Thursday, October 22, 2015

What's the Deal With New Atheists?

Christians these days are sounding the rallying cry against "new atheists".  They are waging a pitched battle against them, turning everything they say into a grossly distorted straw man, and making them out to be dishonest, hateful, immoral, and even dangerous.  Where does all this antipathy come from?

A few years ago, I decided to enter the fray of discussion with religious believers in an attempt to learn more about their beliefs, and to understand why they believe what they do.  I quickly earned the label of "gnu".  It was a term that I had never heard before, and I wondered what distinguishes a "gnu" from other atheists.  I have been asking that question ever since, but I never got any kind of satisfactory answer from the theists.  But after all this time, and many arguments and discussions, the real answer is evident.

The difference between a new atheist and any other atheist is that the new atheist isn't cowed into silence by religious believers.  That's it.  It has nothing to do with the terminology you choose, or how you say it.  It's simply a matter of being vocal against theistic belief or the arguments made by theists.

But why should this new brand of atheists be so vocal?  What is it about religious belief that stirs the passions of atheists and makes them want to speak out?
It's this: Religion is ultimately dependent on belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die.  It therefore has no reality check.  And it is therefore uniquely armored against criticism, questioning, and self-correction. It is uniquely armored against anything that might stop it from spinning into extreme absurdity, extreme denial of reality ... and extreme, grotesque immorality. - Greta Christina
There are many reasons we should be apprehensive about religious encroachment on our lives.  I'll outline some of them here.

Power-seeking and imposition of theocratic law

Religious institutions have always tried to become part of the ruling class, either claiming for themselves the right to rule, or sharing power in some way with the political leadership of nations.  This was a major concern to the founders of the USA.  But the constitution has not hindered the rise of dominionism, or the efforts of some to turn our government into a de facto theocracy that disturbs even theists.

Culture and education
Concubines, magical incantations, chosen people, stonings . . . The Iron Age was a time of rampant superstition, ignorance, inequality, racism, misogyny, and violence. Slavery had God’s sanction. Women and children were literally possessions of men. Warlords practiced scorched earth warfare. Desperate people sacrificed animals, agricultural products, and enemy soldiers as burnt offerings intended to appease dangerous gods.

Sacred texts including the Bible, Torah and Koran all preserve and protect fragments of Iron Age culture, putting a god’s name and endorsement on some of the very worst human impulses. Any believer looking to excuse his own temper, sense of superiority, warmongering, bigotry, or planetary destruction can find validation in writings that claim to be authored by God. -
Yes, many of the ancient religious teachings and practices have become obsolete to some degree, but they haven't gone away altogether.  They continue to exert a negative influence on our modern culture.  Religious indoctrination instills resistance to reason and change, so these practices and beliefs are perpetuated.  Scientific education is still suppressed by some religious groups within their own community, and there is an active movement to replace science with religious pseudo-science in the public schools.  Teenagers engage in unprotected sexual activity because of religious resistance to sex education.

Psychological and physical harm

The most obvious example of damage inflicted by religious belief is terrorism.  And if you think that this only results from Islamic belief, you should be aware that in the US, there have been more instances of terrorism perpetrated by Christian fanatics than by Islamic fanatics.  Aside from that, people are murdered or beaten for homosexuality or apostasy.  And far more often, those who don't suffer physical harm are subjected to psychological abuse, sometimes ending in suicide.  Medical treatment, vaccinations, anesthesia, and blood transfusions may be withheld for reasons of religious objection.  Large-scale problems such as environmental degradation, poverty, or disease are seen by many as God's will, and go on without any serious attempt to solve them because religious believers think that God will solve them in his own way, or that they are God's way of achieving his goals.  Many evangelicals look forward to calamitous global conflict in the belief that it will be the fulfillment of biblical prophesy.

Religious privilege

Religious institutions don't pay taxes and don't create wealth.  They are parasites on society that depend on the rest of us to support them.  In many cases, they don't even abide by the laws that apply to the rest of us.  Churches harbor criminals and criminal activity, protecting their own from prosecution or imprisonment.  How many pedophiles continue to work within the confines of the Catholic church?  How many pastors have embezzled funds from their congregation with impunity?  How many televangelists have become rich from the donations of gullible followers?  This article gives some other examples of religious privilege.

Personal freedom

As for myself, I would like to see a level playing field.  I would like to be able to freely say that I'm not a believer at work, without fear of losing my job.  I'd like to be able to discuss my own beliefs with theists on the internet without being labeled as a "gnu", shouted down, or silenced altogether.  And just as there are (and have always been) many Christians who are quite vocal in their criticism of atheists, there are atheists who are critical of theists.  What's wrong with that?  What are they afraid of? 

Well, it's really quite simple.  They feel threatened by us.  With all these "new atheists" speaking out, people are listening, and people are changing their beliefs.  Christianity is declining.  They are losing their dominant position.  They feel it slipping away, and they're afraid.  So they lash out against us.  They invent horror stories about how, if we ever come to power, we will treat them the same way they have treated us.  All I can say is Calm down, guys.  When reason prevails, nobody will be treated that way.  Let's hope the day comes sooner rather than later.


  1. Bob Prokop says:

    "If nothing else, the time and effort persons like the self-styled im-skeptical spend in commenting on the subject prove just how important a role religion plays in their lives, even while they deny its validity.

    In your dreams, Bob. It's important to me, but not for the reasons you suppose.

  2. Well, it's really quite simple. They feel threatened by us.

    Dream on, buddy boy. You don't threaten me in the least.

    But give an atheist political power, and the experience of the past century shows that everyone, believer and atheist alike, would have serious cause for fear. Sorry, but the record speaks for itself. Now, you will undoubtedly engage in the No True Scotsman fallacy and say the 20th Century mass murderers weren't "real" atheists, but they were. And that's how atheists behave when they get in power - every time.

    1. Oh, you poor, frightened soul. You just refuse to listen. There is a huge difference between ideology-driven dictators (including religious ideology) and atheists. Stalin may have been an atheist, but he killed all those people for the sake of his communist ideology, not his atheism. Your incessant efforts to pin that on people like me is indicative of the truth of what I have said, as well as the dishonesty of your own position. The truth is that there have been many atheists in positions of power.

    2. Just as I predicted, and right on cue. The No True Scotsman fallacy.

      Oh, and by the way. Not one of the people in your link (whatever their personal beliefs were) were the head of an atheist state. Denmark, of which your link lists 5, actually has an official state religion (Lutheranism), as does the UK (Anglicanism), which counts for 5 more on the list.

    3. Just as I predicted, and right on cue. The No True Scotsman fallacy.
      And just as I thought, you don't have a clue what you are saying. The "No True Scotsman" fallacy would involve re-defining atheism to exclude communist leaders from the group. I certainly did not do that. I specifically said Stalin was an atheist. But you completely ignore the true nature of totalitarian dictators. According to the Wikipedia article on state atheism, all states that have a policy of state atheism are identified as "Commumist states". They are motivated by an ideology. Communism is one such ideology, and Christianity is another. Atrocities have been attributed to both kinds of ideologies, but I have never heard of atrocities being attributed to a non-belief. Only people like you who are not interested in understanding the true nature of the issue would try to draw this false connection, while ignoring the obvious common factor.

      Not one of the people in your link (whatever their personal beliefs were) were the head of an atheist state.
      What does that have to do with it? You said "But give an atheist political power, and the experience of the past century shows that everyone, believer and atheist alike, would have serious cause for fear." I gave you plenty of examples where an atheist has political power, that gave believer and atheist alike no cause for fear. Now you're moving the goalpost. The fact is that a country like Denmark, after having numerous atheist leaders, enjoys freedom and prosperity. This just goes to show that your assertion is simply false.

    4. You don't get it, do you? An atheist in a political office hardly equates to him "getting in power". If that were so, then Quakers would have been in power in the US during the Nixon administration, Baptists during Carter's, and Episcopalians during the first Bush presidency.

      But every time - EVERY SINGLE TIME - that atheists have actually controlled a state in any meaningful sense, there has ensued nothing but tyranny, mass murder, and widespread mayhem. This is just the historical record, and cannot be denied without either lying or being willfully blind.

    5. An atheist in a political office hardly equates to him "getting in power"
      You don't get it. These are heads of state - not just politicians. What exactly do you consider to be "getting in power"? Perhaps you think that being in power only means being the head of an "atheist state", as you said earlier. If so, then you're the one using the No True Scotsman fallacy. You're redefining "atheist head of state" to mean only Communists. But there have been many heads of state who are atheists and not Communist totalitarians. So why don't you just admit that it's Communists you're talking about, and not atheists in general? And then you can admit that your original complaint was pure bullshit: "But give an atheist political power, and the experience of the past century shows that everyone, believer and atheist alike, would have serious cause for fear." The "everyone" you speak of doesn't apply to Americans, or Danish, or Australians, or anyone else who doesn't live in a Communist dictatorship. So what the hell are you bitching about, anyway?

    6. I think the confusion here is one of terminology. You appear to think that an individual winning an election is "getting in power". I am referring to atheism becoming synonymous with the state, as in Revolutionary France, the Soviet Union, or North Korea (amongst others). Note the French on that list - they weren't Communists.

      I can't put the Nazis in there (although they had a extreme hatred for Christianity). They were, if anything, pagans, occultists.

      But in any case - yes, not all atheists are Communists (e.g., Ayn Rand), but all Communists (capital "C") were/are atheists. Communism is a subset of atheism.

    7. I am referring to atheism becoming synonymous with the state, as in Revolutionary France, the Soviet Union, or North Korea (amongst others). Note the French on that list - they weren't Communists.
      So we're still limited to Communists. As for the French, you obviously need to learn some history. Hint: you won't get an accurate historical account from your Christian sources. But I'll try to help you out.

      You are evidently referring to the Reign of Terror during the French revolution, which was initiated by Maximilien Robespierre, whose reign lasted about ten months. It was marked by an increase in the number of deaths (the revolution had already been underway for some time) of "enemies of the Republic", which included Catholic clerics and monarchists. The number of people executed is estimated at between 18,500 and 40,000.

      Robespierre was not an atheist, as many Christians love to claim. He was a deist. He even tried to establish a state religion, known as the Cult of the Supreme Being. So you can cross the French revolution off your bullshit list. All you have is a few Communists.

      And you better not even think of including Nazis. They were Christians. There were a few people in the regime that tried to establish some kind of pagan cult, must the vast majority of the regime and the people, including Hitler were Christians, and it was traditional Christian hatred of Jews that fed the holocaust.

      not all atheists are Communists (e.g., Ayn Rand), but all Communists (capital "C") were/are atheists. Communism is a subset of atheism.
      That is absolutely wrong. There are and have been Christian Communists.

    8. Nazis ... were Christians.

      No, they weren't. To the contrary, they regarded Christianity as second to Judaism as their mortal enemy. They filled their concentration and death camps with Catholic priests (such as St. Maximilian Kolbe and Alfred Delp), and "euthanized" thousands of Polish nuns during the occupation. The Hitler Youth routinely used crucifixes for target practice (note the bullet holes).

      That is absolutely wrong.

      Again, no. It is absolutely right. Yes, there have been and are plenty of Christian communists, but no Christian Communists. Huge difference.

    9. No true Scotsman ...

      No true Christian would have ever been a Nazi ... But they were.

      No true Christian would ever be a Communist ... But there are many.

    10. No True Scotsman does not apply in this case. It is overruled by the more fundamental pillar of logic that A does not equal Not-A. You cannot be both a Christian ("A") and an enemy of Christianity ("Not-A").

      Think, man, think!

    11. You can believe whatever fairy tales you like. That doesn't make them true. I urge you to actually read the material I linked to. It proves that you are wrong. And try reading this: The Roman Catholic Leadership of the Third Reich. Here's a quote from it: "To be sure, the Roman Catholic Church wants to distance itself from all of these monsters now, but it made no attempt to do so at the time, when it could have made a tremendous impact."

      Now, here's a little bit of news for the deluded Catholic. From the days of Constantine to the present, your church has not always been the exemplar of virtue and goodness. But don't take my word for it. Learn some history.

    12. I see your link (from a far-from-objective, anti-Catholic hate site. Why do you even look at such trash? It belongs in the same category as The Protocols of theElders of Zion.), and raise you this one,
      and this one,
      and even this one.

      They "prove that you are wrong".

    13. All they prove is that the situation is far more complex than you have made it out to be. Of course there was resistance to the Nazis from Catholics. But there is no denying that Catholics comprised a significant portion of the Nazi leadership. Your claim was that the Nazis were not even Christian, when in fact they were predominantly Christian, and about 1/3 of them were Catholic.

      Here are some pictures for you :

      If you want to know about the church's official position with respect to the Nazi regime, read about the Papal Nuncio to Germany during the time.:

      Like I said, you can believe whatever fairy tales you like (including apologetic revisionism), but that doesn't make them true.

    14. Fairy tales? Fairy Tales? FAIRY TALES?

      This from a person who links to a website that includes this priceless gem?

      Because of her age-old desire to control the world government and church, the serpent-like Vatican has infested the world and the U.S. government with so many of her zealous, highly-trained and dedicated Jesuit devotees, that she now controls the United Nations (which she created), the White House, Congress, every state, federal, civic, and social government agency, including the U.S. Department of Labor, the IRS, the FBI, the Supreme Court, judicial systems, the armed forces, state, federal, and other police, also the international banking and federal reserve systems (called the Illuminati and Agentur), labor unions, the Mafia, and most of the heavyweight news media.

      This is where you go, to get your "historical facts"? And you have the nerve to lecture anyone about believing in "fairy tales"?

      Tell me now, do you also believe in the Worldwide Jewish Conspiracy?

    15. This from a person who links to a website that includes this priceless gem?

      Those are the words of Tony Alamo, and they do not appear on any page I linked to. However, I did link to a page from his site that simply shows pictures of Nazi Catholics. The pictures don't lie, regardless of what you think of the guy who posted them. This is an ad hominem fallacy. The FACT is that there were Catholics in the Nazi regime, and there were Catholic supporters of the Nazi regime. And this is in direct contradiction to your assertion.

  3. They appear in the website you linked to, and are indicative of the reliability and objectivity of everything found there. All your linking to it demonstrates is your apparent fascination with conspiracy and hate sites. If this is where you are gleaning your information about the Catholic Church from, then it's no wonder you are so pathetically misinformed.

    Really, before you post another word about Catholicism, you ought to read (slowly, and in their entirety) this, this, and this. And stay away from hate sites - all they do is spread Darkness Visible.

  4. And stay away from hate sites - all they do is spread Darkness Visible.
    Fine words from someone who gets his own information from a hate site. Your own accusation about atheists comes directly from the mouths of hateful liars. Remember these words?
    EVERY atheist who has had the political power to do so has killed believers.

    Every damn time.

    Can this be conincidence?

    Don't tell me about where I should get my information. All I did was link to some photographs from a site that you don't like. You, on the other hand, repeat the LIES you get from one of your favorite theistic hate sites. And you've been defending those lies despite clear evidence to the contrary.

    And you can link to all the apologetic crap you like. I know damn well what your church is like, and I have no use for it.

    1. You never even bothered to learn what I was linking to, did you? Not one of those books was "apologetic". All three of them were autobiographies.

      So much for your vaunted "skepticism". What a fraud!

    2. I haven't read those stories, and I don't see the point in taking the time, when there is so much more interesting material that I'll probably never have the time to read.

      I've shown conclusively that the claims you made here are wrong. Your knowledge of history is abysmal, and your arguments are riddled with fallacies.

      And now you're dismissing my skepticism. I'm devastated.

    3. It's amazing what you'll "never have the time to read". Earlier, you dismissed Dante's Divine Comedy as beneath your notice, a work universally described as the greatest literary achievement of all time. But you don't have time for it. Now I give you the autobiographies of the only two Americans referenced by Pope Francis in his speech to Congress. But you don't have time for them. And the immortal words of Alfred Delp, penned while he was awaiting his Nazi executioner, can't find a place in the "skeptical" mind of someone who denies the contradiction between Christianity and Nazism.

      What can I say? You've demonstrated to the world, on your very own website, that you have zero interest in hearing anything that disturbs your neat little thought bubble. God forbid you might have to challenge your preconceived notions!

    4. It really doesn't bother me that my choice of reading material fails to meet your approval. I have spent significant time, made an effort to learn about theistic belief systems. And speaking of challenging your preconceived notions, I see absolutely no evidence that you have ever done that.

  5. How blinkered, indeed blighted, Plank's history of the relationship between nazism and christianity? Given his sources come straight from the hyperactive army of Christian apologists who have desperately attempted to peddle that revisionist 'historical' mythos since the end of WW2, it comes as no surprise. The ubiquitous art and long historical pedigree of 'lying for jesus' makes it a not unknown character flaw of christian retroactive revisionism.

    Doris L. Bergen writes in her “Nazism and Christianity: Partners and
Rivals? A Response to Richard Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich. Nazi 
Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945″ (Journal of Contemporary History Copyright © 2007 SAGE Publications, London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi, Vol 42(1), 25–33. ISSN 0022–0094.DOI: 10.1177/0022009407071629)

    “Richard Steigmann-Gall has vigorously argued (following here some other scholars) that ‘the insistence that Nazism was an anti-Christian movement has been one of the most enduring truisms of the past fifty years’.
    While Bergen generally agrees, she identifies certain weaknesses both in the analytical framework and the empirical adequacy of Steigmann-Gall´ work. In effect, Bergen argues that Steigmann-Gall both overplays and underplays his case. One cannot make any justice to the insights of either Steigmann-Gall or Bergen, but the following crucial point stressed by Bergen should be widely known:
    “The overwhelming majority of Germans remained baptized, tax-paying
 members of the official Christian Churches throughout the 12 years of nazi rule. In hindsight, it may seem impossible to reconcile the vicious hatreds of nazism with Christianity’s injunction to ‘turn the other cheek’ or to square the circle of nazi anti-semitism with Christianity’s obvious origins in Judaism. But the vast majority of Germans — over 95 per cent by the last count in 1939 —evidently had no problem doing so.”
    Indeed, the Nazis could never have overrun Germany except by appealing to interests, beliefs, hopes and fears of Germans who viewed themselves as good Christians. The Nazis did not come to power thanks to some imagined ideological void following the acceptance of “God is dead”. They came to power on the shoulders of German Christianity.”

    Just as his belief in a god is delusional, so too is Plank's history of Christianity in Germany in 1933-1945. Christians did not stop Nazism. They aided and abetted its rise to power. Plank's abject denialism of this fact alone simply underscores the delusional character of his worldview.

    Is it any wonder the smell of christian bullshit is becoming worse.

    1. It's no wonder that planks is so clueless about history. This is the kind of revisionist crap he gets from his own church. And there is plenty more where that came from.

      But the historical information is available to those who want to know the truth. Obviously, planks doesn't.

    2. I just read through your latest link. (For once, not a conspiratorial hate site.) I found not one single untruth anywhere in it. Could you kindly point one out, so I can see why you label it "revisionist crap"?

    3. And by the way, thanks for alerting me to the existence of this site. I had never seen it before, and didn't know it existed. I've now bookmarked it, and will be using it in the future!

      See, you are doing some good!

    4. You want to hear some truth for a change? I seriously doubt it. But just in case, here are a couple of well-researched articles about the Nazis. It's easy to see the difference. The Catholic revisionist article that you find so much to your liking contains absolutely no sources or references. There's a reason for that: because it's not based on documented history. These articles, on the other hand contain actual historical information with references that you can check for yourself.

      First, this one by Coel Hellier describes the religious nature of Nazi ideology.

      Then, Gerald Darring describes the position of the Catholic church during thr time of the Nazi regime, and changes that came about afterward.

    5. I ask again. You labeled the page you linked to (at 4:01 PM) "revisionist crap". I found not one word in it to be false. What did you find on that page that caused you to so characterize it? Not another link, but what in that page?

    6. The lies begin in paragraph 3. The Nazis and the church came to an agreement, known as the concordat. The primary enemy that both were opposed to was communism.

      And I still doubt that you will ever read any real historical accounts like what I provided, because if you did, you's see what a bunch of revisionist crap the church is feeding you.

  6. I've added the one-click access for both Coel Hllier and Gerald Darring so that Plank has no excuse not to explore bona fide historical data on the Catholic/Nazism relationship.

    But for him then it was never about pursuit of the truth. Rather, it is about propagating the revisionist post-hoc catholicized 'trooth'™. Is it any wonder that Christian crapola is now being seen for what really it is, Christian crapola.

  7. The surest sign of intellectual bankruptcy on one side in a debate is when its proponents fall back upon foul language and insult. The repeated scatological references by you and Papalinton indicate only that neither of you have anything of substance to bring to the table. You mistake vulgarity for an argument.

    1. Perhaps I should just stick to calling it what it is: bullshit.

      Now why don't you tell me which is worse - your statement "But give an atheist political power, and the experience of the past century shows that everyone, believer and atheist alike, would have serious cause for fear", which is not only an insult, but an outright lie - or my saying that it's bullshit.

      You want to talk about intellectual bankruptcy? How about your utter refusal to recognize the truth, when it has been handed to you on a silver platter? How about your willingness to believe whatever bullshit your church tells you, without question? And on top of that, you tell me, "So much for your vaunted "skepticism". What a fraud!" You don't have a clue what skepticism means.

    2. I didn't 'fall back' upon foul language and insult. It was supplemental to the argument, an honest characterisation of apologists', like Plank's, misperceived worldview. More's the point, one knows when an argument has been lost and, in this case, comprehensively exposed as a sham, is when the interlocutor opts out of the argument and bleats 'foul language and insult'.

      Incidentally, 'bullshit' and 'crapola' are synonyms for the bunkum Plank tries to claim as historical. If it looks like crapola, reads like crapola, smells like crapola, ................

  8. It seems to me that one of the key differences that warrant the title "New Atheist" is the idea that the existence of God question is deemed to be a scientific question and not just a philosophical question. The old school atheists would argue that none of the agruments put forward for the existence of God were valid or sound but they didn't dispute that the arguments were the only way to intellectually address the question. This gave the existence question a certain gravitas. This gravitas lent respect to religion even when all the arguments and logic were empty.

    Changing the ground rules away from Philosophy to Science, relegated the God question to the same realm as elan vital, the aether and philogiston. This is the big threat, not so much that they will be proved wrong but that they will be not taken seriously or just forgotten.

    1. There seems to be a strange relationship between theist and science. I think it's true that they are afraid of falling into irrelevance as science continues to provide natural explanations for things that were formerly the realm of God. Hence we have their claims that science can't possibly investigate the realm of the immaterial - that there are non-overlapping magisteria. This seems to be a desperate attempt to fence off their own territory, and declare that science is irrelevant in this realm. And it leads to charges of scientism aimed at those who see science as the best path to knowledge.

      On the other hand, theists would love to find scientific corroboration for their beliefs. They eagerly jump at any scientific information, such as the big bang as confirmation of God's creation. They look to ID science, and establish institutions dedicated to explore relationships between science and theology. Even theistic philosophers are getting in on the game.

      Hedging their bets, perhaps?

  9. For the real story on the Church's opposition (and indeed resistance) to Nazism, you ought to read this, instead of relying on the conspiracy hate sites you seem so fond of.

    1. The information I presented is historical. Yours is church propaganda.

    2. By the way, were you aware that after WW II ended, the church assisted Nazis in escaping prosecution in Germany by obtaining them passports (issued by the Vatican) and passage to places like South America?