Good cop, bad cop?

Here’s a chance to really demonstrate a problem (although it might guarantee that I’m not asked to speak at the University of Oregon)…

Lucy Gubbins has weighed in on the recent discussions about the skeptic schism.

She and I seem to agree on some things but she’s managed to frame this entire subject so poorly that the good points almost get lost in the fray and she finishes it off with a call for the “firebrands” to be more accommodating of the accommodationists.

“In interactions with religious people, do we need the Good Cop, or the Bad?

As often as I hear this dialogue, the answer seems to be, surprisingly, the same: we need both.”

I’m in agreement that we need many different voices to present information in many different ways to ensure that we have the best chance of reaching the largest audience, but when we start portraying this as “good cop” and “bad cop”, we’ve already erred. Those of us who are most likely to be tossed into the “bad cop” category simply don’t belong there because that category doesn’t exist.

In reality, if we’re going to stick with the cop analogy: we have an entire police force watching the highways and we all have discretionary control over when we’re going to give a warning and when we’re going to give a ticket or make an arrest.

“What happens when a nonbeliever appears who doesn’t loathe religion, and doesn’t find religious mockeries all that funny? And what happens when this nonbeliever is a vocal opponent of what the “Bad Cops” are doing?”

That’s actually pretty simple: they’re entitled to their opinion but it doesn’t mean that they get to define the skeptic or atheist community for others.

Sticking with the cop metaphor, these are the cops who are happy to give out tickets for reckless driving but they don’t like giving out speeding tickets until someone is exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 MPH…and they’re telling the cops that give out speeding tickets that they don’t like what they’re doing and they wish they’d stop.

Who are the bad cops? Are they the ones who cut too many breaks or too few? I’d say that both extremes are problematic…but I don’t think we really see those extremes. What we see are people pretending that someone has crossed a line when they haven’t and it all comes down to ego and personal offense. Here’s a scenario that better represents the problem:

I pull someone over for a busted tail light, check their license and registration and notice that their inspection sticker expired 3 months ago. I could give them a ticket for both, either or neither.

I decide to write a ticket for one and give a warning for the other.

My partner steps out of the car and says “Hey, don’t give them a ticket, it happens to everyone.” And when I point out that I’m going to give them a ticket for one of the infractions, my partner says “Now you’re just being a dick.”

My partner may be trying to claim that giving people tickets:
- isn’t effective in correcting the problem
- makes people dislike cops
- gives cops a bad name
- demonstrates that I’m an inflexible bully

My partner’s view is that you shouldn’t give people tickets unless there’s a very serious violation of the law. My view is that this is nonsense because that’s when you should arrest them.

” However, I’m willing to take a leap of faith and concede that yes, if we want a strong, diverse community, we need both sides. But to make this happen, folks: we need to start practicing what we preach.

That means that if we want to continue touting the idea that the secular movement is one with diversity of opinion, and that the “Good Cops” and “Bad Cops” are equally welcomed, we need to act like it. We need to stop decrying the “accommodationists” and start supporting them, especially because they’re so underrepresented. “

If we’re going to support many different views, do we need to support the people who claim it’s wrong to support many different views? Because that’s what you’re suggesting. Of course not, that’s absurd – and that’s the point.

“And if you happen to be a firebrand who isn’t such a big fan of the diplomats? I humbly ask you to reconsider. You might be able to rally the secular troops, but you won’t have much chance reaching out to the vast majority of the world: the believers.”

I’ll go ahead and assume that I probably fit the “firebrand” category in Lucy’s opinion. (As far as I know, we’ve never spoken, so I may not fit that category…but the examples she provided make me suspect that I would.)

In that case, I not-so-humbly ask you to provide EVIDENCE to back up your assertion about the effectiveness of honestly and aggressively addressing religion. Because I’ve received many e-mails over the past 5 years that serve as evidence to the contrary – and Dawkins has an entire portion of his website devoted to that purpose as well.

What do the accommodationists have?


“And without the ability to reach out, you lose a conversation, a dialogue, a chance to make the world a more secular-friendly place. And when that chance is gone, we lose everything.”

Clearly they have chicken little predictions based on gut feelings and a desire to “just get along”.

How has that worked out so far?