What is not OK?
A long time ago, someone made an Internet video reading an e-mail I had written to them during an e-mail exchange. Everything was fine until they reached a point in the letter where what they were “reading” was not what I had written. I defended myself here at the blog because they were claiming I had made substantially hateful comments about homosexuals. Because it was defamatory and untrue, this expression was slanderous and illegal. And after a few nasty days of TAE working with this individual toward a resolution, the person was finally compelled to remove the content and issue an apology and clarification that I had never issued such comments.
While this was occurring, I kept having to explain to people that it was not that someone said nasty things about me that was upsetting. It was that what they said was not a stated opinion, but a false, defamatory fact regarding comments they claimed I had made. When I was first informed of the matter, my initial reaction was “OK, someone is saying poopy things about me on the Internet; it happens—not everyone is going to agree with me or like me.” When I viewed it, however, I was totally unprepared for the content. I am not fazed or manipulated by insult and insinuation. But slander is an entirely other matter.
What is OK?
Had I encountered a video where the person simply gave negative personal opinions—such as. “I bet Tracie Harris is a fake, and she just pretends to support LBGT rights—but really she hates gay people!” I honestly would not have cared, nor would I have bothered to even respond. I’d have thought “Silly goofball ranting…and…?”
So, here is the page I hope we’re all on: Negative, nasty, hateful opinions about me, expressed publicly—are fine. And I want people to really understand that. I do not care about other people’s opinions or assessments of me. I don’t care if I don’t please everyone. I don’t care if people hate me. What I do care about, is knowing if I’m doing harm. I do not wish to harm anyone, but if someone simply doesn’t like me or my views—I’m far more interested in their reasons for disagreeing. I am willing to assess their evaluation of me, and that is far more useful (to me, anyway) than simply telling the Internet that you find me repugnant. Let’s say someone finds me repugnant, because I support gay rights—and they are anti-gay rights. In such a case, I am content that they find me repugnant. That is precisely the person whose approval I do not desire. But if I’ve said something bone-headed that has disparaged some group, unwittingly or undeservedly, and it’s not something I was aware of, I actually do appreciate something like that being civilly brought to my attention, so that I can assess the nature of my comment and correct as needed. I’m happy to back off of beliefs or statements where I am able to be convinced I am actually in error. But this is not the same as being swayed because I want approval. It’s being swayed because someone has taken the time to show me where I was wrong. If you can’t make it clear how I am in error—then you’re free to continue to hate me and express your horrible assessments of me as much as you like. I don’t see any reason I should care.
Why am I telling you this?
So, recently a few people sent me a quote of someone saying something nasty—presumably about me. But the thing is—it really isn’t “about me.” My name is certainly in there, but this is about an idea—a concept—and not about me. I first heard of this awhile ago, and just chuckled. You really can drive yourself nuts if you feel a need to rush around the Internet defending everything you ever say or do to everyone, so, I recommend choosing your battles. And this particular “battle” was just goofball, and not even close to something I was concerned about.
Then over the weekend, I got a call from Matt. And it seems someone had pointed this same thing out to him. He also found it funny, but asked if I had seen it. I told him I had either seen it, or something similar a bit ago, and we had a chuckle and then went on to discuss scheduling for TAE. Then this morning, someone I regard also noted it to me, and I thought “Sigh…is this going to keep coming up? Do I need to address it?” I mean, don’t get me wrong—I don’t have a problem with someone saying “Hey, did you see this thing?” It’s certainly fair to apprise me. But I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do. I’m an outspoken atheist. I expect that to piss some people off. And expecting fundamentalists not to be loud and ridiculous about their replies would be to expect the impossible. It’s something you have to understand is going to occur, going in.
I do wish, though, that people could focus on the dialogs and the ideas and the arguments underlying the conversation, and not focus on the people. Like the Argument from Authority—this really isn’t about who said it. It’s about what is being said—what can be justified by good reason and evidence? I don’t care what a random person on the Internet thinks of me. I do care whether or not their thoughts are justified. If they’re not—then why should I care? Irrational person is irrational…whaddya gonna do?
Remember this call?
TRIGGER WARNING: Child rape mention coming up
Most people who view the show saw the caller who called the hypothetical raped child “evil” or “not innocent,” or whatever he said. For some reason, this spread around the Internet as a minor meme. I thought that was odd at the time. And I still think it’s odd. When I first saw the meme with my own image and the quote—along with my name on it. I thought something along the lines of “WTF is this?” I started to get more people pinging me about it, and it culminated with me in the Huffington Post, which was, frankly, surreal, and I believe unwarranted. The call took on a life of its own, and the reaction went well beyond my control. To this day, I cannot explain why it had this sort of impact. I’d heard many other atheists express the same sentiment a million times. So, it wasn’t as though I’d said something unique. It was actually mundanely derivative. But I was most disappointed at seeing the item in Huff Po, because it wasn’t “news,” in my view.
Every Christian Calvinist—and there are many—believes that people are born inherently depraved and worthy of damnation, torture and death. Those Christians who don’t believe in original sin, still expect you to eventually come of age, when you will begin acting like a human being, and end up in that same depraved and reprobate state. So, it’s a hair-splitting difference between denominations. The idea that this was being treated as newsworthy, then, was what made me most sad, because it meant that there must be a lot of people who don’t really understand that this is the lynch pin of Christian doctrine. Salvation would not be needed—Jesus would never have had to die—if you could somehow be worthy based upon your own good deeds, hard work, or merits. If you didn’t deserve death and eternal damnation, you wouldn’t need what Christianity is selling you. And seeing the furor around the TAE call, just made me painfully aware that people thought this caller was part of some extreme minority—rather than representative of the most necessary and standard Christian doctrine of “Salvation.”
I thought, “How can people not realize this, with the large majority of our population being part of this religion?” There were even other Christians posting in the comments at articles about this call, repeating what the caller had said, and defending it. In their effort to “clarify” what he was “trying” to express, they were simply re-wording the exact same views—that people are reprobate and deserve whatever horrors befall them in this life—and the next.
How to lower the bar on the public dialog.
It should surprise nobody that someone got bent and tried to personally insult me. What bothered me about the retort, though, had nothing to do with my name being invoked. It had to do with—one more time—someone stretching to make this about a particular person, rather than about the ideas.
Pro Tip: Don’t tell me why you think I’m shit. Tell me why you think I’m wrong!
At any rate, someone posted a comment that a few people now have brought to my attention, that “Tracie Harris would not only stand by and watch that rape but if she held to any human flourishing ethical system or situational ethics she would participate in that rape as would all other atheists holding to the same or similar ethical system.” The only thing offensive about this statement is that the person who issued it, failed to address anything at all about the content of the conversation with the caller. They do nothing here but reiterate where our caller started off his call, with entry level apologetic attempt Square One: “Nobody can be good without god.”
Intelligent rebuttals to this are all over the Internet for anyone who wants them. Matt alone has put out sufficient content in this area to put it to bed once and for all. This person might as well be saying “Tracie Harris is poopy, and evolution is a lie!” Does anyone still believe it—who doesn’t sound ridiculous? Even when I used to attend a fundamentalist church, the preachers routinely preached that people could still be “good people” without being part of the church. We were taught they were going to end up in hell fire, anyway—because a “good person” could never be “good enough” to not deserve that. But we didn’t claim they could not be generally decent people without god. So, even when I was a fundamentalist Christian, this concept was over the top, to me.
News for those who’ve been living under a rock:
There were several points I believe came up during that call. I’m not going back to review it, so this is off the cuff. But Any of these points would have been interesting to hear intelligently rebutted. However, simply reasserting that “nobody can be moral without god,” yet again, is uninteresting and a waste of everyone’s time. Start your apologetic response at the current point. Don’t drag the dialog back thousands of years by acting as though you’ve never considered the counter-points to that original apologetic. Did you just get access to the Internet yesterday!? Please, in the name of efficiency, read the arguments and the counter arguments, and then supply an informed opinion. Contribute something. Don’t pull everyone back, by making us repeatedly re-explain what you’re too lazy to Google for yourself. The dialog has moved beyond this. Try and keep up! It is tiresome, continually going back to provide you with remediation. Some of the points this person simply pretends have never been raised, include:
- Social species require an evolved morality in order to function as a society. Bonding is required, as well as cooperative trust and interaction. Moral metrics have been identified in a number of other social species, and even been shown to become more robust through artificial selection in breeding programs where greater communication and socialization were demonstrated results.
- Should authoritarian mandates even be considered “morality”? Telling me that you do what you’re told, even if it seems wrong to you, does not demonstrate to me morality. In fact, it would be the opposite of morality, in that you’re describing a situation where you aren’t using any moral judgment whatsoever, but actually proceeding contrary to your moral inclinations, in order to merely follow orders regardless of whether you think they are appropriate courses of action.
- Appealing to a Moral Authority as your guide creates a paradox once you explain that your reason for following the moral authority is that your own moral compass is faulty. If you are unable to judge morality—how did you assess your guide as morally superior? If you follow your own faulty compass in life, at the very least you would be taking personal responsibility for your actions. You would be able to explain to others why what you did or did not do seemed like the reasonable course at the time. But if you follow without question, how can you defend your actions as morally correct, when you have to admit that what you did went against your only realized moral metrics of compassion, empathy, equity and fairness? By doing what you think is best—even if you are wrong—you at least take responsibility for yourself and your actions, and become a real moral agent. Your choice is to be responsible and be the best moral agent you can defend, or to not accept moral responsibility, defer it to another agency, and divorce yourself from whatever morality you may have, all together. If you aren’t assessing your actions as moral/amoral/immoral—how are you being moral? Is following orders and not questioning, moral?
- In short—Euthyphro, as always, wins the day. The caller created his own disaster and brought the roof down upon his own head. He is either acting as a moral agent—by assessing what he does, and what he believes god asks him to do; or he is not acting as a moral agent—by assigning responsibility for the morality of his actions onto an authoritarian figure, whom he admits he cannot assess as moral/immoral.
Did you mean to say I suck even more than your god does?
When he finally added that the child is not “innocent,” in the child rape scenario—that was no surprise to me. And it was disappointing to understand what a huge surprise it was even within our own “Christian society.” What this caller said was par for the Christian course. It was not out of the mouth of a “Christian extremist.” It was completely in line with where I could have predicted he was headed. When he was asked whether his god allowed rape or caused it—there really was nowhere to go, but to blame the child. Any other response would just have been a more long-winded way of explaining that god allows children to be raped (at best), or causes children to be raped, in the cause of some mysterious “greater good” (at worst). But it wasn’t going to end well for the caller.
That all being said, it saddens me that even a theist could sit through that dialog and come away simply ignoring everything that was discussed—grasping nothing at all about the problems, paradoxes, the need for reason, and deference to evidence, and retort with what amounts to “Nuh-uh! I know you are, but what am I?” Seriously, “Tracie would do the same as god—she’d just watch or even participate! Yeah—she’s not only as crappy as my god—she’s even worse!”
Pro Tip: Telling someone they suck even more than your god, may not be the defense you really want to go with.
And to wrap an already lengthy post, let me add that when I hear someone say “Everyone cheats on their spouse!” or “Everyone cheats on their taxes,” I don’t know what you think, but I think, “I’m talking to someone who cheats on his spouse and also on his taxes.” It’s particularly interesting when theists express that they don’t see how a human being could not go around raping and murdering—and in this case sexually molesting children—without threats of hell to stop them. One has to wonder: Are they plagued by wanting to rape and murder and molest children? Do they really think “Wow…if it weren’t for the promise of heaven and threat of hell—I’d be going postal and raping everything in sight”? On occasion we have asked some theists if they believe they would do this, and they have honestly replied to say that they do not, themselves, have such impulses. The question then is—why do you assume all other people have them?
Honestly, if other social species can have cooperative, functional, successful societies—what would be the rationale behind assuming a human being would be any less capable of naturally understanding this, even without the capacity to reason it out? Should we believe humans are less capable of cooperative living than rats, wolves, lions, or gorillas? It boggles to consider that these people can see other species achieving successful social relationships and interactions, and somehow still be certain that human beings would not ever be able to achieve this without help from the gods. It boggles, but it shouldn’t be newsworthy, because it’s a sadly common perspective.
I know you are better than you will let yourself admit.
I honestly do not believe the person who made this ridiculous “Tracie WOULD SO rape children” comment harbors child rape tendencies or fantasies. In fact, unlike their view of humanity, I would be willing to wager he knows all too well that if he were truly honest, he’d have to admit he really is not sexually attracted to children at all. His own internal motivations—of which he is certainly aware—more than likely undermine his claims about the horribleness of human beings. I don’t flatter myself enough to think this comment was really about Tracie Harris. It was most probably just one more straining theist trying to insist nobody can be good without god. A particularly silly theist trying, in a painfully obvious way, to find some way in which to be offensive about it in hopes of making a splash on the Internet. The only thing I see they managed to offend, however, was Reason, and possibly Intellectual Maturity? If anyone deserves apology, I suggest it would be them.
My recipe for lemonade.
I’m happy to find a use for anyone’s ideas as a springboard to a more productive public dialog, even a random Internet troll. But there’s no purpose to be served to make the retort “about them.” It should remain in the realm of ideas and assessments. There may be some part of them that was hoping to see their name at the TAE blog (or Huff Po?) merely by saying something negative about me, I honestly can’t say. If that was their goal, I offer one more Pro Tip:
Pro Tip: If you want notoriety, try to say something far less sophomoric, achieve something far more substantial, and learn to be far less obvious. (Maybe try focusing more about what you’re contributing than whether you’re going to be recognized for it.)