6 atheists were featured: Richard Dawkins; Dave Silverman, president of American Aheists, the people who stir so much shit and accomplish so little by putting up nya-nya-nya-nya-nyaaaaa-nyaaa atheist billboards and litigating to have expressions of religious sentiment removed from public places (Imagine: one day they may succeed in removing "IN GOD WE TRUST" from our money. Whoop-dee-frekin-doo!); and 2 other people, one a young man who leads an atheist group at a university in northern Alabama or Georgia; and the other a young woman who's studying at Harvard Divinity School while simultaneously being an atheist.
Oh, and I almost forgot: also a Christian clergyman who is a closeted atheist. CNN deliberately hid his identity. They are undeliberately but just as effectively hiding the names of the 2 students in the South and at the Harvard Divinity School; their names seem to be written down nowhere on the CNN website or anywhere else on the WWW. The only way I can think of at this point to retrieve their names, and whether the young Southern man is studying in northern Georgia or northern Alabama -- could just possibly be northern Mississippi too -- would be to watch the show again, and frankly, it wasn't that good. If you can retrieve their names you're a better man than I, or maybe just a man with less on his schedule.
Kyra Phillips hosted the show and interviewed all 6 of the featured atheists, and a few other atheists, and some more people.
Richard Dawkins didn't get much airtime, which means he said relatively little on the show with which I disagree. Phillips referred to Dawkins at one point as "the father of atheism," which certainly made me wince, as other people must have winced who were hoping that the show would comment at least a little on the history of atheism, which, believe it or not, Dawkins did not actually invent. Dawkins said that he got a "warm feeling" from the Church of England, and that "nobody" in the Church of England "really believes any of it." Which of course is bullshit, the sort of bullshit we're getting used to hearing from Dawkins. And of course, in the eyes of many present-day atheists, Dawkins actually is something like "the father of atheism," a figure of such immense unearned respect that any and every stupid thing he says is treated like received wisdom. I had been wondering just exactly why some English twits it has been my misfortune to meet insist that Christianity is dead and gone and over with in England; the answer may be just as simple as the explanation of why so any people think that the bible was written by Bronze Age goat herders and that most Muslims support terrorism: Dawkins said so. I know that Rowan Williams, head of the Church of England until 2002, said while in office that he didn't believe in God. I've also noticed how strenuously Williams has backpedaled from that position since he said it, which he hardly would have needed to have done had not so many theist members of the C of E become so very angry at him for saying such a thing. I've also wondered just exactly how much William's public statement of disbelief had to do with his ceasing to be head of the Church of England in 2002.
One of the atheists on the show, I think it may have been Silverman, said that "skeptic," "freethinker" and other terms mean nothing more or less than "atheist," and that atheists who call themselves skeptics or freethinkers instead of atheists are "lying." I almost agree with that. I would say that they're atheists who are still partway in the closet. Very interestingly, Dawkins said that the term "atheist" has acquired so many negative connotations that it may be necessary to come up with another term for us. If he has the faintest clue that he is directly responsible for a large part of those negative connotations, he gave no sign of it on the CNN show. I don't think that we need to replace the term "atheist." I think that a lot of the current stigma attaching to the label will go away if we can get to a state of affairs where no one will find it odd that a person is an atheist, and thinks that almost everything said about religion and atheism by Dawkins, or Sam Harris or PZ Myers, is idiotic -- including, for example, this recent statement by Dawkins that the term "atheist" might have to be replaced. Unfortunately, Richard the Great, if not in fact the father of atheism, is currently still its King.
Definitely the most heart-wrenching parts of the CNN show were from the interview with the parents of the student in the South: while he runs an Ask an Atheist program at the local university, his parents remain fundamentalists who are convinced that their son is going to Hell. It's not a matter of debate, they say: Scripture says that anyone who rejects Christ is going to Hell. I wonder if these people eat pork, or shellfish, or beef cooked with dairy products. It's not a matter of debate that Scripture says those things and a whole long list of other harmless things are abominations.
Jerry Dewitt lives in Louisiana and used to be an evangelical pastor; now he leads atheist church services. As he says, his church now is just like his church was then except that he leaves out Jesus. At one point in his sermon he actually said, "Can I get a 'Darwin'?!" Res ipse loquitur. Dewitt strikes me as a bit of a -- a smooth-talking, self-serving snake-oil salesman, very much indeed like an evangelical pastor.
Silverman: billboards crudely, unkindly mocking religion, and campaigns to take the 10 Commandments off of courthouse walls. He heads the largest atheist organization in the US, and this is what they accomplish. No competing with churches, synagogues and mosques in terms of relief for the poor, or for that matter with more progressive religious institutions in fighting for social justice. No, nothing like that can be addressed as long as "IN GOD WE TRUST" is still on our money. What a bunch of worse-than-useless assholes. Determined to sink to the level of the worst of the theists, cause -- "Hey, they started it!"
As I said, I don't remember the name of the atheist Harvard Divinity School student featured on the show. But I do remember shots of her sitting next to Greg Epstein, Harvard's Humanist Chaplain. And the student has recently been appointed to some sort of Assistant Chaplain office.
And then there's the anonymous clergyman in the atheist closet.
A whole bunch of atheists on this show who still want to be clergy people of some kind or other. If someone had just come from Mars and watched this show, he or she might get the impression that "atheist" is a kind of preacher. I really don't think that that's representative of most atheists. I don't think most of us miss church or temple so much that we want to form some weird atheist version of it. Although I do applaud Epstein's expressed sentiment of unity and acceptance for Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians, atheists and etc, his championing of tolerance for people of all beliefs or lack of beliefs. I just don't see the need for atheists to retain so very many of the trappings of religion.
The Harvard Divinity School student may end up actually knowing a lot about religion, studying it full-time as she is. And knowledge is a good thing. Knowledge is what separates the marvelous, awe-inspiring biologist Richard Dawkins
from the zany, out-of-touch crackpot and horrible islamophobic bigot Richard Dawkins.
As for the clergyman who's secretly an atheist, and all the other people who are secretly atheists, I see no need to pretty it up or tone it down: I've got no sympathy for you. Not for closet atheists in the US, whining about your anguish and isolation while you perpetuate the institutions and customs which you claim are oppressing you. In plain fact, you are oppressing those of us who are out. And you want me to feel sorry for you? In some other countries being an atheist can actually be dangerous, but in the US, if you actually want to do something for atheists, you need to come out. And that includes calling yourself an atheist and not some synonym like a skeptic or a freethinker.