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Apr 04 2007

On meanness

This post is longer and a lot looser than most of mine — which tend to be long and loose anyway — but I’ve just been thinking through a lot of stuff and so it’s time to set some of it down.

In the wake of the deep sigh of relief all of us have taken over the long-overdue departure of Dan Marvin, I’ve gotten all introspective and have considered the charge that atheists often are faced with: that we’re just plain mean sonsabitches who are all too quick to respond to believers with anger, invective and name calling.

Take the whole history with Dan over the past few months. I called him stupid, uneducated, hypocritical, dishonest, and a lying little turd. I probably called him a few less pleasant things too. Other people in the comments called him even worse. It cannot feel good to hear yourself being called these things. It can only being demeaning and hurtful. From the anonymity of the keyboard, it’s easy to forget that the person you’re attacking is a human being with feelings.

What kind of guy do I think Dan Marvin is in person? I imagine he’s a devoted and loving husband and father, a hard-working man who devotes 100% of himself to providing for his family and being a good citizen in his community. I can also tell from his writings that he really believes what he says he believes, even if, as was shown here by such fine commenters as Stephen and Tracie, he doesn’t fully understand, or think through all of the implications of, what he claims to believe. I think he came here because he’s genuinely possessed of a belief that there’s a place called hell where we’re all going to go to be tortured forever because we don’t believe as he does. I think his beliefs are so thoroughly branded into his map of the world that no matter how much we tried to explain, “Look, here’s why we don’t believe what you do, and here’s what we need to see from you if you think we should,” his responses went along the lines of “But…but…don’t you understand, you’re going to hell!” There’s just a fundamental difference in the way people like him and people like us process information in our minds, and that leads, particularly in extreme cases like Dan’s, to an insurmountable communication gap.

So, yeah. On the one hand, I’m willing to admit that that kind of communication gap can lead to atheists losing our temper with what we see as pure stupidity.

But as I said way back when, believers who find atheists brusque and insulting need — however hard it may be for them — to try walking in our shoes.

Truth to tell, when I called Dan a particular nasty name, it was because he’d done something to earn it. Dan’s own comments speak to his behavior well enough. If he cut-and-pasted some moronic creationist canards, I called him an idiot, because that’s the sort of thing only an idiot would do. When he projected his own behavior onto us, I’d call him a hypocrite. When he tried to refute us by making bizarre straw men out of our arguments, I’d hit him again. And again. Now, that’s just me. Life is not always meant to be easy, and some lessons need to be learned the hard way. There’s a time when the gloves have to come off. There’s a place for the Simon Cowell approach to criticism. And I’m okay with giving it. Some commenters here got even angrier with Dan. Others like Tracie were nearly heroic, in the patient way she calmly knocked down everything Dan threw at her, without the slightest hint that even one of her feathers had been ruffled.

It helps to know when being a two-fisted atheist is the right approach, and when it’s not. When I started my four-year run on the AE TV show, I was first cohost to the redoubtable Jeff Dee. Jeff is brilliant at arguing on his feet, and almost always went for the jugular. Oftimes this was needed. The flipside was that it could, on occasion, backfire. For years, we had a creationist troll named Steve (some of you remember him, I’m sure) who’d call every week with whatever bit of YEC bullshit he’d dredged up. From the fake Paluxy riverbed “man tracks” on down, there was no argument so lame and discredited he wouldn’t call with it. He was also a deeply dishonest scumbag who wouldn’t address our rebuttals. He engaged in the kind of drive-by, hit-and-run pseudo-arguing in which, every time we’d refute his latest claim, he’d just call the next week and, without even acknowledging that we’d addressed his points, simply go off on a new round of drivel as if the previous week’s conversation had never occurred.

But one thing became clear to me very quickly. Not only was Steve stupid, disingenuous, and ill-educated; he wasn’t even serious. At first, yes, it was evident he really thought he could take us on with his arguments. But soon it was obvious he’d changed his tack, and he was calling every week because he knew how easy it was to make Jeff lose his temper. Many Christians realize they can’t actually take down an atheist on the facts, and so they resort to emotional manipulation. Get the atheist angry, and they can claim a phony moral “victory.” The argument is, at this point, no longer about what is or isn’t true. It’s about a “humble” Christian trying to witness to a poor unsaved soul, and getting hate and anger in reply. Instant martyr; just add water.

After Jeff left the show and I shifted my plump cheeks into the host’s chair, Steve kept calling…for a bit. Then he just quit. Because I’d pegged him. I knew his schtick. I would just reply to his claims, without getting pissed off. I guess I wasn’t as much fun.

Still, “pissed off” is something I get at times, all on my own. And I know other atheists sympathize. There really is no understating the level of frustration that is felt when one lives without religion in a religion-addicted world. Atheists, generally speaking, are just normal folks trying to get by and do the best they can like anyone else. Our only difference is that we have dispensed with the need for irrational beliefs in the supernatural, which we think most people maintain simply because the culture in which they were raised requires it as a behavioral norm. This view, I think, is borne out by recent findings that while most Americans profess religious belief, few actually know anything about what they claim to believe.

Thus many Americans profess belief simply because everyone else does, and not to do so would mean you’re weird. On the flip side of that extreme are the Dan Marvins of the faith, who denounce those people as “false converts” while at the same time offering nothing but smoke and mirrors and nonsense in defense of their own, presumably “truer” belief.

In the midst of all this swirling supernaturalist confusion is the atheist, attempting to live a rational, humanist existence among millions of people who literally seem to be living in another world. And because we don’t buy into the God delusion, we’re vilified by people who know nothing of us, of atheism, or even of their own theism, and who think of themselves as paragons of virtue.

So to anyone who thinks atheists are mean people, I say, have you listened to Michael Newdow’s answering machine tapes? (He’s made them available, and even recorded a funny song around some of them.) Have you read the death threats and hate mail that Sam Harris gets? Have you read the vile diatribes by the Baptist minister on Possummomma’s blog? How is someone like her supposed to live a normal, peaceful life when some lunatic, self-anointed “man of God” takes to stalking her children to save their souls? Atheists are “angry,” you say? What parent, atheist or not, wouldn’t get angry about that?

So while I think it behooves atheists to always do our best to choose the high ground of reason over the low road of irrational emotionalism, we are only human after all. Anger is an entirely justified response to being on the receiving end of prejudice and stupidity, especially when it is perpetrated by ignorant hypocrites who are convinced they’re on the side of righteousness. Before you t
ell me that atheists are mean people full of anger and hate, consider what brings it on, and that many believers are in need of some serious adjustments to their own moral compasses.

33 comments

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  1. 1
    Atheist in a mini van.

    I, too, found myself a little saddened by my lack of patience with Dan. In fact, at one point- I just had to turn off the computer and walk away. Unfortunately, as atheists, I think we sometimes have to remember that: if we want to be taken seriously, then we really have to be “bigger” than the Christians who attack. You’re absolutely right! They want a reaction. They want something to villify. They want something they can take back to their fellow x-ians and say, “Can you believe these people?” When I think back on the whole episode with William, it seems sureal. That I, as a mother of four… who drives a mini-van and is about as pacifist as you can be without actually being Amish, would be perceived as a threat to society… a big enough threat to inspire someone to stalk my child…it’s just really unbelievable. Dan, if you are reading,…are curiosity and desire for fact/truth really so bad?

  2. 2
    Heathen Mike

    I remember going to YEC lectures and being surrounded by religious fundies (the lectures were supposedly geared towards “skeptics”, which is why I was there). Just before the Q&A, I was thinking of the best way to address the blatant and dishonest strawmen and lies that were demonstrated to the crowd and the only thing that went through my mind was the movie Gladiator.That scene where Maximus is telling Proximo that he wants revenge and Proximo says that all he has to do is “win the crowd”. We do have to get angry and address the pertinent issues, but we have to do it in such a way as to win the crowd and let them know that, yes, we’re angry and we’re not going to take being falsely described, but we’re also not going to freak out and lose control.I try (although it doesn’t always work) to freak about the little things and remain as calm as I possibly can about the big stuff that matters.Thanks, that was a great post.

  3. 3
    Derek

    I was a little late to the party and I think that made it easier to keep cool. I originally wanted to chime in with honest, calm corrections and logical arguments. But when I saw that all those points were being so admirably handled by Tracie and others that I reverted to sarcasm and heckling. I don’t think that’s the same as losing your cool and getting angry, but I still often get the “well you don’t have to be so mean about it” from moderates/agnostics (often from my wife).In a way I think ridicule is exactly what’s called for in many cases, even above calmly and rationally pointing out logical fallacies. For one thing, there’s not enough time in the day to stop and debate every claim thrown at you. But also by doing so for many of the more ridiculous and unfounded you may inadvertently be dignifying it just by giving it the time of day, no matter how soundly you knock it on it’s ass.But then again, this may just be me rationalizing for the fact that I’m just a sarcastic asshole to begin with and often just can’t help myself. I meant everything I said about Tracie being awesome though.Thanks for the post. It is one of the most important things for us to keep in mind, as atheist and as humans.

  4. 4
    Andrew

    Great post, Martin.I started off being very civil towards Dan, but after I realized he wasn’t here for an honest discussion, I reverted to insulting his intelligence (not too difficult).You’re right, Martin. It is quite frustrating, and even more so when they think they have actually won something by making you angry.It’s the world we live in. Genetic diversity has its downsides…

  5. 5
    Derek

    “It’s the world we live in. Genetic diversity has its downsides…”I really don’t mean to harp on you Andrew, but that makes me cringe a little.The way I see it an evangelist’s goal is to change people’s minds and convert them. I don’t speak for all atheists but my goal is to live free and be able to disagree and have ideological discussions and intellectual debates without fear of reprisal. Sure, Dan wasn’t all that intellectual and sure, the way he argued got frustrating for a lot of us. But just that the discussion even took place I think is wonderful. Neither believers nor unbelievers are ever going to go away. By my standards, we win.

  6. 6
    Steve

    By calling Dan things like “uneducated,” “hypocritical” and “dishonest,” the people who replied to him were, mostly, just pointing out to him how he appeared to others, based on how he expressed himself. He could’ve expressed himself in any number of ways, but he chose to do it the way he did and continued to do so, after being called those things repeatedly. It’s not mean to not tippy-toe around the apparently obvious, it’s just being honest and no one should feel bad about that.

  7. 7
    Derek

    “people who replied to him were, mostly, just pointing out to him how he appeared to others, based on how he expressed himself.”I’m not sure I buy that. Were we trying to do him the service we’d have said things like “You know, putting it that way might make you appear uninformed to others” and not “YOU F*CKING MORON!!!”I think many of us were angry and being mean. I agree with you that we needn’t necessarily feel bad about it. But if we are going to tell people how they appear to others we need to be conscious of how we appear to others as well. I think that was the point of the post, but please correct me if I’m mistaken.I apologize for bogarting the comments. I’m just bored at work.

  8. 8
    Anonymous

    I think most of your replies to Dan ( especially those of Tracie) advanced your case quite well and raised some good questions and relevant issues.As just as an observer of the exchange between Dan and you all, I can say I got frustrated by Dan’s inability or unwillingness to answer those good questions or address issues — the same way I get frustrated when a politician evades answering a good question or dances around a difficult issue that has been raised. Again as merely as an anonymous observer, Dan did seem like he was unfairly twisting the meaning of words — I do not have a great deal of respect for Dan (or Bill Clinton — sorry to draw politics into this) who is going to use such trickery in the plain meaning of the English language. On balance, you shouldn’t be kicking yourselves that you gave in and resorted to some sarcastic remarks. There comes a point when people that are really unwilling and/or unable to engage in honest debate must be sent packing — they simply are a waste of time and energy.

  9. 9
    lizardking

    I think it’s incredibly frustrating when arguing with hardcore Christians, because they are often blissfully unaware of the hideous implications of some of the things they say. When Dan trotted out the “you guys are atheists because you want permission to sin” canard, people should be angry about such a vapid misrepresentation based on obvious ignorance. It’s just something false he heard or read from other Christians, and he just repeated it without any concern for its veracity.There’s nothing worse than an ignorant person who arrogantly thinks they are knowledgable about Subject X, when it is plainly obvious to even neutral observers that the person is simply in over their head – and isn’t listening to or comprehending the criticisms made against him.It’s very hard to have a so-called “discussion” with such a person, as they never sit still on one issue long enough to make any headway, and they aren’t directly addressing what you’re throwing at them in any case.Self-examination is usually a good thing, but I’m of the opinion that nobody should feel too bad about losing patience with Dan. he definitely earned it.

  10. 10
    Aerik

    Instant martyr, just add water.It’d be appropriate to just perma-ban his ISP then if you could. Just delete him. You don’t have to put up with it.

  11. 11
    Derek

    It’s good to know he came off that way even to those not emotionally invested in the debate.As a humorous side note I noticed early on both the use of X as an arbitrary variable and X in place of Christ. I found it amusing to assume the latter in all cases. So above lizardking would have said: “There’s nothing worse than an ignorant person who arrogantly thinks they are knowledgable about Subject Christ”.And Tracie would have used the term “argument Christ” several times which cracks me up. I guess I’m easily amused.There’s a new sheriff in town…ARGUMENT CHRIST!!Coming soon to a theater near you!I can’t wait for the action figure. Squeeze his legs together for table flipping action!

  12. 12
    tracie harris

    I think this post is a good one, and I have a lot of thoughts on the topic that I wanted to post as well. Sorry to be so verbose—but I don’t seem to know how to be otherwise:>I can also tell from his writings that he really believes what he says he believes, even if, as was shown here by such fine commenters as Stephen and Tracie, he doesn’t fully understand, or think through all of the implications of, what he claims to believe.There is an odd disconnect with fundamentalism. I like to tell the following story:I was once in a class on Revelation. Anyone who has ever read this book knows it’s nonsense imagery and almost surely someone’s recollection of a drug-induced dream. The vagueness and farout metaphorical nature of the book has given rise to myriad Nostradamus-esque interpretations to the book. While some seem more reasonable in a historical light than others, there is no doubt but that nobody could ever say with any certainty what in the world this writing is “truly” about.After one particularly confusing lesson on one of the chapters, a middle-aged member raised her hand and asked meekly, “Before we move on, can you tell me one more time what we believe about chapter X?”The bizarre nature of this question points out the problem. What is my belief? And can someone else actually tell me what I believe? With regard to Xianity, this is what is happening.When I was in school, I learned about evolution. My parents wanted me to make good grades. They didn’t believe in evolution. They didn’t care whether or not I believed in evolution. They only cared that I was able to understand the concept well enough to test adequately and pass to the next grade. I can even recall my dad making mocking comments about some of the evolutionary illustrations in the book and silly he thought it was that anyone could actually “believe” this stuff. But if I’d have failed an exam because of missed questions on evolution, my parents would have been all over me!There is a huge difference between learning something and believing something. And my personal beliefs aren’t imposed on me by someone outside myself. However, this is exactly what churches do.There is a weird angle that, for example, a person can learn about evolution and then also believe evolution and all its claims—even the theoretical aspects of it. But I can’t imagine a college biology student raising his hand in class and asking his professor: “Can you tell me one more time what I believe about X aspect of evolution?” The professor would think it a very odd question. But the Xian class teacher simply re-explained the information. Nothing odd at all—nobody missed a beat.Churches aren’t providing info, they’re telling people what they believe. And that’s not possible. People who accept X info from someone else as “what they believe”—rather than hear X info and then make a determination about whether or not they think it’s reasonable to believe it—are two very different brands of people.When we say “Dan really believes what he is saying”—I think it’s worth noting that it’s not what people mean when they use the word “believe” in any other context. Even while Dan tells us why he believes what he believes—he has to go and look it up.Certainly it’s reasonable to have to find support for specific claims; we all may have heard a statistic, and if asked, we may have to look it up. But I don’t have to look up what I believe, or why I believe it. If I find myself doing that consistently, then it’s a pretty good bet that whatever I’m supporting and calling “my belief,” is not really what I believe. if I believe X, I don’t need to go look for the reasons I believe it or look up clarification of what I believe on someone else’s Web site or in someone’s book. Aren’t I the ultimate authority on what I believe? If I’m not, then is it really honest to call memorized info that I don’t even fully understand, “my belief”?This isn’t to say I disagree with Martin’s statement. I don’t. But I do think it’s worth acknowledging this caveat about what the Xian means when he says, “I believe.”>I think he came here because he’s genuinely possessed of a belief that there’s a place called hell where we’re all going to go to be tortured forever because we don’t believe as he does.In much the same vein as my above explanation, I think there’s something deeper. I think it’s fair to say that on some surface level this is the rationalization Dan and other Xians accept; but if this were truly the extent of it, it wouldn’t explain the exasperation, condescension and even anger we get when we refuse to accept “help.”I’m a very healthy eater most of the time. And I rarely eat out or eat anything that is processed. I consider it, literally, to be poison and not food. Sometimes people who know me well, will come to me with questions about nutrition. I tell them what I know. As an example, I might advise them to avoid processed carbs (if they’re asking); but if they come in one day munching slice after slice of Wonder Bread (after I’ve told them what I know about processed breads), I’m not going to say something to them about it or insult them or even make judgments. I wouldn’t eat it—due to my personal goals; but they aren’t me, and they’re an adult, and they can make their own choices. They know the effects of this bread, but they have made a decision to eat it anyway. How is that my business at this point? It’s totally not. And I have no basis on which to act in anyway rudely toward the person.If my motive in providing the information was to truly be helpful, then what the person does with the information is not my concern. I’ve provided the info, they understood it, it’s not my business anymore.The apologist, like what we saw with Dan, exhibits far more than “wanting to help.” It’s much deeper and appears to be a desperate need to get people to agree with them. I think “validation” and “need to feel superior” are key words in this situation. Using condescension and insult is an attempt to strong arm someone (via shame) into agreement. If my motive is purely to be helpful, such methods shouldn’t even cross my mind. The fact that they do points to an ulterior motivation. To be fair, I doubt Dan is consciously aware of what the real, driving motivator is—but it’s clearly not to “help” anyone. It meets some need for Dan; the “save others from Hell” excuse is merely a justification to avoid facing whatever is the real dysfunction being addressed via his confrontation. And that’s where my knowledge ends. I don’t know Dan and can’t guess what makes him do this. But the behavior openly conflicts with the stated motivation of wanting to “help” anyone.>There’s just a fundamental difference in the way people like him and people like us process information in our minds, and that leads, particularly in extreme cases like Dan’s, to an insurmountable communication gapI completely agree. And in the last month or so, I’ve seen this more clearly. Part of the problem is the fundamentalist agenda to “straw man” anyone who disagrees—not just atheists.When I was a believer, I had some problems (I’ll discuss later) that I addressed ultimately by reading some select Buddhist writings. I managed to gain a better understanding of my personality and my motivations and my problems began resolving. I remember the amazement I had when I began reading Buddhist texts. They were nothing at all like I’d been told (by my chuch) they would be.I had been told, point blank: Buddhists worship Buddha. And Buddhists pray to Buddha. Even as recently as last week I saw a program that discussed Buddhists that talked about Buddhist “prayers” to Buddha. The problem is that in t
    he U.S., when we think of prayer, we think of a communication to an existing entity. This is not what Buddhists are doing. Buddhist doctrine is that the ultimate goal is to die and become nonexistent. Buddha, supposedly, has accomplished this, and, therefore, no longer exists. “Praying” to Buddha, in the sense Americans think of “praying,” would be nonsensical to a Buddhist—since there’s “nothing” there to “pray” to. Better terms would be chanting or meditating. They may focus on aspects of Buddha that help them reach their goals—but they don’t think Buddha still exists. And in this sense, the word “worship” also needs a very different meaning than what we think of for the same term in American churches. Worshipping something that we believe doesn’t exist would be nonsense; so “worship” isn’t a good word. I’d say “revere” would probably be a better term for Buddhism.Anyway, all that just to say that my introduction to reading Buddhism really enlightened me (no pun intended), because I realized at that time that my church had given me misinformation about Buddhism. Further, the more I read, the more I realized that the Buddhist description of the world and life and the human personality was far more aligned with reality I observed around me than the Xian concepts.I went to my preacher and explained that we were saying things about Buddhism that were untrue. His reply? It was dangerous for me to be reading Buddhist writings “on my own” without supervision. Bear in mind that the church I attended claimed the following:“Give a person a Bible and a Catholic creed book, and you’ll end up with a Catholic; give a person a Bible and a WatchTower tract, and you’ll end up with a Jehovah’s Witness; give a person a Bible and a copy of the Book of Mormon, and you’ll end up with a Mormon; but give a person a Bible, and they’ll end up a Christian.”So, if the honest message can only be gleaned without someone telling me what X means before or while I’m reading it—why exactly did I need someone to interpret Buddhist writings for me? Not to mention that the writings themselves are extremely clear and easy to comprehend. I pointed this out and asked him if he’d ever read any Buddhism. He said “no.” That’s when I knew I was in the midst of something less-than-up-front. He’d never read it—but he was more than happy to tell people about it—AND somehow, without ever reading it himself, he accepted ideas about it that I now knew were false—because I had read it.I’m sure the apologist sees this as Satan’s grasp; but I saw it as the result of a Xian lie collapsing under the weight of truth. If the church had been honest in what it said about Buddhism, it would have held up. Systematically, as I read other religious texts, I began to see that not one was accurately portrayed by Xianity (not just my particular church).And atheism is getting the same treatment. The Xian, having never spoken to an atheist about theological issues “already knows exactly what you’re all about!” And, unfortunately, when you’re fed pre-emptive misinformation that distorts the truth—it is hard to see reality. When the atheist says, “I don’t believe in god,” the Xian hears “I know everything about everything—and if we haven’t learned about X yet, then I know X doesn’t exist.” And the Xian is arguing against this straw man misconception—but he has no idea this isn’t what he’s doing. And even when the atheist believes he’s clearly expressed his stance, he can’t understand why the Xian keeps insisting “Atheists all believe…X(misconception).” It’s because you’re trying to provide a few paragraphs over a day or two to rewire, literally years or pre-emptive brainwashing. It never occurs to the Xian that what he’s been taught could be wrong, and so he doesn’t ask “What do you believe”—he already knows.We all saw what happened when Dan was confronted with “real” atheist ideology versus what he’d been taught: He basically tried to tell some of us we can’t possibly be “atheists”—and he even repeatedly disregarded a dictionary definition that he, himself, provided—that clearly indicated what an “atheist” is. Dan is not the only Xian I’ve seen do this. It’s like the word “believe” doesn’t’ register:Xian: You think you know there is no god, you think you know everything.Atheist: I don’t believe your claims of god, because you’ve failed to adequately support them.Xian: But to say that, you’d have to believe you know everything—otherwise, how can you say you know there is no god?The Xian doesn’t see the misalignment in the above conversation. The atheist sees it clearly. It takes a lot for a Xian to see what is really there, rather than what he’s been told to see. It’s not an easy thing to do if you’re really entrenched in fundamentalism.>If he cut-and-pasted some moronic creationist canards, I called him an idiot, because that’s the sort of thing only an idiot would do. When he projected his own behavior onto us, I’d call him a hypocrite.Just to make sure I’m clear here:In the “health food” explanation I gave above, I totally get that just because I choose to live by code X doesn’t mean that those who live by code Y are “wrong.” Some things are just about choices, values, and personal tolerances.For myself, I would have a problem with calling someone an “idiot” only because it’s very generic and not very informative. Certainly there are times I think: What an idiotic thing to say!” But then I ask myself: “OK, what’s idiotic about it?” And that leads me to better understand exactly what it is that strikes me as stupid about what was just said. I personally prefer to offer to the other party something more informative than “idiotic.”However, “hypocritical” is not what I consider a vacuous insult. Hypocritical has a clearly defined meaning and offers some very exact information about what I find problematic about something that was said—it appears to conflict with the behavior or other statements of the person making claim X(hypocritical claim).Likewise, “ignorant” is a term that someone may feel insulted by—but it carries sufficient clarity of meaning that I feel justified in using it as a meaningful term. It is a statement that the person making claim X(ignorant claim) appears to be lacking information that may have some bearing on the statement that was just made.I can’t help it if I’m expressing words with clear meanings, and someone gets insulted by them. I don’t use them with the intent of hurting a person’s feelings. Their choice to find pain in my statements is solely their own.And in fact, their choice to find pain in being called “idiot” is also, to be fair, their own. But if I say “idiot”—I usually mean it in a dismissive and condescending way—so I try to steer clear of a term such as that.I try to exhibit some level of respect for the person, and offer respectful rebuttal to their ideas—even if they’re idiotic ideas. ;-) And if the person offers what I consider to be abusive response, I will point that out and express that such an attitude is not necessary for an honest dialogue. If a person continues to be abusive, I will likely not maintain the contact very long. But I try to keep the conversation on a civilized level. And I have to say that—as you noted later—it adds a huge amount of credibility to your position when you can be the one saying, “I don’t see why you’re getting so upset/insulting—aren’t we just having a discussion here?”And truly, there is no reason (for me) to get upset. There’s nothing I can’t say in a civilized fashion that I can say in an uncivil fashion.Now, here’s my next disclaimer for this section: As an ex-fundie, I was a lot like Dan. I
    was condescending, incredulous toward people who wouldn’t cave and agree with me; and I wasn’t averse to insulting or shouting at others in my efforts to bully people to agree with me. Fundamentalism is a safe haven for the ignorant and the angry. And I was definitely both. I remember the “last straw” when I lost it on a college campus and shouted in the face of a very mild-mannered friend, who didn’t believe in Jesus. I’ll never forget the embarrassment I felt in front of a group of my peers that day. And I vowed—based on that moment—to find out “what was wrong with me,” and to gain some understanding of why I was so volatile.My Xianity offered no insight. Surely there were passages saying not to be that way—turn the other cheek—but no insights into what makes a person that way or how a person can learn to “turn the other cheek.”Buddhism has this problem nailed millennia ago. When I read the “reasons” people are motivated by X, Y, and Z, not only was I immediately able to recognize which one of those letters was me, but I gained insight into some dysfunctional family members with problems I’d never understood before. After doing my best to wrap my brain around the misconceptions I had about the world around me (misconceptions that Buddhism clearly and realistically addressed—simple “life lessons” that anyone should be able to peg—but that had eluded me due to my dysfunction), and seeing the reality of who I was, and why, and how it was counterproductive to a happy life, I was finally able to address my anger and let it go.This was why I was especially amused by Dan’s apologetic that “life changing” ability proves the truth of doctrine X. I can testify that in only a few months, Buddhism changed my life in a way that years of dogmatic, committed Xian immersion had consistently failed to do.My preacher was right. Reading Buddhism was dangerous to my faith in Xianity; but only because it started me on the road to understanding that I was systematically being fed misinformation, and that Xianity can only be protected by keeping what could be potentially helpful information out of the hands of the followers. I had been “protected” from a very benign doctrine that ultimately cured me of anger-control issues. Why? Because if I read it, I’d know what I’d been told about it was based on misinformation; ironically, the people propagating the misinformation are just as hoodwinked as I was—they’d never read Buddhism either. But they just knew it was dangerous.>Others like Tracie were nearly heroic, in the patient way she calmly knocked down everything Dan threw at her, without the slightest hint that even one of her feathers had been ruffled.Thanks. But I offered my explanation above in order to say this: my abstinence from hurling abuse comes from my background of hurling abuse. I’m like the recovering alcoholic who doesn’t have a drink at a party. I don’t drink, because I really can’t drink. It’s not good for me.I try to remind myself that not everyone has my history of anger-control issues. But I can’t help but have a colored view of “abuse” or “insult” because of my background.I don’t’ accept it from others. I do what I can to try to avoid dishing it out to others (and if I do, and I become aware of it, I will definitely apologize for it as soon as possible. Where I used to seek confrontation (like Dan coming to this forum), I now feel physically ill when I’m involved in it—literally. I have no tolerance for it. I guess I’m like the guy in Clock Work Orange now. Maybe I’ll snap one day and just start hurling abuse at everyone? ;-)>Get the atheist angry, and they can claim a phony moral “victory.” The argument is, at this point, no longer about what is or isn’t true.Here is the one reason I can think for others to try to be as civil as possible. I once saw a very upstanding Xian campus student leader engage with a Krishna in downtown Orlando, FL. At the end of the discussion, other Xians (who had become a group of about 30-40 people gathered around to witness the debate) were telling their Xian friend to “calm down” and asking him “What is wrong with you?” My Krishna pal kept his cool, and made some impressive, well-thought-out arguments (at least, they were clever in “believer” terms—which most of the group was). A group of predominantly Xians, ended up impressed by the Krishna (normally thought of as “fringe nutjobs”)—and apologizing for their Xian friend. The Xian came out looking like an absolute fool; the Krishna guy won, not only on his arguments—but also on the “moral” grounds you mention above.He showed himself to be secure in his beliefs. It really didn’t matter to him if the Xian agreed or not; he had no personal investment in convincing the Xian he was right. And that really does have an impact on perception. Not only a superficial impact; but there is a reality involved as well. Am I just saying what I believe and what I know? Or am I trying to convince someone else I’m right? If the person on the other side of the dialogue is unreasonable, and I’m just saying what I think, I don’t see the point to getting upset. I may be colored by my past—but I believe, and I know others definitely believe, that if a person is getting emotional in a discussion, there’s something “personal” going on—it’s not just about information flow any longer.My personal perspective, that I hold only for myself, is that if I’m just saying what I think, it really doesn’t matter how someone reacts to it (verbally or mentally). I know I never try to be hurtful—so if a person gets upset or freaks out about it—so be it. If they don’t grasp it, I am willing to try to explain it a different way, but ultimately, if they don’t get it, I just have to stop trying to get the communication through—since I’ve done all I can to do so. Getting upset is a personal choice. And I don’t like getting upset—so I remind myself that I can communicate what I need to without being upset. That way, I get the benefit of relaying the message, but I don’t suffer the downside of the emotional toll that negative feelings have on me (which, for me, are significant).>Still, “pissed off” is something I get at times, all on my own. And I know other atheists sympathize.Not only do they sympathize, I think they respect and expect it on some level. We got a letter in once from a lady saying Jeff should be less abusive/angery. She felt the atheist community should present a more civil front, letting reason speak for itself—and further claimed the “moral victory” stance you noted above. I wrote her back personally (not to the list) just to say that while I agreed with her personally, I had to admit that the atheist community at large may or may not agree with her. I told her that by far the number of letters we get from atheist fans were in full support of Jeff “letting that idiot fundie have it—for the stupid things he/she had said.”A community has to reflect the community—not just the opinions of some of the individuals. There is quite a lot of support for sarcasm and insult among atheists. Many of them seem to really enjoy it. And even if I don’t share the enthusiasm, I can’t say that “they’re all wrong and I’m the one who has the right idea about how we all need to argue.” That would be a ridiculously self-serving and arrogant statement. While I don’t think that different approaches mean that one or the other is out of alignment; I could no more make the claim that “they’re all out of alignment” than I could combat the idea that “I’m the one whose out of alignment.”Maybe I do think that some harm comes to the whole community when an “angry atheist” response is offered. But maybe some good is done, and I fail to see it because of my personal perspective. Anyway, I told the letter-writer that I wasn’t entirely sure tha
    t she and I were “in the majority” when it comes to saying what “the community” should be doing or how they should be acting.But I did find some benefit, when Dan talked about how “all of you” were abusing him, to being able to point out that “all of us” weren’t abusing him—as I never did. I don’t know if he’ll go off and claim to other Xians that “all the atheists” at the comment area of “that” blog were angry and abusive; but at least I can say that if he does make that claim, I have made such a claim an outright lie and a misrepresentation of “atheists.” And I find that to be worth something—even if it’s only worth something to me personally.>This view, I think, is borne out by recent findings that while most Americans profess religious belief, few actually know anything about what they claim to believe.I couldn’t pass this up. An older relative of mine was sort of a wayward, Dennis the Menace kind of child. She grew up, and always seemed to take the path of trouble (not legal trouble—but mischief). Well into her thirties, she, out of the blue, got baptized and became a Xian. Her mother was very pleased to see this (having believed this child was lost forever!), and bought her daughter a nice, new Bible with her name monogrammed on the cover in gold letters, to commemorate the event.I was there when the Bible was presented. The woman opened it and began flipping pages—past the Old Testament and into the New Testament section, where she saw she had a “red letter” edition. She asked, “What’s with all the red parts?” My brother and I, and her mother, replied almost in unison: “That’s where Jesus is speaking.”True story:She flipped back to the Old Testament section and said, “Didn’t Jesus have anything to say in this part?”Baptized, a Xian—she didn’t even know what the Old and New Testament represented. Based on what was she baptized? What statement did she think she was making when she became a Xian? I have no idea—and apparently, neither did she.She continued flipping pages>we’re vilified by people who know nothing of us, of atheism,Correct. As explained above, any belief that challenges Xian fundamentalist doctrine is automatically vilified, and a disinformation campaign is immediately mounted, and the masses are inoculated against it before they can come in contact with it. Then they are told NOT to come in contact with it in the first place if they can at all avoid it—since contact or trying to understand it is dangerous and exactly what Satan relies on.>Have you read the death threats and hate mail that Sam Harris gets?My brother sent a letter to his local paper one Xmas in response to a writer who wrote to say “give Xmas back to the Xians.” He said Xians should give Xmas back to the pagans—and that while they were at it, they might consider giving back their religion…which they’d stolen from the Jews.He got death threats on his answering machine as well, and so did my father, since my brother is a “Jr”—and listed with the same name in the phone book.>Anger is an entirely justified response to being on the receiving end of prejudice and stupidityI would probably call it “entirely understandable” for most people. I think whether or not it’s justified is a personal choice based on personal valuation. I don’t dispute you making the statement above. I just want to say that for a mass audience “understandable” works best; but putting it forward as your stance, “justified” is certainly fair as well. I’m not saying I know you intended one or the other—just clarifying that point.

  13. 13
    tracie harris

    I just read this strand (I posted after reading Martin’s post–but hadn’t read all of these replies yet.I want to say I really appreciate the positive feedback I got regarding my responses. I had just written to a friend recently that my responses generally don’t get a lot of feedback–which leaves me wondering if what I’ve posted seems as viable to others as it does to me.I’m glad that the things I asked and commented on were things that apparently others also were wondering or were glad someone asked or pointed out.Anyway, just to say “thanks” for letting me know my time was appreciated on some level.:-)

  14. 14
    Andrew

    Derek- It wasn’t a discussion. It was amateurish proselytizing.Reading the thoughts of Tracie and Stephen (and others) were really interesting and informative (which made the whole experience worth it), but Dan brought NOTHING to the table. This whole episode just shows how different the world views of fundies are from the more contemporary ones of secular society. He values things we don’t value or even respect. We value things he finds foolish and evil… What can we teach each other than our differences?But if we are going to tell people how they appear to others we need to be conscious of how we appear to others as well. I think that was the point of the post, but please correct me if I’m mistaken.Personally, I could care less how I appear to other people. I only make an effort to impress people when it is beneficial for me to do so (like at work, girlfriend, etc…).And calling Dan a hypocrite IS the truth. Being a hypocrite does not depend on other’s opinions. If a man living alone on a deserted island decided that masturbation was wrong and vowed not to do it again THEN did it anyway, he would be a hypocrite.Sorry, if I am repeating someone else’s comments. I got a little busy here at work, and don’t have time to read them yet.

  15. 15
    Derek

    “It wasn’t a discussion. It was amateurish proselytizing.”I agree… until we started responding and it became a discussion. You almost give him too much credit to say he brought nothing to the table. Although I think I learn from the experience and even had a cheap laugh or two… hehe, acts of god, I still can’t get over that.“Personally, I could care less how I appear to other people. I only make an effort to impress people when it is beneficial for me to do so (like at work, girlfriend, etc…).”That’s cool, but you’ll notice that I said, “if we are going to tell people how they appear to others…” So if you don’t (and as far as I know you haven’t) then there’s no problem, otherwise you’d be a hypocrite as well. Your example made me chuckle though because if I were alone on a desert island I’d think that not masturbating would be wrong and vow to do so religiously.

  16. 16
    Matt D.

    What a timely post!After my panel discussion at UT, I heard from one of the students that a member of the student government reportedly thinks (or used to think) that atheists are angry and non-peaceful. (Completely unrelated to my appearance there, I had a great time and enjoyed talking to the other panelists)I responded pretty quickly. In my experience, she’s dead wrong about the non-peaceful comment and probably right about the angry comment – but not in the way she likely meant it.I’m angry. That doesn’t mean I can’t also be compassionate. In fact, I’m angry because I’m compassionate. Anger isn’t the negative scapegoat this person might assume, there are often great reasons to be angry.I’m pretty sure some gays are angry about having their rights trampled. I’m pretty sure people in the civil rights and suffrage movements were angry.Who wouldn’t be angry to find that you are the least trusted minority in America for no reason other than ignorant bigotry? When two people who feel that the other is deserving of eternal torture agree that they despise you more than they despise each other…the frustration alone is enough to justify anger.We have faith-based initiatives, global gag rules, creationism vs. evolution, abstinence-only sex education, environmental disregard, wars – there is a systematic attack on science, education and freedom.If you’re not angry, you’re either not paying attention or you just don’t care.

  17. 17
    Derek

    “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention” That would make a good bumper sticker. I’ve been trying to decide on one myself and I’m torn between:”Atheists believe in people.”"Forget Jesus. Do you love me?”and”I’ll bet Jesus would use his turn signals!”

  18. 18
    Tom Foss

    but give a person a Bible, and they’ll end up a Christian.That’s an interesting doctrine; in my experience, you give a person a Bible, and they end up an atheist.Well, assuming they read the thing.

  19. 19
    tracie harris

    >”If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention”I’ve heard this quote, but I don’t agree with it. Anger is a choice. Whether or not it’s justified is a personal value judgement. I can’t think of anything I can accomplish adding anger that I can’t accomplish with a level head as well. If there are issues of injustice, I don’t see why they can’t be addressed in a level-headed fashion with the anger on a shelf.That doesn’t mean that they can’t be accomplished with anger; I just think “anger” or “becoming angry about it” is not relevant to accomplishing the goal–it would be like claiming “I do good because of my religion”–when a person can do the same good without the religion.I find that anger (and emotion in general) often clouds people’s ability to think clearly (not always, but often). And clear thought, I value more than emotion.If a person wants to accomplish their goal, and prefers to accomplish it with an angry attitude, so long as they’re not hurting people, I don’t care. But that’s not my route.It’s like people who think that if I’m not worried over X, that I fail to perceive the importance of X. I can make X a priority and address it just as well without the additional stress that comes with “worry.” Worry doesn’t help resolve X. But to some people, “worry” is proof of concern–and the understanding of urgency. But I think a person can be level-headed and grasp urgency–just look at EMS workers.>That’s an interesting doctrine; in my experience, you give a person a Bible, and they end up an atheist.I’m fairly sure “atheist” wasn’t even on their radar. ;-)

  20. 20
    TonyInBatavia

    Tracie said: I had just written to a friend recently that my responses generally don’t get a lot of feedback–which leaves me wondering if what I’ve posted seems as viable to others as it does to me.I don’t post much … I’m more of a lurker … but damn, Tracie, this is a shame. You deserve *a lot* of feedback because your posts are always articulate as all get-out, very well thought-out, incredibly reasoned, and always written as though the person you’re writing to deserves as much respect as you’d like to receive, even if that person has done nothing to deserve the respect. Then again, the viability of what you’ve written is likely what prevents folks from giving you feedback since it’s much more motivating to apply fingertips to keyboard when you disagree with what someone else has written; if you agree with something that’s been written, you’re more likely to just nod and say to yourself, “yep, couldn’t have said it better myself.”Let me be clear: I find everything you’ve ever written here to be simply excellent, of the “yep, couldn’t have said it better myself” variety (or, maybe even of the “yep, few people could say it better” variety). In those rare instances where I’ve said to myself “hmm, I wonder what she meant there” or “oh, I don’t know if I would have said it that way,” I see that the *very next* post added to the board is from you, clarifying or restating that particular point . It’s uncanny, really. I find myself mining comments here looking for new posts from you, just to see what you’ve tackled next and to see how you’ve approached it. I’m impressed by most posters to this board but — with no offense to any of them or their approaches — I find yours to be most consistently standout.Just to give you an idea of how impressed I am by your writing: Over the last week I’ve begun seeking out your episodes of “The Atheist Experience” at Google Video, just to see if your “articulate as all get-out, very well thought-out, incredibly reasoned…” approach translates to the show. Needless to say, it translates very well.To recap: It’s a shame you don’t get more feedback, but it’s not due to the lack of viability of your messages; it’s likely because of it. Anyway, you need to know that you have a big fan here in Batavia, IL. Selfishly speaking, please keep it up!Back to lurking …

  21. 21
    Derek

    >”If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention””I’ve heard this quote, but I don’t agree with it. Anger is a choice. Whether or not it’s justified is a personal value judgement.”I think anger can flare up before you have a change to make any kind of conscious choice. I think the choice is then what to do with it. You can act on it or dismiss it. Probably some other options too aren’t coming to mind. But I don’t think this was the kind of anger you were talking about anyway. If you meant kind of anger people carry around with them as animosity then I agree. I admittedly haven’t given it much though because I don’t consider myself a very angry or hostile person. Though people seem to get that impression from my often dark, pointed sense of humor.And I don’t really agree with the quote on the grounds that, like most bumper stickers, it way over simplifies things. In reality while I think “atheists believe in people” is a cute little saying I could never bring myself to stick it on my car (or shirt or wherever) because it simply not true. What it means to say, and what most would read, is “humanists believe in people”.The last example I gave is also questionable. Barring the omniscient argument Jesus would not likely be quick to figure out how and when to use his blinkers. Also for all we know he could have been a real dick behind the wheel. Oh, and before I forget… I recently dropped my iPod into a mob bucket. Horrible accident, beyond repair, kaput. I have a new and improved iPod now and have recovered most of my music. However, I’m not able to get my favorite AE episodes (namely Tracie’s explanations of the evolution of OT myths) from iTunes anymore. Is there somewhere else to download it (for free, preferably)? Or, even better, is there a place to see your notes or otherwise cold hard facts you’ve found on the subject, Tracie? I really appreciate your research. I do some one my own but the most I usually find is that God used to be a tribal God of storms, or mountains or something, I’ve forgotten. You’re an invaluable resource! Thanks again.

  22. 22
    Matt D.

    “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention”I’ve heard this quote, but I don’t agree with it. Anger is a choice. Whether or not it’s justified is a personal value judgement. I can’t think of anything I can accomplish adding anger that I can’t accomplish with a level head as well.The sort of anger I was talking about does not imply that you aren’t operating with a level head. There is a sort of passionate outrage that comes from caring and thinking and not simply from unthinking emotion.When I learn that atheists are the least trusted minority, I’m angry. That doesn’t mean I’m foaming at the mouth or not thinking staight.I absolutely adore Carl Sagan. He was brilliant, compassionate and never showed a hint of anger or disrespect to the various insanities that he was continuously faced with. Cosmos should be required viewing in every public school. His books should be on every recommended reading list.He is a huge personal hero, I respect him greatly and this isn’t meant as an attack on him.However, what he did was stand up and politely say “excuse me, I think you may have this part wrong…I’m pretty sure we’re looking at terrible injustices, I hope you’re able to see that.”Now, he was clearly compassionate and his words resonated with many – but I don’t get the impression that they resonated in all the places they were needed.Sometimes, some injustices are so flagrant and so ubiquitous that we really need some sort of outrage to promote change at the level where change is most needed. Sometimes, that’s the only way you’re going to get a response.Fundamentalists aren’t likely to give Sagan’s words a second thought – but Dawkins has grabbed their attention. (What sort of lasting effect the new attention gets is still up for debate, but it’s an approach that I feel is worth pursuing.)Sagan was the butt of a number of jokes – among his peers – until late in his life. That’s unfortunate, but it’s related to the point I’m making.If someone is beating someone else over the head with a club – you don’t start with “excuse me”, you start with “HEY! Stop!” and, if necessary, you force them to stop.That’s the sort of anger I’m talking about. It may not fit everyone, but I don’t see us making much progress when conversations end with “well, I guess we just disagree then, thanks for the interesting discussion.”In many cases we’re dealing with the equivalent of the school bully and getting right in their face is the only way to get them to pay attention to what you’re saying.

  23. 23
    tracie harris

    Wow. Thanks a bundle Toni. I wish I could agree that my TV expression is as good as my writing—but I often feel like I’ve lost my place in my notes when I’m live. But hopefully I’ll get better as I get more used to responding to people on the fly. Still—your support is very much appreciated. Thanks again.Derek:>I think anger can flare up before you have a change to make any kind of conscious choice. I think the choice is then what to do with it. You can act on it or dismiss it.This is true. In psychology, there are things called ‘spikes’—which are exactly what you’re describing. But I also agree that one doesn’t have to act on spikes and can dismiss them and act rationally instead of emotionally.I can look for my notes on the OT episodes. Mainly you can really just Google Nehushtan, Asherah, or “El+Ugarit” and get some interesting insights. Ugarit+Old Testament would probably also yield some interesting things. If you drop a note to the TV-atheist contact link at the ACA web site, you can reach me, and I can e-mail you the notes if I can find them all on my system at home…?Matt:> Sometimes, some injustices are so flagrant and so ubiquitous that we really need some sort of outrage to promote change at the level where change is most needed. Sometimes, that’s the only way you’re going to get a response.I guess I don’t disagree with this statement as much as think it’s a shame that it’s true. Unfortunately, many people will only rally if you can move them emotionally—because they simply can’t or won’t think. This is the same method of motivation that moves religious masses. I guess I wish more than believe that people didn’t require some sort of tug of emotional manipulation to motivate to change things for the better. But I have to agree they often do. Oddly, the change I’d like to see is to get people to stop doing this—but could I accomplish this without manipulating people emotionally? ;-)>If someone is beating someone else over the head with a club – you don’t start with “excuse me”, you start with “HEY! Stop!” and, if necessary, you force them to stop.I don’t think that firmness requires anger. I can just as easily grab the hand of the abuser and say: “This is not acceptable. I won’t allow you to do this to someone else.” I don’t see that as angry, rude, or emotional at all. It’s perfectly reasonable and firm and straightforward—and can be done without emotion. In fact, my coworker’s 18-month-old last night bounced a ball off their dog’s face, and laughed. The mother grabbed the child, took the ball away and sat her in time out. Very firm—but no anger. She realized the child “didn’t know” yet how to empathize; still, the behavior had to be adjusted—immediately and with clarity.>In many cases we’re dealing with the equivalent of the school bully and getting right in their face is the only way to get them to pay attention to what you’re saying.I guess I don’t see “firm” as “angry.” Maybe it’s just a labeling issue. Anger to me is an accompanying feeling. In fact, a person can “get in someone’s face” and not feel a thing. I don’t think I gave any quarter with Dan—but I wasn’t angry. Still, I often had to hammer particular points, more firmly ask for a reply, repeatedly hit that certain things had not been addressed adequately, clearly pointed out where I thought he was not being rational or logical…and from what I could see, the angry posters didn’t fare any better than I did getting Dan to see reason.In a personal correspondence to a friend, early on in my posts to Dan, I wrote that I already knew the end before I began. Dan would leave, nothing would be resolved. So, why did I waste my time posting? (I was asked). I told him that I was posting because it was a public forum—and I had no idea who might find these posts a day from now or a year from now. But I wanted good replies to these tired Xian apologetics available to the public. If Dan had written to me personally, the discussion you saw on this forum would not have occurred.“Atheists are angry people who hate god” is a stereotype I wish to combat—because I’m not an angry person who hates god. And I don’t want any Xian to walk away feeling justified in that accusation with me. I want to be able to point to my dialogue and say: Show me where I’m angry and hating god?—and have them have nowhere to go. However, if they come here and see “Dan! You’re such a f*cking idiot!”—they may not choose to wade through the abusive dialogue to see if there is some sort of rational discussion underneath. And I wouldn’t blame them. I’d think it was a forum full of uneducated malcontents (I would be wrong—but if I’m looking for info, am I going to read Austin Cline articles, or someone who starts off with profanities hurled at their opponent?) It’s a shame that good info would be overlooked on this account—but it’s also a reality—as much a reality that ‘getting people emotionally riled up’ motivates them.My personal goal—for myself—is to present the face of positive atheism—and to me that includes combating stereotypes that I believe (hope?) are undeserved. But I’m not convinced the “angry atheist” stereotype is not undeserved. And if we’re going to argue that we have a right to be angry—then we need to accept the truth of the “angry atheist”—because we’re promoting and supporting it.I know I’m not the only exception—but I’m not sure I’m not a minority.

  24. 24
    Derek

    I completely agree Tracie and I try to do the same. I don’t think I come of as well as you though (I think I probably joke around too much).But I want to clarify something so people don’t get the wrong idea. You are not condemning emotion, correct? Or even living emotionally? I think you were only saying you wished it weren’t peoples’ only motivator? You would agree that our emotions are an important part of our humanity?In trying to remain positive and and combat with information are you ever accused of just being, um… I don’t think disagreeable is the right word but, having something to say about everything? I get this a lot when even when I’m not trying to show the problems with a given belief but just correct imperial statements about biblical subjects. I’m not sure how to answer this. When told I always have to correct people I usually say “well that’s just not true” but again with the joking.I’m pleased to say that no one in recent history can accuse me of being an “angry atheist”. I think sometimes the case could be made that I’m smug and dismissive. I’d like for that not to be the case either. The “smug atheist” might be right up there with the “angry atheist” in terms of poor image. On the other hand I want to stay passionate about social issues involved, plus the whole “ridiculous claims are deserving of ridicule” thing. I can’t even tell if it’s me or if the people I talk to just think all ideas should be equal (more from moderate agnostics and new-agers than christians). Any advise on this? Do you even agree?I don’t go on the attack or go around looking to pick a fight, by the way. I’d find that distasteful. These things usually come up when I make a comment about something on the news, for example.

  25. 25
    Strakh

    Hey all,It never ceases to amaze me that rational people will talk themselves to death over their own actions. This is an atheist site, capiche? A non-thinker came onto this site and behaved like a spoiled, ignorant brat. When dealt with rationally, he just changed topics and acted even more weirdly. When dealt with in anger, (and I’m the most guilty of that, I freely admit) he cried like a baby. With the exception of my tirades, I saw NOTHING on this site for ANY of you to worry about. Dan got off EXTREMELY light, even by his own church’s standards. If we wanted to ‘be like Dan’ and acted religiously, we could have just eviscerated him in the grand tradition of the medieval church. Make no mistake, whatever anger you THINK you saw on this site is NOTHING compared to the pure, malevolent HATRED for you and me that religidiots have repeatedly demonsrated. I’ve sat in meetings with people who seemed absolutely normal who have spewed the most hateful stuff I’ve EVER encountered, all in the name of jeebus.As stated in an earlier post, I and my family have been persecuted merely for my STUDYING religion, not even being atheist, at a time I could not state WHAT I was. This happened several times in different states. And this kind of thing is INCREASING folks not decreasing. Read your own site! The 3/31/2007 11:13:00AM post by Martin Wagner about A. C. Grayling, which I note still has no comments states what I’m trying to say in a much better style. I had already seen what he talks about but he states it clearly, succinctly and we all need to read and remember this man’s beautiful prose.The fundamentalists of America are arming themselves, folks, with the express purpose of killing YOU when their churches can overcome the secular laws that protect not just us but all. This is not paranoia, not alarmism, this is what THEY themselves say, in pulbic, with pride, and repeatedly. How far away is that day? I have no clue. But I don’t want to see it come any more than you do. Politely asking “Excuse me, but has it ever occurred to you that you might be mistaken?” will not start a reasoned debate at that time, it will merely get your head blown off. Even the scripture states, “As a man thinketh, so he is.” We are at war, people, at war for the thoughts and minds of people being manipulated into hate-filled blobs of obedient stupidity. It’s easy to forget that in our day to day activities as we tend to associate only with those we like. But when you are attacked for what you THINK, as I have been, it comes home to you that you are not free when these freaks are building bigger and bigger memberships and arming themselves for the coming ‘apocalypse.’No, Tracie, Martin, Derek; you were not mean, nor mean-spirited, nor cruel. Forget the utter disingenuousness of ‘political correctness’ and be proud of standing up to the rising tide of sub-mediocrity, hate, and pure stupidity threatening to destroy the greatest experiment in governmental history. Our country, our freedom, our very lives will be taken from us by theocracy if we do not FIGHT BACK!Dan deserved what he received, folks, pure and simple. It’s no crime to point out stupidity, it’s the DUTY of the better educated and more intelligent. We must LEAD, not let ourselves be trampled by the mobs of the ignorant.’Nuff said!

  26. 26
    Andrew

    Someone likes Fahrenheit 451…

  27. 27
    Martin

    Just to reassure Otto, the point of my post was not to apologize for any meanness directed towards Dan, which I stated rather clearly he deserved. I do, however, regret that Christians often present themselves in such a way that we have to blast them so harshly. I was simply pointing out that we shouldn’t let the way we respond to Christians, however justified the anger may be, strip us of our humanity or our obligation to hold to the higher ideals of rationalism. And to those who say atheists are the meanies, they should look to the behavior of those who claim holy righteousness first.

  28. 28
    tracie harris

    Derek:>But I want to clarify something so people don’t get the wrong idea. You are not condemning emotion, correct? Or even living emotionally? I think you were only saying you wished it weren’t peoples’ only motivator? You would agree that our emotions are an important part of our humanity?Someone once put it in a good way that I agree with: Negative emotions are like warning lights in your car. Once you observe they’re “on” there’s no need to regard them any longer—at that point you simply need to investigate what it is in you that is causing them. The “light” itself is not the issue—it’s just the alert that you’re having an internal dialogue/reaction.With positive emotions, the problem issue is different, because we enjoy them, and they generally don’t lead to harming others. I still think It’s good to examine them and recognize what they are telling me about myself; but it’s very important to remember that emotions tell us only about ourselves; they provide no information about the external world. They only reflect our interpretations of what we see. And this is not part of my Buddhist past—this comes from studying anthropology and communication (intrapersonal communication is where “emotional” dialogue would be described and defined) at UCF. Emotions are a very basic model of intrapersonal communication. They do serve a purpose; but in this case, I was involved in a dialogue where my purpose was an exchange of information and a rational evaluation of that information. My “feelings” about the information was not the topic of discussion, and I did not feel it was necessary or relevant to the dialogue. I still don’t.>having something to say about everything?I can’t deny that in the past I’ve been called opinionated. But I haven’t gotten that in many years. Lately, it’s been more “tenatious/stubborn”? I try to monitor this, because I know I have received this criticism fairly; but sometimes I don’t think It’s fairly applied. But I try to really look at my position when I hear this—to make sure I’m being reasonable. I can’t help being subjective—I’m human, but I try.I normally try to “choose my battles.” In the past, I felt I needed to correct anything—but now I tend to not do so unless I see some real reason for it. Many of my family members are religions and are of different denominations. I don’t care what they believe. If they talk about it, I might ask questions—but I don’t generally tell them they’re “wrong.” I just ask logical questions—like I did with Dan; and I drop it if I see someone is getting upset or excited. This isn’t because I’m being wishy-washy; it’s because of another communication reality: When people become emotional, their ability to reason becomes impaired. The higher the emotional levels, the more irrational the person is likely to respond in a given situation. So, if someone is getting freaked out and sounds shaken or is shouting—then a dialogue is not a good idea, because the person is no longer communicating rationally. Literally, the next step up would be for a person to become physically violent. I’m not saying everyone who shouts hits people—but there are levels to intrapersonal dialogue. Anger is accompanied by posturing, such as shouting or physically advancing on a person (even if you don’t hit). Even an angry person can walk away at any point in this. But if they continue to escalate—if they see their attempts at intimidation aren’t working, and they don’t back down, it is probable they will become violent. In the human brain, it is the same mechanism a chimpanzee uses when it feels threatened. It first becomes loud, then will pick up branches or fronds to make itself appear larger. It will posture all it can to avoid physical confrontation—hoping to intimidate the other party to back down first—since physical confrontation could prove dangerous even to the angry chimp. And, by the way, this also gets to the roots of anger, which is actually a response “threat” or being threatened. Chimps are generally protecting or trying to obtain resources they feel they need; as for people—each one is unique. I can’t speak to why a dialogue should raise feelings like this in a person. And I think most people aren’t even aware of the actual internal message. As a Xian, I certainly wasn’t. Now that I am more aware, I try to see why I should be threatened by someone disagreeing—even ignorantly or irrationally—and there is no good explanation—so I don’t allow that to enter my dialogue.>”ridiculous claims are deserving of ridicule”That’s sort of definitional, though. What is ridiculous? It’s really a matter of personal judgment. That’s one of the words I try to avoid. It’s vacuous. It only imparts my personal judgment; and why in the world would anyone care about my personal judgment of what they think? Should Dan care if I think something he says is “ridiculous”? If Dan called one of my comments “ridiculous”—would I care? No. So, why does a personal judgment enter the dialogue? That depends on the person dialoguing. For my goals, it’s totally superfluous. I only want to determine what is reasonable. What I feel about it or my value judgment about it is irrelevant. All I need to determine is whether or not it’s rational. If it’s not I don’t believe it. Whether or not I consider it “hogwash” or some-such is not a necessary addition to the conversation—since Dan doesn’t care what I think about it; and I don’t feel a need to try to make Dan care what I think about it. My opinions are only really meaningful to me.>I talk to just think all ideas should be equal (more from moderate agnostics and new-agers than christians). Any advise on this? Do you even agree?I would need more info. I personally feel that I like people to be respectful to me, and to one another. And it is my character (so far as I am able to maintain it) to show respect to other people. In order for ideas to be unequal, a value must be applied. In my conversation with Dan, I applied the value of rationality: Ideas that are more rational are more valuable to me. Not all ideas are equally rational. But all people are equally to be respected—according to my values. I can’t (nor would I wish to) impose that last part onto others. But I find I have a much better case of demanding respect from others when I can show that I provide respect to others. It’s hard to tell people it’s wrong to be violent, when I’m walking around hitting them. If I use profanity with someone in a conversation, I’m giving them a clear message that profanity is OK to use by me. Once we’re both swearing at one another—what has happened to our dialogue? So, I try to avoid going down that road, and try my best to keep others who are arguing against me off that road as well—by pointing out I find it unacceptable and that I don’t engage in it.For your questions above, with limited info, I’d say that whoever you’re talking to has to agree with your value for a conversation to be meaningful. If I’m arguing from a perspective of: I value rational ideas—and another person is valuing “it makes me feel good”—we’re not going to get very far. The first thing to establish would be: What makes ideas valuable to you? And do I agree with that? If you can’t agree on that—how can you agree on whether or not all ideas are “equal”?Otto:>Make no mistake, whatever anger you THINK you saw on this site is NOTHING compared to the pure, malevolent HATRED for you and me that religidiots have repeatedly demonsrated.Agreed. And since I don’t appreciate people spewing hatred at me, I try to avoid doing it myself. But again, and I can’t stress this enough: This is just me based on what I value and how I view a desirable “character”—for myself.>Dan deserved what he received, folks, pure and simple.Since that is a personal value judgmen
    t, I don’t argue that. I merely say that I personally don’t believe anyone deserves angry response. I can’t speak for anyone else and tell anyone else what they should think or say Dan deserves.>It’s no crime to point out stupidity,Agreed.>it’s the DUTY of the better educated and more intelligent.Here I disagree if “pointing out” means simply calling something “stupid.” Vacuous insult doesn’t promote dialogue, is not conducive to communication, and provides no information other than the speaker’s personal value judgment. And why should I care about one person’s judgments? A clear, and unwaivering critique of why an idea is dangerous, or potentially harmful, or mean, or unreasonable, is much more valuable—I believe—in a public forum.I can’t say that other approaches don’t have benefits, or aren’t valued by others. They’re just not as valued by me. And I choose not to engage in them.>We must LEAD, not let ourselves be trampled by the mobs of the ignorant.I don’t agree I must lead. But I agree I will do what I can to avoid being trampled. I just fail to see how getting angry allows me to do something more than I can do without getting angry. Is telling X why he’s unreasonable somehow more impactive if I say it in an angry fashion? Will X hear me better if I’m shouting at him? In fact, in communication, if someone shouts at a subject in an angry manner, the subject is more likely to become defensive and less likely to be open to hearing the message. Anger impedes real communication; all it says is: “You aren’t hearing me—you need to hear me! If I threaten you, you will hear me!!!” And it doesn’t work, and I don’t agree that it’s necessary. But if someone believes there is benefit to it that I don’t see—as long as they’re not hurting people, you’re right—it’s not a crime. I am not going to try and stop anyone from calling anyone else “stupid.” But I’m not going to engage in it myself.

  29. 29
    tracie harris

    Martin:>I was simply pointing out that we shouldn’t let the way we respond to Christians, however justified the anger may be, strip us of our humanity or our obligation to hold to the higher ideals of rationalism.I think this post was a particularly good one. And that point is well worth making.I was even thinking of it last night. I was thinking about “the positive atheist” and what that means to me. I think if I had to point the the most influential atheist in my own vault, it would be Joseph Campbell. His quote: “All religions are true, but none are literal,” should be a T-shirt, I think.By acknowledging the part mythology plays in human history and even the present and potentially the future, he allows himself to value mythology, accept it, and still see it for what it is: symbolism and metaphor.His ideas on myth and religion are in middle school and high school text books. That’s a big step for atheism in my book. I think the message that myth and symbol are valuable tools to people–but shouldn’t be taken literally–is something that could have a big impact in future generations. And it’s easier to promote than “your religion is a lie.” Certainly religion promotes lies/false info in order to maintain itself; but symbols themselves can’t be lies–because they’re intended only as metaphor.If people understood Xianity is simply our mythology, I would be happy with that.Meanwhile, Joseph Campbell never got upset that I ever saw. And always seemed positive and even happy–in his writing, and in interviews.In one interview he was asked what he thought about people who take the resurrection of Jesus literally. I remember, the look on his face. He just smiled as if to say, “Now, let’s be serious here…” and replied, “Well, that would be a misread.”To Campbell, a debate about whether or not the stories are literally true would be an absurdity; not unlike the scientists who have recently opted to not publicly debate evolution/creationism. It’s along the lines of holding a debate to determine whether or not there is a Santa Claus.In my opinion, Campbell was perceived as knowledgeable, academically credentialed, charming, and positive; but always clear that religion is mythology.Currently I’m reading James Frazer’s The Golden Bough–and it’s the same message: Those “other” religions are no different than our own “religion”–except that we take our own literally–while we dismiss the others as myth.Perhaps invoking that reality more often would be beneficial in atheist forums? I don’t know. But it is an idea that is far more socially respected currently (than saying, “you’re deluded”–even if it’s true) and also an idea that even many “tolerant” Xians wouldn’t publicly oppose. Just a thought.

  30. 30
    Emanuel Goldstein

    Actually, I think the atheists reactions here are just a small example of what they would really like to do to Christians if they had the power.Historically, whenever atheists have been in official control of a state, the result is the Gulag, brainwashing camp, and “re-eductaion” center.Always.And its still going on. Look at who the Chinese enforced atheism on the Tibetans in recent years, as a means of destroying the cultural identity of the Tibetans.I see no evidence of superiority.Remember, “fundies may talk about the end of the world, but atheistic scientists have made it POSSIBLE.”.

  31. 31
    tracie harris

    Emanuel:Just to point out, I have pointed out repeatedly on this blog that I have no agenda to deconvert Xians. I would stand in the way of any legislation that banned any form of belief or worship that did not harm others–no matter how ludicrous I personally might view it.I read your testimonial, about your abusive uncle, in the other comment section. You are operating on emotional response. I sympathize with it–but I can’t call it “reasonable.” Bad rulers are bad rulers, whether or not they believe in god. Look at the religious rulers of the past in Western Europe and in the Middle East today. Is rule by theocracy preferable, you think?I don’t think religious ideology has any place in government–not atheism, not Xianity, not Islam, not any of it. Religion is the realm of the priests, Public Welfare is the realm of the people and the government. I would stand against any government regulations that tried to impose or restrict religious freedoms for believers or atheists. And I know there are many Xians who feel the same way.I don’t feel a need to demonize all Xians because of the negative impact of many other Xians. That is an emotionally immature attitude. Your history of abuse has understandably affected you. Black-and-white thinking is the result of codependent attitudes, built on unresolved past issues. “All atheists are bad” is as ridiculous as “All Xians are bad.” And there are many more examples, daily in the news, of poor Xian behavior than of poor atheist behavior; but I would never use that as a support to claim all, or even most, Xians are bad people. That would be irrational.

  32. 32
    Goldstein's Clones

    The trouble with your claims about atheists being picked on is that many of us know what atheists have done when they had political control.In my own case, my relatives came from a country with an officially atheistic government.You know all that stuff about Gulags, brainwashing camps, “re-education centers” and murder of believers because they were in the way of the state?Its all true.And, historically, its always been the case.Where I worked part time trying to get through school…still trying…the place was full of atheist. A group of college kids and a few punks. They actually threatened me, not just ridiculed me.So don’t try to tell me your barf about the poor little atheists.

  33. 33
    Tom Foss

    In my own case, my relatives came from a country with an officially atheistic government.You know all that stuff about Gulags, brainwashing camps, “re-education centers” and murder of believers because they were in the way of the state?Its all true.And, historically, its always been the case.Yeah, just look at the Netherlands and Sweden. Buncha fascists over there.So don’t try to tell me your barf about the poor little atheists.Yeah, clearly nothing ever goes wrong when theists are in charge. There’s never concentration camps or ethnic cleansing or slavery or witch hunts or Crusades or Inquisitions when the religionists are in charge.

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