Of Atheist Tribes: A Repost and Riposte in Honor of David Silverman’s Foolery


Atheism is badly served by the likes of a stammering David Silverman, recently made mincemeat by an intellectual third-rater on Fox News.

Richard Dawkins & Co. invented the term “Brights” to describe non-believers in general. A price on their head for those of us who have been disgraced by this episode.

Now we are confronted with a new phenomenon: Atheist Dims. –Spokesmen [sic] who think an adequate description of religion entails the axiom that all people who take the idea of God seriously actually believe in a great Watchman in the sky who takes an interest in my personal hygiene. They don’t speak for atheists, and they don’t speak for me.

No wonder the billboards are so wasteful, not only conforming to a ‘fifties Impeach Earl Warren aesthetic, but simply dumb, as they degenerate from “You Know its a Myth,” American Humanist Association message to “You Know its a Scam,” American Atheist-style. Interesting and totally cynical change of tone: the sort of thing you get in bad music.

Atheists will not make friends or influence people by suggesting that religious persons are morons. Some are. Many aren’t. Worse, their vaunted intellectual superiority is too reminiscent of the evangelical’s vaunted spirituality. And both claims are based on premises as leaky as cheesecloth.

And then there is the puling defense of this uglification of the landscape: that you are really not preaching to religious people but to people who privately entertain doubts about religion. Please get back to me with the testimonials and statistics when the stats come in. Most of human life is lived in the spaces between what we would like to believe and what we cannot say openly. Everyone who has been married on paper but visited other sheets knows that: Why don’t the American Atheists, and why don’t they know this about religion? Or do atheists leave doubt and skepticism behind when they arrive at their position?

And even if your Dawkins-avatar whispers to you that you are the Brightest shining star, even if at night and in your left ear, be mindful that history has laid to rest countless asserverators of the idea that God is dead, senile, useless, out to lunch, gone fishin’ or the invention of paltry minds.

Silverman does one thing more that I will get to presently: He has also come up with the barking idea that it was all done consciously and with premeditation: as a lie.

Oh my goodness. Can you imagine the apostles or servitors of the Prophet planning the coming millennium around a campfire, when politicians in Whitehall and Washington can’t set policy for the next two years?

I thought not. Religion is a “lie”–maybe–in the sense that many of its cardinal tenets cannot be supported by modern science. A premeditated lie? Give me a break.

The challenge? The atheist “movement” must disown Silverman as a fool. Or acknowledge that what they are now facing is a huge fissure in the ranks between hard, foolish, trendy unbelief, Guanilo-style, and soft, educated unbelief. What we are witnessing is an outbreak of atheist piety, a conviction that unbelief is self-evidently true. We used to call this faith, not logic. Tell me where I’m wrong.

The real Brights are not atheists. They are the ones who know that science is not a messiah but one way of knowing about the good, the true and the beautiful, and a way that cannot exclude religion and the religious imagination.


Shame on religion for abusing the gullible, the vulnerable, the innocent, for political or monetary gain.

Shame on the Atheists, old and new, for their copycat tactics in exploiting science, subverting humanism, and convincing ill-educated followers that their argot is supreme and needs no further discussion when, down to an individual, they know this is not true or honest.


Of Atheist Tribes First of all, I refrain from mentioning any names or organizations that can properly be called atheistically thick-headed. They know who they are. I’ve named them before, without salvific effect. They are proud of who they are. They like their atheism short, sweet, rude, and raw. If they get on people’s nerves, that’s okay because religion gets on their nerves. Who can disagree? The standard cable network service, before they cut you off entirely … Read More

via The New Oxonian

31 thoughts on “Of Atheist Tribes: A Repost and Riposte in Honor of David Silverman’s Foolery

  1. “The real Brights are not atheists. They are the ones who know that science is not a messiah but one way of knowing about the good, the true and the beautiful, and a way that cannot exclude religion and the religious imagination.”

    Of course.

    If you sat among Christians about a campfire two millennia ago, they would have sensed our human dominance over the planet as much as we do now, perhaps more. There was definitely something about their dusty mammalian lives that was over-the-top, and they had the stars signalling to them, they were winning a celestial poker game.

    Search not for the Dark Matter until first you discover the Bright Matter – Life, and then harbour it.

    These we will call the Brights, for what should it profit a man…

  2. I definitely think the best thoughts are well reasoned and I like my beliefs to work like that too. But I think you’re asking too much of atheism if you’re asking it to avoid providing social trappings that suggest in crowds and out crowds. I certainly agree that not believing in beliefs “just ’cause” is no better reasoned than believing in a religion “just ’cause”. However, to the dismay of all thinkers out there, there are a lot of people who, in my opinion, not motivated by thinking it through and they are motivated by knowing there is a crowd behind the position.

    Whatever position you are behind, it’s always better to be learned and reasoned but there will also be a dumbed down Twitter-ready version. I don’t have the issue your type of Humanist has and I don’t think we’re losing our battle for it. For the impatient, there is no god and let’s move on. For those willing to do the lifting, we can do our research and double check our math.

    But you’re asking the average atheist to be a post grad in a world where higher education is too expensive. I think you’re asking too much. I’d be happy to reign in the reflexive atheist comments if someone else would take over rebelling against the American love of religion.

    • Seth: Atheists are supposed to be humans too aren’t they? I don’t think it’s too much to ask people of mediocre intellect, like Silverman, not to be rude. Their rudeness demonstrates not only ignorance of religions – ie religious people are not all liars, but I think it’s slanderous too. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to understand that.

      • There’s a famous line about bankers from the political sitcom Yes, Prime Minister: If you’re incompetent, you have to be honest. If you’re dishonest, you have to be clever.

        I think there’s something similar going on here. If you’re dumb, you have to be nice. If you’re nasty, you have to be intelligent.

        Of course, even Christopher Hitchens wasn’t above evidence-free nonsense, but at least when he spoke in bumper sticker-worthy cliches, he was clever about it.

  3. I too think religion is a scam. I don’t think Silverman was out of line. He wasn’t calling people morons and he responded directly to Bill when Bill said that’s what Silverman is saying. Being bamboozled or scammed doesn’t imply anything on the part of the victim. The youtube for the newscast is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BCipg71LbI .

    Dave had one minute within a conversation to describe his position for his actions. Silverman accomplished that. His motivation was to put up an atheist response to the Christian billboards. There are plenty of Christian billboards, church signs and random Calvary crosses in the area I live. It’s fair and I didn’t hear Dave Silverman take it over the top.

    • I actually gave you more credit than that. I thought you knew just a little on the history of religions, not to mention history and society and cultures generally I can’t believe – or express – how enormously sad you’ve just made me feel.

      • I’m not suggesting for a second that you aren’t entitled to your opinion or that I’m standing on an absolute truth. I do know something of religious history but I wouldn’t make that point confidently against Joe. I’m a person for which spirituality of any flavor simply doesn’t resonate. It’s almost a full-proof way to say that I am definitely not created with the built in capacity to follow a religion. But casual observation would suggest there are different kinds of people all around me who are spiritual.

        And I don’t know how things are where you live but on government highways, we literally drive past random plots of land that are connected to no church and simply display three crosses. I can imagine in areas other than Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia that flagrant denial of religion is not necessary. Maybe your area is more peaceful for example. But perhaps my strategy is right for me and for my area. And if it is, then it’s not hard to believe Silverman is living in a similar place.

        I have no issue with you or your differing opinion. Ditto for Joe’s. I simply have an alternate one for myself. I did think Colbert did the whole thing justice with his coverage.

      • Seth – ever since I learned to talk and I heard about God, and asked who made me, and they said ‘God did’ I could never believe. I could never believe and I always wondered how other people could. I was curious as to why they believed, and what they actually believed, and if that made them different from me. But I have no idea what you mean by using the vague term ‘spiritual’. I don’t seek for explanations of reality in religions or supernatural belief and if I can’t understand them rationally, I let it go and it doesn’t bother me. But I don’t reject the term ‘spiritual’ in the sense of the emotional part of our being – that irrational capacity for love, passion, grief and tears to demonstrate their fluidity…

        However I agree the youtube link you said was the best of the bunch but I think I probably appreciated it in a different way. The Fox (agghhh) presenter allowed Silverman to make a perfect exhibition of himself. It is as clear as mud that Silverman has absolutely no sense of complexity (or reality) – his concept of what people believe is completely naive and seems to be based on the beliefs of a couple of fundamentalist Christians’ kindergarten aged kiddies. And his accusations that religious people know religion is a scam and religious leaders are liars, are not only ignorant, but blatantly slanderous. I know plenty of religious believers and leaders and all express quite well why how and what they believe, in very different ways, and NONE teach that God is a ‘man in the sky’, or in fact in the sky at all. Anyone who thinks they do must have their head in the clouds.

  4. Goodo Seth. I’m well aware of the environment Silverman comes from but that doesn’t give him the right to stereotype religions and the religious on the basis of a the American Bible Belt’s fundamentalist extremists for example or his own religious experience in the past. There are charlatans on both sides of the debate, but religion is neither a lie nor a scam and religious people and practitioners are not all liars, scammers and morons or deluded for that matter, either. A little education can help him understand that. Of course I’m aware of the terrible state of American education…

  5. Most atheists are easily baffled by even the simplest question they should know the answer to if they had any basic knowledge of religion.
    Like…”Who was Ashoka”?

    • Why do you assume that Gordie? I think Ashoka was to Buddhism, a bit like Constantine was to Christianity, converting and perceiving benefits in the religion for expansion of the empire. Or do you not regard Buddhism as a religion. If Ken had meant Asherah I think he would have written ‘Who was Asherah’.

  6. @Steph. I see the sense in Silverman adopting a more social conversational style. Most of the time, my interest is uncovering common ground between myself and others because it’s too easy to see differences. Silverman’s stance is confrontational.

    But for Silverman to have a positive effect on his community, the atheist one, that can happen by recruiting new non-believers which probably won’t happen or by energizing the less skeptical atheists. I don’t have a great grasp of history yet, the public denouncement of religion seems new to me. My position is absolutely the fence. I can agree that Silverman’s position is abrasive. But I like the fact that his position is getting more air time.

    In my world, the religious nut jobs are trying to sucker us into mega churches, take our tithes, guide our votes, shoot abortion doctors, and wedge creationism back into school when there are actual problems for an educated world to solve. And the problem of how to deal with that is one I could use some answers myself. It’s hard not to think that the cozy belief in a secure heaven isn’t dumbing down those that were already a little dumber and a little more down when we could use some current world aspirations from everyone.

    • by the way Seth, I’m not unsympathetic – I just don’t think his rhetoric is very helpful. It’s easy for me to say, blessed with atheist Prime Ministers and multi moderate religious believers and non believers living without knowing or caring about each other’s (private) beliefs, and even marrying each other without caring if one says their prayers and the other one doesn’t, and my biggest problem with my own society, is people not caring enough about the environment and not planting trees… It’s a little different in the UK but still nothing as awful and incomprehensible as the Bible Belt. Fundamentalism needs to be confronted, but with knowledge, not ignorance.

      • I agree with you that there should be better ways to solve this problem. The right path just isn’t as clear here. I do have sensible Christian friends. And if I felt like the community of Christianity at large were more like my friends, I would denounce David Silverman as well. But, some relatives of my close friends actually do not understand why everyone isn’t backing Sarah Palin and they have said so this very week. The people I should be relying on and should be able to rely on me are this far disconnected from reality. Palin, Fox, Rush Limbaugh and company all represent the continued packaging of values as an emotional righteous experience. In reality, maintaining a community should feel boring and trying because despite my viewpoints, everyone else is important and we have cooperative needs to address.

        It is very cool to have nonreligious government leaders. If you’ve got a nonreligious society (or religious neutral or polytheistic) then you have my envy.

      • I do understand Seth but I appreciate this comment because I was confused about your defence of Silverman when I had been sure that you knew the difference between fundamentalism and ‘sensible’ religion (for lack of a better expression). But you’re right, in your cultural environment, confronting fundamentalism needs co-operative effort.

        I do dread to think what I would do I if I was born there. Apart from the possibility that I could have dropped out of fundamentalist belief myself, with much bitterness, even if I had been born the same happy and unpressured agnostic, I probably wouldn’t have developed such an early fascination, or fascination at all, for religions, and the beliefs of the (multi)religious around me. I wouldn’t have studied history and anthropology and world religions – I’d have despised them too much maybe. Perhaps all I’d know about was fundamentalism as it was on everyone’s letterbox, in every shop window, on car bumpers, in government, in law courts … the nightmare. And guns, a ‘god given right’. And my oldest brother… well he’d be a dead revolutionary.

        I’ve only begun to realise the extremity of it all since living in the UK has given me the opportunity to attend international conferences and meet and mingle with american scholars. I’ve developed an interest in american scholarship (as it dominates the contemporary aspect of my thesis subject) which is quite different from the rest of the world as it tends to be divided into distinct groups and be influenced accordingly. This interest and observation naturally led to an enquiry into their cultural context – and religious (or atheistic reactionary) environment. And gradually things unfold … in my small provincial town down under, there is a general quietly assumed ‘anti americanism’. And no gods could be bothered blessing any nation state, especially ones that went to war. I am a little less naive now I hope in that I can better define my anti-ism and it isn’t broad brush ‘american’.

  7. Religious leaders aren’t necessarily aware that they are barking up the wrong tree. But the use of religion is misguided. It’s use as a moral compass is mistaken and poorly inherited from the sacred texts. Of course, I’m always focused on the popular religion in my area which is Christianity. I don’t necessarily care about religions that stay in the pocket of the practitioner. I care that I think Christianity is a default position in my area. And due to its influence, having belief is more acceptable than having no belief. And that there’s no such thing as a non-religious option for a chaplain in the Army (I was in Iraq for a year, it mattered directly).

    Religious leaders are an impediment to the way I’d like to see people do business. They aren’t necessarily informed liars, but they are not sage like fountains of truth. Truth is something they lack in spades at the very least because they are looking in the wrong places to find it. I would go that far.

  8. Just to jump in, I have to agree with Seth that the US may be unique in the way Christianity can be manipulated politically for popular gain. That is what makes it so noxious to so many, why atheism is “different” and perhaps even less temperate in America. Europe is, mainly, post-Christian and American style Christianity is really an oddity there. Religion here is pure Thwackumism and maybe not even that sophisticated because it appeals to the grossest and basest form of belief: bornagainism, biblical literalism, anti-science. So while I often try to talk atheists out of intractable positions, I’m under no illusions regarding why it’s tempting to fight the enemies of reason with plain talk and razors: they are incorrigibly stupid, these Evangelicals, and they are not going away.

    • No, or rather yes, I have begun to understand that recently. There is a vast difference… and godness knows how I would react if I was born in that environment.

    • You’re so right about that.

      I’m not American (like Steph, I also have an atheist Prime Minster, though it’s a different one), and whenever I see the likes of Dave Silverman, I have to constantly remind myself that the stereotype of Christianity that they attack is not a straw man. There really are people like that in the US.

      So I understand him and have compassion for him, even if I can’t agree. People from Europe who say the same things… they I don’t understand.

  9. As I’ve said many times, the atheists are on a fool’s errand. So, it’s perfectly fitting to have a fool for a leader. Trying to disabuse a religionist of her religion is like asking her to cut off an important, but unnamed, body part.

    Silverman and his merry band thus seem to be, collectively anyway, atheism’s don Quixote, charging the monstrous myths of monotheism. But, blind are they, or maybe just ignorant. Their’s is a task that requires hardcore believers to readily give up their ticket to paradise for a lecture in metaphysics; or, at a minimum, be willing to accept a little cognitive dissonance for a little common sense. And speaking of cognitive dissonance . . . .

    • That’s a big generalisation Herb. There is a whole world with atheists all over it with various priorities, educations, backgrounds and goals. Labels are fine when they are clearly defined.

      • Steph, this is not a course in composition or rhetoric, and you are not the instructor. In fact, hyperbole and gross generalizations are common literary devises. Consider, for example, Hitchens’ “Religion poisons everything,” or Dawkin’s “Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument,” or Sam Harris’s “Theology is nothing more than a branch of human ignorance.” All these are over-simplifications, exaggerations even, meant to provoke, and are obviously only the opinions of the authors.

        I am quite aware that there is “a whole world with atheists all over it.” But, just as Hitchens and Dawkins and Harris have used hyperbole to make their points, I have done the same here. And since this is not a term paper, defining labels is unnecessary. The reader is queued by the tone of the language and understands (or should understand) that each point is implicitly prefaced with, “It is my opinion that . . . “ or something similar.

        So, lighten up. If you want to offer counter-arguments, then do so. But if you want to split hairs or indulge in literary criticism, I’m not interested.

  10. Steph, as I re-read my reactionary response to your comments of Jan 15th, I see that I was way over the top and downright mean. What I wrote was both inappropriate and insensitive. Therefore, I humbly apologize to you for my uncalled-for rant.

    I hope you will feel free to offer any responses to my comments you think are appropriate and without fear of further attack from me.

  11. Ironic that is is reposted during an election season that has featured some of the most extreme religionist regressivism in recent memory. Major candidates for the Presidency advocating the criminalization for birth control [i]even for married couples[/i], parsing of what constitutes “legitimate rape” (soon, they will be talking about rape in the city vs. rape in the country), Global Warming denial (or at least obfuscation) from Romney and Ryan, state after state putting anti-same-sex marriage referendums on ballots, which panders to religious bigotry and nothing else. We also have the Texas GOP actually stating in their platform that they oppose the teaching of critical thinking skills in school. I’m not paraphrasing. This is the language.

    “Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

    That is from the official platform of the Texas Republican Party.

    This is what atheists are up against in the US. Ironically, while our Constitution forbids the establishment of a state religion, religion is still functionally more “institutionalized” than a lot of countries who DO have state churches.

    How about this, out of 535 members of the US Senate and House of Representatives combined, we have a total of one (1) who admits to being an atheist. It is all but impossible to get elected to higher office unless you praise Jesus. Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA), the sole atheist member of Congress I mentioned above did not come out as an atheist until after he was already elected.

    The only person I can think of to actually get elected as an open atheist was a former Governor from my own state, the illustrious Jesse “the Body” Ventura, who was such an anomaly in every way that his atheism almost didn’t get noticed (what other US politician could ever get away with saying that “religions is for weak minded people who need strength in numbers” and get away with it? There is a certain kind of freedom in already being thought of as a loon).

    It is unthinkable that an open atheist could be elected President. It’s actually controversial that Romney is a Mormon.

    I do understand that belittling these people will not change their minds, but make no mistake, this is not atheist bullies circling a Christian, it’s atheists finally trying to swing back, not to persuade, but to at least put a stop to the oblivious sense of privilege and entitlement Religionists have always had here.

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