"Totally coup, yo."

What’s The Mehta With Atheists?

Aug

07

by

Stalin: a great atheist, but a crap skeptic

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

And:

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. 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/siefertma Mark A. Siefert

    I don’t think that you need to go past the first word in the phrase “friendly atheist” to understand what Mehta’s problem is. There are some people who act like Children caught in a divorce when it comes to political or social conflict–”Stop it! Stop it! I hate it when you fight.” Mehta wants atheists to be one big happy family regardless of whether daddy is molesting him and mommy is sleeping with the postman…and the milkman… and the pool boy…

    • CariPea

      Yea!

  • CariPea

    The title of your original piece mentioned 5 AWFUL Atheists, not 5 Atheists Who Are Bad For The ‘Cause’–as Hemant implies. I agree with every characterization you made in 4 out of 5 of the people you named. I leave out this Crupp person that I never heard of.
    If you ever do an article on the 5 BEST Atheists working today, consider Sam Singleton Atheist Evangelist, performance humorist/satirist. (I am his tour manager/wife–not at all prejudiced!)

    • squillaboxer

      Just take his word on S.E. Cupp; she doesn’t need any more attention for her uncle tom routine.

  • Randy

    Let’s see where this leads.

    Is a mentally challenged person who is atheist is an awful atheist? Why, or why not?

    Suppose at age 70, a man decides he’s now atheist. How many former beliefs does he have to re-examine, before he’s not awful?

  • E. Scott Frogelman

    Give ‘em hell, Murphy!

  • anteprepro

    I think it was pretty clear that these were atheists who are also horrible people. I don’t understand the protest. I think the basic response, boiled down, is “I Like Person X! How Dare You Dismiss Them!”. It makes them too blind with bias and fury to actually get the fucking point. Unless the Harris supporters really do love them so torture and racial profiling. Unless the Maher supporters really do love them some misogyny and anti-vax bullshit. Unless the Penn supporters really do love a political ideology that boils down to “I don’t know, so fuck the poor!”. Unless Hirsi Ali’s supporters are as blindly Islamophobic as she is (well, that one might be true).

    I used to think that kids needed to be taught critical thinking and logic more so that they would be less likely to be religious. It is obvious now: Even the atheists desperately need more critical thinking and logic. Because so many of them, even the seemingly smart and decent ones, are just so often fucking terrible at grappling with arguments that aren’t strictly about how Christianity is stupid (and even then, there are atheists who are incompetent on that subject, either because they have blind spots, lack of expertise in a certain line of argument, or simply are atheists for truly dumb-ass reasons). Atheist or not, there is a horrible surplus of idiocy and a deficit of reading comprehension. That needs to be fixed somehow, fucking soon, or I am going to a gun in my mouth. Because in a world where supposedly sane, rational people can’t be bothered to fucking READ before spouting off at the mouth, we are not in a world that I want to live in any more.

    • http://twitter.com/mdcaigoy Michael Caigoy

      A lot of religious people in history have demonstrated immense critical thinking… well, about things other than religion. People compartmentalize, consciously or not, drawing an arbitrary line in which to practice one thing, and others for contradictory ones. The world would be a very different place if people were consistent.

    • Sticker

      Atheism is an ism, like Catholicism mercantilism and alcoholism… Which is why there is so much in fighting about who is a good atheist and a bad atheist. Let’s face it it’s a BELIEF system… You have no answers you have beliefs none of which you can prove. Most of you believe in science as if it were a god and few of you know much about it.ian is starting to call his stance skepticism. This is new for him… I guess he’s discovered that many atheists do or did horrible things in the name of this ism… Just like all the other isms. You’re killing the beast by the way.

    • Sticker

      Atheism is an ism, like Catholicism mercantilism and alcoholism… Which is why there is so much in fighting about who is a good atheist and a bad atheist. Let’s face it it’s a BELIEF system… You have no answers you have beliefs none of which you can prove. Most of you believe in science as if it were a god and few of you know much about it.ian is starting to call his stance skepticism. This is new for him… I guess he’s discovered that many atheists do or did horrible things in the name of this ism… Just like all the other isms. You’re killing the beast by the way.

    • Sticker

      Atheism is an ism, like Catholicism mercantilism and alcoholism… Which is why there is so much in fighting about who is a good atheist and a bad atheist. Let’s face it it’s a BELIEF system… You have no answers you have beliefs none of which you can prove. Most of you believe in science as if it were a god and few of you know much about it.ian is starting to call his stance skepticism. This is new for him… I guess he’s discovered that many atheists do or did horrible things in the name of this ism… Just like all the other isms. You’re killing the beast by the way.

    • Sticker

      Atheism is an ism, like Catholicism mercantilism and alcoholism… Which is why there is so much in fighting about who is a good atheist and a bad atheist. Let’s face it it’s a BELIEF system… You have no answers you have beliefs none of which you can prove. Most of you believe in science as if it were a god and few of you know much about it.ian is starting to call his stance skepticism. This is new for him… I guess he’s discovered that many atheists do or did horrible things in the name of this ism… Just like all the other isms. You’re killing the beast by the way.

  • Ben

    Unlike Murphy, I think that being reasonable people means accepting the right to hold a diversity of views.

    Sorry Ian. You don’t sound very reasonable. You sound butthurt about libertarianism.

    And you kinda sound reactionary and hysterical when it comes to other complex philosophical positions too. Go see Sam Harris’ response.

    How’s your career doing? Are you pulling this stunt to save it?

    • http://twitter.com/mdcaigoy Michael Caigoy

      Pick a side, dude, or at least admit to the side you’ve picked. For a reasonable and non-reactionary contrast to this article, you’ve referred to Harris — the guy whose global political perspective reads like a scene from ’24.’

      If you’re here to defend libertarianism, defend it. Stop being a pussy.

  • tooCents

    It is good to point out the arguably irrational views of those that are celebrated for their exceptional rationality.

  • Hank

    As a radical Leftist Atheist, I liked the article. I thought it was a tiny bit hard on Maher to include him with the other odious creeps. He’s just a goofball and I think funnier, particularly in past days, than you give credit for (and Religulous was actually not bad). Certainly the anti-vaccination stuff is pure dumbshit but plenty of Lefties fall down that rabbit hole and anybody getting their medical advice from him is perhaps suspect. SE Cupp serves one purpose only – to satisfy the whacking needs of Dagny Taggart fanboys. Jillette is not worth mentioning (though I LOLed earlier today when his name turned up (misspelled) on a Phillip Morris memo list of potential “third party” libertarian shills alongside Milton Friedman(!) – see the SHAME project on Malcolm Gladwell). Harris and Ali are both quite nasty customers making the World a slightly worse place and good job defending your choices there. Onward and upward.

  • http://vectorpress.blogspot.com/ tpkroger

    I really liked that article and I’m not at all surprised at the backlash. AlterNet has the easiest commentariat to troll because it’s a collection of “Humanitarian Protestant cunts” as Houellebecq would call them and a smattering of libertarians who are just as dumb as they are self-righteous.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tony-Pink/1213577118 Tony Pink

    nice takedown

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