Annoying Atheists June 3, 2008

Annoying Atheists

(That’s an adjective, not a verb.)

Katie Kish (an atheist herself) offers a list of reasons atheists annoy her.

My favorite on the list:

5. Intelligence – Yes, we knoooow you’re a scientist. We knooooow you’ve read a million books and written 4. We knoooooow that you know Richard Dawkins. We knooooow that you know the REAL definition of evolution. We KNOW that you know everything about religions. And we KNNNOOOOWW that you know God isn’t real. So shut up, and talk to me about philosophy like… morals, animal rights, the environment or politics or something else when we’re at a bar. Or when we’ve known each other for more than 3 years. Talk to me about something else besides how smart you are and how you absolutely know everything there is to know about everything that is worth knowing about.

I think some things on the list are unavoidable. There will always be several non-religious organizations (though we will hopefully do a better job in the future of working with each another). There will also be many conferences — which I think is a good thing. It gives the groups a chance to reach different parts of the country each year, allowing more people to attend over time. (Though I still hope a Unity Conference will happen in the next few years.)

Some things we can fix. Like having a gathering of atheists that doesn’t involve lectures or liquor. Let’s get more volunteer work happening. Or more trips to blood banks.

What do you dislike about the organized atheist “movement”?

What needs to stay the same?

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Larry Huffman

    What a stupid way to put this. It shows that she really does not understand what being an atheist is about or who her target audience is.

    So, Katie…I assure you that if you and I sat at a bar, you would not know I was an athiest until YOU brought up one of those subjects. Further, I would only converse about them if you wanted the subject as the topic. I would not discuss ME, I would discuss the philosophy behind ahtiesm, the ethical and moral decisions that hinge on the topic, etc. If you wanted to talk about animal rights or other such topics, I would gladly follow the conversation. And this is not about me…my other atheist friends are the same. We do not get together and discuss our atheism. In fact, one of the nice things about being with ahteist friends is I know that one is NOT going to try to take us down that kind of discussion. No, the religious person who knows they are with atheists are the ones who will get that conversation rolling.

    Furthermore, most of my atheist friends are the same. We go about our lives being atheist in private, and only certain times do we expose ourselves as atheists. Seldom do we ever have to talk about ourselves, I know I sure don’t, unless in this case where I am definding myself, grouped into the group ‘atheists’ that you so quaintly feel can be steroetyped as you have. But, what I know about science has nothing to do with my atheism. I simply do not have a belief in god. That can come from science, or a hunch…does not matter. So ME is not a topic when it comes to atheism.

    Anyone who has spent any time around atheists knows that Katie’s list…in particular the point mentioned above…is hogwash. Atheists are not able to be steroetyped, and that is apparent once you get to know any number of us. We are democrat, republican, libertarian…we are kind or cruel…we are optimisitic or pessimistic…we are on all sides of just about any issue. I know athiests who are anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti (or pro)-just about anything. I know atheists you would think are fundies. Atheists only have one thing at all in common…that we lack a belief in god. That hardly qualifies me and other atheists as blood-brothers sidling up to the bar to drone on about our scientific views for Katie. Lacking a belief in god is hardly something that promotes any kind of steroetyping…not like sharing a positive belief does.

    If Katie had any sense of what atheism really is, she would realize that most atheists are not so because of scientific knowledge or views of atheistic philosophy. No, most are so because of some other overlying view…or they have moved away from religion, not because of science, but because of dissatisfaction with their own religion. Most Buddhists…certainly Tibetan buddhists, are technically atheists. i doubt if they are in the bar boring Katie with evolution or the 2nd law.

    Those of us who have left religion, may be found to launch out agains the religion they left. I can, in the right circumstances (which I do not deem to be social hour at the bar, I might add) dive into a conversation about religion, and my detestment of it, using first-hand experience. But…let’s be fair…this is not just atheists, it is people. Just listen to someone who has left…let’s say mormonism for a different faith. They will prattle on and on against mormonism…and how much they know about it…and how they know it is bad. You see, it is more about what the person left behind then what they left for. Atheist or not, someone who leaves a religion can often be vocal about it, even if they leave it for another religion.

    I have a feeling that when Katie writes about atheists, she is thinking about the times she actually is meeting them as atheists in specific circumstances. For example…if you come into a forum such as this…for atheists, discussing specifically atheist topics, then yes, we will discuss what she described. But to use that logic, one merely needs to look at all of the other topics discussed in forums on the internet to realize that, in some way or another, you can apply her viewpoint to just about any other group.

    I would love to hang out with Katie and see just where she is going to hear all of these annoying atheists ramble on and on about their scientific views and about themselves. I have a feeling that place is much more likely in her mind than at her corner bar.

  • Siamang

    Hmmm… pretty much everything on the list is why I don’t hang out with the people from the CFI.

    Funny how she seems to think that these atheist groups seem to represent a good picture of what atheists are… enough so to stereotype all atheists.

    Sweetycakes, that ain’t what we are. There are far, FAR more atheists in the world who wouldn’t be caught dead at the Center for Inquiry.

    If you want to talk to me, I won’t be at the bar, I’ll be raising my child or pursuing my career in the arts. If I talk to you at all, it’s most likely to be about picking the right school for your child and dealing with the challenges of raising an engaged, motivated child within a pathetically undervalued and underfunded public school system. Or it’s likely to be about a love of theater and the arts, and the tools they can bring to bear within the realm of childhood education. Or it might be about a hobby, like travel or theme-park design.

    If your problem with atheist meetings and talking with members of atheist groups is that they discuss their atheism too much, I think there might be a clue there somewhere.

  • In the real world (read: not online), I hardly ever talk about atheism. I talk about knitting and writing and politics and movies and the weather and my favorite books and travel and cats and losing weight (I only talk about it), etc., etc. I don’t think I’ve ever met an atheist who spent all their time talking about being an atheist.

    Of course, at conferences that are about atheism and on websites about atheism I would expect to hear more discussion, um, on the topic of the conference or website.

    I never go to bars either, although I am going to the next local Drinking Skeptically. But it’s at a pizza restaurant.

  • I wonder, did you guys read the whole thing? You can’t really get a good picture from Hemant’s selection.

    Anyways, it’s rather common for people to use “atheists” to refer exclusively to the “mainstream” atheists, or activist atheists, or materialistic atheists, etc. I think here, it’s not so much a matter of Katie stereotyping all atheists as it is that she is simply using the definition of “atheist” flexibly. I’m sure if you asked her, she’d say, “Of course, not every atheist is like that! I’m just thinking of the kind that I socialize with.” No need to write long rants.

    I’m curious, what exactly is wrong with CFI, Siamang? I never hear any news from them, so I have no idea what they’re like.

  • Weird, when attempting to view the site with Firefox 3, it’s blocked and I’m told:

    This web site at has been reported as an attack site and has been blocked based on your security preferences.

    Google also complains when I throw “” at it that “This site may harm your computer.” What’s up with that?

    I can view the site with the Epiphany web browser, though.

  • D

    But the only reason I gather is for liquor. 🙁

  • Wes

    I like to talk about science—because it really, really interests me. If she thinks my talking about science a lot is me trying to “show off how smart I am” or whatever, then she can just go talk to somebody else. But I have no intention of stopping talking about one of my primary interests. Why should I repress my interests because some hypersensitive people don’t like me to talk about them? No one is forcing anyone to listen to me. You can always go talk to someone else. I won’t be offended. Go. Seriously. That’s all you gotta do.

    I’m also a philosophy major, and can talk philosophy quite a bit too. I don’t see how that’s any less know-it-all than talking about science. Of course, my primary interest in that field is philosophy of science, so the conversation would wind back around to science eventually anyways. 🙂

    All of her complaints seem to revolve around two things: Organizations/meetings she doesn’t like, and personality-types she doesn’t like. It has little to do with atheism and a lot to do with what kind of people she can or can’t get along with. People who come across as “know-it-alls” because their favorite topics are high-falutin’ academic topics, or conferences which involve endless, repetitive lectures that go nowhere and merely preach to the converted, or people who tend to be pessimistic, are certainly not atheism-specific at all. Those are human traits which could be found just about anywhere.

    All in all, I think her anger is misplaced.

  • Wes said:

    All of her complaints seem to revolve around two things: Organizations/meetings she doesn’t like, and personality-types she doesn’t like. It has little to do with atheism and a lot to do with what kind of people she can or can’t get along with. People who come across as “know-it-alls” because their favorite topics are high-falutin’ academic topics, or conferences which involve endless, repetitive lectures that go nowhere and merely preach to the converted, or people who tend to be pessimistic, are certainly not atheism-specific at all. Those are human traits which could be found just about anywhere.

    All in all, I think her anger is misplaced.

    Wes, I think that you hit the nail on the head. I have had a good time at atheist meetups and I have had horrible times. The good times are when we can stop droning on about atheist issues and start chatting about philosophy, or the latest cool science show, or Penn & Teller, or the latest Internet fad, etc. But those are my tastes. I don’t think that the people who like to “stick to the subject” should stop talking the way that they want to.

    To answer Hemant’s question, I don’t think that I dislike anything about “organized atheism,” but we should have more organizations with a different focus, like service or charity. We should absolutely keep the ones that we have, too, especially the ones that focus on rights and education (here I’m being inclusive of AA, AU and NCSE).

  • I dunno, maybe it’s just me…but, I tend NOT to hang around people that annoy me or go to events that irritate me….INSTEAD of complaining about them.

    I figure it is this way…

    If a hundred atheists dislike the meetups…there are probably atleast 200 who do. Richard Dawkins was right when he said that “organizing atheists was like herding cats”. We are all freethinkers, so we are by nature opinionated and independent. Liking the stereotypical atheist things is neither right nor wrong…it’s simply a matter of preference.

    …and after skimming the entry and her blog…she sounds pretty young and inexperienced. But, I may be wrong…there are older and naive atheists out there too…I’m sure.

  • Dammit, what’s wrong with being intelligent?

    What’s wrong with celebrating it?

    As far as I’m concerned, celebrating intelligence includes discussion of morals, animal rights, the environment or politics, but it sure as hell shouldn’t exclude talking about good books you’ve read, or even better, written, what you’re doing in your work.

    We should not decry intelligence. The media rabbit on endlessly about the opinions of vapid morons (Sherri Shepherd, anyone?), what latest faithy-fad this filmstar follows or what that sports star thinks about world hunger. Well I want to hear more from people who have a clue. From people who aren’t ignorantly spouting the first thing that comes into their head, but can support their position — with more than just gut feeling.

    If an athlete wants to discuss their latest success, are they berated?
    No! They’re feted!

    Let it be so with the intellect!

  • I liked the list. I’m not an atheist (not yet anyway) so some of it, like the convention stuff, I didn’t get but other stuff, like the Seriousness (*cough* the comments here*cough*), oh boy do I ever. Yes, not all, not even most atheists are like that but the ones who are, really, really are. She generalized but I’m quite sure most people who read that would understand it was a generalization in service of a rant.

    From an outsiders perspective it was neat to see someone who shared their frustrations with fellow atheists. Mostly because I have a lot of frustrations with fellow Christians and it’s simply good to see other of different stripes have the same feelings. I could have a tea with Katie and we could have a bitch session about our respective clans.

    Just wondering…Wasn’t there something similar here not too long ago by a Christian about Christians? If so, it would be interesting to read that and the comments along with this one. If not, I should write one.

  • stephanie

    Huh. For the record, I read her page on FF with no problems.
    I also thoroughly enjoyed the tongue in cheek style of it. But I think there is a point being lost here. Most groups are labeled by the vocal and therefore noticeable members of their movements. And ours fit exactly the stereotype she’s poking fun at. Yes, there are tons of us who don’t fit the description. But we don’t really make atheism our mission and, as noted in the comments, many of us rarely talk about it at all. Why should we be surprised then when we are not included in the general consensus of what makes an atheist? I’m sure for every Dawkins or Condran there’s a cookie-baking grandmother or a die-hard football fan. But most people aren’t aware of that because grandma doesn’t tend to put giant red As on her gingersnaps. Maybe it’s time she started.

  • TXatheist

    I disagree with her on #3 about Dawkins but isn’t it a little bit ironic concerning #7 and her complaining?

  • I wasn’t going to bother doing this because there are more important things in my life right now to worry about than what people are saying about something I wrote – however… here goes…

    I think the one quote that hemant put on was out of context, and probably going to make a lot of people pissy with me. but im an academic… i love science. but i know how much say… one of our biology blogger friends… knows about science. So when there is a speaker at CFI saying something that COULD be MODERATELY anti-science – I don’t think it’s necessary for him to stand up in the middle of the lecture and start interupting the speaker about how important science is and how dumb the speaker must be for not agreeing with him… That sort of behaviour is unnecessary. This was the specific case I was thinking of in my head when I wrote it. (NOTE: what the speaker was saying wasn’t even anti-science. it just placed atheists into a seat where they were no long being victimized. and THAT pissed people off.)

    to the first guy – I have left religion… I was sucked in and consumed by it for MANY years in my life. It destroyed a lot of me. And when I left religion I lost all my friends. Now I spend every waking moment of my life devoted to the secularist movement. And yea – sometimes I get a little sick of it… so I need to rant a little.

    to this Siamang person who thinks i shoudl just “stop” hanging out with these people or “take the clue” … I can’t. It’s what I’m involved in. I’m pres of my student group, VP of the freethought association of canada, on the multi media board for various other groups….. so it’s my life. and there are a LOT of people who show up to these things that are stereotypical militant atheists that i just can’t be around ALL the time – because that’s not how I am in terms of what I believe. also if you could refrain from calling me sweetycakes….. that would be a lot less gross.

    I don’t really have a choice in who I get to “hang out with” at these different meet ups – conferences – meetings – lectures – etc. because of the positions that I’m in I need to be inclusive to everyone.
    thanks to everyone else for the support – im glad that some people caught hold of the points i was trying to make. a lot of people are telling me to just “stop” hanging out with atheists then.

    I liked the list. I’m not an atheist (not yet anyway) so some of it, like the convention stuff, I didn’t get but other stuff, like the Seriousness (*cough* the comments here*cough*),

    Thank you! I was blowing off a little steam and this is how people take it. and seriously – it’s not like I haven’t written about all the positive things atheism has done for me in the past and all the great things I think about it.

    the fact of the matter is that im really into the movement, and i like being a part of it. i am EXTREMELY commited to promoting secularism and am invovled with a various number of secular organizations. so i can’t up and walk out of it. some people in the groups bug me. and yeah – i focused on those people more. i do have FANTASTIC atheist friends from these orgs. some of my best friends even. I’m sorry if I can’t always hold back and talk about the pretty things.

    In terms of the organized atheist movement – I think we’re seeing a huge shift in how it’s done in Canada. There are a lot of different organizations that aren’t competeing over the same goals – but rather doing different tasks. We have the FAC that is focusing on being a charity, and doing charity like things. CFI that is promoting secularism and giving resources to student groups. CSA which focuses on political stances and making moves on that. Then a lot of meet up groups that focus on conversation. I think making groups like that is really productive as it breaks up the work load, and keeps groups from conflicting with one another – yet allows them to work together.

    Our student group is going to be doing more volunteer work this fall – its going to be our big focus, and i think its an important one.

  • Larry Huffman

    Katie…the point is…you cannot stereotype atheists. The commonality in that term is not strong enough.

    The only thing that I can be sure of having in common with another atheist is that we each lack a belief in diety.

    A Tiebetan Buddhist is an atheist by definition…but they are not doing the things you listed.

    Most atheists do not discuss science or Dawkins. Most atheists are atheists because god does not make sense, not because they have studied the scientific principles behind it.

    So…no matter how you try to defend any one item you put on your list…the truth is, atheists simply cannot be stereotyped as you have tried to. All it does is make those of us reading think that you either A) do not know what you are talking about (I do not think this), B) You are not really an atheist and you wanted to gripe about atheists to atheists and thought this a good way (also not what I think) or C) You have specific atheists in mind while blasting all atheists. I am quite sure C is the case.

    Some advice…before deciding to write a list that will most certainly stereotype a complete group…understand the makeup of that group. The vast majority of atheists do not frequent forums…they do not discuss science nor has the study of it made them leave god. Most atheists simply left god because of doctine or never had him to begin with (or they have a different spiritual belief that is not based on diety).

    The kind of atheist you are describing…I will call them the acadamia-coffee-house set, and even that is not fair to those who do not behave as you depict…will certainly do what you have described. But most atheists are already in the bar having fun and discussing the game or work…not boring you with how intelligent they are…and you do not even know because they are not announcing their lack of belief.

    Now…want to hear what I think about someone who feels smug enough to write a list of 10 things they hate about anyone? Let’s just say, I am sure I would rather hang with your annoying intellectual atheists.

  • it wasnt 10 things i hated. it was 10 things that annoyed me at a moment when i was ranting and pissed off.

    and you’re wrong. the answer is b.

  • I can’t help but notice that the comments on Katie’s blog are systematically much more positive than the ones here. I get the impression that people commenting here either didn’t read the whole thing, or perceived that the tone was deeply angry. If you didn’t notice, she also included a list of things she loved, among which was intelligence.

  • stephanie: “Huh. For the record, I read her page on FF with no problems.”

    Version 2 or 3?

  • stephanie


    Version 2.
    I’m technologically lazy. 😉

  • Miller – I was thinking the same thing.

    Katie – maybe there’s one more thing at play. You’re a Canadian and as Canucks we tend to be pretty comfortable with poking fun at ourselves and being critical of our own circles. These Americans though, they’re not used to our ways and so perhaps we have to be gentle with them. 🙂

  • Freelancer

    Just a few points.

    – For Kate, as a leader who lives and breathes this, it must be grating from time to time. She didn’t preface that she was venting, but she did mention midway through the list that the context of her post should be considered a light-hearted rant, just blowing off some steam. I live in the Midwest, North of the Bible Belt, and as a student who is and has been economically bound to this area for most of my life, I find an apt metaphor in cataloging the attributes and the annoyances of the places you live. When you live in a certain place, you appreciate certain things about it, but you can’t help but take stock of the vexing, inevitably frustrating aspects of your own local geography.

    -To emphasize the point that I am not a sock-puppet of Kate’s, nor have I ever read anything she has written before: with respect to the content of her post, I find argument with several items on her list. I may disagree with Dawkins once in a while, I find that his background can be a detriment when advocating science, particularly theists when discussing the subject of evolution. However, that is a Public Relations issue of how best to broach the subject of atheism into a theistic Popular Culture. I have NEVER found him annoying, and I’ve never found fault with any of his scientifically based conclusions. Hitchens, I find, I agree with many of his main theses and his prose is sublime, however, his advocacy that the Western World rip the Middle East from the medieval customs of Islam by gunpoint, well, I have a few negative opinions about that. My point is that even the Four Horsemen don’t think in unison, but when they express their thoughts, all atheists tend to, if not agree, then understand. I don’t presume to speak for Hemant, but I think even the Friendly Atheist knows there is a point when intolerance becomes dogma, but too much tolerance dilutes the strength of ideas.

    -Finally, some of you above have ripped Kate a new one, in what sounds to me as a “No True Scotsman” fallacy, which is so often applied to our theist counterparts. Most of us, I would hope, have the humility and open-mindedness to not take ourselves too seriously, and to acknowledge that yes, its okay for the godless to bitch about something OTHER than the non-godless. Something in Kate’s post I admired was the outright willingness, the freedom she felt to post her opinions (good and bad) about those who share her worldview. Could we even IMAGINE the repercussions if a Bishop of a Catholic Diocese released an Edict called “10 things that piss me off about the Vatican”, or if Focus on the Family published a list that said “10 things that chafe my ass about Republican Pro-Lifers”.

    This is why I’m glad to be an atheist, what some of you call a “Freethinker”.
    There seems to be no great atheism fatwa on Kate, just some name calling, bruised feelings, and minor nitpicking. There will be no death threats, or boycotts, or a campaign to have her resign from CFI. She spoke her mind, has defended it as tongue-in-cheek, and even as an individual who disagrees with her on several points (though I can almost be certain that most of those points have an anecdote or two to go along with them), I know that she was just venting, and not submitting them as scientific evidence.

    Anyways, I’ve found I’ve written much more about this subject than I had intended to (as always), so I’m going to end here.


  • It’s worth noting that Katie wrote a bit of a response.

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