America Hates its Best Citizens: The Atheists

WEITMost mornings, the first thing I do is read my favourite website: Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True, named for his book of the same name. It’s still the day before in Chicago, where Professor Coyne usually writes from, so when I wake up a there are already a few articles ready to read. There’s always a wide range of interesting and thought-provoking (or just fun) articles on a wide range of subjects, and the commenters engage in intelligent and considered debate (usually). Yesterday morning one of Coyne’s articles was ‘Luke Savage’s vicious (and misleading) atheist bashing‘, about an article Savage wrote in Jacobin called ‘New Atheism, Old Empire‘.

There was, of course, a link to the story, and I was interested enough to read it. Coyne had warned people to read it “… only if you are of a phlegmatic nature”, which I thought I could probably manage. Well, I was wrong. I wasn’t able to comment on the article – my response was such that anything I wrote at the time would probably have come back to haunt me. Jerry Coyne’s take down of Savage’s article is great, and I recommend you read it. It’s the next day, so I’m going to give it a go too.

I just don’t get why so many American theists are such virulently nasty gits when it comes to atheists, who are actually many of their best citizens. Not only that, many of them are the reason America is such a great country. This isn’t my atheist bias speaking – it’s statistical fact.

US View of Religious Groups 2014First the evidence of antipathy towards atheists in the United States. Surveys show that their fellow citizens consider them immoral, untrustworthy and simply ‘not nice people’. The Pew Research Center asked Americans earlier this year to rate their feelings towards various groups on a “feelings thermometer”, ranging from 0 (cool) to 100 (warm). The lowest rating group was Muslims at forty degrees. Only one degree higher, at 41, was atheists. When those figures are broken down by political affiliation, we see Republicans have an even lower opinion of atheists than the average: their figures for atheists and Muslims drop even further to 34 and 33 respectively. The figure for Democrats is still only 46 for atheists. The group Democrats rank lowest is Mormons (44). Democrats rank Muslims higher than atheists at 47.

Remember, this is against a backdrop where much of the world is currently under threat from extremist Muslim groups like DAESH, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Al Shabaab, and the Taliban. Further, it’s only thirteen years since thousands of Americans were killed or injured because of a terrorist attack by extremist Muslims on home soil, it’s just over a year since more suffered in the Boston bombing, and many in the American military are dying or permanently suffering because of ongoing conflict against Muslim extremists. Atheist terrorist groups not only do not exist, but statistics show atheists to be “… markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian”(Zuckerman, 2009) than the rest of the population.

This anti-atheist animus isn’t new in America. From Phil Zuckerman’s ‘Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions’:

But it isn’t just within the Bible or public opinion polls that one finds negative appraisal of secular people. Philosopher John D. Caputo (2001, 2-3) has written that people who don’t love God aren’t “worth a tinker’s damn,” and that anyone who isn’t theistically religious is nothing more than “selfish and pusillanimous curmudgeon … a loveless lout.” Psychologist Justin Barrett (2004) has described atheism as “unnatural” and an “oddity”, while sociologist Rodney Stark (2008) has publicly stated that irreligious people “are prickly … they’re just angry”. Finally, some state constitutions … actually ban unbelievers from holding public office, and in many courtrooms … divorced parents have had custody rights denied or limited because of their atheism.

From Savage, we get unbelievably ignorant rhetoric like:

New Atheism … is a crude, reductive, and highly selective critique that owes its popular and commercial success almost entirely to the “war on terror” and its utility as an intellectual instrument of imperialist geopolitics.

It gets worse:

[New Atheism’s] leading exponents wear a variety of ideological garbs, but their espoused politics range from those of right-leaning liberals to proto-fascist demagogues of the European far-right.

For goodness sake, no. Just no. The religiously unaffiliated overwhelmingly vote for the Democratic Party. Since 2000, no more than 31% of atheists has ever voted Republican – in 2008 it was only 23%. It seems from the statistics in fact, that the more liberal the candidate, the more likely the religiously unaffiliated are to vote for him, or, alternatively, the more militaristic the Republican candidate, the less likely they are to vote for him.

Presidential Vote by Religion 2000-2014 Pew

As always with those of my fellow liberals suffering from Islamophobia-phobia, Savage has a go at Sam Harris:

Indeed, Sam Harris’s much-discussed October appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher — a crude spectacle in which he pigeonholed most Muslims as “jihadists,” “Islamists,” or “conservatives” — merely complements a lengthy record of Islamic demonology from him and other leading figures in the New Atheist movement.

Again, no. How you could get that from Harris’s appearance with Bill Maher is beyond me. The segment started with Maher stating:

All I’m saying is that Liberals need to stand up for liberal principles … like freedom of speech, freedom to practice any religion you want without fear of violence, freedom to leave a religion, equality for women, equality for minorities including homosexuals, these are liberal principles that liberals applaud for, but then when you say in the Muslim world this is what’s lacking, then they get upset.

Harris then made the point, quite calmly, that liberals have failed when it comes to theocracy in the Muslim world. They’re happy to criticize it in the West, but when it comes to criticizing theocracy in the Muslim world, they get upset. He continued:

We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where every criticism of Islam is conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people. It’s intellectually ridiculous.

Harris tried to carry on with his point, but Ben Affleck was already into attack mode, constantly interrupting.. Harris remained calm throughout.

Death for Apostasy 2013Harris’s point is one I completely agree with, and is the reason I have such a problem with those who attack any criticism of Islam as Islamophobia. Of course there are millions of good Muslims, and there are people who are Islamophobic, which I unreservedly condemn. However, the religion itself contains many teachings that are frankly appalling, especially when you add Sharia Law into the mix. Islam is, as Harris now (in)famously put it, “… a mother-lode of bad ideas”. It’s also not accurate to say that the it’s only a tiny proportion of Muslims who hold what those of us lucky enough to live in free countries call extremist views.

From the 2013 Pew Research Center report The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society, we get the fact that literally millions of Muslims believe that the penalty for leaving Islam should be death. In some countries, where Sharia law has been instituted, this actually occurs.

Homosexuality Morality Islam 2013As mentioned above, Maher spoke of equality for women and homosexuals. So what do Muslims really think about these issues? From the Pew report, we have the evidence that most Muslims consider homosexuality immoral. As can be seen from the graphic, the results are unambiguous and shocking. I doubt you’d see such a strong anti-homosexual bias even in an American Southern Baptist Church, except maybe Westboro.

Wife Obey Husband Islam 2013The statistics aren’t much better when it comes to equality for women. Overwhelmingly, the opinion is that women should ALWAYS obey their husbands. Good luck with getting equality in that environment.

By refusing to criticize Islam, the far-left is giving cover to these appalling attitudes, even while they continue to make the false criticism that atheism is giving cover to imperialism.

Savage tries to attack Harris with the following:

In The End of Faith, for example, he argues: “Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death.” Elsewhere, he writes: “While the other major world religions have been fertile sources of intolerance, it is clear that the doctrine of Islam poses unique problems for the emergence of a global civilization.”

The statistics above, and you will find many more if you read the Pew report, show that Harris is correct about Islam, and Savage’s attempted criticism falls flat.  On page 52, for example, and depending on the country, among those who think Sharia should be the law you will find between 28% and 88% favour capital punishment for theft. On page 54, depending on the country, between 21% and 89% think stoning to death should be the punishment for adultery if they favour Sharia law. On page 70, among all Muslims and depending on the country, between 1% and 40% think suicide bombing can often or sometimes be justified. On page 76, between 51% and 98% think drinking alcohol is morally wrong. Page 79: between 0% and 15% consider abortion morally acceptable. Page 80: between 0% and 26% consider pre-marital sex morally acceptable. I could, of course, go on; the report is 226 pages long.

This constant vilification of Sam Harris by misrepresenting him as anti-Muslim really has to stop. He’s become the American far left’s favourite whipping boy. I’m just going to quote Jerry Coyne here, because my opinion is so close to his I’d be in danger of plagiarism if I didn’t:

As for the imperialism and bloodthirstiness of New Atheists, you can get that only by extreme cherry-picking, as in the case of Sam’s musings about torture. Those were Gedankenexperiments, of course. And those “genocidal preemptive nuclear strikes”? Another philosophical thought experiment, as are most of the statements that Savage uses to paint Sam as a genocidal maniac.

Savage goes on to say:

Islamic fundamentalism — which no one, incidentally, believes to be a fiction — is insidious not because of its adherence to some ossified medieval tradition, but rather because of its eager and effective embrace of modernist dynamism.

“Modern dynamism”? WTF even is that? Seriously? Like most of this article, it’s a phrase used in an attempt to sound intellectually superior, and make some kind of excuse for the failure of much of Islam to allow criticism. When your response to a female child wanting an education is to shoot her in the head, I really don’t think “modernist dynamism” is what’s driving you.

He then starts on Dawkins, with more intellectual dishonesty and misrepresentation. He writes:

Richard Dawkins … [infers] that then-New Statesman columnist Mehdi Hassan is unqualified to be a journalist because he is also a Muslim.

That would be the same Mehdi Hassan who wrote that journalists should face sanctions if they write articles that criticize Islam. The fact that Hassan is a Muslim obviously informs this opinion, and I would say it is an opinion that does disqualify someone from being a journalist, although not, of course, a columnist. One of our most important freedoms is freedom of the press, and Hassan seems not to support that.

Savage goes on in the same vein for some time in a constant tirade that shifts back and forth from topic to topic. It’s the type of writing I find intellectually pretentious, that usually comes from a young zealot who is still forming his worldview. (I have no idea if this is a correct characterization of Savage himself.) He finishes with:

Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins may masquerade as intellectual insurgents, leading a crusade against the insipid tolerance of liberal politics. But ultimately they are apologists for some of its most destructive tendencies.

I prefer Coyne’s closing:

It still mystifies me that the Left, which is supposed to embrace Enlightenment values, is so loath to criticize the faiths that continually try to dismantle those values.

Coyne is right, of course. I would add that in failing to criticize those faiths, the far left actually becomes an apologist for them, allowing the anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia and the intolerance of difference in Islam a free pass. While the American far left is busy attacking their most tolerant, educated, fair-minded citizens, the religious far-right both at home and abroad, are gaining traction.


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42 Responses to “America Hates its Best Citizens: The Atheists”

  1. Diana MacPherson says:

    Atheists typically, because of their liberal and enlightened values, stand up for freedom of religion. Ironically it is atheists, one of the most despised groups in the US, who protect the right of many of the people that hate them so, to practice their religion.

    • Exactly. Although we don’t like religion, atheists stand up for the rights of all to worship if they want to, and how. Religious groups often try to curtail the rights of others to speak.

    • AU says:

      It is the constitution that protects the rights of the people, not atheists or theists.

      • Diana MacPherson says:

        And it is atheists who reject constitutional violations and oppose changes to the constitution that many religious people would prefer. I think atheists are unusual among groups in that we will point out and try to resolve issues of violation of the freedom of religion when we see it while many religious groups look the other way or actively participate in the violation.

        • AU says:

          Sorry Diana, I cannot agree with you. You’re providing a very simplistic view of the world, cherry-picking things to suit your needs, and I think that is wrong.

          There are some atheists who actually want to change the constitution to allow for things like torture of “terrorists”. And there are religious people who actually want NO changes to the constitution at all.

          To try and say atheists are the protectors of the constitution from many religious people is simply incorrect.

        • AU says:

          Oh, and one more thing.

          Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an atheist, believes the Constitution should be changed so that Muslim schools aren’t allowed in America, and I am sure a number of atheists also share the same view regarding faith schools.

          So, yes, your statement that atheists protect the Constitution from many religious people is completely misleading, because in this instance, it is religious people who are protecting the Constitution from some atheists.

          • Diana MacPherson says:

            I think you are cherry picking. The fact that atheists are a broad category of people who may have questionable views like torturing terrorists is a non-sequitur. if you look at organizations that represents atheists, American Atheists for example, since we are talking about Americans, that organization clearly states they are for the freedom of religion. I’m pretty sure FFRF does as well.

            Compare that with the rhetoric from many Churches and you either hear crickets or you get a pretty strong impression that the freedom of religion these orgs prefer is freedom of their religion only.

          • My most popular tweet ever, which I wrote at the time Christians were trying to force legislation through in Arizona that would allow religious people to discriminate on who they would serve in shops, treat in hospitals etc:
            US Christians think they’re losing their religious freedom.
            Actually, they’re losing the freedom to force their religion on others.

          • AU says:

            Hi Diana,

            I am not cherry-picking. In fact, I find it quite amazing you should accuse me of cherry-picking, when it was you who cherry-picked instances where atheists do not want the constitution changed, and used that to make such a bold statement that atheists protect the constitution from many religious people.

            That statement is wrong, and I was providing examples that show it is wrong. I wasn’t say ALL atheists want to change the constitution, I was just showing you that you are wrong when you try and make it seem that atheists are the defenders of the constitution from many religious people.


          • Diana MacPherson says:

            So you’re choosing to ignore two major groups in the US that represent atheists and make a point to fight for freedom of religion?

          • AU says:

            Hi Diana,

            I am not sure what you are getting at – what exactly am I choosing to ignore?

            Let me try this once again – I am NOT saying that atheists are not interested in protecting the constitution. I am sure the majority of atheists like the constitution. I am also sure many religious people also like the constitution.

            What I was against was the “black and white” picture you were trying to present. I am sorry, I cannot accept such simplistic views of the world that are driven by tribalism instead of hard facts. You were saying atheists protect the constitution that allows religious people the freedom of religion – sure, I am sure most do! And? So what? There are many religious people who also protect the constitution that allows atheists to be atheists.

            You might be interested in cherry-picking the good examples of atheists and ignoring the bad examples, and in cherry-picking the bad examples of religious people and ignoring the good examples, but I don’t operate like this – this to me is a form of bigotry, and it is exactly these kinds of opinions that encourage intolerance.

          • Diana MacPherson says:

            What you are ignoring (and continue to ignore) is my evidence that atheists do protect the constitution much more than religious groups. That evidence was that the two large organizations that protect atheist interests also protect the constitutional right of freedom of religion. They state so explicitly. Can you cite major religious institutions that do so?

            I’m not cherry picking. I’m not talking about individuals. I’m not being simplistic. I AM being factual.

          • AU says:

            No, you are not being factual. You cherry-pick one part of the constitution (which is the freedom of belief) that two atheist groups want protected (which, incidentally, is in their interest to protect as they could be persecuted if this freedom was lost), and then use that to say that “And it is atheists who reject constitutional violations and oppose changes to the constitution that many religious people would”.

            See what you’re doing? When it comes to atheists, you just want to describe them as one homogeneous entity – you don’t say “some atheists” or “many atheists”, you simply say atheists. When it comes to religious people, you say “many” – even though this “many” could be in the minority. And you choose one bit of the constitution that atheists don’t want changed, and project this onto the whole constitution, ignoring bits of the constitution that prominent atheists have said they would like changed. So, yes, your statement isn’t factual. But my statement was, so I will repeat it: “It is the constitution that protects the rights of the people, not atheists or theists.”

            Yes, maybe there are more theists who want changes to the constitution than there are atheists. I can’t comment on this as I haven’t studied it. If you have, then maybe you can point me to some study which has looked at the attitude of atheists and theists towards the constitution. Until you can do so, your statement cannot be considered factual, it is simply you choosing to cherry-pick things which suit your agenda.

            Thank you.

          • Diana MacPherson says:

            Your strawmanning. My point was that atheists support the consitituion. I showed that the do. You have decided to make vague references to bigotry falling just short of calling me a bigot. I’m not going to argue anymore about this. You want to believe what you want to believe and assert without evidence things that have nothing to do with what my point is.

          • AU says:

            As for, “Can you cite major religious institutions that do so?”


            This is an alliance made up largely of religious people, and their mission is:

            We respect the inherent rights of all individuals – as well as their differences.
            We promote policies that protect vital boundaries between religion and government.
            We unite diverse voices to challenge extremism and build common ground.

            So, yes, there are religious people who want to protect the constitution too.

          • AU says:

            This is quite unreal. YOU are using the straw man, and then somehow manage to accuse me of it?

            Let me show why you are using a straw man. I never said there do not exist atheists that support the constitution. I simply said some atheists support the constitution and some do not, and I gave you examples of atheists who would like to see certain sections of the constitution amended.

            What I was saying was you cannot make a blanket statement whereby you act as if all atheists support the constitution and that many religious people don’t – the reality is a lot more complex. To counter the fact I showed you examples of atheists who do not support the constitution, you cited two atheist organisations that support the “right of belief” and said this is proof that atheists support the constitution. First of all, just because these organisations support one part of the constitution, it doesn’t mean they support the whole constitution – I mean, would you say that if a right wing Christian supports the right to bear arms, it implies they support the whole constitution? Of course not, that would be absolutely ridiculous, so, yes, your claim that just because an atheist group supports the “right of belief” it means they support every aspect of the constitution is just ridiculous – they might, or they might not, I don’t know, and neither do you.
            Secondly, even if we assume they do support the whole constitution, it still doesn’t change my point – because I never said atheists cannot support the constitution. I simply said your claim that atheists are the protectors of the constitution from many religious people is misleading, because some atheists protect the constitution from some religious people, some religious people protect the constitution from some atheists, some atheists protect the constitution from other atheists, some religious people protect the constitution from other religious people – but if you want to continue believing what you want to believe, and if in your world all atheists are good guys and the majority of religious people are bad guys, then feel free to do so.

            As for bigotry, yes, you do display bigotry, you do not seem interested in honest debate but you come to the table with your arguments already formed and you will they try and twist things to downplay anything bad done by atheists and overplay anything bad done by religious people – that is bigotry.

            In fact, I got bored with this “religion versus atheism” debate ages ago because of the bigotry displayed by a lot of people from both sides, and the only reason I post on this blog is that even though I might not agree with everything Heather says (and I am sure she doesn’t agree with everything I say) at least she isn’t a bigot and that I respect.

          • Diana MacPherson says:

            Keep on arguing with your made up argument.

          • Hi AU, I think this is getting a bit out of hand – Diana originally said “typically”, which to me doesn’t mean “all” atheists. Statistically, she is correct – atheists are more likely than theists to support values like freedom of speech. Of course, there are both atheists and theists who don’t do this. I’ve followed Diana’s comments and articles on other websites, and I’ve never found her to be bigoted. In fact, I’ve come to respect her a lot, as I respect you.

            Please give each other a chance – I like the comments of you both and wouldn’t want to lose either of you.

          • Diana MacPherson says:

            Thank you, Heather.

          • AU says:

            Hi Heather,

            I am afraid I cannot agree with you.

            Sure, she said “typically” once, but even then, typically is quite vague. She then followed it up with:

            “Ironically it is atheists, one of the most despised groups in the US, who protect the right of many of the people that hate them so, to practice their religion.”

            But of course, as I pointed out, it is the Constitution that protects the rights.

            Diana then argued that “it is atheists who reject constitutional violations and oppose changes to the constitution that many religious people would prefer. I think atheists are unusual among groups in that we will point out and try to resolve issues of violation of the freedom of religion when we see it while many religious groups look the other way or actively participate in the violation.”

            But that is wrong – you cannot make such blanket statements about a group of people. It is absolute nonsense – atheists aren’t a group of people who all act and feel the same way, but the above suggests they are.
            So I therefore clarified that this is a simplistic view, and Diana came back with “non-sequitur” – which I did find annoying, because I have a postgraduate degree in Logic, and I absolutely hate it when people throw around that word when it doesn’t even make sense.

            Anyway, Diana had many chances to clarify her position. She could have made it clear that

            1) yes, it is true that not all atheists want to protect the constitution
            2) yes, is is true that some atheists want to change the constitution
            3) yes, it is true that some religious people want to protect the constitution

            but she consistently failed to do so – she wanted to continue presenting the simplistic view of the world that she wants to believe in.

          • It’s kinda funny – we three – A Brit, a Canadian and a Kiwi are arguing about who protects the US constitution. And NZ and GB don’t even have a formal constitution (two of only three countries in the world – the other is Israel). You could argue that it’s SCOTUS who protects the constitution too, although imo, they often don’t do a very good job e.g. in 2006 they decided, after 219 years, that the second amendment meant pretty much everyone could carry guns. Not all the current group seem to think all adults have the right to vote though. “All men” originally meant only male, white, straight, Protestant Christians – thank goodness that’s changed, although there’s still a way to go in some areas, such as same-sex marriage.

            Anyway, I think we need to agree to differ on the subject – there are valid points all ’round and we’ve got to the point where we’re mainly arguing on styles of expressing ourselves and semantics.

  2. Re Medhi Hasan, have a look at this video. Unless he’s completely abandoned his earlier views on Islam, this is a dangerous man:

    • Thanks for posting this Jerry – I’d forgotten about it. He really is a revolting man and, as you say, dangerous. His rhetoric is the type that incites the vulnerable to violence, hatred and extremism.

      • AU says:

        Dangerous? He is an editor of a newspaper – he has no real power, and he doesn’t use his position to preach extremist Islamic views. I don’t really know how he can be considered “dangerous”. Maybe the Youtube video makes it look scary, by juxtaposing Hasan expressing extremist things in private with him being on national TV, to evoke images of “fifth columns” and have you what. Then again, the person who posted that video does seem to have an irrational fear of Islam, like linking to a video and saying ALL rapes in Oslo are committed by Muslims, when this is clearly not the case

        I guess I am more scared of cancer, dementia, bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics etc than I am of Mehdi Hasan.

        Anyway, he did once clear up his views – a simple Google search shows this:

        At the end of the day, most people believe followers of their belief are the best, and others lack the same intellect, I mean, I have seen so many debates where atheists have laughed and mocked theists for being “stupid”, this isn’t really very different from what Hasan was saying in his videos …

        • I think when you see occurrences like what just happened in Sydney, you need to recognize the danger of rhetoric like that of Hasan’s. The perpetrator seems, imo, to have had mental issues as he has a history of issues with women and crimes against women. That kind of man is vulnerable to hate speech that feeds his prejudices – in his case that was violent jihad. (If he was an extremist Christian, he might have blown up an abortion clinic.)

          I really don’t like the idea of silencing anybody, but with freedom of speech and a public platform comes responsibility. Hasan is extremely intelligent and knows the effect what he has to say will have on some people. While expressing himself, he needs to make it clear that the competition between ideas needs to be mental, not physical.

          • Diana MacPherson says:

            I agree – ideas can be dangerous not when they are just there as ideas themselves but when they are put into action & just about all ideas are formed with the intent of putting them into action.

          • AU says:

            Who decides what is “hate speech”?

            So Mehdi Hasan saying “unbelievers” are stupid is “hate speech”.
            But atheists are allowed to laugh and mock religious people as suffering from “mental illness”, and that isn’t “hate speech”?

            Why should we ban Hasan’s speech and not an atheist?

            As for Sydney, at the expense of sounding callous and heartless, “only” two civilians died. Yes, it is tragic, and I really feel sorry for them, but that’s the fact.
            Do you know how many people in Australia die from cardiovascular disease?


            43,000. That is one Australian EVERY 12 minutes. During the time of the Sydney siege, around 80 Australians were killed by CVD.

            So, yes, keeping things in perspective, there are a LOT more things that I consider MUCH more dangerous than someone like Hasan.

          • To be fair, there are plenty of religious people who consider atheists are suffering from mental illness because we don’t believe. There have been cases in Africa where people have been committed by their families after “coming out” as atheist. Personally, I’ve never considered being religious a sign of mental illness, and I’ve never some across an atheist who does. I have seen some joke about it on the internet, but usually in response to some pretty vitriolic stuff from fundamentalist religious people like “I hope you burn in hell” and worse.

            I don’t think Hasan should be banned. I just think everyone who has a public platform has a responsibility. I think he should be able to say anything he wants, but just make it clear that the competition for ideas should not resort to violence. If his arguments are the best, he, or his successors will win the argument eventually. If he doesn’t, he should still always be free to make his case.

  3. Great post. Impressive. I made it through the mag piece but with not without scratchjng my head. I believe whole heartedly that when you understand something you can easily explain it. This piece reads like it was written by an English 101 student too impressed with his new words and ability to mix them up. Who cares if they mean anything? I see that they ask for donations at the end of the article. I tweeted and asked if they would reimburse me for the time I wasted on the thing.

    To the point of the article, though, I am continually flumuxed by this issue. I truly don’t care if you pray, go the church, have three wives, or wash in the river. I just want to be left fo do what I want to do. I am seriously no threat.

  4. Ken says:

    The Hasan video is interesting, particularly that I could find nothing to disagree with in his comments on the BBC show. If he believes the rest, it sure didn’t come through in that forum.

  5. Diane G. says:

    Excellent write-up, Heather!

  6. AU says:

    Hi Heather,

    You seem to be suggesting that Americans should have a less favourable view of Muslims than atheists because Muslim extremists killed 3,000 people 13 years ago and then you mention the Boston Bombing (which sadly killed 4 people – compare that to the 16,000 people killed in America through homicide each year and it pales in comparison).
    Another way of looking at it is, since 2002, more people died in America per year from peanuts than they did from Muslim extremists.

    As most liberals know, the threat to Americans from Muslims is vastly overstated – it’s usually only right-wing Christians, neocons, or atheist extremists who go around overplaying the threat of radical Muslims because each has their own agenda – this article from the NYT demonstrated just how vastly exaggerated this threat is:

    You then mention how “many in the American military are dying or permanently suffering because of ongoing conflict against Muslim extremists” – but this figure is currently 3 deaths per month in Afghanistan according to icasualties (they don’t do figures on injuries anymore). And again, one can argue that they’re not suffering because of actions of extremist Muslims, but that they’re suffering because their government went and fought another war in a manner they should not have fought.

    The bottom line is, just as it is disgraceful that Americans have such a bigoted opinion of atheists, it is also disgraceful that Americans have such a bigoted opinion of Muslims.

    Thank you.

    • HI AU, I didn’t mean to imply that Americans should have a bad opinion of Muslims. I worried a bit when I wrote it it would come across that way – I hope you know that that’s not how I think. Bigotry is wrong, no matter the victim. I also agree that American foreign policy means they bring a lot of these issues on their own people, although, of course, there’s no excuse for terrorism either. The war on Iraq is a case in point – it never should have happened. It was illegal imo, and caused a lot more problems than it fixed.

      • AU says:

        Hi Heather,

        I know you’re not a bigot and didn’t mean it that way!

        Anyway, when making a comparison, you have to remember that the question asked about Muslims, and not Muslim extremists. As Muslims don’t share the same values as Muslim extremists, I guess quite a few people don’t want to judge Muslims on the actions of Muslim extremists. I am sure if the questionnaire asked for an opinion about Muslim extremists, it would be MUCH less favourable than that of atheists.

        As for why people have such a low opinion of atheists, I guess it differs, for example, I know why Evangelicals would have such a low opinion, but I think for some other people, it is probably because atheists can come across as sanctimonious and arrogant, and people don’t like this. With religion, even though the believer might think he is right, he is still humble compared to his God, whereas I have seen quite a few atheists go around dismissing everyone else as stupid and acting as if they’re the only ones who think things through and are driven by morality.

        Of course, these kind of atheists are in the minority, but it is perception that counts.

        • Hi AU,

          As it’s a US survey, the opinion of Evangelicals dominates because they are in the majority, which lowers the level of atheists and non-Christians (except Jews because, of course, Jews are God’s Chosen People, and they will all, according to the Evangelicals, convert in the Last Days). There’s also an interesting statistic I didn’t report. Those who know at least one atheist rate them neutrally (50 on average), while those who don’t know any atheists rate them 29 on average – an enormous 21 point gap. So perception is a big thing as you point out.

          Atheists see the “humble” argument differently than theists. From our point of view, we’re nothing special, just another animal with a more highly evolved intelligence. Theists think everything was made especially for them by God or gods. When they do good, it’s because a god is signalling them out for special favour. Some think those who suffer are being punished by God. Atheists think if we’re good at something, it’s a combination on genes, upbringing, hard work etc. Bad stuff sometimes is and sometimes isn’t our own fault, depending on the circumstances. I’m sure you know, or know of, plenty of theists who think extreme weather events, earthquakes etc are caused by God (or a god) as some form of punishment. Atheists think the kind of person who would blame a community suffering because of a flood or something on one person or group of people is the arrogant one, and cruel and probably ignorant into the bargain. It’s the same mentality as witch-burning.

          • AU says:

            Hi Heather,

            I would have to disagree with you here – you cannot aim to speak for all atheists! Sure, I am sure the majority of atheists think “From our point of view, we’re nothing special, just another animal with a more highly evolved intelligence”. But there are also atheists who actually think religious people are mentally inferior. I know this from personal experience, because I had a colleague from Africa who hated religion and thought religious people were simply stupid for still believing in “fairy tales”.

            So, just as many people look at the fundamentalists from religion and use them to judge religious people, I guess religious people look at those atheists who look down on religious people, and use them to judge atheists. Neither is right, but that’s unfortunately the way things are.

            BTW, an interesting statistic I once read was that 99% of Americans don’t actually know any Muslims personally. So I am sure that would also contribute to why Muslims are considered the least favourable group in America.

          • There are a-holes everywhere, and unfortunately none of us can avoid them. Like many Muslims, many atheists have has a lot of bad experiences with ignorant people, and that colours the way they act towards others. It’s not an excuse, but it is a reason. I’m sorry someone treated you badly without cause. Whatever I say about atheists in general, there will be examples where that generalization is wrong. All I can do is talk about myself, and try to use reliable statistics to talk about others.

            Re the survey above, 38% said they knew a Muslim, and their “feelings” result was similar to atheists. Muslims on average got a neutral 49 from those who knew a Muslim, but only a 35 from those who didn’t. Ignorance again makes a demonstrable difference.

          • AU says:

            Hi Heather,

            No one treated me badly! We would just have a lot of discussions at work about politics, society and have you what, and sometimes religion would come up, and my colleague was just bigoted. He would choose the worst of religion and pass it off as the norm, and he would go even further and mock anyone who believed in religion. And he isn’t alone, I have seen other atheists do this too. (Just like I have seen theists do the same regarding atheists).

            Ah, yes, you are correct – I seem to have got my figures mixed up. Maybe it was the 1% of Americans who are Muslims that I got confused with, and I stand corrected.

  7. AU says:

    Hi Heather,

    I do agree with the gist of what you are saying – in my own personal experience, atheists tend to be more liberal and tolerant than religious people. However, I do have a couple of issues.

    As I come from a scientific background, I am sorry, I simply cannot accept the “fact” you provide. I am not even sure what you mean by “America is such a great country” – America, since it’s inception, has been at war with many countries, it has supported many despotic regimes for it’s own interests – I am sure the people from other countries whose family were killed and livelihoods destroyed over the centuries by American expansionism didn’t consider it to be “great”.

    If by “great” you mean it’s freedoms, then again, I am not sure how you can say this is because of atheism – instead, the term you are looking for is secularism, and the two are not the same, as the very report you cited says.

    Furthermore, you write “statistics show atheists to be “… markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian”” – but this isn’t correct. The report attributes the above to atheists AND secular people – this isn’t the same as atheists, because as the report defines, “For instance, someone can be secular and yet not be an atheist, such as an individual who never attends religious services or activities, doesn’t describe herself as religious, and yet still believes in something she would refer to as God (Shibley 2004).”

    Thank you.

    • Hi AU. America is great in many ways. It has been very successful. Many have suffered because of that success. And I do have a problem with the myth of American exceptionalism. This constant idea many Americans have that they are the best at everything, and it’s unpatriotic to say otherwise, frankly annoys me. I’ve started making a list of international indices of all sorts of things (e.g. health, education, economy, sports etc) comparing NZ’s place and America’s place. There are about 20 things on it so far and NZ is higher on the indices than the USA in every single one. The USA doesn’t make No 1 in any index, but NZ does. (I haven’t looked at military stuff, where I’m sure they beat everybody hands down.) I’ll publish it some time.

      You’re right that secularists and atheists aren’t the same. I consider it unlikely that this made much difference to the stats. It’s hard to get stats in the US specifically on atheists because it’s an identity so hated, people won’t admit to it. Thankfully, that’s starting to change, although there’s a big back lash. They will call themselves secular because of the positive associations there with their constitution.


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