AS120: 27 Years In Scientology, with Chris Shelton

Prior to the scientology segment, I briefly discuss some rather odd things Patton Oswalt had to say of atheism in this article:

With that brief aside, aside, though, we move onto part 2/3 with Chris Shelton and his life inside the cult of Scientology. This time we learn where and how all that 27 years was spent. Thanks again to Chris and check him out at

2 thoughts on “AS120: 27 Years In Scientology, with Chris Shelton”

  1. Thanks for this scientology series, Thomas. Initially I considered not bothering with it as I figured it’d just be another “scientology is crazy!” discussion and I’d learn nothing new but I had a hunch you’d make it interesting and now I’m looking forward to the third part!

    I did want to comment on the Patton Oswalt comments though as my views didn’t quite align with yours. For context, I’ll just say that I know very little about Oswalt apart from seeing him in the Marvel shows – so I don’t know if there is a background I should be aware of to make me feel more or less positive towards him.

    On the Dawkins/Maher and Fred Phelps comment: I think you misrepresented him a little or took the analogy further than intended to make it look sillier than it was. Oswalt’s claim was that he personally viewed Dawkins and Maher in a way he imagines Christians feel about Phelps.

    To me, the natural interpretation of this is that he views Dawkins and Maher as embarrassing to atheists and profess views that many atheists wouldn’t agree with. I don’t think this is a particularly controversial claim as Maher has never really achieved much respect amongst atheists, which dwindled further when he came out as an anti-vaxer and denied germ theory.

    My own atheist journey actually took a sharp turn when I watched “Religulous” as it was so over-the-top bad that I realised I didn’t want to be the ignorant shrieking atheist that Maher was a perfect caricature of. Dawkins of course garners some more respect amongst atheists but even he is having a tough time lately, especially after his “Elevatorgate” comments, his “Honeygate” fiasco, and then basically every comment he’s ever made on Twitter.. But basically I think Oswalt’s point was that they were embarrassing, not that they resembled Phelps perfectly in every way so that they’ve done things as horrible as being homophobic or protested funerals.

    On the definition of atheism bit: I think your comments were a little unfair to Oswalt given that he’s basically just parroting Dawkins’ mantra – the idea that atheism is no position, just the absence of belief, nothing more and nothing less. Under that definition he’s correct, we can’t be going around getting angry at theists and telling them that they’re wrong under the banner of atheism. My point being that Dawkins is rarely criticised for inventing this definition of atheism, so why would we suddenly attack Oswalt for restating it (especially when it’s so popular with New Atheists)?

    In fact, this very debate occurred a few years ago where PZ Myers called out Dawkins on this definition and said that “dictionary atheism” is a useless definition of atheism ( He was lambasted by the atheist community for daring to suggest that atheism is anything more than a lack of belief. So in that situation Oswalt is representing Dawkins’ position and you are representing PZ’s take on it.

    I do happen to agree that the concept of “atheism” entails more baggage than just a “lack of belief” but I think the problem is essentially that “atheism” has recently become synonymous with “New Atheism”, which is a slightly different beast. In fact, the position you’re espousing seems to be consistent with the one Reza Aslan proposed recently – that Dawkins, Harris, etc, aren’t atheists in the traditional sense and should in fact be more accurately labelled as anti-theists (

    1. Thanks for the comment Mike and I’m glad you gave the shows a chance! I definitely disagree with some things in this comment though…. I think I need to talk on the show about this one. Hopefully I can find a time to do so! Great comment.

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