The Endless Ignorance of the Anti-Atheists, or, Why You Should Do Your Background Reading

 Once again, an opponent of atheism has only really made the rest of our lives easier by exposing his petulant philosophical ignorance. In an op-ed of fairly mind boggling silliness, Rev. Kenneth L. Chumbley calls on believers to pray for atheists to find Christ, particularly those with the audacity to put up anti-religious billboards. This isn’t really the issue, though, the issue is that his writing is typical of the horrid misunderstanding of what atheism is in the United States today.

Billboard placed by the Ozarks Coalition of Reason

Here are some of the misconceptions, and some pretty simple responses to debunk the claims.

Atheists are problematic for Chumbley because of atheists’ “machinations in Washington.” Excuse me? There is no atheist lobby, though there are substantial evangelical and Catholic lobbies. Every single one of the presidential candidates (Democrat or Republican) claims to be religious, though Jon Huntsman is notably less religious, and Mr. Obama might be lying through his teeth. There are organizations dedicated to ensuring the separation of Church and State, as per the First Amendment, such as Americans United, but even their mandate is interfaith in nature – hardly an atheist conspiracy. On the flip side, there are dedicated religious organizations that aim to bring down Jefferson’s wall.

Today, celebrated atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have become wealthy observing that people have done terrible things in the name of God, that human tragedies and natural disasters happen frequently, that science, not the supernatural, adequately explains natural phenomena.

Therefore, Dawkins and Hitchens conclude that God does not exist. And people consume their books as the holy communion of revealed truth. Perhaps their local followers paid for the billboards on the interstate.

Where to begin? First of all, unless Chumbley is about to argue that the supernatural does actually explain natural phenomena (in which case, a citation is badly needed) he has stumbled badly in his opening run-on sentence.

Second, anyone who’s read Hitchens knows that he’s no scientist, and that his opposition to god is based upon his opposition to totalitarianism. Third, their books are hardly “the holy communion of revealed truth.” There are tons of atheists that find Dawkins’ science shoddy and pretentious. Critics find Hitchens arrogant, and his incessant characterization of religion as a “celestial North Korea” tiresome. Moreover, there are two more members of the “Four Horsemen,” Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, each who have made significant contributions to modern atheism, and while perhaps not the figureheads of the intellectual movement, they have made different contributions that either Hitchens or Dawkins. Not to mention the hundreds of other philosophers that have discussed atheism. Oh yeah…and there’s the whole atheism dates back to Socrates thing. And perhaps most importantly of all, atheists are nobody’s acolytes. That’s the point.

Oh, and yeah, it’s likely that the people who funded the billboards read their books. Duh.

Ayn Rand

The really strange part has to do with Ayn Rand. After going through the tiresome cliché that the religious are valuable because they help people, Chumbley points out the dangers of Rand’s (atheistic) philosophy on national politics, whining that Rep. Paul Ryan “proclaims his indebtedness to Rand.” Sure, but so what. There are literally tons of Republicans (and Democrats) who would say the same. Let’s not forget that Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan were both acolytes of Rand’s, and they were major players in putting an end to the military draft.

Oh yeah, and Rep. Paul Ryan is a Catholic, not an atheist.

Also to briefly point out, there is no real alliance between atheists and Ayn Rand’s philosophy. In fact, Christopher Hitchens has long expressed some contempt for Rand’s writing, particularly in Letters to a Young ContrarianHitch-22, and suggesting that she was one of the “battiest females ever to have infested the American scene.” He has, (in those same books) expressed admiration for libertarians, but it’s not quite the same.

Regardless, there is no consistency in what atheists believe, and they are absolutely not overwhelmingly affiliated with objectivism. Indeed, they are no political force as a collective, and I suspect this is because most atheists are smart enough to move beyond the trashy simplicity of identity politics.

And finally this:

People of faith: When you pass those billboards on I-44, and when you read about what politicians are doing or trying to do, pray for God to convert those atheists from self-interest and interest-group legislating and from their prejudice against people who believe that God is, and that God is good.

1. I’m tempted to make point 1 “fuck you.” But that might not have the desired effect. So, to reiterate, atheists have no interest groups, not in any meaningful sense.

2. When was the last time a politician tried to do anything helpful for atheists? I mean, really.

3. Prejudice against religious people. Arguably, yes. But only because stupidity like Chumbley’s shows up in op-eds across North America. And, on point of fact, the sort of condescension inherent in a call to pray for a certain group of people is shocking. Imagine the response if Chumbley called for religious people to pray for the conversion of Muslims, or Jews, or Mormons to his specific denomination? If there is any evidence that atheists have little political clout and a relatively low social standing, it’s that these sort of comments are commonplace and met with such little offense.

So, in sum, background research is good, mkay? The alternative is you look like an ignorant boob to the entire Internets.