As religion and its sycophants continue to crumble under the weight of science and reason, its exponents have dialed up the polemics and the deceit.

Jacqueline Maley's editorial, "Atheism's true believers gather"[1], published in The Sydney Morning Herald is one of the most disingenuous, inaccurate portrayals of atheists—replete with some of the most outlandish faulty logic arguments I have ever encountered—and an outright utter screed of tripe. In predictable fashion for any faithful toady, Maley piles on the demagoguery of fear in a world without religion, sated with everything from "social darwinism" to atheists are "fundamentalists.” I winced in intellectual pain as I read her deluded diatribe against atheists (particularly the inane barbs hurled at Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens), quickly realizing her unreserved prejudice for religion, and her absolute ignorance to even the basic understanding of the term "atheist."

Further, and even more maddening is her incessant psychological projecting and ceaseless, yet groundless accusations that atheism is itself, incredulously, somehow a "religion." Of course, "if" atheism were a religion (how it could possibly be, considering the "atheist" only rejects the "theist's" claims, due to absent or insufficient evidence makes the sane mind reel) perhaps then, Maley should not have a problem with an "atheistic religion," being the fierce defender of religious freedom she purports to be. But, as is always the case with religionists and their apologists, her anathema and tirade against non-theists is a Gordian knot of illogic—based on her own inner doubts projected onto others, chiefly those who manage to sleep soundly at night without the hollow crutch of superstition and empty promises made by religion.

While the tendentious Maley draws no quarter for the preeminent scientist, Richard Dawkins, labeling him with the snarky and absurd title of the "movement's supreme deity," fellow Australian, author and philosopher Russell Blackford, also an outspoken critic of religion, is oddly spared the invective of Maley's bile. Conceivably, in an act of kindred loyalty—and the only deed of beneficence found among her prejudicial rant, Maley allows Blackford to escape tainted commentary. Ergo, writes Maley on Blackford, "A lot of people who don't believe have got fed up with the political role of religion."

However, "civil libertarian, liberals and gay rights activists," are all part and parcel, at least in Maley's demented mind and spurious ramblings, to the "loose global coalition" of the "new age of activist atheism." Yes, you deduced it correctly—it is self-evident to the fatuous Jacqueline Maley that all atheists are secretly a conspiracy of liberals, gays, and other equally fetid political partisans, to rid the world of religion. After such a fallacious, bigoted set of accusations, aimed chiefly at those who advocate for equality, liberty, and church-state separation issues, is there any wonder left to what is truly wrong with religion and its truculent courtiers?

Finally, as an ethologist and evolutionary biologist, I ask of Jacqueline Maley, since he (Richard Dawkins) cannot "disprove the existence of God," should Dawkins also be pressed on the evidence of disproving the non-existence of unicorns? And if he fails, as disproving a negative is impossible—and the burden of proof always falls to the person making the extraordinary claim; therefore, under Maley's burden of proof, syllogism of logic, Dawkins should simply renounce all of his estimable work and pronounce Biology as a science, a total, abject failure. (Hence, the sacred atheist ritual of burning heretical books, such as Darwin's, On The Origin of Species, would naturally commence immediately after the burnt offering at the altar of reason.)

Maley's tortured writings and tautological reasoning is as sound as her beliefs in an untenable divine superintendent who cannot reveal itself except through ancient texts of dubious origin. Nothing fails like prayer and nothing fails like the defense of the indefensible, in this case, religion and its preposterous claims. In a word, Jacqueline Maley, at least in this instance of unadulterated specious drivel, is a "hack."



— About the Author —

Frank J. Ranelli is an independent scholar, skeptic and critic, author and essayist. His erudite and iconoclastic style of provocative writing has been extensively published in a variety of news outlets and across the Internet.

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Comment by Davo on February 26, 2010 at 10:18pm
- regardless of whether atheists are part of a movement, by calling atheism a movement, we are defining it by the people that are vocal, it will strip the power out of the fact atheism is a philosophical postion that 1 in 5 people in Australia hold whether they like it or not and have religious and government bodies both identify it as such, rather than a representation of a philosophical postion.

- the movement we are seeing that is occuring, is a wider movement of reason, that is based around that. What we are seeing occuring is many atheists becoming more vocal just as many others in many other areas are. It is a movement of reason across the board, that is a direct
result of increasing education and access to wider concepts, particularly on the internet.

- By defining atheism as a movement, we strip out those that are not active, but philosophically atheist. There is already division with those that disagree on actively opposing religion, and we define atheism by action rather than disbelief. We limit what atheism is and the strengths that have placed it in the position it is today, on the rise.

- Marginalisation is the only outcome. We have seen this happen with animal rights 'movement' and with the environmental and labour 'movements'. Thus we have 'greenies' and other terms whereby those that are active are clearly distinquished from those that are inactive. This builds solid social barriers that are difficult to overcome if ever, and set back the advancement of actively clear positions, the damage to a philosophical position can be worse. When a
clear hurdle is placed that can confront a persons lifestyle or other beliefs before someone can identify by it. Indeed at the moment our power is in the fact we do not have to identify by atheism, to be atheist.

Atheism = not having a belief in a god or gods.

Let's leave it that way, and promote a movement of reason that crosses all boundaries. The only outcome from accepting atheism as a movement, is we are boxed, numbered and defined by the media and the religious alike, which will only lead to division and definition amongst non-believers and the inability to actively been seen to represent a wide diverse group.
Comment by Chrys Stevenson on February 22, 2010 at 2:37am
Rigby, there is indeed a gay rights movement and has been since at least 1924. I am amazed you don't acknowledge it. You will find some information here and here but just googling "gay movement' will bring you 145,000 results to choose from, and "gay rights movement" 176,000 links.

A movement certainly doesn't require that every person who is gay, a woman, black etc. joins in. I recall that many women were dismissive of the feminism movement of the 1970s. At no time was it considered that females were an homogenous group or that every single female believed in every single plank of the feminist movement.

Similarly, I am sure that there were at least some African-Americans who thought that 'keeping their place' rather than marching in the streets was a wiser and safer choice. Similarly, despite the fact that there has been a gay rights movement, some gay people (especially in the church and in high profile professions) are still 'in the closet'. This does not negate the fact that these various movements are a matter of historical fact.

As an honors student, I studied the historiography of social movements, including the gay rights movement, and I can say, with certainty, that atheism is following the same trajectory as feminism, gay rights, civil rights and other movements. You may wish to call it secularism, humanism, or any other name, but the fact is, it is being led by high profile atheists and spread through atheist organizations and websites.
Comment by Sean the Blogonaut on February 22, 2010 at 1:10am
Jack ,

I think that Maley's writing is rather typical of coverage I have seen in the lead up to the convention. Very few articles have been balanced (even researched). Indeed I wonder why she didn't get stuck into Russell Blackford because he has some rather solid and lucid things to say about supposed moderate religious folk. I suspect that its because she has not looked much past the end of her own nose. It's easier to frame atheism in religious terms ie true believers than to treat the issue with respect.
Comment by Chrys Stevenson on February 21, 2010 at 4:59am
Ribgy said: A ‘movement’ seeks to change society, thus an Atheist movement would seek to make everyone an Atheist.

Rigby, that is just ridiculous. The civil rights movement did not seek to make everybody black. The women's movement did not seek to make everybody female. Nor does an atheist movement seek to make everybody an atheist.

Nobody, not me nor anyone else has mentioned the goal of overthrowing religion. That is not a goal of the atheist movement and it is certainly not my goal, nor that of anyone I know.
Comment by Sean the Blogonaut on February 21, 2010 at 4:00am
@ Frank,

Yes sorry to derail your topic.
Comment by Sean the Blogonaut on February 21, 2010 at 3:36am
Christ we are in a sad state if we can not openly state disagreements or points of view aren't we.

To be fair to Mr Nicholls he is being quoted in a paper and so his comments will have been presented in the light that the journalist wanted. That being said I still find the statement disheartening. I still have respect for Mr Nicholls, he has done the hard yards when it was, inconvenient to be an atheist. I can see his point of view as well

I disagree with his points about the non existence of a movement perhaps our language needs to be refined of re-framed. I think people are motivated, I think they will be more motivated after the convention. I think that if all we are going to do is talk then we lose a great opportunity - but I have confidence that the AFA, The Rationalists and a whole host of groups will network at the convention and something big will come of it.

@ RigbyT

What a shame that you can't see the value in expressing an opinion. How the hell is disagreeing with Mr Nicholls sowing dissent? How is expressing my personal opinion sowing dissent. Remembering here of course that their are no movements or Atheist leaders. I don't agree with Richard Dawkins on some issues either- will I be shot at dawn?
I am a member of the AFA and have been for coming up to 3 years and I have volunteered for them on occasion.

@Mr Nicholls

If I can be perhaps more nuanced in my opinion perhaps that will help? I see a coalition of like minded atheists forming and gaining momentum in that sense I think there is a movement or perhaps even movements. Certainly not like historical movements. I think the leaders, spokes people of various atheist organisations owe it to their memberships to assess what the members want, where we focus our energy as a group. To simply point at the religious and complain will result in a lot of noise and will dissipate . We live in an apathetic nation, typing on keyboads, and attending lectures will do nothing unless there is action, political, social, cultural etc.
Comment by Chrys Stevenson on February 20, 2010 at 6:27pm
@Sigmund Being black is not a movement either, nor is being gay, or female, or a worker. They are not 'views of the world' either. But when African-Americans, black South-Africans, gays and lesbians, women started mobilizing to change attitudes and government policies, they became movements. Similarly, when workers started amalgamating into unions, a labor movement was born.

Felch, I understand your frustration and share it. There is a whole lot of talking going on to no effect. That has to change. My point in this discussion is that if the leadership of atheism in Australia continues to deny that they are at the head of a social and political movement, then the movement is obviously not going to go anywhere. Can you imagine Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela saying, "We're not a movement. We really don't have much in common. We're not pushing for anything. We're nothing like those movements which have effected meaningful social, economic and political change for people." How much impact would they have had if that had been their attitude? Would anyone have taken them seriously? And, with that attitude, would they have worked assiduously to unite their constituents to fight injustice and oppression?

I agree that 'movement' is just a word. But until we understand that we are part of a movement and start taking our lead from other successful social and political movements, there's just going to be more and more self-congratulatory talk and nothing's going to change.
Comment by Frank J. Ranelli on February 20, 2010 at 6:26pm
“Did anyone bother to retort?”

Yes, in fact, as the author of the above withering rejoinder to Maley’s intemperate religious flattery—and cynical epithets scribed throughout here atheist-mocking missive, someone did offer a “retort.” Me.

While the banter in the comment section—some insipid, other insightful— has offered a number of cogent arguments for non-theists to consider, sadly, it has also turn into a pettish flame war between disgruntled atheists and local activists for atheism in Australia. (Sorry for the unintentional alliteration.)

I steadfastly affirm one must hold to a paradigm of uncontaminated inquest into free inquiry, but perhaps, if I may humbly follow Sigmund’s lead and ask that the comments turn toward the topic at hand, chiefly Maley’s dishonest article and my attempt to mitigate its damage with my own forceful reply.

Again, thank you to everyone who has replied so far, as all forms of discourse are welcome and warranted in the pursuit of untrammeled free thought and critical thinking; however, other than Chrys’s nibble of, “I'm sorry Frank. You've written a great critique of Maley's article, but I think you've failed to see the wood for the trees,” I have received little analysis or discussion as it relates to the subject matter and substance of my article.

Parenthetically, Chrys, I can assure you I am not myopic about atheism’s larger moral imperative, and I am a vociferous proponent—if not outright pugnacious—of aggressively exposing religion as a fraud and, most of all, advancing reason and science. Even the venerable skeptic Michael Shermer did not escape my vigilance and irritation when he ventured too close to a tacit endorsement of religion in a CNN interview and a treatise written for the Templeton Foundation.

In all, my own critique and elucidation of Maley’s nonsense, if it stands for anything, shows why people, who eschew a supernatural view of the world, while adhering to a dogma-free, naturalist view of the cosmos through science and reason, must push back against such blatant and blanket endorsements of untenable religion and its superstitious dogma and canon.

In other words, exposure to sunlight is always the best sanitizer. In this case, in my own purview, shining a spotlight on Maley’s mendacious claptrap about atheism augments the idea religious reproach is not taboo, and harsh opprobrium for those who broadcast such lies is the ultimate redress.

In reason,

Frank J. Ranelli
Scholar, author, critic
Comment by Mr Embiggen on February 20, 2010 at 5:50am
Sorry about the length of my post. I ran out of time so couldn't edit it down to a more respectable level, I hope it's still worth reading.:)
Comment by Sigmund on February 20, 2010 at 5:23am
Firstly, as to 'atheism is not a movement' - in its purest form (which we should never forget) it isn't. Harris:
'Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious. In fact, ‘atheist’ is a term that should not ever exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a ‘non astrologer’ or a ‘non-alchemist’. We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.'

Secondly - does anyone know what the reaction to this ridiculous article was? Did anyone bother to retort? What sort of newspaper is this?



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