Joe Klein’s Pointless Swipe at Atheists

This is the second time this week I’m taking my material from the website of Hemant Mehta, the “Friendly Atheist”.  As far as I am aware, he’s the first to point it out, so I’m using him as my source.  Don’t tell him though, or else I might have to pay royalties.

In Time’s most recent cover story, Joe Klein write about the benefits that doing volunteer work can have on PTSD symptoms of war veterans.  The basic idea is distraction; if you’re focused on going good for the community, not only are you moving the attention from your own thoughts, but you’re also making a name for yourself as a local community leader.  I’ve seen similar approaches to other mental illnesses like depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, with a relatively high degree of success.

Later in the article, when talking about the relief effort in Oklahoma, he wrote this:

But there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals — and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon. They looked tough, megatatted, in camouflage pants, gray T-shirts and white hard hats. They moved with purpose and spirit and were equipped by Home Depot — which has done brilliant work locating and funding the very best veterans service groups — with an impressive array of chain saws, power tools, wheelbarrows, tarps and wood.

Not only is it demonstrably false, as Hemant and others have shown, but it was a snide little swipe an an entire demographic that didn’t even have any purpose being in the article at all.  It’s as if he added it after the fact just to take a jab at us and show everyone how much better the religious handle tragedy and emergency response as opposed to the non-religious.

As I said, Hemant did some very quick research and came up with this (among others):

In other words, as he puts it, Joe is lying out of his ass.  This was a gross misrepresentation of the entire secular humanist / atheist / non-believer community that had nothing to do with the article and only served to insult (and deliberately ignore) those who took the time and effort to help.

I’m honestly not surprised.  While I am in no way equating the way we are being treated today with the discrimination and outright violence that other groups like blacks, homosexuals, and transgendered individuals have dealt with throughout history and still have to face as they fight for equality, there certainly does seem to be a widespread hostile and dismissive attitude toward nonbelievers that spans age, race, gender, and belief.  It’s as though no matter what religion you may have, no matter what God you bow your head to, no matter what requirements there are for salvation, everyone can all agree and find common ground in the conclusion that the atheist is still the worst of the lot.  He or she has no morals, no ethical standards, and live as if there is no purpose to life in the first place.

What does surprise me … at least a little given our recent history … is the relative degree of impunity with which these feelings are expressed by public figures like politicians and those in the media.  Now, I’ve said before in an echo of Richard Dawkins’ sentiment that no religion should be immune from criticism.  Just because you have a strongly held belief doesn’t make it sacrosanct, nor does it give the belief any validation.  Still, if we were to hear the things said about atheists said about Jews, racial minorities, or the LGBT community, there would be hell to pay, and rightly so.

More on this tomorrow, I think … but I just wanted to boost the signal a little.

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3 Responses to Joe Klein’s Pointless Swipe at Atheists

  1. There is one consolation – the comment section, at least what I’ve read so far, is really ticked about the secular humanist comment. That’s a first for me, seeing some intelligent comments on an article.

  2. sanitysoverrated says:

    I agree with 99% of your article. You’d think that someone writing for Time would do a little more fact checking, even with that little side comment. Instead, he’s being lambasted by most of the people in the comments because of that one remark, changing the focus on how community service is helping soldiers with PTSD to pointing out his bias against secular humanists by people of all religious beliefs.

    The only thing in your whole article that bothered me was your comment about everyone that’s not an atheist agreeing that the atheists are the worst of the worst. Maybe I read it wrong, but it sounds like you’re painting everyone with the same brush as well. And I know that you’ve got non-secular humanist friends that don’t feel that way, myself included. I just felt that, in an article about someone painting all of one group with the same brush, it was a comment that was a little off. (Again, if I read it wrong, I apologize.)

    • … changing the focus on how community service is helping soldiers with PTSD to pointing out his bias against secular humanists by people of all religious beliefs.

      It’s a shame, too. I’m no psychologist but there’s potentially some good, solid, useful information in the remainder of his piece. Given the dangerously small amount of attention we give to soldiers after they return from the battlefield – in the context of re-integration into the non-combat world and with respect to dealing with the PTSD that very likely followed them – anything that shines a light on the issue could help force some action.

      Now it’s all about some stupid off-topic throwaway.

      The only thing in your whole article that bothered me was your comment about everyone that’s not an atheist agreeing that the atheists are the worst of the worst.

      Sorry, that was sloppy wording on my part. It’s one of the unfortunate side effects of belting some of this stuff out right before you go to bed and not catching it during the final reading. I think you have a particular problem with this:

      It’s as though no matter what religion you may have, no matter what God you bow your head to, no matter what requirements there are for salvation, everyone can all agree and find common ground in the conclusion that the atheist is still the worst of the lot.

      In other words, everyone who holds that dismissive and hostile attitude to begin with feels this is something about which they can all agree, regardless of any other differences they may have. I don’t mean all non-atheists, of course, and I would never intentionally paint any group with that wide a brush. To be honest, though, I do find it a little worrisome that there is an appreciable percentage of the population that views us with significant distrust, at least if the sample shown in this 2011 American Values Survey is at all representative.

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