Atheist Hanson on “Mean” & “Nice” Atheists.


Hanson, a former Mormon turned atheist, tells us of two different types of atheists that she knows of (1). She disputes the term “militant” atheist and substitutes the word militant for the word “mean.” In her words:

What it really comes down to is this: There are two types of atheists, which (for simplicity) I’ll call the “nice atheists” and the “mean atheists.”  P. Z. Myers points out, it’s absurd to call atheists “militant” since it’s not as if they’re burning down churches — they’re just criticizing religion. However, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that some atheists are not very nice.”

Point of interjection here, if I may. Sure, atheists in the west are not “burning down churches” probably because they know it’s wrong and that it’s not permitted by law. But such acts have been committed by atheists before (Stalin), and they are still committed today (in China and North Korea). One clearly cannot divorce atheism from the possibility of militancy as history powerfully proves otherwise. But, in the context of this article, I agree with Henson that western atheists are not militant in the sense that they destroy churches. Hanson continues:

The difference between the mean atheists and the nice atheists is that the mean atheists think that religion is ninety-nine parts pure stupidity mixed with one part lying, opportunistic con artists. And they want to tell that to religious people whenever they’re asked to “respect” someone’s faith. The nice atheists, by contrast, believe that religion is more complicated than the stupidity-plus-con-artists model and/or that we should at least make an effort to get along with religious people.”

However, Hanson also notes the tensions within atheist camps between the “mean” and “nice” atheists. She notes that: “The fight between the two groups is this: When the mean atheists and the nice atheists get together, it’s not so much that it annoys the mean atheists to be asked to play nice. It’s more that they just want to be able to call the nice atheists names like “sniveling milquetoast” and the like.”

However, I’d like to take issue with a comment that Hanson posted within the comment thread of her article, which reads (in reply to another comment):

“I agree completely. And I think it’s crazy that the “new atheists” are called “fundamentalists” and “militants” for criticizing religion. If criticism is enough to get them branded with such terms, then it’s clear that the poles of this debate were in very serious need of shifting, and I’m glad the new atheists are there doing it.”

Well, I beg to differ. I think it would just be crazy not to call the new atheists fundamentalists and for good reason. Firstly, I don’t agree with Hanson that the new atheists are “fundamentalists” because they criticize religion. That is a false claim on Hanson’s part; in fact, I support freedom of expression – and that entails that religions can be critiqued (my own one too). Instead it comes down to their personal hatred, as Eric Mader explains: “I don’t at all believe that atheists as such are inherently violent people. I do believe, however, very strongly, that those who support the New Atheism are largely motivated by a deep-seated personal hatred for people of faith” (2).

Many instances serve to prove Mader’s claim. Instances like Dawkins calling for atheists to mock religious belief in public (3), Boghossian’s claim that faith is a mental virus in need of eradication, or Hitchens’ self-given right to “think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred and contempt” (4), or Grayling’s belief that religion should be eradicated from the public sphere.

These atheists aren’t merely criticizing religion. Instead, they are mocking religion, the religious believer, and advocating harmful activities that will only fuel further retaliation. So it is not, as Hanson says, just “criticism [that] is enough to get them branded with such terms,” it’s far more.


1. Hanson, C. 2007. The “new atheism” controversy explained!!! Available.

2. Mader, E. 2015. Dealing with New Atheist Bigotry: Some Basic Steps. Available.

3. YouTube. 2012. Richard Dawkins espouses Militant Atheism: “Mock them, Ridicule them.” Available.

4.Dave. Religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred, and contempt. Available.


5 responses to “Atheist Hanson on “Mean” & “Nice” Atheists.

  1. Since the only commonality atheists have by virtue of their atheism is an absence of beliefs in gods, the idea of types of atheist doesn’t really make sense. I’m aware of the phrase “new atheism”. It gets used a lot for different purposes and to mean various things, which makes it analytically dubious. It’s probably more useful to identify and group along common beliefs and behaviours. I would suggest that happening not to hold beliefs in gods is not a core motivator of behaviour or underpinning of beliefs.

    Atheism isn’t a world view and has no dogma. Suppose Stalin was fuelled by hatred of gods and religion, that wouldn’t be atheism. Suppose North Korea wanted to wipe religion from the planet, still not atheism. Implying that atheism was a determining factor in the actions of brutal dictatorships is intellectually dishonest.

    Although I don’t agree with the view that religion is a mental virus etc. I think it’s essential to point out that there’s a difference between “hating people of faith” and criticising or mocking ideas. All ideas should be open to criticism and satire, even those we hold dear.

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