog, and think I understand your points. One doesn’t have to be a total a** about things in times of disagreements.

  • Good points you make. Thanks. I will just say that the struggle for rights for any community can lead to legislation (Civil Rights Act, etc) which comes about through (hopefully) non-violent demonstration, organization and votes. If that’s the “force” you mean, I’m with you. Name-calling across divides probably won’t enact the necessary laws, though I understand the frustration.

  • Nick Kavanagh

    Perhaps if christians didn’t force their religion into our laws I wouldn’t be angry. Do unto others indeed, and christians strive to remove the rights of others everyday.

  • Robert Limb

    The late Jeremy Hardy – an atheist – once said that Dawkins wasn’t an atheist. “He’s a Jehovah’s ‘I never saw nothing’ “, he said. Well, it made me laugh, anyway.

    Another, British humorist, Marcus Brigstocke, writes about Dawkins insufferable smugness in his book “The God Collar” – a book which is as good as its title, btw.

    Neither of these men is a believer, but for the record, I am a Christian.

  • Humor is good. Laughing at ourselves even better.

  • I agree that there are many who want to create a theocracy and they should be challenged firmly and fought in the courts, which they are. And, I think it’s good to keep in mind that large numbers of Christians, Jews and others, often with loud Baptist voices, stand for rights and the wall of separation (historically Baptists are vocal champions of separation of church and state). Note the religious/nonreligious mix represented in Americans United.

  • Robert LIMB

    Fair comment, but if intended as a criticism, both men define themselves as atheist, so I don’t see their comments as poking fun at others.

  • Geoff Benson

    I don’t think Dawkins is smug, it’s that he’s direct in his manner, bearing in mind that primarily his expertise lies in science. As more people come to realise there is no god so his approach seems already to be less acerbic.

  • “Like so many in the religious community, many non-religious seem to be caught in the same loop of talking to themselves.”

    And many seem to be caught in the straw man of thinking that condemnation of religion is the same thing as talking to oneself. As I keep saying, some folks don’t respond to gentle persuasion. Some folks need their harmful beliefs rhetorically beaten out of them. In my many jobs over the years, from bartender to manager and more, I have seen many instances where I had to get people to get over issues which were causing problems. Some folks do respond to gentle methods, but some folks need to be told in no uncertain terms that they’re messing up. The idea that there’s one right way to persuade people is complete nonsense, and those who refuse to use all the tools at their disposal are setting themselves up for failure.

  • Mike Panic

    Having read Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and others, I enjoy Dawkin immensel;y. Hitchens is better in podcasts for me. Watching Hitchens is like watching a living encyclopedia.

    I pre-ordered “The Four Horseman” from Amazon. Looking forward to this one.

  • Mike Panic

    You know this because Mommy and Daddy told you to listen to the scam artist in the pulpit? Until I see actual; incontrovertible proof, your entire religion is only a scam, taking your money.

  • “When losing religion…”

    It’s good to be mindful of phraseology in contexts like this. Back to that in a second…

    First, I hasten to point out that we are ALL born atheists, and most of us have innate power to reason coded into our DNA. IF we are indoctrinated with god-belief(s)–which almost always occurs at a tender, impressionable age–then that is overlaid onto / infused into our psyche; that is, it’s an overlay onto our natural reasoning ability (some might say “corruption of”).

    My parents did NOT indoctrinate me with religion; by the time I was born, they had both shucked their religious beliefs. True, I haven’t had the experience of “losing religion,” but I don’t feel any sense of loss. Indeed, except for a number of bigoted behaviors directed at me by Christionists-on-a-mission, I feel lucky to have been free of doctrine belief burdens, and free to apply innate, natural reasoning, compassion and curiosity-driven exploration without restrictions–one might say “unbounded by the shackles of religion.”

    Back to phraseology:

    Rather than saying someone has “lost their religion” or “lost their faith”, I say that they have “*found* reason”, or perhaps even better, “rediscovered reason” (on the latter, again since we are all started life off as atheists). And on that word “faith”, that’s another word that religion-subcribers have almost completely co-opted. I like to point out that non-religious people generally DO have faith; the difference is that we place ALL of ours in worthy fellow human beings, with none to spare for god-beliefs!

    I share a similar view to mason lane , it would seem. That stems in part from my lifelong interest in astrophysics, where I learned that we are all “star dust.” The ways that forms, matter gets rearranged and transformed–coupled with the improbability that any particular one of us even exists today–is as mind-boggling as it is fascinating! This gives me an extreme appreciation for life, for the time each of us has on Earth, including how we treat each other (…which should be, in case there is any doubt, as good as possible).

    This reminds me of “the golden rule”, which I heard on the radio referenced again just a few days ago. Contrary to what the utterer suggested, neither the bible nor religion is necessary to be good. As a lifelong freethinker, I’d posit better than golden rule is “Do no harm, and be as good to yourself, others, and planet as possible!”

    To wrap up here, I didn’t “lose eternal life”; since the big bang, at least, we’ve had a continuous reshuffling of space-time and matter, which among other things results in “circles of life” that last for billions of years. And it looks like that may continue on Earth and we guess likely other places for billions of years.

    I’d re-phrase what you said this way:

    “When rediscovering reason, one loses eternal life beliefs, but consequently, gains access to additional paths for discovery (of nature / reality).”

    I used the qualifier “beliefs” in that context, since we can ALL agree that religion-subscribers hold beliefs, but not all agree that religion-subscribers ever really had a particular, religion-based promised eternal life to lose in the first place.

  • al kimeea

    Especially murder & abuse justified by quoting verses from the Buybull to which you refer. If society considered The Great Celestial Bully to be on par with Odin, some of these crimes would have no justification other than one’s own cruelty. People wouldn’t be raised to believe in demons or the healing power of prayer or that the BuyBull has all of life’s answers – as I was told.

    Your list is a very tiny subset of the physical & psychological harms religious faith perpetrates globally. As you said, for nothing.

    You’d think science based medicine would be an easy sell, but no. There are “other ways of knowing” equally effective or better.

    Not long ago in Ontario, Indigenous parents killed their daughter, 11, when they chose “traditional medicine” over “untrue science” with a 85% or better rate of success. They had the blessing of the courts as did another family who went the same route, but were lucky enough to witness the easily preventable death of the 1st girl and get back on a true treatment when the inevitable relapse occurred.

    The dead girl’s parents are evangelical xians & Jebus came to her in a dream to tell her she’d be cured…

  • Lot’s of food for thought here!

    I’ll preface by conveying that, unlike most AFAH people I’ve met (I mean to be affirming and maximally inclusive with AFAH: atheists, freethinkers,
    agnostics and humanists), I’m a lifelong freethinker; that is, I was never indoctrinated with any religion, and so didn’t have to deconvert from a religion back to atheism (and I mean “back” since we are ALL born atheists and remain atheists for at least first tender years—at least until we have the cognitive capacity to understand what a “god” might be).

    I’ve always been a live-and-let-live kind of guy. And so my nature is by default “non-evangelical” when it came to discussing beliefs systems (just to be
    clear, I AM an atheist, but like the feel of “freethinker” as a personal label of choice for a couple of reasons).

    That said, I have been on the receiving end of Christianist-based bigotry MANY times in my life—both on a personal level and on institutional levels–and
    that HAS made me UPSET, and yes, even ANGRY at times. It is within reason that atheists might become “angrified” by virtue of being targeted again and again by religious people who have misconceptions and erroneous beliefs about them. Poll after poll has shown that atheists have been labeled the least trusted group of citizens in America for decades.

    While the author has a good point that “aa”s (“angry atheists”) do get more media attention, there are plenty of other factors that contribute to negative attitudes; in particular preachers who preach that atheists are bad people. Just channel-flipping one day, I stumbled upon John Hagee (televangelist), who told his congregation this:

    “If it ain’t faith, it IS sin.” (… in other words, people who don’t believe in God are evil.)

    Those words were not only uttered by Hagee; they were emblazoned across the TV screen for a while to ensure they would sink in with viewers / followers. With this kind of hate doctrine directed at AFAH people, is it any wonder that AFAH people are going to be second-classed, and yes, might even get angry?

    There is a second set of reasons for AFAH people to be angry with religion(s): Buying into fantasy belief systems causes them to do hurtful things as well
    as ignore important realities. The hurtful things can be as “small” as denying AFAH people from sharing secular invocations at City meetings or denying services to same-sex couples, denying women health care services, or as severe as murder such as we’ve seen in killings of abortion providers / bombing of womens clinics, and jihadist / terrorist-based actions. And denying climate change—which occurs because science doesn’t mesh well with religious
    doctrine–threatens to kill us all.

    So there are some identifiable reasons for “aa”s–and an argument to be made for “evangelical atheism.”

    To wrap up this train of thought, I am STILL a live-and-let-live kind of person, BUT I do counterattack bigotry and ignorance when I see it, and much of
    the bigotry and ignorance I see is either based on, or justified by (or both) religion.

    Finally, I’ll address the phraseology aspects of a few items I noticed in the article:

    “Are they only interested in sinking ships rather than suggesting alternate courses?”

    It’s an interesting question. There is a point to be made for tact and diplomacy. On the other hand, some might be more responsive by being “shaken” into some critical thinking. Also, “sinking ships” really means disavowing people of fantasy beliefs they hold. How bad is it to peel off layers of fantasy to reveal reality? (At the end of the day, I’m in favor of whatever techniques work best to re-direct people to reason and mutual respect for fellow human beings.)

    “Some say they aren’t attacking believers, only religious beliefs. ”

    That is why I use the word “antitheismist” instead of “antitheist.” In general, people like Dawkins and Harris are NOT against people, but they ARE against doctrines they see as harmful to humanity (and planet).

    “Like many who have left faith…”

    That could be phrased as “Like many who have rediscovered reason…” I like to point out that AFAH people DO have faith, but they place all of theirs in fellow human beings; none go to god-beliefs.

  • Thanks for the thoughtful response, Jaime.

    You make some good points, and I’m with some of your critique here– it makes sense based on your experiences. I too get angry with the bigoted bible-bomb throwers who are angrily anti-secular, anti-any religion other than theirs, who irrationally seek theocracy by attacking reason and human rights. In my view, we should join hands with all freethinkers–with or without faith– to counter those living, as you say, in a fantasy world.

    And. . .I look around at what I think are the majority of believers who stand alongside us to push back with a more inclusive message (we’re not going to agree on every aspect of that inclusion, but we need to engage the conversation–otherwise progress isn’t possible). You’re right that a huge amount of the bigotry and ignorance we encounter is fueled by ignorant people including the religious. Yet, that reflects only part of the world of faith.

    In over thirty years of ministry and now humanist work, the vast majority of people of faith (not only among Christians) that I’ve known and heard of are reasonable people who may be uncomfortable sometimes around people like us, but support the right to believe or not believe what we choose. Yes, some may have “sacred fantasies” or “secular fantasies” (such as the fantasy of monolithic religion or a world without religion) and we could spend time arguing theological nonsense, or choose another way, which is my point and my path.

    So, as I try to make clear in the full article, I see much more value in building relationships with anyone (of any faith or no faith) willing to address what we need done in a shared world, than incessantly fighting with the angriest factions of fundamentalism.

    Thanks and be well.