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This Week: Ask an Atheist Experience

An Open Letter to Jennifer Fulwiler

Ms. Fulwiler,

A few years ago, I wrote a pair of blog posts about you. I won’t bother to ask if you’ve heard of them, because you clearly have. Just as I’m sure that you’ll eventually hear about this one.

I know this because the Ask an Atheist analytics site tells me that the second of my posts criticizing you — the one with the more provocative title — has gotten approximately 659 hits from your website.

No kidding. 659 hits.  On average, our site gets at least two clicks a day from your “Conversion Diary” blog.

659

Normally, I’d just chalk this up as free promotion for the site, and for the show. I’ve also written articles critical of Billy Graham, Pat Robertson and Jim Wallis, but I’ve never really expected to have one of them notice my little rants, much less link to me. Constantly. Nearly three years later.

Ms. Fulwiler, you’ve linked to my article quite a bit over the past few years. Your linking has yielded our site so much new web traffic, that my post,  “Guess What? Jennifer Fulwiler is Still an Idiot”  is now on the first page of Google results for your name.

I am not joking.  Look it up. Your hilarious self-martyrdom has ironically made a page insulting you into something far more prominent than most of the articles that you’ve ever written. And you only have yourself to blame for it.

My favorite of your links to us was this one. I must say, wow. It’s amusing to watch you pat yourself on the back for being so cool and collected in the face of all those mean atheists calling you out for stereotyping them. I’ve never seen someone so transparently thrilled to be the center of attention.

You know what, that’s perfectly fine. I’d feel the same way. But please, don’t pretend that you’re silently shouldering some terrible burden with dignified poise.

Despite all the free promotion you’ve given my posts about you, it’s apparent that you and your readers have never actually read them.  Your readers’ occasional comments illustrate how badly you — and your readers — miss the point of my criticisms of you.

Here is a sampling of the sort of comments your readers have written on my posts:

If you think you have to be an idiot to be catholic (or even religious)… Surely you read about these people, Rene Descartes, Galileo Galilei, Fibonacci, etc… You say there are lay catholics? Then, How about these clergy catholics? Nicolaus Copernicus, Gregor Mendel, Georges Lemaître, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, etc… If you really think you’re so smart and you can’t stomach the idea of a life after death, then check out “Pascal’s Wager”… only an idiot will stay an atheist.

Or…

Funny that “idiots” are only the religious people. Everyone against atheism is an idiot and everyone who is atheist is smart. Talking about being rational….

My point wasn’t that being Catholic made somebody stupid, or that being an atheist made you smart. I’ve spent a lot of time amongst a community of non-believers at organizational meetings, Ask an Atheist post-shows, and conventions. Our show has gotten literally thousands of emails, comments and phone calls during the nearly four years we’ve been on the air. I can speak with some authority on this.

Atheists are no more immune to being stupid than anyone else.

Among our number are some of the most brilliant people of all time,  but also a few of the dumbest people I’ve ever met. But it isn’t the company we keep that makes me secure in my non-belief, it’s the lack of evidence for the contrary position.

When your reader lists off brilliant religious believers — all of whom lived hundreds of years ago — it doesn’t make your position stronger. Just as, my atheism isn’t built on a foundation of knowing that Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking and Bill Nye happen to agree with me.

So do the Raelian UFO cultists, but that doesn’t matter.

That’s just an appeal to authority figures — good or bad — and not a solid argument.  Your readers have it all backwards.

It isn’t the stature of the people you agree with that make you right or wrong. What makes you right or wrong is the value of what you agree with them about. Their work isn’t great because they did it, but because of its individual merit.

Getting to the point, I called you an idiot.

I didn’t insult you because you’re religious. You’re not an idiot because you’re Catholic, nor are you an idiot because you stopped being an atheist.

I called you an idiot because you’re pretending to be an expert about things you clearly don’t know anything about.

In articles like this or this, for the National Catholic Register, it’s clear that you’re trying to position yourself as an expert on atheists. You’re carving out a niche as a former non-believer, a go-to authority on understanding, talking to, and converting people like me.

But as I said in both of my articles on you, you’re absolutely wretched at it. Every word you type on the subject only makes it more obvious that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

Even a brief conversation with a random non-believer would expose your arguments as laughably inept. Rather than offer your readers any new understanding about atheists, you’re simply parroting the same stereotypes that the Catholic Church has spread about us for centuries.

You’re not teaching your readers anything, just reaffirming their prejudices.

Sadly, like your fan referencing Galileo, Copernicus and Descartes, you’re relying on the audience being dazzled by appeals to your self-applied authority.  It’s an authority built on the credulity, willful ignorance and incuriosity of your readers.

I don’t know what’s more depressing — you completely missing the point of why I’m criticizing you, or your readers’ unwillingness to actually read the things they comment on.

Therefore, you remain an idiot, Ms. Fulwiler. Not because you’re a Catholic, though. As I mentioned, there are dumb atheists as well. I suspect you used to be one of them.

Thanks for the free web traffic!

Mike Gillis

Categories:
Opinion

About the Author: Mike Gillis

Mike Gillis is co-creator, and co-host of Ask an Atheist. He hosts the Radio vs. the Martians! and Mike and Pól Save the Universe! podcasts. He also enjoys comic books, the Planet of the Apes, and the band Queen.

Feedback and Commentary

24 Comments 0 Trackbacks
Kyle February 2, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Someone missed the memo about Pascal’s Wager being disowned by apologists everywhere as bad apologetics.

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hope more February 4, 2014 at 8:29 am

kyle, kyle, kyle…sounds like a teenager name too :). You missed the sarcasm of the message. Let me break it down… No apologist would even consider Pascal’s wager. But since Mike wouldn’t even consider any of Jennifer’s talking point what’s the point of using apologetics?

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hope more February 4, 2014 at 8:14 am

I don’t know Jennfier or any of her work. I just stumbled upon your blog and it seems coming from a teenager – a lost and rebellious teenager (which everybody once was). If you are not, then let’s tackle your issues dead-on objectively without prejudices and presuppositions. Maybe, you think people didn’t understand you article is because you rally didn’t have a point at all. It’s really not hard to miss why you are mocking her. ..because she’s found something you detest. She’s not an atheist now and you still are.

OK, for me there are 3 kinds of atheists: 1. Uninformed 2. Hurt/confused by somebody that belongs to a particular religion 3. Searching and hasn’t found the reason to believe in God.

1. Uninformed atheists – they think are athiests but really are agnostics.
2. These are mainly Jennifer’s audience
3. Intellectuals, naturalists and well meaning people

I honestly think you belong to the third group but coming across as a teenager because of articles like “Guess What? Jennifer Fulwiler is Still an Idiot” … I’ve heard that too many times from teenagers. “Guess what?…”

So now, man up and own your atheism and don’t mock people. In one simple statement, Why are you an atheist?

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MarinaM. February 7, 2014 at 10:32 am

But she wasn’t really as big an atheist as she originally claimed. She was baptized a Catholic, and had plenty of Catholic family members around her growing up. Since she has this book coming out, one that can be fact-checked, she’s dialed back some of the “raised atheist” and “lifelong atheist” talk.

And if #2 is her supposed main audience (personally, I think her main audience is anyone who will tell her how great she is and/or buy her book), why is she _that_ person for so many people? She never looks past her own blog hits, and spends most of her time playing manipulative marketing games. She doesn’t care about anyone any further than how she can benefit from their adulation.

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Mike Gillis February 4, 2014 at 8:35 am

Hope,

Even if you already hadn’t posted about Pascal’s Wager — a thoroughly debunked proof of a gods’ existence — your response says to me that you haven’t met a lot of atheists.

I am neither 1, 2, or 3.

There is nothing in your post, including the condescending tone and the assumption that you know us, our history and our motivations — that we haven’t heard thousands of times before.

I wish that it weren’t the case, but you still don’t get it. I’m not attacking Ms. Fulwiler because she’s a Catholic. And not because she’s no longer an atheist.

I’m attacking her claim to be an expert about a group of people she clearly doesn’t understand. You are not the first or last person who will make this mistake. That was the purpose of this post.

I don’t like when people like her — or you — try to stereotype me.

The other part that Ms. Fulwiler does is she only links to the second of my articles about her, the one with the provocative title.

The first one is linked at the top of this open letter. It contrasts Ms. Fulwiler’s ignorant assumptions about atheists with a second article by a Christian author who DOES get us.

I wouldn’t expect Ms. Fulwiler to link to that one, because that article doesn’t help her paint herself as a brave victim.

Also, this site isn’t merely a blog. We’re a radio show that broadcasts every week from Tacoma, WA. If you want to interact with us, calling into the show or emailing us is the best way to do it.

We answer emails on the show, so don’t expect a personal response. For that, you need to call in. We air on Sundays from 3-4pm Pacific time. The number is 253-584-1480.

Producing a radio show is a lot of work and that doesn’t leave us with a lot of time to argue on the comment threads.

As for why I’m an atheist, it’s simple. There is no objective, repeatable evidence for the existence of any gods.

That’s it. It’s the same reason I don’t believe in Bigfoot, reiki healing or most conspiracy theories. A lack of evidence. And arguments like Pascal’s Wager are popular among Christians, but fall apart under the smallest amount of scrutiny.

We consistently get it so much that I’m tired of typing it out. So here’s a good summation of it here. There are dozens of reasons for why it’s a bad argument.

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_wager

If you want any more response, you’ll have to listen to the show, or call in.

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hope more February 4, 2014 at 8:58 am

OK. Thank you for your response! I’ll see If I can call-in but when you have time, i’ll try, and as objectively as possible to address your simple statement.

…”As for why I’m an atheist, it’s simple. There is no objective, repeatable evidence for the existence of any gods.”

You probably didn’t know I exist before i commented on your article :). Point is, evidence is not necessary for an existence of something or not.

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Randy February 4, 2014 at 10:24 pm

“…evidence is not necessary for an[sic] existence of something or not.”

True. Either something exists or it does not. However, reducing the belief in the existence of something to a guessing game doesn’t seem like a good way for those of us who desire to hold true beliefs. Hence the evidence requirement.

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hope more February 5, 2014 at 8:19 am

Even if it doesn’t seem like a good way still doesn’t disprove it exists or not. Hence :), the third type of atheists – searching (see post above about 3 types of athiests). You guys are probably the most brilliant and intelligent people among all atheists. I’ve seen, read and heard people like you and you guys rock and really good at debates. The problem with debate is… to use your own words “doesn’t seem like a good way for those of use who desire to hold true beliefs”. I’m pretty sure any of you (third types ) will hold up against any well meaning “thiests” in a debate. But as brilliant and as remarkable you guys are, i find it hard to dialogue with them in pursuit of real truth. They seemed to have hit a dead end and not willing to go further and follow where ever the search leads. Going back to the evidence requirement… I’d like to know what you think of soul and conscience? Do you believe that each of us have one and if yes, what’s the evidence for it?

Athywren February 24, 2014 at 2:05 pm

You’re right, it’s very likely that not a single one of us knew you existed before you commented here. Then you did. Now we know. See how easy that was? Why is such a display beyond your omnipotent, omniscient and omni-benevolent god?
True, you existed before any of us had any reason to suspect that you did, but belief in you is not required to avoid an eternal torment. According to a majority of Christians, belief in god and Jesus is required to avoid that torment… and yet the omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent god has made no attempt to reach us. At least, no attempt that he could possibly believe, as an omniscient being, would reach us. God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son to die to pay for our sins, but he doesn’t love the world enough to lean over and whisper “psst… I’m real”?
We didn’t believe in your before you made yourself known to us. Why should we be expected to believe in anyone, or anything, before they make themselves known? I mean, really make themselves known – not just appeal to fear and ignorance. A god could do that, if it cared to be known. So does your god not exist, or does he simply not care to be known?

(No, free will isn’t a good objection – a god would not need to override your will to demonstrate its existence… why would you call it a god if it could only resort to such brutish, clumsy methods that it would strip us of our will?)
(And no, I’m not particularly worried that I might be wrong. I might be, that’s entirely possible, but why would it be a worry? Any being worthy of the title, ‘god’ would not be so petty as humans are, would not expect perfection of beings it knows – and always knew – to be incapable of it. A god would be greater than we are, not lesser. We might have cause for awe, but fear? Why would such a being inspire fear? Fear is a tool of the insecure and the tenuous – of humanity, not of divinity. If you would fear it, how could it be a god? Personally, I’m more interested in whether believers are worried about being wrong… what would a god think of the libel in the bible? It doesn’t bear thinking about…)

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hope more February 4, 2014 at 1:41 pm

What is your email address? I’m that stupid that I can’t find it in your website. I’d really like to know what your reasons are for being an athiest? Not the stereotype reasons but “your reason”.since you don’t want to be stereotyped anyway. Surely, if you have heard a thousand times every single argument for atheism your simple reason that “There is no objective, repeatable evidence for the existence of any gods” is very unscientific. I know you can do better than that. I’d really like an honest, adult, rational, philosopical and logical dialogue without the mocking, sarcasm or stooping down. Jennifer’s argument and assertions doesn’t really make sense to you (the other kind of atheists) because out of hand you don’t even accept the existence of God. It just won’t make sense to you. my email is ihope.more@yahoo.com

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Becky Friedman February 4, 2014 at 8:29 pm

Hope, scroll to the top of the page where it says in a big red box “Ask A Question.” There are many episodes you can listen to where individual hosts and guests describe their reasons for being an atheist, Mike included.

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Mike Gillis February 4, 2014 at 2:00 pm

I’m not giving out my email address. If you want to.interact with me, call into the show. Otherwise, there is a giant backlog of old episodes of the radio show onthis site to listen to if you want to know what I believe and why. I don’t do private email debates.

I’m not going to respond any further to this thread. You know how to listen to the show or call in.

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hope more February 4, 2014 at 3:09 pm

OK. So, which email you referred to when you said?

“We answer emails on the show, so don’t expect a personal response. For that, you need to call in. We air on Sundays from 3-4pm Pacific time. The number is 253-584-1480″…

I’d be glad to send an email to that address…

Anyways. I truly hope you find the happiness and joy in this life. Much like what Jennifer found. Thank you for your time.

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Steve February 4, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Einstein was not an atheist. He was a self-proclaimed pantheist or at best agnostic. In fact, he had very critical words for atheists:

“fanatical atheists are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who—in their grudge against the traditional ‘opium of the people’—cannot bear the music of the spheres.” Albert Einstein

Just in case you missed it, Einstein thinks you are grudge holders, slaves to your negative ideology to the point that you are deaf.

“I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists.” Albert Einstein

Einstein sees a God. The “smartest” man to ever live sees a God.

“I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.” Albert Einstein

Read that as Einstein thinks that atheists are full of pain and lack humility.

“In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.” Albert Einstein

Humbly, Einstein knew he was just a human with limited knowledge and he was angered by people who were convinced that there is no God that then used his name to spread that lie.

Why was Einstein not an atheist? Because he was smart enough to understand that atheism in itself, by definition, is a logical fallacy, a paradox that can only be reasoned using circular arguments.

After reading this blog and listening to several podcasts I can attest that Einstein was correct, that atheists are generally people that are sadly full of pain, loose with “facts”, and lack humility. It’s like a cocktail for how to be an unhappy person. I would even add full of hatred and intolerance for alternative points of view which is ironically the antithesis of free thought.

Life is short, way too short to grind an ideological axe all the time. What a downer of an existence. I would think going fishing would be way more fun than mocking Christians. I mean how hard is it actually? Any rube with blog and a basement at mom’s house can do that, right?

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Becky Friedman February 4, 2014 at 8:33 pm

“Life is short, way too short to grind an ideological axe all the time. What a downer of an existence”.

I agree.

I’m sure glad that I, an assistant producer for the show, spend just a fraction of my waking hours grinding ideological axes. Most of the time I’m working hard at my job, spending time with friends, volunteering to improve the lives of others, playing with pets, reading, cooking, advocating for equity in education, keeping house, watching enjoyable TV shows…

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hope more February 5, 2014 at 7:55 am

Good for you Becky!!! Forgive me for my curiosity but why do you do all those fun stuff especially the charitable ones like “volunteering to improve the lives of others”, “advocating for equity in education”…Why do you wake up in the morning and say i’m going to do “good things” for others today? Just curious. It’s okay if you say it’s non of my business. :D

Again, It’s awesome that you do what you do!

Randy February 4, 2014 at 10:32 pm

Humbly, Einstein knew he was just a human with limited knowledge and he was angered by people who were convinced that there is no God that then used his name to spread that lie.

Wait… What? I think you got that wrong. To quote Einstein,

“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

Einstein was upset with believers for mischaracterizing his religious beliefs.

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Steve February 5, 2014 at 6:10 am

Randy,

Read Spinoza. Keyword “personal” God. The quote I refrrenced is a direct quote from Albert Einstein. He was critical of both sides of the issue obviously. He did not support Atheism, clearly, however as they used his name to attack others which he had no patience for. Try as you might, Albert Einstein distanced himself from Atheism. You should research and study why.

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MarinaM. February 7, 2014 at 10:25 am

Oh dear, and she has a “memoir” coming out and she’s hosting some kind of “conference”, so there will be no end to her self-promotional tweets and blog posts. Sigh. So tiresome. I’ve yet to come across a person who is as relentlessly and unabashedly self-promotional as that shallow, tone-deaf woman.

I used to be Catholic, but it was these “New Evangelization” types, who turn themselves and their families into brands and only see other people as unique hits or consumers for this brand of theirs who made Catholicism an increasingly empty religion for me. All about money, self-promotion, comparisons, being right on the internet, thinking you’re better than everyone else, and no God whatsoever in any of their never-ending navel gazing. They’ve definitely created a god in their own image.

And you’re right — this is the first hit, because someone was telling me about this conference and I googled her, and here I am.

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hope more February 10, 2014 at 9:27 am

Marina, How do you know her motives? How do you know she didn’t have a real conversion of the heart? You have so many conclusions on so very little “evidence”. I mean, really have you met Jennifer? You can get all the information about her in the internet or even her friends. But not unless you really talk to her and get to know her – up close and personal, you really don’t know her and her motives much more generalize an entire religion. I’d like to know your particular issues. You seemed to be bitter about religion in general.

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MarinaM February 11, 2014 at 9:18 pm

So little evidence? Her years and years of blogging provide plenty of evidence.

I’m not bitter about religion at all. I’m an active and involved member of another church. I was baptized Catholic and spent most of my life a practicing Catholic but left after I saw what the Catholic Church had turned into.

hope more February 12, 2014 at 9:48 am

marina,
I’m glad to hear that you are part of a church (I hope christian :)). I’m just curious what did you see that the Catholic Church has turned into? I’m interested and curious to hear if you don’t ind. My email is ihope.more@yahoo.com

MarinaM. February 12, 2014 at 12:31 pm

I don’t email strangers off the internet. Bonjour.

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hope more February 12, 2014 at 1:08 pm

ok. Thanks for your time. Have a happy day!

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