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Larry Moran and "Nice, Friendly, Ignored, and Denigrated Atheists"


Larry Moran has a post on Sandwalk excoriating Matt Nisbet for his criticism of P.Z. Myers' recent desecration of the Eucharist. Myers, a vocal Darwinist and militant atheist, obtained a Eucharistic Host, nailed it, threw it in the garbage, and photographed it, along with a Qur'an and a copy of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion.

Nisbet, sensitive to the implications of Myers' performance art, took Myers to task:

Atheists have a major image problem. There's a reason that when people ask me what I believe I have to say with a smile: "I'm an atheist...but a friendly atheist." For sure, atheists for a long time have been unfairly stereotyped in the mainstream media and in popular culture. But we also have a lot of lousy self-proclaimed spokespeople who do damage to our public image. They're usually angry, grumpy, uncharismatic male loners with a passion for attacking and ridiculing religious believers. Any fellow atheist who disagrees with their Don Imus rhetoric, they label as appeasers...These "new atheists" are the dark under belly of atheism. In books, blogs, and public statements, they sell us ideological porn, sophomoric rants that feed our dark sides and reinforce our own unfair stereotypes about the "other," i.e. the religious...Yet all of this does far more harm than good. The addictive nature of their rhetoric radicalizes us and leads us to an ever more closed off conversation about how we are superior and everyone else is delusional...

Nisbet's prudent observations were too much for Moran, who notes:

Nisbet thinks he's an expert on how to deal with the problems of religion. He just doesn't get it. Several decades of being "nice" and "friendly" toward those who believe in superstitious nonsense got us nowhere. We atheists were ignored at best, and denigrated at worst.

Myers desecrates. Nisbet is skittish, Moran's defiant. Another atheist kerfuffle -- this time about the "framing" implications of spitting in the face of a billion Catholics. And Dr. Moran is a new kind of atheist: unframed and no longer "nice, friendly...ignored and denigrated". But Moran's foray into recent atheist history is, to be charitable, ill-informed. Most amusing is Moran's astonishing assertion that atheism -- "nice and friendly... ignored and denigrated" -- has played no substantial role in 20th century human affairs. But it has.

"Several decades" ago, 1,500,000,000 people lived under the only atheist ideology ever to come to actual long-term power. Communism -- dialectical materialism, Marx's "materialist conception of history" -- was an explicitly atheist-materialist ideology brought to power by explicit atheist-materialists. The atheists in the Soviet Politburo, in the Secretariat of the People's Republic of China, and in the Kampuchean People's Representative Assembly ('Oh...those atheists!..') suffered not at all from the fetters of excessive restraint. Twentieth century atheists weren't "ignored at best, and denigrated at worst." Beginning in 1917, they were obeyed, usually involuntarily, by a third of humanity. In the few remaining atheist nations today, such as North Korea, atheists continue to make their idiosyncratic contributions to human affairs. No doubt Dr. Moran was referring to "ignored...denigrated" Canadian atheists, a domesticated colony on the atheist agar, to be sure. But the act of "ignoring and denigrating" atheists in the 20th century was, in many parts of the world, a serious mistake, made once and then regretted. Ask the Cambodians.

Of course, Dr. Moran personally shouldn't be held accountable for the atrocities of millions of fellow atheists with whom he no doubt disagrees on many issues, just as religious believers shouldn't be held accountable for the Inquisition or for the atrocities of Al Qaeda. Accountability for one's ideological brethren-- a Judeo-Christian tic-- is perhaps too high a standard to apply to atheists, although we undoubtedly agree that it is a standard that, once established, is to be applied equally across the ideological spectrum.

Dr. Moran should only be held accountable for his own personal contributions to atheism's long gray line, such as his innovations in public discourse and his bragging about ruining the careers of his own students and fellow scientists if they are Christians.