I’d almost forgotten what a terrible atheist I am

Suddenly I’m seeing this image popping up all over. But it’s over ten years old! And worst of all, it’s not real — it’s made by an atheist, which explains why the list of characteristics sounds so awesome. It’s also not a particularly useful perspective on how non-atheists think.

Hate atheists? So do we! Your typical atheist smokes marijuanana associates with jews masturbates regularly partakes in deviant sexual proclivities worships at the alter of the internet. To find out more come to atheist awareness week!!! april 2008

While I was trying to track this down, though, I ran across this old post on Scienceblogs by Matt Nisbet, which reminded me of how much I was hated by some of my colleagues on that site. No, really, you might have seen evidence of the friction in some of the published posts, but there were a couple of people who really pulled out the knives in the back channel. This is relatively mild stuff.

Consider this recent article at the National Catholic Register. Titled “The Face of the New Atheism,” it profiles PZ Myers and his rants against the Eucharist and the Catholic community. Notice the key words emphasized. The dominant image of atheism portrayed in the article is one of “hate,” “contempt,” “dogmatism,” “a junior high level understanding of religion,” “irate,” “incredulous,” “bigoted”…the list goes on.

Is this how we really want Catholics to view us? Do we really want a group of moderately religious Americans–who polls show otherwise prize science and reason, and who stand for many of the same values that we hold dear–to think of us through the prism of PZ Myers?

Right. The National Catholic Register. This is a guy holding up as a source an extremely conservative newspaper that idolizes Bill Donohue, echoing the arguments of Donohue and Mark Mathis, producer of the movie Expelled, which worships Catholicism, and considers atheists as tools of the anti-christ. I guess he thought it was as valid a source of information about atheists as anything else. It’s a bad memory. Sometimes things got rather toxic at the old site.

But what redeems it all is that Nisbet then goes on to cite as a counter-example, his paragon of what a good atheist should be. It’s DJ Grothe, the guy who later was found to have covered up sexual harassment at the Amazing Meetings, who abruptly left the JREF under a cloud, who was strangely characterized as a psychopath by people who had to spend much time with him, and who had a fondness for crude rape jokes.

I actually first met DJ Grothe about a year before at Dragon*Con in 2010. I had admired his work on Point of Inquiry and when he became president of the JREF I thought it would be a great thing. When I got a chance to meet him that year I was excited. We encountered one another at a Skepchick party (one that had to be moved to the lobby because of noise complaints as soon as it started). He was drunk, but it was a social occasion and I’d had a couple cocktails as well. No big deal. I was fairly surprised though, when DJ turned to me and said that the reason everyone loved the Skepchicks was because they “want pussy”. That seemed to be a rather dismissive and insultingly sexist way to dismiss the work of your professional colleagues (not to mention the people whose booze you were at that moment drinking.

I’m embarrassed to say that at the time I was still a bit fame-struck and too shocked to really process it. I didn’t do what I should have done, and told him how rude, insulting, and unprofessional it was to say something like that, even while drunk. Even in a casual social setting. But then it got more bizarre and incredible. I’m a tall guy, chubby (fat, honestly) and bearded. If I were gay I would definitely be a bear. This was discussed and DJ then made an hilarious horrendous “joke” about how I should pay him a visit down in Los Angeles so that he could drug me and let some of his friends have some fun with me. You know, in other words so that I could be gang raped.

Nisbet’s post hasn’t aged well, and I’m now proud to have been such a bad atheist, if that’s what atheism is supposed to be more like.

By the way, Rebecca Watson talked about Grothe back in 2014. If you want a glimpse into what a shitshow the skeptic/atheist movements have been, just read the comments.


  1. Ichthyic says

    Nisbet was always a clown.

    I had a great many tussles with him, long before he took aim at you even.

    his ideas were trash, his ego enormous, and he unfortunately had the ears of a great many influential people at the time. I personally think he set the field of science communication back a good 10 years, all by himself. That’s not an exaggeration, if you saw his presentations to AAA and the positive responses his crap received.

    very depressing.

  2. Sean Boyd says

    Your typical atheist…
    Smokes marijuana – no, sorry. Although, I did eat some pot brownies once, but they didn’t do anything for me. Plus, don’t like breathing smoke so much, it really irritates my lungs, former asthmatic that I am. I live near a couple of pot shops…does that count?
    Associates with Jews – um, probably? When I associate with anyone…I’m not real outgoing to begin with. And I tend not to ask about one’s religion or ethnicity…if they want me to know, they’ll tell me. Funny though…there is a subset of Xtians in the area who insist on telling me all about their business, whether I want them to or not.
    Masturbates regularly – and irregularly as well. I refuse to be stereotyped.
    Partakes in deviant sexual proclivities – I’m finding it very difficult to type this, what with all the deviant sex acts happening right now in this very room, site of the Official Deviant Atheist Meetup for Nasty Sex(TM).
    Worships at the altar of the internet – no, I ditched Facebook and Twitter.

    Wow. I’m a terrible atheist. No thigh-high boots, paddles or dominatrices for me.

  3. zenlike says

    In the end, it boils down to the same: whatever advances the tribe is good, whatever hurts the tribe is bad. The tribe might be different (catholicism, atheism), but the effects are the same. It doesn’t matter that DJ is a shitty human, his public face and perception was good, therefore, he must be protected, and the shitty things he does covered with a blanket of forgiveness (and amnesia). The real bad person is the person who takes DJ to task. The person who has a negative public perception. The person who rocks the boat. Who hurts the tribe. Exact same thing as happened in catholicism.

    Hence why you get people who cheered when PZ attacked catholics for doing shitty things, because they belonged to the other tribe, but turned their back when PZ held people of “our” tribe to the same standards. Those people never cared about those shitty things, besides using them as a cudgel to hit the tribal enemies over the head with.

  4. harryblack says

    Well I dont smoke weed…but the rest of that checks out tbh.
    Reminders of the opportunities we had all those years ago and how they were spoiled and squandered by entitled and sexist men with no inkling of our biases really sadden me.

  5. hemidactylus says

    I think it would be interesting to juxtapose the events of and reaction toward Wafergate/Crackergate with those of Elevatorgate in relation to whatever zeitgeist prevailed within movement atheism during those respective time periods. It was the best of times then the worst of times perhaps.

    And now we have Pied Piper Peterson tuning into some need for atheistic mythos like some wannabe Joseph Campbell and the bizarre emergence of the IDW marketing juggernaut which has now sucked haplessly optimistic Pinker into its black hole. Actually his IDW debate with Harris specifically on AI as a purported existential threat was a guilty pleasure. And his snarky remarks aimed at Elon Musk wrt self driving cars not taking tragic shortcuts to the airport. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing Musk’s ginormous ego-bubble deflated regardless of source?

  6. says

    Yeah, one of the great failures of the accommodationists: what they said was wrong with the atheist movement had absolutely nothing do with what was actually wrong with the atheist movement.

  7. says

    Re: the picture – it appears to represent consensual BDSM activity. The white supremacist getting paddled seems to be enjoying himself. What’s the problem?

  8. says

    Speaking of Jordan Peterson a picture is circulating of him in New Zealand posing with a person wearing an I Am A Proud Islamaphobe shirt.

  9. Aoife_b says

    We shouldn’t criticize Peterson for this, the picture is being misunderstood, we need to look at all the pictures of him in New Zealand, blah blah blah /s

  10. hemidactylus says

    Framing? As in our agnostic hero Gould framed the magisteria well in The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister’s Pox but deployed them poorly by giving ground to religion on morality especially in Rocks of Ages. In the former book though he says something curious about introns:

    “Second, and more important, genes are not discrete chains of nucleotides, but are built in pieces of coding regions (called exons) interspersed with other sequences of nucleotides that do not translate to RNA (called
    introns). In assembling a gene, the introns are snipped out and the exons joined together to make an RNA from the sequence of conjoined exons.”


  11. says

    Well, that’s quite a stroll down memory road.

    Under-estimating the shitshow potential of organized atheism was, I’d say, one of my greater acts of naiveté. I recognized early on that there was a substantial libertarian contingent that was all too satisfied with key aspects of the status quo, but I failed to see how deep the rot went.

  12. leerudolph says

    hemidactylus: please explain. I am very ignorant about both molecular biology and magisteria (I read Gould lightly and long enough ago that I don’t think he was using the word then), which is probably why I don’t get your comment at all, not even enough to understand what it has to do with framing.

  13. says

    Siggy (#6):

    Yeah, one of the great failures of the accommodationists: what they said was wrong with the atheist movement had absolutely nothing do with what was actually wrong with the atheist movement.

    I was thinking about that recently. The time period immediately following The God Delusion was full of people criticizing it and the rest of “New Atheism” for unsophistication. Their complaint, as best I could tell, was that the “New Atheists” only criticized religions that existed outside of a philosophy department. I suspect that if I went back and re-evaluated those complaints, I’d come to the same conclusion. The problems they claimed to see were not the problems that went metastatic just a few years later.

  14. consciousness razor says

    I was thinking about that recently. The time period immediately following The God Delusion was full of people criticizing it and the rest of “New Atheism” for unsophistication.

    But that’s not the claim of accomodationists, which is more or less that “we” should be accommodating to goddists, especially those who were kinda-sorta sympathetic to science. (And that basically boiled down to those who were pretty much okay with evolution and the big bang.)
    I remember various sorts of confusion in those arguments, but my memory is that “we” were usually assumed to be science communicators or one of their ilk. It was silly and poorly motivated to begin with, but it starts making even less sense when it’s about atheists in general. I mean, what the hell am I supposed to accommodate, as a musician or a human being or whatever else I happen to be? It just doesn’t seem to have anything to do with people like me, yet we were somehow dragged into it.
    Maybe I should read The God Delusion again (wasn’t impressed years ago), but calling it unsophisticated sounds fair to me. I never had a good idea of what the rest of New Atheism is supposed to be, but needless to say, that’s not a statement about the rest of them, whoever they are. Anyway, whether or not you’re in the mood to consider something like that a genuine problem (for Dawkins’ book), it certainly wouldn’t need to be the only one (for Dawkins specifically, or for that matter atheists in general).

  15. hemidactylus says

    @14- leerudolph
    Firstly I had crafted a specifically targeted post intended to get Larry’s goat. Note my emoticons if they showed. We have some deep history. I love the guy and read his blog especially about ENCODE vs junk DNA. When I saw him post here I was totally in ‘I gotta tweak his nose’ mode. Sorry.

    As for magisteria my interpretation is heavily biased toward Hume’s is-ought and against the scientism onslaught toward humanities. Gould’s book I cited first undergirds those biases.

    This essay may help (but I find Gould’s own take on his own concept problematic) :


    It boils down to exclusivity of thought realms. Even the way Gould presents it sometimes undercuts the realization that science can inform ethics. He knew that to be the case. Not oil and water but mayo.

    As for the strange Gould take on molecular biology I was hoping Larry would respond already but see my issue presented and aptly responded to here (in a forum that connects PZ and Larry as former balcony muppets and me and others as Kermit and Fozzie fodder):



    Hah! The infamous muppet balcony duo reconnects. Maybe Larry could address the Gould explanation of introns on his blog.

  16. Ichthyic says


    Yes, Larry remembers.

    for those that don’t, you will have to go back a few years to the debate about this. around 2008 to be more accurate.

    unfortunately, most of the debate around the issue was on sciblogs… which is now defunct. I even saved links to all of the best articles, but alas, those no longer function. :(

  17. says

    @Blake Stacey #15 and CR #16,
    I agree with CR’s differentiation between the accommodationist argument, and the “unsophisticated” argument (which we used to call the courtier’s reply), the former coming more from an “atheist annoyed by other atheists” perspective, and the latter coming from a theistic perspective. Although sometimes it was the same people making both arguments.

    One possible view we could take, is that the courtier’s reply has some merit in retrospect, now that we’ve seen atheists apply the same sloppy thinking to feminism that they used to apply to religion. But on the other hand, I just remember the courtier’s reply being a whole lot more bullshit than that. It was basically a complaint that atheists weren’t spending enough time on the philosophical navel-gazy stuff. If anything, time has taught us that atheists spent too much time on the navel-gazy stuff.

  18. Sastra says

    Consciousness razor #16 wrote:


    blockquote>>I never had a good idea of what the rest of New Atheism is supposed to be …</ blockquote>

    Nobody seems to have had a very good idea of what New Atheism was supposed to be — including a lot of people who self- identified as New Atheists. I was constantly surprised by people criticizing New Atheism whom I had thought, up til then, were New Atheists themselves. The charges of “unsophistication” usually amounted to complaints about using science on God (Accomodationism = Science Can’t Say Anything About God.) Then it turned into complaints about unsophisticated behavior (Accomodationism = Go After Religious Extremists Only and Play Nice.)

    The philosophy got mixed up with tactics; with popularity; with spokespeople; with politics. So it goes.

  19. chrislawson says

    Ah, the old accommodationism debate. I’m so glad we’ve moved on from that.

    The accommodationists took one decent idea (don’t start inflammatory arguments that will turn people into enemies for no good reason) but refused to acknowledge that this gave the power to poorly-defined “allies” to decide for themselves what was inflammatory and demanded the belief never be challenged. The second problem is that it went one way only — there was no mention of a corresponding need for religious folk to accommodate atheists…in a country where several states still make it unlawful for non-believers to take public office, where the majority of people say they would refuse to vote for an atheist, and where religious organisations repeatedly demonise atheism (e.g. how it led to Nazism). It was kind of a hard sell to convince atheists that they need to be the ones giving all the courtesies in the circumstances.

    It reminds me of those Democrats who keep insisting “they go low, we go high.” Nice principle. I generally agree with it. But only when going high has a reasonable chance of being effective or where going low is indefensible on its own merits. There should be no comfort in the high moral ground if it means giving in to voter suppression and Supreme Court nomination theft.

  20. says

    Siggy (#20):

    I agree with CR’s differentiation between the accommodationist argument, and the “unsophisticated” argument (which we used to call the courtier’s reply), the former coming more from an “atheist annoyed by other atheists” perspective, and the latter coming from a theistic perspective. Although sometimes it was the same people making both arguments.

    Oh, they’re definitely different arguments, and I think they peaked at different times. The commonality I had in mind was just that they both failed to see the real problems with organized atheism, for all the energy they put into the complaints that they did make. And maybe a psychological temperament towards not rocking the boat played into both.