The Friendly Atheist discovered the “No atheists in real estate foxholes” subhead from the print version of the article in last week’s Denver Post.

Apparently some atheists wrote to the columnist and complained about the use of the common and untrue stereotype parodied in the headline, and here’s his response:

I am NOT going to apologize to all atheist for a headline. I respect all atheists and their right to not believe in God. They need to respect my right to not believe in ridiculous demands for apologies.

Obviously, God did not give them a sense of humor. Maybe I should start praying for them.

The line about atheists in foxholes is a common expression. Atheists ought to be FOR freedom of expression — not against it.

Also, I do not write the headlines on my columns, and did not write this one. In fact, I didn’t see until Eller called it to my attention.

It’s unfortunate when a headline offends an entire class of people for no good reason, but when you’re slamming words in the paper as fast as you can, well, it happens. Nobody meant anything by it — and I will certainly try to never mix the words atheist and foxhole again.

This whole episode has got me to thinking, though.

If atheists are really offended by such an innocuous line, how are they any different than Jerry Farwell, who was offended by Tinky Winky, the allegedly gay Teletubbie? Or Muslims who didn’t like cartoons?

Atheism is starting to sound like just another intolerant and irrational religion to me.

Hemant has some comments worth reading:

To Mr. Lewis: Atheists are all for freedom of expression. And no one’s slamming your right to express your belief. We’re upset that you’re supposed to be working for a credible source of information, and yet, you’re writing about complete pseudoscience.

As for the headline, it’s denying the fact that there are atheists fighting for this country. There really are people out there who don’t believe atheists would fight in a war. The foxhole quotation perpetuates that. It’s far from “innocuous.”

P.S. I still think the original column was a joke. I hate it when people don’t have a sense of humor. But this guy’s response to the letter-writers was rude and uncalled for, IMNHO. This time I agree with Hemant.


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. Hey, great blog, just found it.

    I do love how so many people view "freedom of expression" as meaning "freedom from criticism." How did you become a journalist, being such a colossal wimp that you cry foul whenever someone gives you the ol' stink-eye? Standards in journalism are plummeting – anyone who would compare some letters of complaint to a worldwide uprising that resulted in dozens of deaths and two torched embassies is a… well, I won't swear on your blog. I'll keep that for mine. :)

  2. Couldn't he have at least come up with relevant arguements/examples? An atheist pointing out that a comment about atheists isn't true is not the same as Jerry Falwell claiming Tinky Winky is a gay icon. It would have had to have been a homosexual complaining that Tinky Winky wasn't a good gay icon to have been relevant.

  3. Allow me to express my near-complete apathy for the whole situation. There is no singular big-A Atheist Movement which huffs and puffs and demands apologies, yet it seems like Hemant and David Eller want it that way. Me, I'm just a dude who doesn't believe in something. Don't play the wounded minority card here – just ignore the bastards.

    On the other hand, Lewis is kind of acting like a weenie. But what do you expect from a major newspaper columnist? He's doing his job – fluffing his readers.

  4. Although I don't agree with the columnist's response to the complaint, as an atheist I have to say that neither do I give a damn about someone using a common phrase, however untrue, as a headline. There are too many…ahem, honest to god attacks on atheism out there to spend time on cosmetics.

    P.S. Feel free to excoriate me for using a colloquialism which implies the existence of god.

  5. To be honest, the writer had me up until his crack about Jerry Falwell. I'm a journalism student (about to take his first steps into the real world of the fourth estate) and he is right that the vast majority of journalists don't write their own headlines – and often won't find out what they are until they open the paper. Headline writing and laying out is the role of the sub-editor. This happened to me and caused a fine amateur golfer to complain about a story I had written, even though it was only the headline he didn't like.

    His article appeared to me to be tongue-in-cheek – but he made the mistake that people do when they are "attacked" and went on the defensive. He should have been polite, pointed out the fact that it wasn't him and he's sorry if any offense was caused and left it at that.

    But then again, he's a columnist and likely to get paid much more than scum like me, so he can take the criticism on the cheek :-)

  6. Yeah, I think the original headline was pretty innocuous. We should pick our battles and that shouldn't have been one of them. Lewis's response was very rude, though, and showed a lot of (common) ignorance.

    I can't seem to find a link on line, but in today's New Orleans Times Picayune, there was an article on the opinions page with the headline: One party who's not in the race: God. It was about the importance of the religion of our elected officials. My favorite bits:

    "On what basis does the non-theistic and practical atheist make moral choices, which include going to war and capital punishment?"

    "The questions should be asked of both the religious and the secular to help voters make up their minds which ones best adhere to godly principals and to determine what standards govern the ones who do not."

    I'm just very tired of the belief that one can't have a conscience without religion, when the religious are responsible for most of history's (and today's) atrocities. I don't kill people, not because of any fear of divine retribution or eternal damnation, but because I consider murder morally repugnant. Same with rape or child abuse or even theft. I would just feel bad. I believe we evolved morals and consciences, waaaaaay before somebody made up Jesus, so that humans could function as a society.

    Oops, getting off topic. My point was that the foxhole comment was really pretty harmless, but the guy in the Picayune, Cal Thomas, is hurting our image more by saying we have no moral base. Stoopid hypochristians!

  7. On what basis does the non-theistic and practical atheist make moral choices, which include going to war and capital punishment?

    I wonder on what basis the christians make that choice, because it obviously isn't the bible, where they SHOULD be basing it on.

    If they were basing it on the bible, the obvious choice would of course be "thou shalt not kill" …

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