Sometimes, it feels like the nonreligious community has come so far, and is a fully accepted component of society. And then there is this.
Sometimes I think we have come a long way, that atheism is firmly ensconced in modern Western societies as an accepted belief. At other times, I am rudely awakened from my pipedream.
I could bring to bear any number of opinions from politicians to celebrities. But, being a philosopher myself, it galls me to read the opinions—no, supposedly the rationally held conclusions—of a professional, teaching philosopher.
Here below, I will document the opinions of someone who is probably not comfortable enough to defend their views under their own name and so blogs and Tweets as Eve Keneinan.
There is no other word to describe the views she (for I presume her avatar is at least accurate in that regard, but beware of assumptions!) holds than bigotry. She starts as she means to go on:
This is a form of “just asking a question” but has been twisted to become “just quoting someone who suggests atheists should be executed.”
This is disgusting enough. But rather than distance herself from a literal interpretation of these views, she doubles down:
Locke’s 1689 A Letter Concerning Toleration saw the philosopher exclude atheists from
toleration, since he considered them inherently immoral. But Keneinan neglects to mention that he also excludes Roman Catholics, whose morals he judged harmful to society. We could, of course, quote from any number of people to support awful viewpoints. Now where’s that copy of Mein Kampf I don’t own?
All the “greats” had their blind spots, of course. After all, they were merely human. Aristotle said that a woman was a defective man, and that “barbarians” were natural slaves. Hume said that he had heard of “a Negro” who was a “man of parts,” but that he had never met one (surely Hume was aware of the concept of a statistically insignificant sample!). Augustine and the other church “fathers” had notorious views about women and sex, as documented by Uta Ranke-Heinemann in Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality, and The Catholic Church.
Perhaps I should quote some of Augustine’s more hair-raising quotes about women and see if she accepts that authority…
It is demonstrably wrong to say that atheists are immoral, especially when the idea is now of behavior. Cosmos Magazine quotes from researcher Thomas Ståhl who has studied the morality of atheists and theists:
“The most general take-home message from these studies is that people who do not believe in God do have a moral compass,” says Ståhl. “In fact, they share many of the same moral concerns that religious believers have, such as concerns about fairness, and about protecting vulnerable individuals from harm.”
Perhaps contrary to what one might think, the two groups only differed in a couple of areas: theists were more likely to endorse moral values that increase group cohesion, and atheists were more likely to judge the morality of an action based on the consequences of action or inaction.
“Disbelievers are less inclined than believers to endorse moral values that serve group cohesion, such as having respect for authorities, ingroup loyalty, and sanctity,” explains Ståhl.
“It is possible that the negative stereotype of atheists as immoral may stem in part from the fact that they are less inclined than religious people to view respect for authority, in-group loyalty, and sanctity as relevant for morality, and they are more likely to make moral judgments about harm on a consequentialist, case by case basis,” says Ståhl.
Atheists are not inherently immoral. In fact, I have argued at length that atheists are more universally moral and better aligned with Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable (see “Christians, Their Morality and Their Ironic Intolerance“). If the “good” in the Good Samaritan has anything to do with morality and being moral, then atheists are clearly not immoral. And that is coming from Jesus.
Of course, this does depend on how you define “moral” and “immoral”. Locke’s position was nothing if not entirely begging the question in quite the circle:
Locke considered atheists inherently immoral, and therefore socially dangerous, because of their grievous failure to acknowledge the existence of a divine creator and legislator – which produced the even more grievous failure to recognize and respect any (divinely given) moral law. Conversely, deists believed in a divine creator and legislator and, thus, they were able to appreciate and grasp, although partially and imperfectly, the divine law and their duties towards God. By the light of reason, deists could comprehend and respect at least the basic principles of the Law of Nature. In other words, their religious and moral views, albeit imperfect, still enabled them to meet at least minimally decent moral standards. Consequently, they were not comparable to atheists, in that they were not inherently immoral.Diego Lucci, “John Locke on Atheism, Catholicism, Antimonianism, and Deism”, Etica & Politica / Ethics & Politics, XX, 2018, 3, pp. 201-246
Furthermore, it seems rather pertinent to question whether Plato and Locke held to the same god or religious views as Keneinan and vice versa, and what this might entail for all parties.
But far be it from me to bog down the diatribe.
So not only are we wrong to think these views are bigoted, but that we are “in the grip of a vice.” That is, to hammer home the idea, the claim that we are in the grip of an “immoral or wicked behavior.”
And now she is advocating for atheism to be labeled “odious” and that there is good reason to condemn and detest it. How far away from hate speech is this, I wonder? Plato and Locke were men of their age. Eve should know better. But, for her, “stupid” appears to be better understood as “morally progressed.”
Fear not, my fellow vice-wallowers, we are nearly there.
Are we supposed to, against all reason, tolerate the vice and evil of bigotry?
“It isn’t going well for us” is just a step to the right from “I argue for freedom of speech (so I can insult, otherize, and essentially oppress others).” Keneinan seems to want to rebel against the idea of the Good Samaritan and prefers to dash the heads of atheists against the rocks of orthodoxy.
I guess it all fits in line with what she says on her “About” page:
I am actively hostile to most of the poisonous political ideologies that are rampant in the world today. Most of the ones with power today, and so the most dangerous ones, are on the left, so I tend to appear (and be) somewhat conservative—not because I haven’t thought things through, but because I have: for the most part, I reject nearly all the legacy of philosophical modernity as false and harmful to human beings. I stand with Nietzsche and Heidegger in diagnosing our age as one drowning in the spiritual/moral/philosophical disease of nihilism. And while I agree with both of them a simple return to the past is impossible, I do not reject the possibility of a rebirth of classical philosophy and Christian theism.
Yup, actively hostile she is.
How understanding and empathetic.
The serious point here is that divisive rhetoric against and otherization of the nonreligious is still apparently alive and well in the US. Someone is being taught by this person and that is such a shame. When I called her out on her bigotry, she replied as follows:
This kind of ivory-tower-insulated hate is the worst of kinds. As I replied to her: Indeed, the worst type of bigotry is that which is post hoc rationalized with a layer of sophistry and pseudo-intellectualism. It’s like you have to try really damned hard to be not very nice.
When you want a world full of decent people—kind and generous of heart—I can’t help but think, sometimes, that we’ve still got a long way to go. When we are writing here to advocate for moral progress, acceptance, and a level playing field for the nonreligious, these attitudes that are straight out of the Ark need to be consigned to the darkest depths of moral evolution.
Even our inner fish is better than that.