55% down the page, under Point 4: 4. Dawkins attacks a straw-God religion, for until fairly recently nobody believed in the literal truth of the Bible. Gray writes:

Quite apart from the substance of the idea, there is no reason to suppose that the Genesis myth to which Dawkins refers was meant literally. Coarse and tendentious atheists of the Dawkins variety prefer to overlook the vast traditions of figurative and allegorical interpretations with which believers have read Scripture. Both Augustine and before him the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria explicitly cautioned against literalism in interpreting the biblical creation story. Later, in the twelfth century, Maimonides took a similar view. It was only around the time of the Reformation that the idea that the story was a factual account of events became widely held. When he maintains that Darwin’s account of evolution displaced the biblical story, Dawkins is assuming that both are explanatory theories—one primitive and erroneous, the other more advanced and literally true. In treating religion as a set of factual propositions, Dawkins is mimicking Christianity at its most fundamentalist.

Even I, a lowly biologist, know that many of the “church fathers”, including Augustine and Aquinas, took the Genesis story literally (including Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden); only after you accepted the historicity of these events, they said, could you also read into them other meanings. And get your story straight, you faitheists! A common contention of liberal believers (just as false) is that literalism began with the rise of Fundamentalism in the early twentieth century, while Gray says it began with the Reformation. Which is it? (It’s neither, of course.)

I sense sarcasm but am confused. By this definition, a faitheist shouldn't criticise, so what does the author, Prof Jerry Coyne, tell faitheists to 'get your story straight'?

3 Answers 3


I can straighten this out. And there's a funny little twist at the end.

The article is Richard Dawkins doesn’t deserve this fellow atheist’s smears: John Gray should attack his ideas, not his character. (Coyne, Oct. 2014, New Statesman). There are three people connected to this article:

  • Jerry Coyne, the author, is an atheist, a contributing writer for New Statesman, a book writer, and a (not-so-lowly) biologist.

  • John Gray is an atheist, the Lead Book Reviewer for New Statesman, a book writer, and a philosopher.

  • Richard Dawkins is an atheist, a regular columnist and Dec 2011 Guest Editor for New Statesman, a book writer, and an evolutionary biologist.

Did I mention that all of them are atheists, have financial ties to the New Statesman, and are book writers? Just wanted to make sure you got that, in case you didn't. Good.

So Dawkins writes a book--a memoir actually. Gray bashes Dawkins in a New Republic article (which is published two days later in New Statesman). And in the New Statesman article you reference, Coyne bashes Gray for bashing Dawkins. Got it? Just wanted to make sure...

You see, Gray doesn't like the kind of atheist that Dawkins is, because Dawkins is politically against organized religion, while Gray is a let's-all-be-friends-and-tolerant-with-religious-folk atheist. And Coyne doesn't like Gray because he's bashing his friend, Dawkins, and he's saying, "No need to get all testy, attack ideas, not character." And Coyne also doesn't like the kind of atheist that Gray is, because Gray is a let's-all-be-friends-and-tolerant-with-religious-folk atheist.

So Coyne calls Gray a FAITH-eist! BOOYAH! MAJOR ATHEIST INSIDE-JOKE SLAM-DUNK PUT DOWN! "You're not a REAL atheist! You're a FAITH-eist!"

Now we can all laugh. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Which is exactly the definition you referenced on Wiktionary:

It's a derogatory term that "radical" atheists can use to put-down "moderate" atheists. I doubt that anyone would call theirself a faithiest today (but it just might catch on as a non-derogatory term!) But Coyne is being hypocritical in using this term because he is attacking Gray's character while criticizing Gray for making character attacks!

Coyne makes another character attack. There's an idiom "get your facts straight" that Coyne could have said to Gray to admonish him for saying something counterfactual. But Coyne says "get your story straight" which is an idiomatic accusation that Gray is lying. (A "story" can be something "made up" which can be "a lie".) While the semantic context makes it clear that Coyne found a factual fault, the idiom pulls the meaning toward the lying connotation. So again, Coyne is employing a (subtle) character attack.

Personally, I think if one were to dig a little deeper, one might be able to figure out some type of connection between all these guys to show it's just a big money game to increase book and magazine sales.

  • +1. Thank you effusively! I relish your analysis of all the nuances, especially your penultimate para! I also cherish how you proceed step-by-step, as you rightly 'just wanted to make sure you got that, in case you didn't. Good.' I likely would've misinterpreted the passage otherwise!
    – user8712
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 2:18

The so-called definition you cite says that "faitheist" is a made-up word. The "definition" you cite does not seem to match your example. It is quite likely that both coinages of "faitheist" are intended to be mocking.

The phrase "get your story straight" is often used by stand-up comedians to mock people. The phrase points out an alleged contradiction. Furthermore, it claims that the people being mocked wanted to make a coherent argument. It implies that the people being mocked are incapable of making a coherent argument about the point in question.


I find the paragraph slightly confusing. The phrase "get your story straight" is a common idiom meaning "you have contradicted yourself". The last sentence in the paragraph identifies a contradiction: some people who do not believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible say that literalism began in the 20th century, while others say that it began with the Reformation in the 16th century. So I THINK the statement about "get your story straight" is a lead-in to the next sentence: he's saying, get your story straight, you have contradicted yourself, you say that literalism began in the 20th century and then you say it began in the 15th century.

In that case by "faitheists" he must be referring to people who reject literalism -- not necessarily that that's the definition of "faitheist", but that he is saying that this is something that these faitheists say. But that does not appear to be consistent with the definition of "faitheist" that you link to. I have never heard this term before, so I can't comment on the accuracy of the definition.

So ... I don't quite understand what he's trying to say, but I make this post in the hope that it will be helpful anyway. :-)

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