Barbara Bradley Hagerty Doesn’t Know What She’s Talking About October 20, 2009

Barbara Bradley Hagerty Doesn’t Know What She’s Talking About

As I read through the article (originally a piece for NPR’s Morning Edition) by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, the constant thought runnin through my head was “that’s wrong,” “that’s wrong,” “that’s wrong”…

Let us count the missteps.

A Bitter Rift Divides Atheists

The headline may not have been written by Hagerty, but it’s wrong for reasons I’ll get into in a moment.

Last month, atheists marked Blasphemy Day at gatherings around the world, and celebrated the freedom to denigrate and insult religion.

… the controversy over this exhibit goes way beyond Blasphemy Day. It’s about the future of the atheist movement — and whether to adopt the “new atheist” approach — a more aggressive, often belittling posture toward religious believers.

Some call it a schism.

The first sentence makes it sound like an atheist holiday. It’s not. I have no doubt that most atheists — the overwhelmingly vast majority of atheists — don’t even know what Blasphemy Day is.

It’s an online phenomenon that a number of atheists participated in. Some went for the all-out insults against religion. Some kept it more subdued.

But most of my atheist friends did nothing to “celebrate” the day.

None of the atheist organizations I’m involved with or give money to gave it that much thought, other than in passing. It just wasn’t a priority.

It’s certainly not a schism.

Hagerty would’ve been more accurate if she wrote, “a few people at one organization, the Center for Inquiry, are arguing about what approach to take regarding blasphemy.”

I guess it’s just easier to throw out a careless blanket statement.

[Stuart] Jordan is a volunteer at the [Center for Inquiry] and therefore could speak his mind. But interviews for this story with others associated with the Washington, D.C., office were canceled — a curious development for a group that promotes free speech.

DJ Grothe points out that no one was told not to speak with Hagerty (emphasis mine).

Since a CFI volunteer who was quoted in the article could “speak his mind,” there was an implication that a paid staffer couldn’t. Haggerty stated that it was a “curious development” for a group that promotes free speech to forbid staff from speaking freely. Let me state it clearly: No one at CFI was told to refrain from having interviews with NPR. It is true that some of the Center for Inquiry staff in Washington DC, after hearing that the story might be cover[ing] internal disagreements at CFI (recent transitions in leadership), chose completely on their own not to speak to the media.

You can read the rest of DJ’s piece here.

Back to Hagerty:

“What we wanted were thoughtful, incisive and concise critiques of religion,” [CFI head Ronald Lindsay] says. “We were not trying to insult believers.”

But others are perfectly happy to. New atheists like Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins and journalist Christopher Hitchens are selling millions of books and drawing people by the thousands to their call for an uncompromising atheism.

This isn’t a battle between thoughtful criticism and offensive insults. Yes, some of the famous atheists use sharp rhetoric, but it’s grounded in reason. They’re not just taking cheap shots. While it may appear like that to some, Hitchens can back up his point when he goes after religious beliefs for being dangerous and ridiculous.

The more outrageous the message the better, says PZ Myers, who writes an influential blog that calls, among other things, for the end of religion. On Blasphemy Day, Myers drove a rusty nail through a consecrated Communion wafer and posted a photo on his Web site.

That’s just factually wrong. The Great Desecration occurred in July of last year.

PZ has his own thoughts on the article here.

It’s an overall irresponsible piece by Hagerty. I expect better from NPR.

(Thanks to everyone for the link)

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  • Reginald Selkirk

    Recently, NPR let Bradley Hagerty off the leash to report on the “science” of spirituality, and she dug up some cranks to say silly things. Can Positive Thoughts Help Heal Another Person? There are some simple rules of thumb on such topics: any piece that takes the Institute of Noetic Sciences seriously is bound to be a joke. NPR has some real science journalists. They should not have let Bradley Hagerty run wild like that.

    Bradley Hagerty also did an awful job in 2005 when she reported on the Sternberg/Meyer affair, involving a journal editor who violated standard procedure to sneak a Creationist paper into a science journal. Oddly enough, if Intelligent Design were really about science and not religion, why would a religion reporter be handling such a story?

    The current issue is another matter, since religion reporting is supposedly her field of expertise.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    Yeah, that was a crappy article. Is it really big news that atheists have a variety of attitudes about religion and how confrontational one should be? Is there a rift? I don’t think so. I don’t agree with all of my fellow atheists on this issue, but I feel like, overall, we all get along. I don’t even like Christopher Hitchens and his whole style of addressing these issues, but I don’t feel like he needs to be confronted or that we should campaign for him to shut up; quite the contrary, I say the more people publicizing atheism, the merrier. At least it gets people talking about it.

    Seriously, if there was a little bit of internal dissent at CFI, I hardly see how this merits a national news story. Internal dissent is not unusual in advocacy organizations and certainly not unexpected in a field that values freedom of speech and intellect.

  • Jim Thompson

    Sounded like she wanted to be like a reality TV show with everyone arguing all the time over trivia.

  • I think part of the confusion stems from the belief that people only criticize enemies, never friends. The prevailing attitude in the atheist community is that no one should be afraid to speak their minds, no one should be afraid to bluntly disagree with even their friends. What Hagerty took to be a schism is in fact one of our greatest strengths: internal criticism.

  • Siamang

    If BBH had wanted to do a story about the internal power struggle in a tiny, TINY non-profit group, I cannot imagine that would garner any kind of national press.

    However, if she paints the CFI as representing all atheists of one stripe or the other (and of course, there ARE only two, right?) then she can make a wide, sweeping article about the “schism” within all of atheism.

    (Oh, aren’t we CUTE! We used a religious word about a doctrinal split to refer to atheists! They’re just like those religious wackos! Kill the infidel!)

    That’s just factually wrong. The Great Desecration occurred in July of last year.

    Well, of course it’s wrong. If she had gotten that fact correct, then Crackergate wouldn’t make any sense to go in her article. Her entire story hinges on the idea that the CFI is the atheist Vatican, the One True and Authoritative Voice of the atheist movement.

    If she stepped back, she could have written a story about the broader debate within atheism as far as how confrontational a tone we want. Heck, the TITLE of your blog, Hemant, is a nod to that discussion.

  • Christophe Thill

    It can’t be a “schism” unless you have a dogma, with people fighting around it. What’s the dogma of atheism? That there are no gods? But even this can be disputed. At one end you’ll find people who think that it’s impossible to know for sure, but that it’s the most likely possibility. At the other end of the spectrum, some people are absolutely sure. And there are many varieties in between. But they don’t fight. The can disagree and argue, but none will call others traitors to a true essence of atheism. This is something that can only happen with religion. Atheism isn’t one.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    What’s the dogma of atheism? That there are no gods?
    Maybe it’s a schism between those who don’t believe in God and those who don’t believe in Allah.

  • H

    That’s just factually wrong.

    For that reason, the believers, their target audience, will eat it right up. Just like everything else they’ve been told all their lives is not factual.

    You don’t need fact when you’ve got faith.

  • David D.G.

    Hemant, an article that consistently biased does not get that way just because of sloppiness. This is not simply a case of Hagerty “not knowing what she’s talking about.” The rhetoric and spin are clearly of the same mendacious sort used by the makers of Expelled! — in other words, this article was a hatchet job against atheists, pure and simple.

    NPR has been going down the tubes for some time lately, but this blatant piece of “yellow journalism” is one of the strongest cases it’s had yet. Hagerty has no business working for NPR, at least not in the capacity of journalist; at best, she might be fit to empty the wastebaskets, since it seems that all she wants to do is gather and pile up trash.

    ~David D.G.

  • Glen

    You expected more of NPR?
    That is the most disappointing revelation in this post.

  • Richard Wade

    We should coin a new term, “The New Journalists.”

    These are journalists who, like Hagerty, don’t report the news, they report what they want the news to someday be. They write their wishful thinking presented as established fact in the hope that people will assume it is true, and eventually it will become true.

    “Atheists disagree! The ‘new atheist’ movement is doomed!!”

    Yeah, in other news, heat spreads out and cats are hard to herd.

    Maybe she should write, “Corporations flock to donate millions to Barbara Hagerty!!”

  • Simon

    NPR Check blog (turns out he’s an atheist too) also did a good piece on Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s past and recent antics:

  • I think “schisms” are far more evident among the big three religions, as Christians, Jews and Muslims are unable to agree among their fellow believers how to propertly worship their god or behave themselves. (How many different sects of Christianity are there???)

    And I’m a devout atheist but never heard of Blasphemy Day prior to reading your post.

  • bernie

    I expect better from NPR.


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