There's nothing wrong, of course, with an atheist not being interested in critiques of religion. Even if one agrees that religion is more a force for harm than good and that an end to supernatural, theistic religion would probably lead to long-term improvements, there are still other things in life to worry about. What is unacceptable is to pretend that being interested in other things makes one a better person — whether one says so openly or only does so through cleverly framed rhetoric.
Greg Epstein, for example, is continuing to spread the idea that atheists who are more activist and uppity are somehow comparable to religious fundamentalists:
Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein went so far as to use the (other) f-word in describing his unbelieving brethren.
"At times they've made statements that sound really problematic, and when Sam Harris says science must destroy religion, to me that sounds dangerously close to fundamentalism," Epstein said in an interview after the meeting. "What we need now is a voice that says, 'That is not all there is to atheism.' "
Source: The Washington Post
Notice that Greg Epstein made the above statement after the 30th anniversary celebration of Harvard's humanist chaplaincy. Before that celebration, he was sharply criticized by many, including myself, for comparing atheist critics of religion to "fundamentalists." It seems that he has learned little from his exchanges with others.
At the time of my previous criticisms of Epstein, I noted that comments like his would be easily used by others for their anti-atheist agenda, and that is another matter where little has changed. In the same article, reporter Benedicta Cipolla provides quotes from three different people who grossly misrepresent atheism:
"Atheists are somewhat focused on the one issue of atheism, not looking at how to move forward," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the Washington-based American Humanist Association. While he appreciates the way the new atheists have raised the profile of nonbelievers, he said humanists differ by their willingness to collaborate with religious leaders on various issues. "Working with religion," he said, "is not what [atheists] are about." ...
Distinguishing between strong opinion and trying to impose atheism on others, Phil Zuckerman, associate professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., also finds "fundamentalist" a misnomer. Instead, he faults atheists for preferring black-and-white simplicity to a more nuanced view of religion. "Religion is a human construction, and as such it will exhibit the best and worst of humanity. They throw the baby out with the bath water in certain instances," he said. ...
"Atheists don't really ask the question, what are the vital needs that religion meets? They give you the sense that religion is the enemy, which is absurd," said Ronald Aronson, professor of humanities at Wayne State University in Detroit. "There are some questions we secularists have to answer: Who am I, what am I, what can I know? Unless we can answer these questions adequately for ourselves and for others, we can't expect people to even begin to be interested in living without God
No atheists are focused on "how to move forward"? No atheists are willing to work "with religion"? All atheists prefer "black-and-white simplicity"? No atheists have a "nuanced view of religion"? No atheists ask what "vital needs that religion meets"? No atheists try to answer questions like "Who am I, what am I, what can I know?" I'm sorry, but that's all just abominably ridiculous. There is no positive spin that can be put on such comments, nor is there any remotely generous interpretation that can be made about them.
If Roy Speckhardt, Phil Zuckerman, and Ronald Aronson were all quoted accurately, then they are laboring under impressive ignorance for men in such positions. Roy Speckhardt's comments seem especially disappointing because, as a humanist leader, he should definitely know better than to generalize about all atheists like that. If he had said that some atheists are not looking at how to move forward, then that would have been true (but trivially true, because it's true about "some" of every group — including humanists).
As it is, there are more than a few atheists in the American Humanist Association and I wonder what they think about the fact that the AHA's executive director apparently thinks that they are not looking at how to move forward? Indeed, does he even consider atheists to be "real" humanists, given how he frames the distinction between humanism and atheism? I certainly wouldn't feel welcome in an organization led by a person making such generalizations about atheists.
If you're an atheist who is a member of the AHA, consider writing to Roy Speckhardt and ask him why he is saying such things about you.
To generalize and paint atheists as the intolerant bad guys and humanists as the tolerant, peaceful good guys is completely unacceptable. I'm both an atheist and a humanist — a significant majority of humanists are also atheists. while most atheists I've encountered consider themselves humanists. The two categories aren't the same, obviously, but the dichotomy being created in the above quotes is worse than false. Instead, it's a bigoted bit of anti-atheist propaganda that can only have the effect of further marginalizing atheists for no other reason than the fact that they are openly critical of religion.
Update: Vjack at Atheist Revolution responds to this article as well.