Introducing ‘grumpy’ atheism

Atheists, especially of the ‘new’ variety, are used to being described as angry, shrill, arrogant, strident, rude, militant, and dogmatic (I may have missed a few) just for saying that there is no evidence that god exists so we might as well abandon that belief, and that religions are a negative influence in the world and we would be better off without them.

It does not matter how nicely and reasonably you say it, that message alone is enough to give people a license to assign personality traits to you, and in this article, David Silverman, president of American Atheists, embraces the ‘bad’ image and adds the term ‘grumpy’ to the lexicon, saying “We are the grumpy atheists who say you can’t use dead cops as a shield to put up a cross at Ground Zero and the fact that you are religious shouldn’t get you out of paying taxes.”

He relishes the role of being on the outer edge of the atheist movement, pushing its boundaries even at the cost of being reviled and even exulting in the resulting notoriety, just like the organization’s founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair, even if it means that that fewer people are drawn to it.

American Atheists membership is 4,000, Silverman said — a small sliver of the 2.4 percent of Americans who identified as atheists in a 2012 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Less strident groups are larger: the Freedom from Religion Foundation claims more than 19,000 members, and the American Humanist Association claims 40,000.

I reject the idea that groups such as American Atheists are somehow driving people away from atheism and into the arms of religion. The decision to abandon the idea of a god is a highly personal one and people who want to do so will seek the most congenial home. I believe that American Atheists play an essential role in the atheist movement because we need a wide spectrum of welcoming organizations, from those pushing the boundaries to the ‘kinder, gentler’ types.


  1. Andrew G. says

    To quote Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” (from Maxims for Revolutionists, an appendix to the play Man and Superman)

  2. Mano Singham says

    That’s a good quote. Although I’ve read a lot of Shaw, I missed that one. Thanks!

  3. Ulysses says

    Atheists, especially of the ‘new’ variety, are used to being described as angry, shrill, arrogant, strident, rude, and dogmatic (I may have missed a few)

    Militant. You forgot militant.

  4. unbound says

    According to my uncle (a Catholic priest), the “new” atheists are also not as smart as the old ones. They (the Catholic priests) apparently have meetings every now and then to talk about the “new” atheists. I guess it helps make them feel superior by making such claims…

  5. says

    I find it odd that atheists are supposedly driving people into the arms of religion by being all angry, yet the same argument doesn’t get leveled at fire and brimstone religionists who are bitterly denouncing atheists, secularists, feminists, LGBT activists, etc.

  6. baal says

    I’ve leveled the arguments from time to time that the rise of the nones is more from the RCC and other right wing religious leaders being hateful while talking to in-groups and then the outgroups getting the vid on youtube or in a meme than outreach from the atheist + other minority groups.

    The usual complaint I see on FTB but somewhat in other places is that Silverman doesn’t play hard enough and that he’s not nearly aggressive enough on O’Reily. I don’t agree with those characterizations and think Silverman has done us a world of good (I have a few quibbles but they are small).

  7. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    I don’t know how either, but even Noam Chomsky has called Richard Dawkins a ‘fundamentlist’ and a ‘religious fanatic’, it’s said.

  8. cafeeineaddicted says

    I find that theists think ‘old atheists’ were smart were their ideas can be co-opted by the religious. So nihilistic and moral relativistic atheists are welcomed, because they fit in the theists’ paradigm (full of existential anxiety, without morals and most importantly, dead and “aware of their error in hell”)

  9. cafeeineaddicted says

    I think even Silverman has to keep a balance, be just belligerent enough that he makes for good ratings and gets invited back on FOX.

  10. left0ver1under says

    Stochastic terrorism is the use of language to incite violence, to drive the unhinged to commit crimes. When someone calls others “evil” and “satanic”, they’re trying to incite violence against those being named (e.g. Jessica Ahlquist was labelled an “evil little thing”).

    And even when there isn’t an attempt to incite violence, such language is intended to incite intolerance. The religious want to equate “immoral” to “illegal” and to criminalize those who don’t belong to their religion. Bangladesh is doing that to atheists right now, and extremists in the US would do the same if they could.

    Now compare that to the words and actions of atheists. No one is calling for the religious to be arrested, to be violated, to be assaulted. No one is calling for religion to be controlled or banned (keeping it out of schools and government does NOT prevent belief in churches or homes). And where violence is perpetrated against people for their religion, atheists speak out against such violence and for the rights of minorities.

    And yet if you listened to and believed the religious, you’d think the actions of atheists and the religious were reversed.

  11. jamessweet says

    It does, actually, from time to time, though it’s not as persistent a theme as it is with the criticism of atheists. There are even some within the fundie conservative movement who have recognized this (the name of that Christian research group that begins with a B escapes me at the moment, but they had a whole study on why young people are leaving, and a lot of the conclusions were along these lines) but the problem for them is dogma: They know it’s driving people away, but they can’t adapt without becoming fundamentally different.

    In a way, that’s somewhat analogous to the problem us atheists have: Many people find our message inherently arrogant and offputting, no matter how kindly it is presented. Yet we can’t change the message without compromising on the facts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *