Books Jan 22, 2009 at 4:00 am

An Anti-Christian Book That Doesn't Whine or Brag


Thank God.

Perhaps not, by Tarico's standards. But it isn't just the reasonable Atheists who have been waiting for something like this to come along. As a staunch Christian debater, it's more than a small setback that I cannot get the depressingly familiar stereotype of the smug, head-up-his-own-ass Atheist out of my head. I may not agree with them spiritually, but I so want to agree with them as regular people. This isn't an easy task: Most Atheists I debate with are every bit as smug and condescending as the greats of their lack of faith. They're discouragingly shitty people on the inside, and, seeing as they are some of the only Atheists I know besides one of my closest friends (who doesn't help since we never talk about this anyways), I have been knowingly pissed at Atheists in the worst way.

So even if I don't agree with Tarico in a spiritual sense, I can more than agree with her on a personal, human level, which is just the fix I need. Much thanks to the both of you.
PS Just out of curiosity, is this taking shots at all of Christianity, or, more specifically, just the small-minded, embarrassingly thick-headed literalist evangelicals?
Howdy, A: The biggest target is mainly evangelicals who are into Biblical literalism. I don't know if I'd recommend this book to a believing Christian who didn't want to have their faith doubted, but it's definitely aimed at the S-M.E.T-H. L. evangelicals you described above there.
I'm a small "b" believer, but I just read and enjoyed Hitchens book "God is not great". I didn't find it all that smug, although there were some unnecessary snarkiness here and there that defeats the purpose of enlightening people about the true history of organized religion. I think there are more believers out there like me who don't take Scripture literally or think clerics have a special hotline to God than people think, and we can talk about this without going all jihad-y if atheists can turn down the whole "I'm super-enlightened and you're a retard who believes in a phoney-baloney God" rhetoric.
There is nothing an atheist can say, there is no tone an atheist can take, nor is there a debate tactic, trick, or rhetoric that comes anywhere near as smug as the person who not only assures you he/she is positive an actual, specific, god exists, but that this person also knows the exact will of this god in all circumstances.

Don't criticize me for the exercise of my own sound legs, when you have two hind-legs of your own to stand on...if you would just throw away the crutch.
Oh what a bunch of bullshit.

Attacking "new athiests" for smugness is such a limp, reactionary dodge, and it's double embarrassing when other nonbelievers bow and scrape and apologize and make excuses when believers feign offense to cover their shortcomings in substantive debate. Plus the whole critique is fucking vaaaaaaaague.

Hitchens is a mean old bastard and his polemics aren't my style, but I stand with him in making atheistic existence visible.

Sorry PC, really like your writing otherwise, but this opening paragraph is unnecessarily divisive and silly.

Even so, sounds like a great book.
Bitches is bitches.
In other words, Christopher Hitchens and Beverly LaHaye are of the same ilk.

Atheists who insist that Christians are idiots because the bible contradicts itself are just as bad as the smug nasty-minded Christians who proudly tell the aforementioned Atheists that they are damned. These people (both camps) generally do damage to their own causes because (thank Jodie Foster's daddy) we don't choose to accept their bullshit anymore.
it's hard to be eloquent with people who want you to burn in hell.
Thanks Paul, I'll have to check this book out. I found "The God Delusion" to get extremely boring and repetitive about half way through. I was just like, "you've covered this 8 times already, move on."
Hopefully this book stays fresh throughout.

As far as convincing evangelicals? Not gonna happen. They can only convince themselves. You could give them actual, real proof there is no god and they'd still believe, so this isn't gonna do it.
The difference: Whereas smug Christians tell non-believers they're "going to burn in hell," Smug non-believers only say, "you're wasting your time."

There's no damnation on the part of atheists, only nagging questions like "How do you know that?" or subtle facial expressions that beg, "ARE YOU CRAZY?"

Plus, with the never-ending oppression of atheists in American society, they deserve to be a bit cranky.

I remember two old men atheists who came to a pro-choice, clinic-defense rally. They started talking to the people there about their own agenda. I was interested for a few minutes.

That was the day I formed the conclusion that many atheists were true believers in the one and only truth, closed-minded, intolerant and judgmental, thumping their printed tracts, handing out leaflets, and trying to convert others into seeing the light.

It's pretty funny, in a way.
If smugness is the worst charge that can be leveled against atheists as a class, then I rather think that makes them the least "sinful" of all the "religious" persuasions. Can I get an "Amen!"? :-)
I'm fine with being smug.
I have a question. First, I'll disclose that I'm an atheist who grew up in Catholic/Lutheran churches and later rejected the idea of a God. So, here goes:

God created Man in his own image according to Genesis. Man is inherently contradictory and hypocritical in thought - at least I am. We are not perfectly logical beings. We change our minds constantly as we work through the decisions we make in life. If Man is a reflection of God, then why should we expect God to be completely logical and not contradictory? Your answer might be, "well, God is supposed to be perfect." But who says that perfect means completely logical. Maybe a perfect being is a being that can be contradictory -- loving and cruel, judgmental and forgiving, etc., simultaneously. Perhaps this ability to hold two opposing ideas and simultaneously believe in them is a quality that Man lacks? And perhaps only through multiple authors was God capable of writing a contradictory Bible.

Like I said - I'm an atheist and this thought just popped into my head. Care to comment?
Re: And Richard Dawkins, with his inane suggestion that atheists refer to themselves as "brights," is no better.

I am quite sure the author did not explore what "The Brights Net" really is before commenting on it.

From day one, the word Bright has referred to the Enlightenment, a time when reason and science offered a hope for humanity to move toward a better world. Never have the Brights claimed superior intelligence to supers. “Bright” refers to a worldview, not to the intelligence of individuals who hold that worldview.

The antonym of bright is not dim. The contrast is brights and supers (Daniel Dennett's suggestion in "Breaking the Spell").

The Brights' Net is neither an atheist nor an anti-religious organization. It is a civil action group, working to create a level playing field for all worldviews, both naturalistic and religious.

The Brights' Net is quite willing to cooperate with religious groups on topics of common interest, such as the separation of church and state and keeping creationism out of public schools.

Over 44,000 individuals have registered as a Bright, from 181 nations of the world. It can't be all bad.

We invite you to visit the Brights' website at:

Paul Geisert, Ph.D.
Co-director of The Brights Net
If people just did a litle investigating they would find that Jesus (God) is a myth just like Zeus or Apollo. We make this shit up so we don't feel so small. But the truth is that we are this small and human life in comparison to the universe as a whole is just as insignificant as this comment.
In response to Turnip, god is alleged to be omnipotent and one of the qualities of an omipotent god is the ability to do anything that it is logically possible for it to do. This god is also omniscience meaning it knows anything and everything infinitely. So this god knows evetually a book will be written about him and he knows some people won't believe it. He also knows that it will be filled with contradictions. Why would a perfect being let so many holes creep into his holy book? And further, why would a perfect being create less than perfect humans? Entertainment? Surely this god full of all information ever known does not need us to keep him busy.
Almost more infuriating than generally smug atheists are the atheists who boldly defend their right to be a-holes. They like to portray anyone who isn't a complete jerk as some kind of milktoast atheist that doesn't think atheism should be defended. What's so hard to understand about the concept of expressing our disbelief without resorting to name-calling or arrogant posturing? If you're using sound arguments, the added bitchiness is unnecessary.
Smugness can be easily misconstrued. I think it's time for rationalists to stop coddling religious people's feelings so much and stand up for the truth. We don't have to purposely go out of our way to be condescending and smug, but we shouldn't compromise one bit! Just because something has "meaning" for someone, doesn't make it true. It's time to accelerate our evolution and that means getting outside of our comfort zones. If somebody is spouting off some crazy religious rhetoric and passing it off like it's the truth, we should respond appropriately... with ridicule and logic!
Faith as a virtue is very low on the totem pole of the virtues human beings aspire to. Compassion, love, honesty, responsibility, etc. etc. are much more valuable virtues to aspire to. Faith in what exactly? I'm an agnostic, but I assure you my faith is as strong or stronger than most religious people. I just have faith in things that are real! I have faith that all things unknown will be discovered. I have faith that life will turn out just fine for me and my family. I have faith in myself and in my fellow man. I have faith we can all reach our ideals. What I can't have faith in are bronze age myths and superstitions that have no basis in reality or science whatsoever. I challenge anyone to question my faith or the real faith of agnostics or atheists.
Sorry, I like my atheism snarky.
Its not suprising atheist are smug, cold, and lonely inside. They lack the courage to identify an important aspect of humanity along with mind and body...spirit. An aspect that inspires great art and writing; show me the great art of atheist, and I will show you Michelangelo. This of course is a product of egoism and (by no admission) a lack of security. All the great men in history had a regard for God and spiritual things. All despised men forgot about God (Stalin, Hitler, Mao). GK Chesterton said "The point of opening your mouth, is to shut is on something." Atheist shut it on emptiness and an assertion humanity is ultimately pointless....why even wake up in the morning. For God sakes.
What I want to know is, how can anybody in their right mind thumb through the 2000+ year old archaic crapola in the Bible and then think to themselves, "Yeah, that makes sense. I can relate to that"? How?

A, there's really nothing to debate. The Bible is silly mumbo jumbo on its face. Unadulterated horseshit from a culture very distant from our own.

BTW, I'm not entirely a "discouragingly shitty [person] on the inside."
Wow, did you really drag out the same old, atheists are wrong because Marx, Mao, and Stalin were atheists? (Of course you know Hitler was a Catholic and wrote prolifically about his believe in God being in large part the justification of what he did.) A system of belief isn't true or false based on what some or all the followers of that system do. The system of belief is true or false based only on the actual things believed.
Karl, you will never be respected for your ideas when your ideas are so childish. Although I'm sure you were impressed when you first heard the argument made by some con-man preacher. You probably even dropped an extra five in the basket that day, didn't you?

You should ask what a person trying to gain when they push an argument that is quickly, easily, and demonstrably disprovable. What are you trying to gain, Karl?

Oh, and one other thing? Could you explain to me what the "spirit" is? And where does it abide? And don't use the pathetic excuse of proof that it's seen in the results of man's creativity. That's bullshit. We know creativity and "inspiration" abide in the minds of men and women. There is no need to go a step further and say that some how very special creativity comes from the spirit given by god.

And like most theists, you no nothing of history. Do a little reading about Michelangelo and you'll realize he wasn't the person you want to make him be. His passion was art, the Church paid him, essentially, like most every great thinker of the era, he was a humanist. He helped pull western civilization from the clutches of the dark ages. You've heard of the dark ages, right? The end goal of every religious dogma, complete world control.

To a certain extent, atheists who do not have the tragic and touching personal story Tarico does are bound to sound shrill. Indeed, FEEL shrill in their opinions.

There are an overwhelming number of rank hypocrisies perpetrated and expressed in public by supposedly pious people every day. It is done in groups of friends, the mainstream media, in our pop culture, and virtually every other human forum. That, and these hypocrisies go mostly unchallenged.

An atheist can only watch these displays for so long before they begin to feel personally assaulted by the absurdly self-righteous, and start sounding shrill.

Perhaps we should not let this frustration show, but how else to express the absolute ridiculousness of it all?

When a "scientist" offers the existence of an old man who lives in the clouds and created heaven and earth as the only other REASONABLE option to the evolution of life on Earth, you have to wonder when shrillness should be EXPECTED and JUSTIFIED. These scientists scoff at the idea that Aliens planted life on the planet, but find the existence of an all-powerful, capricious, and interventionist super-being to be nearly self-evident. This is only one example; the list goes on.

I don't WANT to be cranky, because it just brings negativity into my life. But I FEEL cranky when people, like in my example, get away with saying such stupid crap in public with indignant self-righteousness. It grates. It HAS BEEN grating. It will grate.
If one is "smug" or confident in the fact that one has the ability to reason and the will to use, one rather has the right to be and no need to apologize for it. After all, the ability to reason and the clear will to do so isn't an error for which one has to apologize. Of course, if one does not have the ability to reason or if one has the ability but refuses to use it, one doesn't have to apologize to others for one's disabilities or dysfunctions unless of course you use them to interfere in affairs that are none of yours.

If your stupidity is unavoidable, there are clearly many who will nurse maid you in your disability voluntarily. If your stupidity is avoidable but you do not wish to do so, in the least keep your stupidity to yourself that may harm only you and not others.

That you are uncomfortable with the intellectual confidence of some who have reason for that confidence is understandable but nonetheless irrelevant. Perhaps an attitude adjustment on your part is in order.
As a former evangelical who has pretty much moved into the agnostic to atheist camp, I find the books like The God Delusion smug but also reassuring as they strengthen my beliefs. They certainly load my guns so that I have the ammo to shoot down the next Christian I meet with rational arguments showing their contradiction and foolishness. I’ve even found that I can back people into a logical corner and we sometime part with them truly second-guessing their beliefs. I feel justified because of all the fear and prejudice within evangelical’s worldview but don’t really feel fulfilled by making the simpleminded’s life complicated.
I find it better to move conversation into policy and to get them to agree that we live in a pluralistic society and that dogma and religious law don’t have a place in American democracy. The Taliban has shown what society looks like when you push religion toward it logical political end. I’m interested in Tarico's antievangelical book as it could lead to respectful conversation but think that the atheist worldview isn’t necessarily for everyone.
As an atheist, I can say that I'm not cold, lonely, or bitter inside. I have a lovely job and a lovely family, I get a tremendous amount of joy out of my friends and my hobbies, pets, art and music. I have a full and rewarding life and I don't fear death. Most of all, I don't feel like "something is missing," which is a popular assumption.

I get angry when I am told that I'm going to hell, when I am accused of being amoral or evil, told that my children are going to hell, when other kids' parents don't let their kids come to my house any more. But I am not to the point yet where I can shoot it down - I just automatically defer to the pious, and I sicken myself with that.

When left with my own thoughts or talking with people I know to be like-minded, I am quite hostile towards religion and the religious. But I NEVER bring it to THEM they way they bring it to ME. While I can pride myself on my politeness, I wish I had the guts to defend myself, instead of just saying something along the lines of, "Well, I wasn't raised in a religious household so I don't practice religion now." As if I can't even think for myself.

They have no shame in letting me know exactly how they feel about my beliefs, so why do I defer? Does anyone else do that? Are we programmed that way by society? Do we just not want to get into it? Do we just have manners that other people lack? All those? Something else? What IS IT?!

If being an oppressed minority means hiding who you are for fear of being abused by the majority, then I think we atheists DEFINITELY fall into that category. So if that leads to bitchiness or smugness or any other outward negative emotion that rubs some people the wrong way, well I'd say it's to be expected on some level.
why did Europe arrive to a Dark Age? was it because European Christian were in some way inferior? No, the Dark Ages was a result of Black Death brought over to Italy by trade ships from China; which pretty much halted all commerce, trade, and art (for the sake of ones life). If you want a defense of "Spirit" read some of Carl Jungs work. Still, I didn't defend Christianity, but the spirit and God or god. Actually my argument is for what I call "Lutheran-Dialecticalism." You questioned the Spirit. So is there a mind? After all mechanical atheist would argue the mind is material and there is no such thing as ideas/idealism. And if there really is no distinct mind, there is no distinct individual with no distinct purpose. What I find even more odd is that many atheist tend to be politically left; they will cut sharply Christianity but defend at jerk the Islam in theocratic Arab nations.
I can respect someone for holding honest atheist beliefs. By that I mean one who has actually thought out why he/she is an atheist by reasonble discourse of philosophy or theology. But many choose atheism as a lazy mans way of getting a pass on the debate and dialogue about God, life, death, beginning, end. I don't defend creationism or its cousins, but don't tell me all atheist understand the Big Bang or evolution to certainly say " I'm an atheist." Most use the term to dodge the brick and mortar of religion without being intellectually honest and debating its merits regarding whatever theology.
I hate to break it to you, but no matter what nonsense either side spews, neither side is going to win. We're all assholes, don't think that somehow atheists are worse than us theists or that us theists are worse than atheists.

Personal assholery does not speak for the whole of a people, and assuming that an entire group of people acts one way is called stereotyping. Neither forms of bigotry are beneficial. So, both sides are incorrect when making assumptions about the other.

The question of God's existence is undoubtedly the stupidest legitimate question that one can ask. There's really no point in asking it at all, so if you want to see a group of people who really waste their time, look at everyone who actually argues whether theists waste their time or not.

As for the book itself, the reason why I support the book (haven't read it) is because anything proving that not all Atheists are part of the smug stereotype is a step in the direction of neutral balance. The only problem is that it is a major debate at all.

Debating religion is borderline worthless in my opinion. There's a small redeeming quality to it, but for the most part, it's just a lot of anger and stereotypes. Do yourself a favor and give it up. Find your own spirituality or lack thereof, and be content with it. Talk to people about it if you want, but please, don't waste time getting into an argument about it. If you don't agree, just say so. Need to educate them? Educate them. But don't throw opinion in with the facts before the opinion is due.
Karl wrote above, "Don't tell me all atheists understand the Big Bang or evolution to certainly say 'I'm an atheist.'"

Actually, Karl, we do. And here's a music video to prove it:…

I'm sure youre proud of your half semester of junior college. But when asked to define, defend, or give any evidence of the "spirit" you say, "read Jung," well, what can anyone say.

Is your other point that Christianity had nothing to do with the Dark Ages? Christ, you are quite a scholar.

I'm guessing you don't actually know an atheist that's past their teen years, because your description of them does little to illuminate 94% of scientists world wide that claim atheism, Agnosticism, or non-theism as their world view. But I'm sure you understand science better than those who do it for a living as well, right? Talk about smug.

And then you say most atheists believe the mind is materiel, therefor there is no such thing as an idea. Well, don't you build the finest of straw men?

I hope you enjoy your life of confusing/impressing the teen girls down at the coffee shop. Those of us that live in the adult world chuckle at your fraudulent/vapid , so called, dialectic.

I would suggest you go back to reading fantasy novels and playing D&D because your grasp of logic is obviously pathetic and derivative. You are a product of the relatively few things you've read and heard, you are without thought of your own. Sorry, Chachi.
It's to bad the small minded literalistic Christians have the biggest mouths.There are plenty of Christians who work hard at helping the unfortunate, and are not judgmental. That doesn't mobilize the right wing political base though.
P.S. Valerie lives in Seattle.She's my neighbor on Capitol Hill.
no need to get hostile. But don't assume all science needs the underpinnings of atheism, and don't assume all Christians disagree with evolution. But to assume we are just a product of Darwinian evolution alone; otherwise why do humans have the ability to disregard their survival for the survival of a complete stranger? Why is it humans have that "voice" that tells them to for a moment not be selfish and help someone who does not share their genes or hope for survival? And a person without such a "inner voice" or moral stop light is either a sociopath or psychopath. If there is no God or spirit, then humans should not care about a complete stranger who has cancer or when someone is out of a home and hungry because they do not share our genes and as an atheist I should only look out for the survival of my own genes. Look at the relief work that a church such as Saint Marks does for those in need. I want to know about all the great atheist organizations that help those in need?

"Atheism is a disease of the sould before it becomes an error of understanding" Plato

"The religion of the atheist has a God-shaped blank at it's heart." H.G. Wells
Amy, no need to be hostile or personal...right. Don't assume all of science must be on the foundation of atheism or that all Christians deny evolution. But if we are just a Darwinian product alone, and looking out for the survival of our own genes, then why care when a complete stranger has cancer or when one is out of home and hungry? In an emergency why does hear a moral "voice" or that internal stoplight that tells one to put their survival aside for a complete stranger if there is no God or spirit. If a person does not have that "inner moral voice" then they are a sociopath or psychopath. It should not matter as an atheist when someone dies or is just happens right. Case, look at the relief work on behalf of a religious community such as Saint Marks Catherdral, but where are all the atheist organizations doing relief work?

"In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views." Einstein

"The religion of the atheist has a God-shaped blank at it's heart" H.G. Wells

"...But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swalllowed up some 60 million of our people, I coult not put it more accurately than to repeat: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened."
"A gram of crank and a blow job, please." The Reverend Ted Haggard

With your music video response to Karl, you SO should have Rick-Rolled him!!!
I've lost a lot of respect of _most_ atheists, because their views are like Ms. Tarico's, a reaction against a certain type of Christianity. (Evangelicals, while seemingly today wield a large amount of power, historically speaking are just local upstarts.) The writer of the review & the author herself both display the attitude that religion=Christianity, and that the opposite of Christianity is atheism.

What is the opposite of a wall?

There are profound differences between Christianity and other religions, and even deeper differences between religion and spirituality. So I find Ms. Tarico's spiritual evolution to be somewhere in the adolescent stage. She's rejected her local, small-minded religion after finding that there are contradictions in it. So she runs as far away from it as she can conceive, to atheism. However, she still is displaying the dualistic thinking of her origins, and has yet to accept nuance and subtlety.

First off, Christians have never, ever been united in their interpretations of Christ. Before it became legal, there was no codified way in which to worship. Once it became legal, the disagreements went public, and very, very violent. Within 50 years of Constantine making it the official religion of the Empire, there were riots in Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, (among others) where differing Christian faiths (or gangs) killed each other over whose interpretation was the 'right' one. That has continued to this day (although props to Northern Ireland, the most recent Christian War to end). It is quite easy to see the hole in that religion, which has always preached peace & love and has constantly acted in the exact opposite way.

Christianity is not the only religion, and religion itself is only a very small (socially-sanctioned) aspect of spirituality. Humans everywhere, throughout history, have had spiritual experiences. A spiritual experience itself is difficult to define, because they are non-verbal, they seem to be independent of the individual, yet at the same time very personal. The best definition I can offer would be "an ineffable feeling of something more."

The curious thing is that one can have a spiritual experience and still be an atheist, agnostic or belong to a religion. All of those things are merely lenses with which to view the individual's spiritual experiences. It is a constant in human history that people are exposed to phenomenon which is at the farthest limits of their minds to perceive. Our consciousness puts a stamp on it, using the language of images and explanations that have been drilled into since infancy. So these experiences are attributed to Vishnu or Apollo or the Archangel Gabriel or the Virgin Mary or a genii or swamp gas or thousands of different other interpretations. None of them are any more or less valid, the true value of the religious lens lies in what one does w/ the information.

I reject any and all false dichotomies. My reaction to Ms. Tarico is to congratulate her on pulling down the mask she's been taught since childhood, and to encourage her to pull down the mask she's worshipping now. Because the masks never end. Atheists like to congratulate themselves as seeing beyond the nonsense, but they're still looking at another mask, another lens to view the world. Once people begin to realize that our view of reality is thermo-plastic, great things become possible.

P.S., to Karl: Your historical understanding is misinformed, to say the least. The "Dark Ages" refer to the period of the downfall of the Roman Empire in the West until the crowning of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor, in the 8th C. (I'm only quoting CW, there is still debate on this point.) The Black Plague began in the mid-14th. C, and local outbreaks continued off & on for 3 more centuries. I must say this gross misunderstanding of yours has weakened considerably the arguments you make on other subjects.
This thread has officially de-railed.
Paul, I'm wondering if you've read "I Don't Believe in Atheists" which is completely different from what its title suggests. The author makes the case that smug atheists and rabid evangelicals have the same underlying motivation and make the same mistaken assumptions about human nature.
What a fascinating series of comments, both thoughtful and not. I had to laugh that despite Paul's assertion to the contrary, some readers still assumed that I (as author of this book) must be angry and lonely. If anything, I am humbled by the small delights of my family life and the qualities of people who are willing to count me among their friends. Then again, I don't see Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and Dennett as particularly arrogant either -- more urgent, and unflinching, and refusing (because of the urgency) to give deference to beliefs that have the power to kill us all.

Just this evening, as I interviewed former Pentecostal minister Rich Lyons about his journey out of faith. We found ourselves laughing about the velvet arrogance of our former beliefs: that we, among all humans knew for sure what was real; that our instincts, hunches and emotions were the voice of God; that we were personal messengers for the power that created the galaxies and DNA code -- and that He just happened to have an oh-so-human psyche. What other hubris could compare, really?

Valerie Tarico

I'm sorry, but I can only be personal with yo because your ideas are a bit too quaint for me. In your little circle I'm sure an out of context quote is just the thing to bolster the faithful, but in the adult world it's more about actual ideas, not your play-world stuff. But keep going if you wish. If only there was Viagra for the mind...maybe then you could get it up.
I made a mistake in regard to the Dark Age, but more that I was less specific. I had brought up Michelangelo as a spiritual inspiration of art versus art drawn from atheistic or humanistic world view. You state he helped to bring Europe out of the Dark Age. But there was indeed some period in the 14 century of inquiry, art, trade and commerce which was halted by Black Death and also the Little Ice Age which created a minor dark age. Michelangelo came after this. I have made my own personal inquiries into atheism, other forms of theism or poly. I have also had the experience of living in Iraq for two years. But I suppose that those of us who have some gravitation to a supernatural entitiy whoever he, she, or it may be are seen as simple. But the exchange of blogs has shown here that atheist can be as mean spirited or uninviting as their Evangelical counterparts; for which I am not. Rome could be seen as a hallmark of thought prior to the state to vatican exchange entering the Dark Age. But so called enlightened also used man and animals for bloodsport on a mass scale, while the church stopped it. It is also a wonder as to how Francis Collins the former head of Human Genome Project and atheist to become a Theist and stated scientific discoveries are "opportunities to worship." He describes his own theism as Theistic Evolution. Read The Dawkins Delusion? Alister McGrath a former molecular biologist now a theologian.
What exactly is Ms Tarico's sense of urgency in regards to religion? I would say we live in a much more civil time than previously. I could argue that during WWII or with Stalinism there may be a sense of urgency on the part of the religiously sane to battle atheism for which Stalin, Hitler and Benito who are members. There is indeed argument that Atheism at its endpoint can be just as militant as religious groups can be militant. What is the addend? Politics. But sense of urgency? I feel much more confident in defending this country against a group of 2nd rate thugs of Islam, versus a massive force of Atheist under the banner of Communism. The argument has turned into the fundamentalist arguing the fundamentalist. Why do atheist feel the need to keep battle this argument when by now God or god should be dead. Has not science suppposedly killed god by this point. But one thing will always remain true: nations with only one religion or no religion are unjust and not free. The only free nations are those with a number of religious bodies interacting.
Two cents from a man who loves Jesus...
I have not read Tarico's book but from some of the quotes in your article I can see that she is badly misinformed on some of her subject matter. That aside, I just wanted to say that as someone who believes in Jesus Christ we are not all the same. And people (like many evangelicals) who twist scripture to justify their hatred and selfishness are an embarassment and sore spot for the rest of us.
So you're saying that the evangelicals know how to talk to anybody (at all) without sounding like assholes? Atheists can afford to be a tad smug - we haven't burned or drowned "witches" and sundry other "infidels", nor started Crusades or other global meddling missions to "save unbelievers" and "spread the good word", (or, as the zealots of another faith do, beheaded people on television,) and in spite of being among the subjects of Christians' (and others) millennial-long persecutions, have not condemned those who believe such things to the psychiatric institutions they may well belong.
I am of the opinion that Atheists and non-Atheists alike have the ability to be abrasive in the vocalization of their views.

That said, there are views on both sides that make it impossible to avoid some sort of conflict. After all, one can not be both an Atheist and hold to a religion at the same time, these are opposites.

Both sides can, perhaps, get along with those who don't take their beliefs on religion very seriously, or who simply don't emphasize it in their lives, but they can't exactly share their views without coming off as arrogant.

I think the real question is, how do you deal with arrogance? How should people deal with views COMPLETELY contrary to ones own, when there can be no compromise?

To myself, an atheist, Dawkins doesn't sound all that conceited. And when he approaches that tone I wind up simply feeling that he's just stating the brutal truth. A non-Atheist doesn't see it the same way.
Additionally, I think Atheists have a lot of trouble when talking to believers because a believers justifications for why they believe can, and do, often simply shift when they are confronted with facts that attack their beliefs. They can rely on the idea that all those other, more ignorant, believers just have it wrong. An Atheists only defense is to be on the attack, because their own beliefs are simple and clear by comparison.

It's like there is this big fluffy cloud called religion and Atheism is this tiny and hard little pebble. If you throw the pebble at the fog, it just kind of shifts to another area.

But the fog will never break the pebble, either.
Karl - sense of urgency? Because a black being elected president is seen as historic, and yet is 100 times more likely than the election of an avowed atheist in this "free nation".

To be polite, or avoid the inevitable save thyself harangue, most of us simply nod and keep our mouth shut. I think it is great that many are saying "No more - the celestial emporer wears no clothes".
Rabid evangelicals and rabid atheists both fall into the arrogant asshole camp, frankly.

I'm a Christian of the progressive variety. I don't read the Bible (especially the Old Testament) literally because it isn't meant to be a historical record. I know people who are atheists, and people who are evangelicals. I count some in both camps among my closest friends, and there are some who I would literally cross the street to avoid.

The difference? Respect. Quite frankly, I can understand the ease with which people can be atheists. There is nothing logical about faith. And I can understand how some people can be so fervorous in proclaiming the greatness of the god they embrace (I worded that very carefully, because I would include fanatics in any religion in that category).

What I don't understand is how, when you claim to have belief in a loving God, you can treat other people horribly, spew hatred and damnation, and hold truly archaic beliefs because it is literally written that way in a sacred text. Likewise, I can't understand why some atheists look at a person who is a believer, and by all accounts an intelligent, rational being, and see them as less of a person because of that belief.

I think if we all manage to somehow treat each other respectfully, an engaging, lively dialog about religion is possbile, and I would look forward to that conversation.

Of course, I'm also convinced every spring that the Pirates have a shot at the World Series, so take that how you will.
I'll definitely have to check out this book, although I have a feeling that the ideas will be familiar already. I'm a Christian, though I would never identify as an Evangelical, and my take on the shrillness of atheists is this:

Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett and Harris are some of the most ineffectual challengers the faith has ever met. But this is not because these men are petty or intellectual slouches by any measure. To my mind it is because they're fighting against the loudest, most visible forms of Evangelical Christianity, which set the bar incredibly low for pettiness, greed, and arrogance. They have no reason whatsoever to respond with anything better than what Evangelicals dish out, so I can't blame them.

The best thing Christians could do to counter this would be to renew a commitment to reasonable discourse. I know atheists will scoff at this possibility, but to see examples of it, you have to turn off Ted Hagee and go a little further back to some of the church fathers: men of their respective eras, to be sure, but no intellectual slouches themselves. So I have to believe such dialogue is at least possible.

But what do I mean by reasonable discourse? I mean each party laying out actual premises, conducting rigorous arguments, trying to actually understand the body of thought within each camp, instead of scoring cheap shots on neatly constructed caricatures. As a Christian and a rational person I think both parties could actually benefit from this, since (as some have pointed out above) they have more in common than either is presently willing to admit.

But the one thing I will repeat is that I personally believe this will have to start with Christians. Ours is not (and never was) a tit-for-tat morality. If anything we believe is true, then we should be able to repent of our bitter divisiveness and approach our fellow human beings as equals. This is, after all, precisely the example that our savior sets for us.
God is a schizophrenic hobo.
craftybee writes: If people just did a litle investigating they would find that Jesus (God) is a myth just like Zeus or Apollo. that's the sort of comment that makes me wonder if some people realize how arrogant and demeaning they sound. because, you know, it only takes a little investigating! and jesus is just like zeus! i equally despite someone who just comes out and says, "you're going to hell!" but of the two, i hear the former more often around these parts.
the reason i prefer a higher form of dialog? i cringe when i think of discourse in society falling to the lowest common denominator. there's yelling on news shows, stupidity running rampant all over the internet, a lack of respect in simple disagreements. our brightest should seek to set an example in both the ideas they present, and in the way they present them (or live them). otherwise, we are just circling the drain even faster, proving that we are, in fact, on our way to hell.
Just another atheist here, sounding off.

I don't closet myself, but at times I'm discreet about outing myself because I don't know how I'll be received or what incorrect assumptions will be made about me by believers (i.e. the angry, insensitive, uncaring, immoral, intolerant). I don't expect christians to hide their views around me, though interestingly enough, I had people apologize, not wanting to offend me by expressing their opposing view. Weird.

I work w/ politically progressive christians. They don't give me a hard time and I return the favor. I have watched their faces dim upon my announcing that I am an atheist (when it was relevant, say when someone asked me what I was doing for christmas and I replied: Nothing. I don't believe in God and department stores make me depressed), and wished that didn't happen, but it passes and they still engage w/ me in friendly respectful ways.

I don't argue w/ hardcore christians not only because I'm a lover not a fighter, but also because it's kind of impossible. Christianity incorporates some nice concepts, i.e. do unto others as you'd have them do to you--forgive my funky paraphrasing here, I was raised an atheist so I can't quote anything--the emphasis on forgiveness, etc., but the basic argument favored by fundamentalist christians to support the existence of god boils down to: because I say so. There's nothing to refute, so why bother? Wonder if I'm exemplifying the smugness thing here, though I can't say I'm terribly concerned.

If someone asks me to explain my views, I will happily oblige but it doesn't always work the other way around. When I asked a co-worker from a previous job why she quoted a particular phrase from the bible, she couldn't tell me. I told her I hadn't heard the phrase before and wondered what it meant, and why it was important to her. She said she didn't know. Maybe it was too personal and that was her way of bailing, but I was genuinely curious (we were and remained on good terms).

In the past, I've engaged in more heated exchanges but being quoted at (minus explanation) seemed useless so I gave up.

The snarkiness likely results from feeling like the outsider, from getting tired of fundamentalist christians claiming themselves as the standard for morality (that's pretty funny, given the various sex scandals associated w/ that group, but I digress).

The snarkiness comes from the sense of living in somebody else's world--although many groups feel that way, for valid reasons.

The snarkiness comes from being labeled as evil or degenerate for applying plain old critical thinking.

I will read this book. It sounds compelling.
As an atheist, the challenge of debating religion or the existence of God lies in the fact that God lies at the center of the personality and worldview of the believer. It doesn't hold that place in the life of the atheist.

For that reason, trying to engage the average atheist in a debate on the statement "God exists" is like trying to start an argument over the claim that "Stepping on a crack will cause your mother's back to break." To the non-believer, both statements seem to express silly, superstitious beliefs. Thus, the non-believer always seems exasperated with the believer, giving rise to the atheist-as-asshole problem Paul references.

The traits that Karl considers to be religion-based (compassion for others, that "inner voice" telling you to do the right thing) are traits that are shared by all good people, religious or non-religious. Based on my personal experience, I think there are good, bad, and middling people in this world and their belief or non-belief in God has never proven a reliable indicator of who is who.
When I began writing, my intention was to write a critique of evangelicalism -- the Christianity I know best. The problem, I found is that many of the flaws in evangelicalism extend to the exclusive truth claims of Christianity more broadly, and even to the bounds of theism, meaning the belief in a person-god.

There are many journeys out of belief, and beautiful, painful, articulate testimonials can be found at places like or Former apologists post their arguments at

Valerie Tarico
Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty.--Jacob Bronowski
Paul, thanks for pointing out this book. As a compassionate atheist, I often struggle with how to relate to *some* Christians. Being originally from MN, I have many progressive ELCA Lutheran friends who hold both progressive views and a faith that brings joy to their lives.

I envy their faith. When I was young, I joined a church, but after several years was honest with myself and admitted that I just didn't believe that God existed. Last year my Mom died, and it has made me view my eventual death with large doses of despair and panic. I envy my friends in their belief that life goes on. And would love to be proved wrong after death.

But I don't believe that. And my lack of faith sometimes makes me the target of (usually) well-meaning evangelicals who think it's their job to rescue me from their construct of hell. I'll never hold high office in this country because many christians don't trust atheists. My kids have lost friends because they don't attend church. And this hurts.

So I'm eager to see another framework in which I can have conversations with people of faith. As a person who believes compassion needs to be in the center of my life, I have hopes that I can find a quiet common ground with almost any other person if I find the right way to communicate with them.

Thanks again.
Oh please. ALL non-believers are smut and arrogant in the eyes of the evangelicals.
Religious arguments are a lot like Global Thermonuclear War. The only way to win is not to play.

It's just that when I'm drinking, it's far to easy to go for the scorched earth retaliatory strike :(
J.R. makes a good point. I can't offer you empirical evidence that God exists. It's utterly impossible. Yet for me, God is as much a reality as the air I breathe.

That's why debate doesn't work. But that doesn't mean believers and agnostics/atheists can't have conversation about faith, spirituality, and morality. We just have to accept that our perspectives may be different, and respect that.
Up agnostics!
Excellent review, Paul. This is the most intelligent piece on any religious issue I can recall reading in The Stranger.

The problem with the "new atheists" isn't that they don't know how to talk to Christians. Their main problem is the unyielding hubris implicit in their assumption that they hold a monopoly on the "right" way of thinking. Like the Christian fundamentalists they seek to disparage, Richard Dawkins and his cohorts are so embedded in their own worldview that they fail to see that it is built on assumptions just like everyone else's. Real science, incidentally, isn't about being right. Science works as well as it does because it's about always being prepared for someone to come along and tear down your hard-won conclusions. There is no place for fragile egoistic hubris in this equation.

For all the great attention that Dan Savage draws to heinous abuses of religious authority (Youth Pastor Watch, etc.), I think he could really use some of your wisdom and humility when dealing with religious issues. "Religion" is a broad category of cultural behaviors. It may not be dismissed wholesale just because most of the contemporary American Christianity that gets espoused in the public sphere is ignorant bullshit. Tibetan Buddhism is a philosophical, spiritual and cosmological system that teaches its adherents to accept death gracefully (and has uncanny similarities to cutting-edge theoretical physics.) The native religions of the American plains taught that human survival is dependent upon a reverence for the earth and positive identification with all living things. Even scientific empiricism may be considered a "religious" framework, in that it comes with a set of orthodox assumptions about the nature of perception and reality.

Religion does not go away simply because we decide to dismiss it or call it stupid. The best (most rational!) option is to deal with it openly, lucidly and honestly.
My path: I moved from a Christian sect to Paganism to Atheism.

@ infrequent: I don't deny that there seem to be more atheists around these parts. But can you explain why the Zeus myth is harder to believe than the Jesus concept? Why are atheists more arrogant than Christians? I haven't met any (anecdotal evidence I know) atheists that loudly proclaim their beliefs to me or the media. I haven't met any atheists who tell me what to personally believe, and therefore what to do with my body.

My favorite myth, or god archetype, or whathaveyou, is the Norwegian God Odin. He is the God of knowledge. That's inspiring. Whereas Zeus is the God of changing into animals and raping women, as far as I can tell. And Jesus' teachings sound great, unless Paul the apostle is telling them, and then they sound quite misogynistic. And I spent my entire youth trying to believe they weren't. I almost succeeded.

This thread is almost mathematical proof that atheists and christians are both smug (I'm looking at you Karl and Drunk Amy).

I'm an Atheist and I refuse to discuss it with anybody but my closest friends and family. And I will never try to convince any body they are wrong about their personal convictions. Whats the point? I'm not going to change their minds. That said, I am frequently embarrassed when my fellow atheists do silly things, like removing the word god from the pledge of allegiance. Dumb.
'Without God, all is permissive." Dostoyevsky

The Inquisition: of a span of 350 years 2000 people died.
this is one of the great examples atheist site for Christian abuse.

The Khmer Rouge: in a span of only 3 years Pol Pot (who ranks in deaths below Stalin or Mao or Hitler) killed in the millions to create a atheist utopian society.

The Christians when finally recognized abolished a few things the ancients did: the bloodsports involving animals and humans on mass levels, and also infanticide. During the ancient Roman or Greek times it was acceptable to take an unwanted or weak born baby to a hillside and leave it to die.

Some may argue that figures like Mao or Pol Pot are bad examples of atheist. Well, I argue they represent the implications of a completely atheist society. Even someone like Peter Singer can argue it is justified to end the life of a baby after 28 days. Western civilization (however secular) is based on Christianity and its ethics and morals. We can debate each at there merit, but history has proven what societies do on the foundation of atheism along.
Again, I see many religious organizations doing relief work helping the poor or homeless ect. But where are all the atheist relief organizations?
Another atheist here, sounding off (at the risk of sounding smug!) because there are many things said about us (and obviously I only speak for myself) that I would like to respond to, things I frequently hear.

- If "smug" is the worst I am, I'll take it. I'm not denying people rights, profiting from people in need by selling snake oil, or blowing up buildings. Religions don't inherently cause these things, but like unregulated markets, they set up conditions where people can and do cheat.

- My atheism is based on logic and evidence because it offers two things the vague "faith," does not: accountability and consistency. You never get "just because" as an answer, the worst you get is "we don't know" along with a promise that someone is dedicating their life trying to figure it out.

- Atheism is a belief on a set of assumptions, but atheists are NOT "fundamentalists of their own religion" or "as bad as a smug pastor." It's a weak argument, a false equivalence; it's a dodge.

Atheists believe in truth to the best that we can perceive it. If it could be shown beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus WAS the son of a very existent God, I would accept it in a heartbeat. Science in its long and rich history has been shown to be absolutely wrong (luminiferous ether, anyone?) and I, like many other atheists, would embrace God(s) in a heartbeat if we could be convinced by something that made a lick of sense, something that didn't completely collapse under non-trivial scrutiny.

It's not so much hubris, rather a want of accountability and consistency, especially if vague but very important things like our morality are at stake. We don't think we're right because we've convinced ourselves of it (religious leaders frequently employ "proof by vigorous assertion"), rather we think we're right because all the repeatable and observable experiments seem to back us up. There's a major difference there.

- Finally, two factors why I might frequently "smug it up" when I talk about this:

a) Many religious people I talk to perceive jerkiness due to their emotional reaction to the conversation. I don't think I was inherently smug, but when they make a claim and I push them into demonstrating they absolutely can't back it up, they get angry at me and blame their resulting ill feelings on the fact that I even asked. This ties to the second factor...

b) The muzzle rule: I grew up in a Catholic household and "out of respect" couldn't mention anything remotely Jesusey unless it was prefaced by "I love". After a while you get tired of coddling people, and maybe my pent up frustration with the "invisible wall of don't-touch-me" that people want you to treat their religions with makes me act smug.

- Finally, many people have said things along the lines of "atheists are closed-minded, they ignore Buddhism and spirituality, etc." Well, (smug moment!) atheists don't believe in... theism. Gods. Being an athiest does not a non-spiritual person make (necessarily).

ALL THIS BEING SAID... In conversation, I do try to tone it down. Feeling right and actually being constructive aren't necessarily the same thing.
At the risk of feeding the animals:


- "Where are the atheist relief organizations?" Well, strictly speaking, you're right: no organization I know of provides relief in the name of disproving God. But there are many -secular- relief organizations: Red Cross, Unicef, etc. We don't do good because God told us to, we do good because we like doing good.

- Your logic (and spelling) are broken:

"Without God, all is permissive." Why? We make laws and enforce them for the common good. We're thinking people, we're not powerless. Again, it is possible to do good for the sake of doing good, I hate to think the only thing preventing you from murdering and raping me is because God told you not to.

Pol Pot, Stalin, etc. were just abhorrent people with too much power who HAPPENED to be atheists. One does not imply the other: you take a trait of these dictators (atheism) and assign blame on it. It's like saying mustaches (Hitler AND Stalin!) lead to mass murder.

Given the number of adulterous, hateful, and violent Christians there are (Google "There is no Morality Without Religion Slog" for a bunch of them) I doubt that their regimes wouldn't have been so cruel if they just went to church (or shaved their mustaches).
Karl wrote:

"The Inquisition: of a span of 350 years 2000 people died.
this is one of the great examples atheist site for Christian abuse."

It's CITE, not SITE, Karl.

Also a lot more than 2,000 people died during the various Inquistions. It sounds as if you are refering to all the deaths in Spain under Torquemada [and I still believe that figure is low]. Many German cities lost more women than that durig the Burning Times.

Okay, we get it, you believe in God and think he must be the source of all that is good, etc.. Other people look at all the evil done in the name of God - the Inquistions, the Crusades, even the torture of Christians under Roman rule [they were killed for refusing to worship the Emperor or the official state Gods]. It seems, to me, that any time a human being proceeds to "do God's will" horror will inevitably follow.

BTW, I am not an Atheist, I am a Deist. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were also Deists. Technically Deism is a Christian heresy because it denies the divinity of Christ, so not all of our Founding Fathers are the 'good Christians' they are frequently made out to be. A Deist believes that God made the heavens and the earth [but not as recorded in the Bible], then went elsewhere, perhaps to make other worlds. We believe that no man can understand the mind of God, but that people are still obliged to be moral, kind, fair, etc..
Karl is why atheists sound smug. Every post he has put up here has been fictional. Like most atheists, I would be happy to peacefully coexist with people of all religions. But when you lie in public, and that lie has the chance to harm the public good, as Karl's lies do, someone should speak up. It's not smug to think that religious beliefs shouldn't have preferential consideration over fact. Only because religious beliefs have so much power to harm when enforced upon the public, atheists have a responsibility to get 'smug', and speak up. It was religious belief that drove the passage of Prop 8 and the stem cell research ban? Karl’s revision of history has already been uncovered regarding the Black Death and the Dark Ages. Not that it matters, but he’s also lying about Hitler being an atheist:

Therefore, I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord's work.
-- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

He’s also lying about the death toll of the Inquisition. High estimates are around 135,000 for the Spanish Inquisition alone. Low estimates are around 32,000 just in Spain. I wonder how few would have had to be killed to make it ‘OK’.

He’s also ignoring the greatest genocide in the history of humanity, not that it matters, but it happened right here. Christian men and women wiped out the population of 2 continents. Tens of millions of people died as a result of an organized effort to wipe out the Native Americans. But that is not relevant to this argument.

The point is that there is no God shaped hole in people that when filled makes us do good things. Religious people do bad things too.
I believe if you read Hitlers Table Talk you will find quite enough of Hitler's anti-Christian thoughts. And you dismiss Christian's like Dietriech Bonhoeffer and other Confessional Lutherans who fought the Nazis and spared Jewish people. But I am not an apologist for Catholicism and certainly not Evangelicals..for which I believe hold flawed views and theology. And I do support same-sex marriage. I do not even defend the physical church but the idea of God and theism for whom atheist love to defend against with the use of the easy target of Evangelicals. Henry Karmen estimates Inquisition deaths were around 2000, Garcia Carcel estimated Inquisition deaths around 3000; based on the 150,000 were examined under the inquisition 2% being death. Do I defend the Inquisition? Absolutely not! But when it is used as the grand example of Christian crime is wrong. And if Christians are made to apologize for crimes committed 500 years ago, then its high time atheist account for the deaths caused by atheist.
I understand the need of atheists to explain and stand up for their viewpoint. What I don't get is atheist evangelism. We're all just human beings trying get through life, right? Why should it bother you if your neighbor has chosen to believe in God? It seems a bit authoritarian and narrow-minded.
i would like to point out that someone who is an agnostic is NOT the same as someone who is an atheist. the two terms are not interchangeable.

as for my opinion... some people choose religion, some people don't. i personally try to fight against situations where people's religious beliefs actually start to affect me (ban on gay marriage, prayer in schools, the pro-life movement, abstinence only education). much like who you choose to have sex with, what you choose to believe about god has very little impact on me personally, and i try to be respectful... until you try and convert those beliefs into laws. i believe that is where we all should focus our energies - into protecting the separation of church and state... not childish bickering about the existence of god (which, seriously, starts to sound like THERE IS! IS NOT! IS TOO! IS NOT! after about 5 minutes).
tiz: zeus is harder to believe than the christian god because of our culture. there is so much re-affirmation for christianity that it can seem more legitimate to the believer. christian has a long history of popular belief, philosophical defense, and continued indoctrination.

even from the outside looking in, there is absolutely no question that in america it is easier and more logical that someone would belief in jesus before they would believe in zeus. understanding this point goes a long way to understanding the modern christian.

in addition to all that, some christians are just cultural christians, or just believe in a god concept but are more familiar with jesus, or have adapted their faith to modern circumstance more successfully than those who believe in zeus.

finally, while some christians might be more annoying than atheists, they still might not be more arrogant in conversation. you see, the christian, by nature, can only belittle another's faith, their eternal destination, or deride them for their sin. but the atheist falls back on logic, thought, and reason. they will simply say things like, "If people just did a litle investigating they would find that Jesus (God) is a myth just like Zeus or Apollo." implying, of course, that christians haven't even done a little investigating. the problem is, many christians do extensive investigating (though the sources are likely all one-sided!), and they come to a conclusion. even if they choose to be an evangelical, you really cannot dismiss them for lack of research. they feel they are learning every sunday school class or weekly evening service or morning bible study they attend.

but sometimes in their investigations they learn to accept a modern version of their faith. maybe it is compassionate, and non-judgmental. perhaps it is as sensible as one can expect while remaining spiritual. the athiest's comment, and yours, makes no distinction for this type of believer.

"Most Atheists I debate with are every bit as smug and condescending as the greats of their lack of faith. They're discouragingly shitty people on the inside..."

Thanks, A! I really appreciate being told I'm a shitty person. Your comment makes me realize that all religious people are open-minded and all atheists (like me!) are horrible people.
ditto, parsnip
One thing I've noticed in this thread is people lumping Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris together as if they hold exactly the same opinions and dispense them in the same way. Dawkins is probably the kitten in the group as he holds the least hard line opinions. He has spoken and written of his affection towards the Anglican Church and is on friendly terms with several clergymen. His main target is evangelical Christianity and Islam, particularly those who try to put their views into law, adversely effecting those not of the religion. As a practicing scientist, he is also against creationist belief popping up as scientific explanations. Essentially, he is protecting his profession. Dawkins has written and said that he has no issue with the progressive religious person that keeps their beliefs to themselves and doesn't try to indoctrinate others.
Dennett is more acerbic than Dawkins but less so than Hitchens or Harris. In interviews and in his writings, he appreciates the pomp and circumstance of religion; the architecture, paintings, the music etc. (as I should have mentioned does Dawkins). He, too, is against evangelicals who try to push their views into law. He is not against progressive religious practices. He does not want to take anyone's Bible or Koran away. In the acknowledgments of Breaking the Spell, he gave the drafts to his religious graduate students so he could get an idea of what a religious person might think, as he obviously respected their opinions.
Now, there is something of a drop off.

Hitchens. Oh, my Hitchens. More strident than the others. Not a professional academic defending his turf like Dawkins or Dennett, so one may wonder about his purpose in all of this. However, he also expresses appreciation for the artistic gifts that religious has brought. He is also against know the rest. However, our boy from across the pond goes farther. Unlike the first two men, Hitchens responds with declarations of violence (with Islam) and he wants to bring the Middle East to his knees. His craven thoughts on the Iraq War show that.
Harris is the worst and the most prone towards advocating violence against the Islamic world. This was probably a bit much but I thought I would put my buffalo nickel into the mix.
The elitism of the atheist and agnostic seem to me the natural defensive byproduct of feeling so frustrated with the countless situations of religious based turmoil in the world. I completely agree with shelby that among groups of people who can relate on non belief as well as a crestfallen sense of impending doom feel that there is so little to be done that it's just a waist of time. Hitchenson is very well spoken, and eschews lesser concerns for more serious topics and hypocrisies and yet no amount of polemics is going to affect a change in someone who considers their religion to be from above. The religious traditions focusing on a deity above humans, that does not have to prove himself beyond a scripture and our existence, strips rhetoric of its power.
And anyway, I think that aside from the sad cases of middle America, most people who are intelligent are capable of either reforming their religious beliefs to avoid such hate or simply realizing that theres nothing in it for them. What we as atheists/agnostics should be focusing on is education, with education comes a the drive to move beyond the flimsy comforts of faith.
What a faciniating thread! You all made my brain work today.

Why I think it is a bit much to assume that once abandons one religion (here, Christianity), all that's left is the 'journey to non-belief', to each their own.

But, let's look at Jesus. Here's a guy who tried to make his God personal ~ Abba, Father. He distilled ten commandments to two: Love God, and Love your neighbor as yourself. He challenged all of the nitpickers over literal intepretation of Judaic law.

And now, we have countless versions of 'Christianity' all now nitpicking with each other (as well as nonbelievers) over which of them is the 'right' version!

If there is a heaven, and Christ is in it, he's undoubtedly wondering how all of us so thorougly missed the point!!
Some may argue that figures like Mao or Pol Pot are bad examples of atheist. Well, I argue they represent the implications of a completely atheist society. ~ Karl

Karl, I think you make a common mistake here in conflating atheism and atheocracy, just as many non-theists (including atheists and agnostics, but also including, say, pantheists--which is how I'd classify myself--and other belief systems that don't necessarily hew to a more or less anthropomorphic notion of a single, immutable theos). I don't trust the atheocracies of the various communist regimes any more than I do the theocracies of the Middle East or medieval Europe. Theocracy vs. atheocracy is a different battle than atheism vs. theism; the only thing they have in common is that neither seems to illustrate or produce a clear winner. The atrocities of either camp say more about the nature of atrocity and the capacity of man to place any ideology over his appetite for it than about the systems of belief he uses to so deceive himself and justify this appetite.

We also seem to be talking about religion in Manichean terms, and incorrect ones, at that. Christianity isn't the opposite of atheism, and while theism IS, there are more theories and philosophies about the divine, the spiritual, the pneumatic, what-have-you, than theism, atheism, and agnosticism (which itself can be more than the neither-fish-nor-fowl, neutral position that it sometimes appears to be).
I think there is something quite significant about Jesus and His theology. Christianity changed Western Civilization in a dramatic way. The theology of Jesus asserts the importance of every individual, the equity of everyones spiritual outcome, freewill. Jesus turned the world upside down in all aspects for whom much is documented about. For even a follower like Peter to request at his own cruixifiction to have it done upside down because he was not worthy to resemble Jesus implies the significance. Christian theology was unlike any other. It tore down the bloodsports and infanticide of Rome, put to a stop the cannabalism in pacific islands, attracted the people of lower caste in India because it acknowledge all are have a spiritual equity. And didn't suggest an endless cycle of rebirth for atonement. It brought about the idea that the world is not perfect and cannot be perfect, but introduce the theology of redemption. Atheism in subtle ways suggest man can and should be perfected. Whereas evolution suggest a perfection of transition species, Atheism (a non science belief) in subtle and profound does lend itself to a social and political perfection; which has dangerous consequences. While Christianity argues for free will, responsibiltiy of choice. Atheism is deterministic and suggest a universal and pointless fate, that humans really have no choice so really no responsibilty; almost anti individual. Even Aristotle argued for the strong man trampling over the weak man. Several different Christian bodies(agreeing on main doctrines) suggest an upholding of the ideas of free will and individualism. It is self correcting with examples like Martin Luther, Paul Tilich, Dr. King, Desmond Tutu, Gene Robinson. Christianity negates the perfection of the world and argues for redemption theology. Although figures like Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin, and Hitler had a political ideology; it is at its foundation an ideology based on the more abstract concepts of atheism: determinism, social perfection(evolution), fatalism, nihlism. All of Westernism is imprinted with the legacy of Jesus and His theology. The UN charter on Human Rights owes its legacy to Christianity.
One final point. GK Chesterton and his contemporary (who were former atheist and socialist) suggested the story of Jesus is a "True Myth." The argument is that in a span of hundreds of centuries across the globe, with different nations and peoples, all of them have a story of a virgin birth of a savior. The only story to become tangible and be realized to in the 33 y.o. Jesus of Nazareth. There is a spiritual thread to the story, and for a people in South America to hold a similar story as the Sumerians is odd and interesting. But for it to come into reality with Jesus suggest its importance and validity. Its suggest some cosmic conspiracy for even when the universe is so fine tuned. For it changed Western Civilization forever and changed the view of man physically and spiritually. Atheism is in the defense of nothing while Christianity is the defense of something. The atheist must always be on the attack, must always negate other competing ideas and there is no relationship to be had with the defense of nothing. The Christian can be on the attack part of the time, negate atheism part of the time, but can have a relationship with the defense of something all of the time. It is reciprocates and gives moments of joy.

Gotta love the Logos logorrhea.
I have a comment regarding the scriptures posted that talk about calling someone a "fool." As a Christian, I have interpreted the passage Matt 5:22 as undeservingly calling someone a fool. While the passages Matt 7:26 & 23:17 highlight foolish acts and Jesus had called them out on it. This is food for thought.
I found this thread interesting enough that I wrote an article entitled, "Atheist Arrogance" which can be found at….

Valerie Tarico
Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty -- Brownowski
What on earth compels an atheist like Francis Collins the former head at the Human Genome Project to become a Christian? He states he used science to try to prove his atheism and instead became an a Christian. Are we to simply respect someone like Dawkins and dismiss Collins? Science is science. Biologist does not translate into atheist, physicist does not translate into atheist as with Christian.

"A little philosophy inclineth a man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion." Francis Bacon

"Shouldn't atheist have an equal obligation to explain pleasure in a world of randomness. Where does pleasure come from?" GK Chesterton

"It amazes me to find an intelligent person who fights against something which he does not at all believe exists." Gandhi
Dawkins didn't suggest 'bright' (a 5 second trip on Wikipedia would've told you this, as it did for me). In-fact Dawkins trademark is using the term atheist, he wears an "A" pin as part of his 'out campaign'.

He has expressed admiration for the "brights" idea but also acknowledged that the term brights maybe isn't great. It is a challenge finding an affirmative definition for atheists. He is well-meaning, calling him a douchebag over it is a bit much.

Your right-on regarding Hitchens though. Gah!
I'm pretty certain that it was Shermer, not Dawkins who coined the term 'brights'. I think Dawkins did endorse it. Luckily they all realized that was a bad idea, just unfortunately it took a few issues of Skeptic and some news pieces before they decided to cut it out.
ah, well apparently i'm too late.
"Seek and ye shall find.
Ask and ye shall receive.
Yeast ye also rise." - Jesus
Anyone who tells you that they are a Christian debater and doesn't also tell you that they lose every debate is a liar.

You cannot dabate faith, it is not logical.

Religions always make sure they get to the kids before they have the tools to resist and question it.

Just like Obama proved, you can never win over that middle third of America unless you drop any argument that has "because I'm brighter than you are" as its primary thesis.

Yes, of course, we ARE brighter. But not to them. So if we want to win any arguments, it isnt about how to appease their stupid childish beliefs, and it isnt how to win with logic, cause religion isn't, game over.

Can we respect our enemy? Seems like the basic question. If not, then we have become him.
President Obama must just be another stupid Christian, right? We really must have an ignorant President after he spent 20 years at a place called Trinity United Church of Christ. I mean, after all President Obama is not an atheist and so it makes him a bad person, a dumb person, he probably hates others not like him. I didn't realize atheist had such a terrible life here in the US. I mean it must be so horrible for an atheist to just get there cut in America. Stop knocking down this country or the people that live here; I earned mine with two years of service in Iraq for America. Maybe some of you should earn it instead of whining about it.
Look Karl, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.
Look Karl, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

all is good (if you care). I thought the dialogue here was great until some got personal or decide to broadbrush. Prior it my first tour, it was anticipated with fear, stress, resentment, hate. I saw myself go from right, to left, to left. Before leaving, some lefty told me he had hoped US soldiers lost to the Baathist. I reconciled the emotion for the optimism and reason; I went from left to finding my center. But looking back it was the most important two years of my life. I remember my invitation to eat with Iraqi workers, their food, and their hospitality. I learned more about myself, and myself in this world, God, than any other time. Personally, I am not dogmatic or an attendee. But I have only seen Atheist use Evangelicals as their favorite dart board and use them as the example for all Christians. I have also found, with displeasure, a willingness for Atheist to attack Westernism, but be indifferent or even defend the Islamism of the Middle East. I think if Atheist had a sense of urgency, Islam would be the first to direct the mouth. It would be helpful if people lost the attitude and gained some real perspective. I couldn't wait to get out of the service; I was done. When I did, I found all the reasons why I would go back in.
Hi Karl,

As I noted in my earlier comment, I simply don't understand how anybody connects to the obtuse, archaic, and confused teachings in the Bible. From what little I've read of the Koran, it's no more relevant or useful.

I can understand how your experience in Iraq was transformational for you. I think that the United States government, by invading Iraq without cause and killing hundreds of thousands of people there, is guilty of war crimes, and that the government officials responsible should hang for it, but that's just my opinion.

Jeff / Fire Aim Ready
I became an atheist after much research into why we do what we do. As I was writing it all down, I realised that religion is just a way to explain the unexplainable. I also realised that trying to prove to a believer that his belief is unsupportable is useless because he cannot accept that and will find a way to retain his belief, no matter how illogical.
Check out my website for "Explanations"

fair enough. But I suspect if hard leftist were to put me on the stand, more Iraqi's would rush to my defense then my own citizens of the left persuasion. Watch on YouTube the debate between Chris Hitchens and George Galloway. Although I disagree with Hitchens polemics on atheism, he is a much more brilliant defender of Jeffersonian Democracy. The violence in Iraq is mostly foreign born. Iraqis I met welcomed my presence; especially the Shia children for whom we funded and built a school. Iraqis I came to understand believe the violence came from Syria or Iran. They can appreciate an Iraq now with more than one newspaper, or a number of media stations without Saddam, or security from Islamic extremist. The problem with un-flinching leftism (for whom many atheist fall under) is that is becomes its own anti-thesis. It is anti-war until it defends those who are pro-war. It is pro-free speech until it defends those who rail against it. Many Iraqis I spoke with would love to live in the US, while many leftist would like to leave it. While many leftist embrace anti-American ideals, foreign born US citizens are very Pro-American; such as Hitchens. I'm reminded of where I grew up. Midwest, solid Nordic-Lutheran area of the country. Many Lutheran churches brought a mass number of refugees from Laos and also Hmong who were victims of Communist aggression. I never met a more patriotic people as those refugees. I at least commend the bravery of the Iraqis sporting their purple fingers today. In my eyes a badge of courage, in the eyes of Islam a badge of disloyalty. I don't agree with Atheism, and certainly not the Anti-Americanism that usually is coupled with it. But I defended it, as did many other who do not feel sorry for their service. I would like to actually see atheist or hard-leftist defend something instead of rail against everything else. Like I said, unflinching leftism eventually becomes its own anti-thesis. As with George Orwell became disillusioned with Socialism.
To address the contradictions of the seeming acceptance of sins throughout the Bible, especially the Old Testament: God doesn't condone these sins. Because of Adam and Eve's choice to be as gods, God had to allow them out of Eden, to think for themselves and make choices on their own. The result of this is the awful sin you read about, the incest, the violence, the rapes, etc. It's, for me as a Christian, to show that it doesn't matter how much you think you've sinned and how much of a bad person you think you are...God's already seen it, and allowed forgiveness. If He can forgive fathers screwing their daughters, or husbands taking on five thousand mistresses, or brother killing brother, then man, He can surely forgive me.

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