Last week, I wrote a piece for AlterNet/Salon in which I railed against five prominent atheists (Penn Jillette, Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bill Maher, and S.E. Cupp), for their respective irrational beliefs in matters nonreligious. Criticism of my article ranged from absurd AlterNet comments like:
This article is nothing but B.S. spouted by a Christian zealot. It looks like we’re the l;ast nation on earth with missionaries
How could an inbred idiot like Ian Murphy persuade anyone to waste the ink and space on such lame commentary without having inside access to publication? His attitude and his name, as well, indicate that his real father might have had the papist title of “father,” as well….
To a grasping response by “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta:
I’ll give him S.E. Cupp….
But the rest of them? Please. None of those things makes them bad atheists. Bad skeptics? Absolutely. (And we should keep criticizing them when they deserve it.) But those four people have done more to get people to stop believing in God than almost anybody else out there. That alone sets them apart.
Some nonbelievers want to grow their ranks, and defend other atheists, no matter what. Making a meaningless distinction between atheism and skepticism does the trick. Also, it helps to ignore the dumb things famous atheists believe:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the few writers out there brave enough to criticize Islam and become popular doing it. She’s done it in more than one book and she’s a walking contradiction to the stereotypical view of atheists as old white guys. No one cares what she does at the American Enterprise Institute….
Ha. Criticizing Islam is a thriving industry. Maybe Mehta thinks Pamela Geller is super-brave too. But Ali’s a black lady, so movement diversity surely trumps her irrational neoconservative worldview. Ali actually blamed the murder of dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh on welfare. She also defended Norway shooter Anders Breivik (who cited Ali in his 1,500-page manifesto) “[b]ecause all outlets to express his views were censored, he says, he had no other choice but to use violence.”
“No one cares what she does at the American Enterprise Institute.” Got it? No one cares. No one cares that Bill Maher is an anti-vaccination nut. No one cares that Penn Jillette promotes transparently ridiculous economic libertarianism. No one cares that Sam Harris thinks we should torture people. If you do care, well, you’re just paying too close attention:
If you think people like Maher and Jillette and Harris are bad for atheism, then get your head out of the blogosphere every once in a while and stop thinking so insularly, because outside of a handful of websites and critics, very few people care about these side issues that Murphy mentions. That doesn’t mean we should ignore them, but it doesn’t “undermine” atheism, either.
Unlike Mehta, I think that atheists should be generally reasonable people. If their atheism isn’t based on critical thought, or it is but that critical thought doesn’t extend to anything else, what you’ve done is traded religion for dogma. Seems to defeat the whole purpose to me. It does undermine what atheism should be about — you know, all that lofty junk about science and reason. Atheism shouldn’t be about gaining as many adherents as possible.
But what the hell do I know? I think Stalin was a bad atheist. But he did more than anyone to popularize atheism in the old Soviet Union. Now I know he was just a bad skeptic.
Correction: This post previously stated that Brievik’s manifesto was only 1,500 words long. I sincerely regret the idiocy.