Just a shy kid with holes in his socks


Oh dear oh dear oh dear oh dear – there’s an excerpt from Chris Stedman’s much-dreaded new memoir Faitheist at Salon, and it’s as maddening as I’d expected, if not more so.

The excerpt is, of course, on the ever-popular subject of The Awfulness of atheists. That’s not what’s so skin-crawling about it though. What I really, really can’t stand is his shameless style of self-presentation – his unbearable self-regard and self-display. It’s worse because it’s dressed up as its own opposite – it’s all about how humble and shy he is. I want to say that doesn’t work, but sadly I know from experience that it will work all too well: lots of people will take him as he presents himself, and be hugely impressed and touched. They’ll think what a sweet awkward shy boy from the provinces, with a heart as big as all outdoors, trying so hard to wring a little compassion from the cold hard prosperous atheists.

Here’s how he does it.

I had never heard the word “faitheist” before, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment.

I blushed and ran my hands through my short hair — a nervous habit — and cleared my throat, asking if it was intended to be an insult.

“Yes,” he said without inflection. “There’s nothing worse than a ‘faitheist.’”

It was my first experience with the atheist movement, and for at least a moment I thought it might be my last.

See? He blushed. He was nervous. The other guy wasn’t, and he spoke without inflection (ew, weird cold heartless dude!), and he ground poor shy blushing nervous Stedman into the floor.

The brusque brush-off occurred at a reception following a public discussion organized by a nonreligious group…I had gone with optimism and excitement…I pictured myself saying with a well-meaning grin, “Hey, I work with religious people every day and my atheism is stronger than ever!” I hoped I might even serve as a bridge between two communities that are so often pitted against one another, to offer my insights as a nonreligious person working in an interfaith environment.

Aw the poor kid. He meant so well, he was all excited – and he got a brusque brush-off! Those atheist bastards!

It’s also interesting that he admits that he pictures himself saying things with a well-meaning grin. I knew he did, because he would, but it’s funny that he admits it.

That aspiration was quickly curtailed. Throughout the program, religion — and religious people — were roundly mocked, decried, and denied. I’d arrived hoping to find a community bound by ethical and humanitarian ideals. Instead, I felt isolated and sorely discouraged.

I don’t believe it. I smell a Tom Johnson. I don’t believe that religious people were mocked, decried, and denied throughout the program. I don’t believe it because that’s not how it goes. Actions, institutions, people in leadership positions, yes, but just plain “religious people” as such, no – not throughout the program and not roundly.

Though I was disheartened by the event, I went to the post-panel reception, held at one of the panelists’ apartments…Also, as a thrifty graduate student, free dinner and drinks were hard to pass up!

…I scanned the crowd; I was easily the youngest person there and unfashionably underdressed (nothing new there). Looking down at my feet, I noticed there was a hole in each of my socks.

I sat down on the couch, carefully balancing a mint julep in one hand and a plate of hors d’oeuvres I couldn’t name in the other, intensely aware of how out of place I must have seemed.

The “carefully balancing” bit is clever. It extorts sympathy.

Next to me on the couch were a woman in her mid-40s with a shimmering peacock brooch and a man in his late 30s wearing a denim shirt and a tan corduroy vest. I introduced myself and asked what they’d thought of the panel. They raved: “Wasn’t it wonderful how intelligent the panelists were and how wickedly they’d exposed the frauds of religion? Weren’t they right that we must all focus our energy on bringing about the demise of religious myths?”

I’m reminded of Kingsley Amis, reading a novel he hated, constantly saying as he read, “No she didn’t, no they weren’t, no he didn’t, no it wasn’t like that.” I don’t believe a word of that paragraph. I don’t believe he remembers any brooch or tan corduroy vest – or their ages – or what they said – and certainly not that they said what he quotes.

I paused, debating whether I should say anything. My “Minnesota Nice” inclination warned me to let it be, but I had to say something. So I started small, asking them to consider that diversity of thought and background fosters an environment where discourse thrives, where ideas are exchanged, and where we learn from one another.

On the one hand, he’s such a nice kid. On the other hand, he knows everything and is there to gently lead these ignorant older people out of their deluded ways.

I was stonewalled: “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost,” said the woman with a flick of her hand that suggested she was swatting at an invisible mosquito.

No she didn’t. No you don’t remember that.

I mean – get real! He’s trying to tell us someone actually said to him, in all seriousness,  “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost”!

Our conversation continued, and I offered up petitions that the positive contributions of religious people be considered with equal weight alongside the negative.

“I understand what you’re saying,” I said, trying to weigh my words carefully, “but how can we discount the role religious beliefs played in motivating the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi?”

So young, so shy, and yet so patronizing.

“Oh, I get it,” the man jumped in with a sneer. “You’re one of those atheists.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant, but it didn’t sound like a good thing. I shifted my weight from one side to another — another nervous habit — and picked at an hors d’oeuvre that I thought might be some kind of cheese.

Oh oh oh the poor little mite! The man sneered at him; he was nervous again; he was all at sea with these elitist hors d’oeuvre thingies.

“What do you mean, ‘one of those atheists?’”

“You’re not a real atheist. We’ve got a name for people like you. You’re a ‘faitheist.’”

No he didn’t. People don’t say things like that – not face to face, in real life. People don’t say “We’ve got a name for people like you.” That didn’t happen.

Not a real atheist. I’d heard words like that before — in my youth, when I was told I couldn’t be a real Christian because I was gay. Once again I didn’t fit the prescribed model, and I was not-so-gently shown the door.

Now, atheism is a bit different from Christianity in that atheism isn’t a belief system. It’s an identification marker that unifies a minority of Americans who do not believe in God. But the implication was clear: you’re at the wrong party, kid.

He must mean he was metaphorically shown the door, and yet we’re probably left half-thinking he really was shown the door, by the cold evil atheist snobs who tell the kid he’s at the wrong party.

Later in the piece, he recycles yet again his accusation that [gasp] PZ Myers once said this one thing.

Stereotypes that are bolstered when prominent antitheists (individuals who are not merely nonreligious but outwardly antireligious — I’ll return to this distinction later in this book) such as PZ Myers say things like, “Come on, Islam … It’s bad enough to be the religion of hate, but to be the religion of cowardice ought to leave you feeling ashamed.” It is no wonder that many in the organized atheist community follow suit, lumping all religious believers together and shaming them as a uniformly condemnable bloc.

How many times has he repeated that now? The latest was just a few weeks ago, in the Huffington Post, but I’d seen it more than once before that. It’s not so outrageous that it merits that level of hostile attention.

In a culture that increasingly asks us to check our religious and nonreligious identities at the door — to silence the values and stories we hold most dear — the “New Atheist” brand of secularism isn’t helping.

It’s Tom Johnson again!

Well – you know what will happen. It will sell like hotcakes.

PZ has a post. So does Larry Moran.


Comments

  1. says

    It’s also just plain badly written. Those quotes…nobody talks like that.

    I’m probably the most rabidly godless atheist he’s ever met, and I don’t talk like that. At the UMM conference he was invited to last Spring, I don’t think he showed up at my talk — which was all about the historical context of creationism and an attempt to explain the reasonable motivations that drive people to accept unreasonable conclusions. The antithesis of my message was this idea that all religious people are stupid and wicked.

    His version of the New Atheist message is as much a caricature as his gosh-golly-gee-whiz portrayal of himself.

  2. carlie says

    I sat down on the couch, carefully balancing a mint julep in one hand and a plate of hors d’oeuvres I couldn’t name in the other,

    Finger foods he doesn’t recognize???

    *GASP*

    Those, those, elitists!!!!!

  3. dshetty says

    I don’t believe it because that’s not how it goes. Actions, institutions, people in leadership positions, yes, but just plain “religious people” as such, no
    Oh criticising the Vatican is the same as criticizing all Catholics.

  4. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    I loathe him more and more. He’s such a shameless prevaricator and so self-consciously (and incompently) marketing his Nice Self I want to smack him. Who the hell is publishing this crap? Seriously, these characters he’s drawn make Snidely Whiplash appear to be a subtle, shaded character perfectly capturing fundamental human traits. The dialogue, and the claims about what people said and did—it’s so obviously a lie.

    And he had no idea at all what was on his plate. It might be cheese? I totes believe you had no idea what the canapes consisted of and also that you used the salad fork for fish and the hostess literally smacked your wrist as the dinner guest gasped.

    Fuck you Stedman.

  5. Z says

    Those quotes…nobody talks like that.

    Well, some of the strawpeople characters in Atlas Shrugged do. :) I wonder if this is an universal sign of badly written political fiction, but I don’t have enough experience with the genre to judge.

  6. says

    Hahahahahahahaha

    Oh dear it is funny. He’s Julien Sorel, he’s Fanny Price at Mansfield Park, he’s Jane Eyre, he’s Gary Cooper at a swanky party in a Park Avenue penthouse. He’s every Hollywood cliché rolled into one. He’s Forrest Fucking Gump.

  7. Reginald Selkirk says

    My “Minnesota Nice” inclination warned me to let it be, but I had to say something.

    I encourage anyone not familiar with this regionalism to investigate usage of the phrase Minnesota Nice. It has passive aggressive, back-stabbing connotations which are quite appropriate for Stedman’s performance.

  8. sawells says

    And if you think Stedman’s dialogue is bad, you should hear what Fanny Price said when she caught Forrest fucking Gump!

  9. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Ophelia, I had no idea that Forrest Gump had the same middle name as Hugh Grant, Phil Collins, Jeremy Kyle and, of course, Jesus Christ.

  10. clamboy says

    Come on, that dialogue is straight out of Chick tract. “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost.”

  11. birdterrifier says

    Let’s get the band back together! The battle pitting confontationalists v. accomodationists shall never cease!

  12. sawells says

    There is a certain tactical cunning to Stedman’s writing, inasmuch as it’s guaranteed to bring massive opprobrium from non-accomodationists, at which point he can shout “Help! I’m being oppressed!” and point to all the criticism as evidence of mean nasty heartless New Atheists being cruel to him.

  13. jflcroft says

    This one I enjoyed. I have to read more of your books, Ophelia. Regardless of what one thinks of Stedman’s writing, you are definitely a fine writer. Even when I disagree, as here, you make me smile.

  14. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    His writing is objectively bad, James, and his characterization is not believable. This isn’t a matter of taste or tribalism. That excerpt is awful, and it’s par for the course with him.

  15. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Oh, it’s working all right. Two people whose views I respect enormously are—to my supreme shock—buying into the aw-shucks thing, at least part-way.

  16. jflcroft says

    I rather liked the writing and found the characterization perfectly believable and entirely in-line with many of my own experiences at atheist conferences. There is a legitimate question here about the extent to which memoirists can be trusted to provide accurate descriptions of events years-past. But I think Chris has no greater problem here than other writers, and given the proximity of the events described is in an unusually strong position to claim that this did, indeed, happen.

  17. Randomfactor says

    Looking down at my feet, I noticed there was a hole in each of my socks.

    Next time, don’t wear socks and sandals together. Especially not the black socks.

  18. sawells says

    Hands up anyone who’s surprised that James Croft thinks that Stedman’s writing is totally believable.

  19. Cam says

    I noticed that Stedman’s Salon article wasn’t able to hack it on Metafilter. There’s nothing there that can move the conversation anywhere. As far as I can tell, it’s just the same old boring GRR LOLATHEISTS GRR all dressed up in a clown suit of self-deprecation.

    SpokesGay Josh and I have disagreed about Stedman before. I don’t loathe him. (Well, not specially. That stereotypically Midwestern faux-modesty never plays well with me.) I find his self-promotion distasteful, but there’ve been times when I’ve been impressed by his self-discipline; I do not think that he is universally wrong about everything ever. But I don’t see what Chris has to say that isn’t said better and more thoughtfully by James Croft.

  20. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Oh James, please. That leaden dialogue? James Bond parodies are more believable. Do you think Boris and Natasha are accurate depictions of Russian villains too?

  21. Cam says

    Who has just shown up while I was writing. Hi, James! Seriously, you think people talk like that? You can speak those lines without feeling ridiculous and self-conscious? Yeesh.

  22. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    I don’t think he’s universally wrong either, Cam. But I think he’s substantively wrong and affectedly dishonest consistently. I question his character (yes, really). It’s not just aesthetics for me, it’s a question of morals. Others don’t have to share my pet objections, of course, but don’t for a minute think my distaste for Stedman is mere distaste.

  23. A. Noyd says

    Given Stedman’s massive ego combined with the heavy narrative style of his “memories,” it’s pretty much a given that nothing happened the way he says it did. And I’m not just speaking out of dislike for him, but out of a basic understanding of cognitive biases and the nature of memory formation. It’s the same reason I believe all interactions with police need to be video recorded. When self-image is on the line, accounts can diverge so wildly from actual events that literally nothing in the accounts actually happened.

  24. birdterrifier says

    @sawells Hands up who’s surprised that FTBlogers jumped up to respond on James Croft’s blog about this recent outrage.

  25. birdterrifier says

    A. Noyd – I think you are perfectly reasonable to think that Stedman did not know word for word what was said at this conference but you can say that about every memoir (as Croft said above). This is how we should approach all works. Understand that there are definitely some bias from the author that is influencing the piece and then read with that knowledge. I don’t think that knowledge means that we need to discount the work altogether.

  26. Cam says

    Well, Josh, I could be convinced. I’m not where you are, but aspects of this excerpt made me pretty angry. It’s not okay with me that he’s portraying every one of these atheists as SMUGBOT 3000. If there really is a woman with a shimmering peacock brooch, or a man who wears a tan corduroy vest over a denim shirt, they would surely be able to recognize themselves, but I doubt they’d recognize that garbage that Stedman has them saying. (I have gotten some ridiculous dialogue in my time but oh my that is bad.)

    There is a deep unkindness in this piece. It manages to be both prideful and craven. I’d hope that Chris could do better, but I don’t know if there’s anything in his life that’s leading him that way.

  27. says

    What #7 said. “Minnesota Nice” is not “Nice”. The whole point of subcategorizing it that way is to highlight the difference, and no, it’s not because the “Minnesota” part indicates “extra-specially super-duper”.

    It’s another aspect of his clueless writing. If I described myself as “Minnesota nice”, it would be to give you a subtle warning that I was about to nicely stick a knife in you. If I describe someone else as “Minnesota Nice”, it means “not really, but they’ll smile while they put you down.”

  28. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    And another thing. This “fashionably underdressed” claim is a crock of shit, too. It’s transparently a fashion statement on his part; he goes out of his way to describe himself as a hipster (really).

    And it has nothing to do with being a poor grad student. Button-down shirts and chinos cost no more at the thrift store than artfully distressed jeans. Even Goodwill doesn’t sell socks with holes in them. I know this as someone with an entire wardrobe from thrift stores, from super casual to business dress.

    Why is it so easy to sell people cardboard and convince them it’s mahogany?

  29. Stevarious, Public Health Problem says

    “You’re not a real atheist. We’ve got a name for people like you. You’re a ‘faitheist.’”

    No he didn’t. People don’t say things like that – not face to face, in real life. People don’t say “We’ve got a name for people like you.” That didn’t happen.

    Shoot, real life? You’d have to say a lot more nonsense than just one reference to Ghandi and MLK Jr. to get that sort of treatment in The Thunderdome on Pharyngula! Nobody behaves this way in person. It’s mind boggling that anyone would believe that anyone would behave this way. It’s a ridiculous caricature, an amalgam of all the abuse he’s suffered over the years, crystallized into a single tan-corduroy-vest-wearing sneer.

    But more importantly, it’s presented as an actual thing that happened. If he had proposed it as some sort of hypothetical, ‘how-would-it-feel-if-someone-were-treated-this-way’ reductio ad absurdum, he would just be guilty of being a silly person. By presenting it as an actual event, he reveals himself as a ridiculous liar.

  30. Cam says

    PZ knows more about Minnesota Nice than I would, but I’d extend what he said a little bit. When I’ve been on the receiving end of somebody’s weaponized Minnesota Nice, it’s pretty much always been because I’ve been acting in a way that they think isn’t sufficiently deferential to an established social order.

  31. says

    (@ 32) Yeh. It’s as if he had an amalgam of PZ and Cary Grant propped up in that hallway telling him off. It’s certainly true that “faitheist” is a label, and not a friendly one – so he just made up a line of dialogue for Cary Myers and stuck it in his mouth. Only, PZ Grant don’t talk like that.

  32. sawells says

    And this is all leaving aside the issue of Stedman’s claim “that diversity of thought and background fosters an environment where discourse thrives, where ideas are exchanged, and where we learn from one another”. We’re not dealing with taste in music or world literature here, guys. The existence or otherwise of a deity is a factual question with a factual answer, like the shape of the earth, and there is no point trying to foster an exchange of ideas between a geography conference and the Flat Earth Society.

    Okay James Croft, you can now point at me and say “See how intolerant and divisive they are!” Go on, you know you want to :)

  33. says

    Well and besides – diversity of thought is what we’re after. We’re trying to pry open the discourse to make more room for unabashed atheism, including argumentative atheism. It’s Stedman who’s trying to stop us in order to preserve the status quo in which atheists are required to stfu.

  34. Waffler, of the Waffler Institute says

    No he didn’t. People don’t say things like that – not face to face, in real life. People don’t say “We’ve got a name for people like you.” That didn’t happen.

    The line works better if you imagine Humphrey Bogart saying it, though.

  35. Stacy says

    Looking down at my feet, I noticed there was a hole in each of my socks.

    Everybody’s all dressed up in shimmering peacock brooches and he’s not wearing shoes?

  36. mildlymagnificent says

    Humphrey Bogart?

    I’m trying to picture a playwright writing dialogue like this. Which actors would come to mind as being able to pull it off? Judi Dench, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Russell Crowe?

    Can’t see it myself. Think of someone, anyone, you regard as top of their game, even a niche genre, and put those words in their mouth. It just doesn’t go. SMUGBOT 3000 it is.

  37. Paul W., OM says

    It’s a Tom Johnson story.

    As SC unforgivably beat me to pointing out over at Pharyngula, the word “faitheist” did not come into the New Atheist vocabulary until July 17, 2009, when it won a contest Jerry Coyne held for a punchy term for an atheist accommodationist.

    The term burst on the New Atheist scene with this post at Jerry’s blog, announcing the winner of the contest:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/07/17/we-have-a-winner/

    I do not believe for one second that Stedman’s first encounter with non-accommodationist atheists was as late as that, or later. No way.

    I think he made the story up, to have a cute Gnu Atheist-vilifying narrative that tied in to the title of his book.

  38. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Looking down at my feet, I noticed there was a hole in each of my socks.

    There’s supposed to be holes in them, numbnuts, it’s how you get yer feet in ‘em.

  39. Margaret says

    And this is all leaving aside the issue of Stedman’s claim “that diversity of thought and background fosters an environment where discourse thrives, where ideas are exchanged, and where we learn from one another”. We’re not dealing with taste in music or world literature here, guys. The existence or otherwise of a deity is a factual question with a factual answer, like the shape of the earth, and there is no point trying to foster an exchange of ideas between a geography conference and the Flat Earth Society.

    For us and for the fundies, it is indeed a question of fact. But for many of the so-called moderates (and apparently for at least one faitheist) religion is not a question of fact but rather a question of cultural identity or of taste, like music, literature, cuisine, and such.

  40. Lyanna says

    The “aw shucks” posturing is grating, sure. And the dialogue is really stilted and awkward.

    But you know, people DO say absurdly mean, aggressive stuff in real life.

  41. says

    Lyanna, yes, true. I can imagine people being very snotty to Stedman. I can imagine all kinds of urban, intellectual, hipster etc nastiness going on. But…what he describes is cardboard people uttering cardboard lines.

    The part about balancing the drink and the plate is the one part where it got real. I’m a greedy pig, and I can so easily relate to wanting some nice things and then not having enough hands to deal with them, and then feeling awkward.

    But it was all in service of saying how evil Teh Atheists are. As it always is with Stedman. And he does it as if he were the underdog, but religion is not the underdog in the US, so I dislike his demonizing of atheists. Sure, if that party really happened, he may well have felt like the underdog there, but that doesn’t make him the underdog everywhere, and it certainly doesn’t make his demonization of atheists the underdog position.

  42. iknklast says

    “I’m trying to picture a playwright writing dialogue like this.”

    As a playwright, I have written dialogue this stilted – but I did it on purpose, in a play within a play that was deliberately written to be the worst play ever written.

    This guy isn’t even a good novelist. Dialogue like that would have embarrassed me when I was in a junior high creative writing class.

  43. A. Noyd says

    And who’s to say a lot of people are less than nice to Stedman not because of any philosophical positions he holds, but because they find his whole persona insufferable. Misattribution of hostility is a pretty common habit among those who prize the formalities of being nice over making sure they’re genuinely being pleasant. They think they’re doing all the “right things,” so when people take a dislike to them, it can’t possibly be their own fault.

  44. Happiestsadist, opener of the Crack of Doom says

    To be fair, Ophelia, I think his faux-modesty and humblebragging and Terribly Earnest Midwesterner schtick would have me being snotty to Stedman too. Though my dialogue would be significantly better. Though I have neither tan corduroy nor peacock brooches, and am younger than Stedman.

    I like to think I’d paraphrase a line from The Social Network (which I haven’t seen): You are probably going to be a very successful faitheist. But you’re going to go through life thinking that atheists don’t like you because you’re an accommodationist. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.

    But then, I am also prone to getting a tasty drink and a plate of food then realizing that that wasn’t the best plan. I just don’t make it a way to look charmingly out of my social depth. I’m just into food and booze.

  45. says

    Hahaha, same here. People who give parties should just get in the habit of issuing everyone little armband trays or something so that we could deal with it. Maybe a tray on a neckstrap, yes that would do it.

  46. Pierce R. Butler says

    I just did a DuckDuckGo search for “PZ Myers, “Come on, Islam … It’s bad enough to be the religion of hate, but to be the religion of cowardice ought to leave you feeling ashamed.””

    Guess what – this article and the salon.com piece were the only results.

    Does mentioning this make me a toxic atheist too?

    (Hmm – a direct search for the quote at HuffPo finds two citations, by Stedman and by Be Scofield; a search for the quote & “Pharyngula” comes up blank. Now I’m losing faith in my favorite search engine – excuse me, I gotta go take it out on some helpless dweeb at a cocktail party…)

  47. says

    I think it does come from a post – I think I remember following the link back one of the times I saw Stedman quote it. The version in this article is shortened.

  48. Aratina Cage says

    I must say that was a devastating critique, and I wish I had read it before talking with Josh and Carrie and Chris about it. If we can expect the rest of the book to be like this, it is going to be mighty humiliating to Stedman from the literary angle alone.

    That aspiration was quickly curtailed. Throughout the program, religion — and religious people — were roundly mocked, decried, and denied. I’d arrived hoping to find a community bound by ethical and humanitarian ideals. Instead, I felt isolated and sorely discouraged.

    I don’t believe it. I smell a Tom Johnson. I don’t believe that religious people were mocked, decried, and denied throughout the program. I don’t believe it because that’s not how it goes.

    I don’t know why, but I forgot about this part when I was talking with Josh also. That really is like a Tom Johnson (actually Wally Smith) fabricated scene.

    One thing I’ve felt when meeting with groups of atheists offline is how rehabilitating it is to laugh openly about silly incidents and pretend scenarios involving believers. If that is all it was–atheists blowing off steam they’ve been collecting throughout their lives–then Stedman missed the point. If he made it up for a convenient Tom Johnsonish Exhibit A, then for shame.

  49. says

    I did my dissertation (in large part) on memoirs. If I may step in it, people depict themselves in a sort of stylized manner in writing. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that PZ was a different guy online than in face-to-face for realzies, I’d be well on my way to about a dollar. :) <–See that? I'm folksy!

    One needs also to consider the genre of modern memoir, which includes a lot of…glimpses into thought processes, and when we remember and rationalize complex emotions, they may come across as stilted. I met Chris this year at TAM. He struck me as thoughtful and considerate. I think that he's the real deal. I'd say give him the benefit of the doubt and consider that we all paint images of ourselves, even without trying.

    Bob

  50. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Bob, we all have experiences of his writing and his statements far beyond this excerpt of his memoir. And writing a memoir does not excuse the content. It’s beyond dramatic license; it’s dishonesty in the service of a very concrete and political set of goals.

    You may be unaware of Stedman’s outrageous, backstabby behavior. But that unawareness does not mean others should extend him the benefit of the doubt. You dont’ mean to say this, I’m sure, but what you suggested was a dismissal of other people’s experiences without acknowledging they might have reasons for them. Can I suggest you go back and do some reading?

    It doesn’t matter how nicely he comes off in person. Most of us will never meet him in person. Writing for the Huffington Post and Salon is a public act. The only things we have to go on are these public acts. Writing. Seriously—I mean this genuinely: Why would you suggest giving him the benefit of the doubt when he has consistently, over some period of time, used a very public perch to besmirch people and lie about them? That strikes me as exceedingly odd, Bob, and morally backwards.

  51. Kevin K says

    Hold the phone…

    In a culture that increasingly asks us to check our religious and nonreligious identities at the door

    Which culture is this, exactly? In what country, on what planet, in which star system, in what galaxy, in what universe as part of which multiverse?

    In the spring, North Carolina had a ballot initiative about gay marriage (guess which way it went). EVERY SINGLE, and I mean each and every, news story, letter to the editor, editorial, newspaper column, on-the-street conversation, advertisement and any other form of communication you care to bring up was 100% devoted to a religious identity. And that’s just a single example of a single issue.

    Hells bells, the liberal community is practically tying itself into knots over how much Mitten’s religious identity informs his political position, and whether it’s kosher to call him on being a far-right-wing religibot nutjob who shouldn’t be elected dog catcher (because we KNOW how he treats dogs, for crying out loud) because of his religious identity.

    Stedman needs medication to stop the voices inside his head from talking so loudly.

  52. Cam says

    I feel that I’ve given Chris at least a degree of benefit of the doubt over the years. In fact, I’ve been wondering when I’m going to stop giving him the benefit of the doubt. That may be now. My patience has frayed.

    He can be as stilted as he wants to be when he talks about how he feels and what he did. Hell, I’m stilted too when my dander is up. (Also folksy.) But when he’s putting words into other people’s mouths — even people who may be all or mostly fictional — I think it’s reasonable to expect a little more consideration and empathy than this. If they weren’t meant to be taken seriously, these SMUGBOTs would be the atheist version of Kate Beaton’s Straw Feminists In The Closet.

    This is our stereotype as atheists: that we are a rabble of shrill, soulless, ignorant, tasteless, arrogant, simple-minded, sneering belligerents devoid of normal human feeling. We all know this stereotype, right? To my mind, it’s one thing to imply that we’re like that. (And I’d say that Chris has nodded to that stereotype more than a few times in the past.) It is another thing to pretend to demonstrate it. This is not okay with me.

    I can hope that the rest of the book is not like this. But an excerpt that’s published independently should be able to stand on its own. Taken on its own, this is some problematic stuff.

    (And, btw, I pity the poor bastard who has to speak those lines for the audiobook. I hope they know what they’re getting into when they take the gig.)

  53. Rodney Nelson says

    While Stedman is an atheist, he’s also a fan of religion. He really dislikes those who don’t share his enthusiasm for religion, particularly gnu atheists. I won’t go so far as to say he’d lie about gnu atheists, but he doesn’t mind putting them in a bad light.

  54. screechymonkey says

    Come on, that dialogue is straight out of Chick tract. “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost.”

    The only thing missing is the bit where Stedman utterly flummoxes his interlocutors and leaves them begging for more of his wisdom. There’s a strong whiff of “The Professor and the Marine” here.

  55. says

    Heh. When I saw this in Salon I thought “here we go again”. Salon publishes some kind of smug knife-in-the-back commentary about atheism roughly once a month. They are all basically the same, a long drawn-out whine “why can’t all those atheists just shut up and let me keep sacrificing cows (or whatever)?” Which would be sad enough if there wasn’t invariably an article up at the same time about how some religious nutbar has committed yet another atrocity, or how some member of an oppressed group has committed suicide because of societal pressure, or some other sad occurrence with religion at its root.

    But the fact of the matter is that Salon is getting desperate. Their finances are in the dumps and their better columnists have all left. Their site redesign never really worked well, and has only become more broken as time passes (read a few recent comments sections, and you are essentially guaranteed to see lots of complaints about how commenting no longer works). At this point, they seem to be looking for anything which will lead to page impressions (and thus advertising revenue). Their headlines are often framed as flame-bait, and it feels like they’ll accept any content which is free as long as it lets them get a lot of attention. No doubt Stedman (or his publisher) is letting them have this excerpt gratis, and they licked their lips thinking of how hundreds of angry, misrepresented atheists would descend.

  56. Cam says

    Vicar, you have a point there. For a while, it seemed like Francis Lam was trying to save Salon.com singlehandedly.

  57. dirigible. says

    “The only thing missing is the bit where Stedman utterly flummoxes his interlocutors and leaves them begging for more of his wisdom. There’s a strong whiff of “The Professor and the Marine” here.”

    I have laughed several times reading the comments on this thread… :-)

  58. anthrosciguy says

    Minnesota Nice? You mean like the very religious homophobic bigot Mr. Keillor? Minnesota Nice like Michelle Bachmann?

    I grew up in Minnesota and we weren’t, and aren’t, all nice.

  59. bad Jim says

    Sociologists once predicted that religion would decline as a result of modernization, but precisely the opposite phenomenon has occurred.

    Huh? Not in Europe or Japan, certainly.

    At a point in human history when many thought that religion was on its way out, a casualty of science and rationality, we are witnessing a worldwide resurgence of fundamentalism, on the one hand, and a virtual explosion of interest in the ‘new spirituality’ on the other.

    And yet Christianity is on the decline in the U.S., the percentage of people shedding the religious habit and becoming “nones” is rapidly increasing, as is the number of the godless.

    Now for something profoundly banal:

    Religious and nonreligious identities are perhaps our most important social capital, for they signify our most central values, which inform how we act in the world.

    There isn’t a pony in every pile of manure, and there probably isn’t one here.

  60. brucegorton says

    “but how can we discount the role religious beliefs played in motivating the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi?”

    Reading that, I can’t help but think Stedman is a complete and total racist.

    As religious as either figure may have been, MLK was facing a situation where people were lynching people for sharing his skin colour and Gandhi was fighting for the independence of his state. They were plenty motivated without their religion.

    Further this discounts the contributions of those who weren’t religious. Jawaharlal Nehru, for example, was India’s first independent PM and he was an atheist. Or how about A Phillip Randolf, did he take racism lying down because he wasn’t religious?

    Stedman as an atheist, doesn’t believe god/s exist, and thus believes religion to be incorrect. He also clearly believes that people who are non-white require false beliefs in order for them to do something as basic as stand up for themselves.

    I don’t know about this ‘Minnesota Nice’ Mr Stedman posits, it sounds an awful lot like voicing highly toxic ideas cloaked in the form of politeness, without any of the good will such politeness entails.

  61. Dunc says

    Oh good grief, he didn’t actually say that did he? “Religious and nonreligious identities”? So, “identities” then… I’ll take “pointless redundancy” for $1000 please Alex.

  62. sailor1031 says

    “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost”!

    Oh dear; poor chris – he must have got lost and wound up at a religious reception, maybe one for timothy dolan…..

  63. Waffler, of the Waffler Institute says

    Yet another thing:

    I hoped I might even serve as a bridge between two communities that are so often pitted against one another, to offer my insights as a nonreligious person working in an interfaith environment.

    This metaphor (‘a bridge between communities’) works for, say, the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland, or conflicts between ethnic groups in a country. It doesn’t work in the context of atheist/theist interaction. Atheists don’t live, work, and socialize in some separate space from theists. We don’t live in atheist ghettos. We often live under the same roofs with theists, certainly most have done so at some point in their lives. Some sleep in the same bed with a theist.

    The idea that Stedman is somehow specially able to bring the groups together is just silly and arrogant.

  64. says

    Bob @ 62 – I didn’t do a dissertation on memoirs (or anything else) but I have read a few, some more than once. Some are better than others. To the extent that they are stilted, they are less good. I don’t see why anyone should make allowances of that kind. “It’s a memoir; memoirs can be stilted; make allowances” – is that the idea? If so, then sorry, no. Memoirs don’t have to be stilted. They can, for instance, use dialogue sparingly or not at all. They can use disclaimers like “of course I don’t remember this conversation word for word.” Most of all they can know how to write good dialogue, or not.

    I’m sure you’re right about Stedman in person, but I’m not talking about Stedman in person, I’m talking about this excerpt from his book. I’m not particularly motivated to make allowances for him, because of the way he’s been smearing atheists as long as I’ve been aware of his writing on the subject.

  65. Paul W., OM says

    Chris Mooney quotes Stedman oddly in his new blog post.

    He talks about insularity, quoting somebody else about how people are often off in their own “pods” of like-minded people, and only hear outsider views filtered through people like them.

    And increasingly we are segmented into news and information pods where we can shut out any voices that threaten our views.

    Myers and his New Atheist crowd would like their voices to penetrate your pods and rattle your beliefs. In a sense, they are political movement pushing to fill what they see as a vacuum in America.

    Fat chance of that movement going very far in this country.

    I agree about the pods part. I question whether the message of New Atheism can get into others’ pods when the gatekeepers of the pods just spin New Atheism as aggressive and abrasive, and demonize it.

    Indeed, I tried to make the point in Los Angeles that confrontation, supposing that’s your strategy, isn’t even direct confrontation in the end. Due to the aforementioned pod effect, much of the criticism of religion is going to be channeled through a hostile messenger in our current media environment, if it is discussed at all.

    And here’s Chris Stedman, quite an accommodationist, at Huffington Post:

    It’s just a hypothesis, but I wonder if fewer nonreligious people would actively try to dismantle religious communities if we had a more coherent community of our own. Perhaps if we spend less energy negatively “evangelizing,” we’ll find ourselves well positioned to reach out in ways that build bridges instead of tearing them down.

    “How pushy should we be, then?” We’re asking the wrong question. Instead, let’s ask ourselves: What are we pushing for?

    Is our top priority trying to do away with religion altogether, or is it trying to make the world a better place? If it is the latter, then we must change our approach, reach out to religious liberals and moderates and work together.

    I thought it was perfectly appropriate for Chris to say that gatekeepers of pods just spin New Atheism as abrasive and agressive, and to then immediately quote Stedman.

    I don’t think he meant to use Stedman as an example of a gatekeeper demonizing the Gnus by spinning and distorting their message, but there it is.

    I think one of our big problems is that certain atheists are too happy to demonize us—ostensibly giving us reasonable advice for avoiding being demonized, for our own good of course—but all too often simply demonizing us themselves, as publicly as possible, to make themselves look “reasonable” and “moderate” precisely by making us look like unreasonable assholes.

    And they can often do it very publicly, because other media gatekeepers are happy to have atheists bashing atheists, as a change from theists bashing atheists. It’s only fair.

  66. Paul W., OM says

    Oops… my mistake… I thought that was quote from Stedman’s latest, so Mooney’s post must be brand new.

    My mistake.

    The point stands, though.

  67. says

    Happens to me all the time.

    And yes, it does. Bashing new atheists is Stedman’s thing, and has been all along. It’s irritating to see people like James Croft still trying to insist otherwise.

  68. Dan L. says

    I rather liked the writing and found the characterization perfectly believable and entirely in-line with many of my own experiences at atheist conferences.

    I don’t find it even remotely believable. Do attendees of atheist conferences really talk like villains from Jack Chick tracts?

    But I think Chris has no greater problem here than other writers, and given the proximity of the events described is in an unusually strong position to claim that this did, indeed, happen.

    And yet since the dialogue simultaneously strains credulity and supports Stedman’s relentless political crusade against new atheism I think you’d have to be a gullible fool not to second guess Stedman’s accounts.

    As A Noyd points out this doesn’t need to be an accusation of dishonesty. Human beings invent memories, particularly when they’re worried about how others will view them. And Stedman is evidently very concerned with his public image. (Aw shucks!)

  69. Paul W., OM says

    brucegorton,

    Unless you have some other evidence that Stedman is racist, I think you’re being very unfair, and way out of line, to suggest it. (Especially without any hedging about how he just uncritically accepted a somewhat “racist” idea without realizing it was racist.)

    There are lots of nonracists and antiracists who think religion has been important in liberation and civil rights movements, and they’re not entirely wrong, though I think they generally more or less miss the bigger picture.

    Stedman as an atheist, doesn’t believe god/s exist, and thus believes religion to be incorrect. He also clearly believes that people who are non-white require false beliefs in order for them to do something as basic as stand up for themselves.

    Many people think that religion helps poor and oppressed people persevere through hard times, and to organize to better their situation. It allegedly offers individual consolation and social glue that helps the oppressed organize. I think those effects are way overrated, for reasons I can explain, but either way, it’s not a racist idea.

    Don’t blame the people who think that—who are often staunchly and emphatically and actively antiracist—for the fact that the oppressed people in question are usually not white.

    I am certainly no fan of Stedman, but I don’ think it’s cool to throw in a charge of racism because of a correlation with skin between skin color and oppression that is simply not his fault, and I’m pretty sure is something he’s very much against.

    You should either make a better case or take it back.

  70. says

    “Evidence that Stedman is racist”? He’s breathing, isn’t he? It’s not like he’s a special unicorn who avoided all the lessons that teach that white people are better.

    Now, I wouldn’t say he’s being moreso than society for that number, but society is pretty Fucking racist, and IIRC, Stedman is one of the ones who throws out backhanded insults about how the religious need theory faith, the poor dears. In that context, talking about the religiosity of major civil rights leaders and their movements (which, obv, they were not, universally) smacks of blatant racism.

    It is also nakedly racist to ignore PoC entirely except as cudgels against white people.

  71. Lyanna says

    It’s definitely as stilted as Mitt Romney trying to be One Of The People.

    Which makes me curious if he’s being dishonest, or if this is how he genuinely remembers the conversations.

    I’m sure the conversations didn’t actually happen like that, because if they did it would be proof that atheist gatherings have been infiltrated by Martians doing a poor imitation of human behavior.

    But I wouldn’t be surprised if, because he’s expecting to find straw-atheists everywhere, that’s what he hears and/or remembers.

  72. Paul W., OM says

    Michael,

    Right, but it didn’t come into widespread use until 2009.

    I don’t believe that Chris was first called a faitheist in a first, dramatic, and apparently formative experience with sneering, cold-blooded, elitist atheists.

    I think he was labeled a faitheist after Coyne’s blog post, and that’s really what he’s latching onto, and retconning into his humblebragging superhero origin story.

    I don’t think that dramatic book-opening event happened, at least not nearly as recounted. It doesn’t read like a real event, but like a dramatized composite, with a composite situation, composite characters, and all.

    And yes, I do think that’s a fair accusation—I don’t know that he’s distorting things for effect, but I do have reason to think so. Stedman is so obviously a biased, axe-grinding, Gnubashing, spinmeister that we should not give him the benefit of the doubt for veracity about New Atheists.

    Before I believe Chris’s account, I’d want to know exactly which event he’s recounting, and ask other people who were there if they remember it similarly.

    You may think it’s unfair for me to cast doubt on Stedman’s veracity, and accuse him of narrative unreliability, but remember this: he’s accusing people in that account, and we haven’t heard their side.

    No, he’s not accusing specific people, by name, but that’s not very confidence inspiring. It just makes it easier to put convenient words in their mouths and expressions on their faces, without getting called on it.

    And he is accusing a lot of people by implication—apparently his exemplars aren’t outliers, and exemplify something so important that he’s just gotta write about it and tell everybody because it’s rather typical of those toxic New Atheists.

    I think Chris is at best confabulating details he can’t plausibly remember from a party years and years ago, and doing so in ways affected by his own biases, and knowingly taking dramatic license.

    And really, I think he’s also consciously fabricating a convenient, dramatic story to some extent.

    And I do think it’s absolutely fair to say so, given the things Chris thinks are fair—or finds politically expedient—to say about us. And not just to say to us, supposedly for our own good, in a constructive dialogue, but to say about us, overwhelmingly to other people such as readers of the Huffman Post, conveniently making himself look like the oh-so-nice and oh-so-reasonable good guy compared to our sneering, vicious, elitist, narrowminded, blinkered, intolerant selves.

    Yeah, I think he’s crossed the line into lying. It would be completely in character, given his evident agenda and past behavior.

  73. Bruce Gorton says

    Paul W., OM

    I am not calling him a racist because black people faced discrimination, I am calling him a racist because he believes it took religion to motivate black people to move against it.

    If he had said the black church had helped MLK organise – that would have been a different thing, but as a motivating factor? There was plenty motivating the civil rights movement without religion.

    It is a patronising form of racism – in the “Poor dears, they are not as advanced as us and need their religion” kind of a way – but it is still pretty damn racist, and ignores the history of secular civil rights leaders.

    That said I probably overstated it calling him completely racist, it is more highly annoying unconscious racism than anything.

  74. A. Noyd says

    birdterrifier (#25)

    Understand that there are definitely some bias from the author that is influencing the piece and then read with that knowledge. I don’t think that knowledge means that we need to discount the work altogether.

    I didn’t see this reply till just now. What I’m talking about isn’t just “some bias.” When I say “literally nothing in the accounts actually happened,” I mean exactly that. It might be hard to credit, but this extreme level of revision does happen, and not infrequently. It happens a lot in arrest reports, for instance, and those are written up within days of the events they’re attempting to describe. Even more distortion can creep into accounts several months or years after the fact, especially if we’ve crafted them into narratives we reflect on a lot.

    Given Stedman’s lack of humility, his agenda, the time since the party, the narrative style of his story, the reasonable assumption he tells this story often, and his approach to the truth in his blogging, we have plenty of reason to wholly discount at least the bit about the party. And given that it was chosen to represent the whole book, it’s a good bet the rest is more of the same.

  75. Minnesota Nice says

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Jump to: navigation, search
    Look up Minnesota nice in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

    Minnesota nice is the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota, to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered. The cultural characteristics of Minnesota nice include a polite friendliness, an aversion to confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a disinclination to make a fuss or stand out, emotional restraint, and self-deprecation.[
    PZ, Ophelia et al….I don’t know where you get your definition of “Minnesota Nice” …apparently not where the rest of us do….

  76. Cam says

    I think the line between “lying” and “creative nonfiction” is pretty fuzzy. I might not really care if the portrayal were not so dehumanizing.

  77. Paul W., OM says

    Rutee,

    I’m not sure if you’re disagreeing with me or agreeing with me.

    Sure, I understand that a lot of things have an unexamined racist aspect to them, or racist or just race-correlated effect that people “ought” to be aware of and avoid, or whatever.

    But calling somebody racist, without explaining that it’s that sort of thing you’re tlaking about, is carelessly or maliciously sliming them.

    And I don’t think what what I’m talking about approaches blatant racism. Paternalism, sure—we know what’s good for the ignorant poor oppressed folks, and that’s more important than whether we tell them the unvarnished truth, and so on—but not specifically racism.

    I think it’s most likely that Stedman feels essentially the same way about poor white religious people as about poor (and/or just minority) black religious people—religion offers them more than it does better-off people.

    And I can imagine that that paternalism plays out somewhat differently in how he would treat the whites vs. the nonwhites, because e.g., minorities typically benefit more from the solidarity religion is supposed to promote, and need that benefit more.

    Is that blatantly racist, or even close? I don’t think so. It’s only clearly paternalistic, with racial but not clearly racist implications.

    And it’s not even clearly that specific to treatment of poor or minority “disadvantaged” people. Stedman doesn’t seem to think anybody needs the unvarnished truth; nobody’s much worth arguing with about religion—e.g., well-off do-gooding New Agers and liberal Christians are just dandy the way the way they are, so long as they’re progressives, and we should mostly shut up about whether atheism is true, and do good works with them. If that leads people to atheism, by moral example, that’s a nice bonus, but if it doesn’t, that’s not so important that we should be critical of people’s cherished identities.

    (Of course he attempts to justify that instrumentally, as the only thing that can work because anything else just backfires. But that doesn’t stop him from making us out to be the bad guys, evidently because we’re stupidly counterproductively argumentative assholes, as opposed to people who differ on strategy for nonstupid reasons, e.g., Overton reasoning.)

    I don’t see anything particularly racist about any of that. Wrong, sure. Elitist and paternalistic, sure—the unwashed masses of all non-atheist kinds can’t handle the truth, so we should manage them more than inform them—but not racist.

    If everybody’s “racist” because they’re breathing, then it’s generally very misleading to call anybody in particular racist—it sounds like you’re obviously saying they’re remarkably racist, or you wouldn’t be remarking on it.

    It’s like saying somebody’s “selfish.” Pretty much everybody’s selfish in the simple sense that they’re typically more concerned with their own interests than with any random other individuals’s, but just calling? somebody “selfish” is saying something else—that they’re more selfish than average, and by an amount puts them outside the normal range.

    We should be very careful about selective application of insults that apply to pretty much everybody.

    Even if Stedman is somehow “racist” in some common sense worth remarking on, with appropriate explanation, it’s certainly way out of line to say you think that he’s “a complete and total racist,” as brucegorton did. That may have been meant as hyperbole to emphasize the importance of some all-too-common form of subtle racism, but it sounds just like vilifying an individual for being reprehensibly racist.

    That’s just not fair.

  78. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Minnesota Nice says:
    … Ophelia et al….I don’t know where you get your definition of “Minnesota Nice” …apparently not where the rest of us do….

    I’m guessing they get theirs from real-life encounters with Minnesotans (sp?), rather than a Wiki page written by people with an idealised view of – and probably hailing from – Minnesota.

  79. Minnesota Nice says

    Acolyte of Sagen…As a lifelong MN resident I have never before heard “Minnesota Nice” referred to as a passive aggressive term…neither here in Minnesota or elsewhere….The definition I copied is the one that the people I know associate with the term, so is not surprising to me that Stedman would as well.It seems if people would like to criticize Stedman they ought to find a valid citicism….not grasp at silly straws. It’s really not “Nice” ;-)

  80. Paul W., OM says

    Bruce, I missed your prior response before posting my last long one. Sorry.

    Re the “motivation” issue, I sorta agree and sorta disagree.

    I do think it’s stupid to say what Chris said, but I think it may have been much more muddled and wrong than “racist.”

    If you believe the conventional wisdom about religion and morality in politics, as I think Stedman basically does, religion does “motivate” people in several ways. (And I think it actually does in some individual cases, though typically much less than it gets credit for, but in the big picture it’s close to a wash, and a bit of a loss.)

    For example, if you have a promise of reward in the afterlife for doing the right thing, you may be willing to engage in fights you otherwise wouldn’t. You may be willing to endure greater costs to yourself, or take bigger risks, if you think God will pay you back.)

    If you believe that God ensures that justice will prevail, eventually, that may make you more “motivated” in the sense that you’re “more motivated” to do things that you think will pay off.

    And if you think that the Church is a special divinely-ordained institution whose function is to promote justice, that may give you a clearer choice about how to organize and get on with the fight.

    On that model, it makes sense that the oppressed need religion more than the oppressors—they face worse odds, and need more optimism to fight and persevere, and need a distinguished institution to aggregate and focus their efforts.

    (Of course, I think that’s mostly bullshit, in the big picture and on the whole. Religion just as often makes people complacent and distracts them from real issues—e.g., accepting injustice in this world because God will make it all right in the next, focusing them too much on “sin” and individual salvation at the expense of social justice, etc. And religion typically serves the oppressors’ interests much better than those of the oppressed, and all that.)

    None of that account of the “motivating” effects of religion is especially racist per se. It’s just mostly simplistic bullshit in a way that bears on things that happen to be correlated with race.

    Even if it has some racially biased implications and effects, that’s nowhere near the worst of its conceptual problems. A more fundamental problem is that it greatly exaggerates the consistency and magnitude of religion’s effects on motivation, and gives religion credit in the wrong ways for the wrong things.

    (E.g., I think that the Black church did play a somewhat important role in the black civil rights movement, but less in terms of actually motivating people than in terms of providing cover for things they were of course plenty motivated to do anyway. E.g., a “religious” meeting in a church was way less likely to be raided by the FBI or bombed by the KKK than a secular “political” meeting in a beer hall. In the big picture that was largely a consequence of majority religion justifying oppression for hundreds of years, but in the small picture, for a short while, it helped.)

  81. says

    Minnesota Nice – what do you mean? I didn’t know Minnesota Nice had an ironic meaning until I saw other people saying so yesterday. I don’t think I used it that way, because I learned the new (to me) meaning too late.

  82. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Minnesota Nice says:
    October 24, 2012 at 1:24 pm
    Acolyte of Sagen…As a lifelong MN resident I have never before heard “Minnesota Nice” referred to as a passive aggressive term…neither here in Minnesota or elsewhere….The definition I copied is the one that the people I know associate with the term, so is not surprising to me that Stedman would as well.It seems if people would like to criticize Stedman they ought to find a valid citicism….not grasp at silly straws. It’s really not “Nice”

    So, as Stedman associates himself with the term definition you supplied, and as Stedman’s idea of being nice is to shit-stir and character-assasinate ‘new’ atheists, then either your definition is wrong, or Stedman is lying about being ‘Minnesota Nice’. So take it up with him if you don’t like seeing the definition of the phrase turned on its head.

  83. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Not wishing to jump in on another conversation but I don’t see Stedman as racist, he’s just telling half a story. I think that he used King and Ghandi simply because they’re the only names he knows who are (were) both religious and high-profile human rights activists, and his poor brain can’t get past the religious aspect. It also sounds as though he carries remnants of the ‘no good without gods’ nonsense, which is why he failed to name any overtly atheist activists; not only would dropping atheists names destroy his (pathetic to begin with) argument at the party, it would go against what he so clearly still believes.
    So, not racist, simply stoopid.

  84. nullifidian says

    The one thing that screams “BS” to me above all other things in this account is the fact that this snubbing happened at a dinner party. The dinner party where you encounter elitist minions who represent everything you deplore about the other guy’s ideology is such a frequent and blatantly self-serving device that it was satirized five years ago in the Decentpedia entry “Liberal Dinner Party (Soiree of Sanctimony)”.

    Despicable gathering of moral relativists, commonly attended by champagne-swilling trendy lefties for the purpose of affirming their own class-based sense of moral superiority while gently wanking a thick, gelatinous plasm of smug condescension over the working man.

    Switch the terms around and you have a perfect capsule description of Stedman’s account.

  85. says

    Or the drinks and little snacks party, which I think this one was (in Stedman’s account).

    Anyway, yes. Remember the stuff in the 2004 election about what kind of thing Kerry (or, when desperate, his wife) ordered in fast food joints? They ordered the wrong kind of thing. An elitist grilled cheese sandwich instead of the Working Families hot dog.

    And there’s all the blather about “shirt sleeves” in this one. Hey that’s an idea – Obama should do some campaign ads showing him in socks with holes in them.

  86. Aratina Cage says

    Obama should do some campaign ads showing him in socks with holes in them.

    They came close to doing that. There was a line about how his only pair of shoes were too small when he and Michelle first met at the 2012 DNC, and the president’s 2008 campaign released a photo of him brandishing the worn out soles of his shoes on a desk.

  87. Cam says

    This is probably my last word on the derail — I think Minnesota Nice is complex, and I wouldn’t be surprised if PZ and I were particularly aware of the aspects of Minnesota Nice that make it less like Seattle’s own Scandinavian-influenced flavor of politeness and reserve.

  88. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Cam, it seems to me that ‘Minnesota Nice’ may once have been a fair description but is now about as relevant as ‘stiff upper-lip’ is to the English; a phrase kept alive because it projects the right image rather than being an accurate portrayal of the people referred to.

  89. Paul W., OM says

    A nice catch, in a comment by Simon on James Croft’s post at Patheos:

    Here’s a WaPo article by Chris from Nov. 19, 2009 that describes the same event he refers to on the salon.com article when apparently the panel he attended was just the previous weekend: http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/eboo_patel/2009/11/respecting_religion_staying_se.html

    You will note that while much of the text is very similar and in some places identical to the salon.com piece, there is no mention of the term “faitheist” or any dialogue that included it. The line about the “superior perspective” is included however. In fact, this is the only line of dialogue to appear in the piece at all.

    Now quoting from Chris’s earlier account:

    I left the panel sorely discouraged. Throughout the program, religion was mocked, decried, and denied. I’d arrived hoping to find a community bound by Humanistic ideals. Instead, I felt isolated. When I asked a fellow attendee to consider that religious diversity fosters an environment where discourse thrives, I was stonewalled: “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost.”

    In fairness, the earlier account is very short and doesn’t include the afterparty at all. Maybe he just left out the fact that the comment by a “fellow attendee” happened at an afterparty, and the now-important fact that he was chillingly called a “faitheist” for the first time.

    But if that happened in 2009–late 2009 if there wasn’t a very long publication delay for a guest blog post—then that was after Coyne popularized the term among New Atheists.

    But was that really when our young, unworldly Chris had his early, terribly shocking, and apparently formative experience with nasty confrontational atheism?

    Color me a bit skeptical.

    BTW, the intro to the earlier account includes this:

    Chris is currently a candidate for a Master of Arts in Religion at Meadville Lombard Theological School, where he is writing a novel and an accompanying paper on storytelling.

    Maybe he decided his novel would sell better if he called it a memoir.

    I have to wonder what grade he got. (And whether Ayn Rand was a dialogue-writing model for him.)

  90. Cam says

    I’d probably allow him the drink detail – after all, I remember the mojito I had at a party I went to about twelve years ago, but I can hardly remember anything that anyone said there. It was one of those parties that’s a little pretentious, mostly boring, and occasionally very awkward, but at least my mojito was good.

    I was surprised that it was a mint julep. Who makes mint juleps? Nobody I know.

  91. says

    Al of you agog with exclamation points and a weak literary critique of the believability of dialogue — when you’re focused on the first few pages of a text, pages available anywhere online (Amazon, iBooks). I ask, is it believable to think any of you even read the book? All of this, emotional exclamations and “fuck you”-s, selective decontextualizing of a text, all of this is not in line with what I’d call the atheist or skeptical movement that I am stimulated by, that I want anything to do with. Where is reason in all of the comments I see here?

  92. says

    Hi, Mark. Who are you?

    Why do you ask if it’s believable that any of us even read the book? The post is about the piece in Salon, not the book. Who said it was about the book?

  93. says

    Hi, Ophelia. Who are you? … The Salon article is the opening of the book, so you’re right, I may have phrased my question incorrectly. But isn’t that moot, book or Salon article? Let me reframe: There is a lot of characterization of the author [Stedman] here, as well as gross characterization of the text [the Salon article] here. I don’t believe characterizing an author is ever helpful, let alone accurate. And I don’t believe gross characterization—seemingly fueled only by shrill emotionalism—of a section of text is helpful, either. Do I sound unfair?

  94. says

    Mark, I’m the blogger who writes this blog. I assume you knew that. I have no idea who you are. This is an old thread; I’m wondering what brought you here. Who are you? In other words, introduce yourself a little, since you came in so late.

    Yes, of course you sound unfair. You just make generalizations, without examples. Your generalizations are so general as to be almost meaningless. You “don’t believe characterizing an author is ever helpful” – I don’t know what that even means.

  95. says

    [I was subscribed to this post’s comments, so I saw this latest exchange.]

    @Mark:

    More explicitly: if you were coming here from any sort of reasonable point (a link from a blog you follow, an aggregator, etc.) you would have been here much earlier. Instead, you’re here trying to defend the author approximately on the street date of the book, long after this discussion petered out.

    We know that political parties pay people to say nice things about themselves and disparage the competition. (Lots of reports of that, on behalf of all kinds of causes, primarily right-wing ones.) We know that companies regularly pay commenters and even bloggers to talk up their products. (Amusingly, both Google and Samsung have been forced to reveal in court that they were paying bloggers to hype Android and disparage Apple’s products while pretending to be neutral.) And there have been all kinds of exposés of authors posting dishonest reviews of their own books, or paying others to do so. (Apparently even the venues which were once considered reasonably reliable third-party reviews online have been contaminated.)

    So we’d kind of like to know if you’re “Mike, the atheist who just noticed this post and are responding even though it’s late”, or whether you’re “Mike, the alter ego of Chris Stedman”, or possibly even “Mike, the subcontracted employee of Beacon Press”. Describing how you got here would be a nice first step.

  96. says

    Ophelia, even as the “blogger who writes this blog”, I still have ‘no idea’ who you are. I’m a reader of your blog, or at least this post; does that help you? A week old is not old; I didn’t mean to cause a stir. “Of course” I was unfair? I don’t know; how are you so certain? I didn’t give examples because this entire thread is examples; you disagree? And re the sentence you quoted back at me, I don’t know how to say it more simply; you picked out the least interesting sentence I’ve ever written. :) You seem to be defensively digging your heels in the sand—how many comments and you haven’t yet responded to my accusation that this entire thread is meaningless and shrill, rather than as you suggest my single comment is meaningless? Anyway, I’m not following these comments any further, your manner seems way off to me. I had my say.

  97. Rodney Nelson says

    Before your post #110 the last real post on this thread was over two weeks ago (#109 is spam). So why are you posting here?

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