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Why New Atheists are the Dullest People in the World

March 19, 2011

Leah had a great post today…asking whether or not she is a RAGING RELIGION-AHOLIC. See, Leah…she’s not a believer…and yet, she is fascinated and interested in religion.

How could this be? It must be because she is indoctrinated! She must be brainwashedbrainwashed into supporting religion, even though it is so obviously false, and even she recognizes it is literally false.

Even though I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that cultural Mormonism is an illusion that cannot sustain itself, and that it in fact cannot exist in absence of a real religion to feed from…I guess I’m still enamored by the people who feed away.

So that’s one of the reasons why I like Leah’s post. Her blog’s description succinctly summarizes what she is about: she dares to be “a skeptic dipping her toes in religion, in an attempt to reclaim spirituality post-fundamentalism“. Take that religious believers. I will reclaim spirituality from you!

So, I thought I’d post her post to reddit, both to the r/exmo and to r/atheism. I suspected there would be different responses, but I didn’t anticipate what would come.

brillientk89 (who I believe I’ve reddit sparred with before) came out swinging.

Science tells me that my emotions are caused by biochemical reactions, but that doesn’t help me navigate my emotional life the way a good story or ritual does.

I’m sorry you feel that you need nice stories to make you feel better about your existence. Maybe you should see a therapist.

In other words, according to brillient, if someone recognizes they have emotional needs and tries to fulfill these emotional needs through reasonable means, then really, they should see a therapist.

What baffles me about this is that if we take brillient’s idea to its extreme, it would simply medicalize normal human appreciation of the arts. Do you like stories? Rituals? You must need therapy.

In fact, as he says later:

I’ve come to the realization, thanks in part to Douglas Adams, that life might make no sense or have any greater purpose but that need not stop us from enjoying it and helping others enjoy it. No fables are required. It’s hard to accept the reality that we just don’t know, that this life is probably all there is, but it is easier in the long run once you accept that reality. There is a beauty to life and the universe without making anything up.

In other words, you should enjoy the *factual* parts of life, even if *factually*, there is *literally* no purpose to life. It’s hard to accept that fact, but you should just accept it. No stories, no fables, no myths. Accept the beauty of the drab reality.

Don't Panic…the only intriguing thing about this is…I’m pretty sure Douglas Adams was a pretty awesome novelist. so, apparently, he understood the value of fable and myth in crafting the entire world (and indeed, universe) of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

So, I called him out on it:

I guess you’re not a fan of novels, poems, etc., Because “there is a beauty to life and the universe without making anything up,” so you probably don’t like the entire idea of “fiction,” do you?

And brillient replied thusly:

If she, or anyone else, needs pretty fictions to keep their mind occupied from dealing with the often harsh realities of existence then fine. So long as they recognize it is fiction. She seems to be able to do this but she is in the minority I think.

…I do dislike the vast majority of fiction because I think it’s pretty worthless and I do generally tend to read nonfiction because I find it interesting and hope to learn something. I think literature and poetry (and the people that find so much deeper meaning in it) are usually pretentious and foolish. I genuinely hate walking through art museums. I’d much rather take a walk in nature which is typically where I have most of my spiritual experiences.

However, some fiction is masterfully done as a commentary on reality (Nineteen Eighty Four, To Kill a Mockingbird) or as clever entertainment with philosophical or scientific roots (HHGTG, Star Trek) or as satire (Huckleberry Finn, Monty Python) or as just pure imaginative entertainment (Harry Potter). I typically give things that are humorous a pass because laughter is a great way to deal with all manner of things.

I don’t think fiction is worthless and I often enjoy it. I just think it’s foolish to gain too much deeper meaning from it and think people in general spend too much time on fictions of one kind or another and not enough time confronting reality and learning. I know people who can name off movies and movie stars like they’ve got a degree in it, but couldn’t tell you what’s going on in the world. In other words, a lot of people tend too much time feeling and not enough time thinking. Or too much time imagining fantasy and not enough time imagining how to improve reality. They spend more time avoiding problems than solving them.

So, he begins by saying that her appreciation of the arts is a way to “keep her mind occupied from dealing with the often harsh realities of existence.” It is a crutch. An opiate of the masses, if you will.

But the Glorious New Atheist Ubermensch recognizes MOST fiction for what it is: worthless and incapable of providing learning. Literature and poetry is usually pretentious and foolish.

…the thing is, he recognizes that SOME fiction may make a “commentary on reality” (I guess the rest of fiction is 100% disconnected from any reality whatsoever), and some may be “clever entertainment” or “pure imaginative entertainment.” It is good to “give things that are humorous a pass because laughter is a great way to deal with all manner of things.”


The worst thing is…every example he mentions has…at BEST, influenced the literary canon for half a century. If he deigned to include Shakespeare or someone similar, then he could reach back to half a millennium of human literary accomplishment.

BUT what he fails to realize is that religions have influenced and inspired humanity for far longer than that. How can he then say — just because he believes religion isn’t literally true — that it hasn’t made a “commentary on reality”? Or that it isn’t worth our attention? It has truly been the lens by which reality was viewed in some way, shape, or fashion, for most of human civilization.

He directly contradicts himself in the next paragraph…he doesn’t think fiction is worthless (except for the “vast majority” of it which is “pretty worthless”) and he often enjoys it.

…then again, maybe he’s not contradicting himself. Maybe there simply is a difference between his “enjoyment” and the “worth of fiction” and the worthless, pretentious, foolish fiction he derides.

But from my analysis, all I can figure out is that he is a Philistine at best (would he even get the reference)? He likes fiction because of the laughs. Because of the entertainment. He despises those who think deeply about their fictitious works, who try to “gain deeper meaning from it.” He thinks these people spend time in fiction to escape confrontations with reality and learning.

If we have to have brillientk89’s world or a world of fiction, then I’d rather have a world of fiction.


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  1. Seth R. permalink

    Reminds me of Mao Zedong’s cultural revolution, where angry youth rampaged through the streets beating artists and performers to a bloody pulp, raiding museums, and smashing thousand year old priceless vases as “filthy relics of the bourgeoisie.”

    There is, in the end no wasteland as bland and dreary as the mind of an ideologue.

    This is, in essence, what the New Atheism movement is to me – a bunch of people with a pile of crap in their hands, and a self-satisfied smirk on their faces. Because they’ve discovered reality – devoid of all those troubling nuances life offers.

    The fundamentalist mind craves certainty – and will therefore find uncertainty and nuance unattractive. Everything has to be safe, decided, and insufferably boring.

    The fundamentalist Calvinist crowing about his own certainty in the “perfect Bible” “100% guarantee of salvation” and the New Atheist crowing about his “100% guarantee in science” are really the same animal – just with different hats and different addresses.

    • Seth R. permalink

      Which is why I’m always supremely unimpressed when an ex-Mormon atheist proudly trots out their fundamentalist Mormon credentials and talks about what an insufferable prig they were while in the Church.

      And here I am thinking – “yeah – well it doesn’t seem like much has changed for you since then, honey.”

      You can take the fundie out of the church, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still just as much of a fundie as before.

      It’s just they’ve found a different set of assertions to be an insecure butthead about.

      • Exactly. You can never take the fun out of the fundie. Perhaps some exmofundieathies know this and are ashamed by it, thus increasing their hatred? 😉

        I used to say things just like brillent here… boo on fiction and whatnot. He’s missing out on a lot – fiction (and stories in general) not only might “provide meaning” for some, but it can be so much more than that.

        A friend of mine recently put it this way:

        “it may be a perceived value that you have established you can only get from non-fiction, when in fact another perception is that even non-fiction is fiction.

        I say that in the sense that even raw history books only relate “facts” (people, places, dates, who was involved) of an event from one perspective. The text sits plainly on the page and does not/ or from a historians perspective, should not evoke emotion. history = objectivity.

        As far as non-fiction goes, I really have a hard time believing that such a thing exists… perception plays a huge role in how we see the world around us and even the most interesting of autobiographies is narration of a social construction of relationships to time/space/and other people.

        Next time you try to read fiction look at your relationship to the text and the emotion that it may invoke instead of just reading for information.You may find some hidden value in it. After all, good literature is art and art is created to invoke emotion. Sometimes it’s not just the words on the page that you are learning from, but the experience and connection to the act of reading itself.”

        Or just get therapy. AS IF THAT WAS A BAD THING. Sheesh.

        • Keep in mind my friend here was not talking about religion per se, just fiction and “non-fiction” in general.

        • lol, sorry, mr. therapist.

  2. Linkbaity title there. brillient’s rejection of fiction is stupid, especially since he still seems to like Harry Potter of all things.

    It seems to me that Seth and you have this idea of religion being a worthwhile counterpart to science in that it’s the only thing that provides people with narrative, as if art and and literature took place on religious grounds, and then over there in the cold, drab wasteland of boring, dead facts live the stupid dumbshit atheists. Fuck them and their mindless, fundamentalist iconoclasm.

    If you haven’t yet met an atheist other than yourself who thinks that narrative, art, literature, and general aesthetics are innate and important for humans and also that these things do not belong to religion, let me introduce you to Carson N. AMA

    • Seth R. permalink

      Not atheists Carson.

      New Atheists.

      And yeah, that does pretty much summarize them. Although I’d redact the expletives.

      • Well the strange thing about that is that as far as I am aware, the “four horsemen” are seen somewhat as the standard for the New Atheism movement, and I haven’t seen the same weird rejection of the aesthetic from them as I see with brillient. Dawkins is almost as excited by biology/science as evangelicals are about Jesus, and not just because he likes to stroke his cold hard facts, but because he really sees it as beautiful and fulfilling to him. *shrug* biology to me was always pretty boring. I know that Sam Harris has stated that numinous experiences are very real and important to people and that we should do a better job encouraging and providing context for them outside of religions which would co-opt them to their own ends. Hitchens has a great appreciation for literature and art, and a marked dislike of those who would defile religious art, even. If these guys represent New Atheists, then I’d have to say there is a disconnect between them and brillient.

  3. Carson,

    it’s not that religion is the only thing that provides people with narrative, but it is by far one of the most successful things at doing that task. Religion demands an explanation — and I don’t think it’s doing too hot on “literal” truth or fact value. BUT on a narrative point of view, I think it fares far better in its many iterations and reiterations.

    I don’t see art and literature as being opposed to religion. I see them as connected. Opposing religion because it is “literally” dubious or “literally” untrue is like opposing literature because it is “literally” fictitious (which brillient is all too willing to do).

    If you take out religion, art, AND literature — as brillient would have us do, taken to extreme, of course — then you do end up with a cold, drab wasteland of boring, dead facts and the stupid dumbshit atheists.

    I guess as part of your AMA, I would ask, “What vehicle other than religion provides the furthest reaching vehicle for narrative, art, literature, and general aesthetics to flourish and spread“? Or, alternatively, “What should replace religion and prevent us from becoming the “last men” that Nietzsche derided?” Or do you think Nietzsche was wrong…that if you kill God, then you won’t devalue, debase, and destabilize greater society and civilization?

  4. First the agreements:

    I agree that taking out fiction to the extreme that brillient would have us do would result in a wasteland. I just cannot agree with brillient even a little bit on that point.

    I agree that religion has been very successful and quite possibly the most successful at providing people with grand, unifying narratives about their purpose in life. And by successful I mean adoption, growth, and persistence. I think that religion has been really good at co-opting humans’ natural need for deep connection and narrative for their own organizational purposes. If there aren’t any churches around, humans will tend to make up religions just to fill the void. It does seem to me that religiosity comes from a natural impulse in humans to give an explanation to all that is unknown. Teleological thinking is built into our psyche, and religion is a projection of that.

    Now the disagreements:

    Opposing religion because it is literally fictitious is not like opposing literature because of the same reason.

    Literature is consumed at large by people who are aware that it is fiction. This, as you know, does not at all take away from the value that literature brings to humanity. I think we can all agree that literature brings much more than just entertainment value, which is what brillient thinks. There are no organizations that are founded on or require a literal belief in events described in fiction literature. You will not be kicked out of your social community by outwardly disbelieving that events in a fictional story didn’t actually take place. Everybody knows it is fiction, and it doesn’t matter. Children are not raised to believe that monsters in storybooks are real and that their threats are deadly serious. Young adults don’t have a strong sense of guilt and shame instilled into them by reading the Bible as literature. You will not be indoctrinated from birth to take the fiction as fact and then emotionally manipulated by leaders to believe that your feelings upon reading it confirm their literal truth, which means you need to pray, pay, and obey.

    If religions were built on top of narratives that were widely accepted to be fictitious-but-useful, then I would not be one of those goddamn atheists on the Internet who won’t shut up. I suspect that there wouldn’t be very many left, and those that were left would probably be just as boorish as Seth makes them out to be.

    Now your question:

    What vehicle? Well, any multiplicity of movements and organizations would do, as long as they don’t demand literal belief in falsehoods. I’m not against organizations of people coming together under a unified theme or purpose (if I agree with that purpose, of course, heh). I don’t think there is a need for a grand universe-revolves-around-us narrative. It would be sad if we really needed that kind of an egotistical narrative in order to live richly. There are a ton of purposes and causes to attach yourself to. Take the good advice from the GAs about serving your community and being a good person; take the parables and stories you like from your favorite holybooks; take all the heartwarming Disney movies you want, and leave all of the baggage behind. You don’t have to believe in it in order for it to have value, that I can agree with. But the religious leaders will not have any of that.

    Perhaps you’ll say to me that religions would topple if they didn’t have the core orthodox to give it life. People keep bringing up C of C as an example of what the LDS church should have done, but they’re rightly told that the C of C suffers for their liberality and metaphorical attitude. Consider why. The LDS church among others is founded on the literal belief in their doctrines. It is the glue that keeps it propped up. If you take that away, it weakens it. To me this shows that religion does not survive on the merits of its narratives alone, but more on the literal belief in those narratives.

    • Point: Literature is successful even though (or because) people know it’s fictional

      Point accepted, conceded.

      My wonder would be…maybe part of the appeal with religion as opposed to literature is the belief that it is literally true. And so we can’t have a replacement vehicle *without* demanding the literal belief in what turns out to be falsehoods.

      To me this shows that religion does not survive on the merits of its narratives alone, but more on the literal belief in those narratives.

      And if a narrative inspires literal belief in it…then?

      • Then it’s a useful tool for a con artist.

        Is that it?

        • At least someone’s inspiring confidence here.

      • I think the appeal of religion is not just that it’s literally true, but, as Carson said, that it provides explanations for the unknown. Religion can be like a coping mechanism for the anxious (one reason it worked so great for me for so long); it replaces uncertainty with certainty.

        • Seth R. permalink

          No one operates from a fear of the unknown, Sarah, more than a lot of the atheists I encounter online.

          The fear of a universe full of the supernatural – that which human intellect cannot conquer and understand – fear of God and all the uncomfortable uncertainties that entails – fear of general messes – fear of paradoxes.

          New atheists are people who ran straight into all these frightening concepts, screamed like little girls, ran away, and then decided that the safest way to make the universe a kinder and more manageable place would be to declare oblivion after death.

          Oblivion after death can be the ultimate security blanket – for a generation of utter moral cowards.

          • I will agree that atheists (you’ve probably encountered more than I) are just as likely to want security and explanation.

            But I disagree (if you are suggesting) that they are any more morally cowardly than many religious faithful.

          • Seth R. permalink

            No, I’m not asserting that they are MORE cowardly or insecure than some or many religious faithful.

            But just as much so.

            The obsession with security, and phobia of messes transcend lines of religious affiliation or non-affiliation. You can find fundamentalists everywhere in this world.

          • Elaborate on “moral cowards”.

  5. OK, so you found a Gnu Atheist who’s a complete Philistine who not only doesn’t get art or literature but is proud of it. But is brillient any more representative of Gnu Atheists than “jason” is of Mormons? Or is he just a singular weirdo? And isn’t calling the beautiful, awe-inspiring, wondrous world of nature and science that brillient prefers a “cold, drab wasteland of boring, dead facts” just as dumb as anything he said?

    • I guess the question would be: how often do I run into people like jason on the interwebs. (Admittedly not a lot)

      How often do I run into people like brillient on the interwebs. (More often).

      I know that’s because of the places I go to (the Bloggernacle features a type of member…but jason’s not that type. On the other hand, r/atheism does feature exactly the kind of poster that brillient is), so it still isn’t generalizable.

      • Those people — people who don’t get art and literature — have always been around. That’s why we have name for them. But that name is “Philistine,” not “New Atheist.” Just because New Atheism attracts some people like that doesn’t mean that it creates them.

        • But what if it DOES?

          Or, what if “New Atheism” as distinguish from plain old atheism can be defined by this (along with several other traits — the heavy focus on facts and science, the rational, the empirical.)

          • I haven’t observed this in the atheism movement I’ve been following via podcasts, blogs, videos, etc. Are you saying that people on /r/atheism are generally Philistines? I haven’t been there very often, so I wouldn’t know.

            Are you sure you’re not conflating the love of science/nature/reason with the hatred of stories and art? Or maybe the hatred of religion with the hatred of art?

          • I think it’s the hyper-obsession with “reality,” “facts,” “the logical,” etc., I wouldn’t conflate it with hatred of stories and art if they didn’t themselves take it that far. To be completely clear, I make the analogy to literature/art to make a point about the aesthetic potential of religion — I’m hoping they back down or qualify their original statements, but over and over, it is they who say, “Well, literature and art are pointless too. I’d rather read non-fiction”

            I recognize that the plural of “anecdote” isn’t “data,” though.

  6. Hi, I’m a New Atheist, and I like fiction. I just try to remember that it’s fiction, and not to use it as evidence for things that I want to believe.

    I also find that science provides a very inspiring narrative for my life. It just doesn’t tell me that I’m the center of the universe. Which some people seem to need.

    Andrew, this post is you at your straw-manliest. I am disappoint.

    • :3

    • Seth R. permalink

      What inspiring narrative? How your sweat glands work?

      • we are born. we eat, poop, have sex, and then we die. DAS ENDE.

        • I admit this may be as far as some people go, if they’re unaccustomed to thinking in terms longer than their own lifespan. Science can help with that, too.

          • Seth R. permalink

            Who cares if you’re living longer if you don’t have anything worthwhile to do with the extra years?

          • I actually meant that science can get you used to thinking in terms of millions of years.

            And I do have something worthwhile to do. Raise my boys, enjoy my work, listen to music, and love my woman.

            You theists have awfully strange ideas about what is worthwhile.

        • Seth R. permalink


      • Seth, Seth, Seth… your vision of science is far too narrow. Have you ever talked to an endocrinologist about sweat glands? They’re interesting!

        We live in an amazing universe of sweat glands and gravitation and worms and electricity. There’s so much stuff to find out! And we live for a while, try to build on our knowledge, and hand it to the next generation. Will it take? Or will we suffer one of those periodic dark ages, as people say “Science is boring! I’d rather believe I’m a warrior!” Which way will it go?

        Now there’s a compelling story.

        • Seth R. permalink

          Daniel – science doesn’t provide any normatives.

          Take homosexuality – science says its genetic.

          So what now? Shoot em? Make them president? Send them to Luxemborg?

          What does your science tell you about that?

          And where does this childlike faith in the inevitable advance of science and its ability to make a better world come from?

          • Daniel – science doesn’t provide any normatives.

            Sam Harris just wrote a book arguing that it does. You should read it if you’re going to make that claim.

            Take homosexuality – science says its genetic.

            So what now? Shoot em? Make them president? Send them to Luxemborg?

            What does your science tell you about that?

            Science says gay people are just like everybody else, so there’s no reason to treat them differently from anyone else. Seems like it’s mainly religious people who are still confused about the whole thing.

            And where does this childlike faith in the inevitable advance of science and its ability to make a better world come from?

            Ffrom the evidence, obviously.

          • What does your science tell you about that?

            Don’t discriminate against them based on religious dogma, for one.

            And where does this childlike faith in the inevitable advance of science and its ability to make a better world come from?

            A proven track record spanning centuries. No faith required.

          • Seth R. permalink

            Where did you get that idea that people should be treated the same?


            And since when did science tell anyone not to discriminate? The Nazi scientists must have missed the memo I guess.

            Daniel, your proven track record” is no such thing. A cursory look at human history shows no “inevitable march” of scientific progress – but rather advances followed by catastrophic setbacks – some of them seemingly permanent.

            I see no reason to believe that our current track of scientific progress is going to result in anything ultimately good. Heck, even in the twentieth century alone, science has taken us in some utterly monstrous directions.

            And for the record, we theists believe in enjoying work and kids and all that – it’s just that we don’t claim that science told us any of this was desirable.

          • If you don’t think that science has resulted in ‘anything ultimately good’, then I invite you not to use it. Don’t go to the doctor when you’re sick, don’t drive a car or use roads and bridges, and stay off the computer.

            Otherwise, you’re being a hypocrite, even to the point of using the fruits of science to criticise it. What an ingrate.

          • Seth R. permalink

            Typical fundie thinking Daniel.

            If I suggest that science hasn’t been one big magical merry train of uninterrupted joy and hope and wonder, that means I don’t get to use even the parts of it I do think are good?

            You talk like a right wing Southern Baptist.

          • Yeah, they’re always going on about the science.

          • Seth R. permalink

            Just substitute “Jesus” with “science” and you’ve pretty much got the same package deal of mental processes.

          • Seth R., you scare me sometimes.

  7. Andrew and Seth are promoting a confusion here.

    We’ve see a discussion on this blog in the past about ‘dictionary atheism’, which Andrew and Seth have argued does not promote any positive values, as it is simply a reaction to the claims of theists. Okay. But Andrew and Seth are also fond of talking about ‘New Atheism’, which (I argue) goes beyond the dictionary, and tends to incorporate positive values such as skepticism, rationalism, secularism, science, and so on. It’s not yet clear exactly which values will ultimately be considered part of the New Atheism when it settles down, but right now these are values that most New Atheists have in common.

    But here, Seth and Andrew are criticising ‘New Atheism’ for not being able to provide a narrative, for only presenting dry facts, and so on. Ironically, these criticisms apply to ‘dictionary atheism’ but not to New Atheism, and I think Andrew and Seth are mixing things up by conflating the two. Either keep them straight, or define what you mean by New Atheism.

    • I’m not criticizing new atheism for not being able to provide a narrative.

      I’m saying it’s narrative isn’t that inspiring, and it simply disdains the narratives that have been inspiring (for bad and for good). Part of the reason it isn’t inspiring is because of its obsession with facts, and especially the ones discovered from science.

      Behond: the human lifecycle. You’re born. You eat. You poop. You procreate. You die.

      We know a lot about these from scientific perspectives, but…this isn’t a very inspiring narrative.

      Behold: the stellar lifecycle. Stars are born. They eat other things. They spew out radiation. They die.

      OK, so now we know about the lifecycle of stars from a scientific perspective. Doesn’t say much.

      Or maybe we combine the two?

      Stars are born. They eat stuff. They spew stuff…that eventually becomes YOU! You die. They die.

      Oh, ok.

      What are some narratives we could get from science?

      Humans are meant to pass on genes. Therefore, homosexuals are abnormal, a genetic flaw. We should seek a fix for homosexuality so that people can pass on their genes.

      …which is how research originally proceeded, until one day, someone decided otherwise…there was nothing within the *science* to stop us from making such a narrative. There’s nothing within the *science* to decide between this narrative and another narrative that just says “gay people are just like everybody else.”

      …Basically, of the things that you list for new atheism (“skepticism, rationalism, secularism, science, and so on”) what of these things is inspiring?

      • Well, okay, Andrew, but what you’re doing is criticising atheism on aesthetic grounds. You just don’t like the stories it tells. I guess that’s fair enough, but Argument from Personal Taste isn’t really an argument against atheism.

        • Seth R. permalink

          What other argument than personal taste is left to the atheist?

          • o_O


        • Daniel, we’re talking about narratives and aesthetics!

          We’re contrasting the popularity of religious narratives (and yes, aesthetics) to nonreligious ones!

          This is a HUGE argument to concede!

          • Conceding the Argument from Personal Taste and/or the Argument from Popularity is “huge”?

          • If we are talking about aesthetic truth, YES.

            “OK, I admit that my narrative is ugly. Just deal with it. Or get therapy.”

          • I admit that you find my narrative ugly. I find beauty in it. But only an immature nitwit would tell someone to get therapy because of that.

          • No, there is no admission that the narrative is ugly. Anyone can caricature your cherished narrative the way you do. Here are a couple sample definitions of Christianity:

            The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a woman made from a rib was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

            A support group for people who believe God manifested on Earth as a Jewish hippy some twenty centuries ago, then killed himself on a cross in order to spare his own creation from his own wrath.

            If you find comfort in the literal belief in falsehoods and you can’t find anything else to replace it with, then I’m going to ask you to look a little harder. New Atheism isn’t trying to replace your narrative. Maybe you think they should be, and maybe they should make a better effort in that area, but right now I think they’re more concerned about fighting against the shitty parts of religion, and I think there is still a LOT of work to be done there.

            If you want narrative and inspiration on the Net, don’t go to /r/atheism, go to

          • note how most of the speakers at are NOT new atheists.

          • Which is exactly my point. Also note how these “ideas worth spreading” are compatible with a New Atheist worldview. The atheism isn’t what brings the inspiration to the table. New Atheism is about mostly about rejecting the dogma. Once you’ve rejected the dogma, you can stay and be a part of the reject-the-dogma movement, and you can also move on to some inspirational ideas and join in some other movements. You don’t have to remain in the reject-the-dogma crowd if that is boring for you. I still think that they serve a useful purpose.

            The fact that WordPress has cut off the text of these comments probably because of the blockquote elements saddens my heart.

          • wordpress is telling us that nested comments are DUMB.

          • WordPress is telling us that WordPress sucks at nesting comments.

          • There’s a difference between ‘unable to provide a narrative’ and ‘not offering a narrative you like’. The latter says more about you.

          • Yes, as brillient noted, that (insert person) needs to see a therapist.

            great job.

          • I don’t see the “you should see a therapist” insult in Daniel’s comment. I think he’s just emphasizing the subjectivity of your argument. You don’t like the narratives that he likes. So what? His narratives aren’t founded in falsehoods. The point is that there are lots of perfectly good narratives out there that aren’t based on lies. You don’t find biology and evolution as awe-inspiring as Dawkins does? That’s okay. Maybe you’d enjoy Salman Kahn’s mission to bring free education to the world. Your narratives don’t have to come from grey-haired, spectacled people in lab coats, and they certainly don’t need to come from priests.

          • If a narrative does not speak to someone, when the value of a narrative is in its speaking to someone…then it is not a “perfectly good” narrative.

            It’s not so much that “I” don’t find biology and evolution as awe-inspiring as Dawkins does. It’s that most people don’t.

            It’s that, stripping religion from the world seems more apt at producing a society of “last men” than “overmen.”

          • But I just said that it’s okay if most people don’t love biology as much as Dawkins does. Biology isn’t your only option here. That’s my point.

          • Your other options are just as anemic. None of them have taken entire nations by storm for hundreds of thousands of years — or seem poised to.

          • Every purpose for living outside of those defined by bronze age mythology are anemic? Hundreds of thousands of years?

            I’m done here.

          • Seth R. permalink

            That isn’t exactly true Andrew – there is an ideology throwing out the old religious narrative and promoting a secular and scientific narrative (as they saw it) in its place, that “took the world by storm.”

            Soviet socialism.

          • None of them have taken entire nations by storm for hundreds of thousands of years — or seem poised to.

            You seem to have confused ‘popular’ with ‘worthwhile’.

            Storms can be destructive.

    • Seth R. permalink

      That’s a fair point Daniel.

      And I think a lot of the confusion comes from the atheists as much as from me.

      Atheism per se is a non-position as far as I can tell. It asserts nothing – only denies something. All it says is “I don’t believe in god(s)” and that’s about it.

      New Atheism, however… I’ll be honest, the more I look at it, the more I get the impression is that it isn’t really “atheism” at all.

      For instance, it goes far beyond the non-position of “I’m not convinced in god(s)” and adds all sorts of fun stuff like: “All religious people fundamentally flawed”; “religion is poison”; “believers are inherently more stupid than non-believers”; “the defining trait of the Roman Catholic Church is pedophilia”; and all sorts of other interesting and bold assertions.

      The thing is – none of these assertions are “atheist” assertions.

      Militant secularist perhaps, anti-religious certainly, maybe even just plain nuts – but not really “atheist.” And the mere fact that a certain portion of the atheist population happen to hold these views doesn’t mean much either. That doesn’t make them definitionally “atheist” positions.

      Which makes me think that the very term “New Atheist” may be something of a misnomer. Because they don’t really appear to be atheists to me.

      • but Seth. That’s the entire point. “New Atheist” is a bundle of things that are not just “atheist.” It’s just, in other cases, the bundle of terms is called something else. (e.g., “Mormon” is a bundle of things that are not just “theist”)

        • Seth R. permalink

          Well that’s correct.

          But what I’m starting to conclude is that the term “New Atheist” is misleading and unhelpful.

          “Aggressive secularism” seems more descriptive.

          • ‘New Atheism’ isn’t misleading, it’s just poorly defined.

            “Aggressive secularism” seems more descriptive.

            I prefer ‘muscular secularism’.

          • Seth R. permalink

            Originally I went with “fascist secularism” but one of my Mormon friends pointed out that term is incredibly vague itself – not to mention needlessly radioactive – kind of like “cult” or “liberal” or “fundamentalist (I plead guilty as charged on that score).

            So reluctantly, I decided not to place my chips on that one.

  8. A tangent, but I’m enjoying these different forms of “atheism” that are apparently popping up… just imagine… you atheism, new atheism, new order atheists (NOAs!), StayAthiests, TBMS’s (True-Believing Muscular Secularists). I also wonder how one’s background influences which camp one falls into. E.g. a good friend of mine is an atheist, but he was raised in a secular home. His atheism = there is no evidence in his view, there is an “absence” of deity, for example. He has a hard time getting the TBMS’s and what not, because he didn’t come from a religious background that didn’t fit him and then fall away. So, perhaps TBMS’s can be grateful for their religious upbringings, otherwise they’d all just be “boring” regular atheists, with no muscle.

  9. “you have atheism, new atheism” rather

  10. I strongly object to pinning this on the label “the new atheists.”

    Sure, you’ve demonstrated that there are some atheists who are clueless dumbasses, and, indeed, there exist atheists whose clueless dumassery is intimately tied to their atheism. Now where’s your evidence that this represents “new atheist” thought (whatever that is — please define), or that any prominent “new atheists” would agree with him?

    • Simple, chanson.

      As an atheist, I have to separate myself from other atheists who make me look bad in a corporate way.

      The easiest way to do this is by calling all of *them* new atheists.

    • Perhaps defining “new” atheism is like defining Mormon Doctrine. Nailing jello to a wall.

      Or like defining pornography. You know it when you see it.

  11. openminded permalink

    ha, I’m way too late to the conversation.

    But I wanted to add that I feel like I’m being sucked into religion even without believing in one, kind of like Leah.

    And. It’s. The. Biggest. Waste. Of. Time.


    I mean, now that I have 1) plenty of those tidbits of history I’ll bring up to the next Mormon missionary, 2) the greater cultural understanding of Mormons (and some shared stories to whoever experienced Mormonism in some negative way), 3) really honed critical thinking skills in comparison to where I once was, and 4) a greater acceptance of people despite their religion, sexuality, etc., I’m starting to realize that there isn’t much more I can get out of this.

    I mean come on, if any of us here spent the time we’ve put into Mormonism into doing something more productive–whatever it may be–we’d be pros at it. And I know there’s more to living than being productive, but I can’t help but think–as I’m being sucked into religious debates that are more interesting and intellectually gratifying than the majority of academia–that I could be doing one of the other things I love right now, and be much better at it.

    So when brillient goes overboard with his lack-of-appreciation-of-the-arts, I at least somewhat agree that there are more (sometimes spiritually?) meaningful things to do than spend truckloads of time with what we non-theists see as fiction.

    (of course, as much as I say that, it’ll probably be at the top of my lists of favorite hobbies)

    • considering I don’t watch TV anymore (basically), I think that my blogging (which I’ve really cut down a lot anyway…) is totally justified as a substitute activity. This is my non-productive time and the way I see it, it’s far more fun and engaging than what I see many other people spending their non-productive time doing.

      I don’t regret that I could be doing something more productive with this time. The thing I regret is that this time sink is something that I can’t really bring up in most environments — so when people ask what I do with my free time, I can mention “Oh, I blog,” but I can’t really go into much more detail without making people’s eyes glaze over within seconds.

      • openminded permalink

        I agree, though I definitely didn’t get rid of tv yet.

        I just wish this pastime was something I could use beyond the blogosphere (considering what’s already been gained).

        But honestly, if I found something like the world of finance this engaging, I’d feel a bit more justified in spending hours debating on a blog.

        • And that’s it. Tomorrow, this blog turns into an accounting blog.


          • openminded permalink

            Ha, $10 if you can disabuse me of the boredom I face with that topic.

            For real.

    • Seth R. permalink

      There are millions ordinary human beings out there who can go to a park, or watch a football game, or watch a movie, or all those other things.

      I think they’ve got that angle covered.

      But if you want to go join them openminded, then knock yourself out.

      • openminded permalink

        Fallacy of false alternatives much?

        • Seth R. permalink


          You came up with them.

  12. Old thread. Saw a link to this elsewhere. Logical positivism always asserted that literary statements that could not be reduced to factual statements were entertainment but couldn’t contain truth. There was no “poetic truth”. A statement like, “Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain” is not factually and different from a statement like “the koserdonstal is best tyforoided with a pair of nosmoskies because of the qwentery”, it differers only in emotional effect.

    I think that is the position the new atheist is taking. And from that perspective religious statements would fall out similarly.

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  1. The Ridiculous and the Sublime – March 19, 2011 « The Ridiculous and the Sublime

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