“Religion is…a lot like a girl”

Sometimes, reading the shrill words of theists trying to interpret atheists is a real trip to Bizarro World. What you see, generally, is freakishly far off the mark and often more a case of projection than understanding. It would be hard to get more overt than this: someone named Kathryn Lofton has written an essay titled “So you want to be a new atheist“, which, presumably, is about describing some common set of properties, a dogma and doctrine, that anyone can follow to be one of the New Atheists.

Unfortunately, she falls off the rails from the very beginning, since we’re all a diverse bunch with different backgrounds and different politics and different nationalities…and worse, she imposes some strange beliefs on us. We’re apparently totalitarian capitalists, for instance, and mostly libertarians (she does graciously admit that not every New Atheist is one, at least). It’s a very right-wing American picture she paints of us, which as you might guess, I find discombobulating.

However, here’s the most glaring part, the clearest example of projection I’ve seen yet:

The New Atheists reply, with clarion diagnostic consistency: Religion is something that sells you something invisible so you may feel that which you cannot find elsewhere. It is something for which there is insufficient evidence. It is something people do because they have always done it, not because they know how to think about it. Religion is irrational, it is emotional, and it is instinctual. Religion enslaves you with its wiles, then forgets to remove the handcuffs. It is the fortune teller reading entrails, not the captain consulting his compass. It massages and preys and toys and plays and screws you over, time and again, with a promise it won’t keep because of its irrationality and its whimsy. Religion is a know-at-all with no knowledge. It makes “a virtue out of not thinking.” Religion is cutting the hedge repeatedly around an erection. Religion is, it turns out, a lot like a girl. (My highlighting)

I daresay you won’t find any New Atheist declaring that religion is “like a girl”. You especially won’t see it framed in derogatory terms like that: so girls are irrational, emotional, instinctual, whimsical, having no knowledge, and into bondage? She seems to be projecting her own prejudices about women on atheists, which is a bit odd.

The Accidental Blogger has an excellent demolition of Lofton’s puffery.

Unless the New Atheists have categorically called religion a girlish pursuit or religious males girly men, (Lofton does not say that they have) it is plausible that it is Lofton herself who conflates irrationality and emotionalism with feminine traits and critical thinking and reason with manly characteristics. She may have again confused style with substance. After all, the majority of the high profile and vocal atheists in the public square are all males. Most of them also assume a combative stance while arguing their points of view. Even if Lofton considers the New Atheists arrogant, self absorbed and boorish, based on her opinion of their discursive temperaments, where did she get misogyny? Perhaps in her eagerness to condemn, Lofton uses the red herring of misogyny without any supporting evidence because it fits the rest of her perception of the atheists. Are some atheists women haters? Of course. Could there be a few among the ones she names? Possible. But it has nothing to do with critical thinking which does not bar women from becoming practitioners. And what is the score in the department of misogyny on the religious side? Start your count with the priestly class and the orthodox.

Whom does Lofton think she is kidding with her innuendo about misogyny and atheism? It is particularly galling coming from someone who is presumably a spokesperson for religion. The sacred bastion of virility, organized religion, is thickly populated by misogynistic power hungry males and at least in the Abrahamic tradition, god too is a masculine deity whose behavior is akin to that of an old fashioned patriarch – one who protects, smites and slays at whim. Whereas misogyny can often be a product of politics, commerce and other secular cultural traditions, I doubt that women have been more systematically and ritually degraded within the realm of any other human enterprise than that of organized religion. Only religion explicitly sanctions misogyny. Think Adam’s Rib, eater of the forbidden fruit, the temptress, the virgin who is to be alternately worshiped and sacrificed, the ideal of the Sati, stoning to death of an adulteress, the unclean half of the population which menstruates and undergoes messy child birth… on and on ad nauseum. Now Lofton tells us that the source of misogyny actually lies in empiricism and scientific enquiry. Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather!


  1. Euphoria5L says

    @107: Here’s an article (PDF) written by Martha Nussbaum attacking Judith Butler. Reading Lofton’s article made me immediately think of Nussbaum’s glorious attack on Butler.

    It is worth reading, since it is one of the best attack pieces you’ll ever read.

  2. destlund says

    Euphoria5L, your link didn’t work, but I did a bit of digging and found it here: The Professor of Parody by Martha Nussbaum.
    I’m guessing this is the right article; I can’t imagine how many articles it would take to sufficiently diss someone.

  3. destlund says

    Feminist thinkers of the new symbolic type would appear to believe that the way to do feminist politics is to use words in a subversive way, in academic publications of lofty obscurity and disdainful abstractness.

    This is hilariously awesome, for far different reasons than a certain “dissertation.” I love both elegance in language and snarky pooh-poohs. Hell, it’s why I’m here!

  4. Strangest brew says


    “It is all too easy to only look at the beneficial effects of belonging to a social organization and miss the manipulation and harm”

    No it is not that hard…every theist does it!

  5. CJO says

    “Wayward days with Hezekiah” would appear to be a cryptic reference to the many former-fundies who are now outspoken atheists and the idea of deconversion as switching out one fundamentalism for another. Or something. The whole screed is too clever by half, you ask me.

  6. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    CJO #113

    The whole screed is too clever by half, you ask me.

    It struck me as being overwrought, overwritten, and pretentious. Lofton erects* a strawman and then ineptly demolishes it.

    *I didn’t notice any hedges, cut or otherwise.

  7. destlund says

    That was a great article! In addition to being outright awesomesauce, it reminded me of why I need to steer clear of someone who relies heavily on philosophy to make practical points. I don’t know why, but what I learned about Judith Butler reminded me of this book which I actually rather enjoyed in college. Except Butler sounds much more vague, turgid, mind-numbing, and depressing. Oh and they write on totally different topics. I’m actually not sure at all why it came to mind…

    All that said, who’s going to shoot down Cornel West?

  8. CJO says

    Yes, extremely pretentious. And presumptuous, as well. The tone she’s aiming at is extremely hard to pull off, and failure means you look like an ass and fail to communicate clearly to boot.

  9. aratina cage says

    CJO #113,

    “Wayward days with Hezekiah” would appear to be a cryptic reference to the many former-fundies who are now outspoken atheists and the idea of deconversion as switching out one fundamentalism for another.

    Or it could be an allusion to Hezekiah Walker, meaning wayward days with hookers and closeted preachers. That would parallel the fundie-to-atheist convert reference you saw in it with the larger point of dabbling in the extremes.

  10. destlund says

    My curiosity is unsatisfied. I knew nothing of Judith Butler before that comment, and now I know precisely why she deserves little respect; however I knew a little of Cornel West from his commentary and speeches, and I thought I liked what I heard. If anyone is still around and would like me to know their perspective, email me at my moniker @gmail.com

  11. DLC says

    WTF is it with this “New Atheists” crap anyway ?
    Can’t I be a nice, old fashioned non-believer ?
    Or would that make me some bizarre kind of Atheist Fundamentalist ? If it would, should I be out there planning an Atheist Jihad ? Building women’s health clinics and Planned Parenthood centers ? Should I be buying and tearing down megachurches, temples and Cathedrals just as fast as my billions will let me ? Oh, wait. I haven’t any billions, because I don’t have a horde of suckers followers donating 10% or more of their income to me. I don’t spend my days spewing candy-coated hate to the gullible. Oh well.

  12. Roameo says

    wow, im a bit slow on the uptake… finally figured out where the hedge trimming reference comes from. Its from Bill Maher’s “religulous”, where he points to a giant naked guy carved into a hillside in England, maintained every year because thats whats always been done.