Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageOp-Ed: An open letter to Rex Murphy regarding 'The angry atheist'

By G. Robert M. Miller     Jul 28, 2013 in Politics
Originally intended as a letter to Rex Murphy in response to "The Angry Atheist", it is now open as writing directly appears unavailable...
Hi Rex,
I can’t say I’m a big fan of “The Angry Atheist” article you recently penned. It is interesting (and questionable) that you would start off by lambasting a dead-man for being a howling fanatic and an oafish-brute just before going on your own jaded polemic; a bit hypocritical, no? I want to get the point of your article (re: chaplains for atheists) and I will, but first I need to point out how misguided the first half of your article was.
I once watched a video where the argument was made that if you want to convince a person to your way of thinking, to put it bluntly, one needs to be careful to not “be a dick” (Phil Plait's “Don’t be a Dick, Dude” is worth your time). Which left me with a question; was the aim of your article to galvanize extremism in both believers and atheists? I cannot imagine many on either side saw the promise of mutual-bond and kinship from your words… We’re near the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where members of all creeds and backgrounds took part in peaceful demonstration to trumpet common bonds, equality and forward progress… Oh, dichotomy. Perhaps I shouldn't hold you to such a high standard... So although that’s both here and there and completely relevant to this argument, let me leave that aside for a moment and get to a few criticisms.
First up, your categorization of atheists as “one”, is absurd. Undeniably, the most widely coveted idea that free-thinkers hold dear is that they do not share common beliefs beyond that first one. Yes, they all hold that there is no god; thoughts on morality, science, philosophy, economics, literature, art, sport – everything – however, diverge at this point. Two atheists walk into a bar, both say “I don’t believe in god” and then they order different drinks; you catch my drift? There is no atheistic “system of thought” as you call it. And again, I’ll get to why atheist or humanist soldiers deserve and need a chaplain but before that, a little more water for the fire you've set on atheism.
I’m sure it’s not new to you but just to be clear, atheism is not codified as are religions and so to assume that all “professional” atheists subscribe to the narrow views of some of the most vocal is laughable (and it’s also a deceptive falsity). As well, if you took the time to study the three you mention, you would note a heck of a lot of differences between Hitchens, Dawkins and Maher. Yes they were and are friends, but again, like many atheists, their worldviews and codes of conduct are wildly different.
Celebrated atheist/author Richard Dawkins
Celebrated atheist/author Richard Dawkins
Atheist Foundation of Australia
Hitchens was a self-described polemic, which – in case you need the language lesson, and I have noticed you often tend to use the second-cousin of the word you’re looking for (Twain rolls in his grave, roaring “COOPER!” at you menacingly) – means that he was not trying to convince anyone of anything; instead he sought to embarrass people for thinking what they do. He engaged in controversial debate and dispute for the hell of it. That’s who he was! Sure, I would agree that this is a relatively fruitless pursuit, but I
The late Christopher Hitchens
The late Christopher Hitchens
would then argue that you are doing the same. More than just polemic though, Hitchens was a literary theological scholar, who could recite verse after verse of holy text, and he (unfortunately) chose to parse the negative; just as you (unfortunately) do with atheism (though I’m quite convinced you’re not as well read on atheism as he was on Catholicism and others). That in mind, before you name the colour on the pot, please note your own, Kettle.
Dawkins, on the other hand, is a scientist who has dedicated his life to what can be proven. As god cannot be, it is easy to see why he has never really spent time understanding the nuances of theology. (Please note this is quite different than Hitchens’ route). And there is proof of this - if you take even the briefest of time to study Dawkins’ career, you’ll notice that his atheism develops in response to the anti-science he consistently faced and faces. And it took him a decade to really get public about it, too! You’d also notice that Dawkins has spent a good deal of time to find scientific proof of our desire to believe in god. These aren't the habits of a “trying-too-hard”, “unmanly” or “toad”-like person but rather of someone who would like to further human understanding of some of our greatest questions; is there a god and why do so many believe? So what if his starting point is “no, and their brains aren’t working well”?
Do you reserve equal prejudice for those who study climate change from a religious, “it's-His-plan” point of view? As well, listen to Dawkins in a public question period. I think it would be a bit tiring to be asked the same questions daily about god. I might get angry too. Rex, in the past I’ve seen you basically frothing at the mouth on television over non-issues. Can you imagine not having a little bite in your words after spending years to progress scientific discussion, only to have every instance of public debate derailed by believers who think they can castigate you with holy quotes? It’s got to be frustrating, and it’s worth noting he handles it much differently than Hitchens did, or Maher does.
And to Bill Maher, he does make a lot of vicious jokes, but then again, he’s also a comedian. You’re supposed to laugh at comedians or ignore them; just like any entertainer. Important to mention, too, is that evangelist Jim Wallis was on Real Time with Bill Maher this week (Friday, July 26th, 2013). Though there was an argument (wherein Maher clearly lost), it would be hard to deny that Maher was anything but delighted to have Wallis on. And he was not excited for an opportunity to embarrass or to be rude; he was excited to have him as a guest for decent conversation.
And so, inaccuracies with regard to both atheists in general and to the three you mentioned aside, let’s get to the meat of your article.
Should not every citizen whom loves forward progress, whom believes in the separation of church and state, seek to strip away signs of Judaeo-Christian inheritance from (public) schools, courts and public places? This is not an atheist issue Rex, this is a democratic issue. This is a Canadian issue. Are we inclusive and objective, or are we not? To argue that the pursuit of the separation of church and state is an atheist issue is crazy. The pursuit of the separation of church and state is a fundamental tenet of our society, and therefore, to suggest that the pursuit of secular behaviour in governance is wrong is to speak in opposition to our constitution and charter.
Now, the big one.
To your point about a military congregation that does not promote religious thought – which I believe is why you wrote your article – I first ask, is this really the battle you want to fight? Is it really that absurd to think that young men and women who are fighting in our name might want to take some time for themselves and do communal community work or be among similarly-minded people, all while in the absence of holy literature? Do you realize that the current options are to participate in a highly-religious service, to go without a similar group gathering, or to seek a psychiatrist? Is it really so awful for freethinking soldiers to ask to hang out in an official and endorsed capacity, Rex? I ask again, is this really your battle?
Marines from 6th Communications Battalion  Marine Forces Reserve  marched in the annual New York Vet...
Marines from 6th Communications Battalion, Marine Forces Reserve, marched in the annual New York Veterans Day parade Nov. 11.
Furthermore, your definition of a chaplain is patently false. While they can provide supernatural guidance as you say, the true definition of a chaplain is, according to Oxford, “a member of the clergy attached to a private chapel, institution, ship, regiment, etc…”
According to Merriam-Webster, a chaplain is “a clergyman officially attached to a branch of the military, to an institution, or to a family or court. A person chosen to conduct religious exercises as at a meeting of a club or institution.”
The more popular defines a chaplain as “a person who says the prayer, invocation, etc., for an organization or at an assembly.”
The etymology of the word is rooted in Medieval Latin, coming from chapel, and is derived from “little cloak”, suggesting that the original idea behind a chaplain was to serve in an administrative role, whatever the need be, in order to preserve peace and well-being. The chaplain would be affiliated with the clergy, but it would be so unobtrusive that a participant in the chaplains group need not necessarily feel the veil of the church. In all instances above, the emphasis is mine. I have highlighted these points to prove the fact that a chaplain is clearly not limited to offering “meditation on the supernatural” et al. To suggest so would be a disservice to chaplains of all stripes around the world.
The argument made by others, if you have read them, is that atheists, humanists, and free-thinkers have opportunities to either, a) suck it up and join a “real” congregation or b) speak to a military counselor or shrink. Again, is it so absurd to think that a group – which is purported to make up 23 percent of the armed forces – would want to meet up together, hear a secular invocation and then get on with conversation and/or community service without any mention of “god”? Is it wrong to want that? Is it so absurd to think that what those soldiers are seeking is not a counselor or psychiatrist, but a place to meet with like-minded individuals? Is it wrong to want that? Is it so absurd to think that this desire for community is not tied to “admiration and hunger for religion”? I almost feel these questions are rhetorical.
A mock-up of a CFI  skepticism  ad to be placed in Toronto subways
A mock-up of a CFI "skepticism" ad to be placed in Toronto subways
Courtesy CFI
In sum then, it becomes overwhelmingly clear that it is you who has an “unseemly infatuation with being regarded as a victim”. In order to present your farce, you’ve chosen to harp on three of the most vocal atheists while ignoring swaths of others, and from that point, you’ve then chosen to deride a group of soldiers who want to talk among each other in an organized, recognized and official capacity.
Atheist or religious, religious or atheist, the only thing one can think in reading your article is “God damn”. As a final note and then suggestion, you’re too juvenile and too poorly read to write on this subject, and so you shouldn’t.
All the best,
Robert Miller
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about athiest, Rex murphy, Religion, Beliefs, Military
More news from
Latest News
Top News