Sometimes I really, really hate The New York Times.

Palace co-blogger and Loyal Subject™ SJ sent us an uncharacteristically cryptic missive with the subject line “Whatcha all think?”  Its content was a single link, without quotations or commentary (hey are you feeling okay, SJ?):

I clicked it, and found myself reading a piece in The New York Times “On Religion” section by one Samuel G. Freedman, purportedly about the apparent absence of atheists and humanists in the aftermath of the recent school shootings in Newtown.  Freedman sets the scene by noting that an interfaith service featuring President Obama held two days after the shooting included “clergy members from Bahai, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and both mainline and evangelical Protestant congregations.” Further:

The funerals and burials over the past two weeks have taken place in Catholic, Congregational, Mormon and United Methodist houses of worship, among others. They have been held in Protestant megachurches and in a Jewish cemetery.

Freedman writes that this tableau provokes “one prickly question,” then proceeds to ask two really stupid ones:

Where were the humanists?  At a time when the percentage of Americans without religious affiliation is growing rapidly, why did the “nones,” as they are colloquially known, seem so absent?

Christ, what an @$$hole.

For as long as I can remember, I have attended funeral services at places of worship into which I, an unapologetic godless heathen, would never otherwise set foot.  Invariably I find the services bizarre and deeply offensive, though the music and architecture are often quite lovely.  But I attend respectfully and without complaint, because I am there in support of friends and loved ones.  And I know for a fact that I am not alone in this (and further, that those who hold profoundly different religious beliefs than the deceased or their families are also in attendance, for exactly the same reasons).  So the answer to Freedman’s first stupid question is that the “nones” are right there along with everyone else at Catholic, Congregational, Mormon and United Methodist houses of worship, Protestant megachurches and Jewish cemeteries.

Apparently without realizing it, Freedman goes on to answer his second stupid question — why did the “nones” seem so absent? — but not before a digression wherein we are informed that “some leaders within the humanist movement…are ruefully and self-critically saying the same thing themselves.”  Really?  Who are these “leaders”?  Well, there are three:

  • Greg M. Epstein, the “humanist chaplain” at Harvard University, and author of a book, “Good Without God.”
  • Darrel W. Ray, a psychologist in the Kansas City area who runs the Web site The Secular Therapist Project.
  • Anne Klaeysen, leader of the New York Society for Ethical Culture.

I had never heard of any of these people until today.  And instead of pointing out that non-believers are part of the same community as the religious, these three “leaders” bemoan the absence of a separate and distinct godless group doing outreach in the name of non-belief.  There’s just one glaring problem with this complaint, as we find out in paragraph nine:

In fairness, it should be pointed out that the families of each Newtown victim chose religious funerals.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that in light of this simple fact, there is no fucking story here.  At all.  Also:

The interfaith service, by its very definition, precluded the involvement of leaders from non-faith organizations like the Ethical Culture Society or the American Humanist Association.

Gosh.  So non-faith organizations were not invited to take part in the big interfaith services.  Maybe Mr. Freedman could ponder that for a while and inquire with some interfaith “leaders” as to why this is the case.  You know, instead of being mystified that there was no obvious public outreach by the non-religious to people who all wanted religious funerals for their children.


But wait!  Twelve paragraphs in, we learn that — contrary to the content of the preceding eleven paragraphs — there was indeed outreach by the godless:

While tacitly excluded from religious coalitions, humanist groups did respond to the Newtown killings. The Ethical Culture Society chapter in Teaneck, N.J., helped organize a gun-control rally there. The Connecticut branch of the American Humanist Association contributed about $370 to Newtown families from a winter solstice fund-raiser. The organization American Atheists reports on its Web site that it has collected more than $11,000 in online donations toward funeral expenses in Newtown.

Freedman’s article is entitled “In a Crisis, Humanists Seem Absent.”  May I humbly submit that perhaps they are all hiding in paragraph twelve?  And that perhaps the reason why the godless seem absent to Mr. Freedman — apart from being deliberately excluded from participating in interfaith organizations and activities — is because he isn’t really looking for them?  They are right in front of his nose:  seated in the pews, kneeling and standing silently with families and friends, offering condolences and support at a time of profound need for human healing.

They’re in paragraph twelve of his own article.

In the United States atheists are despised as rapists.  In light of this, I wonder how exactly Samuel G. Freedman would envision them operating in a religious community in mourning.  How about by raising money for religious funerals, like American Atheists did?  Do churches regularly take up collections for the secular burials of prominent atheists?  That might be an interesting story worth investigating.  But no.  Instead, for Mr. Freedman and The Times editors, it’s a much better ploy to simply posit without evidence the absence of the godless from Newtown, and then — after painting a rueful picture of those heartless, shameless, self-criticizing atheists with nothing to offer the community — go right on to completely undermine this very premise.

I could speculate as to what possible motivation drives that dynamic, but I think I’ll let Loyal Readers™ draw their own conclusions.  After all, coming from someone as untrusted as a rapist, what would be the point of even offering my opinion?

Sometimes I really, really hate The New York Times.  I expect better.  Then again, they run Tom Friedman.  And Ross Douthat.  And David Brooks, fer crissakes.  Perhaps Mr. Freedman aims to join that illustrious group:  The Four Horsemen of the Journalistic Apocalypse.

4 thoughts on “Sometimes I really, really hate The New York Times.

  1. As one of your tens of loyal lurking readers I appreciate your take on this article, which baffled me because, as you noted, how would Freedman know where we humanists, atheists, agnostic, freethinkers, apatheists, etc., were. It’s not like we have badges or uniforms to identify us. I imagine that since most people in our country are religious, the public face of mourning would be in religious venues. Most all people, religious or no, were probably feeling the same way, shocked, saddened and angry. Here’s another take on this issue from one of my favorite blogs (ahem, websites), one you probably read: Thanks again. Love your work.

  2. Thanks Lee, and welcome. I hadn’t seen Jerry Coyne’s piece — thanks for the link. He makes a great point here:

    What I am sure of is that secularism can satisfy people’s deep needs, for it does so in Scandinavia and much of Europe. And the way it’s done there is to replace religion with a society in which people and the government care about each other, where there is health care, more forms of social security, and a greater sense that everyone is in it together. The absence of an afterlife doesn’t seem so pressing when society rather than an invisible sky father helps you deal with your troubles.

    Of course an invisible sky daddy is not, in fact, helping anyone, and the sooner people understand and appreciate that it is actually other people, individually and collectively, who are helping them — that “everyone is in it together” — the better for everyone. Single payer healthcare and income equality are apparently the cure for the mind virus known as “religion.” No wonder conservatives hate them.

  3. Bravo to all of the above ,especially Lee’s article.I think Huckabee’s inanity deserves special attention , the epitomy of a dishonorable discharge from the intellect.We echoed Lee’s deservedly
    vitriolic comentary on Freedman’s article in an Email directly to Freedman. Not quite as finely tuned
    as Lee’s but in the same spirit.He evaded amy substantive response even after he was sent a photograph of myself adding a poem to the plethera of tributes in front of the Newtown Town Hall.

  4. dishonorable discharge from the intellect

    Hahaha. That’s good. Or how about “dishonorable discharge from the discourse.” As in, STFU @$$hole.

    Of course Freedman’s evading any substantive response: his entire piece was substance free, and I do not believe he would have anything of substance to say on this topic. (And probably on many, many others…)

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