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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Shallow, smug, arrogant; pot, kettle, black

Sometimes you have to answer back

The anti-atheist diatribe recently published by Suzanne Fields in The Washington Times is of such poor quality that it scarcely merits a response. Unfortunately, I can't allow every such meretricious piece to go unrebutted: there are so many of them that there's a significant cumulative impact if we let too many through without comment. At least now and then, it's worth taking the time to pick apart such a piece in some detail, if only to demonstrate just how intellectually empty it is.

Since Fields has mentioned my (and Udo Schuklenk's) edited anthology, 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists, her article has been drawn to my attention, so she gets to be my target this time round. Fields' article is not merely intellectually empty, though it certainly is that: again and again it demonstrates the very arrogance that she accuses her opponents of.

Fields' article is bereft of even one worthwhile point, though it does offer up a few useless, platitudinous truths. Unfortunately, there's obviously a market for such pieces as long as they attack an easily-demonised group such as outspoken atheists.

The sub-editor strikes, and strikes again!

Let's start with the article's title: "The new dance on a pinhead." I'm going to give Fields a pass with this one. While it's a poor choice of title, having little to do with the article itself, it was probably the creation of a sub-editor. It implies that Fields is about to discuss a group of people who fundamentally agree with each other but waste their time in bizarre and arcane debates, remote from the issues that really matter. Nothing in the article actually accuses anyone of doing that, exactly, or argues that any such debate is currently going on. So the title is completely inappropriate, but I'll blame that on the sub-editor.

In all this, we can leave aside the fact that the medieval thought experiments about how many angels can dance on a pinhead (an actual infinity of angels or merely however large a number God wants?) were meant to illustrate matters of deep philosophical significance. The sub-editor is not alert to this, but not many people are. It's worth noting, but not worth getting fussed about.

What about the sub-heading? This says: "Arguments for atheism are the best endorsements for faith." Well, the article goes nowhere near establishing such a thing or even saying anything at all cogent that could be interpreted that way. It's a misleading sub-heading, but again I blame the sub-editor rather than Fields herself.

First para: what is Fields talking about?

But we must blame Fields for the first paragraph. This is so all-of-over the place that it's difficult even to see what she is getting at. You look at each of the sentences in the para and they simply don't follow from each other in a logical sequence. This is poor writing.

Somewhere there, however, she seems to be saying that atheism has become a fashionable topic in political circles or perhaps simply in the city, Washington, D.C., where the article is being published. Either way, that is doubtful - how many Washington dinner parties, I wonder, really turn to discussions of Richard Dawkins and the "New Atheism". In any event, Fields tells us that this fashion has appeared on the scene because of efforts by atheist intellectuals who are interested in taking on the long-dead medieval monks who engaged in esoteric theological debates.

But that is just wrong. Sure, some atheists may make fun of medieval monks - even in some of the essays in 50 Voices of Disbelief you'll probably find some of this. But it's wildly misleading to suggest that contemporary outspoken atheism is about taking on obscurantist theologians, past or present. If anything, it is about taking on creationists, violent fanatics (more of this later), and narrow-minded moralists and evangelists whose notion of "sin" includes such things as abortion, stem-cell research, and homosexual conduct. By and large, outspoken atheists are interested in reducing the social footprint of religion, and especially a certain kind of conservative, politicised religion. Some outspoken atheists think that even liberal religion is playing a negative role, but others are happy to ally with genuinely liberal religious people. And there's quite a spectrum of atheist opinion on this. None of us are greatly concerned about medieval monks. We have fresher fish to fry.

The Bible outsells Richard Dawkins. So?

So far, as of the end of the first para, Fields has not said anything that has any merit. What about the second para? This actually says something true: the Bible massively outsells books like 50 Voices of Disbelief or even Dawkins' The God Delusion. Of course, no one on my side of the argument has ever disputed this, and nothing interesting is made of this well-known fact, at least not in paragraph two. So I'll give the benefit to Fields of having stated something that is true but so obvious as to have no intellectual merit in itself. Will she build on this platitude in her third paragraph? Let's investigate ...

Conformity and Lucretius

Alas, no. The third paragraph changes the subject completely and sneers at atheists for imagining they are non-conformists even though atheism has (supposedly) been around for a long time. Fields quotes some anti-religious words from Lucretius, the great Epicurean poet and philosopher of ancient Rome, to make her point. But paragraph three is wrong at so many levels thats it's hard to know where to start in dismantling it. Note, fellow atheists, that it's an attack on our character, not our arguments. We think of ourselves as non-conformists, Fields says, "but" we can't be because there is a long history of disbelief going back to Lucretius. So instead of addressing our arguments against religions of various kinds, Fields sees fit to attack us as people: as people who falsely imagine we are non-conformists, as people who fool ourselves. But that's hardly playing fair. That's an unfair, arrogant, sneering style of debate.

So much for issues of tone, but what of substance? I think there's merit in discussing the tone of the article, especially as she makes so much of it herself, but might she have something of substance to say, visible through all the sneering? No.

The trouble is that even if we were motivated by a sense of ourselves as non-conformists - which might show some element of vanity, I suppose - her argument that we actually are not what we imagine ourselves to be clearly fails. Even if atheism had a long history, it would not follow that it is currently popular. Conformity is about going along with the majority view that you see around you, not about going along with a view that happens to have a long historical pedigree. So even if Lucretius had been an atheist, this would not make the required point. It would show that there were atheists in classical antiquity, but it would not show that atheism is (or ever has been) popular. The article is not only poorly written; it's poorly argued. It's flagrantly illogical.

The fact is that atheism is a minority view right now in the English-speaking countries, taken overall, and especially in the United States where Fields' article is published. Probably even in Washington. So what the hell is she talking about? Let's be clear about this before moving on: even if Lucretius had been an atheist, it would prove nothing of any relevance - it would remain the fact that atheism really is a minority, or non-conforming, view in the US, where Fields has her primary audience.

And if it comes to that, Lucretius was probably not even an atheist! He was anti-religious, but that is not the same thing. If we take their writings at face value, the Epicureans did actually believe in the gods, who were portrayed as powerful, tranquil beings with no care for humanity. Again, even if the Epicureans such as Lucretrius can be interpreted as "really" atheists, merely giving some kind of lip-service to the existence of the gods for the sake of propriety, that is very much a matter of textual and historical exegesis, not something plain on the face of the Epicurean writings from which Fields quotes.

Note that the point made by Fields back in para 2 actually goes against her here: sales of the Bible dwarf sales of De Rerum Natura or any other Epicurean text, or any other text in the broadly Epicurean tradition.

So to take stock, Field managed to say something true in the second paragraph, but has then done nothing useful with it. By the end of paragraph three, the article is still intellectually empty. It's also showing an early touch of arrogance.

Those awful atheist intellectuals

I turn to paragraph four. Again note the sneering tone: Fields starts to say something about "atheist intellectuals" but can't resist adding "and those who only imagine they're intellectuals"; again, isn't Fields supposed to be on the side of the nice people? But again, this is nastyness we're seeing from her, this is arrogance, this contributes nothing to the debate. Notice that I'm not alleging that she has been arrogant somewhere else: her arrogance is right damn well there, plain on the face of the text.

And before anyone tells me that someone else has said worse while sounding off on a blog, let me remind you that this is not a blog post that we're looking at: it's an op.ed. piece in a reputable newspaper. It should aspire to a certain dignity. Apparently Fields thinks it's okay to write like this about your opponents in such a place. This is not charity, my friends. This is not fairness. It's mean-spirited. It's poisoning the well.

Is there anything of substance in the fourth paragraph? Some of it is about atheists mocking believers. Well, do they? I suppose some do. On the other hand, most of us are actually quite careful not to engage in empty mockery. Most of the mockery you'll see from atheists has a point. It's legitimate, for example, to highlight how a particular idea leads to absurdity or to show that a particular claim is ridiculous on its face. Mockery and ridicule have their place in our cultural and intellectual debates, and if Fields wanted to mock some particular statement by an atheist that was clearly ridiculous I couldn't complain. However that's exactly what she doesn't do - she never provides a single example of anything like that. I dare say there are examples Out There, but Fields doesn't provide them: she simply sneers at what atheists are supposedly like, as described by her.

Where atheists do the same to Christians, I'm not especially impressed, but it's important to point out that is not the typical approach in books by Dawkins, Dennett, and other high-profile atheists, or in the essays in 50 Voices of Disbelief. You wouldn't know it, reading Fields, but that is simply not what the high-profile "New Atheist" books are like. Fields attacks atheists for doing what she does herself - thereby providing us with examples of her own resort to empty, nasty mockery - but she never provides an example of her opponents doing such a thing. Again, I'm not saying it never happens, but it's astonishing to see how this plays out in the article.

Religious people do good things (well, some of them do)

The rest of paragraph four is, again, all over the place. Fields says that some religious people do good things. But hang on a minute: it doesn't follow either that religion is true or that religion brings about good results on balance. Plenty of evil has been inspired by religion. And yes, I know that plenty of evil has been inspired by other things, such as greed, desperation, political ideology, but that's not the point. No one says that religion is the source of all evil in the world. What we do say is that it's not beyond criticism and satire. Nothing in paragraph four amounts even to the beginning of a case against that proposition. Alas, some religious believers really are rubes, rascals, or rednecks, and it's worth pointing this out. Think of creationists, the surfeit of rascally televangelists, and the very large number of unpleasant homophobes who can be found in Fields' country. No amount of out-of-context quotation from Milton or Shakespeare can detract from the truth about that.

The bottom line is that some religionist deserve all the mockery they get - I'm happy to mock the likes of Jimmy Swaggart or Ted Haggard - and some do not (you'll never see me mocking Shelby Spong, for example). Many religious ideas, such as contrived theodicies also deserve mockery. Some religious ideas may not. The fact that some religious people perform good works is neither here nor there. Oh, and some individual atheists may deserve mockery, or the kind of sneering that Fields indulges in, but Fields gives no examples, let alone any convincing ones. She evidently feels that she can just sneer away regardless of the evidence.

Shallow, smug, arrogant

After all this, it's remarkable that she claims to find nothing but "smug, shallow and arrogant assertions" in all the atheist books she's read. This is, of course, nonsense. If she's read, for example, Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell, she'll know that it's actually full of facts and careful arguments. As for the essays in 50 Voices of Disbelief, since she mentions it, some are light and humorous, but I can't think of any that can fairly be described as containing nothing but "smug, shallow and arrogant assertions". I suggest strongly that Fields is factually wrong here, and that she writes absolutely nothing to back up her implausible generalisation about atheist writing. It also hasn't escaped me that the claim is itself smug, shallow, and rather arrogant. Fields seeks to smear and belittle her opponents, rather than to engage them.

She does go on, in paragraph five, to quote some smug, shallow, arrogant, breathtakingly condescending assertions from David B. Hart, but she does nothing to support them. She simply repeats them and, in effect, adopts them as her own. Even if you think Hart did a good hatchet job in the piece concerned, and had something in the way of an argument to support his extraordinary claims - I can't agree, but we'll set that aside - Fields offers precisely nothing in support. There's nothing of any intellectual value in paragraph five, and as I reach the end of this paragraph, arguably the key paragraph in the whole article, I can only wonder why such an empty piece was published. Well, let's go on.

"Atheists believe in nothing"

Actually, not quite yet. Paragraph five also contains one breathtaking claim, stuck gratuitously in the middle of nowhere. Fields writes: "Atheists by definition believe in nothing, and anyone would find it hard to make something of nothing." That is a nice smug bit of rhetoric, but what in the world does it actually mean? It is simply not the case that atheists "believe in nothing". We don't believe that any of the gods identified in human religions actually exist, but so what? If believing in nothing is meant to mean that atheists have no beliefs at all, that is just false. Like everyone else, any atheist comes with plenty of beliefs. For example, I believe that this planet is approximately 4.5 billion years old, that my species is descended from apelike creatures through a path of biological evolution, that I am currently sitting at my desk in front of my computer, that there will be a general election in Australia on 21 August 2010, that the pantry in my kitchen contains walnuts, and many, many other things. Of course atheists have beliefs. How else could it be?

But aha! Might it be said that we don't believe in anything, perhaps in the sense that we have no ideals or values? But that's also ludicrous. Obviously I am as well-stocked with ideals and values as anyone else. My values include such things as freedom and amelioration of suffering - and many other things that sound less high-falutin'. How dare Fields say we have no ideals or values, if that's what she means? That would be a false and extraordinarily arrogant claim.

But might she mean that our ideals and values are not entailed by our bare lack of belief in the existence of any gods? Now that claim might be true, but so what? No one has ever claimed that atheism itself, taken as a bare lack of belief in any gods, provides a complete philosophy. Neither, of course, does the bare belief in the existence of, say, Yahweh, or Zeus, or Astarte, or Vishnu, or Ra, or Sif, or any other deity. All of these beliefs are tied up in far more complex belief systems.

Atheists, of course, also have more complex belief systems, sometimes good ones that appear to contain much truth and to provide much that is socially beneficial - and sometimes not. The issue is not whether bare lack of belief in the existence of gods is sufficient for a full belief system - clearly it isn't. The real questions are about which belief systems are likely to be close to the truth, which systems might be socially beneficial, whether theism as we've known it historically, in the Abrahamic religions, is likely to be true, whether or not it has been beneficial, whether it is beneficial right now, and so on. All of these questions are worth debate, and atheists are as well-equipped to debate them as theists. You can't argue that atheists' contributions to such debates are worthless merely by sneering knowingly that "Atheists believe in nothing." Again, Fields' approach is not charitable, fair, intellectually reputable, or even civil.

Hitchens and Hitchens

All right, paragraph six at last. Here, Fields outdoes herself. She stoops to an even more despicable level, trying to make a point from Christopher Hitchens' current very serious illness - he is suffering from throat cancer that is likely to kill him. Once again, she doesn't seem to care much about the truth of what she's discussing. It's true, of course, that Hitchens has cancer, but not true at all that he's softened on religion as a result: see this interview, for example, and Jerry Coyne's transcription of some of it. And if that's not her point, what, exactly, is her point?

This brings me close to the end, where Fields has a bit to say about Peter Hitchens. I openly admit that I haven't read the book by Peter Hitchens that she refers to, so I'm prepared to assume that the factual claims she makes about it are true. But she offers nothing independent to support the banal and dubious points that Peter Hitchens apparently makes. The first is that there was something wrong with the social revolution of the 1960s. Secondly, Hitchens apparently thinks that outspoken atheists are hypocritical in being hard on Christianity and soft on Islam. Thirdly, we are told that "The concepts of sin, of conscience, of eternal life and divine justice under an unalterable law" are bulwarks against relativism and consequentialism, which produce great evil.

Note that Fields herself puts no argument whatsoever for any of these three controversial claims. She makes these claims as if they are self-evident and/or the authority of Peter Hitchens is enough. Well, Hitchens may put arguments for them, but no such argument appears in Fields' article - coming from her, these three claims are merely asserted in a rather smug, arrogant, shallow manner. But the claims are far from being self-evident, and the onus is on her to put evidence and argument as to why we should think any of them are true. She offers ... nothing.

In fact, though I don't accept any onus and can't put the full argument here, all three claims lack merit. The social revolution of the sixties had been building for decades, was long overdue, and was, on balance, beneficial. It doubtless caused problems, as all large-scale social change does, but it gave us new freedoms and ushered in a more compassionate society. By and large, we are now more tolerant of diversity than we were prior to the 1960s and we're less tolerant of suffering. None of us should want to go back to what existed before. The 1960s provided an important and largely valuable watershed in history.

The point made about Islam is uncharitable, largely false and entirely unfair. Of course those Western atheists who think religion should be criticised are likely to concentrate on the religion that exerts the most social influence around them and which they understand best, i.e. Christianity. There is nothing surprising or sinister about this. It doesn't show hypocrisy and or a double standard, merely a sense of local priorities and a rational division of labour. For exactly the same reason, it is perfectly understandable, and there's nothing sinister about it, when Turkish atheists concentrate more on Islam. In any event, as Islam gains in influence in the West more actually is being written about it by Western atheists. The violent fanaticism associated with various strains of political Islam constantly comes under attack from Western atheists (among others). There are numerous examples of this every day, e.g. over at Butterflies and Wheels, and again that is a natural step.

Fields doesn't even try to define what she means by relativism - this is an important and difficult issue in meta-ethics, but she shows no sign of even the slightest understanding. If she means the cruder kinds of moral relativism that say, for example, "Female genital mutilation is acceptable if it's practised in a culture where it's accepted", then fine. I don't approve of that kind of vulgar moral relativism. But there are far more sophisticated relativist theories than that.

Besides, when "relativism" is referred to in this way it is usually code for a utilitarian morality, or for something similar that measures the morality of conduct by its consequences, rather than against inflexible moral rules handed down over time. By and large, the acceptance of consequentialist moral ideas has been beneficial. I'm not suggesting that utilitarianism, or any other consequentialist system, provides the last word in normative ethics, but I do suggest that it's a step forward to stop asking, "Will action X breach a moral rule that we've inherited" and to start asking such things as "Will action X cause suffering?" "Might action X even ameliorate suffering to some extent?" Whatever the faults of current Western society, we have advanced insofar as we actually care about the suffering in the world rather than about archaic concepts such as "sin" or an immutable, supposedly God-given moral law.


I apologise if I've wasted your time by writing such a long blog post on such an undeserving topic. However, as I said at the beginning, sometimes it's necessary to respond at length in order to show in detail just how bad some of these anti-atheist articles are.

The piece by Fields is badly written and poorly argued; it is as smug, shallow, and arrogant as anything ever written by any so-called "New Atheist" known to humankind. All in all this piece is a worthless contribution to current debates about God and religion. I'd like to ignore it, but we do have to grapple with these sorts of pieces from time to time.


Greg Egan said...

Great rebuttal, Russell!

From the article:

"Religious men and women - descendants of those who endowed our great universities and medical centers - have throughout history shown great acts of courage and sacrifice, like the medical missionaries slain in Afghanistan. But atheists are unwilling to celebrate the belief behind such generosity and goodness."

And all the people without religion who have died trying to help in war zones and disaster areas, all the good and generous people who've worked for Médecins Sans Frontière and UN agencies (and the many atheists, no doubt, who've worked for religious charitable groups) ... well, forget about them, they believed in nothing, so their courage and sacrifice count for nothing.

Atheists are right to be "unwilling to celebrate the belief behind such generosity and goodness" and to celebrate, instead, the generosity and goodness itself -- because religious beliefs are clearly not a sufficient condition for any personal qualities worth celebrating.

Gordon Campbell said...

What a dreadful, stupid, mean-spirited woman. I think this bizarre statement best shows the power and quality of her mind:

'"With all this continual prayer," he asks with the air of an adolescent, "Why no result? But since he has been diagnosed with cancer, he seems to appreciate not only his physicians but the "astonishing number of prayer groups" working on his behalf."'

Dreadful and mean-spirited in making this lie, and stupid in imagining she won't be called on it. And lie it is. She's deliberately hiding behind the ambiguity of the weasel word "appreciate", but she's clearly trying to create the impression that Hitchens thinks that prayer will help him. What a despicable fib. She is dishonest. A liar. A mine of disinformation.

Robert Simpson said...


I admire your patience in taking the time to wade through this tripe and call bullshit.

Greywizard said...

What an astonishingly poorly written article. I suppose one mustn't expect much from the Moonie Times, but still, even for this poor excuse for a newspaper it's badly written. In fact, it reads very much like an undergraduate essay, and deserves about a D-, I think. So, it's easy pickings, though you do give it a thorough drubbing.

The interesting thing is that practically every writer who writes articles or books opposing gnu atheism takes on the same all-knowing, wearily arrogant tone, that they attribute to the gnu atheists themselves. David Bentley Hart is an egregious example of the genre. Instead of argument his main tool is a kind of droll ridicule, which he clearly takes to be very smart. (Since I bought his book as a kind of penance, and find it impossible to get through, I've had a fair dose of it.) It's the kind of thing that adolescents do when they realise they have the gift of the witty put-down. I used it a lot when I was first at university, but I grew out of it. I think it's what you resort to when you think you're smarter than your elders but can't really think of anything to say.

udo schuklenk said...

Nice piece Russell, just one correction perhaps: The Washington Times is not a reputable newspaper by any stretch of the imagination! Udo

DEEN said...

With respect to "medieval monks", Fields is blaming the wrong people for their popularity in discussion. She clearly has no idea how many Christian apologetics still cite people like Aquinas and Anselm as authorities in defense of their beliefs. If it weren't for them, most atheists wouldn't bother with medieval monks at all.

Marjory said...

In saying that about Hitchens she actually does what a lot of these religious people do - she becomes actual evil. There is incredible potential for malevolence in blind faith, because you never have to work out your own morality, just get spoon fed nonsense and then use it as an excuse. It's like accepting the blind faith of monarchy as your government without taking responsibility for yourself. Pathetic. The dark ages of Pope and Prince.

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece, Russell.

Anonymous said...

Too long and too gentle Russell. The bitch deserves a very hard slap.

The British doctor murdered by the Taliban (Dr Karen Woo) was a humanist.

"Her motivation was purely humanitarian. She was a Humanist and had no religious or political agenda."



Grania said...

Great rebuttal, Russell, and very patient of you to wade through such a pointless article in the first place.

There's a minor typo in the paragraph headed Shallow, smug & arrogant:

"Fields seeks to smeer ..." should be smear.

Russell Blackford said...

Correction noted, Udo. Not that it excuses her. :)

Russell Blackford said...

Oops, I usually do know how to spell that word. A correction made.

K said...

You criticize her for arrogance, but your writing is as arrogant. I think Fields's article was terrible, but you should be less of, well, an ass in your rebuttals. You and the other "New Atheists" are the only faces that the atheist and agnostic communities have right now (if we can call them communities), and you're giving us all a very smug face.

Tezcatlipoca said...

Tut, tut, Russell,

by merely deconstructing this piece you've obviously joined the "strident and shrill" club! ;)

Andreas B said...

You are guilty of the exact same thing as Russell claims Fields to be. You say Russell's writing is arrogant but without providing any evidence to back up this claim. Russell simply takes apart Fields' arguments meticulously bit by bit. I cannot understand how that is arrogant. Or is the problem that he points out several times that her text has no intellectual merit, that it is smug, arrogant and unfair? That is simply a fair description of her writing style which lacks all attempts to put forward any evidence. Russell explains very well why her text deserves this treatment. And finally, if you have a problem with Russell's tone, which I assume is the problem since you call him "an ass", I can assure you it is nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to criticism. Adults have to be able to take a well worded beating and so does Fields. All around the world people are criticized sharply without anyone raising an eyebrow. That's what should happen in the free marketplace of ideas. Usually religious people are the first to claim their feelings have been hurt, because they are unable to come up with real arguments. But they should also be capable of taking criticism just as the rest of us. I definitely do not think Russell at any point over stepped the line of civil wording. But I might be willing to change my opinion if you provide us some examples of Russell being arrogant.

Ophelia Benson said...

Great piece, Russell. About Udo's point that the Washington Times ain't reputable...that's true but the situation is confused by the fact that some intelligent people write for it. It has a kind of pseudo-reputability derived from that fact. It's insidious, in short.

Lance Bush said...

The fifth line under the second section says this:

"[...] remote from the issues that real matter."

This looks to be a typo. Should it "the issues that real*ly* matter"?

Brian said...

Nice work Russell.

Lol Mahmood said...

Hi all,

Anyone notice the text under the picture next to the original article? "Comedy writer Ariane Sherine promotes an atheist campaign that is intended to reach a majority of the British population over the next three weeks. (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)"

Wasn't the bus campaign about 18 months ago? Is there another one due, or is this just another bit of sloppiness on the part of the paper?

J. J. Ramsey said...

I'm obviously none too fond of so-called "Gnu Atheists," but I knew she was in trouble when she wrote, "Atheists think of themselves as ..." It wouldn't have mattered if she had finished that statement with "nonconformists" or something else, since she'd have been very wrong either way. It's not as if atheists necessarily have much in common besides a lack of belief in God. You'd think that if she objected to having the broad-brush treatment applied to religion, then she'd be loathe to apply the broad brush in return. Apparently not.

Anonymous said...

Darn! I'm too late. I was going to point out that, as a right wing propaganda machine founded and funded by Sun Yung Moon's Unification Church, there is absolutely nothing reputable about The Washington Times.

Darrell E said...

That is a truly awful article. Not a single redeeming quality. What really does surprise me though, is that this article is fairly typical of religious writings about atheism these days.

It seems so clearly evident, from their own words, that the apologists have nothing but either hucksterism or bile to offer. And criminally poor analogies. Every article, essay, what have you.

I really find it hard to understand why so many people can't clearly see that and loose faith, if not in their religion, at least in the intellectual elite that champion their religion.

Anonymous said...

The Washington Post is a reputable newspaper and not to be confused with the Moonie paper. (I admit I did until the mistake was pointed out).

Elentar said...

It speaks volumes that she mentions Christopher Hitchens and relativism and tolerance of Islamofascim in the same breath. Hitchens is guilty of none of these; this woman obviously seeks out only opinions that agree with hers, and ignores all the rest. If she is going to criticize Christopher Hitchens, the least she could do is read something that he's written. I dearly wish Hitchens would live another hundred years--it would take that long to beat off all of these vultures.

tildeb said...

Russell, thank you for this well crafted piece and the effort you put into writing it. I grew very angry at the sneering tone when I read the Field's article but your clear and concise articulation of why it is such a poor piece of writing allowed my anger to dissipate point by point, paragraph by paragraph.

Again, my thanks.

Elentar said...

It is revealing that she mentions Christopher Hitchens in the same paragraph that she talks about relativism and the acceptance of Islamofascism. Hitchens is guilty of neither of these. This woman is either a fool, or a liar, or both, but she is most definitely one of those who never dares read anyone whose opinions might differ from hers.

I wish Hitchens would live another hundred years. It would take that long to beat off vultures like this.

Elentar said...

Sorry for the repeat... Blogger made it look like the first one didn't go in...

Russell Blackford said...

kk, another typo fixed. It did have a few when I first wrote it, but given that it's nearly 4000 words and written at white heat in a single evening, I plead that that's excusable.

Robert N Stephenson said...

I with the original article, it had a job to do and did it well as for news paper articles go and as an editor I would be pleased with this because it also came in on the word limit...

while there is a certain degree of arrogance here it is merely a reflection of the arrogance usually on display by the atheists. I would simply say why is arrogance only acceptable to atheists but not to those who do, like me, find them a bit overbearing in their positions.

The rebuke is overly long and equally as arrogant as the Washington Posts article is accussed of being - more so in editorial examination.

As a cage rattlet the article seems to have been well designed, written and delivered.

In review it just appears a group of people do not like it, there fore it is evil and mean spirited. Yet it could also be said more people actually like the article and even agree with it points and positions.

Having been studying atheist behaviour of late I did find myself a greeing with the piece. Not totally but enough to remind me of the people I am often dealing with.

So, the article is bad because atheists don't like it - simple. But as an editor I would be happy with this presentation on a number of fronts - it does what is has been designed to do.

If this article had been attacking Christians then there would be no complain from this arena - so, be wise to consider in your own commentary that when the shoe is on the other foot it is only a reflection on what you have delivered over time.

I may be the only one on this site to agree with the article and I may be the only one to examine the length and detail of Russell's response in the manner it perhaps deserves, but I still stand by my position as equally strong you many stand by theirs.

Chris Lawson said...

Russell, I understand your commitment to free speech, but I think it's about time you banned DM and contacted the police about his blatant physical threats. It doesn't come much clearer than a comment saying in toto, "you are going to be tortured and executed as a traitor against God".

Robert N Stephenson said...

Trolls exist --

as Russell says don't feed it. Just ignore stuff I guess. I lived with 6 months of death threats and internet stalking by someone who many Australian authors would know...

and in the end the Police couldn't help -- ignore, the only way. Hell, I've been ignored most of my life...

J. J. Ramsey said...

Robert N Stephenson: "while there is a certain degree of arrogance here it is merely a reflection of the arrogance usually on display by the atheists."

Put the broad brush down, Mr. Stephenson. Some atheists are arrogant, but disbelief in gods does not breed arrogance in and of itself. (Indeed, in some cases, atheism is a by-product of recognizing how well-meaning and reasonably sane people can nonetheless spread falsehoods, which can easily put a damper on arrogance.)

BTW, Chris Lawson, IIRC, about the only way that Dr. Blackford can really ban DM is to either delete his posts as they come or to make it so that blog posts are pre-approved before they are posted. Blogger is not very flexible in its tools for comment moderation.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Maybe we could unleash 4chan. It does have its uses.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Anonymous: "Maybe we could unleash 4chan. It does have its uses."

Oh, yeah, having a bunch of yahoos spam a writer is really unlikely to backfire. Brilliant idea.

Russell Blackford said...

Chris, the police have been contacted but are not inclined to do anything, and Blogger allows no simple way to ban people (short of moderating all posts, which I don't want to do). Sad but true.

Robert N Stephenson said...

J.J while I can be accused of using thr broad brush, I only do so in the instance where it is the broad brush used by exponents of atheism in its representations of religions, or faith.

While I did live over half my life as an atheist I have indeed found a fuller expression of existence and understanding as a Christian - nd when I became a Christian it wasn't what I thought it was or what I argued against for over 20 years.

If I hade to list all my friends I would say more than half are atheists, but that is also common in writing circles and even the Church of Christ Historian who has been attending my church for the last 25 years is an atheist, so it can be said not all atheists are alike.

The issue comes with those who seem to think using passive aggression is a right they deserve in dealing with religious issues or even religious people. We end up with the he hit me first argument.

While it can be said Chrisianity has changed a hell of a lot over the years, it just appears atheism hasn't caught up - though there are words like appolgists and accomodationalist flying about - these are simply throw away terms to quickly explain away something that has changed - if viewing the new posotions the old arguments against Christianity lose purchase.

The only real truth in many an atheist argument lies within the addressing of fundamentalism, which is more important to address than if someojne believes in God or not. I deal with Fundo Christians and they drive me spare, but so too do fundo atheists and islamists - there is a deep unreasonable nature to them, a strong case is always delivered as to why they are right and everyone else is wrong.

The article in the Washington Post simply used the same type of arument modern atheists seem to deliver and I applaud the author in her use of the pattern as it was designed to cause comment not appease anyone.

I think Russell's rebuke, which has been applauded, missed the reason people do report for their respective papers and the role of the modern media.

The article was not a disertation being presented to a board of enquirey, it was a personal opinion piece designed to sell copies of the paper... I know how the media works and I had thought so too did many members of this blog arena.

Russell Blackford said...

Rob, how did I know that you would turn up here with a comment like that? You seem incapable of thinking rationally about these things. All your comments are based on your emotional impressions.

I've been very patient with you, but frankly I'm getting sick of this. You're not banned, but once again I note your obsession with turning up here to express your dissent, usually (as in the present case) in an ill-informed and illogical way. Don't you have anything better to do?

Jambe said...

Nice article, Russell, but I again recommend you make the switch to a hosted Wordpress blog (or one of the many other popular options out there) to proactively filter out these increasingly-creepy spam posts. Virtually all of them making migration a very simple "export & import" affair.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Russell, yes I have plenty to do -- but if atheists cannot discuss anything other than their bitterness, then what does it serve.

You took issue with someone who disgrees with you, simply truth of the matterctually...

I side with her, but as it has been shown here - the site isn't about discussion it is more about back slapping and high fiving...

I share my view like everyone else -- I just don't happen to think I have all the answers, while many here do.

There can be no discussion without the alternate view, there can only be general agreement and dare I say this has been what faith have been accused of for centuries. The singular internal view that does not get questioned.

If you attack faith or the expressions of such, naturally I will have a different view. If you attack laws and changes to laws you and I will probably agree and if you discuss books, then I might just have read some and can discuss.

Being patient with me doesn't come into it, unless the anger you feel towards the WP runs deeper than the overly long expression you posted. Remember Russell I am good at observation and I do examine word choice, sentence structures, subject and focus in writing.

You have an issue, the site is designed for you to deal with this issue. But in dealing with how you view faith, God and atheism you do need to understand how it all works together; not just the parts you like.

While I cxan express a dual understanding on both sides, I can also express a more reasonable approach to issue over the dogmatic one - a reasoanble approach gets results, makes change and influences. Calling people names gets you nowhere and makes you no better than them if the truth be known.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Oh I can be blunt, a habit I am trying to break... not successfully I might add

Russell Blackford said...

Well, Rob, you have one perception of yourself; I have another. You seem to me to be inflexible in your views and driven by emotion. In fact, you seem to have something of a chip on your shoulder.

You can disagree, but when you congratulate yourself on how objective and analytical you are, if that's what you're saying, I find it ... odd. However, others can judge that.

I don't want to make a huge issue of this, but I note that you even thought it worthwhile to turn up on my Facebook profile page just to castigate me for "wasting time" writing this post. And of course each individual occasion when you do something like that is okay in itself, but after awhile it starts to look obsessive.

Unknown said...

Were you named after Bertrand or is that just a happy accident?

Zachary Voch said...


We have another case study in learning about a position solely through its critics.


Must we with the sexism?


No 4chan. Really. Otherwise, our dear op-ed author will be made a self-fulfilling prophet. But most importantly, it just isn't called for on any level.


We've been over this before, but you do realize that comments such as your last one come across as self-congratulatory. This might adversely affect how your thoughts will be interpreted. If the quality of your analysis is taken to be objective in some sense, then you can allow for others to make that judgment without your help. And for this: "You took issue with someone who disgrees with you, simply truth of the matterctually.."

This is a bit of a tautology, is it not? Unless of course the only proper discussion consists of agreement (which you explicitly contradict later), I hardly see how this was a profound insight. I might say the same thing about your response to Russell's post. But then we get here:

"I side with her, but as it has been shown here - the site isn't about discussion it is more about back slapping and high fiving...

I share my view like everyone else -- I just don't happen to think I have all the answers, while many here do."

When did anybody here say that they "have all the answers"? I missed that within this thread. As for back slapping and high fiving, I think that Russell is wholly aware of the fact that many of his regular commenters, you included, disagree with him. It has not been my experience that disagreement is not tolerated by Russell. Are you just shocked that many of his regular readers agree with him?

You'll also notice that our agreement with each other is hardly complete. J.J. disagrees with myself and other commenters here regularly. GfA said something sexist, which deservedly attracted Ophelia's censure. Anonymous wanted to enlist 4chan to harass the author which is in J.J.'s and my view despicable.

I second Russell in noting that you're both over-obsessive and platitudinous. I understand that this is a reaction and a value judgment on my part, but you need to understand why you're taken that way. You seem to attribute this to some mysterious "know-it-all" attitude, but omniscience is not a prerequisite for making statements like "your comment was trite, illogical, and did not make any convincing or substantial points. It also misrepresented your opponents." Triteness is a value judgment, illogical argument is demonstrably so with limited knowledge, and to an extent, persuasive value and substance can be demonstrated.

I don't have a problem with bluntness, but I do have a problem with misleading generalizations like this: "If this article had been attacking Christians then there would be no complain from this arena - so, be wise to consider in your own commentary that when the shoe is on the other foot it is only a reflection on what you have delivered over time."

I would complain if an article criticizing Christianity/Christians was unfair and/or poorly argued, and I think that Russell would do the same. Notice his qualifications, such as "Where atheists do the same to Christians, I'm not especially impressed, but it's important to point out that is not the typical approach in books by Dawkins, Dennett, and other high-profile atheists..."

Yes, atheists and atheistic systems can be deserving of criticism. I do not think that this is lost on anybody here. You've made, without demonstration, an accusation of inconsistent partisanship on Russell's behalf. Do you really think that this is appropriate?

Josh Slocum said...

Russell wrote:

"Don't you have anything better to do?"

Do you expect better from someone who describes himself as a "married Christian author" and an "author of several book" (yes, singular), and who "review[s]books and even review to odd website dealing with writing issues"?

Russell Blackford said...

Josh, I know Rob a bit IRL. I'm not thinking of him as one of the bad guys - he's not Dave Mabus, or whatever.

Josh Slocum said...

Ah. I don't know R. Stephenson in real life as you do, Russell. My opinion of him comes solely from what I read. He's certainly not DM (obviously), but I think his arguments (as well as his general presentation) are deeply silly.

Anonymous said...

Great piece. However I take issue with your analysis of the last paragraph:

"He's tough on the double standard of leftists who boast of their contempt for the Judeo-Christian tradition but give a pass to Muslims, whose treatment of women, homosexuals and traditions of freedom of speech atheists say they abhor."

She's talking about various Marxist groups and her claim is legitimate. There are groups on the left, take the SWP in the UK for example, who actively support Hamas against Israel. This often spills out into a massive defence of Islam when these groups are, quite rightly, challenged by other groups about Islam and it's treatment of Women, Homosexuals, Apostates, Trade Unions, etc.

I believe this is what she is referring to in this paragraph. Although it's not entirely true of the left as opinion is divided, even within the SWP.

Avi Poje said...

Thanks for posting such a great rebuttal to such a vile article. You've definitely gained a new reader out of me.

Warren Senders said...

Great piece. One small point: the word "meretricious" does not mean what you think it means.

Jaakko Wallenius said...

A fine piece of writing, Russell, I did enjoy the whole length of it. I just hope I could some day achieve the same ease with the use of words.

Ophelia Benson said...

Anonymous (@ http://metamagician3000.blogspot.com/2010/08/shallow-smug-arrogant-pot-kettle-black.html?showComment=1281882113598#c2142978704994101357)

How do you know she is talking about various Marxist groups? She doesn't say that. On the contrary, she doesn't narrow her claim at all; she says leftists, the left, the leftists. If she wants to be understood as talking about part of the left, she needs to specify that. (And consider where she is writing - The Washington Times. Not a big fan of teh left.)

Ophelia Benson said...

Robert Stephenson,

"Remember Russell I am good at observation and I do examine word choice, sentence structures, subject and focus in writing."

Well so do I (and so does Russell, for that matter), and I say you are doing it rong.

melior said...

mer·e·tri·cious (mr-trshs)
1.b. Plausible but false or insincere; specious: a meretricious argument.

Works perfectly fine as used by Russell here.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Oh Dear...

yes I can get scatalogical when I am in a hurry, mso my apology for that and I don't often mean to assume anything but as I write mysteries I often also get caught up in the indirectness of the approach...

(B)randon said...

Thank you for the excellent rebuttal.

I was filled with nearly identical feelings of disgust after I read this article (brilliantly linked from richarddawkins.net).

She offers nothing new and I daresay that rants such as this one puzzle and frustrate intelligent theists, just as blogtroll atheists frustrate us with their incendiary banter.

I am glad you touched on the despicable misrepresentation of Christopher Hitchens' interview. I was near fighting back tears reading her malicious dishonest attempt to pervert his brave words. I wasn't sad merely to witness this cruelty, but to think that even one reader would accept her drivel at face value and discredit his brave words. The attempt to fabricate 'deathbed conversions' is one of the most deeply despicable things I've ever imagined.

Robert N Stephenson said...

But Brandon - this is what the media does. not just Suzzanne but the whole gambit of reporting ventures along these paths:

We are talking about her - yes negatively in some regards and in talking about her we are promoting the Post -- while Russell's rebuttal is here it is the actual article that is drawing the attention.

Though it you view commentary on the piece itself you will see it hasn't been widely read and hasn't caused a big a front to paper readers. There is more commentary here than on the site the last time I checked

Ophelia Benson said...

No, articles as bad as this one are not "what the media does." There is better and worse, and this is worse; a lot worse.

Imagine if you replaced "atheist" in the article with "black" or "gay" or "foreigner." Perhaps then its nastiness and scapegoating would become more apparent. And if this kind of thing were "what the media does," that would be a good reason to call them on it.

Anonymous said...

Russell, the fact that people like Suzanne Fields are given space to pollute America's op-ed pages is proof that conservative corporate interests control US media at nearly all levels.

There is no way that someone like the late lamented Molly Ivins could ever get hired, much less syndicated, by a major American newspaper nowadays. Yet be a conservative who can barely string two words together -- or a plagiarizer like Ben Domenech -- and you have a sinecure for life no matter how wrong or amoral you are.

Peter Bull said...

Well done, Russell. A well-deserved bitchslap.

However, I have to take issue with this statement of yours:

"Of course atheists have beliefs. How else could it be?"

The short response is, speak for yourself. Not all atheists are with you on that.

The longer response is that you have fallen into a common linguistic trap that confuses two very significantly different meanings of the word 'belief'.

In the scientific/rational world, its general meaning is "any cognitive content held to be true", but in the minds of most and particularly in the world of the religious and otherly gullible it is a synonym for 'faith', or "anything held to be true that cannot be supported by any evidence of any kind".

Religious apologists love to intertwine these meanings as if they were the same thing. To them, evolution and creationism are just different 'belief systems', which they are manifestly not.

You say that you believe we are "descended from apelike creatures through a path of biological evolution", but that is not really a statement of belief in the same universe of meaning as "I believe the world was created in six days about 3000 years ago". You don't believe in evolution, because you don't need to. You accept it as our best scientific explanation of our origins so far because of the overwhelming amount of evidence in its support. Belief doesn't enter into it.

Years ago, I was challenged - as an atheist - by a religious friend with his statement "But you MUST believe in something!" After some thought I decided that I had to insist that it was perfectly reasonable and more accurate to insist that I held NO beliefs at all, that I could not hold to be true something that required any act of faith. Which meant, for clarity, that I had to change my relationship to the word 'belief' and use it only when referring to faith-type beliefs.

I don't believe that, for instance, the sun will rise tomorrow. It will, in my opinion, because all my personal experience and scientific knowledge tells me that the probability of it not doing so is so vanishingly small that I can accept it as a true statement. But some sort of mystical belief in the rotation of the earth is not required.

The word 'belief' has become so devalued that it is commonly used as a synonym for many other benign words or ideas. For instance:

I've decided to...
"I believe I'll have a cup of tea."

It's probably...
"I believe it's going to rain."

I'm optimistic that...
"I believe we're making progress with the negotiations."

In my opinion...
"I believe our products are the best on the market."

I think...
"I believe my wife/husband is faithful to me"

I expect...
"I believe Arsenal will beat Liverpool"

I'm told...
"I believe we'll get a big order from this customer."

I hope...
"I believe the Wallabies will beat the All Blacks."

...and so on.

As soon as we admit to True Believers that we are also believers in some things but not others, then we are playing on their semantically fuzzy home ground.

It IS possible to never use the word 'belief' except when talking about religion or homeopathy or astrology or crystal healing or any other irrational bullshit. Rational people don't need beliefs, and we don't need to talk as if we do.

Peter Bull said...

I'm so sorry about the multiple posts above. I kept getting the same "post cannot be processed" error, which it took me a while to realise wasn't true. I hope you can delete the surplus.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Peter that is an interesting take on beliefs and it is a common one use by some atheists and some religious types - the simple samantic view.

Belief is much deeper than that and isn't something you actually decide to do or not to do.

The belief in a faith is essentially something chosen outside of the psychological presets of belief, the same as atheism is chosen, though a bit more less chosen, if that makes sense.

Belief is ingrained a deep part of us and if someone had absolutely no beliefs then that person would also have no ability to interact with other persons or even interact with the environment. I believe there are many documented studies on belief and even testable research on this. I don't have access to medical sites for specific papers sorry, but there was one study years ago that played a part in understanding how belief works. Again, I am no qualified nor wealthy enough to purchase such a document.

I know what you are getting at with your position though, you do not subscribe to certain beliefs, this does not mean you do not have beliefs and you subscribe something that is not belief to the term - that being faith; some parts of faith can be belief like so often the two can get muddled up.

Without a belief system the human brain will not function outside of some rudimentary generic rules. Eat, sleep, ship, eat, sleep, shit.

If you did not have a belief system then even the concept of love and hate cannot exist, both require extremes of the belief system. This is a very long subject of discussion and not one I am fully qualified to journey a long way into - philosophers understand some of the system involved though

Russell Blackford said...

Peter, I've removed the duplicate comments, so no worries about that.

As for the semantics of the word "belief" I do what philosophers always do: I try to work out what my opponent might have meant, without assuming the most uncharitable reading, then give my response to the possibilities that present themselves. One possibility is that she means atheists have no beliefs, but of course that would be absurd, so then I look at another possibility, e.g. that she means we have no values or no ideals. But that is also wildly implausible.

As for whether atheists have beliefs ... of course we do. I'm sorry but you're just plain wrong about this. The word "belief" does not mean what you say. It doesn't mean that in ordinary English, or in the fields of philosophy and moral psychology.

I know that some people deny this, and you are far from the first person I've seen to give the analyis in your comment, but frankly I wince every time I see see something like it. As I said in the post, every atheist, like every other person, has beliefs. it is simply false to say that you don't believe that the Sun will rise tomorrow. You most certainly do believe that, and you plan your activities for tomorrow on that basis.

I don't know who started this idea that the word "belief" has some special technical meaning such that you don't believe the Sun will rise tomorrow. However, whoever it was did us all a disservice, because it makes intelligent people like you say false and bizarre things.

It's not the case that the words "believe" and "belief" have narrow meanings that have become debased. It's that they are perfectly ordinary English words with quite broad meanings, though they are sometimes used narrowly when we're talking about religion, and some people have got into their heads that this is the primary meaning. That idea has spread and has caused a lot of confusion.

A belief is a kind of propositional attitude. The situation is that you, like everyone else, have an attitude of belief towards many propositions. E.g. you have an attitude of belief towards the proposition: "The Sun will rise tomorrow." Your attitude to the proposition is one of counting it as true.

You have many other beliefs, i.e. there are many other propositions towards which you have the appropriate propositional attitude. E.g. you probably have the appropriate attitude to the proposition "Russell Blackford is co-editor of 50 Voices of Disbelief". h However, you may not have any otherworldly beliefs. E.g. you may not have an attitude of belief to the proposition: "God exists." But that's another thing.

Of course, belief is not the only possible propositional attitude. For example you can desire that a proposition be true, you can hope the proposition is true, and so on. Some attitudes that you take towards propositions may be nuanced sub-sets of the attitude of believing that the proposition is true. Nonetheless, the concept of belief as a familiar propositional attitude is well-known and well-analysed in the relevant literature in philosophy and moral psychology. If we started to insist on some other sense, it would cause havoc in those fields, as well as to our ordinary conservational practices.

I implore you to accept this, because spreading the meme that you've provided in your comment does us no credit.

Ophelia Benson said...

Funny, I talked about this issue in a piece for the Guardian's 'Comment is Free' week before last.

The whole subject is probably confused by the fact that "belief" can mean "religious belief", and then a whole special set of rules comes into play. That's just a mistake. Belief is much broader than religious belief, and it shouldn't be blurred with ideas about holiness and piety and specialness. Belief isn't spooky or magical, and it isn't a wormhole to knowledge about God; it's just a cognitive faculty we have, that helps us function. It should be reasonable and flexible and open to correction.

Belief isn't the same thing as faith, and the words aren't interchangeable. Faith can mean just trust, including reasonable trust, but it can also mean trust or belief without evidence or contrary to evidence. The two have different overtones, or ethical nuances. If one says, "Maggie believes that rock will get up and dance a gavotte", Maggie sounds crazy. If one says, "Maggie has faith that that rock will get up and dance a gavotte", Maggie sounds like a follower of a religion you haven't heard of before.

Anonymous said...

Belief is much deeper than that and isn't something you actually decide to do or not to do.

Are you talking about belief in general, or a special kind of belief? Sometimes, people do think about whether they should believe one thing or another and then come to a decision, so without qualification, this just seems wrong to me.

The belief in a faith is essentially something chosen outside of the psychological presets of belief, the same as atheism is chosen, though a bit more less chosen, if that makes sense.

Are you psychic? You know that in all cases belief in a faith happens outside the "psychological presets of belief" whatever the heck that means? And "though a bit more less chosen" makes absolutely no sense, FYI.

Belief is ingrained a deep part of us and if someone had absolutely no beliefs then that person would also have no ability to interact with other persons or even interact with the environment.

I'll just say it: you don't know what belief is. I don't know what belief is. We have enough of an idea to be able to say some things we believe and say some meta level things about those beliefs, but we don't know what beliefs really are or why we have them.

I think these positive assertions about the nature of "belief" are actually things you can't possibly know. And so I boggle at your agreement with this Fields women that atheists are the arrogant ones.

We're not the ones claiming our magic books give us special insight into how minds work. (Although we might claim that our lack of preconceptions vis a vis magic books and ghosts gives us an advantage over theists in understanding how minds work; we're at least less disposed towards making bad guesses.)

-Dan L.

Kirth Gersen said...

I find it telling that Fields' piece is, in essence, a diatribe against "DC society," "intellectuals," "New Atheists," and -- finally she comes out and admits it -- Christopher Hitchens. She's envious of his talent, wit, and success, and simply venting her envy.

My take is that this piece isn't really about athism at all; it could just as easily have been about how much she scorns "blue-eyed people" or "people whose last names start with C."

James Sweet said...

Some outspoken atheists think that even liberal religion is playing a negative role, but others are happy to ally with genuinely liberal religious people

And some of us, both! I remain unconvinced that liberal religion would be a force for good in a world where it represented the vast majority of religious sentiment. But in a world where the vast majority of religious thought is bigoted, dogmatic, illiberal nonsense, I'm happy to praise the Unitarians.

Robert N Stephenson said...

In belief I think you need to believe what you want ans within that belief also believe you are correct in that belief --

in general we only really want to believe things that benefit us - yes, even the negative beliefs in some fashion benefit us -=-

The human brain does not belive in things deliberately to harm itself, the brain has a defense mechanism, its physical representation is through fight and flight, but that also exists in the mental realm.

Atheists believe in not only what they think is right, but also what directly benefits their lives. In a way this is no different to how Christians, Muslims or Hundus think. The exat same belief systems are in use.

But that is belief systems, not the actual beliefs themselves, as you can see above I have mentioned just 4 huge variations. Naturally atheists, which would make up most vistors here, believe what they believe is the way to think and consider life. And naturally there are people who disagree.

Now I may agree with Fields, but that does not mean you have to agree with me. What I believe is certainly something best left to me I guess. Now my agreeance with Fields come qualified with dealing with atheists (or the oddly named New Atheists) across a number of websites. So, I could understand what she was talking about as I have seen this behaviour. Is it how all atheist behave? - well no. Nearly all my friends are atheists and none are like what Fields describes, but encounters on discussion groups seems to show other things.

That said, I dare say many here have also felt the tension and negativity on religious based forums and sites - so perhaps the Fields piece could also have religion switched in for atheism and stii hold meaning. The Hitchins bit was just being snide - maybe I have grown too use to this from US posters, I kinda just ignored it.

Belief isn't what people want to attribute to it. belief is not the same as faith and I think Russell cover the whole concept very well.

Anonymous said...

It's people like Kyle that make me more and more prepared for a "might is right" all-out war with his kind. Our way of thinking must be crammed down their throats to ever hope to become the majority.
Their stupidity is simply too strong for words; it must be crushed like an annoying bug. Now who is with me???

...as I type away.

Ha ha ha.

Thrawn said...

Isn't it odd that consequentialism must be stopped, even if you need to use lies to do it, because consequentialism has bad consequences? Isn't that in itself consequentialism?

Ann said...

I'm amazed you read the whole thing in order to write the response. I had to stop at "Atheists don't believe in anything." Ugh.