Are New Atheists Funny?

I don’t think so. In fact, I see very little evidence of New Atheists having much of a sense of humor at all. New Atheists are very good at making fun of religion. But in terms of laughing at themselves, or seeing the absurdity of their own positions, and the ironies inherent in them, such self-directed humor appears to be almost wholly lacking. And for me, I find it very hard to think of someone as funny who cannot (or will not) turn his cutting wit regularly upon himself.

In other words, when New Atheists are not dour and pissed off, they seem to use their humor (such as it is) in the manner of Rush Limbaugh: as just another form of rhetorical bludgeon. Yes, it’s “humor,” but it’s all really serious, and marked by an undercurrent of bitterness and resentment, just like Limbaugh’s humor. And I don’t think that Limbaugh is funny, do you?

For atheist humor, I prefer the “old school” atheists like Woody Allen. As an agnostic myself, I go to Allen’s films as a source of comfort. I love the way that he plays up our absurdest position in relation to an apparently indifferent, blind, and mechanistic universe. And yet I’ve dialogued with New Atheists who—to my utter shock—have told me in no uncertain terms that they absolutely hate Allen and his films, and wouldn’t be caught dead sitting through one.

They don’t think he’s funny. Not. One. Bit.

This response bewildered me. How can an atheist not like Woody Allen? But in retrospect, this makes sense. The New Atheist movement is akin to movement conservatism. PZ Myers is the kissing cousin of Rush Limbaugh. Everybody is to be held in the highest disdain and hilarity except, well, PZ Myers and Rush Limbaugh. Perhaps someone could direct me to counter examples. I’d love to be corrected about this. For example, YouTube is huge, and I may have missed something. Can anybody direct me to a New Atheist making fun of New Atheism? Or are New Atheists in earnest agreement with Ayn Rand that it is evil to laugh at yourself? I see New Atheists circulating Jesus and Mo cartoons, but where is the New Atheist cartoonist doing Richard and Sam?

Off the top of my head, I’ll make up a New Atheist joke right now, and see if any New Atheists think it’s funny. Here goes:

CHRISTIAN: If you don’t believe in God, what is it, exactly, that you do believe?

ATHEIST: I believe that we live in a closed and determinate universe consisting solely of atoms and the void. All causes are material causes.

CHRISTIAN: And what do you do for a living?

ATHEIST: I teach rhetoric at UCLA.

In case you got lost on the punchline, to be a rhetorician would suggest that you believe that all causes are not material causes, and that mental properties can affect the world, and free will actually exists. The universe is not all just determinate atoms and the void. My punchline, by the way, would work with any non-determinist discipline or profession that presumes that strategies of persuasion and the exercise of free will are not simply illusions. I could, for example, have given this as the punchline: “I teach law at UCLA.” Or how about this:

I’m an author of New Atheist books.

Now somebody could say: “Oh, you’ve distorted the New Atheist position on free will. In fact, it’s a straw man because atheism needn’t lead to a rejection of free will. It’s true that a lot of New Atheists might be strict determinists, but you obviously haven’t read New Atheist Daniel Dennett’s defense of free will—and so the joke fails.”

Yeah, but was it funny?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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1 Response to Are New Atheists Funny?

  1. charleyjk4 says:

    Nah.The joke was not funny.Seriously speaking, would you call yourself an existentialist?.Do you believe in Heidegger’s theory of time-Time and being-Being?.

    Could you comment on Nietzsche’s use of ‘skirmishes’ as a weapon in the continuation of his wars against Religion and God?.

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