What they’re saying about Religion & Atheism

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by Neil Godfrey

Eleven very recent and less recent blog posts and news feeds follow. Take your pick.

Hector Avalos

Hector Avalos, known to most of us for The End of Biblical Studies and Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (discussed across 5 Vridar posts) has had a new article published in Ames Tribune . . .

Blaspheme or else …

Two paragraphs from the article:

Bill Maher, the atheist humorist, believes Islam is entrenched in the Middle Ages . . .  Thomas Friedman . . . believes that Islam needs the equivalent of the Protestant Reformation, while others deem Islam to be inherently incorrigible.

Many of these commentators overlook how much of the Muslim jihadist view of blasphemy derives directly or indirectly from the Bible, the foundational text of Christianity. Yvonne Sherwood’s Biblical Blaspheming: Trials of the Sacred for a Secular Age (2012) discusses some aspects of the long reach of biblical blasphemy laws in western culture.

Avalos, of course, supports efforts to repeal blasphemy laws, period.

For most secularists/pluralists, you must blaspheme — or else your freedom of expression will inevitably be hostage to one religion or another. 

Holy Jesus, I nearly forgot to cite my source for this story — h/t John Loftus on Debunking Christianity, thank God.


This one is not really about “religion and atheism” but it’s worth including here to get the message out the sooner – – – –  Peter Kirby has done us another favour by creating a Biblical Criticism Search Engine.

Now you can search the greater Biblical Criticism Blogosphere, a carefully curated collection of websites, blogs, books, articles, and resources containing about 30 billion web pages indexed and searchable with a Google Custom Search Engine. The search prompt can be found here:



PZ Myers of Pharyngula alerts us to a bloggingheadsTV discussion where I find some of my own reservations re Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Chris Hitchens brought out into the open:

Jeet Heer and the New Atheism

I don’t see the point of having an atheism that is pro-status quo, pro-imperialist, and which is indifferent to issues of inequality and patriarchy. If you’re going to have that, you might as well go to church.

That the New Atheism has already become part of a doctrinaire, anti-social justice attitude is troubling, but I think it was there from the beginning. The Thinky Atheist Leaders who carved out this niche clearly didn’t think those issues were important — even while some of us who happily jumped on the New Atheist bandwagon thought they were, and were simply oblivious to the indifference of the horsemen who were galloping into the fray. Now some of us who were trotting along with the rest of the cavalry are drawing back . . . . 

It’s very uncomfortable. Maybe I’m a New Atheist in some ways, but not in other ways, and maybe I need a new banner to rally under, or maybe we need to just let the leadership blunder into the cannons while the rest of us regroup and refocus. . . . 

It’s a tough place to be, sacrificing all that momentum while we mill about and try to figure out a rational approach. But that’s what atheists should do: think.


But there’s hope. Also h/t Loftus, and again with Hector Avalos gaining another mention:

The Second Wave of New Atheism is Here

Dr. Hector Avalos tells me that in his forthcoming book, The Bad Jesus, he speaks of a Second Wave of New Atheism, which he defines as atheist advocates “who have more formal training in philosophy, biblical studies and theology.”. . . .


Many of us have probably seen Stephen Fry’s delicious account of what he would say to God at the Pearly Gates:

It’s worth repeating until learned by heart.

The point here is that Mano Singham has found the pious intellect of Giles Fraser responding sagely to Fry. In the interests of fair play and equal time here it is:

I don’t believe in the God that Stephen Fry doesn’t believe in either


without godGavin R or Otagosh has found one of those curious hybrids:

Another Atheist Theologian

Today I learned that this troublesome priest has outed himself as – shock, horror – an atheist.

In an interview with Religion Dispatches he talks about his new book Christianity Without God . . . and makes some memorable remarks.

“I think the main passion of the conservative mind is fear… Fear makes you reach for a supernatural insurance policy.”

Unlike all too many of those who have transitioned from various forms of Christianity to godlessness, Maguire retains the ability to engage in the conversation without the smug, tone deaf invective that shuts off communication rather than opening it up.


Here’s another story of a religious person meeting atheism but this time finding a different outcome. It’s by self-described “God-nerd” Christian Piatt

Ryan Bell: Adventist to Atheist…Really?

As one would expect from a God-nerd the author does not understand atheism and writes from what some might see as a patronizing perspective. An interview with Ryan Bell is available in Huffington Post. One word comes to mind: Courage.


Another via John Loftus for those who recall the author of Why People Believe Weird Things and other sensible books:

Michael Shermer’s New Book Is Now Available, The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom


Greta Christina offers encouragement for anyone who whose experience of atheism makes it a big deal to “come out as” — her new book is presumably targeted primarily for American audiences:

“A MUST read for all atheists”: Amazon Customer Review of “Coming Out Atheist”

I liked her earlier book about death. I am glad I let myself feel pressured into reading it. Greta is an enjoyable read.


But Steve Neumann in a Salon.com article reminds us to keep it all in perspective:

Atheism’s civil-rights delusion: Why non-believers don’t need their own Selma moment

[A]ccording to a recent study published in The Journal of Applied Social Psychology, atheists are the most reviled group in America today. The study noted that the political bias against atheists is accompanied by “distrust, disgust and fear, thereby suggesting that the affective content of anti-atheist prejudice is both broader and more extreme than prejudice against other historically disadvantaged groups.”

But I’ve never suffered any prejudice in the 15 years since I came out as an atheist. . . . However, there are some atheists who compare atheism to the civil rights movement of black Americans in the 1960s or LGBT individuals in the past few decades.

So how to explain this paradox? (I mean the real paradox of being part of the most despised group but not experiencing anything like the prejudice that really damages others.) Neumann offers an interesting observation:

But there’s another, more fundamental reason why comparing the atheist movement to civil rights movements is a case of comparing apples and oranges. Being black or gay isn’t something someone chooses. Viewing the problem this way helps make sense of Protestant America’s especially negative attitude toward atheists—in their mind, atheists choose to reject God, an unforgivable sin.


And to conclude on an encouraging note, one from Ed Brayton of Dispatches from the Culture Wars:

Study: Christians More Likely to Be Fat Than Atheists


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Neil Godfrey

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9 thoughts on “What they’re saying about Religion & Atheism”

  1. Are you really making the case that “Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Chris Hitchens” are “indifferent to issues of inequality and patriarchy” and have a “doctrinaire, anti-social justice attitude “, and that they are “pro-status quo, pro-imperialist”?!?

    Do you really think that Hector Avalos feels the same way as you, and that his “second wave” of atheism shares your concerns about the three Horseman?!?

    This sort of rhetoric is very troubling.

    1. Dawkins and Harris have a well-known history of being pretty, ah, problematic on feminism (and have rightly been told off for it by other atheists including PZ Myers). Hitchens was a loud supporter of America’s most notorious recent imperial venture, and for a time was a defender of torture. Yeah, I’d say they’ve got some problems. I say this as an non-theist myself.

      1. Wow! Being told off by PZ Myers. I would crawl under a rock and die if PZ criticised me. But Michael Nugent wouldn’t. As Nugent has taken on the IRA, the UDA and the UDF, Myers was just easy meat for him.

      2. The horsemen disagree with with the current secular orthodoxy about the pervasiveness and causes of certain injustices and what would constitute a rational response to them. That does not make them indifferent to injustice.

    2. I invite you to view at least the first half of the discussion at Bloggingheads.tv. That’s where I found myself listening to views I could not disgree with.

      I have read and adored most of Richard Dawkins’ books but his some of his statements about issues relating to peace and justice have been astonishingly naive and despair-worthy. I have read some remarkably astute and insightful books by Hitchens that I will always treasure but he completely lost it after 9/11 — a very sad loss. I wish Sam Harris would open his mind to be more informed by the scholarly research of anthropologists, sociologists and political scientists into the realities of how the world works. The Bloggingheads discussion further raised a serious contradiction in Sam Harris’s message that I had been unaware of; it had to do with his views in relation to Buddhism.

  2. The idea that “Islam needs a Reformation” is silly. The Reformation was a bloody disaster, as explained very well by Josh Marshall: “The European Reformation ushered in one of the greatest – and arguably the greatest – period of religious extremism in the history of European Christianity … it is probably not too much to say that most of what we now see as the legacy of the Reformation is in fact the outgrowth of its failure.” Bingo. Martin Luther and company may have had some good ideas, but they were not nice people by contemporary standards.

    1. Yes. It is easy for us to forget that the positives we enjoy in our societies are often the responses of survivors to some of the most hellish periods of history.

      1. Indeed, here in America we constantly have to contend with this forgetfulness in our politics, probably because increasingly few of us have ever personally experienced that sort of hell. Americans seem unusually susceptible to the temptations of Whig history, and are virtually allergic to the idea that progress is frequently the outcome of intense and sometimes violent struggle. (At least in the domestic sphere they do. Abroad, it seems they can’t envision any other way.)

  3. Of course, Giles Fraser does not “believe in the God that Stephen Fry doesn’t believe in either,” described as an “evil, capricious, monstrous maniac.”

    Lest we forget, a capricious god like that would resemble the Sethian gnostic demiurge, the fashioner of our world, who was named Ialdabaoth, a.k.a. “Saklas” (Aramaic “fool”) or Samael (Aramaic “blind god”). The impious, mad ruler in its ignorance said, “It is I who am god, and no other god exists apart from me.” This serpentine god with a lion’s face and flashing eyes was not the unknown, ultimate reality for Sethians and did not at all resemble a more orthodox Christian version of a loving creator god. Ialdabaoth most likely would be a totally disagreeable concept for Giles Fraser.

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