My Easter Post on The Drum

Boo! I’m a Scary Atheist!

Little did I know that leading churchmen around the nation were going to dedicate their Easter messages this year to painting atheism as mad, bad and dangerous to know. Obviously, they’ve never been fans, but usually they’ve been more condescending about our little faithless foibles, seeing them as a reason to pity us for failing to see the light and exhorting the faithful to keep on holding out the olive branch (or at least the pamphlets). This year, apparently, a few thousand godless folk gathered in Melbourne to chat about life, the universe and everything without the need to invoke deities of any sort as an explanation and suddenly Atheism has allegedly become a religion.

It was published there yesterday, but I didn’t get my Tweet alerting me to the fact *shakes fist at Twitter*. So far the response has been pretty good.

Categories: culture wars, media, religion

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17 replies

  1. Mad bad and dangerous to know? My type of people.

    Good job tig.

  2. This came across to me as very sensible and reasonable and defusing of nastiness, Tigtog. Yes there is some silliness in the comments but it does seem to be outweighed by sensibleness. This is surely a good thing.
    .-= skepticlawyer´s last blog ..Awful Library Books =-.

  3. I’ve been pondering your article, and the comments on it, for a couple of days now. It’s a very clear statement of your position. Well done.
    What surprises me, though, is your surprise that leaders within the church would speak about atheism at Easter. Was it the timing, or the fact that they spoke at all?
    If it was the latter, I suggest that it is, at the very least, their job, as leading thinkers within the church, to respond to the criticisms and challenges made by leading thinkers within the community of atheists.
    If it was the former, I’d say that Easter is, of all the possible times of the year, the one when the rubber really does hit the road on questions of truth and evidence and faith. The resurrection … did it, or didn’t it, happen? This seems to me to be pretty crucial to the discussion between Christians and atheists.
    I’d have been surprised if churchmen around the country didn’t take the opportunity to speak about this debate at Easter.

    • @Sheryl,

      What surprises me, though, is your surprise that leaders within the church would speak about atheism at Easter. Was it the timing, or the fact that they spoke at all?

      It was the vehemence. There’s usually some addressing of outsider skepticism towards the Resurrection, as you note. Fair enough. This year it felt very personal, very nasty stereotyping. Plus a greater than usual number of strawmen propped up that they proceeded to extravagantly demolish.

  4. Weeell, you say speak, I say had a go at…
    I’m happy for the Church to display their collective ignorance about atheism anytime, but they did seem to make a special effort this Easter. I’m quite happy to accept that the man known as Jesus was crucified by the Romans. So were a lot of people. I’m also quite happy that none of them was taken bodily into heaven. I suspect the body of Jesus may have been taken by the Romans in what can only be called, in hindsight, a spectacular own goal.

  5. I’m trying to find a transcript of Peter Jensen’s address to see if there is anything not reported in the media that could be construed as nasty stereotyping. If there was, then I understand your feeling some distaste, even anger, at what you take to be a personal attack. I feel the same way when I read or hear Richard Dawkins declare Christian parents who teach the Bible to their children to be child abusers, or Christopher Hitchens describing religious faith as serfdom. I don’t know Senator Fielding well enough to make a judgment about his IQ, but I imagine he might have felt that Robyn Williams recent public assessment of it might have been a little too ad hominem. What did Jensen say that so offended you?

    • Really? Whatever the official leaders of large religious organisations said is not that bad because a few Big Bad Atheist celebrities who aren’t official leaders of anything said nasty things first?
      If Richard Dawkins jumps off a bridge, is Peter Jenson going to jump off as well?
      EDIT: The above was a moment of pure tetchiness at seeing the same old names trotted out as I see all the time. Apologies for giving in to the tetch.
      I do however think it is a false equivalence to compare liturgical sermons made by men in positions of leadership in religious hierarchies, hierarchies that claim a position of moral authority, with critical statements made by celebrity atheists who claim no moral authority at all. The only reason anybody pays attention to Dawkins, Hitchens, Williams etc is that they have a gift for shaping words that are thought-provoking and/or entertaining.
      Meanwhile the more cogent philosophical criticisms atheism has to make against the shortcomings of moral systems based on the revealed wisdom of purported prophets get ignored in favour of religious leaders accusing atheists of having psychological disorders that make us mean, selfish, lonely and likely to lead a massacre at the drop of a hat (thanks, Archbishop Fisher).

      • @FP, your comment and mine crossed, but that’s a fair summary of my position.
        @Sheryl, I don’t have to defend public intellectuals who happen to be atheists. There is no atheist dogma or creed – their opinion is their own, and if you want to challenge it you’ll have to take it up with them.
        As I said in the article, atheists are no better and no worse than anybody else. That means we have jerks amongst us as well as paragons. Some of each get more publicity than others.
        P.S. are you willing to consider the possibility that Jensen, Pell and Fisher are your mob’s high profile jerks?

  6. SS@9:
    You appear to be moving away from a discussion of what tigtog said in the article and slipping into asking her to either account for Dawkins, Hitchens and Williams, or to ‘let it go’ because these atheists have offended you in the past just as the Easter messages bothered tigtog.
    I think tigtog’s article was really quite clear on what it was and wasn’t saying, what it did and didn’t take issue with, and it doesn’t appear to me to try to bite off more than it can chew (doesn’t slam all religious leaders everywhere for everything they say and do or excuse all atheists everywhere for what they say and do, and doesn’t really do an us v them thing at all, in fact works to undermine that divisiveness).
    I think it was clear in the first place that it wasn’t that they spoke or that they spoke on faith or atheism, or when they spoke, but the ways in which they spoke about it, and I think it’s clear that tigtog hasn’t especially singled out Jensen (though his presumptions to know the motivations of atheists are offensive to me personally and I think were clearly and gently stated in the article).

  7. Odd … I submitted, but comment’s vapourised? No matter … this is the gist:
    tigtog … I’m not asking you to let offensive comments go, neither am I saying that one party in a debate should be allowed to get nasty just because the other has done so first. I’m also not asking you to defend Dawkins; I am merely using him as an example.
    What I am saying is that I understand you being offended at nasty stereotyping, because I don’t like it when I hear it of Christians (or Muslims or Jews or Buddhists or Hindus or anyone of faith) from outspoken atheists.
    And I’m asking which things were said that particularly offended you so that I can better understand your position.
    Isn’t dialogue what you want?
    ps “your mob”?? now that is stereotyping.

    • @Sheryl, the spaminator took against you – sorry about that. I was wondering why I hadn’t seen a reply from you.
      The “your mob” was a [misplaced, obviously] attempt at levity, but let’s not forget that all the major faiths have formed religious hierarchies which claim a level of moral authority for those placed in leadership positions. Unless a person of faith has made a special effort to practice their faith outside these hierarchies (as some indeed do), there is an extra element of in-group dynamics at play amongst the faithful that simply does not exist amongst people who do not feel a religious urge. This in-group hierarchical attitude particularly manifested itself in the positions that the archbishops chose to take in their criticisms of the philosophical position of atheists.
      As to exactly how offended I was? Personally I was offended mostly by their expectation that the rhetorical tricks they were playing were going to go unrecognised and unchallenged. The actual claims against atheists were so puerile that they were more laughable than disturbing, except for the fact that these were being made by men invested with moral authority by their organisations. That’s why I didn’t bother to address their arguments individually in the article – as arguments in themselves they matter very little, because the major point is that atheists are just people with personal views, and instead of engaging with philosophical criticisms of the institutional power of religious hierarchies these moral leaders chose to represent atheists as psychologically disordered.
      But here’s one for you to think about: Jensen accused atheists of making themselves God in a twisted self-idolatry and/or hating God largely on the basis of atheists rejecting the moral authority of the Church. This argument appears to position the religious hierarchy as automatically and unquestionably equivalent to a deity. I find that hubristic at the very least.

  8. In other words, sometimes atheists are cats that will not be herded, too.

  9. This year’s set against atheists seemed to arise in part from a perception that they were taking on organisational characteristics, which for some churchmen is clearly threatening (oh noes, they had a convention!). However (as Tigtog pointed out) you get good atheists and bad atheists. Having the activities of the bad atheists who killed the Orthodox clergy in Russia in the name of Bolshevism ascribed to all atheists is like suggesting that all Christians are personally responsible for the 30 Years War, or all Muslims are personally responsible for the Taliban.
    It also forgets that atheists are politically diverse; there’s a joke around Ozblogistan that organising libertarians is like herding cats; as one of the local libertarians, I can say this has more than a ring of truth to it. Now libertarians are also politically on the ‘right’ of the traditional spectrum, and it’s probably fair to say that the ‘right’ is more densely populated with religious believers than the left. As an atheist (who also happens to be on the right), when I see my position equated with communism (a political philosophy I despise) I begin to suspect that someone is more interested in turning interesting and complex debates into a football match, which — I think it is fair to say — does no-one any good at all.
    Apologies Tigtog for the long comment. I may have to blog this over at our place.
    .-= skepticlawyer´s last blog ..Battle of Britain Begins: General Election 2010 =-.

  10. As a Buddhist, I object to being called a person of “faith”. I’m an atheist.

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