Ask Richard: Christian Concerned About Her Husband’s “Fundamentalist” Atheism December 30, 2010

Ask Richard: Christian Concerned About Her Husband’s “Fundamentalist” Atheism

Hi Richard,

Thanks for reading. My husband of one year doesn’t believe in God and I do. As we were both moderate people this never caused a problem before. I’m getting a bit alarmed though by his increasing involvement in what I would call “fundamentalist atheism.” I call it that because of the striking resemblance its members and community leaders (like Dawkins for instance) bear to the aggressive, cultish, right-wing elements of the church. Apparently they call themselves “skeptics.”

Don’t get me wrong- I have no problem with atheism. What I do have a problem with is these prejudiced blanket statements he has taken to parroting from his new friends. For example that Christians are homophobic, anti-science and that we all think HIV is God’s punishment for promiscuity. While all of these are grossly offensive, the anti-science one particularly gets my knickers in a twist because I am an academic researcher, and I resent being continually told by my partner that I have the wrong mindset for my profession when he doesn’t even have a science major, never mind a PhD.

I was sure this secular movement, like any other, probably has a quiet moderate majority so I set about looking for it and found this site. How can I direct him to more temperate versions of his new pet interest? I do not want to raise kids with a fundamentalist of any flavor- Christian or Atheist!

Skeptic’s Wife.

Ps. It also annoys me that the time he is spending reading the atheist books, listening to secular podcasts and chatting online to his skeptical friends is time he is supposed to be using to look for a job but that’s another issue! lol.

Dear Skeptic’s Wife,

Welcome. I’m going to do two things. Firstly, I’ll offer you some advice about your relationship with your husband, and secondly I’ll help to clarify some things for you about the wide variety of ideas, attitudes and terms about atheism.

I can completely understand your frustration and annoyance. Nobody should have to abide blanket statements of derision and condemnation just because of their inclusion in a broad category. We sure know about that around here. Atheists are painted as vile creatures en masse every day, and sadly, in their own frustration and annoyance, some of them return the abuse.

You’ve been married for one year, so even if you had a long courtship, you’re probably still learning a great deal about each other. There can be more assumptions between a newlywed couple than accurate understanding, so the two of you should develop a habit of having relaxed talks just to share all sorts of information about yourselves that perhaps you were assuming the other accurately knew. As a marriage counselor I was often surprised at how much spouses did not know about each other. They weren’t keeping secrets, they just never took the time to share things about themselves, and they took it for granted that the other one knew.

Sit down with your husband over a cup of coffee and have a nice chat. Tell him that he doesn’t seem to realize that he’s continually insulting you. You’re going to assume that it’s unintentional, but even so, you want it to stop.

Explain that you want him to use quantifiers when he talks about Christians. “Christians do such and such” is technically neutral about the quantity, but to most people it sounds like ”All Christians do such and such.”

The simple inclusion of “some,” “a few,” even “too many of those I’ve met” or similar terms allows you to not be included in the sub group about which he’s complaining. It sounds like he doesn’t really want to malign you, but this bad habit unfairly lumps you in with people who see these issues very differently from you. Turn it around and calmly ask him how he would feel if you started saying that all atheists do this bad thing, and all atheists do that bad thing.

Tell him that you wanted to understand him better, so you’ve been learning that there is a very wide variety to the views and attitudes that atheists hold. You’re not going to assume that he’s “just like all the rest,” and you want him to show you the same courtesy and fair treatment.

Now to the beliefs that you actually do hold. There’s a difference between respecting someone’s beliefs and treating them respectfully. He probably does not agree with your beliefs, and so he may not respect them in the strictest sense of the word. But he’s still capable of respecting your right to have your beliefs, and he’s still capable of treating you respectfully at all times, and he should. This of course also goes for your treatment of him, regardless of your disagreement with his views.

Introduce your husband to this blog, and show him this post. Your apprehension about the intensity of his involvement is well expressed in your letter. None of what you have said is an attack on him or his character. It is all legitimate concern from a loving and caring partner, and he should be honored that you have gone to this effort. He will see how much you care about your relationship, and how important it is to you to understand him and to find ways for the two of you to get along.

I recommend that both of you read a series of past posts published here about another “mixed couple” as they are sometimes called:
An Atheist and a Christian: A Love Story
An Atheist and a Christian: A Love Story …Update!
Remember Kate and Erik?
Kate and Erik dated for several years and have been married for four months. They still visit this site. We may hear from them in the comments.

Now a few clarifications about atheists and atheism, and please forgive me if any or all of this is already known to you. I always appreciate it when a Christian is sincerely interested in understanding us, so I want to honor that with a worthy response.

Atheists are a very diverse category. They tend to be very individualistic and independent. I hesitate to even use the term “group,” because although they do sometimes form and attend groups, the ongoing joke is that getting atheists to agree on something is like herding cats. It’s not likely you’ll see anything as cohesive as a “cult” comprised of atheists.

Generally, atheism, the lack of belief in gods, comes from skepticism. Skepticism is not the refusal to believe something. It is the willingness to withhold belief in a claim until convincing and reliable evidence is found to support that claim. So the most common reason that atheists will say for why they have no belief in gods is because they have never been shown any convincing and reliable evidence for gods.

The “aggressive, cultish, right-wing” qualities that you’re concerned about with your husband are not specifically attached to the term “skeptic.” I’m a skeptic, and I’m not like that at all. There are a variety of terms: atheists, agnostics, agnostic-atheists, skeptics, freethinkers, humanists, brights, non-believers, seculars, and heathens are just a few. They all have different emphases, and it’s too lengthy to discuss here. In general, qualities like aggressiveness are individual in nature to atheists, rather than a characterization of any particular group.

You’ll find the same variety of personalities in a gathering of atheists as you’ll find in a church, on a bus, or at a theater. Some are easy going, and some are intense. Some have resentments toward religion and some simply brush it off. A few might want to convince religious people to give up their beliefs, but many more just want to be treated with the same common decency and respect as anyone else. Often younger atheists are a bit more contentious in their opinions, and sometimes they become more amiable as they grow older.

“Militant” or “fundamentalist” are unfortunate and usually inaccurate terms often used to describe an atheist who is more outspoken than others, but there is an enormous disparity between what is called a militant atheist and what is called a militant theist. The former will speak at a convention about the negative effects of religion on society, like Richard Dawkins. The latter will shoot a doctor in a clinic, or wear a bomb onto a crowded bus.

There are many myths about atheists spread by religious people, and you can read more about that here. I think Greta Christina does a very good job explaining them.

The atheists who haunt this blog lo-o-o-ve to argue. Today we may even hear one say “Oh no we don’t love to argue, and here are my reasons for saying so.” 🙂 Although I’ve tried to represent us accurately, every single thing I’ve said here about atheism may be refuted by an atheist who sees it differently. Herding cats.

You’re going to meet a whole variety of personalities in the comments. Most I’m sure will be very warm, reassuring, and encouraging . Some will take issue with something you or I have said. Just relax and enjoy the roller coaster.

There’s much more, but I hope this at least gives you a start. I hope that your earnest and sincere caring about understanding your husband’s views helps the two of you to harmonize within your differences. It has been done before by other couples, and I think you have an excellent chance to make it work. Keep talking, keep sharing your thoughts and feelings, and asking about the other’s thoughts and feelings. Always make it safe for the other to be open and honest. Begin and end with “I love you.”

I wish you both a long and happy marriage.


You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

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  • Slider33

    Hey Skeptics Wife,

    I should start by saying I am in one of those “mixed marriages” with a wonderful Christian woman. Only a few years after we married I became an atheist.

    You have a lot of good things going for you. It sounds like you and your husband are outspoken and aren’t afraid of sharing your opinion with each other, no matter how differing or conflicting they may be. This is a good thing.

    For me, open communication was a big obstacle for me when I essentially “dropped the bomb” on my wife of 4 years that I had completely lost my faith. It was a gradual process in which I made her aware of a waning faith, but making the declaration was nonetheless a bombshell.

    I can kind of see where your husband may be coming from, as it is easy to get “fired up” after listening and reading Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. He sounds like he’s passionate about it (as I am) but he needs to tone it down several notches when he’s discussing it with you. It’s easy to get excited when discussing something one is passionate about, he just needs to know his audience (i.e. you) better.

    Richard has given me good advice before (it works) and you made a good choice writing him. I can vouch for the success of a calm, pleasant, mutually respectful discussion about religion/atheism with my spouse, has had a very positive effect for me and my marriage.

    We may not believe the same way, but it is a huge relief to be able to express your thoughts and feelings to your spouse. Richard is right, he needs to exclude you from the broad brush of stereotypes.

    Better communication is definitely the key.

  • Man, I’m still just learning about this myself!

    I mean, I’m atheist and my girlfriend (of about one year, oddly enough) is baptist. We kind of had a shaky start like that; I’d literally just uncovered the atheist blog scene, and my own derision of those religious people who take it to absurd lengths was in its full swell for the first time. So it used to really irritate her, because I would phrase things the way this lady’s husband does. XD It’s a tough lesson to learn in a few ways, but generally no tougher than making oneself pick up any other good habit.

    Another good side-effect is it’s helped her grow more comfortable with discussing her faith, a topic she didn’t like at all when we first met. Compromise FTW.

  • Brice Gilbert

    Is he saying YOU are homophobic? No? He is generalizing others while discussing a topic with his friends because it happens to be quite a large percentage. If getting angry at a group for being a huge aspect of homophobia etc is “fundamentalist” then I wish everyone would be fundamentalist.

  • Oh no we don’t love to argue, and here are my reasons for saying so:

    1. Screw you, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
    2. Did your mother dress you this morning?
    3. I don’t start arguments, but if someone pushes me, I’m not afraid to push back.

  • beckster

    The thing that jumped out at me from this letter is the comment that her husband doesn’t have a science degree, yet alone a PHD. I’ve been married nearly 8 years and my husband and I used to get in heated discussions about history and education, of all things. I was annoyed that he would contradict me in the subjects because I am the one with the degrees. But he is allowed to have an opinion on a subject that he doesn’t have a degree in and he was often correct in correcting me. While it is rude to insinuate that someone isn’t fit to practice their subject, it is also condescending to tell someone their opinion about a topic isn’t valid because they don’t have a particular degree. Maybe he has a valid point in saying he doesn’t understand how she can practice science every day, but not be skeptical about religion. I have found that my spouse’s constructive criticisms about me have helped me become a better person. It is a matter of being willing to listen to what he has to say and consider that he may be right. Sorry to nitpick, but that particular sentence jumped out of me because I used to feel the same way.

  • @Skeptics Wife,
    Your husband is a very lucky man. Hopefully, he appreciates you and the effort you’ve made for your relationship. Few would go to the trouble to search out atheist sites and write in like you did.
    Yes, definitely show him this post.

  • Beck

    Oh no we don’t love to argue!

    Or at least I don’t. I’m afraid I can’t say much about an atheist/theist romantic relationship, but I am one of two atheists in a family of fundamentalists, YEC Christians, and am familiar with the requisite balancing act.

    Like with Christians or any other people group, the loud and “militant” atheist minority receives the press & attention. Don’t get me wrong: I think religion is a load of bollocks and would like nothing more than to see the holy books of today follow those of the Mithrans and Zeus-worshipers. But I don’t find it necessary to be aggressive about my belief unless it is necessary to prevent some immoral or unlawful act; I prefer to have discussions (not debates, though those can be enjoyable) with those who disagree with me. Learning from each other is far more productive than squabbling.

    Religious beliefs or the lack thereof say a lot about a person. But they are not the be-all and end-all of what composes another human being, nor does a label mean that a person will fit into a preconceived box. The letter-writer’s husband sounds like he is doing what I first did when I discovered the concept of skepticism: feeling liberated and happy, he wants to spread this mindset however he can, and in his enthusiasm is being a bit of a pinhead about it. Richard is right – open, honest communication should help him realize how hurtful he is (unintentionally) being and that Skeptic’s Wife, as his partner, are to be treated with the same respect she gives him.

  • Jordan

    I’m interested in how you came to the conclusion that there were ‘fundamentalist atheists’. That requires a complete misunderstanding of either fundamentalism or atheism. A lot of other religious people seem to have come to this conclusion as well and it’s a theme that’s oft repeated.

    I think it would be an enlightening experience for you to read some of these books that your husband has found to be convincing so that you can understand the difference between dogmatic claims from demagogues.. and reasoned arguments from skeptics. In my experience, it only sounds ‘aggressive’ because it isn’t something you want to consider.

  • cass_m

    @Skeptic’s wife,

    Richard always has good advice that is hard to even add to but … I would suggest you dump the idea of a militant atheist and practice thinking in terms of enthusiastic or passionate. All he is doing is talking. How can that truly be militant unless you want him to sit down and shut up and not challenge your beliefs? Passion can still be difficult to handle (ask my husband of 24 years) but calling someone passionate doesn’t shut down a conversation like being accused of being militant, angry etc.

    Currently your common ground is that neither of you are “experts” in religion. Hopefully you will find more.

  • Todd

    Your letter really hit home with me. I too am an atheist who is married to a Christian for less than one year and we too are going through a learning curve similar to yours. I suppose in some sense I would have to categorize myself as a militant atheist in that I also read Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, et al and I participate in atheist groups, read atheist blogs, and write letters to government officials when I see violations of the separation between church and state. My wife is a very moderate Christian of a Southern Baptist family. She doesn’t attend church any more, nor do her parents, but her sisters, and the rest of her family do. I consider her more level headed with regard to religion than most of her family members, but she does still believe in God. We’ve had lots of discussions on the subject of religion and both thoroughly understand each others point of view. I can’t understand her willingness to believe in that which has no evidence, not just God, but ghosts, reincarnation and a host of other things I think are silly. I may never understand why, but I have learned to accept that she does and nothing I say is likely to change her mind. I also understand now, that it’s not my mission to change her mind, only to love her and accept who she is. And I do.

    My advice to you is to discuss this issue with your husband and let him know how you feel. I made some of the same inclusive statements that also offended my wife, without ever really intending to offend her, or even knowing that I had. Communication, love and respect solved the problem.

    I will never respect my wife’s beliefs because they are unwarranted and often silly, in my opinion; however, I do love and respect my wife very much. I don’t have to respect her beliefs, just her rights and dignity as my equall. I don’t make statements like that anymore and am much more careful about how I chose my words. Some Christians are frankly nuts, insisting on prayer at gov’t meetings, public schools and get insulted at the concept of secularism. My wife is not one of those Christians and I am careful to never include her in any group I may be arguing with at the time.
    Let him know how you feel. Ask for the same respect you’ve given him. I’m sure he will see that some of his blanket statements can hurt you and consider your feelings before opening his mouth, as I have.

  • Revyloution

    Well said Richard. Great advice, as always.

    Ill be one to say ‘Oh no, I don’t love to argue. It’s just that there are so many people who are WRONG!’

  • Villa

    The problem with fundamentalism isn’t that it uses strong language. It’s not that it tries to convince people via argument.

    If it were just words, I (and I imagine many other atheists) wouldn’t care.

    Instead, the problem is that it leads people to do horrible things.

    Given this, the letter-writer’s line, I call it that because of the striking resemblance its members and community leaders (like Dawkins for instance) bear to the aggressive, cultish, right-wing elements of the church. Apparently they call themselves “skeptics.” is a massive red flag for me.

    Dawkins isn’t pushing to end Christian marriage. Hitchens isn’t trying to slip atheism into schools.

    Given this, the only way atheists resemble fundamentalists is if substance is being completely ignored, in favor of superficial things like tone. This is not an intellectuality honest position.

  • Stephanie

    I don’t like the term fundamentalist atheist, either.
    How about OBNOXIOUS atheist.
    Seriously, I’m pretty much as skeptical as they come, but there’s a difference between requiring evidence for claims and being rude about it. I coexist quite peacefully with my family and friends, many of whom have various amounts of religious belief from that vague kind of ‘there must be something’ to two preachers and someone studying to be a Russian Orthodox priest. They know I think they’re superstitious and I know they’re secretly praying for my soul to see the light. Fine, whatever, no malice no foul. I still love and respect them and they love and respect me. That is what makes all the difference. After all, religion-or lack thereof- is only one aspect of someone’s life.
    There are very few people to whom life is nothing more than their religion or lack thereof, and those would be the fundamentalists. If this truly described your husband, you would have left him already. I second the advice to read at least some of those books you don’t like, not to change your opinion on religion but to change your opinion on atheists. I personally prefer Sam Harris as an introduction since you say you have your degrees in science. His work appeals the most to me because of my scientific background and his writing style is very conversational.

  • Justin H.

    “For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.” Stephen Hawking 1993

    For what it’s worth, I think you’re on the right track, Skeptic’s Wife. My wife and I have been together for more than ten years; I’m a recent “convert” to atheism and my wife is still a liberal Methodist. We’ve traveled the proverbial road of religion and faith together, all the while openly and honestly discussing our personal beliefs and validating our thoughts with each other. This “journey” has brought us closer and given us a better understanding of each other. I know how important my wife’s faith is to her and she understands that the fundamental indoctrination of my youth (seventh day adventist) needed to be purged from my life for me to become the best man, husband and soon to be father I’m capable of being.

    Make sure you two keep talking.

  • I agree with Villa (and Richard’s response is great as always). Dawkins and others aren’t “militant” or “fundamentalist” in any way (they can change their minds with new evidence, which is the opposite of a “fundamentalist”). They simply criticize religion frontally and directly, when, for centuries, it used to be done with kid gloves, if at all. And, so, the slightest whisper sounds to many people (even some atheists!) like a strident, aggressive shout. But, in reality, all they’re doing is arguing that a position is wrong, and criticizing several acts done in its name.

    Think about it. Anyone can argue a position and you wouldn’t call them “fundamentalist” or “militant”… why should it be different when that position happens to be “there is no god” or “religions are wrong and often harmful”?

  • Alex

    Like herding cats? Whats so hard about that? All you have to do is open a can of cat food! Fortunately, I’m not in a Xian/Atheist relationship but my wife and I don’t agree on a lot of things. One of the problems with beliefs is that beliefs lead to actions or in actions. I try to address my comments to actions but the problems begin with beliefs. My beliefs included!

  • Jim H

    Oh no we don’t love to argue, and here are my reasons for saying so:

    Nicely done, Richard. This instantly reminded me of a Python skit:

    Interviewer: Why do you contradict people?
    Guest: I don’t!

    I am an atheist married to a “Christian Universalist” (she believes that my heathen “soul” will get to her heaven, for example, in spite of the bible’s claim to the contrary).

    We never attend church except for weddings and funerals; that would interfere with our bridge game (Church of the Grand Slam;-)). Neither of us will ever convince the other, but as Richard says, we treat each other with the respect due another person, not least of all one’s spouse. To that end, we have found many areas of agreement. Among these are our disgust, and sometimes fear, of fundamentalism (in any form). She has even said that if the fundamentalists are going to heaven, she doesn’t want to. (I think there are a few old jokes about that.) And I don’t like to argue… ;->

  • Slider33

    I’ll add, that I too was a little put off by the (paraphrasing) “he is not the one with a science degree or PhD…” comment. That is a very condescending thing to say, and disrespectful.

    Just because he doesn’t have degree X or Y doesn’t mean his intelligence, thoughts, or opinions are of less value than person that holds a higher degree. People have more dimension than simply what degree or profession they chose, and often times a degree is in a very specific field of study.

    S.W.’s mention of that makes me a little concerned as to why it was used as an argument.

    Seems like a good example of the logical fallacy argumentum ad hominem.

  • Apollo

    I never argue, I simply correct people :).

  • Skeptic’s Wife,

    I encourage you to let you husband know about your letter so he can see Richard’s response as well as all the comments. It can only help you two gain a better understanding of each other.

    I’m an atheist who has been married to a moderate Christian for over 15 years. We get along because we don’t try to convert each other nor do we make blanket statements that all Christians are like this or all atheists are like that. We just tell our kids that “mom believes this and dad believes that”. We stop short of saying which is the correct way to believe or think. Of course my view-point allows us to sleep in on Sundays. ?

    In our culture the term “Christian” can sometimes mean just “good person”. At other times it means someone who thinks and votes consistent with carrying a sign that says “God hates Fags”. Hopefully your husband can understand that the term “Christian” as a label encompasses a whole lot of people and lots of different variations on belief. Also, you should appreciate that your husband is probably just thinking of a more narrowly defined definition of Christianity when he uses the term.

    Finally, I have a Ph.D. (in a scientific field) and I can say that being religious is not an impediment to scientific research. People are quite capable of compartmentalizing their brains to hold faith-based beliefs about subject X and rationally explore subject Y with the scientific method. We all do this to varying degrees. And although I fancy that I know more about my own narrow subject of study than the average Joe, I don’t claim that distinction about any other field.

    Good luck with everything. The mere fact that you have written to Richard is a very good sign that things will only get better between you and your husband. IMO, the “new atheism” movement is simply a long belated reaction to religion over-stepping into the public sphere. As the movement becomes more successful in strengthening secular institutions, the atheist evangelical component will die down.

  • Jonathan

    Richard said, “It’s not likely you’ll see anything as cohesive as a “cult” comprised of atheists.”

    There’s always the Raelians… the atheistic cult that believes in super intelligent space aliens. Seems to me atheists are able to be as cultish as anyone else. Sometimes it feels like Reason has become our collective mantra and point of pride. Logic is really just a tool to derive valid conclusions from a set of premises. Perhaps her husband is one of those who have the kind of cultish attitude that is skeptical of religious arguments but doesn’t bring that same skepticism to Dawkins et al.

    I think Skeptic’s Wife sounds like a pretty cool lady. She says that her husband tells her that she “has the wrong mindset for her profession.” She’s rightly pissed and asks what the hell he knows about it. That’s a fair point, I think.

  • Nakor

    It seems redundant at this point, but I just wanted to add my voice to those decrying the use of the word fundamentalism. At its heart, fundamentalism is believing something because you’re told to (by a person, book, or what have you) and refusing on any grounds to consider any other position, regardless of evidence. It seems to me to be the exact opposite of scepticism. Openminded scepticism calls for a person to be open to any new idea, but to also require reasonable evidence before taking that new idea as fact. (It’s also worth noting that a lot of people have used the term “fundamental atheist” as a straight up insult, and the rancor from that tends to bother people. On the other hand, “militant atheist” is a term that I’ve heard at least a few people take for themselves.)

    All that said, it does sound like your husband has done a bad job of communicating with you and others. Richard’s advice, as usual, seems to be spot on. Sometimes it can feel like a couple is speaking two different languages; heck, I think sometimes they actually are. I wish you the best and hope that you can successfully work through this with your husband.

    And on the off chance you decide to stick around, or your husband does, welcome to the community!

  • Erp

    She has every right to be upset when he says she has “the wrong mindset for her profession”. This is not a argument on the subject matter but on her very right to be in the area. It is her profession and she has convinced her peers that she is a good scientist (the Ph.D. and a position in academic research) and he is saying she is not competent to be in it.

    I’m also a bit concerned about her postscript on the other issue: his lack of a job and perhaps not hunting for one as hard as he should (though the current economic situation is grim). It is probably difficult for him to be dependent on his wife and he might be lashing out at her by impugning her competence in her career. He may also be immersing himself in the skeptical community to escape feeling inadequate (if he were religious he might be immersing himself in a religious community). If so, I don’t know what a solution is.

  • Ash

    Skeptic’s Wife,

    One of the challenges of belonging to a majority population is when a minority group speaks up about perceived wrong. Even the lightest criticism can be interpreted as shrill, unreasonable, or even abusive. As others have noted, even the most assertive atheists can’t compare with extremist theists when it comes to behavioral malfeasance or hateful language. But it can seem that way because having one’s majority position questioned can be psychologically distressing.

    The recent increase in volume from atheists isn’t really about philosophical disagreement, it is (for many of us) an expression of frustration grounded in what we see as bad behavior from a great many theists—behavior which often affects us or people we care about directly (e.g. discrimination against gays, degrading science education, child abuse, violence of all sorts, etc…it’s a long list). That doesn’t make it right to judge every Christian with blanket condemnation, of course. But it can sound like atheists do that because on blogs and whatnot it is more efficient to say “Christians” or the more inclusive “theists” than to constantly acknowledge the relative differences within those groups.

    With this in mind, it is possible that any verbal aggression your husband might be directing at you could be redirected frustration and anger towards Christians in general. If so, I’m willing to bet he isn’t aware he’s doing it or how it’s affecting you personally. Some insight on his part would likely go a long way towards improving the situation. At the same time, it sounds like you aren’t fully aware of why so many atheists are speaking up as they are or why your husband is so passionately in agreement with them. You don’t have to agree with us, but trying to see things from our point of view might give you some healthy perspective. You might try asking him to point you to some material that reflects his own viewpoints, not to convince you of anything, but so you can know him better.

    I wish you luck!

  • Richard, I just wanted to say that you’re doing us proud here. Thanks for always taking the time to come up with such fair and wise responses. You’re helping a lot of people.

    I was a little worried when I saw an advice column was going to be run on Friendly Atheist, but reading your posts has sold me on the idea. Keep up the great work.

  • Alright, I’m not about to argue the semanitcs of “fundamentalism”. OK… yes I am (because, I DO love to argue).

    From Merriam-Webster:
    “a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles”

    It says nothing about going bat-sh*t crazy and killing people.

    People like Dawkins and Harris genuinely believe the world would be a better place without religion and conduct themselves accordingly. Therefore, I feel SW is perfectly right in using the term, though it is not the one I would have chosen.

    What I really want to emphasize, however, is that she apparently has a misunderstanding about the term “Skeptic”, equating it with “fundamentalist-atheist”. That is really too bad, as SW strikes me as someone who would really enjoy the skeptical movement and it’s science-based view of the world (it might even be something she and her husband can further bond over). I suggest she take a listen to the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast. Her husband clearly wants to take a science-based view of the world, so this is something he might also enjoy, as well as a place where they are likely to find common ground. On top of that, the show I mentioned does a excellent job of pointing out logical fallacies, and may make her husband see his errors in thinking when he describes a trait as belonging to “all christians”

  • Carlie

    It sounds like there’s an awful lot wrapped up in that letter. To be blunt, it sounds like she looks down on him in general for not being as educated as she is, not having a job, and not looking as hard for one as she thinks she should. And she’s carrying that attitude over into his atheism and looking down on him for that, too. In order to go anywhere but down in this marriage, she needs to accept that his opinions are valid and that she doesn’t know better than him in all things.

    On the other hand, he might be feeling frustrated at not finding a job, frustrated that she’s treating him like he doesn’t have a brain, and is taking the one thing he does know more about than her and using it to pick on her and try to “take her down” a little.

    In short, they’re both acting like children. As mentioned several times, she needs to re-evaluate what she means by “militant”, and recognize that calling him that is as inflammatory as him saying that she’s not fit for her profession. They both need to back off and try to have an adult conversation about the fact that they both have different opinions and negotiate how to discuss and deal with those areas in their lives. These areas can be worked around, but only with a lot of give and take from both sides, and without name-calling and accusations. Not only am I an atheist married to a fundamentalist, but I’m a progressive liberal married to a Republican, so I know whereof I speak. 🙂

  • Something I seriously wonder about is why people like “Skeptic’s Wife” consider it an affront to be called out about their lack of skepticism of their own beliefs, especially when they have the tools (knowledge and training in the scientific method, etc) to test those beliefs for truth or falseness?

    Does it mean that she, or anyone else in a similar position, are unfit for their job or career in scientific research? No, certainly not. It should though, cause them to question why they aren’t willing to touch that one area of their lives – to seriously question why they cling to it, either irrationally without reason, or somewhat more rationally with unquestioned reasons.

    Seriously – if their beliefs and/or knowledge of their beliefs is the truth, or represents a truth, asking questions about those beliefs, up to and including using the scientific method in an attempt to gain better understanding of them, couldn’t hurt anything, could it?

    Furthermore, this goes double for those who call themselves athiests or skeptics; one should never stop questioning themselves or their beliefs, lest the daemon of irrationality find a home.

  • phred


    my wife wants this as a tee shirt for me

  • Ms. Crazy Pants

    Ps. It also annoys me that the time he is spending reading the atheist books, listening to secular podcasts and chatting online to his skeptical friends is time he is supposed to be using to look for a job but that’s another issue! lol.

    This is what locked in my mind. I don’t care what the cause is, using time that needs to be used in finding a job just doesn’t fly with me. 9-5 needs to be job hunting time!!

    It’s possible that the lack of a job is affecting him and his mood. He might lighten up a bit once he is working again.

  • “Militant” or “fundamentalist” are unfortunate and usually inaccurate terms often used to describe an atheist who is more outspoken than others, but there is an enormous disparity between what is called a militant atheist and what is called a militant theist. The former will speak at a convention about the negative effects of religion on society, like Richard Dawkins. The latter will shoot a doctor in a clinic, or wear a bomb onto a crowded bus.

    Your bias is showing. An example of a fundamental theist, comparable to most militant atheists, is Pat Robertson. Someone who will shoot a doctor in a clinic, or wear a bomb onto a crowded bus, is better described by terms such as terrorist, criminal, and murderer.

  • Kenny

    If Skeptics Wife likes to call people like Dawkins “skeptic” with quote marks, then I really feel sympathy for her husband.

    He probably can’t win.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    It seems redundant at this point, but I just wanted to add my voice to those decrying the use of the word fundamentalism… Openminded scepticism calls for a person to be open to any new idea, but to also require reasonable evidence before taking that new idea as fact.

    @Nakor: I got in trouble for using ‘fundamentalist atheists’ myself a few months ago.

    Since that phrase is likely to cause atheists to plug their ears and say ‘la-la-la-la-la-la’ I suggest a less provocative term which still captures the grain of truth motivating the complaint by those using that term.

    There is such a thing as ideological atheism. I frequently note it on this blog, though there are occasional gems here that rise above it.

    Instead of arguing about it (just pointing it out will invite the ire of some readers) let me just give you just one example of it.

    Suppose sociologists discovered – uniquivocally – that religious people are more generous than secular people.

    That’s the sort of thing a fact-based atheist could admit, but that an ideological atheist would want to try to undermine in some way, any way. It wouldn’t matter that this is what sociologists have discovered; this kind of atheism is not motivated by science, but by identity politics. Defend atheism against all detractors – even the correct ones. Identity politics trumps even science.

    Fortunately not all atheists are identity politicians. One non-ideological atheist is Susan Blackmore, who recently admitted that there is:

    …experimental data showing that religious people can be more generous, cheat less and co-operate more in games such as the prisoner’s dilemma, and that priming with religious concepts and belief in a “supernatural watcher” increase the effects.

    If it is a fact that religious people tend to be more generous than secular ones than that is a fact because that is what the data shows. The fact that it doesn’t portray atheism in a 100% positive light does not matter. The findings are what they are.

    The point is that some atheists – ideological atheists, identity politics atheists – would never admit this. They might even be fuming mad for even hypothesizing that it might be true.

    For this reason it takes a bit of courage for someone like Blackmore to dare think it outloud. And it took a bit of courage for Sam Harris to tell ideological atheists that we should not call ourselves ‘atheists’ any more than we call ourselves ‘a-astrologers.’ Harris’ point was that we should stand up not for atheism in itself, but for good reasoning, from which atheism will follow – if atheism is true. Harris’ point is a good one, but I imagine some of his audience started turning red or murmuring among themselves when he made it.

  • S-Y

    Calling ourselves atheists is as good as calling Christians and Muslims monotheists. Grouping or generalizing based on atheism is no different than doing the same on monotheism or polytheism.

  • Snuggly Buffalo

    It seems like a lot of people in the comments, and even Richard in his response, are conflating “militant” with “fundamentalist.” Skeptic’s Wife never used the term “militant,” but that seems to be the term everyone is focusing on.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist:

    Harris’ point was that we should stand up not for atheism in itself, but for good reasoning, from which atheism will follow – if atheism is true.

    I agree in principle, but there’s still the chance of using good reasoning with bad premises and reaching false conclusions.

  • There’s also the fact that there’s no guarantee that even a combination of good reasoning and good premises will reach the right answer 😛

  • Jacques

    I am the last person that should give relationship advice, so I’m not going to even try. What did strike me about both the letter and Richard’s response, is that atheism and skepticism seems to be equated. Many, possibly a large majority, of the vocal skeptic movement are atheists, and many have argued that one should at least be a non-theist of some sort to be a “good skeptic”, but non-theism is in no way a requirement for skepticism. Skepticism’s favorite group to ridicule seems to be homeopaths. It is applied to a variety of topics, like alternative medicine, UFO sightings, conspiracy theories and general woo-woo ideas as they present themselves. Some in the atheist movement might have latched on to the skeptic approach as applied to religious claims, for better or worse. But there are also many Christian skeptics that fiercely advocate for the movement, and have compartmentalized their religious beliefs by not applying skepticism on this one area they hold sacred.

    Anyone who enjoys science would enjoy discussions on skepticism, regardless of religious beliefs. Just like the whole Christendom/atheist community cannot be judged with blanket statements, one shouldn’t take that one segment of the skeptic community as representative of the wider community. Give skepticism a second try, and this time look at the discussions that are not about religion. Mythbusters, the most popular show on skepticism, never even touch religion. It has something for everyone. And just to agree with SW on one point – non-scientists have no business criticizing scientists 🙂

  • Nakor

    @Non-Litigious Atheist:

    Fair enough I suppose, but I think that’s a bit different from fundamentalism (as it lacks a source of misinformation that serves as the fundamentalist’s axiom). I would suggest a better term for that would be denialism as the person would be rejecting that hypothetical information purely due to desire to disbelieve it, absent anything or anyone instructing them to do so. If they were to hypothetically attempt to prevent the spreading of information that they object to, obscurantism (which is of course one thing we see in fundamentalists a lot) could also be an accurate term.

    Of course, if they were rejecting a thoroughly proven truth purely because some other atheist told them to, and they took that one person’s word over all conflicting evidence, then of course the term fundamentalist could apply… but of course, we would need to question their scepticism (something we would in the former cases too, of course, but I add it here to reiterate that fundamentalism and scepticism are antagonistic to one another).

  • AxeGrrl

    Todd wrote:

    I don’t have to respect her beliefs, just her rights and dignity as my equall.

    So wise…..and so succinct 🙂

    Thanks for articulating that Todd ~ I think that is something that’s often ignored or overlooked in conversations on this subject…and I think it’s the key to everything (and it seems to be a theme in the posts so far)

  • Villa


    I think you nailed it with the term ‘obnoxious’. A loud pushy person is obnoxious regardless of if they’re right or not.

    So, we could argue if Dawkins is too strident or not. Or if Dobson is someone who would be fun at a party. And that’s interesting as far as it goes.

    But, it doesn’t address the really important questions like, “Is this person’s position correct?” and “Would their ideas help society?”

  • Ash


    From Merriam-Webster: “a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles”

    Yes, but atheism has no established set of basic principles to which one can adhere, strictly or otherwise. When people call passionate atheists “fundamentalist” they are trying to equate them to religious fundamentalism, and the two simply are not the same, nor can they be. The application of that word to atheism is merely a rhetorical device used to undermine the more incisive arguments against theism by transforming the application of reason and scientific inquiry to just another form of faith.

    Some atheists might be obstinate in their opinions, but simple obstinacy isn’t what makes someone a religious fundamentalist—that requires a complete submersion into a rigid worldview grounded in relatively unchanging dogma, generally grounded in scripture or “revealed wisdom”. Unless you can submit a similar worldview held by “fundamentalist atheists” (which you can’t, of course), then you must admit that “fundamentalism” is simply not a term that can be meaningfully applied to atheists.

  • It’s high time everyone realized that the word “fundamentalism” has a very specific meaning when it comes to religion. It refers to an approach to religion which is predicated on an obsession with something specific … usually a set of scripture. In other words, there is some tangible “thing” which is the “fundamental” which makes the religion “fundamentalist.”

    In the case of Christian fundamentalists, their “fundamental” is the Bible. In the case of Muslim fundamentalists, their “fundamental” is the Qur’an. And so on.

    But atheists? What, exactly, is their “fundamental” supposed to be? I don’t know of one. Yeah, I guess someone might suppose it’s “On the Origin of Species,” but that hardly describes a specifically “atheist” mindset. It might also be a more recent book like “The God Delusion,” but believers have been whining about “atheist fundamentalists” before it was published.

    What folks are doing is to use the adjective “fundamentalist” as a disparagement of something they dislike. It’s one thing to dislike atheism and atheists; it’s another, however, to use an inaccurate, if not disingenuous, label for them.

    Let’s just stop already with using the wrong word for things just because one feels emotionally entitled to use it. Subjective determinations do not make objective reality. The truth is that there can never be an “atheist fundamentalist,” because there is no such thing as an “atheist” “fundamental.”

  • Demonhype

    Oh, geez, the usual “atheists are so much more selfish than believers and here’s some highly biased data to prove it” crap. That kind of data ignores huge amounts of confounding variables.

    Such as the fact that until recently, religious charities had a social lock on that angle and most unbelievers had greater concerns (ie: worrying about their own asses, as a discriminated-against much-demonized minority). It’s easy to get heavily involved in charity when you’re an overprivileged supermajority that doesn’t have to worry about someone finding out what you believe or disbelieve and fucking up your entire life–or, at some points in history, getting you tortured and/or executed. Also, the fact that the unquestioned assumption that religious people were morally superior kind of made it hard for any non-religious charity–and especially any atheistic charity–to thrive.

    Not to mention the fact that any atheistic giving tends to be rather invisible, whereas religious people make a big public show of it in so many ways. That kind of hearkens to my first point, because if you’re an atheist and you’re charitable, you’re still not likely to advertise it and out yourself to a community that may decide you don’t ever deserve to be employed again, among other things, for your great crime of unbelief. Kind of hard for your group’s charitable efforts to be visible when your group is forced to be invisible.

    On top of that, it was a little difficult for atheists to find a charity that wouldn’t spend half-or-more of every dollar on bibles, religious propaganda, and other proselytizing tools. If I give you money to feed the poor, I’m talking about actually feeding them with actual food and not utilizing their need as a way to coerce faith and pad your numbers. What you’re asking me to do is to fund your religious efforts to expand your congregation, so you can then all go out and vote my civil rights down the toilet. In fact, far too many religious charities and religious people regard charity as a tool to proselytize. When they are told that they cannot proselytize if they use taxpayer money for their charity, they ask “what’s the point then?” Always a facepalm for me. You really can’t see a value in charity outside of a conversion tool? Really?

    All of these things render such data suspect. It’s a little hard to gauge a characteristic of a group that is commonly demonized and forced into a closet, the members of which still face stigma and in some locales dire consequences for being visible. And it’s hard to gauge the charitibleness of a group that, thanks to such demonization, has very little chance of having their own charities anytime in the near future and has only recently begun to have their charitable giving as individuals measured.

    I mean, recently I had an entitled male say to me “women couldn’t possibly have done as much to create such an impressive society, because data shows that women have low IQ’s.” While ignoring the fact that there was no causal connection between IQ and gender–but there is a causal connection between internalized social expectations and IQ. Women in countries where they are not marginalized intellectually from birth do not have low IQs, or where being intelligent is not equated with being “unfeminine” and being “feminine” is the most important thing a girl can achieve. Never mind that IQ usually tests characteristics that are considered “masculine” and are constantly encouraged in males and discouraged in females both implicitly and explicitly. Yes, just ignore the data where males and females take a math test, but in the group where the test is prefaced with a comment that “girls don’t do well with this test, but boys do great” have high male scores and low female scores. Pretend we’re starting with an already-even playing field, pretend all these issues don’t exist and declare “males test higher on IQ tests and therefore women couldn’t have ever built anything like modern society”.

    That’s what comments like that sound like to me. I’m not really interested in the “data” when it ignores the fact that the two groups they are studying are not operating from equal situations–that, in fact, one group has been actively oppressed by the other group.

    Up until now, atheists have mostly been concerned with how to be visible without starving to death or being otherwise attacked/punished/oppressed by the overprivileged defending their obscene privilege. Kind of hard to give money to charity–especially religious charities that use the money to prey on the unfortunate–when we kind of need it for the legal costs of defending our rights. When the religious majority has created a de facto method to deprive me of my right to honestly represent myself as an atheist–well, let’s just say before atheist charity can be visible, atheists first have to be visible. You can’t have the former without the latter, and it’s only recently that the latter has begun to change. I know I said that already, but it bears repeating. Atheistic charity can’t be visible until atheists are allowed to be freely visible, without fear of reprisal.

    Now that atheists/non-religious are becoming more numerous and less afraid to show it, atheistic giving is becoming more visible and there are more options for secular charities, you’re going to see a representative rise in those numbers in time and as the fear of being visibly atheist declines. We’re now at a point where we can take time, effort, and money away from that and start thinking about what we can do for others. And the money will actually be going to actual needs, rather than having much of it funneled into indoctrination materials/efforts.

    Now go on and tell me how I’m an “ideological” atheist, adhering to “fundamentalist” atheist dogma, for simply pointing out why this data is biased for assuming an even playing field to begin with, pretending that oppression from the religious establishment never even happened and somehow has no bearing on atheistic vs. theistic giving. Just like my privilege-denying male “friend” pretends that males and females operate on an even playing field, that internalized gender-based expectations have no bearing on data that shows males to be inherently “smarter” than females, and my refusal to adhere to this is evidence of me being in denial of my statistically-proven female inferiority.

    Interestingly, when that data showing that theists are more prone to support torture than non-theists hit the interwebs, it was the atheists who asked the questions and pointed out how flawed and biased it was–even though it came out in the atheists favor, they pointed out (and rightly so) why it was not representative of religious people, rather than pointing to the holy and irrefutable “data” and claiming moral superiority-by-numbers.

    Data can be very unreliable, biased, or wrong, and such data often ignores many confounding variables–making it useless for declaring generalized characteristics of any group. Would you cite the larger amount of white people with college degrees vs. black people as evidence of white people’s superior intelligence over black people, or would you consider the massive educational and economic disparities that did and still do exist between the two groups and affect one’s ability to pursue and finish a college education? Personally, I’d say someone pointing to straight numbers and then proclaiming that they represent the superior characteristic(s) of one particular group while ignoring the real-world disparities that may exist between the groups is pretty damned “fundamentalist” or “ideological” behavior in itself. It also smacks of seeking justification for one’s a priori assumptions.

  • New Atheist

    I might recommend not referring to his newfound beliefs as a “pet interest”.

    Other than that, you sound like you sincerely love him and respect his choice, and would like him to be a little less obnoxious about it. I get enthusiastic about my new atheism, and if my husband weren’t following along with me, I can see how annoying I might be!

  • Demonhype

    BTW, thank you Ash. I was waiting to see how long it would take for someone to point out that rather important characteristic of “fundamentalism”. It’s an obvious point, but I’m always amazed at how long it takes for someone to point it out. It’s as hard to be fundamentalist when you have no central doctrines/books to be fundamental about as it is to be visibly charitable when you are made to be invisible.

    Also, sorry for the long rant-the length, that is, not the content. It always rankles me when someone points to some statistics, ignores confounding social and historical variables that have the effect of biasing the data in one direction, and then goes on to claim the inherent superiority of one group while suggesting that anyone who argues against it or points out the problems is somehow mired in denial-ism. I get the same crap from entitled misogynists and white racists, so it tends to rile me up pretty bad. I’m not in denial, I’m just pointing out the fact that your two groups in the data are not starting from fair and balanced circumstances, and that has a major effect on how your numbers will come out. And it is irresponsible to claim that the group starting from a position of historical privilege over the other one is inherently “better”.

    Let me tell you this–run the same statistics on theistic vs. atheistic giving when there is an even playing field between the two groups, when one group is not just beginning to emerge from an enforced invisibility and still in many cases fighting a rather costly battle against hysterical efforts to shove them back into their closet, and then we’ll see how the data goes. If atheists still have low numbers on charitable giving when they no longer have to hide who they are for fear of reprisal or spend a lot of money fighting for their basic rights in court, when there is an even playing field, then we’ll talk. Until then, spare me the “shut up, that’s why” argument, that I’m somehow in denial of my own inherent selfishness.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    Oh, geez, the usual “atheists are so much more selfish than believers and here’s some highly biased data to prove it” crap. That kind of data ignores huge amounts of confounding variables.

    I told you ideological atheism was real!

    That religious people might, as a factual matter, be more charitable than secular people is something Demonhype wants to try to undermine in any way, even if his rationalizations have nothing to do with study cited. The study cited did not look at what atheists-who-wear-atheism-on-their-sleeves do. It looked at what religious people do compared to what people who are not religious do, and found religious people more generous than people who are not religious.

    If that’s a fact then that’s a fact – but some people will still feel a need fight against inconvenient facts. By any means – right or wrong. It doesn’t matter if those means are scientifically valid. The fight must go on. Atheism must be defended even against valid criticisms.

    As I said before, some atheists would never admit that religious people might be more charitable than secular people. Demonhype seems to be one of these ideological atheists. That would explain why she gets fuming mad just for suggesting that it might be true, instead of looking at it dispassionately as a scientific hypothesis at least could be true.

  • Richard Wade


    What did strike me about both the letter and Richard’s response, is that atheism and skepticism seems to be equated.

    I agree with you that atheism and skepticism should not be equated, which is why I did not do so. I said,

    Generally, atheism, the lack of belief in gods, comes from skepticism.

    I’m differentiating, not equating. Skepticism is the root, atheism is merely one application or expression or outcome of that way of thinking. At least it is for me, and lot of people whom I’ve gotten to know here and elsewhere. Some thoroughly skeptical people are more interested in one category of claims than other categories of claims, such as those you mentioned, not just religious claims. I guess it all depends on whatever makes those categories important or interesting to them. Other people can be partially or selectively skeptical, as you said, compartmentalizing it to apply to all but one or two subjects.

    I seem to have been born skeptical. We joke that my first words weren’t “ma ma” but “yeah, right.” Little Ricky was always having to go see for himself, rather than take someone’s word for it. When I first heard the story of Chicken Little saying that they sky was falling, I asked the teacher “Well why didn’t the other animals just look up at the sky?” The teacher gave me an annoyed look.

  • Good advice as always but I see underlying other issues too that need to be resolved with this couple. Of course, the advise to talk will also work for those if they can and if they can’t, their problems are bigger than it appears on the surface.

    I want to also second (third, fouth, fifth) the suggestion that she read the books her husband has been getting all fired up about so that she can discuss them intelligently with him knowing what they contain. She condescendingly points out he doesn’t have her degrees while not knowing what’s in these books that she’s feeling defensive about.

    The atheists who haunt this blog lo-o-o-ve to argue.

    What? Here? Actually one of the things that is great about this blog is that we argue, even devolve to spatting now and then, but then we put it behind us and move the fuck on and talk about something new. Just shows these cats are hard to herd.

    On that note, sigh, there’s no way a study on generosity can be all inclusive. How are they even seeking out the info on who gives what? Even if they have access to American Atheists and FFRF’s memberships (and I would hope not), how are they finding unaffiliated Atheists? Or theists for that matter? Then they’re doing what? Just trusting that those who respond are telling the truth about it? No way that study can be scientific or more than a guess that it’s a stretch to call educated.

  • Jeri

    Interesting, I am enjoying this thread.
    I am in the minority mixed belief relationship where I, as the wife, am the atheist and my husband is the believer. We dated for 2 years and have been married less than a year.

    My husband was raised in a very relaxed Christian atmosphere and I was raised in fundamentalist (mainstream, not the currently polygamous) mormonism.

    [An aside here – Mormons REQUIRE a minimum tithe of 10% of your income in order to be considered ‘worthy’ to set foot inside a temple and recieve your eternal heavenly blessings. This ‘donation’ or what I now call the ‘membership fee’ is considered a tax deductible charitible donation. I wonder how the survey administors could seperate this type of coerced membership fee from actual generous donations towards organizations that really help more people rather than the organization itself. It’s like being able to consider the membership dues for your hobby club (or your extorted/ blackmail/mafia protection fees) tax deductible]

    I discovered skeptical Podcasts shortly after we were dating seriously. (I HIGHLY reccomend Reasonable Doubts and SGU) They helped me feel less isolated and alone in feeling like the only rational person in South Georgia. While my husband is very patent, liberal, and even skeptical Christian, I have inadvertantly upset him a few times with my enthusiasm for this newfound community (even if it is on the internet right now). Learning that there are many other people who feel the way I do made me suddenly realize how much I miss the community of the church. Hubby never had any comparable community like this to miss.

    We keep talking (in small doses) and learning about each other. He supprised me and I learned alot about him when he defended my atheism to some christian friends after an argument (that admitedly got a little heated) about the religious impact on GLBGT rights. I am paraphrasing here-

    Friend “You are Christian, are’nt you worried about her soul?”
    Hubby “No, she’s a better Christian than most other self-proclaimed Christians I know.”
    Friend “Yes, she does act like a better Christian, but don’t you believe that she has to accept Jesus to go to Heaven?”
    Hubby “No, I think her good behavior will get her into heaven.”
    Friend “That’s not the Christianity I believe.”
    Hubby “There are lots of different kinds of Christians.”

    My husband’s main point (as I understand it) in our discussions has so far been “What’s the big deal? This is a stupid thing to get worked up about – your absence of a belief.” because he simply does not think the topic of GOD is worth his time and energy to worry about when he has things like a carreer and the rest of his life to worry about. He likes the warm, fuzzy idea of a nice fatherly God and it’s not directly affecting him so he does not currently wish to address it when he has many more direcly productive things to do. (note: pointing out that he is functionally an agnostic with a security blanket belief was not a good idea.) He identifies as a Christian and sees no pressing need to re-assess that view. (Definitions be Damned! It’s kind of like how he’s a Georgia Bulldogs fan and always wears the UGA gear, but never watches any football games 😉

    I learned that I needed to qualify my anti-belief, so my new point has become “The reason I get worked up is that the religious dogma I was raised with has directly hurt me, so I feel the urge to protect others from this source of hurt. I also have identified a need for me to have some positive interaction with others who understand that religion and other paranormal beliefs can be a source of hurt, like a support group.”

    We are working towards understanding each other’s point of view, and I am gratefull for everyone’s comments on this thread.

    [one last aside: Today I decided that I’m going to start calling myself a Fundamentalist/Militant Anti-Geocentrist. Not to pick fights or anything 😉 but I think that I’m on to something with realizing that a lot of people simply don’t understand or sometimes don’t even care about the nuanced differences between synonyms. Definitions be Damned!]

  • TheG

    I hate to admit it, but during the first few paragraphs of her letter, I panicked and thought my wife was writing the letter!
    We just got married early this year. There was a long discussion before we even got engaged over religion where she cried and admitted her fear of what is left in the world when she comes out agnostic. But I pointed out this blog just two weeks ago when I was researching Friendly Atheist on how to handle a situation at Thanksgiving dinner (sister: “I’m thankful that we could all, with two exceptions, be at this table and joined in our belief”…).
    It wasn’t until I made it to the last few paragraphs that I sighed, knowing that this letter wasn’t a covert way of letting me know she had been persuaded by my sister and the Catholic teachings. It was hard enough going the first direction on her own; I shudder to think if she had to endure going back.

  • I went through a mercifully short, extremely strident and rude period when I first came to the conclusion that I ought to be calling myself an atheist. It’s funny, but what knocked me off of that was the wonderful woman who is now my mother-in-law. She’s a Catholic married to an atheist, and after I went off on some wild, hostile tear about a generalized Catholic something, we had a long e-mail discussion that concluded with her basically saying, “I won’t take this sort of abuse from my husband, and I’m certainly not going to take it from you.”

    Like having a bucket of cold water dumped over my head, really.

    Skeptic’s Wife, I’m sure that your husband must be a nice guy, since you married him. 😉 He probably just needs that metaphorical bucket of cold water. I don’t think any good, loving person is rude and insulting to someone that they love and respect on purpose.

  • Valhar2000

    I call it that because of the striking resemblance its members and community leaders (like Dawkins for instance) bear to the aggressive, cultish, right-wing elements of the church. Apparently they call themselves “skeptics.”

    Has this woman ever heard read any of Dawkins’ books? Has she heard him speak? I’m sorry, but this characterization is so far off the mark that I just cannot take someone who says it seriously, anymore than she can take seriously someone who tells her that she has “the wrong mindset for her profession when he doesn’t even have a science major, never mind a PhD.”

    If you want to talk about other atheists, then, yeah, maybe, but if you start equating a group of people who write rude posts on blogs to a group of people who work tirelessly to remove and violate the human rights of millions of people I have an even harder time taking you seriously: I don’t think anyone would take kindly to being lectured on morality by a moral illiterate*.

    * This probably isn’t an accurate description of who the OP is, but it is an accurate description of some at least one of her opinions. Well, I hope they’ll be fine, and so forth.

  • ash

    @Non-Litigious Atheist:

    As I understand it, there is a disproportionate amount of crime committed by, and prison populations represented by, both non-whites and theists in the USA. As these are clearly facts, should one then presume that non-whites + theists have a higher tendency to be amoral scum? Or is it at all possible that there is such a thing as an explanatory framework which you would accept (except for the case of atheism, which is of course neatly written off as ‘ideological’)?!

    Is it possible that you are the ‘ideological’ one by your presumption that facts exist in a vacuum?

    Correlation =/= causation.

  • stogoe

    I don’t care what the cause is, using time that needs to be used in finding a job just doesn’t fly with me. 9-5 needs to be job hunting time!!

    Bullshit. A hundred times Bullshit. People can’t work like that, on task all the time – in any situation. As someone who was jobless for several months between college and finally getting the long-term employment I currently enjoy, it just doesn’t work that way. There’s only so much job hunting you can do each day before you get burnt out. Calling the same seven potential leads multiple times in the same day is a recipe for failure, and constant stress and worry are nobody’s friend.

  • Carlie

    I was one of the ones who mistakenly thought the wife had used the term “militant”, but I think substituting “fundamentalist” for it in my sentence makes the same point.

    As I said before, some atheists would never admit that religious people might be more charitable than secular people.

    My argument isn’t with the possibility, but with the data collection and the way the conclusion has been drawn. I would not classify any donations given to a church for the purposes of church operations or prosetylization efforts to be “charitable”. They are instead in the self-interest of the group, and are analogous to country club dues or other membership fees. They might be voluntary, but they are coerced (have you ever heard a sermon on tithing?) and get plowed right back into church operations for its own benefit. That isn’t charitable. Additionally, the pool of believers is much larger than that of nonbelievers, so the amounts would need to be both reported per capita AND adjusted for income, as there are statistically more Christians in high tax brackets than atheists (simply because more of them exist). In order to truthfully say that believers donate more of their incomes per capita to charity than nonbelievers, the amounts need to be adjusted properly so that they are measuring what they claim to measure as a percentage of a person’s income, and all operating and missionary budgets need to be deducted from donation totals.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    except for the case of atheism, which is of course neatly written off as ‘ideological’

    @ash: I don’t really want to get into a thing with you here, so I’ll be brief and let readers decide who is being more impartial.

    Correlation vs. causation – I don’t know about you, but it’s news to me that peer reviewed sociologists don’t take potential criticisms like that into account when they publish their studies.

    I’ll only further note that you objected to what the study said, and not to the evidence that the study was based on. Your reply didn’t look at the study itself at all, in fact. So who is the one who is really writing off something here? Was your reply evidence-based, or ideological? Let the reader be the judge.

    Now, in response to your quoted comment, atheism doesn’t have to be ideological. It is up to each person whether to make their atheism an ideology or not. You have a choice. You can rise above in-group/out-group bickering, or you can fall prey to it. No one can make that choice for you but yourself.

    Be well, and don’t get your panties in a bundle. You’ll live longer.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    @Carlie: What part of ‘more generous, cheat less and co-operate more in games such as the prisoner’s dilemma’ screams to you ‘donations given to a church for the purposes of church operations or prosetylization efforts’?

    See, this is my point. No one wants to talk about what the study actually found. Everyone keeps bringing up stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with what the study looked at.

    The study is not about church donations. It is not about the members of explicit atheist organizations. It is about how religious people, overall, behave compared to non-religious people, given that religious people are primed by different beliefs than non-religious people.

    Put the ideology aside for some actual science for a change – please!

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    By the way, it’s not like the study Blackmore cites is just one study among many, each showing different results about whether religious people are more charitable than non-religious ones. It’s a consistent result across studies.

    Here’s an independent and impartial review that surveys the evidence and comes to the same conclusion:

    Duncan pointed it out here about 2 months ago. Almost sensing that promoting science over ideology would get him disowned by some atheists, he added for good measure: ‘For the record, I am an atheist.’ Gee, I wonder why he felt the need to say that.

  • Ash


    It is entirely possible that religious people give more to non-profit organizations (I do think we have to eliminate giving to churches). It is also possible that they over-report their giving, just as they over-report their church attendance (by x2 according to a recent study). I’d also be interested in knowing the breakdown between active church members, theists who are uninvolved in a church, vague “non-religious” types, and self-identified atheists. I bet the most salient variable is belonging to an active community that regularly promotes giving rather than being religious per se. It is most certainly true that any actual difference would be due to sociological factors. If so, all this says is that atheists need to promote giving more (if charity is a priority for you, that is). It certainly doesn’t suggest that atheists are less compassionate or generous.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    It is entirely possible that religious people give more to non-profit organizations (I do think we have to eliminate giving to churches).

    @Ash: Good boy! You must have read the Hoover report:

    The differences in charity between secular and religious people are dramatic. Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent) and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent). And, consistent with the findings of other writers, these data show that practicing a religion is more important than the actual religion itself in predicting charitable behavior…

    It is possible, of course, that the charity differences between secular and religious people are due to these nonreligious socioeconomic differences. To investigate this possibility, I used a statistical procedure called probit regression to examine the role of religious practice in isolation from all other relevant demographic characteristics: political beliefs, income (and hence, indirectly, the tax incentives for giving), education level, gender, age, race, marital status, and area of residence. The data show that if two people — one religious and the other secular — are identical in every other way, the secular person is 23 percentage points less likely to give than the religious person and 26 points less likely to volunteer…

    One might argue, for example, that religious charity is more likely to take place for non-altruistic reasons than is nonreligious giving and volunteering: Religious people might give because of social pressure, for personal gain (such as stashing away rewards in Heaven), or to finance the services that they themselves consume, such as sacramental activities. Therefore, disparities in charity might disappear when we only consider explicitly nonreligious giving and volunteering. The sccbs data do not support this hypothesis, however: Religious people are more generous than secular people with nonreligious causes as well as with religious ones. While 68 percent of the total population gives (and 51 percent volunteers) to nonreligious causes each year, religious people are 10 points more likely to give to these causes than secularists (71 percent to 61 percent) and 21 points more likely to volunteer (60 percent to 39 percent). For example, religious people are 7 points more likely than secularists to volunteer for neighborhood and civic groups, 20 points more likely to volunteer to help the poor or elderly, and 26 points more likely to volunteer for school or youth programs. It seems fair to say that religion engenders charity in general — including nonreligious charity.

    One might also posit that informal giving (say, to family and friends) by secularists could offset charity to established causes by religious people. My own research, however, makes this look improbable. Using 1999 data on individuals from the Bureau of Labor Standards, I found that, for most people, formal and informal charity are not substitutes for each other. On the contrary, people who give formally are 21 percentage points more likely than those who do not to also give informally. That is, informal giving does not explain the underlying discrepancy; it compounds it.

    Now, if you’re an evidence-based middle classer, you can also accept the Hoover report’s note that ‘research on philanthropy has consistently shown that the poor tend to give more frequently — and a higher percentage of their incomes — than the middle class’. But an ideological middle classer could not accept that, if middle classers in fact self-identified according to the same identity politics that some atheists do.

    You see, it comes down to that fundamental divide between atheists that I’ve mentioned before: what’s more important – truth or marketing?

    If so, all this says is that atheists need to promote giving more (if charity is a priority for you, that is). It certainly doesn’t suggest that atheists are less compassionate or generous.

    @Ash: That’s exactly what the Hoover report concludes:

    Simply put, people may be more likely to learn charity inside a church, synagogue, or mosque than outside. If charity is indeed a learned behavior, it may be that houses of worship are only one means (albeit an especially efficacious one) to teach it. Secularists interested in increasing charitable giving and volunteering among their ranks might spend some effort thinking of alternative ways to foster these habits.

    You see – it’s not as bad as you thought. But – I must stress – if it had been, you still should’ve accepted the science over the ideology. If psychologists had found, unequivocally, that non-believers are less compassionate than believers, then that would be something you should embrace as an evidence-based thinker, despite the fact that ideological atheists might want to ignore, suppress, or undermine that finding on non-scientific grounds.

    There was a finding – reported in the Cambridge Companion to Atheism (I read it in a published book review; it might even be republished on – that atheists tend to be more distant toward their parents than religious folk. If that’s true, then it is what it is. It doesn’t matter that it’s not good marketing. Truth trumps marketing.

  • Todd says:

    I suppose in some sense I would have to categorize myself as a militant atheist in that I also read Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, et al and I participate in atheist groups, read atheist blogs, and write letters to government officials when I see violations of the separation between church and state.

    Is that what ‘militant’ means? That description makes it sound like it’s good to be a militant atheist.

    If that’s what the word means, then thank you for being so militant.

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