Cross-examining Atheist Ireland

If you want an insight into the thinking of Atheist Ireland, you could do worse than listen to this Newstalk debate between its chairperson, Michael Nugent, and Timothy Moriarty, chairman of Beauford Community Council. Following the recent vandalism of the cross atop Carrauntoohill, most people seem to think that it should be re-instated.  Not Michael Nugent, who thinks that this is the perfect opportunity to put a more “inclusive” symbol in its place:-



I can’t imagine most atheists listening in were too thrilled with the position taken by the most well-known spokesperson for atheism in the country.  After all, he admits that the existence of the cross, never mind its location, wasn’t even on his radar as one of the things to be offended by – not until it was cut down in the middle of the night by angle-grinding vandals, that is.  But now that’s happened, well I suppose a cynic might suggest it’s a good chance to get on the radio and rail about how the cross was just a sign of bad old Catholic Ireland with its Magdalene Laundries and child abuse (two things Catholics are incensed over, in case Michael’s wondering).

Not a word of sympathy from Michael for any of the locals who might be upset that such a thing could happen.  No acknowledgement from him either that all of the people who sent correspondence and emails to the local Council supporting the reinstatement of the cross have any right to their opinion.

And you know, for a man who loves the idea of inclusion, Michael specialises in a peculiar form of double-speak. According to him, aggressive Muslims fly planes into buildings and aggressive Catholics bomb abortion clinics, while the most aggressive thing atheists do is write books.  He blames the tyranny and unbelievable cruelty of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot on their fascism rather than their atheism – this despite the fact that they were communists, not fascists, and a central tenet of communism is the annihilation of organised religion.   (Come to think of it, they were all more interested in burning books than writing them but best not let this particular atheist fantasy unravel).

Michael had another excuse ready anyway – there’s all kinds of atheists apparently, good and bad – just like there’s good and bad religious people.  Hooray!  Isn’t it strange though, how, whenever you point out the shortcomings of well known atheists, you’re suddenly told that there’s all kinds of atheists, when up to that point, Catholics have been painted with the same judgmental, Magdalene-promoting, abortion-clinic-exploding brush.  Funny, that.

I do wonder if Michael ever steps outside the narrow confines of this country at all.  I suppose chasing down tales of vandalised crosses must take up a lot of time but it is strange that the only other recent case he could think of where a religious icon was vandalised was in Ballinspittle.   Michael was quick to point out that the culprits were members of another Christian group.  He also said that they were praying on their bibles while in court.

What he didn’t say was that this happened in 1985.  Maybe he doesn’t know the date.  Maybe he also doesn’t know that there are plenty of other cases of vandalism and aggression by atheists.  A quick google search for example, will turn up the Femen Group.  Founded in Ukraine in the far-more-recent 2008, they’re now based in Paris and part of their raison d’etre is to protest against religion.  To date, they’ve attacked the Orthodox Christian Leader in Russia, desecrated Cathedrals and crucifixes, and seem incapable of making a political comment without taking their clothes off.  Shows a lack of confidence in their argument if you ask me, but there you go.

They’ve also been known to chop down a cross or two themselves (weapon of choice: chainsaw), and seeing as they like to test the forebearance of law enforcement agencies throughout most European countries, I’m surprised they haven’t popped up on Michael’s radar before now.  I suppose they don’t fit the bill of what he considers a non-aggressive atheist, even on days when their actions are solely directed at religious institutions and religion in general.  Now that I come to think of it, the only words they’re known for are the ones scrawled across their bare breasts while they’re shocking families who are taking their children to see St. Peter’s Square in Rome.  So no “writing books” then. Oh well, maybe Michael will enlighten us on what sub-genre of “aggressive atheist” they fall into in his next media blitz. Here’s hoping.

Perhaps this is one crusade that Michael should have avoided.  The way to respond to vandalism is to neutralise it by replacing what was lost.  Anything else very quickly looks like a campaign built on its coat-tails, or worse, an obvious own goal.




  • Alan Whelan

    Good analysis…and amazing that Michael does not seem to agree with his Atheist Kerry leader who seemed quite happy to have the our local Cross restored so long as it is on private land and is within KCC rules.

    Thankfully fellow parishioners, following in their elders footsteps, reinstated the Cross today.

    It all reminds me of when the local HSE removed the Sacred Heart statue from Killarney Community Hospital roof some few years ago. Thankfully local people ensured that the statue was restored to a prominent place in their hospital grounds.

  • Paddy S

    Superb Cora, I always thought Michael was just another atheist wanting equal treatment but there is something really lefty liberal about the way he presents him, his organisation and atheists (which like you I doubt many atheists support him). That is tolerance seems to be on their terms only.

  • Paddy S

    Something the great David Berlinski said about non-belief is that it can be just as dangerous as any belief held by a group of people. Simply being a non believer does not make higher the chances of you being a good non violent person….
    What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals, Brown Shirts, Black Shirts, gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe was that God was watching what they were doing. And as far as we can tell, very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either. That is, after all, the meaning of a secular society.”

  • Colin Morrison

    A scatter shot mudslinging effort.

    Trying to paint Femen as an atheist group? They’re a feminist activist group, as most people well know. They may be largely atheist, but that is not the banner they rally under, and to say otherwise is flat dishonesty.

    Michael’s objections are perfectly legitimate. Not everyone agrees with them, focusing more on the vandalism than the actual monument, but that’s what debate is for.

  • Danny

    Right on, Colin. I’d also like to point out the flaw in Stalin/Mao/Kim Jung Un talking point. The reason they ban religion is cause their ideology recognises that religion is a threat when it comes to total control of people. They replace religion with ‘cult of personality’ where the leader themselves are deified.

  • Peter Hinchliffe

    Once it was known that the land was private then obviously the choice fell with those who owned the land- I made the point on local radio and I heard Michael repeat it, that the claim that the cross was representative of the whole community was not true and that if they wanted to represent a community they could not do it through the symbol of one faith – I did not feel there was any difference in the points made.

  • Andrew Doyle

    “human rights activist” – really? Don’t mean you church rights activist.

    If you are a lawyer then why do you not understand the basic construction that “universal affirmatives are only partially convertible”. The fallacy of your attempt to smear atheists just shows a complete lack of (or deliberate mental reservation of) basic logic which is best illustrated if I replay it from the other side:

    “All of Bin Laden was a theist but this does not imply that all theists are bad people” – same for atheists.

    Can you see anything on the website that advocates vandalism or burning books? Thought not.

  • Daniel Agorander

    Much wrong there sadly. Like the quip about communism and religion. In the case of Stalin specifically, during the Great Patriotic War (WW2), Stalin and his regime specifically supported Orthodoxy as a morale booster. (It was of course still not FREE exercise of religion, but it was ‘organised’ religion; organised by the state.)

    The author also seems to have a very limited understanding of what Femen is and what their motivations are. Funny how any action against a church (like the extremely authoritarian, patriarchal (pun!) and government-tied one in Russia) becomes an “atheist” and “anti-religion” action, when maybe – just maybe – they were motivated by what they said they were motivaded by: the liberation of women. Consider that those are organisations that support a lot of things that are very detrimental to women, women’s liberty and women’s health. (Sort of like what the Catholic Church does here, actually, though at least Ireland doesn’t have a pseudo-dictatorship for the Church to suck up to – it’s doing enough damage even as things are.)

    The author is on a fishing trip and should consider the label “atheist” closer. Someone’s lack of religious belief is only relevant insofar as any action is motivated specifically by that lack of religious belief. Same as someone’s religious faith is relevant only insofar as their actions being motivated by that faith. THAT is a critical difference. How often have you heard anyone motivate their actions by “I don’t believe in god”? (Well, except for when asked why a person doesn’t go to church.) An action against a church organisation can also be performed without automatically being an “atheist” action; in the case of FEMEN, they are motivated by other things. That the target of a few specific actions have been church organisations is simply due to the fact that said churches have a terrible record in the issues Femen is involved in. Did they switch from atheist to being a “religious” organisation when they conducted actions against atheist politicians in sweden this September?

    With that in mind, I would suggest that the author do the most cursory research. They could for example go to Wikipedia and spend 1 minute reading up on Femen. Their motivations are spelled out very early, and surprise surprise: they are NOT “anti-chruch” nor are they “atheist activists”. They are “atheist activists” just as much as Mickey Mouse is an “atheist TV show” because it doesn’t have God in it…

  • Cathal Ó Broin

    This is historical revisionism. If you work your way through the Nazi Field marshalls, you’ll see that a great many where Lutherans and Catholics, and Hitler denouced atheism from the pulpit. Further, he banned free thinking organisations.

    To quote the SS belt buckles: “Gott Mit Uns”.

  • Austin

    How is non belief as dangerous as belief. If I do not believe? If I do not believe in Santa Claus, does that make all adults a threat to children?
    You mentioned Hitler, SS, Nazi doctors…The fact that ‘Got Mit Uns’ which is German for ‘God Is With Us’ which was on all Nazi soldier belts – would that not mean something to the Nazis committing the crimes?
    Michael was talking about inclusiveness. Putting ONE religious symbol on the top of a mountain is NOT inclusivity.

  • Cathal Ó Broin

    and when it suits them they bring religion back under their control. Also, the North Koreans literally worship the Kim Il-sung dynasty; Kim Il-sung is still president despite being dead since 1994.

  • Cathal Ó Broin

    FEMEN are radical feminists. They see mainstream religions are patriarchy; i.e they are radical feminists.

    Being an atheist doesn’t make you a radical feminist, being a radical feminist does.

  • Smullyan

    Paddy S. I suggest you look up “Strawman fallacy”. It is what your argument amounts to. “Simply being a non believer does not make higher the chances of you being a good non violent person.” Michael Nugent did not make this argument and nor would any rational person. The converse argument could equally be made, however – simply being a believer does not increase the chances of you being a good non violent person.. Hitler, in fact, believed he was on a mission from God. The Vatican remained neutral during the war and did little to protest Nazi war crimes. In fact the Vatican
    signed a concordat (the Reichskonkordat) with Germany in 1933 as Hitler was coming to power and also did a deal with Mussolini (Lateran Treaty). One third of the German population were Roman Catholics and Pope Benedict was a member of the Hitler youth. Presumably they weren’t too worried that God was watching them nor apparently did thoughts of the celestial dictator deter the hundreds of paedophile priests and sadistic nuns of the last 50 years. Moreover, if moral behaviour can only be
    achieved under threat of eternal damnation, it doesn’t say much for the moral fibre of the religious.
    And Paddy, A secular society simply means that the state is neutral in terms of religion. In a secular society, freedom is guaranteed to all to practice the religion of their choice or no religion.

  • Smullyan

    A few remarks in favour of inclusivity does not constitute a crusade by any stretch of the imagination. As a soi-disant human rights activist, you really should have some idea of the concept of inclusivity. With your strawman arguments and ignorance of who Femen are, I wonder do you ever step outside the narrow confines of your own mindset at all. It seems to me that you are the one who’s scored an own goal.

  • Alan Whelan

    By the time Michael repeated his Atheist comments it was well known and pronounce on the media that the land was private. Forgive me, Peter, but I found your comments much more reasonable and to the point.

    I found nobody in Beaufort expressing either your viewpoint or Michael’s doctrine. As a community we are entitled to make a community decision and that we did.

    Tim’s suggestion regarding how Michael could proceed with an atheistic symbol seemed perfect in the circumstance.

  • Paddy S

    I was specifically referring to the charge that atheists never killed anyone due to notion of their non belief which is historically absurd.
    The 150 million people who paid price for atheistic marxism would agree.

  • Paddy S

    Secular regimes since the 17th century have produced the most violent wars in human history and have shown themselves far worse than any previous. I was simply reacting to the nonsense that atheists have never killed anyone (due to their non belief) which as a history teacher is absurd.

  • Paddy S

    Ah yes the old political religion line. Marxist atheism and Pyongyang is its bastard child always has political cult, but remains at its heart materialistic, cold, and profoundly atheistic regardless of how they dress it up.

  • Maolsheachlann

    Wonderful post. Atheists who try to pretend that communism was not only atheistic to the hilt but motivated by its atheistic philosophy are disingenuous to an extreme. Keep hitting them with it and don’t let up.

  • Daniel Agorander

    I would recommend that you read up on Marx and Lenin.

    Marxism was “atheistic” because it viewed organised religions as a tool by the buergousie towards suppressing the working classes. You’ll remember the description of it as an “opiate for the masses”; the communists and bolsheviks didn’t like religion because they saw how it had been used to pacify the downtrodden (Russia being a very strong example, where ties between the Church and Tzarist regime were very tight; similarly current patriarch Kirill held ecclesiastical offices even during soviet times – yes, the church was around – and currently serves as an obedient tool for the government in keeping people “happy” whether or not they actually should be happy.)

    Bolsheviks and Maoists were not communists because they were atheists (indeed, several – including Stalin and Pol Pot – were educated at seminars and had originally been looking for a career in the cloth; did they become mass-murderers because of that?). Bolsheviks and Maoists were atheists because they were communists – or to be more precise; they were enemies of organised religion because they were communists.

    But as I’m sure you’ll realize, only a very tiny portion of atheists are maoists or leninists…

  • Austin

    Where did Michael ever say no atheist ever killed anyone? He was talking about the description of a modern term ‘militant Atheist’ which meant someone who criticised or ridiculed religions. But the symbol of the cross on a mountain top is a symbol of one group saying – I want to put up our beliefs in public, and I don’t care what you think. Where’s the respect and tolerance of others?

  • Maolsheachlann

    Thanks for telling me what I already know. Marxists regarded their model of class warfare as a logical outcome of dialectical materialism. Though modern day militant atheists of course distance themselves from this- for only Catholicism has a moral and intellectual system that has been affirmed through the ages- the fundamental model of God’s sovereignty being replaced by power politics remains.

  • Cora Sherlock

    No attempt to lump all atheists together has been made in this article; on the contrary, I was very clear about the fact that many atheists don’t agree with what Michael Nugent tried to do in this situation.

    I also think you’re being unfair on the community representative. After all, he is speaking on behalf of the locality who are no doubt distressed that such a wanton act of vandalism could happen. There was nothing aggressive or discriminatory in his comments.

  • Cora Sherlock

    I think the reason most Communists try to ban religion is because the recognise that it offers hope, unlike Communism, which offers none.

  • Cora Sherlock

    Strange that you think you need to be an official activist for the Church in order to have an opinion. That said, I think you miss my point. I’m not the one who thinks all religious people are good/bad. I recognise that everyone is flawed regardless of belief/non-belief.

    I would hope Atheist Ireland don’t support vandalism but their spokesperson on this occasion was certainly selective about acts perpetrated of atheists worldwide, hence my point.

  • Cora Sherlock

    Part of Femen’s ideology (according to the website, as far as I can see anyway), includes “Sextremism, atheism and feminism.”

    So it’s perfectly in order to examine their actions as atheists or feminist radicals.

  • Cora Sherlock

    The defence of Femen by various commenters is interesting. I suppose as a woman who believes in Christianity, I might take their opinions/suggestions more seriously if it wasn’t for the exhibitionism-parading-as-activism. The fact that are motivated by other things is incidental. One could just as easily point out that Stalin was motivated by power. The end result is the same – we’re looking at atheism here. My point was that Michael Nugent is very cherry-picking when it comes to the actions of atheists and that doesn’t serve his argument well.

  • Cora Sherlock

    Thanks Maolsheachlann. It seems a waste of time to defend Communism in my book but there you go.

  • Cora Sherlock

    Again, my point was that Michael seems not to know or accept that Stalin etc were Communists. But that’s really a secondary point. They were atheists who committed atrocities, “writing books” wasn’t really part of their plan.

  • Cora Sherlock

    It all seems very unnecessary to me. My atheist friends are amazed that anyone would try to jump on board this bandwagon and claim it for their own agenda. Like I say, an own goal by Michael Nugent.

  • Paul

    nice blogging, your Cora Sherlock logo at the top has two light blue dots in the the letters O. That I’m afraid is a free mason symbol. Consider a redesign

  • Danny

    Well if we are going to be dissecting it properly, we’re going to have to look at both sides. Marx considered religion to be the ‘opiates of the people’ which ties in with what you said.. he realises it’s hope, but empty hope.

    ‘To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.’

    Marx probably saw religion another way of enforcing class on to the people, with the religious leaders having power over their followers.

    Like most ideological debates, neither side can be objectively proven to be right.

  • dave kiernan

    Cora : will all of your `Atheist Friends’ be at our Christmas Party !!

  • Cormac Mulhall

    You are saying that Michael Nugget isn’t respecting the opinion of people who want the cross re-installed. The argument for this seems to be simply that he is arguing that it shouldn’t be re-installed as a Catholic cross, and not showing enough concern for the people who want it re-installed.

    But you have just written a piece attacking him basically for expressing his opinion on what to do with the cross. That seems some what hypocritical if your central argument is that we should respect the opinions people have on what to do with the monument, even if we don’t agree.

    By doing this are you not by the same argument lacking in concern for the people who do not like every major mountain in Ireland to have a big Catholic cross stuck on the top of it?

    It seems to be less that Nugget is expressing his opinion, and more than he expressing the wrong opinion. Ok, well then discuss his argument about secular Ireland. Don’t simply attack him for making a point and how it theoretically might have upset some people.

  • Cathal Ó Broin

    They don’t actually say the words in a sentence they just list them. So that’s not really a quote and not sure why you use quotation marks. Anyway. If they weren’t radical feminists, they wouldn’t exist as a group, and they wouldn’t do what they do. If they believed in a (female?) god, they’d still be doing exactly what they are doing. Just read their “FEMEN world outlook” which follows those 3 words; it’s all radical feminism:

    “We live in the world of male economic, cultural and ideological occupation. In this world, a woman is a slave, she is stripped of the right to any property but above all she is stripped of ownership of her own body. All functions of the female body are harshly controlled and regulated by patriarchy. Separate ….”

  • Daniel Agorander

    While one might have opinions regarding the efficacy of their methods – or even their value – they do actually carry a point that I strongly disagree could be called “exhibitionism”. One might just as well wonder why it would be considered exhibitionist to have one’s breasts visible – because men might be sexually attracted and thus lured into sin by it? That sounds dangerously much like the logic of the Hijab and Burqa. Whatever the case, they’re using this towards gaining publicity for their cause. Is it effective? I doubt it. Do they think it effective? From all I have seen of them, they definitely do.

    I do however find myself wondering at your statement about “motivated by other things [being] incidental”. That is the strangest logical construction I have seen in quite some time, and I shall counter it like this:

    “The fact that he was motivated by other things is incidental. One could just as easily point out that Hitler was motivated by power. The end result is the same – we’re looking at vegetarianism here.”

    Should vegetarians have to defend or apologise for the actions of Hitler? Your logic is, at best, one that would also result in that requirement. (Also Dog lovers.)

  • Daniel Agorander

    So should vegetarians be made sure to “know [and] accept” that Hitler was a vegetarian who commited atrocities? I don’t even understand that canard, that’s in a different post.

  • Daniel Agorander

    Moral and intellectual system affirmed through the ages? Crusades, Inquisitions, persecution of scientists for them daring to doubt Geocentric cosmology, the church-sanction pillage and plunder of Latin America…

    Yes of course Catholics today find all of those things as horrible as the rest of us (I hope!), I’m merely seeking to illustrate that saying Catholic morals and “intellectual system” cannot really be said to have been “affirmed through the ages”, since you are using the singular.

    Make it plural, and thus acknowledge that the Church has been changing it’s position on quite a few things in both ethics and intellect (and, in fact, has been temporally behind the rest of society in these issues, simply following.)

  • Cathal Ó Broin

    I think it’s undeniable that there is state sanctioned hero worship of the Kim Dynasty, living and deceased (accolades such as “a great person born of heaven”).

    It seems you can’t decide between Marxist atheism and atheistic Marxism. North Korea doesn’t even claim to be Marxist and the state ideology is Juche, so I guess that would be “atheistic Juche” for you? The problem in North Korea isn’t atheism, it’s tyranny.

    Only 51% of EU citizens believe in a God, and shock horror things aren’t so bad as elsewhere, despite the number being so low. The difference in the EU is that we have Humanism, bot religious and secular.

  • Cathal Ó Broin

    If tyrants can’t control an institute of social power they abolish it. Much as Hitler and Stalin did, although they instituted their own religions within their control.

    When Franco rebelled against the Spanish Republic he had the Catholic church on side who helped to organise rebellion against the democratic state, and even attracted crusaders from foreign lands for his seizing of power.

  • Cora Sherlock

    I’ve used quotation marks because the words come from Femen’s website, not from me. You seem to know a lot about what they would be doing if they weren’t radical feminists. That’s a pointless argument. They are who they are – radical feminists who promote atheism.

  • Cora Sherlock

    If a group has a point or opinion to make about the Church, or anything for that matter, they would be better to do so without stripping off to reveal aggressive slogans painted across their bodies – like for example the time Femen members tried to attack the Russian Patriarch Kirill by running after him at an airport with the words “Kill Kirill” painted across her. Is that exhibitionism? Perhaps not. Maybe it’s just embarrassing that a group claiming interest in women’s rights would do something that many women would most likely find absurd and inappropriate.

  • Anubis1138

    Yes they were atheists, but none of their actions, and/or atrocities were committed in the name of atheism.
    The same unfortunately cannot be said of religion. While christianity is a lot more benign in this century by comparison to what it has been in the past, there are still to this day heinous acts that are committed by, and defended by, christians.
    A good man will do good things, and an evil man will do evil things; but to make a good man do evil things, that takes religion.

  • Cathal Ó Broin

    Those words in that sentence are not on the FEMEN website as far as google shows:

    “You seem to know a lot about what they would be doing if they weren’t radical feminists.”
    They explicitly list their motivation in lengthy written prose and throughout their website, and in separate articles about the group. They are a radical feminist group. Atheism is mentioned exactly twice on their entire website. Once in a news item, and a mention without context in their about page. Clearly if they weren’t radical feminists they wouldn’t be in a radical feminist group.