Challenging The Portrayals Of Atheists In The Media

(Copyright © 2012 by Wil C. Fry.)

In a previous entry, Six ‘Facts’ About Atheists, As Slightly Misreported (2015.11.15), I noted that Carey Lodge’s piece in Christianity Today was close to fair, with only slight omissions and a few word-changes. It’s easy to see why hers would slip under the radar.

Other media hit pieces, though, should not be slipping under the radar. They’re so dishonest, so blatant, that even die-hard religious people should be challenging them. Editors should be deleting them and posting apologies. Instead they sit, mostly unchallenged, all over the internet. (See below for quite a few examples.)

With all this fearmongering, it’s no wonder atheists are at the bottom of the acceptable-for-president list, that people trust atheists less than they trust rapists, that seven states (including Texas) still ban atheists from holding public office. It’s no wonder that family court judges remove children from the home because one parent chose to “become secular”.

Please believe that I don’t go searching for these. As a recently “out” atheist, I would much prefer to never see them. But they show up almost daily, either shared on Facebook, listed as “news” in Google News (Google has a hard time distinguishing between hard news and op-eds), and on front pages of other news sites I check. Some of them aren’t even sensible enough to include on my page Misconceptions About Atheism.

These first two are from news sites that aren’t popular. Forgive me for listing them first, since they’re so silly.

• Atheists: Militant God-Fighters

In this one, author “Learnmore Zuze” — who describes himself as “an award winning Zimbabwean writer” on his Facebook page — starts by naming a “militant atheist group” but actually names a peaceful organization that recommends the abandonment of religion. Then in the second paragraph he conflates the motives of this one group with atheism as a whole, while managing to misstate the intentions of both.

“First they claim God does not exist and then go on to expend resources, time and energy trying to rid the world of someone they claim doesn’t even exist.”

This means that to Zuze, “God” is defined as “religion”. Perhaps English isn’t his first language, or maybe his dictionary is missing some pages.

Then he tells the tale of two talking babies in their mother’s womb, an allegory that is supposed to prove God exists, but clearly doesn’t, and follows that with this unbelievable statement: “the ultimate goal of atheism is to negate all moral standards and to make humanity a little closer to animals.” Of course, this ignores the fact that atheism has no goal, because it just means not believing in gods. If you know an atheist (me, for example), you know at least one person who isn’t trying to “negate all moral standards”. If you find another atheist, then you’ll know two people who aren’t. I’m unclear as to what he meant by getting “a little closer to the animals” — it is a fact that most pet-owners are theists. (Sorry, Richard, including that last bit was for jocularity, though I’m certain it’s true.)

In case anyone wonders whether Zuze is senselessly taking aim at atheism, he clarifies: “The point though is not to senselessly take aim at atheism.” Not long after, he concludes that atheists should marry animals (seriously), that atheists only “adopt the theistic worldview if someone steals from them” (because not wanting my stuff stolen is a theistic worldview?), and — of course, without having presented any evidence whatsoever — “There is a God in Heaven”.

• Reason For Atheism: To Justify Wrong Actions

In another such diatribe, John Pearrell (a pastor), says he finds it “totally amazing that people who don’t believe the Bible will quote it to you in a heartbeat”, though he clarifies that atheists don’t really quote it, but only misquote it. He says it is an “inconsistency” for a nonbeliever to quote the Bible, though he can’t explain why.

In my experience, the primary reasons atheists quote the Bible are (1) to point out problems/contradictions with it, and (2) to make fun of it, which isn’t very sporting. Personally, I’ve taken to quoting the better parts of the Bible recently in an effort to remind conservative Christians that the Bible isn’t entirely about judging heathens and outlawing gay marriage.

In his misguidedness, Pearrell asserts that the reason atheists quote the Bible is “because deep down in our hearts we know that there is something about the Bible that is true…” (Perhaps in the same way that people quote Terminator and Star Trek because they’re true?)

In the vein of Zuze, almost as if he’d just read the other op-ed, Pearrell says: “Today we find these atheists fighting vehemently against something they claim doesn’t exist”, but doesn’t give any examples of that happening. He goes on to provide an absurd example of “a petition against Santa Claus”. He says the reason no one would join him in a petition against Santa is “Because Santa doesn’t exist.” Therefore, in Pearrell’s twisted version of logic, then, “the fact that atheists fight so vehemently and consistently against Him [God] betrays the fact that they really think there is something out there to fight against.”

This of course, is all imagined in Pearrell’s mind. No atheist has brought a petition against God. Has a Christian ever signed a petition against Thor? No. Because Christians know Thor is just a myth.

Then, after quoting a few famous people who had disparaging things to say about atheists, Pearrell concludes with this nugget:

“When someone tells me that they don’t believe the Bible for intellectual reasons, the first question I ask them, ‘Well, if you did accept it, what would you have to change in your life?’ ”

The answer, of course, is that I would change exactly as much as I wanted to, like most Bible-believers, who can find scriptures to support almost any way of life (not to mention the Bible-believers who’ve never read it).

An alternate answer, one that I’m sure he doesn’t want to hear: some of us actually used to believe it was true. I did. Reading and studying it more thoroughly was part of what made me an atheist.

• Atheism: Desecration Of Life

But those two are unheard-of small-potatoes people, publishing in small-time publications that neither your nor I had heard of before this. TheBlaze, though, is another monster altogether. Founded by right-wing extremist* Glenn Beck, TheBlaze’s website gets about 18 million hits a month.

(* If atheists can be called “militant” for blogging and voting, then Beck can be called “extremist” for promoting his views on television.)

So we should pay attention when Kayleigh McEnany writes that atheism “has rather dire and bloody consequences”, specifically mentioning the genocides of the 20th Century as well as “harvest[ing] human organs for profit”, by which she means the recent accusations against Planned Parenthood, which turn out to have been untrue.

Unlike the others, McEnany chose her words carefully. She was also careful to begin her piece with evocative phrases like “crush babies” and “Dr. Death”, to make sure a reader’s hackles were raised before she presented any meat. The meat turned out to be pretty thin and greasy. If I’m understanding her correctly, she says the unprecedented death in the 20th Century was because God died. Here, try her words:

“Nietzsche observed that, because God died in the 19th century, the 20th century would be the bloodiest century on record. Indeed, Nietzsche was right. Not only was the 20th century the bloodiest century, more humans lost their lives in the 20th century than all of the previous 19 centuries combined.”

Wait, what? Is she saying Nietzsche was right that God died? Don’t worry; she explains herself: “in the absence of belief in a moral lawgiver, there is no moral law. In the absence of moral law derived from some existential universal truth, our laws and our morality rests on little more than subjectivity.”

If by “subjectivity”, she means “exactly how our moral laws have always been derived”, then yes, I think she’s got it. We might have another atheist on the way, folks.

As for her specific mentions of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Joseph Stalin, there is zero evidence their horrendous acts were due to atheism.

To paraphrase a bit from Zuze’s writing, “These articles would have been funny if they were not so sad.”

• Mythical Myths

Then there was this pile of failing to look up definitions in the Pulitzer Prize winning Colorado Springs Gazette: “Atheism, not Christianity is a myth”, says guest columnist A.G. Hoskins. To deal with the headline first, a myth is defined by Oxford as “a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events” OR “A widely held but false belief or idea.” Well, the second one doesn’t fit, since Christianity is (by far) more “widely held” than is atheism. As for the first, atheism is not a story, doesn’t explain anything, and specifically does not include “supernatural beings or events”. So, right off the bat, you know this writer is making it up as she goes along.

In her first paragraph, she makes this assertion: “It is more reasonable to believe that an intelligent creator designed the universe rather than the world magically making itself” — which means she understands neither Christianity nor atheism. It is religion that believes some being magically created the Earth; atheism makes no such assertion (atheism, of course, means only that you don’t believe in a god or gods; it is not necessarily a position on any other topic).

Hoskins goes on to make it clear she doesn’t understand cosmology, evolution, or other sciences, while attempting to ridicule them. Then she makes it clear she’s never read the Bible or history, by saying the Bible has been proven “to be historically reliable”. In fact, I think the only sentence in the entire piece that I can agree with completely is this: “Bad behavior by those who claim to be Christian doesn’t disprove Christianity, just as bad atheists don’t disprove atheism.”

• And More

There are many more, some coming from major media outlets. Note the regular use of words with negative connotations like “hijack”, “warn”, etc.

* The Huffington Post publishes this headline: “Why There Is No Such Thing as a Good Atheist”.

* Breitbart reports on its own editor, who “slammed Atheists as thin-skinned, poorly-dressed, and wrong… ‘There are lots of wrong people in the world, and one of the kinds of wrong people are atheists’,” said Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.

* The Federalist asks “Do secular family values even exist?” and doubts “the sufficiency of godless parenting”.

* The Week has this headline: “An atheist for president? God, no.”

* Charisma News calls atheists “Gestapos”, accusing them of trying to “remove Christ from all sports” (whatever that means) and “attacking” the free speech of Christians.

* The Christian Science Monitor reports on presidential candidate Ted Cruz saying atheists shouldn’t be president.

* The Town Hall says: “Atheists steal rights from God.” (Seriously.)

* The New York Times writes about atheists as if they’re confused, hopeless people struggling to find “a style of fellowship intended to fill the church-shaped void” by holding silly godless “church” services.

* The Huffington Post headline says: “Is Atheism Evil?”

* The Telegraph headline: “Are Atheists Mentally Ill?”

* Fox News warns that “division in the church breeds atheism in the world”. The use of the word “warn” indicates atheism is considered harmful.

* The Huffington Post wonders whether atheists have “hijacked” humanism.

* Western Journalism celebrates after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton “smacked down angry atheists” and said it was constitutional to put messages about God on government-owned vehicles.

* The Times Of Israel reports on an actress and TV host calling atheism “disgraceful”.

* Salon announces “atheism’s shocking woman problem” — actually just naming a handful of prominent atheists who’ve been known to make anti-feminist remarks — at least one of them is dead and another is quite old.

* Salon reports on “atheism’s white male problem” — a headline that isn’t supported by the article (not even on the same subject).

* The Standard-Examiner (Utah) attempts to paint atheists as racists and sexists by trotting out statistics that most are white males. As if atheism is a club that’s keeping out women or non-whites.

* Al-Jazeera America says atheists show “astonishing hypocrisy”, and then fails to make that case.

* Slate Magazine says atheism is “America’s last great taboo”.

* Raw Story reports on Pat Robertson’s claim that atheists should have their children taken away.

* The American Spectator writes: “Unfortunately for atheism (not to mention hedonism and materialism), a landscape that is immoral also turns out to be unreasonable.”

* The Pacific Standard writes: “Americans intuitively judge atheists as immoral”.

* The Federalist writes: “Seven Things Atheists Get Wrong”.

Of course I could go on. These are just one that have come across my screen in the past few months.

Yet people are still surprised that atheists want to talk about being atheists, and others wonder why other atheists are afraid to mention it.

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