Friday, June 5, 2015

You May Already Not Be A New Atheist

In this recent blog post I discussed finding a brand name, an identifying term with big scary capital letters, for atheists who are not New Atheists, and who wish to make it clear that they are not New Atheists, but do not want to resort to calling themselves something like skeptics or non-believers, as this would make it somewhat less than 100% clear that, although they are not with the New Atheists, they still are atheists.

Of all the names I mentioned in that previous post, the most gratifying to me personally would be the Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel Atheists, because that one is all about me, me, me and what a great writer and deep thinker I am, so deserving of fame and fortune and crate-loads of free platinum watches, and also how I like lolcats.

On the other hand, the Not Those Atheists! with an exclamation point every time, would be much clearer and to the point, not to mention much less unwieldy. The point being: We're atheists, but we're not them.

So for the time being I'm going to call us the Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel atheists.

But of course, not everybody has deeply studied the question of who is and who isn't a New Atheist. One still very frequently encounters the question, Hey Steve, what the Heck is a New Atheist anyway, and how is it different from an "Old" Atheist, and what's yr dang problem anyhow?! A few examples will help you see whether you are a New Atheist, or a Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel Atheist, as we've decided to call ourselves.

Let's take the issue of pictures of Muhammed. If you enthusiastically take part in competitions to draw the most insulting picture of Muhammed, you may be a New Atheist. (Or a snake-handler. Or a New Atheist and recently a snake-handler.) If you support the right of any yahoo to draw a picture of Muhammed, but you want to make it clear that you still don't have to LIKE 98% of the pictures, or 98% of the yahoos drawing them, you may be a Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel Atheist.

If you already happened to know that there actually are many Muslim pictures of Muhammed, then chances are that you're not a New Atheist, because New Atheists and studying history tend to be like oil and water. Here's a 14th century Islamic drawing of an interpretation of Isaiah 21:7, showing Isaiah’s vision of Jesus riding a donkey alongside Muhammad riding a camel.

That's one of several Islamic pictures of Muhammed from a Newsweek article by Christiane Gruber with the to-the-point title The Koran Does Not Forbid Images of the Prophet Obviously, there is some disagreement about this among Muslims, just as there is some disagreement among Jews and Christians about whether God has forbidden the making of images, all going back to the 10 Commandments and that thing about not making graven images.

If the thought of Muslims debating things like making pictures, and having wildly divergent opinions about such issues, strikes you as odd, that may be an indication that you're a New Atheist. If it strikes you as odd and/or downright appalling that people who rant and rave about Muslims day and night know so little about them, you may be a Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel Atheist.

Similarly with images from Christianty: if you can't get enough of pictures of Jesus or the Pope having sex, this would indicate the likelihood of your being a New Atheist, and if you defend the right of people to make and show such images while finding them excruciatingly tedious, you may be a Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel atheist.

If you like Christian and Islamic art -- Gothic cathedrals, illuminated manuscripts of the Bible or the Koran, Byzantine Mosaics --

-- etc, that sounds much more like a Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel Atheist than a New Atheist. Knowledge of ancient languages, and/or of quite a few modern ones, appreciation of art -- that sounds like one of us. "Modern art is a fraud!" sounds much more like a New Atheist. Extensive learning in any of the so-called humanities is more indicative of a Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel Atheist than a New Atheist. Many New Atheists are scientists for a living. But learning about science or even being an advanced scientist will not turn you into a New Atheist, if you don't have an unwarranted contempt for the humanities.

Oversimplifications on historical, literary and artistic subjects sound more like New Atheists. One of their favorite ones is to say that the Bible is fiction. The Bible is over 60 different books, written over perhaps as long as 1000 years, by maybe more than 60 different authors. But New Atheists are less likely than Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel Atheists to grasp that some parts of the Bible are much more factual than others, and much, much less likely to be comfortable with such plain facts as that we cannot yet completely separate the factual parts from the legendary ones, the plain fact that we don't know how much of the Bible is accurate history. Ambiguity, uncertainty, grey areas: New Atheists often seem extremely uncomfortable with these.

If there is currently more than one vehicle up on blocks in your front yard -- oh, I'm sorry, never mind, that's Jeff Foxworthy. That's a completely different thing. Nevermind.

New Atheists are many times more likely to be Comic book fans than are Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel Atheists.

If the thought of burning Korans pleases you, there's absolutely no way that you're a Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel Atheist. New Atheists (again, just like snake-handlers) sometimes burn Korans, or cover them with garbage and excrement and proudly photograph their work, etc. New Atheists as prominent and as Islam-obsessed as Richard Dawkins have admitted that they've never read the Koran and never intend to. Others lie and say they have read it. (Dawkins, I'm almost 100% sure, has never burned a Koran. But I've also never heard him speak out against Koran-burning.)

Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel Atheists think that theology is pretty stupid, but we think that book-burning is appalling too. We have realized that just because someone is an atheist, just because he or she rejects all theology, is no guarantee that he or she is not a gibbering idiot. Conversely, we have seen how people can embrace the theology of one -- or more! -- religions, and still, somehow, be very bright and knowledgeable most of the time. For us, a person's religous belief is NOT the most important factor in whether or not we find that person intelligent, or interesting or nice or otherwise good to be around, it is not the most important factor in whether or not we fall in love with them or have children with them or go into business with them.

A Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel Atheist is in some cases a person who, when he or she first learned of the existence of atheist groups, was overjoyed and assumed that he or she would fit right in, and has been immensely disappointed. He or she may have assumed that atheist equaled more intelligent, or more tolerant, or more cultured, and found out that in many cases it means none of the above. Presumably, some of you currently think you are New Atheists -- or think that Dawkins and Harris are awesome. Same thing, whether you apply the New Atheist label to yourself or not. Or the movement atheist label. Same thing -- and will gradually figure out that you actually are Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel atheists.

New Atheists are much more likely to sound like Crusaders. Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel Atheists are much more likely to have read Runciman.


  1. Hallo Steven, ich habe soeben entdeckt, daß ich aller Wahrscheinlichkeit nach, Ihrer Definition folgend, ein Steven Bollinger Can Haz Nobel Atheist (SBCHNA) bin. Auf mich treffen nahezu alle genannten Punkte zu, außer dieser: (SBCHNA)..."think that theology is pretty stupid".Es ist mir allerdings auch nicht ganz klar, was mit 'theology' gemeint ist; ist es Religion im allgemeinen oder deren Auslegung. Im zweiten Fall könnte ich mich in großen Teilen anschließen, im ersten Falle nicht. Meiner Ansicht nach erfüllt Religion, egal welcher Art, eine wichtige Aufgabe für die Psyche vieler Menschen und den Umgang der Menschen untereinander. Nicht ohne Grund hat es Religion in der Menschheitsgeschichte schon immer gegeben. Religion bietet Halt und Hoffnung und diente schon immer als moralisch-ethische (und nicht zu vergessen praktische!) Grundlage für das Zusammenleben einer Gemeinschaft, die durch ritualisierte Handlungen am besten zu vermitteln war.
    Darf ich mich SBCHNA nennen, wenn ich denke, daß "Gott" einerseits das "Gute" im Menschen ist und andererseits das physikalisch-chemische Prinzip, daß keine "Materie" verloren geht, höchstens umgewandelt wird? - oder vielleicht auch was ganz anderes!, wer bin ich, das zu entscheiden?!

    1. Mir nach darf sich jeder nennen ganz wie er oder sie will. Aber ich darf meinen, dass man nicht mehr ueberhaupt irgeneines "Gott" zu nenenn braucht. Mir nach ist Gott der Mann der in Himmel lebt und alles geschaffen hat, an den gescheite Leute nicht mehr glauben, also wieso Verwirrung saeen indem man etwas anderes Gott nennt? Verwirrung gibt es schon mehr als genug.

      "Es ist mir allerdings auch nicht ganz klar, was mit 'theology' gemeint ist; ist es Religion im allgemeinen oder deren Auslegung."

      Letzeres meine ich. Leute, die einer Religion angehoeren will ihre Familie and Freunde ihr angehoeren und weil sie gern zusammen sind mit diesen anderen Leuten, und es halb so ernst nehmen mit dem Kram in den sogenannten heiligen Buchern -- mit solchen Leuten habe ich nicht momentan ein besonders grosses Problem. Leute, die es allen Ernstes, und/oder des Berufs wegen, sagen, dass diese Buecher Quellen der reinsten Weisheit sind, und dass es Gott gibt und dass Er dies und das will -- mit solchen Leuten habe ich Probleme.