If Just 1 In 8 Atheists Are Like Chris Stedman, Who Speaks For Atheism?

photo of Chris Stedman
Study shows Chris Stedman doesn’t speak for all atheists

Yesterday, my Facebook feed included a link to another article by Chris Stedman that attempts to make me feel bad because I don’t love religion. He uses a point made by another writer that actually doesn’t support his conclusion. If he thinks a study proves that some atheists, like Christopher Hitchens, don’t speak for all atheists then he needs to include all the information – that atheists like Chris Stedman also don’t speak for all atheists.

Chris Stedman, an atheist who wrote the book “Faitheist” and is a columnist for Religion News Service, wrote a post on September 24th that was an interview with author Dale McGowan who is Executive Director of Foundation Beyond Belief along with other hats he wears in the freethought community.

Stedman starts:

How many atheists are anti-religious?

If you said “all,” “most,” or even “many,” think again.

In his most recent book In Faith and In Doubt, Dale McGowan draws on a University of Tennessee study from last year on the different “types of nonbelievers”—challenging the stereotype that atheists are broadly anti-religious.

“Many of the most prominent and well-known voices in modern atheism,” he writes, “are best described as anti-theists… [Yet] even though they are often seen as the ‘typical’ atheist, anti-theists make up only 14.8% of nonbelievers. “

If just 1 in 7 atheists are anti-religious, who speaks for atheism? An interview with Dale McGowan

Followed by:

CS: While speaking at the launch, you cited research that suggests that only 14.8% of atheists are anti-religious. Why do you think so many people see atheists as anti-religious?

DM: For the same reason so many atheists see religious people as biblical literalists and fundamentalists when most are not. The louder, more extreme examples of any viewpoint naturally gain the most attention.

I decided to check out the original source of the information Stedman cites. It happened to be another post on the Religion News Service by a different writer.

Here is what McGowan says when describing six different types of atheists and agnostics:

4. The Anti-Theist – The Anti-Theist doesn’t just disbelieve religious claims but is actively, diametrically and categorically opposed to them and to the influence they have on the world. In the words of the researchers, the Anti-Theist “proactively and aggressively” asserts his or her view, challenging religious ideology as dangerous ignorance that harms human dignity and well-being, and tends to see individuals associated with religion as “backward and socially detrimental.” Many of the most prominent and well-known voices in modern atheism, including Christopher Hitchens, are best described as Anti-Theists. Even though they are often seen as the “typical” atheist, Anti-Theists made up only 14.8 percent of the nonbelievers in the survey — one in seven.

Academic, activist or apatheist: What kind of unbeliever are you?

I agree with the assessment. I too am an anti-theist, because I do believe one can’t cherry pick religion or make excuses for it. Every child molested by a priest wipes out decades of good deeds by Catholic churches for one example. Or look how the major religions treat women. That alone should be driving people away. 

The overall history of religion isn’t kind for humanity and it would be best if it went away. The “good” attributed to religion can be obtained in a secular manner. Religion is not required.

Stedman’s take on McGowan’s words is a complaint that this small number of atheists get all the attention just like extremist religious people get all the attention on the religious side. (Think evangelist Pat Robertson)

Stedman also attempts to conflate loud angry atheists with being anti-religion.

Here we start sliding down a slippery slope.

Anti-theist and anti-religion is not the same thing. The terms do overlap but one doesn’t need to be an atheist or anti-theist to be anti-religion.

Antireligion is defined as opposition to religion, religious beliefs, and religious institutions. This definition makes antireligion distinct from both atheism and theism. It’s possible to be a theist who is pro- or antireligion and it’s possible to be an atheist who is pro- or antireligion. Sometimes, though, the definition of antireligion is expanded to include opposition to supernatural beliefs generally; this is more compatible with atheism than with theism and especially with critical atheism and new atheism. 

Definition of Anti-religion, Anti-Religious

I think if McGowan meant anti-religion he would have wrote that his is book. He used the term anti-theist.

Then there is this from the earlier McGowan article:

6. The Ritual Atheist/Agnostic – This person doesn’t believe in God or an afterlife but finds some rituals or other traditions, even those associated with religion, to be beautiful or useful. It might be something rooted in Eastern religions, such as yoga or meditation, but just as often these people find beauty and meaning in the traditions of their own culture or family. Though sometimes thought of as “spiritual but not religious,” the Ritual Atheist/Agnostic is usually quick to clarify that he or she holds no supernatural or spiritual beliefs at all. Ritual Atheist/Agnostics accounted for 12.5 percent of respondents — one in eight.

This sounds suspiciously like an atheist one might find at a UU church, an Ethical Culture meeting, one of those new Sunday Assemblies, or even the Humanist Community at Yale.

So the number of atheists, who are like Chris Stedman, is slightly less than the mean and nasty anti-theists Stedman believes is making religious people sad.

Why does Chris Stedman want his minor version of atheism to get all the attention?

As I wrote in a previous post:

I’ve had these kind of discussions with women and men over the years whose only experience with religion was the liberal protestant sects that are more prevalent in my area. They refused to acknowledge how bad religion is for the world, in general, as they cherry picked the good stuff. Most of these people falsely believe ANY criticism of religion is being hostile to religion.

Complaints About Criticizing Religion Usually Means Stay Silent

It has been my experience that some religious people feel bad when I won’t affirm their irrational beliefs and short of giving up atheism they will never like me. There are other religious people who don’t give a shit that I’m an atheist.

I am more than willing to work with religious people if they basically stay focused on the project at hand and don’t try to convert me or take the opportunity to give me their testimony. Although they have nothing in their belief system I don’t know about already, if they ask questions about my beliefs in a non-judgemental way I will be more than happy to answer them.

At the end of the day I will still think their irrational beliefs are stupid and they will feel sorry for me because I’m going to hell.

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