Writing your own “Atheist manual and cookbook”

Via the eChurch blog I learn that secularist scholar R. J. Hoffmann is getting a little fed up with some of his atheist co-religionists.  In this post he outlines the tactics the latter employ.

The Sure-Fire Atheist Rapid Response Manual

When I wrote Atheism’s Little Idea I said atheists were small. But (and this is embarrassing to confess) I had no idea how clever.

There’s a species of ant in Papua New Guinea that is so small you need a magnifying glass to see that they’re insects and not swirling grains of sand.  But drop a crumb of cheese on the ground and an army of ten zillion will appear out of nowhere, through the floor cracks where they live invisibly, and devour the cheese before you can retrieve and pop it subtly into your mouth.  …

When the atheists had grown tired of my “endless harangues against atheism” last year they swarmed at me, Jacques Berlinerblau, and Michael Ruse all at once. We said, in different tones, that they were playing too rough, were turning people off (including fellow unbelievers) with their flatfooted tactics, and needed to behave like adults with real arguments and day jobs.

The atheist swarm may actually have eaten the other two because I haven’t heard from them in a long time.

But it was then I learned their strange language and breeding habits:  Like all small things, their safety is in numbers. One atheist alone is hardly a match for his (or her) natural enemies, the Christian Nation, the low-wattage Dims and flabby franks like me who send mixed signals about what they really believe. But one thousand atheists on a single mission can take down a faitheist, an accommodationist and a Associate Reformed Presbyterian pre-Millennialist going through a divorce in about a minute. I’ll tell you this: if Osama bin Laden had ranted about atheists and not “the West” (where is that exactly?) he would have been cheese crumbs in October 2001.

I have come to be a huge admirer of how the atheists organize for their own protection and what they are able to accomplish on a low budget.  I have wondered how this is possible ever since I was almost eaten last spring.

Most of us have been the victims of the group lynching tactic described here.

But Hoffmann goes further.  He has observed that these people behave as if they were following instructions.  And he has devised a “manual” of tactics.

Now  this made me smile indeed!  You see, I have often thought of doing the same!  Once you have observed a few atheist fora, and seen the kinds of arguments made, and the dishonest tactics deployed to beat up opposition, such a manual almost writes itself.

Hoffmann’s work is a first draft, but so often it hits the nail on the head.  A few extracts will give you a flavour of what he says.  And it’s all true! – every last word of it.

(5)  If you don’t understand the Straw Man Defense, resort immediately to one of the following:

(a) Call the enemy arrogant.  Our enemies are all arrogant or they wouldn’t be blogging against us so this is bound to work.  Words like “pompous,” “misguided,”  ”pathetically out of touch,” “incredibly uninformed” and similar expressions will work just as well.  Try to avoid “full of shit” and if you use the word “erroneous”: remember there are two r’s.  (see also spelling tips under accommodation/accomodation/akomodation).

(b)  Call the enemy ignorant. This is basic because anyone who disagrees with atheism is ignorant.  You can also use some of the same words: incredibly ignorant, unbelievably ignorant; I don’t know how you’re able to tie your shoes-ignorant.

The next one brought a wry smile to my face.  Not only atheists try this ploy, as I found out last week when I was on the receiving end of a (futile) attempt to lynch me on my own blog:

(6)  If you find that a website is “moderated” say that it violates the fundamental right of Free Speech guaranteed to atheism in the Constitution. …

How often have I heard that tired old attempt to manipulate me into allowing people to lynch me on my own personal blog?

Dr Hoffmann’s post is sane and civilised.  Indeed it has reminded me that, long ago, I had quite a bit of respect for atheists.  My own ideas about the shape of Roman paganism I owe to an atheist author whom I read from a library shelf long ago.  Likewise I was impressed with the precision thinking that I found in J. S. Mill.

But when I came online, I found something else.  I found atheism that was dishonest, abusive, and hateful.  Almost all the online atheist writing is beneath contempt.

This is not a question of disagreement about religion, but simply about honesty.  An intelligent atheist must find his co-religionists painfully embarassing.

Writing these words recalls an early online experience.  I have never forgotten encountering a post, back in 1998 or so, in some now vanished or decrepit usenet forum, by an atheist named Steven Carr, who seemed to be a student in Edinburgh or something of the kind.  It was about the apocryphal gospels, and he was trying to wear down someone talking about the bible by hitting them with factoids.  In those days I knew much less about Christian history than I do now, but even then I knew enough to see that the post was not honest, even from an atheist point of view.  It was clear to me that he was engaged in deliberate deception of someone that he believed wouldn’t know much about the apocrypha, attempting to bully with pseudo-scholarship.  I remember reading that post, and thinking to myself: “If you know enough about the history of the bible to write that lot, you know enough to know that your argument is neither fair nor an accurate representation of the facts.”

I have seen so much dishonest argument since.

I happened to see a post in a forum the other day, in response to some post of my own.  It was the same Steven Carr.  He was looking rather the worse for the 14 years that he had spent labouring for atheism.  Hate does funny things to those who indulge it.  Any pretence at reason or logic had long departed.  All he could manage was abuse.  He spat a mindless jeer in my direction, utterly irrelevant to my post.  That was all that was left of him.  He had become just a barking, rabid dog.

It is possible to be indifferent to truth, and interested only in convenience, in winning rather than being in the right.  But those who despise the right use of the intellect need not expect to enjoy the use of it for very long.

Hoffmann, it seems, has enough sanity to realise that atheists are destroying themselves.   We may commend him for this brave stand.  A principled atheism is not always a bad thing.  Superstition and priestcraft are not good things, and any student of modern Anglican affairs can find ample examples of the latter.  Christians will remember that Christ was crucified, not by atheists, but by a plot hatched by the religious authorities of the day.

Let us hope that Dr Hoffmann can achieve a revolution in atheism.

UPDATE: I have just deleted the first attempt in the comments to use this blog to attack Dr. Hoffmann for “censorship”.

8 Responses to “Writing your own “Atheist manual and cookbook””


  1. Jim Java

    Paul Kurtz, a founding member of the Center for Inquiry, resigned last year over the Center’s neglect of “the need to apply reason and science to human values” while it continued to emphasize criticism of religious claims, often in the abusive way you’ve mentioned. Kurtz has since gone on to chair the Institute for Science and Human Values, which suits his interests better. I’m an atheist, but glad to see a reaction against the bloviating of the so-called Four Horseman and their kind.

  2. Roger Pearse

    Good for him! And good for you too, that you can keep a distance from these people.

    Nothing is gained in having a valid intellectual position turn itself into a mindless caricature of itself which debases all who come into contact with it, either as friend or foe. Our age is one of increasing superstition. The voice of intelligent atheism needs to be heard. But who will listen, while people like Dawkins are bawling self-promoting nonsense like “Catholicism equals child abuse”?

    To the intelligent atheist much of what is online by “atheists” must be like being an intellectual Catholic and then being forced to witness what passes for Christianity in some of the more superstitious bits of Latin America. Or an intelligent British Evangelical watching a cornball US TV evangelist.

    I appreciate your courage in adding that comment — thank you.

  3. steph

    Hello Roger, thank you for post. I thought you might be interested in this from the other day http://www.rjosephhoffmann.com/2012/01/01/re-made-in-america-remembering-the-new-atheism-2006-2011/

    and also this, originally written last year “I don’t deny or affirm the existence of God, any god. There have been so many…” http://www.rjosephhoffmann.com/2012/01/01/re-made-in-america-remembering-the-new-atheism-2006-2011/

    And best wishes for your new year. :-)

  4. steph
  5. Jim Java

    Thanks for posting this, steph. One thing that Hoffmann only hints at in his eulogy is how awful the New Atheists are at biblical criticism. After rightly decrying biblical literalism, they often won’t shy from using that same literalism to frame their outrage at disembodied passages.

  6. Roger Pearse

    The “Remembering the new atheism” article is interesting. I’ve never paid the slightest attention to these people — the pseudo-apostles of science don’t impress those of us who actually have science degrees in rather harder sciences than they do — but the anti-rational element in all this has not escaped me. Hoffmann is right, of course. These people are really rather dismal. Christianity may not be true; but this neo-atheism must be false. It diminishes those who engage in it, makes them less than they were.

  7. steph

    I was raised in secular NZ and grew up not believing, amongst people with different ideas. I was always immensely interested in other people’s ideas, especially religious ones. I took a degree in the humanities, from anthropology to music, and later went back and took a degree in the histories of the world’s religions. I didn’t focus on Christianity til graduate studies and now in post graduate on the origins of Christianity. I read myself over the years into ancient and modern theologies… and recently, coming to the UK with a scholarship, I encountered the anti religious, new atheists. My ideas are unfolding, it’s a life process evolving. I have never considered myself an atheist because although I’ve never believed, I don’t ‘disbelieve’. What would I be disbelieving? There are so many ideas, and so many still unformed. I don’t believe in a personal God figure created by humankind who intrudes in history. I don’t believe biblical story telling to be true. But the new atheists of history, culture and religions, are making me begin to think I’m more of a theist. I know theism is a philosophically indefensible position, but so is atheism. But there are just some things I can’t explain. I have a Methodist Minister friend here in the UK. He leads a small village parish. He first realised how best to describe his perspective when he was invited to speak on a BBC Radio 4 panel discussing religion. An atheist speaker whose name I forget, said he was an atheist by definition and agnostic by faith. My friend said ‘Ah: I am a Christian by definition and agnostic by faith.

  8. steph

    But the new atheists’ IGNORANCE of history culture and religions … whoops I left out a (rather ugly) word!!