Jerry Coyne, Dissectheist

At Uncommon Descent there is a contest going on, seeking from readers some new bit of coinage for accurately designating the Jerry Coyne-style atheist (the atheist obsessed with deconstructing and combating religion).

I believe I’ve thought of the right word, and submitted it to the contest on Thursday, but it hasn’t appeared in the thread comments there. Perhaps the minder of the site thinks it’s too complimentary, and has nixed it. Therefore, I’ve decided to post it here.

Jerry Coyne is a dissectheist. I derive the word from Wordsworth’s line, in his poem, “The Tables Turned”:

We murder to dissect.

The dissectheist, like the theist, concerns himself with religion. But the dissectheist is energized, not by God’s felt presence, but by God’s absence: God’s death or murder. Deconstructing theology and taking stabs at the body of religion are sources of pleasure for the dissectheist.

Going a bit further with this, I detect three types of dissectheists:

  • the libertarians (content to rely on persuasion alone to advance their cause);
  • Gnu Dealers (supporters of government sponsored legal “dams” directing and taming the course of religion and conscience into chartered, secular, and marginal tributary grooves); and
  • Lennonists or gnutopians (those who imagine and hope for a world with no religion at all).

Of course, dissectheists like Jerry Coyne have their counterparts among theists. I would call them the dissectularists: those theists who spend a lot of their time focused on secularism and secularists (for the purposes of dissection and deconstruction). But that’s another contest.

The advantage of making “dissectheist” shorthand for atheists obsessed with religion is that the term is not really insulting, yet accurate.

I can imagine that there are atheists who would accept the designation (though not originating with them).

And it fills a gap: there are atheists (those who don’t believe in gods); dissectheists (those who don’t believe in gods, and see themselves as being at war with those who do); and faitheists (those who don’t believe in gods, but are friendly and accommodating to religion and religious dialogue, as Albert Camus was).

In many ways, atheists who think a lot about religion—I freely admit, as an agnostic, that I’m one of them—are analogous to people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): you’ve got to chew over and process abuse, and reframe it, to work through it. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the Internet, post-9-11, has seen a proliferation of people openly speaking against religion. An outspoken atheist is always someone harboring an outrage—and I think a lot of the outrage is justified. Religion is in the news, and needs to be addressed. And institutional religion has long had a pass, in which polite seculars did not presume to intrude on its (supposedly) proper domains: sacred texts, ethics, theology, and ultimate meaning. That time is no longer. Religion doesn’t poison everything, but it poisons a lot.

Therefore, the dissectheists.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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