There has been a lot of discussion lately of a "schism" amongst the atheist movement that I find to be quite disturbing. This so-called schism is between atheists who share the idea that god does not exist and the atheists who are against anything to do with god.

Now of course these are pretty broad descriptions so of course I invite discussion on this topic. But here is the thing, this isn't a schism of atheism or some new group called "The New Atheists". This other group are simply anti-theists. Because I am an atheists who believes in reason I will break the words down to show that this is exactly what this other group is.

Obviously both words share the base word theism, which means the belief in at least one deity. Now atheism has the prefix "a-" which means to be without or the absence of. So atheism truly means to be with the belief in any god. On the other hand the prefix "anti-" means to be against. So anti-theism is to be against the belief in any god. Looking at this analysis it appears that atheism is far more passive where one is just simply without the belief as if it is just absent from the person. Whereas anti-theism is far more active where someone is pushing against the belief.

Now you look at the two movements that are discussed in many articles about this schism (including the article at and you will find that the group that ridicules religion and has much contempt for religion is more of an anti-theist than someone who simply has the belief in god absent from their lives. Activities like Blasphemy Day is more anti-theist (and quite immature). The more passive group tends to try to get the word out about the existence of non-believers. They want to show that we are just as good of people as anyone else.

Now, I don't write all of this to say that the anti-theists are bad people or doing anything wrong. However, they are making a bad name for atheists. Who cares if we're accommodating to the theists about certain issues? We're not harming anyone by doing so. We still fight for the theists to rationalize their views reasonably in public discourse by making sure that using the "god" crutch for an argument is no allowed. But we do recognize their right to exist as theists and that there is nothing wrong to believe in things unproven, its just that we choose not to believe that ourselves. If we can't admit these types of ideas that what are we even doing with the movement?

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Comment by Dave G on November 3, 2009 at 9:48am
I don't think it is quite that black and white. Not even Blasphemy Day. Sure, many manifestations of Blasphemy Day were immature and childish. Nothing more than trying to 'shock the theists', not really different than a kid putting up an Ozzy poster to shock his conservative parents. But there were also events that were in the actual spirit of the day, which is that nothing is sacred and that free speech should not be constrained by religious (or other) restrictions. Events such as the one at Purdue where the college Society of Non-Theists put up several blank poster-sized sheets of paper for anyone to write anything they liked upon. And people did. All kinds of statements, from all kinds of people. You can see the final appearance of the sheets at Jen's blog Blag Hag

Incidentally, the purpose of Blasphemy Day is: "Blasphemy Day International is a campaign seeking to establish September 30th as a day to promote free speech and stand up in a show of solidarity for the freedom to challenge, criticize, and satirize religion without fear of murder, litigation, and reprisal. The primary focus of the Blasphemy Day movement is not to debate the existence of any gods or deities, to promote hate or violence, or to insult or offend. Nor is it a movement of atheists – the tenets of one religion blaspheme against another if they disagree. The main objective of Blasphemy Day is to open up all religious beliefs to the same level of free inquiry, discussion and criticism to which all other areas of academic interest are subjected."

Also, one does not have to be contemptuous of religion (or more importantly, the religious) to think that religion does more harm than good. Nor does one have to be an anti-theist to have that contempt. I've encountered plenty of people who, while willing to let others have their beliefs, are also disparagingly contemptuous towards theists and consider them to be of sub-par intelligence.

Who cares if we're accommodating to the theists about certain issues? I care. I give a damn if there is a law stating that I, as an atheist, am not allowed to hold public office. I give a damn if theists try to get their particular unproven beliefs taught as science. I give a damn if an atheist (or even someone of a different religion) gets fired because their supervisor refuses to work with a 'heathen'. I give a damn if someone's religious belief means that their child dies in pain and torment because the parents believe that modern medicine is evil and that only prayer should be used. I give a damn because unproven beliefs, particularly ones that fly in the face of the evidence, often mountains of it, harm people.

I don't know about you, but I am not an atheist by choice. I am an atheist because that is the conclusion that the available evidence has led me to. If sufficient evidence was discovered supporting the existence of a god or gods, I would believe that he, she or they existed. (Not to say I'd worship, but I'd believe). I care whether what I believe is right or wrong. I recognize that not everyone cares about that, but it is important to me and I am not going to 'play nice' and be meek, mild and conciliatory just because the evidence conflicts with someone's beliefs.

Sure, theists have the right to believe what they wish. They can believe in the Trinity, that Allah rode into heaven on a winged horse, or that Gaea watches over us all. But the right to believe something is not the same as having the right to insist that no one can offend or question that belief. There is no 'inalienable right to never be offended'.

Any idea that gets proposed, from a belief in god to the theory of gravity, is and should be questioned, queried, criticized, attacked, examined, scrutinized, and even mocked. And, if its supporters can, they should respond with defenses, explanations, evidence, and answers. Any idea that requires a 'no criticism' rule is too weak to stand on its own and is probably false.
Comment by Corey Lord on November 3, 2009 at 10:47am
Well to briefly respond about Blasphemy Day, all I have to say is that even using the term Blasphemy eluding to the existence of god so to me it still doesn't make sense. Really we could have a World Atheist Day were atheist are recognized for the good works we do or something like that. Why do we have to use it as a day to point out the absurdities of religion?

I also find it shocking to call a theist someone of sub-par intelligence just on the basis that they believe in something that to us is unreasonable to believe in. I've met theists who are more intelligent than a lot of the atheists I know. That too is a problem with the atheist movement, we assume we're more intelligent than the rest of the world because we don't believe in any god.

I too give a damn if there was a law passed not allowing atheists to hold public office because there would be no reason to have this law other than a religious reason. And if you noticed I did qualify my statement about accommodating the theists by stating that we still cannot allow the god crutch to be used as any reason for an argument in the public forum. I was not in any way saying that accommodating theists goes to such extremes as your examples do.

Finally, to say that any idea deserves to be attacked and mocked is just ridiculous. Galileo's idea that the Earth was not the center of the universe was attacked and mocked and I know we can all agree that he was treated without any respect. Yes, all ideas should be questioned, queried, examined, and scrutinized but it should be done with respect.
Comment by Dave G on November 3, 2009 at 11:48am
Perhaps we need a day specifically to point out the absurdities of religion specifically because religion is usually given a pass when it comes to criticism. People argue about sports, politics, books, movies and every other topic under the sun, but when it comes to religion there is this 'Oooh, hands off' assumption that insulates it from anyone pointing out its mistakes and falsehoods. Not to mention that in some parts of the planet, making an unflattering comment about religion is grounds for execution. Pointing out that religion is not immune to criticism and is not some special topic that no one is allowed to disagree with is important.

Yeah, I don't get the whole 'sub-par intelligence' generalization either. While there are certainly theists who are less than intelligent, there are also a great number of theists who are highly intelligent and more than a few non-theists who are below average. While it may be true that on average atheists happen to be more intelligent, that has little import on an individual's intelligence and probably more to do with education than actual intelligence.

If not in the public forum, where are you planning on being accommodating? I'm not aware of many anti-theists who are advocating the forceful and militant destruction of religion and the banning of all belief in gods. (Any, really, although I'm sure that some nutter can be found promoting it.) Do most of them think that the world would be better off without religion? Sure. Do they think that religion (some more than others) are actively and openly harmful to people? Yep. Are they calling for all religious people to be executed? No. Forbidden from speaking their mind? No. Exiled from civilization? No. (Well, maybe a couple are.)

And not all problems stemming from religion are found in the public square. How about a parent raising their children? That's a private arena, yet I oppose religious teachings that females are property, completely subservient to their father, brothers and husband.

And no, the idea that every idea should be attacked is at the very core of science. No idea is sacrosanct, and every idea should be constantly examined for flaws. And if those flaws cannot be repaired, and some other idea arises that better explains the facts, the first should be replaced.

Galileo is a poor choice of an example. The opposition to his work was driven by religious dogma, not valid criticism of the idea itself. A better example would have been Aristarchus of Samos, who proposed a heliocentric theory in the mid-200s BCE. His hypothesis was criticized by others and eventually discarded due to the fact that it was less accurate than the geocentric model when it came to predicting the motions of the planets, as well as being unable to account for certain observational evidence (the lack of stellar parallax, for example) . Likewise, Copernicus' model also failed to be as accurate in its predictions as the Ptolemaic theory. In both cases, one of the major flaws in their calculations was the assumption that the planets traveled in perfect circles with the sun at the center, rather than in ellipsis, as Kepler discovered. With Kepler's improvements, the way was made clear for Galileo's work. Galileo's work was significantly more accurate than the geocentric model, as well as being much simpler and better accounting for the observed evidence.

And no, not all ideas should be treated with respect. People, yes. People deserve a basic default level of respect which will increase or decrease depending on their actions. Ideas, however, are not people. Ideas gain respect by withstanding criticism, by their explanatory power, and by how well they confirm with the existing evidence.

Now, mockery should not be the first thing used against an idea. But, if the proponents of an idea refuse to listen to reasoned criticism, steadfastly resist any attempts to point out the flaws in their arguments, and insist that their ideas are and should be exempt from any scrutiny, then mockery and derision is what is left. And even that should be saved for those ideas which are actively harmful to people. Someone who believes that at night, invisible gnomes guard his bed against prowling ghosts and refuses to believe otherwise may have an irrational belief, but it is not hurting anyone. Someone who believes that a deity commands that people with a different skin color or sexual orientation (or lack of a belief in that same deity) are less than human and should be treated as such is far more dangerous.
Comment by a7 on November 3, 2009 at 3:51pm
Dave G, your the man. Knowledge is power.

I was going to post more but brian and dave have said enough.

take care

Comment by Galen on November 3, 2009 at 7:59pm
Dawkins and Hitchens have often made this point and I'll make it now as well. Why does religion get a free pass where no other crazy ridiculous belief would? Why are we expected to play nice and "respect" the other guy's wacky ass insane bullshit? If I were loudly and proudly proclaiming that people who think the Earth is flat are absolute retards devoid of the ability to understand reality, there'd be no "schism" of people telling me I need to be more tolerant and that it's "immature" to make fun of the flat-earthers. They're idiots, of course we'll make fun of them.

Religion will continue for as long as we're willing to tolerate it. Insanity SHOULDN'T be tolerated. Frankly, I look forward to a world where any hint of religious ferver is met with frowns of disapproval and the need for counseling.

Proud anti-theist reporting in!
Comment by proudfootz on November 3, 2009 at 10:24pm
I think the idea of a 'schism' among atheists is cooked up by the same people who view atheism as a 'religion'.

It suits them down to the ground to portray those who are not religious in terms of better used to describe the queer behavior of cultists.
Comment by Dave G on November 4, 2009 at 9:54am
Indeed, proudfootz. What isn't mentioned in the article is that the author, Barbara Bradley Hagerty has a stake in portraying a 'scism' in atheism that does not exist. Divide and conquer, as they say.

Here is some information on Ms Hagerty from several years ago.

An impartial reporter she is not.


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