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Austin Cline

Barry Saunders: Atheists Shouldn't Care About Bigotry, Lies About Them

By April 28, 2007

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When bigots and bullies are called out for their noxious behavior, a common tactic for responding is to insist that those who are insulted, offended, or who otherwise object are being too "sensitive" or "touchy." This passive-aggressive tactic is designed to blame the target of the bigotry or bullying for actually caring about what the bully or bigot is doing. The premise is a double-standard: it's OK for a bully to promote bigotry, but then also bully others into not objecting to that bigotry.

Shortly after the Virginia Tech killings, Barry Saunders wrote:

No atheists in foxholes? Maybe not, but there are probably no atheists anywhere when Americans hear that college students, studying to make the world and themselves better, have been massacred.

Was I the only person from whose throat escaped an involuntary "Oh, Lord" upon hearing of the campus carnage at Virginia Tech?

I didn't think so.

Source: The News & Observer

This isn't very different from what another anti-atheist bigot, Dinesh D'Souza, wrote in the wake of the Virginia Tech killings. Like D'Souza, Barry Saunders can't imagine that a person's disbelief in god might be anymore than surface-deep, such that as soon as some terrible event happens, they suddenly become theists and cry out for assistance. Religious theists are sincere, but atheists are not really sincere but why?

Naturally Saunders offers no explanations for this. Ultimately it's little different from saying that there are "probably no non-Christians when anywhere when Americans hear that college students...have been massacred." and then declaring that everyone cries out to Jesus when faced with desperate circumstances. I suspect that Barry Saunders is capable of recognizing how bigoted and ignorant it would be to insist that everyone acknowledges Jesus' existence with faced with death, but for some reason he just doesn't get it when it comes to the claim that everyone believes in God in the same circumstances.

We know this for a fact because atheists wrote in to complain and point out how wrong he was:

I honestly thought it was a joke, a poor one, that anybody could take umbrage at a line about atheists in foxholes -- especially in light of the national tragedy that was still unfolding in Blacksburg, Va.

Wouldn't you think that people who so strenuously profess to not believe in a god would be a lot less inhibited, less -- hmmm, what's the scientific word I'm looking for? -- anal?

Source: The News & Observer

You read that right: Barry Saunders initially thought that the complaints were jokes because he couldn't imagine that atheists would actually care if someone like him spread lies and bigotry about them. In reality, there is nothing about not believing in any gods that would, for any reason, cause a person to not mind when ignorant, self-important columnists take it upon themselves to encourage false beliefs, misinformation, misunderstandings, and bigotry.

Barry Saunders is simply trying to cover for his errors. Perhaps he can't bring himself to apologize and admit error, so instead he turns around and attacks atheists once again: first he attacked them for being insincere; now he attacks them for objecting to his initial attack. As noted above, it is a very common tactic for bullies to insist that others should stop being so "anal" or "touchy" in their reactions to the bully's attacks as if it weren't the responsibility of the bully themselves to not attack, not spread lies, and not encourage bigotry.

I encourage you to write to Barry Saunders again and tell him that this sort of passive-aggressive response is unacceptable he wouldn't get away with spreading such bigotry against other groups and he shouldn't pretend that it's acceptable to do the same with atheists. You can also submit a Letter to the Editor of The News & Observer to ask them why they tolerate such anti-atheist bigotry on their pages.

Don't allow Saunders' bigotry to go unanswered, and don't allow his bullying to go unanswered either. If he can't justify his claims about atheists, and if he cannot explain why it's OK to make such statements about atheists but not about other groups, then he should acknowledge that he was wrong, he should acknowledge that his statements were ultimately bigoted, and he should apologize.

April 28, 2007 at 6:07 pm
(1) Alonzo Fyfe says:

My letter has been sent to the newspaper.

Dear Editor

I wanted to address the denigrating nature of Barry Sanders’ comment that there are no atheists in foxholes in a recent article.

My atheist father picked the military as his career when he was young. As a part of that service, he set up escape routes for downed pilots during the Korean War. A good percentage of the pilots who made it out of Korea owe a debt of gratitude to my father.

An airplane crash several years after the war left him totally disabled. He died recently, and though he lived longer than the doctors said he would, he did not live as long or as well as he would have otherwise lived.

My father named my younger brother after another atheist friend, a fighter pilot who died on a mission out of Guam.

One of the most noble things that a person can do is to risk his life for others. Sanders’ comment effectively states that, of all of the people in foxholes that our nation is indebted to, there are no atheists among them.

I beg to differ.

Alonzo Fyfe

April 30, 2007 at 12:46 pm
(2) Tom says:

Sanders: Was I the only person from whose throat escaped an involuntary “Oh, Lord” upon hearing of the campus carnage at Virginia Tech?

I said, “Holy sh*t.”

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