Skip to main content

Form letter for religious complainants

NB. this is a bit of fun at the expense of SOME religious complainants (having recently been the target of some complainants of this sort myself). Of course, plenty of religious folk don't write this sort of guff, and do actually take the time to make considered, well-judged points. But there's a certain sort of religious moaning minnie we are all familiar with at whom this is obviously aimed.

Perhaps an atheist version could be constructed - I'll leave it to a theist to do so.

Dear (tick as appropriate)
* potential purchaser of this publication on amazon
* editor of the letters page of the ______ newspaper
* publisher

I recently read ______'s article/book ______ and I must say I am appalled. What were you/the publishers thinking? The author is clearly (tick one or more as appropriate):

* operating with a crude and unsophisticated understanding of religion.
* guilty of attacking a straw man.
* guilty of constructing a grotesque caricature of religion.
* trotting out tired cliches.
* not qualified to comment in this area, being a _____

Only a fool would think that that's what sophisticated theists such as myself believe. In addition, the author is: (tick as appropriate)

* aggressive, embittered and fanatical.
* rude and insulting.
* guilty of mounting unwarranted ad hominem attacks against his/her opponents.

His/her arguments are: (tick as appropriate)

*of the sort that children/1st year undergraduates can spot the holes in.
* of the sort that would have you thrown out of my undergraduate lectures. (thanks to John D for this one! - SL)

Clearly, the author is wedded to (tick as appropriate):


and we all know where that leads, don't we? Remember, atheism is a faith position too.

I cannot be bothered to provide any explanation or indeed justification for any of these accusation, nor to explain what I believe. Instead I say this: that science and reason have their limits!

Arrogant Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr/Prof clever dick ________ should just remember that there are "more things in heaven and earth that are dreamed of in YOUR philosophy!" The author should show a little humility, for goodness sake!

Readers would do far better to look elsewhere for a proper understanding of religion. I suggest works by: (tick as appropriate):

* Mark Vernon
* Karen Armstrong
* Alister McGrath
* William Lane Craig

Yours sincerely



John Danaher said…
The "of the sort that 1st year undergraduates can spot holes in"-critique is possibly the most irksome. Even worse is the "of the sort that would have you fail philosophy 101" or alternatively "thrown out of my undergraduate lectures".
Stephen Law said…
Brilliant. I'll add it - thanks John...
This is great! I am a theist myself, but know precisely the sort of thing you're talking about -- and an atheist version would also be entirely fitting because there seems to be just as high a proportion of taking-the-position-out-of-emotion-needs types in that camp as well.

I'm going to use this for my future Critical Thinking and Philosophy of Religion courses as a very funny, easy for students to relate to example of how arguments -- and indeed even moments of movements -- can be easily manufactured by those who possess facility with the main concepts and ability with rhetoric.

Do make an atheist version -- and perhaps some variants -- I think my students would love to see them
Anonymous said…
"Perhaps an atheist version could be constructed - I'll leave it to a theist to do so."

Well, I'll give it a go...

Dear (tick as appropriate)
* potential purchaser of this publication on amazon
* editor of the letters page of the Guardian/Independent
* publisher

I recently read ______'s article/book/comments as reported in the press, and I must say I am appalled. What were you/the publishers/he/she thinking? The person in question is clearly (tick one or more as appropriate):

* trying to con people
* unable to face up to reality
* trying to make him/herself feel important by telling people what to do
* unqualified to speak on anything, since he/she only studied Theology, which as we all know isn’t a proper subject at all

Only a fool would think that any educated and intelligent person such as myself could believe in that crude Bronze-age/Iron-age mythology. In addition, the author is clearly: (tick as appropriate)

* a misogynist
* a homophobe
* out-of-touch with contemporary mores
* living in an ivory tower

His/her arguments: (tick as appropriate)

* don’t rely on a literal interpretation of the Bible, and are therefore sophistical and dishonest
* of the sort that anyone who’s read The God Delusion/God is Not Great/Letter to a Christian Nation can see is false

Clearly, even so-called “moderate” religion is (tick as appropriate):

* making the world safe for fundamentalists
* misogynistic
* homophobic
* bigoted
* worse than molesting children

and we all know where that sort of thing leads, don't we? Remember, religion is just a collection of Bronze-age myths written down by illiterate goatherds!

Religion is so obviously wrong that I feel confident in dismissing it without having more than the most superficial understanding of what it says. Instead I say this: that science and religion are completely incompatible!

Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr/Rev/His Grace/His Holiness/Prof clever dick ________ should just grow up and cast aside his emotional crutches!

Readers would do far better to look elsewhere for a fuller demonstration of why religion is wrong and dangerous. I suggest works by: (tick as appropriate):

* Richard Dawkins
* Sam Harris
* AC Grayling
* Christopher Hitchens

Yours sincerely,

Benet said…
"The author should show a little humility, for goodness sake!"

This is the most irritating. Usually in some variant of the arrogance of claiming to know there is no super-natural being even though what is being claimed is that there is a super-natural being possessing certain properties and the atheist is only making claims about the latter - the former being a theoretical but irrelevant possibility.

Although I would add a reference to Plantinga to cover the slightly more sophisticated theist's response, as in - Plantinga solved the Problem of Evil...
powerman said…
I just watched you talk at the debate in Oxford, and despite being an atheist I have to say you did in fact attack a strawman.

This 'Benevolent God' (i.e. one that would offer freedom from suffering for all beings all the time) which you kept trying to debunk was a clearly a creation of your own.

Most Christians don't believe that their God at any point promises an earthly life free from suffering, and the God described in the Bible certainly doesn't offer that. So why attack it ?

It just makes it look like you're arguing with whether God should exist instead of whether God does exist.
Anonymous said…
Re:..Most christians don't beileve..

I would think what Christians do and don't believe is highly context-and situational-dependent.
And moreover: The (perplexing) resilience of belief (when challenged by the realities of life ) is maintained by a suite of tacit self-deceptive "techniques". And mind you, this is not a genuine property of christianity, -you'll find the same mechanisms in other religions.

But I'll claim that when presented with the "godly commercial" in psalm 23, most christians really do belive it.
It does however take a
fascinating amount of selective observation and morphed thinking to make reality fit the promise.

In Cod we trust
powerman said…

They may well be employing every psychological technique you describe, I'm just pointing out most Christians certainly don't believe that their God offers a life free of suffering or injustice (in the material world), and their own scriptures repeatedly describe this God ordering or conducting mass executions (e.g. the first born sons of Egypt).

It doesn't therefore make for a very strong line of attack to try and prove that God cannot be completely benevolent in the material world.. because nobody who subscribes to any of the major religions actually believes that. It therefore does meet the definition of strawman.

Besides, as I pointed out before, arguing about the morality of a religion isn't an argument about whether its claims are true, it's an argument about whether it's desirable that its claims are true.

Imagine, for the sake of argument, that the Old Testament was the literal truth. If that were the case we'd clearly be dealing with a God who wasn't benevolent in the sense Stephen was using in his talk. It would be a rather frightening God, in fact.

That in itself isn't any sort of argument for or against this God's existence. It's an argument about the desirability of this God's existence.
Hugo said…
I prefer "There are fewer things in heaven and earth that are dreamed of in your philosophy"

Popular posts from this blog


(Published in Faith and Philosophy 2011. Volume 28, Issue 2, April 2011. Stephen Law. Pages 129-151) EVIDENCE, MIRACLES AND THE EXISTENCE OF JESUS Stephen Law Abstract The vast majority of Biblical historians believe there is evidence sufficient to place Jesus’ existence beyond reasonable doubt. Many believe the New Testament documents alone suffice firmly to establish Jesus as an actual, historical figure. I question these views. In particular, I argue (i) that the three most popular criteria by which various non-miraculous New Testament claims made about Jesus are supposedly corroborated are not sufficient, either singly or jointly, to place his existence beyond reasonable doubt, and (ii) that a prima facie plausible principle concerning how evidence should be assessed – a principle I call the contamination principle – entails that, given the large proportion of uncorroborated miracle claims made about Jesus in the New Testament documents, we should, in the absence of indepen

What is Humanism?

What is Humanism? “Humanism” is a word that has had and continues to have a number of meanings. The focus here is on kind of atheistic world-view espoused by those who organize and campaign under that banner in the UK and abroad. We should acknowledge that there remain other uses of term. In one of the loosest senses of the expression, a “Humanist” is someone whose world-view gives special importance to human concerns, values and dignity. If that is what a Humanist is, then of course most of us qualify as Humanists, including many religious theists. But the fact remains that, around the world, those who organize under the label “Humanism” tend to sign up to a narrower, atheistic view. What does Humanism, understood in this narrower way, involve? The boundaries of the concept remain somewhat vague and ambiguous. However, most of those who organize under the banner of Humanism would accept the following minimal seven-point characterization of their world-view.

Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism refuted

Here's my central criticism of Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). It's novel and was published in Analysis last year. Here's the gist. Plantinga argues that if naturalism and evolution are true, then semantic epiphenomenalism is very probably true - that's to say, the content of our beliefs does not causally impinge on our behaviour. And if semantic properties such as having such-and-such content or being true cannot causally impinge on behaviour, then they cannot be selected for by unguided evolution. Plantinga's argument requires, crucially, that there be no conceptual links between belief content and behaviour of a sort that it's actually very plausible to suppose exist (note that to suppose there are such conceptual links is not necessarily to suppose that content can be exhaustively captured in terms of behaviour or functional role, etc. in the way logical behaviourists or functionalists suppose). It turns o