Good, Bad or Ugly Atheists

I promised I’d get back to Myers’ comments on the column by S.E. Cupp, and now I am.

Myers starts off by basically saying that he doesn’t think that much of what she says is interesting, but he doesn’t really give any real link to us being able to find out what she’s said before this since he makes no other links.  I did find some of her other columns on her own site.  The interesting thing is that I had no idea who she was until he mentioned her, so he just basically gave her free advertising.

But let’s move on to the meat of his post:


But reading her latest column, I suddenly realized what she is: she’s the Good Atheist the believers want us all to be like. Good Atheists don’t criticize religion; they praise it and make excuses for it and pine away, wishin’ they had the faith themselves. Good Atheists do criticize atheism and atheists. They work hard to tell the Bad Atheists to shut up and stop making it hard for believers to be comfortable with their superstitions. Good Atheists love C.S. Lewis, and read theologians in their spare time, and marvel at their wonderful insights. Good Atheists follow right-wing politics diligently, and think theocracy might not be so bad, after all; at least the trains would all run on time, and the criminals and foreigners wouldn’t get so much slack, and church-goers are such good and upstanding members of society anyway — we should be encouraging them.


Well, reading the column, she’s certainly sounding like she might be a good atheist to this believer … but for none of the reasons he mentioned above.

First, in her article I don’t think she’s praising religion and wishing she could have faith herself.  She basically says that she was impressed by the actual intellectual work her father and others who were religious did and at best wanted to understand what it was she was arguing against.  She’s particularly impressed by how her father read atheist works in thinking about his religion.   That’s something that anyone who advocates critical thinking should applaud.  But, then, Myers doesn’t quote anything of hers, to support his contention so it’s hard to know what he’s referring to there.

Second, well she is criticizing what she calls “neoatheists”.  But she’s critcizing them not for not making it comfortable for believers to be superstitious, but for making it hard or impossible for them to examine their beliefs and decide for themselves what to accept. Again, her father made a long “spiritual journey” as she put it and ended up religious.  The atheists she criticizes want to stop people from doing that sort of thinking, by declaring — as again, she puts it — that the issue is settled and that only irrational and uneducated people don’t accept that.  Basically, she criticizes them for declaring all religious people superstitious without considering how much thinking they’ve put into it … which is exactly what Myers is doing here.  Good job.

Third, well, yes, Good Atheists read C.S. Lewis and leading theologians to try to understand what religious people actually think and what the basis of religion really is.  This seems to be a critical part of critical thinking.  Is Myers really criticizing this?

And finally, there’s nothing in this column that indicates that she’s right-wing; I had to go to her other columns — unlinked — to get that.  There’s no indication that she wants a theocracy for any of those reasons.  And since I didn’t know that she was right-wing, it clearly wasn’t that that made me think that she was a Good Atheist, and Myers gives no evidence or quotes to suggest that that is why anyone would think that that is what makes a Good Atheist as opposed to a bad one.

So, Myers is mainly making up her positions, making up the positions of believers, and when he gets the positions right is railing against things he, by all rights and all of his other rhetoric, should support.  It looks a lot like he doesn’t like her because he doesn’t agree with her, which is his right but is hardly an example of critical thinking and rationality.

But wait.  It gets better.


“S.E. Cupp has found a profitable niche. She’s the Token Atheist, the Good Atheist, the Beloved Atheist who affirms religion. It’s sweet and creepy at the same time. I don’t know whether to say, “Poor girl — no principles and no mind, a sell-out to status quo” or “Lucky girl — the Christian majority loves her, and she’s going to be raking in the accolades”.”


So, here Myers basically gives up and says “She doesn’t really believe that; she’s just doing it to get accolades/money/whatever.”  He claims she has no mind or principles on what basis?  That she doesn’t agree with him?  That she’s popular with people that he hates and thinks that all atheists should hate, too?  Why shouldn’t we claim that his strong atheist stance is just as unprincipled, just a way for him to get attention (which he gets in spades)?  It says something about someone when their first reaction to someone who doesn’t agree with them is to accuse them of not really believing what they say.

And this is not new; a major part of the discussions about other accomodationists is an accusation that they are saying things they don’t really believe in order to “play nice”.  No thought is given to the idea that they might actually believe that religion and science are not necessarily incompatible, or that they really think that the Bad Atheists are being far too harsh.  No, they just want to play nice.

Now, someone may booklink this post and pray — or, well, whatever passes for prayer for them — for the day when she is revealed to be a shill, so let me just address that now:  it doesn’t matter.  Myers has no evidence of her being a shill other than what she believes, and it is quite possible for her to legitimately believe it.  Thus, even if it turns out that she doesn’t actually believe that, Myers is still wrong since he has no real evidence to support that contention, and is just making it because he disagrees with her — proving that critical thinking was not engaged when he made these criticisms.

At the end, Myers says he’d rather be a Bad Atheist and keep his self-respect.  If, as I say, a Bad Atheist is one that abandons critical thinking to oppose religion, then he should not be able to keep his self-respect and be one, and that he can says oh, so much.

(And yes, he can argue that that’s not his definition … but his Good Atheist definition was based on what he claimed believers thought … and being a believer, clearly I have more right to define those terms for believers than a non-believer does, no?)


2 Responses to “Good, Bad or Ugly Atheists”

  1. ainefairygoddess Says:

    Militant Muslims commit suicide bombings, militant Christians assassinate medical doctors, militant atheists put up bill boards, enough said.

    There is nothing arrogant about questioning dogma, but there is something dishonest about gratuitous accusations of arrogance.

  2. verbosestoic Says:

    If atheists only questioned me, I wouldn’t call them arrogant. But there are a number of atheists who seem to think that they have all of the answers already, that I’m simply ignorant and delusional because I don’t agree with them. That’s arrogance, pretty much by definition.

    Now, in this post, Myers is a pretty good example of that sort of arrogance. He doesn’t seem to get her positions right, and misrepresents them so he can present what believers think as being a “Good Atheist” in a negative light, by basically claiming that for believers the Good Atheist is someone on the right-wing side who really wants to be religious. As I said, that’s not my view, and she may well be a Good Atheist for the reasons I cited above … not the ones that Myers advanced which may be true for some believers, but probably isn’t true for all of them or even most of them. He then goes on to accuse her of not really believing what she says and having no principles or intelligence … for no other reason that he doesn’t agree with her.

    That is indeed arrogance.

    Now, are at least some theists arrogant, too? Yep. Are some atheists called arrogant when they aren’t? Yep. But it’s not tracking reality well to deny that some atheists go far beyond questioning and instead go straight for the bald declarations that they’re right and those who disagree with them are wrong.

    Note that there’s nothing in my post about militants, so I don’t really see the point of including that old canard.

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