Principled & Productive National Discourse, or a Culture of Grievance-Mongering?

Here we have another profile in sleaze from the Atheist Ethicist. Today the object of his ire is a column by the American Spectator’s Melanie Phillips, who argues:

I see this financial breakdown, moreover, as being not merely a moral crisis but the monetary expression of the broader degradation of our values – the erosion of duty and responsibility to others in favour of instant gratification, unlimited demands repackaged as ‘rights’ and the loss of self-discipline. And the root cause of that erosion is ‘militant atheism’ which, in junking religion, has destroyed our sense of anything beyond our material selves and the here and now and, through such hyper-individualism, paved the way for the onslaught on bedrock moral values expressed through such things as family breakdown and mass fatherlessness, educational collapse, widespread incivility, unprecedented levels of near psychopathic violent crime, epidemic drunkenness and drug abuse, the repudiation of all authority, the moral inversion of victim culture, the destruction of truth and objectivity and a corresponding rise in credulousness in the face of lies and propaganda — and intimidation and bullying to drive this agenda into public policy.

Alonzo, in his Herculean struggle against “anti-atheist bigotry,”
responds with an analogy to scapegoating Jews for society’s problems, which “had some very ugly consequences” (I seem to recall a term for this sort of thing—I guess it only applies to them there pro-life yahoos…), a claim that Phillips’ words are “trying to promote hatred and bigotry of” atheists (predictably, he doesn’t bother to actually assemble a case that her words constitute anything of the sort; he just assumes it as a given), and whiny outrage that she isn’t “fighting for her job.”

Once again we see that our hero’s casual acquaintance with truth (or just sloppy reading skills; take your pick) strikes again. Look back at Phillips’ column, and you’ll see she talks specifically about “militant atheism” (geez, she even put it in quotes), and goes on to explain what she means by that—a specific mindset, a specific strain of atheism. As I’ve said before, public consideration of atheism’s (or any religion’s, for that matter) intellectual and moral merits is not bigotry, because religious belief and lack thereof are prisms through which we see the world, with ramifications relevant to society. Clearly, Phillips was not blaming the average skeptic for the financial breakdown; she was making the point that the expansion of a particular mentality in society has had a detrimental effect.
Right or wrong, it’s not bigotry, but a debatable sociological proposition based on her worldview and observations. Any punk with a keyboard and an Internet connection can call those with whom he disagrees names, or wish their careers were in jeopardy. It takes another kind of man entirely to engage an argument head-on.

But the Atheist Ethicist, it would seem, is interested in no such thing. He’s not interested in what Melanie Phillips actually said, but in grievance-mongering. According to the Alonzo Fyfe standard, it’s apparently not possible to criticize any aspect of atheism, any sub-group or sub-mindset within atheism, and not have it seen as bigotry against the entire atheist community. The state of public discourse in this country is already abysmal; the last thing we need is this sort of thing corrupting it further still.

4 thoughts on “Principled & Productive National Discourse, or a Culture of Grievance-Mongering?

  1. Can you give an example of a “militant atheist”? As far as I can tell, it is a label slapped on anyone who would dare say “God doesn’t actually exist” in public. Which is odd, since every other term that begins with “militant” almost always involves actual physical harm caused (see “militant extremist”, “militant muslim”, “militant christian”, “militant communist”, etc etc). I may be wrong, but it seems the term was used in the usual way it’s been used by right-wing fundies for over a decade – a way to promote fear and hostility to any non-believer who doesn’t simply sit down and shut up.If this “militant atheist” subgroup even exists (using the original meaning of “militant”), how could it possibly be that these dozen (or fewer) atheist are responsible for the entire financial collapse of the world? It really does sound like fear/hate-mongering to me.


  2. Sure. I'd name Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris as militant atheists (and those who follow their particular lead). To define the term, I'd say a militant atheist isn't simply someone who disbelieves in religion. Neither is it somebody who actively debates their view of cosmology.A militant atheist is somebody who despises religious worldviews to the point that they do (for example) some or all of the following: demean the intellect, character & motives of the average believer, promote dishonest history about religion's role in Western civilization (particularly the United States), and intolerantly work to purge the public square of even the most benign references to religion. In other words, the secular equivalent of a religious fundie – obsessed, hyper-biased, angry, intolerant.


  3. Besides, for the sake of argument, let’s say Melanie Phillips is completely wrong about what a “militant atheist” is, and the effect they have on society. It still doesn’t change the fact that she’s clearly not talking about atheists in general in her article.


  4. I see. I really think the term “militant” is misleading… it sounds militaristic. Turn on most 24hour news channels and every pundit on them (from both sides) could be called militant using that definition. But no one calls them militant conservatives or militant liberals.


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