The ugly, vicious, fanatical side of atheism

A handful of atheists (15 to be exact) did a horrible, horrible thing in Huntington, Beach, California last week.  Did they throw acid in the faces of schoolgirls? Did they mutilate the genitals of young women? Did they threaten children who masturbated with the threat of hell? Did they make little girls wear cloth sacks, and not venture out without a male relative?

No, none of that. It was far worse.  Their crime? They ripped up pages of the Bible. No, not even pages of the Bible: some photocopies of Bible verses (watch the video here).   Actually, one particularly vicious and militant atheist did desecrate a single page of the scriptures.

But that was enough for author and rabbi Brad Hirshfield’s to write an intemperate column at the “On Faith” section of the Washington Post: “When atheism turns ugly.”  He argues that the destruction of texts is the opposite of free thought (note: they did not destroy any texts; they destroyed some photocopies), an act of fanaticism connoting a complete lack of respect for faith:

If atheists/agnostics/freethinkers/humanists object to being insulted and talked down to by people of faith, as well they should, perhaps they should refrain from the same behavior. While they may not draw on traditions such as “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or “Love your enemy,” there are plenty of parallel teachings in secular thought which are just as ennobling. . .

. . . The issue is making the choice to read as seriously those teachings which dignify the lives and faiths of those with whom we disagree, as we do those teachings which don’t. That we fail to do so, so often, says more about us than about the traditions we follow. It’s about the perennial need, felt by so many people, to undermine the beliefs of others in order to feel good about the beliefs which animate their own lives.

Note what Bruce Gleason of the atheist group actually said about the act (in the video):  “But we’re here just to demonstrate a point. We’re not here to desecrate the Bible; we’re not here to burn the Bible: actually, we think a lot of the part of the Bible are GREAT.  But they’re good for goodness’ sake, for humanity’s sake—not because they’re delivered by God. ”

Yes, we can read the Bible and the Qur’an seriously (after all, parts of the Bible are great literature, though I haven’t found great prose in the Qur’an), but we don’t have to read them as “true”, or treat them with respect.  Should we read the ridiculous tenets of Scientology, or the equally ludicrous tales of Mormonim—all palpable fiction—with respect?  Why?—especially if those fictions motivate pernicious social consequences in our world. Just remember the things that the words of the Bible have been used to justify: slavery, persecution of homosexuals, oppression of women, and so on.  We don’t undermine those beliefs in order to feel good about our atheism, we do it to help make a better world—one free of debilitating superstitions.

And Hirschfield draws the usual parallel between atheists and religious fundamentalists:

No, this was simply one more time when people fanatically attached to their own view of things felt that their sense of things was so true, it justified trampling on the views and sensitivities of others. More than anything, what these people proved was the old adage that the longer that parties are involved in a conflict, the more alike they become.

This is all very curious.  For there are many nonreliigous ideas to which people are equally attached, and yet attacking those ideas does not unleash accusations of fanaticism. Take the 2008 Republic Party platform.  I despise it and everything its adherents stand for, and would gladly tear it to bits in public.  Would Republicans then act with outrage, accusing me of being “ugly,” a “fanatic” or a “militant”? I doubt it: it wouldn’t even make the news.  Why not?

What this clearly shows, which we knew already, is that religion is different from all other modes of thought and belief.  It’s considered unseeemly and disrespectful to criticize belief in God, but not belief in the death penalty, low taxes for millionaires, or opposition to universal healthcare.  I don’t yet really understand this difference between religion and politics (readers might explain it to me), but it’s one of the prime motivating forces behind the New Atheism. Why do corporations, but not churches, have to pay taxes? New Atheists want, above all, to undo the undeserved respect attached to anything connected with faith.

When Rabbi Hirschfield fulminates against atheism, he might remember some of the things done in the name of Judaism, including biting off the foreskins of newborn Jewish boys (causing more than one case of sexually transmitted disease to the children), and, in the more conservative sects, turning women into second-class citizens, regarded as unclean during menstruation and forced to attend synagogue behind a screen.  And he might also remember what the word  “fanatic” really means.

I can’t resist showing again this well-worn cartoon:


  1. Posted September 21, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    I notice the article contains no argument that the passages torn were anything but hateful dreck. No, it’s merely tone trolling about those big meanie atheists. And the absurd conflation that showing disrespect to texts and ideas is the same as showing disrespect to people who believe them.

    • Tim
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      Precisely. If you excerpted equally objectionable passages from Mein Kampf or the Unibomber’s manifesto and tore them up, it would be suitable for a saccharin scene in the Movie of the Week.

  2. Sajanas
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    It’s unfortunate that book burning (and really, any damage too books at all) carries with it unfortunate associates with fascism and oppression, and even deeper than that, people just inherently seem to rebel at the thought of just throwing a book away. A librarian friend of mine was trying to clear out space in her library and found the maintenance people trying to take books out of the dumpster, even though they were useless, like collections of 50 year old magazines, things they had multiple copies of, etc. So, its not just that its the Bible, we also have a pretty strong book fetish in our culture, and associate book damage with evil.

    But at the same time, I think it makes for a pretty shocking protest, and sometimes people need that, especially when religions use those books to justify things that are *really* horrible, not just damaging once copy out of billions of copies of the Bible.

    • Dominic
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      They were I hope going to recycle the books? I find it very difficult to throw away books – but like your friend, we have lots of old journals & books of no interest other than from the point of their defunct views in historical context (books from the 60s & 70s for example on medical topics) but you really cannot give them away. Pulping is better than burning!

    • Llwddythlw
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      As far as the burning of books is concerned, Heinrich Heine said:

      “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.”

      Where they burn books, in the end they will also burn people.

      • J.J.E.
        Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        Meh. Back in the day, burning books was the equivalent of destroying knowledge. These days, burning books, at least in the U.S., almost certainly won’t inhibit access to knowledge. And in any event, the infamous book burnings were explicitly designed to prevent access to knowledge. Protest book burnings are not designed to destroy knowledge, but to gain attention.

        That being said, I still have an instinctual cringe when I see books burn.

        • Llwddythlw
          Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

          Obviously Heine lived in different times (1797-1856), but it turned out to be quite prescient.

          • Ichthyic
            Posted September 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

            I wonder if Heine would have considered a flag “knowledge”.

            Heine was only prescient about his own culture in his own time.

            and he wasn’t even that prescient, considering that most of the roots that lead to the rise of the Nazi party in Germany were well established in the mid-late 1800s.


            burning items as a political statement has a long history that doesn’t involve violence as well.

        • Filippo
          Posted September 21, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

          What if one sees records, cassettes, CDs (iPods?) being burned?

      • Sajanas
        Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        That’s exactly what I’m talking about, but really, how likely is that? We have a few very strong examples, but these protesters were not destroying *all* Bibles, merely destroying some.

        And its the information that is important, not the physical form it takes. Its just that because the Nazis did it, its always wrong forever. Frankly, I don’t see the reason to treat any book I own and don’t like with respect. I wouldn’t destroy someone else’s book, or censor it, but if I don’t like it, its my right to get rid if it.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted September 21, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          I wouldn’t destroy someone else’s book, or censor it, but if I don’t like it, its my right to get rid if it.

          couldn’t agree more.

          Can’t count the amount of literary crap I have tossed in the trash as opposed to keeping.

          Yet somehow, it doesn’t make me want to destroy the authors of said crap.

          go figure.

          • David
            Posted September 21, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink


            My mom gave me a copy of a gag-inducing book of devotionals by Oswald Chambers “My Utmost for his Highest”. I couldn’t bear to donate it to the library book sale where someone might be tempted to read it. Into the recycling bin it went.

            • Sajanas
              Posted September 22, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink

              The works of Ayn Rand make a very satisfying thud into the trash.

        • Dan L.
          Posted September 22, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

          A fairly nice copy of the KJV of the Bible will cost you $5 new at any retail book store.

          Or you can get a copy for free from any American motel in which you ever have or ever will stay, and the Gideons will be happy to replace it for the next guest.

          There are probably more copies of the bible out there than any other book. Burning bibles should be recognized as an acceptable way to both keep warm and cook food.

  3. Jack van Beverningk
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    Almost off topic: I wonder about the almost apologetic sounding Atheist spokesman Bruce Gleason, when he says: “actually, we think a lot of the part of the Bible are GREAT.”

    I have forced myself to read the darned book from cover to cover, and there’s not a single story or part of it that I find even the slightest inspiring, beautiful, dramatic story telling or great literature.

    I’m a bit suspicious of Atheist telling Christians that, as a work of literature, they actually find a lot of the Bible absolutely wonderful.
    I certainly don’t.

    • gnome
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      I agree. Where are the good parts? Someone should make a ‘literature bible’. I’m thinking it will be very thin.

      • Dominic
        Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink

        For as the crackling of thornes vnder a pot, so is the laughter of the foole: this also is vanitie.

      • RHalaku
        Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        Take the Bible as a sci-fi book. It’s as simple as that.

        It’s not far away from Greek miths, although the words in the Bible have been preserved to be as archaic and close as the original version, instead of being reworked and adapted a little bit more (as most of the Greek miths have).

        Put yourself in the place of slaves of ancient times, without any knowledge, without much faith or hope… the Bible would be the best story you had ever heard about, and an amazing way of forgetting about your problems and uniting forward common goals.

        Pd: Excuse my English, non native speaker here.

        • Dominic
          Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

          Your English is fine! One thing – myths – with ‘y’, from the Greek word mythos.

        • Llwddythlw
          Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink

          I think it’s much closer in purpose to the Iliad and Odyssey than you might think, if you accept current archaeological and higher critical analyses.

          When you say that the words have been preserved to be as archaic as the original version, do you mean the translations into English, e.g. the KJV, which is certainly not modern. There are much more modern and intelligible translations available.

      • Jacob van Beverningk
        Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        I think Thomas Jefferson took a stab at that with the New Testament.


    • Posted September 21, 2011 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      That was my thought as well.

      I remember Ecclesiastes as being not that bad, but it’s been some years since I’ve read it and I’m not sure I’d trust my memory. And there’s the pr0n in the Songs of Solomon, but that’s about it.

      The parts that people most commonly cite as being fantastic are generally horrid. The Sermon on the Mount, for example, is Hammurabi applied to thoughtcrime, where you better be your own judge, jury, and executioner if you want to avoid Jesus doing even worse to you after you’re dead. (And no divorce, and emphatic endorsement of Mosaic law, and and and and.)



      • Dominic
        Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink

        Rise up my love, my fair one, & come away. For low, the winter is past…

    • Tulse
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:03 am | Permalink

      there’s not a single story or part of it that I find even the slightest inspiring

      “Love thy neighbour as thyself.”

      “The stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself.”

      • Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:14 am | Permalink

        I think those fully qualify as deepities.

        What if your neighbor is Charles Manson? When the strange Germans dwelled in occupied France, were the French supposed to love them?

        That sort of problem runs rampant through Christianity — it’s oversimplified magical thinking that has no bearing on reality and causes no harm than good. Did you worng somebody? Want forgiveness? Well, no need to do anything as crass as make amends — all you need to do is chant a magic spell to kill the Zombie of Zion yet again, and that somehow makes everything right.



        • Tulse
          Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink

          I think those fully qualify as deepities.

          That seems dismissive to me — sure, there will always be exceptions, but the recognition of common humanity, and the moral obligations we therefore have to all humans, is a pretty important step in human development. (In many ways it is the expression of Kant’s Categorical Imperative, only several thousand years earlier.)

          To be clear, I wouldn’t say this notion is unique to, or even was originally developed by, the Jewish people. (Indeed, given the genocide in the Old Testament, they hardly lived up to these injunctions.) But if the issue is merely “does the Bible say anything inspiring”, I for one find the notion that all of humanity deserves respect to be an inspiration.

          • Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:10 am | Permalink

            But inspiring “notion that all of humanity deserves respect” has nothing to do with love.

            If the line read, “Treat all humanity with respect,” I’d have no problem with it. Make it, “Don’t do things to your neighbor doesn’t want except as minimally necessary to keep your neighbor from violating others,” and I’d be all over it.

            But why should I even pretend to try to love somebody for no other reason than that I’m living in close proximity? I’ll love that person or not on the person’s merits, and trying to pretend I love somebody who I don’t love is exactly the kind of lie that we all agreed in the recent Harris thread is a bad idea all the way around.



            • Janet Holmes
              Posted September 21, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

              I’m not really arguing with you but when it comes to the ‘love’ mentioned here I’d like to see a discussion of the translation, maybe it wasn’t really love. I read that the word in in the Bible translated as ‘charity’ was in fact ‘love’ in the Greek original of Paul’s letters. I think the Greeks had more than one kind of love, romantic love and a more brotherly sort. I’m no expert but I’ve read enough to know that translation has had a significant effect on the meanings in the bible – ‘virgin’ instead of ‘young woman’. I don’t think there’s anything valuable in it that you can’t find better written elsewhere though, I just enjoy intricate exegeses of how words should be translated.

              • Posted September 21, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

                You’re thinking of eros (lust) and agape (love). Christians hated eros and loved agape, so I think we can safely assume the passages refer to the latter and not the former. There’s also philia, the root of “philharmonic” and generally applied to non-human loves such as what one has for activities.

                As such, agape implies a greater level of commitment to an individual than is warranted without justification. You might (and should) feel agape towards your circle of friends, but it would be irrational and unwarranted to feel agape towards the sociopathic supervisor who keeps bullying you at work (or to even try to do so).

                Jesus really was born of a virgin (in the same sense that Luke Skywalker really was a Jedi Knight); such is a common calling card of pagan demigods, especially the death / rebirth / salvation variety representing agrarian sun gods. It’s like turning water into wine, walking on water, and conquering death in the underworld — if you didn’t do such things, you simply weren’t the type of god that Jesus was.

                Where the “virgin” mistranslation comes into play was when the Christians tried to “retcon” the Jewish scriptures into their new pagan syncretism. The original word was, “alma,” which would perhaps today best be translated as “maiden.” Young woman, with at least a hint of her being unmarried and therefore virginal, but it could also be applied to young newlyweds.

                There has quite literally been no better treatment of that mistranslation than that offered by Trypho, a second century Jew, in dialogue with Justin Martyr. Two millennia later, this exact same dialogue is what you’ll experience in discussions with modern Christians on the matter:

                Trypho: The Scripture has not, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,’ but, ‘Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son,’ and so on, as you quoted. But the whole prophecy refers to Hezekiah, and it is proved that it was fulfilled in him, according to the terms of this prophecy. Moreover, in the fables of those who are called Greeks, it is written that Perseus was begotten of Danae, who was a virgin; he who was called among them Zeus having descended on her in the form of a golden shower. And you ought to feel ashamed when you make assertions similar to theirs, and rather [should] say that this Jesus was born man of men. And if you prove from the Scriptures that He is the Christ, and that on account of having led a life conformed to the law, and perfect, He deserved the honour of being elected to be Christ, [it is well]; but do not venture to tell monstrous phenomena, lest you be convicted of talking foolishly like the Greeks.

                Justin: Trypho, I wish to persuade you, and all men in short, of this, that even though you talk worse things in ridicule and in jest, you will not move me from my fixed design; but I shall always adduce from the words which you think can be brought forward [by you] as proof [of your own views], the demonstration of what I have stated along with the testimony of the Scriptures. You are not, however, acting fairly or truthfully in attempting to undo those things in which there has been constantly agreement between us; namely, that certain commands were instituted by Moses on account of the hardness of your people’s hearts. For you said that, by reason of His living conformably to law, He was elected and became Christ, if indeed He were proved to be so.



              • Kharamatha
                Posted September 22, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

                Ben, what about storge?

            • Posted September 22, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

              Yah…I keep forgetting about storge. I don’t think it was on the early Christian radar, but of course more modern Christians (like C.S. Lewis) put some thought into it.


        • Dominic
          Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

          “What if your neighbor is Charles Manson?” Look out! Helter Skelter…

        • Linda Grilli Calhoun
          Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink

          That oversimplification always reminds me of my favorite Abraham Maslow quote: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as a nail.” L

          • Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink

            It also cheapens love to make it meaningless.

            Of what meaning is it to apply the same label to one’s feelings towards Josef Mengele, however compassionate and charitable, to one’s feelings towards a close family member or dear friend?


            • satan augustine
              Posted September 21, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

              Not to mention the problem that arises when when one does not particular like, much less love, oneself. If I feel horrible about myself, should I treat my neighbor horribly? If I’m depressed and I self injure, should I cut my neighbor?

      • Rob
        Posted September 21, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        Should a masochist beat their neighbor?

        • Filippo
          Posted September 21, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

          What did the sadist say to the masochist when the masochist said to the sadist, “Hurt me! Hurt me!”?

          The sadist said, “No!”

      • Posted September 21, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

        Even the “Love thy neighbour as thyself” trope is stunningly arrogant and condescending.
        Projecting one’s values onto random members of the public is about as toxic a personal policy as one can narcissistically hope to achieve.

        Why not “Treat thy neighbour as they wish to be treated”?

    • Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      I wasnt exposed to Bible stories until I was older– Dad and Bro read me Greek/Roman, Chinese, Egyptian, etc myths and modern epics (King Arthur, LotR, etc) before I was exposed to, like, Noahs Ark.

      Bible stories are *really* bad compared to the literature that came before/after it.

      Except for ‘The Ten Commandments’ movie. I loved the shit out of that movie when I was a kid. I liked Ramses and Nefretiri :-/

    • Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      I read the Bible a lot when I was a Christian, and even more when I started doubting the whole thing. And still more when I tried to read it from a liberal Christian, theologically aware approach before finally just giving up on the damn thing.

      In summary: don’t bother, unless you’re in the mood to argue with evangelists who usually don’t know the book very well. There are much better books to read.

      • Llwddythlw
        Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        I found that I had to read more of it to get a better understanding of Shakespeare and other English poetry from the same period.

        • Dominic
          Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

          But even more so then the Greek myths don’t you think? The Bible is no doubt a deep part of late antiquity’s cultural legacy to us but that should be as far as we give it credit. When I was young I absorbed Celtic & Germanic mythology with far greater gusto.

          • Llwddythlw
            Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

            Both the bible and the Greek and Roman classics were important, even though Shakespeare had “small Latin and less Greek”.

        • Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

          There is that as well — there are many allusions to the Bible in other literature. I suppose I take them for granted.

          Nearly all of Shakespeare’s work predates the KJV, but he was apparently quite familiar with the Geneva Bible.

          • Llwddythlw
            Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

            I was referring to the OT and NT in general, not specifically the KJV.

    • Sajanas
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      I really like the Book of Job as literature. It’s perhaps the most honest appraisal of the individuals worth before an Old Testament style deity, though even that runs on a bit.

      In general, the Bible as literature has a lot of the same flaws as the Iliad… lots of place names, random characters that show up, get named, and disappear, but it lacks the poetry.

      • Llwddythlw
        Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

        It doesn’t follow the Homeric metre, but there is poetry in the text. Unfortunately, it effectively disappears upon translation.

        • Sajanas
          Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

          Yeah, I definitely notice that the Psalms sound a lot better in Hebrew.

      • Dominic
        Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        Those names seem random to us but they were a part of a much deeper contemporary body of work of which all we have is a few fragments remaining. It is also true of Old English poetry. In an aside, a deep love of native stories was found in monks at Lindisfarne, to the extent that they were berated by Alcuin Archbishop of York, “Quid Hinieldus cum Christo?” – “What has Ingeld to do with Christ?” Ingeld is little more than a name to us these days but he was much better known at the time as Alcuin’s comment shows. People love stories – everything we do is narrative led, so biblical stories will have some appeal on that level, even if we can rationally dismiss them.

        • Dominic
          Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

          Incidentally, just came across an article that says Augustine saw the bible & pagan texts (eg Virgil) as “irreconcilable opposites”. This is the view that many of us take regarding the religion & science.

        • Llwddythlw
          Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink

          Thid is the basic appeal of novels, quite apart from style, plot and characterizations. As E.M. Forster observed with some hesitation, “a novel tells a story”.

          • Llwddythlw
            Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink

            Sorry, “This” not “Thid”.

    • eric
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      Jack, I took it as a double entendre. Meaning one: there are moral lessons in it we atheists agree with. Meaning two: many parts of it are great at converting christians to atheists.

  4. Posted September 21, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    I don’t yet really understand this difference between religion and politics (readers might explain it to me),

    Religion and politics were one and the same for much of the history of the West. It was only after the Enlightenment that we began to separate the two.

    For example: The reason why Christians were persecuted in the Roman empire was because they were making political statements by not worshipping the pagan gods; the pagan gods included the Roman emperors.

    If you refused to make sacrifices to the gods, like the Christians did, then you are putting the health of the empire in jeopardy because this might anger the gods and they in turn would wreak havok on the empire.

    Ironically, Christians were seen as atheists by the general public.

    • Filippo
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      Just reflecting and not presuming to instruct or necessarily inform:

      Transliterated from the Greek alphabet to the Roman alphabet, “hoi polloi,” “the herd.”

      Consider the words: policy, political (science), politics, polite, police, poll, polled (heifer).

      That is, politics (political science) is (the study of) “herd management.”

      I’ve often compared political rallies to evangelical revival services.

      • Posted September 22, 2011 at 12:45 am | Permalink

        Filippo, your etymology is quite specious.

        Hoi polloi is Greek for “the many” or “the majority”.

        Politics etc. come from the Greek polītēs, “citizen”.

        Poll, polled aren’t even from Greek; but from Germanic “head”.


  5. truthspeaker
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    So if I ripped up photocopies of pages from Mein Kampf, this rabbi would be equally offended, right?

  6. Posted September 21, 2011 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Certainly is a warning shot and reason to stock up with more guns and ammo. I know these despicable, godless, vermin are after my wife daughter and dog next.

    Let them get w/in 50 mi of my hacienda and I will serve them 30-06 lead and eatin the whole bible, un-a-bridged, athe-terroist scum.

    To arms! To arms!!

  7. Posted September 21, 2011 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Apparently, he’s not yet seen or heard of “Draw Mohammed Day” if merely ripping copies of pages of the babble is what sets him on tilt.

    This does give me half a mind to do something clever with a real page from a real babble . . .

    • bric
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      For anybody with the cojones, something like Tom Phillips’ ‘A Humument’ would be cool . . .

    • Linda Grilli Calhoun
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      Origami? L

      • Posted September 21, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        Not quite origami. But it deals with “end times”, “revelation” and the appropriate place whereat one normally contemplates serious issues while attending the end.

  8. daveau
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    “New Atheists want, above all, to undo the undeserved respect attached to anything connected with faith.”

    Hear, hear!

    • Graham Martin-Royle
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      Bloody right! Undeserved respect is undeserved. Religion deserves no respect.

  9. Teemo
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    “there are plenty of parallel teachings in secular thought which are just as ennobling”

    Someone keep a record of that. A person defending religion actually said that.

  10. Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    I deleted a copy of the Bible from my computer. Oh no, how inhumane! How fanatical!

    • Dominic
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      But pleasing to Zeus who cannot abide christianity.

    • Sajanas
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      That makes me think of an automated Muslim/Christian offender. Have your computer make a copy periodically, draw all over it with MS paint, delete it and then randomize the hard disk space that used to own it. And then just let it run.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Reminds me of “the Amish computer virus.” 🙂

      • Janet Holmes
        Posted September 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        The guy with the abacus gets a cold?

  11. Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    While they may not draw on traditions such as “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or “Love your enemy,”

    [theistic condescension] While they may not orient the moral direction of their lives with our manifestly superior rules and guidelines, they nevertheless can (if they try very hard) sort of manage with *shudder* secular guidelines that mimic the wonderfulness of our religious moral thought! [/theistic condescension]


    The golden rule predates the Abrahmic religions in various forms by many, many centuries.

    And “love thy enemy” is of questionable moral worth, as Hitchens would point out.

  12. Jonny
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Not that I’m defending male circumcision Jerry – but the practice you are referring to – ‘Metzitza Be’peh’ – does not entail biting off foreskins. Google it.

    • Sajanas
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      Doesn’t it involve sucking it off instead? Cause that’s a lot better.

      • Jonny
        Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

        I would certainly rather have my foreskin sucked than bitten off.
        More to the point, this ceremony takes place after the circumcision has occurred – so it’s not sucking anything OFF, it’s sucking the wound after the foreskin is gone.
        I’m not defending it, I just think it’s a good idea to criticize religions for what they actually do.

        • Jacob van Beverningk
          Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

          Hm.. reading that I wonder if there originally wasn’t a practical use to it: when I, as a kid, would have a wound that wouldn’t stop bleeding, my mother would always tell me to lick it.
          Apparently, human saliva contains a substance that acts as a blood coagulation agent.

          (This is the only thing I found on it: )

          • daveau
            Posted September 21, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

            Sounds a little too “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

          • Kevin
            Posted September 21, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

            Anyone’s mouth is full of bacteria. Stuff you definitely don’t want in an open wound.

            Why in the heck do you think surgeons wear masks? It’s not so the patient won’t be able to ID them in court if something goes wrong!

        • Posted September 21, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

          I would rather have it sucked than cut off. I doubt that the baby is in any state to care after what’s just happened to him, but it’s certainly not a good look, yet here is a rabbi still defending metzitzah b’peh:

  13. Dominic
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    When I started to read this for a moment – just a moment – I thought you were going to tell of a real incident of atheist abusiveness, but I should have known better. It is hard to make ‘man burns photocopy’ sound incendiary, but the Rabbi has a good go. What if it were shredded?

    Faith is just a process, faith is just an opinion based on what people want to believe NOT ON WHAT IS. To my mind therefore faith deserves little or no respect, unlike views based on observation & cogent analysis of the material world.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Oh, let’s waterboard a Bible…

    • Filippo
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      What if one underlines passages? What if one dog-ears pages? Or just one page? What if one says out loud, “I’m thinking about burning or shredding photocopied pages”? What if one leaves it out in the damaging sunlight? What if one lets dust gather on it? How much dust is acceptable?

  14. Steve Smith
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    the destruction of texts is the opposite of free thought

    This is a photograph of Jefferson’s cut up bible source taken at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History. Jefferson cut out all Biblical passages asserting Jesus’ virgin birth, miracles, divinity, and resurrection:

    • Dominic
      Posted September 22, 2011 at 1:23 am | Permalink

      How interesting! Thanks.

  15. Insightful Ape
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Does the good rabbi remember the vicious response of muslims in afghanistan to Koran burning in Florida which left several people dead? Does he think this is the proper way to repond to an individual’s exercise of his freedom of expression?
    The article lays bare the deep seated attitude among the religious, that their claims are above criticism. They have been shielded against anything they find inconveniet, and that is a privilege that they never earned and do not deserve. Time for the good rabbi to grow up.

  16. daveau
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    “Take the 2008 Republic Party platform.”

    Please. /Henny Youngman

    What a jingoistic and disingenuous website that is. Wow.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink


      RE the site–do you mean the WaPo “On Faith” section? At least they run a regular “blog” (somehow these newspaper column blogs don’t seem like the real thing to me) by Susan Jacoby, and occasional input from Dawkins, among others…

      • Posted September 21, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        I believe he’s referring to

  17. Tacroy
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Huh, the last time I was in Huntington Beach Ray Comfort was there making a fool of himself to the crowd. (funnily enough, that guy who’s counter-protesting in the video was there too, he’s a YEC just like Ray)

    One of the schticks Ray did was to bring up some random volunteer who was promised $5, and go through this thing where he asked her if she’d lied, if she’d stolen, if she’d committed adultery “and keep in mind that the Bible defines adultery as thinking about having sex with anyone you aren’t married to” – and then at the end of it yelling at her about being a sinner who needs to come to Jesus. Then she got her five dollars. It was kind of embarrassing.

    And all this hardcore grilling of some random passer-by, who identified herself as a Christian, in the middle of Huntington Beach (Surf City USA – yes, that one.). I’m expecting that the Rabbi will write an article eviscerating this horrible behavior any day now.

    (I ended up getting into a fight with Ray Comfort about the definition of axioms (he thought that they were always true, like “two parallel lines never intersect” – I pointed out that if you assume two parallel lines never intersect, there’s all sorts of complicated geometry you’ll never understand). The fight was both fun and effective – it was so boring that the crowd disappeared, and Ray’s merry troupe had packed up and left the next time I looked)

    • Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      He’s there pretty often on Saturdays. I imagine that’s why they chose that place, and I’m hoping for a confrontation!

      Verbal, of course.

    • Kevin
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      I’ve seen Comfort’s schtick on YouTube.

      Aside from ignoring the nutter, my responses to him would be:

      1) Who says the bible is authoritative?
      2) How do you know Jesus died for our sins? Were you there?

      And on and on.

      Never acknowledge that a single assumption of his is true — because they’re not.

      Stealing a candy bar when you’re 6 does not make you a thief deserving of everlasting torment and pain.

      And besides which, what he’s really implying is that every single baby-raping cannibal who ever died with the name of Jesus on his lips is in heaven while their victims rot in hell.

      • Posted September 21, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        Nah, that’s not a good strategy. You’re conceding the offensive to him, leaving yourself with nothing but the defensive.

        Better to first establish that he thinks the Bible is meaningful — should take all of two seconds. Then tell him he’s a childish idiot who should know better than to believe in such nonsense as enchanted gardens with talking animals and angry giants or wizards having epic magic wand duels or zombie snuff porn.

        He doesn’t deserve any sort of respect, so don’t give it to him and make it obvious why he doesn’t.



    • Ichthyic
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Then she got her five dollars.

      Now there’s an idea for a church I can get behind:

      Go to church, GET MONEY!

      Of course, the amount of money would be dependent on the length of the church service. I think a rate of a dollar a minute is fair.

      yeah, somehow I don’t think that will end up being a good business model though…

      • Diane G.
        Posted September 21, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

        Especially since its direct opposite, the already established church business model, has worked so well for so long.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted September 21, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Permalink



  18. Posted September 21, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    OK, after a little while of contemplating with myself over such petty a concern as taste, and then writing an article, I decided to do a little video work and upload it.

    Respect the bible? That’ll be the day.

  19. Bobo
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Pretty sure in an article called the “ugly side” of atheism you should talk about Pol Pot.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink


      So should we mention PP because he was “General Secretary of the Atheist Party of Kampuchea”, whose party in turn is affiliated to the “Atheist International (Athintern)”?

      Get a grip. There is no organized social movement of atheism as of yet. You couldn’t even make an ideology (philosophical tendency) of it, as you can in religion or politics, because atheism is tied to empiricism instead of dogma.

  20. WhiteHawk
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    What an impotent article by Hirschfield. If he wanted to expose the ugly, vicious, fanatical side of atheism, why choose an example of atheists shredding pages over an example of atheists shredding human beings? It makes precisely zero sense.

    He could have chosen Columbine shooter Eric Harris, who on the day of the massacre wore a shirt that read “Natural Selection” and in his journal wrote, ”Sometime in April me and V will get revenge and will kick natural selection up a few notches…anything that will cause damage and chaos…I want to leave a lasting impression on the world…I’m full of hate and I love it. I HATE PEOPLE, and they better f***ing fear me if they know what’s good for em…I want to grab some weak little freshman and just tear them apart like a f***ing wolf. Show them who is god. Strangle them, squish their head, bite their temples into the skull, rip off their jaw…this isn’t a world anymore, its H.O.E. [hell on earth]…We know what we are to this world and what everyone else is.”

    He could have chosen Pekka-Eric Auvinen, who conducted a massacre at his Finnish high school that included murdering the school nurse who had come to the aid of the student that he had already shot. He described himself as “a cynical existentialist, anti-human humanist, anti-social social-Darwinist, realistic idealist and god-like atheist.” And stated, “I am the law, judge and executioner. There is no higher authority than me.” He had written blog posts and made videos which he referred to as “Manifesto of a Natural Selector.” In these he stated things such as, “I cannot say that I am of the same race as this miserable, arrogant and selfish human race. No! I have evolved a step higher.”

    He could have chosen Jeffrey Dahmer, the mass-murdering cannibal, who admitted before his death, “If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then…what is the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought…I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime.”

    Or better yet, he could have chosen the atheists who operated the communist camps in Europe, particularly the gulag labor camps in the atheistic Soviet Union. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in The Gulag Archipelago, documented the following: “prisoners would have their skulls squeezed within iron rings…human being would be lowered into an acid bath…they would be trussed up naked to be bitten by ants and bedbugs…a ramrod heated over a primus stove would be thrust up their anal canal (the “secret brand”)…a man’s genitals would be slowly crushed beneath the toe of a jackboot.” Richard Wumbrand, who was tortured for his faith in communist prison, wrote, “The communist torturers often said, ‘There is no God. There is no hereafter. No punishment for evil. We can do what we wish!’ I have even heard one torturer say, ‘I thank God in whom I don’t believe that I have lived to this hour when I can express all of the evil in my heart.’ He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.”

    He could have also mentioned the absolute historical fact that state-backed irreligion in the 20th century – in China, in Cambodia, etc. – swallowed up the lives of around 150,000,000 innocent people, in what was by far the bloodiest century in human history.

    I mean, really…Hirschfield should just retire the pen and leave the atheist/atheism-bashing in hands more capable than his.

    • RR
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Why do Christians kill other people?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Well, he could mention these lunatics or political ideologies, but luckily he didn’t because then he would have been exposed to even more laughter.

      Anyone can notice how religiously motivated these “who is god”/”god-like” lunatics are. Or how politico-religious those so called “atheists” are (no statistics), in nations where the communist party wanted to tear down dogma of traditional religions and replace them with dogma of political philosophy.*

      * In many ways they were the same, “state-backed religion” as it were. Which makes the proposed atheist/atheism-bashing doubly laughable and even less sensible.

      • RR
        Posted September 21, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        I want you to know that everything I did, I did for my country.
        – Pol Pot

    • Posted September 21, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Although your list of atrocities committed by atheists is impressive, I’m afraid I don’t see your point. Most of them were done, if not in the name of a religion, in the name of some other mindless faith. It’s the mindless faith part that atheists work against — the imaginary being behind it hardly matters.

      And as for the individuals you cite — Harris, Auvinen, etc. — be reasonable. Would someone really cause untold harm, and his own destruction, because of what he didn’t believe? They had other motivations.

      If you are implying that atheists sometimes do bad things, I don’t think anyone would disagree with you. But let’s not get into a contest about which side has the higher body count — there have always been more religious people than atheists, of course the religious have the higher body count.

      And finally, even if I were to concede that atheists tend to be mass murderers, religion would still be a lie.

      • Posted September 21, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        Would only that Stalin had abandoned his atheism for the divine truth of Quetzalcoatl, Russia would have been spared the purges.

        Wait. What?


    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      And, as I momentarily forgot, half the time these so called “atheist” nations supported the churches when it suited them.

      Only one nation declared itself atheist, Albania (but of course it was still communist) after it had tried a national church, and while Hoxha was elevated in the usual communist leader cult.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink


      right, so it was his ATHEISM that was his motivation.

      wait, what?

      another deluded fuckwit exposes himself.

      good job, whitehawk.

      another point for “your side”


  21. Circe
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Somewhat off topic, but here is a verse (in translation) from a modern (1930′s) Hindi poem called Madhushala (literally The Tavern, written by Harivansh Rai Bachchan) which is actually very popular in India. The reason I was reminded of it is because the Rabbi would probably like to get the book banned for it:

    “If the fire of one’s curiosity
    Has burnt all the scriptures,
    The one whose passion has demolished
    All the temples and all the mosques,
    The one who has cut through the traps
    That Priests, Momins and Pandits lay
    That one, and that one alone,
    Is to be welcomed today by my Tavern.”

    (Translation mine, so if you don’t like the poem, blame me and not the poet 🙂 . Hindi original is available, for those who might know it is available at the Hindi Wikisource, here.

    • Circe
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      As it is, the last sentence in my post sounds rather surreal. It should have been,

      “Hindi original is available, for those who might know the language, at the Hindi Wikisource, here.”

  22. Ichthyic
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    an act of fanaticism connoting a complete lack of respect for faith


    I swear, these religious idiots trying to equate destroying photocopies, or even original copies, of translated religious texts are just speeding their own demise.

    strangely, I recall when PZ “desecrated” a Quran, that all of the Islamic commenters mentioned that they simply didn’t care if he destroyed a copy not in the original arabic.

    yet, supposedly a PHOTOCOPY of a 20th generation translation of a supposed religious text gets this guy up in arms?

    makes one wonder.

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 21, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      Worse still, it’s the christian bible – none of my Jewish friends (religious or not) care at all about what someone does to a christian bible. I think the Rabbi is simply using the event as a foil to whine about those monstrous atheists.

      • Posted September 21, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        Well, I’d get upset if somebody damaged a Gutenberg Bible, or, worse still, one of those illuminated ones from before the press. But that’s an alternatively-colored fish kettle, of course, of course.


    • Posted September 21, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

      Interesting in this context that William Tyndale was strangled and burnt at the stake – by Christians – for translating the bible into English.

  23. MadScientist
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    “… people fanatically attached to their own view of things felt that their sense of things was so true, it justified trampling on the views and sensitivities of others …”

    Translation: Don’t challenge Teh Stoopid!

    Religious folks just pray for a world in which none of their silly beliefs are challenged – and when people are left not knowing anything better, they go promulgate their religion and threaten all others.

  24. Filippo
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    “Why do corporations, but not churches, have to pay taxes?”

    Do I correctly recall that this was the price corporations (investors and officers) pay in exchange for the creation of this legal fiction “person” that allows investors and officers to avoid liability?

  25. Dave
    Posted September 22, 2011 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    What is the difference between ripping up a photocopy and ripping up a printed Bible? To make a distinction is to fetishize the book, to give it some holy significance. In either case you’re destroying information. One is just as bad, or just as not-bad, as the other. Theists should be just as offended by ripping up photocopies and atheists should be indifferent to the distinction.

    (I’m not talking about destroying a 2K-year-old manuscript. That would be different because it’s a valuable cultural and historical artifact. Printed Bibles are a dime a dozen, so cheap they give them away in hotel rooms.)

  26. Posted September 22, 2011 at 4:04 am | Permalink

    In both religion and politics, you can identify the lack of hard data by the strength of the vitriol.

  27. Sergio Ortega
    Posted September 22, 2011 at 4:16 am | Permalink

    What about all the books religious leaders prohibit their followers read? I think this is a disgrace to humanity since these people could easily break the spell they are under if they had access to knowledge they have the right to have. They are treated as though they were little children when they are not allowed to read widely. This is worse than burning books: not being able to read them because of superstitious beliefs.

  28. Guy Hoch
    Posted September 22, 2011 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    Re cartoon:

    Third picture should have been Felix Derzhinsky.

    IL Maestro

  29. Greg Miller
    Posted September 22, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    “Why do corporations, but not churches, have to pay taxes?”

    In order to file for federal tax-exempt status, you have to be a corporation first (even if it’s a church). There are many types of tax exempt organizations, and even though there is a category for religious organizations, it’s very likely they would all still qualify under some other category even if that one didn’t exist.

  30. Peter
    Posted September 22, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    When I received a newspaper from the Catholic Church intended to make me outraged and to vote against same sex marriage I took my Catholic Family Bible and composted it. Now at least it has become useful.

  31. Sandi
    Posted September 25, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    “I don’t yet really understand this difference between religion and politics”

    Because with everything but religion you can argue facts that are tangible, with religion it is all based on what a person believes and if you don’t believe the same thing then there is nothing to argue over since there are no facts to provide a base on which to make points.

    If you are a believer you may argue with other believers about your “personal” interpretations, but if you are not a believer then you are starting at the point of disbelief and there is nothing in common between disbelief and belief.

    Basically we can disagree about the merits of a certain thing, but not the existence.

  32. Max Cady 128
    Posted September 27, 2011 at 2:10 am | Permalink

    Wow, at first I thought that these fringe atheist groups were kinda curious, but I’ve never read so much bigotry, so much misinformation, such painful displays of relativism, paranoia and smear in just one single page.

    This kind of mentality is not healthy, gentleman.

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