Today a gentleman whose privacy I’ll respect by not revealing his name sent an email to the TV show address with the subject line “Victory for atheists.” I’m afraid it’s anything but. Indeed, it’s a textbook example of how to fumble the ball.
The fellow in question had sent an irate letter to the Laurel and Hardy apologetics team of Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron, complaining about an insulting anti-atheist bumper sticker they were selling online. Boasting to us that his letter had persuaded them to remove the offending sticker from their site, he went on to quote himself in full, and he doesn’t start off badly.
Your Item #500 Atheist Day bumper sticker is a very un-Christian insult to all atheists. Just because your Bible states something, does not mandate that you use this information to insult atheists like me.
I am not a fool, and I want you to change the wording of your sticker. The average driver can easily read the words:
NATIONAL ATHEIST’S DAY
But the words of Psalm 14:1, which are below these words, cannot be easily seen by any motorist.
Then, as the letter progresses, you can see his emotions starting to run away with him.
My life as an American Atheist has been unalterably changed by your bumper sticker. I would never be elected to any political position in our country, because your bumper sticker has poisoned most believers minds.
I demand that you use your own savior’s command to Love your neighbor as yourself, and change your bumper sticker to read something like this:
PSALM 14:1 SHOULD BE READ
Well, the inability of atheists to make much headway in American politics, despite the Constitution’s ban on a religious test (a ban that is openly violated by the constitutions of a number of individual states, like Texas), is rooted in a religious bigotry against unbelievers that was in play long before Frick and Frack decided to sell a stupid bumper sticker online. But then our writer starts to run right off the rails…
I understand that the U.S. Constitution guarantees you freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. However, that does not give you unlimited license to publicly insult those who do not share your beliefs.
Uh…well, yeah, dude. It does.
Free speech is exactly that. Insults are not illegal. There are actionably libelous and slanderous remarks that one can make that are not Constitutionally protected. But merely lobbing an insult at somebody doesn’t qualify. And there is no Constitutional protection against having your feelings hurt. Here, our writer is simply making as big a fool of himself as the Catholics who have been throwing a colossal group shitfit these past several days over PZ Myers’ mocking of the Eucharist cracker.
Regrettably, our writer, figuring “in for a penny, in for a pound,” wraps everything up with an Oscar-worthy exercise in shark-jumping.
If, by August 23, 2008 your bumper sticker has not been changed on your web site, I will file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, in San Antonio, and have a restraining order issued to order you to change your sticker.
Insert sound of screeching tires, a loud crash, followed by a sustained explosion.
Hmm, what does this kind of pissy, bully-boy rhetoric remind me of? Certainly it’s nothing I’d attach the word “rational” to, and indeed, no offense to our writer here (though I can’t imagine I’ll avoid it), while Psalm 14:1 does not apply to atheists or atheism as a philosophy, it applies like hell to his behavior here.
It’s one thing to sue or threaten to sue if you have actually been harmed, or if an actionable offense has been made. But threatening legal action simply as a means of stifling the speech of someone who simply holds a view different to your own, and who has only made remarks that have bruised your feelings, is reprehensible behavior, full stop. And if you were dumb enough actually to file such a suit, expect not only an immediate dismissal but quite possibly a Rule 11(b) ass-reaming on top of it.
As Matt has pointed out to this fellow, not only has he moronically validated the bigotry Cameron and Comfort hold against atheists by being such a reactionary hothead over something as banal as a bumper sticker, but, if they did indeed remove the sticker from their site in response to his email, then this is simply something that we can fully expect them to use, in their next blog posts and podcasts and whatever else they do, to paint themselves as the calm, reasonable ones, the charitable, kind Christians who out of the goodness of their hearts will honor this poor unsaved person’s feelings, despite his hostile and bullying tone, which is, of course, just the way you are when you’re godless and lost. In other words, this dumbass has just handed the two most dishonest and inept apologists in all of pop-Christianity a three-pointer.
So let this be a lesson to atheists everywhere. We’re human, and certainly can’t expect to be entirely rational and unemotional when things affect us as humans, and cause us to feel a level of hurt. But unlike PZ’s Catholic mob, we ought to have a perspective they lack. Nothing here that was “holy” or inviolable to atheists was damaged by this bumper sticker. And I cannot for the life of me think how this writer can prove he’s suffered any kind of harm because of its mere existence. As rational beings, we must know that we live in a world of many differing and often hostile views, none moreso than those between religious believers and skeptics. Some people we’ll have civil disagreements with, others will be more heated and emotional. But we all have a right to expression, and to use bullying threats to silence someone’s opposing views while claiming bogus “harm” is something no rationalist can or should countenance.
If our writer thought he’d find a sympathetic ear and support when he emailed us to boast of his “victory,” I’m afraid he got a rude surprise, one which I’ll happily make ruder by exposing his foolishness here as an epic fail for which he should feel duly embarrassed. I expect this kind of thing from extremist religious ideologues. I expect better from atheists, as we should always be guided by reason, even when we’re a little bit cranky that day. Atheists who go four-alarm-irrational will find themselves thoroughly hosed if we hear about it.
Addendum: The original writer has finally been reduced simply to calling Matt “such an asshole” in response to Matt’s explanations as to why he did the wrong thing. That says all that needs to be said about the guy’s character, I do believe. I wonder if he’ll threaten to sue next?