When Extremism Goes Off the Scale

Sarah Hippolitus has written a very good blog entry entitled, General Myers and His Endless War on Error. Keep in mind that Hippolitus is an atheist, and not a mealy-mouthed “faitheist” or “accommodationist.”  For example, she has advocated that traditional Christian teachings are damaging to one’s psychological health.  Nevertheless, Myers extremism, and fondness for metaphors of violence, are too much even for her.

Here are couple of choice excerpts:

Not only are religious people not invited into PZ’s exclusive community for ideological reasons, but it’s also personal:

Now wait, there might be some people saying (not anyone here, of course) that that’s no fair. Maybe you’re a liberal Christian, and I’m picking on the extremists (although, when we’re talking about roughly half the United States being evolution-denying, drill-baby-drill, apocalypse-loving christians, it’s more accurate to say I’m describing a representative sample). Perhaps you’re a moderate, you support good science, education, and the environment, you just love Jesus or Mohammed, too.

I’m sorry, but I don’t like you. I’ll concede that you are doing less direct harm, and I will thank you for your support of shared causes, and I’ll also happily work alongside you in those causes, but I also think you are still doing indirect harm to foundational principles of a rational society.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t like you.”? Then, two thoughts later he says “I’ll happily work alongside you. . .” Such insincere dribble — I’ve got news for PZ: THEY DON’T WANT TO WORK ALONGSIDE YOU. Fun psychology fact: When you call that which people most sincerely and emotionally believe in stupid, they don’t like it. (E.g., when he writes, “You believe in some outrageous bullshit.”) PZ just doesn’t respect the social sciences like he does the “hard or physical sciences,” and it’s a real shame.


As I alluded to already, PZ concludes with a list of values for atheists: truth, autonomy, and community. It’s a sad little list of three because he says, “We’re a diverse group, and we never agree on everything.” Frankly, I think his list is so superficial and short because he’s afraid to piss off any one of his atheist readers by providing anything substantial or specific. He says:

I have to be very careful to keep my description of values general, and be clear that I’m not dictating them to you, but describing what I see emerging as a consensus, because otherwise I’ll be pilloried by my own kind. We’re a pitiless bunch.

What a good reason to not state what you really value — because your “own kind” (are you a different species from the religious person?) as you call it might censure you. How cowardly. And what kind of people are you hanging out with that would censure you for what you truly believe? Doesn’t sound like a friendly bunch I’d want to associate with.

Hippolitus then offers the following insight:

I’ve heard all the rationalizations for PZ style atheism — “we’re loud and proud and if the religious don’t like to face reality, that’s their problem.” Actually, it is our problem because we don’t want to lose separation of church and state (we are well on our way). And what isn’t helping are atheist messages about “killing god” and “assaulting heaven” and making the religious people “tremble” as the wolves eat their bloody sheep corpses, or whatever sick and twisted war fantasy PZ is into. In PZ’s hands, the values fostered by science are the values of hateful war.

I don’t want to be part of a hated minority. I want political and social acceptance, or at least civil toleration.

Let’s assume that the militant Gnu atheism advocated by people like Myers and Coyne breaks out into the mainstream, where it is discussed on mainstream TV shows and mainstream magazines.  Do the Gnus really think the majority of Americans are going to embrace a form of extremism that has no room for agnostics and faithesists?  That the majority of Americans are going to agree that religion is evil?  What’s far more likely to happen is that such Gnu extremism is going to validate and enhance negative stereotypes about atheists and further marginalize.  All atheists.   Hippolitus is wise enough to know that Myers’ version of atheism is more likely to make her life as an atheist worse, not better.

Unfortunately, Sarah Hippolitus and those like her have zero chance of changing the extreme rhetoric of the Gnu leaders.  For let’s face it folks – that extremist song and dance is making some people a good chunk of change.


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