Open Thread on 727

Secular charities mentioned in today’s show include:

These organizations help real people in this life – the only one we’re sure to get. They’re transparent about what they do, and serve anyone in need.

As I mentioned on the show today, the idea that some reward awaits the faithful in the afterlife is one of the religious doctrines that impairs our ability to solve the problems that plague humanity. It makes it easier to ignore suffering if you think some people are better off dead. Well, it’s not okay with me for people to go without medical care because they’re poor. It’s not okay for people to go hungry in a country where obesity is a major health concern. It’s not okay for women to be pregnant year after year until they die of exhaustion. The organizations above are doing what they can to solve these problems. If you can help, please do, and thank you.

And now, open thread – have at it.

Open letter to Mark/ChrisLanganFan et al

Dear Mark,

I’ll call you Mark because that was the first name you used when you called us, and I’ve spoken to you at length using that name twice.  If that’s not your preferred name, please let me know what name I should use instead.

For a long time, I denied that your calls were coming from the same person — I suppose due to some kind of misguided pride.  After all, I thought that you and I had some interesting and even somewhat productive conversations when I was talking to you.  I didn’t want to feel like those conversations had been a waste of time, and I was unfairly annoyed with the viewers in email and chat who were trying to point out the obvious — that you were disguising your voice to keep calling.

Even after accepting that you were faking the British accent, I wasn’t completely convinced that you were the original “Mark.”  But obviously, you gave the game away when Matt asked you about it this past Sunday.  Instead of asking “Who’s Mark?” you answered by repeating an argument from another of your alter egos, which was basically as good as an admission.  And I know you read this blog, because you’re obviously the one writing in as “ChrisLanganFan” (and Andrew, when you double-posted) so I thought I’d ask you about this directly.

First of all, why do you feel the need to disguise your identity?  We don’t avoid conversations with real theists.  A few months ago I invited you to meet us for dinner, and I was serious about it — I’d be happy to meet with you.  (Granted, I was also trying to work out whether you were really a native of Austin as you claimed.  I guess I have my answer now, and I’m disappointed.)

I recognize that the internet and phone-only conversations can feel impersonal enough that you don’t need to reveal every detail of your identity, but I’ve always valued honesty a great deal.  On the web I sometimes go by the screen name “Kazim,” but I’ve always been up front about who I really am and what my real values are.  I tend to expect that of others — sometimes, unfortunately, incorrectly.

I had a phone conversation about you with Martin once, when I wasn’t sure whether you were really calling in with multiple names and voices.  Here’s what I said in a nutshell: “I suppose Tom might be Mark, but I don’t understand what his goal is.  The way I see it, there are three possible reasons why he might be doing it: 1. To make us look bad; 2. to make us look good; 3. Some kind of weird performance art.”  Number three doesn’t make much sense to me (again, as someone who values honesty).  If it’s number two, we don’t need your help.  And if it’s number one, well, first of all you’re not doing a very good job of it; and second of all, I don’t see how it helps you in your goal to use fake identities.  Shouldn’t the arguments speak for themselves without worrying about the personality?

I guess what I’m feeling most of all is disappointment mixed with a bit of confusion.  On some occasions, you seemed to be very angry about the show.  On other occasions, you seemed like you were actually listening to the people who were talking to you and trying to understand what they said.  And in the latest calls you’ve started out angry and then switched topics repeatedly without settling on one point long enough to make a lasting impression about it.  This Chris Langan fascination seems like a new development — you never asked us about him in your first few calls, and you always seem to hang up before any real discussion about him can get underway.  Besides that, you appear to be more fixated on the idea that Chris Langan himself should speak to us directly to defend his ideas rather than being willing to do it yourself.

So I’m just wondering which one is the real you?  How do you really feel about our show, and why is it so important that you keep talking with us at all costs?  Is it because you really like us, worry about us, hate us, want to shut us down, or what?

I really am interested in trying to understand you better, but I can’t do it without your help.  Doesn’t it bother you to try to keep all these lies straight?  Wouldn’t it feel better to come out and say what’s really on your mind?  Come on, give it a try.  What do you say?

If it IS performance art, then I guess you win.  You’ve gotten past the screeners multiple times, and now you have a lot of people talking about you.  That must really stroke your ego to get all that attention, I guess.  Do you want to supply a web site or a podcast so people can admire other facets of your work?

Ball’s in your court, Mark.

Sincerely,
Russell Glasser

Update: “Mark” came clean in comments, pronouncing that he’s an atheist who is deliberately prank calling.  He repeatedly states that he will only stop if we devote 75% of the show to theist callers.  He is now banned from this blog for all the previous posts in which he’s lied.

Open thread on Episode #713

Oh, looks like people are piling onto the #712 thread because they have no outlet to discuss Jeff and Matt on episode #713. Here you go! Matt and Jeff discussed cosmology, a lot, and decided to give EvolvedAtheist / self-styled homophobic rapper hero Charlie Check’m, another round.

For people writing to request that Charlie never get on the air again: We heard you, and agree.

In which Martin and Tracie give Gavin the respect he’s earned. (Long one, sorry.)

It may seem pointless dealing with the contemptible behavior of trolls, an activity annoying enough for any hundred people. Especially when the troll in question takes this pitifully dishonest tack of assailing us with the most repugnant insults he can come up with (and if you ask me, Matt could hardly be blamed if he knocked Gavin Chandler’s teeth down his throat over the things he wrote about Beth, though of course Matt won’t, because he’s a bigger man than that, and both Matt and Beth have already dismissed Gavin as beneath their notice, let alone their contempt) only to shift gears, apologize profusely, and try to claim that all he was doing was trying to teach us a lesson about how horrible it feels to be abused so awfully, which he seems to think we do to all our callers, and to which he also seems to think his disgracefully juvenile behavior is somehow analogous.

In short, Gavin’s a despicable creep whose failure to make his point effectively — if in fact that’s what he was all about — is so epic it’s hard to wrap your mind around it fully. I didn’t think it was possible, but he’s actually been worse than the lamentable Yomin, whom I did almost sue for libel (and whose life has since spectacularly fallen apart, as he’s currently facing misdemeanor domestic violence charges). Gavin’s like someone who notices that his neighbors have allowed their trash cans to spill over onto his yard, and responds by burning their house down, then saying, “There! You see what it’s like having your property line violated? Be more respectful next time!”

Gavin wrote what he calls his “final” email to us — though there have been several after that, which I won’t read, even though the subject line on one of them is “I am deeply ashamed of myself.” (He should be, but a burnt bridge is a burnt bridge.) Still, with this one, he promised that if we posted it, he’d go away for good. I doubt this, and he’s still commenting like mad on our Facebook page. But here’s the letter, with responses from both Tracie (reprinted from Facebook with permission) and myself, in the hopes (eyeroll) that he’ll live up to his promise.

Yes, I know, feeding trolls only makes them come back for more. But I weigh the instructive value of doing this kind of thing to be worth something, if only so that people know what’s out there awaiting you when you do what we do, and how desperately people will distort the facts to make a point that really wasn’t all that earth-shaking to begin with. Still, I’ll understand anyone who thinks any more attention given this kid is unwarranted, and chooses to skip this post.


Gavin’s subject line on this one was “AETV – A Respectful Presentation of My Actual Concerns.”

I decided to gather my thoughts, take a hot bath, and write a message free of insults and hate, to clearly explain my concerns. This email is the result.

Tracie: I can hardly wait.

There’s more to life than the first amendment. What about being calm and collected when you take viewer calls? You should try that. You’d reach more hearts and minds that way.

Tracie: Very insightful from the guy who submitted nothing but letter after letter full of laughable lists of ridiculous slanders as his input to reaching hearts and minds.

Martin: The Atheist Experience has run continually since 1997, when I suspect Gavin was still playing with Transformers. For most of that time it has been a live call-in show. The entire time, it has been a learning experience. One of the things about live television is that you never know what you’re going to get. A call can start well then go south in a hurry. A theist you thought might be a jerk may turn out to provide interesting conversation, while a self-described atheist (lookin’ at you, Charlie) may turn out to be a total douchey troll.

When I was host, I lost my temper a couple of times, which I’m not proud of. But you know, that’s all part of learning. I also recall many heated debates with Christian callers — and before the days of YouTube and streaming, most of our callers were Christian — that nonetheless never collapsed into name-calling and rage.

Still, discussions between Christians and atheists can get heated simply by their very nature. For believers, their emotional attachment to the faith is so powerful that it’s hard for them not to blow a gasket when confronted by a confident atheist argument. And no two callers are the same, even when, as today, most of them are fellow atheists.

Gavin is trying to claim that being rude and insulting to callers is our modus operandi across the board, which any honest viewer who’s watched more than a tiny handful of fan-posted YouTube clips knows full well is just plain false. So if Gavin’s starting out his “respectful” presentation with a total misrepresentation of the show, how does he expect to reach our hearts and minds now?

Only a child would…

Tracie: EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION ATTEMPT FLAG: If you do what I’m about to say, then you’re a “child.” What he doesn’t get is that this only means it’s his personal assessment that only a child would do what he’s about to say. And he doesn’t get that it requires buy-in from the other party in the conversation to have any real impact. In other words, if I disagree that only a child would do it, it takes the wind out of the proverbial sails.

…defend screaming and swearing and belittling someone by wrapping it in the Constitution. Sure, it is OK to do it, under law…

Tracie: That would mean that it is, in fact, defended by the Constitution — and so does not require “wrapping” in anything — it is legal. It is Constitutional. We agree.

Martin: Gavin has this odd idea that, by acknowledging the Constitutional rights of groups like the Phelpses to hold protests at veterans’ funerals — something every one of us finds a loathsome exercise in attention-seeking — somehow equates to endorsing that activity. Frankly, anyone so stupid as to not grasp that basic distinction is beyond communicating with, IMO.

We ran into this same stupid attitude last year from some people, when we acknowledged the rights of the Cordoba Initiative to construct Park 51 in Manhattan on property they owned. A handful of folks accused us of being “soft” on Islam. Honestly, how willfully ignorant and dishonest do you have to be to equate the one thing with the other? Acknowledging a right is not the same thing as supporting or endorsing the person(s) exercising that right. I mean, freaking duh! (And anyway, all those people protesting what they falsely call the “Ground Zero Mosque”? We acknowledge their rights too. Fancy that!)

but you seem to think that something legal is also MORALLY acceptable.

Tracie: Not quite — because I’d have to first see the clip in which we reacted so horribly to a caller that it could be unambiguously labeled as “immoral.” Unfortunately, Gavin supplied no examples. But next, I want to note that when a behavior by others is labeled “immoral” — the onus is upon the one labeling to demonstrate it. Many actions have no moral quality at all — such as eating a berry. Is it moral or immoral? It’s simply eating a berry — there is nothing moral to judge there. And could someone on the other end of a phone say an “immoral” thing to me? They can say things that are rude. Things I may not like. Things that may prompt me to hang up. But “immoral”? I’m not quite sold that raising your voice and using an expletive is “immoral.”

You’re confusing laws and morals.

Tracie: I think you’re confusing “uncivil” with “immoral.” Rude is not immoral. The bar for immoral is rather higher than rude.

They aren’t
the same thing.

Tracie: And nobody at AETV has ever said law is morality. In fact, we’ve often pointed out to callers these are two separate things — law and morality. So, no argument there.

Many things that are legal could be considered immoral.

Tracie: I wouldn’t say “many” — but certainly some.

It’s legal for a person to lie, so long as they aren’t entering a contract or aren’t under oath… but most people find it morally wrong to lie… how many relationships have been destroyed by dishonesty?

Tracie: Duplicity is something I would agree is, in some circumstances, immoral. Fortunately where it causes real damage, we do generally also have laws against it — such as fraud (which was mentioned). Is a lie that does no harm immoral? Can lying break relationships? Yes. I agree it can. But is dishonesty that harms a good comparison to rude honesty? If his only point is to say law and morality aren’t the same, then no dialog needed, since we agree.

Martin: There are immoral lies, then there are totally moral lies. (If I know where Anne Frank is hiding, I’m going to lie my ass off to the Nazis.) Beyond that, I need no lecture on the morality of lying from a contemptible little fuck who repeatedly accused Matt of stealing money from the ACA to pay for his wedding.

Aw, was I being insulting again? You’re welcome.

It is legal to cheat on your spouse, but most people find it immoral. It hurts the other party greatly, usually, and often destroys the relationship (where children are sometimes involved). But should freedom to cheat trump these other things? Since cheating is legal, is it also morally acceptable?

Tracie: See above.

It is legal to swear, call people names, and publicly humiliate them. But is it morally right?

Martin: Physician, heal thyself.

Tracie: And here I fail to see the comparison. For example, there was a lot of ink spilled when a woman called AETV to defend her beliefs and ended with an assertion she didn’t need to defend anything to AETV. Matt asked “why the fuck did you call, then?” — and I found it to be a legitimate question and a fair expression of exasperation. Some people were upset that the woman excused herself from the call at that point, and felt Matt chased her off. But really, at the point she is asserting she isn’t going to defend anything, wasn’t she pretty well done? So, was the swearing “immoral,” simply because this one caller said she was offended by it and hung up? I’d have to say “no.”

Can I humiliate someone else on AETV? If so, how? I don’t see this. If you think it’s possible to verbally publicly humiliate a person by expressing your honest opinions about them (and bear in mind callers call us and can hang up any time), how are they humiliated when they’re totally cloaked from public view and nobody even knows who they are but for the name they choose to give the phone screener? Additionally if you and I were in public and you tried to humiliate me, how would you go about it? Let’s say you begin hurling insults. I think you’d come off looking like a loon as I walked away. But I’d hardly be personally “humiliated” by some wingnut hurling names at me publicly.

Such treatment can cause a person to have a nervous breakdown, become depressed, or even have thoughts of suicide. It can destroy a person’s self esteem, cause them to withdraw into themselves, and make them lose all hope.

Tracie: Ah, OK, here is the core of our difference. I don’t have a magic wand that gives me power to make people give a shit what I, as a total stranger, think of them. Anyone on this planet can say and think “I don’t care what this woman thinks,” and I have zero power to force them to care. So, no, I can’t “cause” any of those things listed above by either having or expressing my negative assessment of a person or their beliefs. No matter how rude I am (and in fact, the more rude I am, the more they should realize I’m not a person whose opinion they should bother with), why should anyone care what Tracie thinks or says? Who am I? How does my opinion impact their lives if I do nothing to impact their lives, only express my assessment of it? Isn’t their decision to internalize it and make it powerful theirs?

Martin: Essentially Gavin is chiding us because we are not sufficiently psychic to know in advance whether or not the caller on the other end may have such profound psychological distress in his life that he might just haul off and blow his brains out because Matt calls him an idiot. Well, gee, guilty as charged.

But what is Gavin’s alternative there? A world where everyone is walking on eggshells, not speaking an opinion for fear that the person whose feelings they hurt might just jump off a bridge? How can we control another person’s emotional state? And how is any choice they make our responsibility? We are a bunch of folks on TV taking about a subject — atheism — most people find socially unacceptable anyway. How exactly does Gavin propose we present it in a way inoffensive to everyone, even those predisposed to be offended as much as possible?

I do not deny the power of suasion. It is possible to be an irresponsible public figure whose words do harm. There are at least two incidents where men have been arrested while on their way to commit mass murders (one at the offices of the Tides Foundation, one at Planned Parenthood), who confessed to police that they were inspired to do their crimes after listening to Glenn Beck. While I don’t hold Beck to blame for their choice to commit murder (he’s very careful that way), I do think Beck is deliberately irresponsible in the way he creates a tone of fear, hatred and paranoia that a mentally imbalanced fan can run with.

Still, there’s no remote comparison to that, and anything we’ve ever done on AETV. And as far as telling a stupid and arrogant caller that he’s being stupid and arrogant, well, I say that’s fair game. The vast majority of our calls are civil and pleasant. The crazy ones just make for the most entertaining and popular YouTube clips.

But since it is legal, that makes it ok?

Tracie: No, what makes it (not “OK,” as it would be generally rude to swear and scream at people, but…) not immoral is that the “damage” caused is self-inflicted. You’re basically willing to do self-inflicted damage in order to try to frame me for it. I think that is closer to immoral than calling someone an idiot. Trying, unabashed, to be an emotional manipulator is about as low as one can get.

It is ok to destroy someone’s self esteem, peaceful mind, and hope for the future? It’s legal, but is it morally right?

Tracie: The problem is that words can’t do this in the context we’re discussing. A subjective assessment of me by a stranger who has talked with me for a few minutes over the phone, while I remain anonymous to everyone, can hardly really harm me. Any “harm” I suffer as a result is at my own hands/brain.

I believe that with my few short examples, I have demonstrated that even something allowed under the law can be harmful to real human beings. This is the essence, the core reason that I object to the way you handle some of your callers.

Tracie: Gavin did give a couple decent examples of things that are legal that can mess up lives. But name-calling or swearing, in the AETV context, wasn’t one of them. That’s the problem.

Martin: The adult world is harsh. AETV isn’t Romper Room. We don’t seek to hurt anyone. But we have a duty to all our viewers to be as honest in our opinion and our communication as
we can. Take yourself as a prime example, Gavin: We didn’t make you feel the way you feel about us. We didn’t make you troll the hell out of us with crazy emails full of threats and personal attacks. You chose to do those things, and the derision you’re now enduring on Facebook and at this blog is the result of that choice — your choice. And the moment you have the epiphany that lets you understand that, you’ll probably understand why your sanctimonious preaching about “moral” behavior is meeting with such universal derision, and why I set your words in Comic Sans, and why no one has gotten your “point,” which you buried under a wave of petulant assholishness.

When you guys fiercely defend the first amendment, you are missing the larger picture.

Tracie: I guarantee you, we’re not. And we don’t use the first amendment as a defense for our responses to callers, anyway, because generally we don’t even agree there’s a basic moral problem with our caller responses. So we don’t even need to get into legal defenses of it. The “harm” you’re claiming isn’t real. You can’t call it “immoral” when the only “harm” it causes is genuinely self-inflicted discomfort. That’s the caller’s choice, not our doing or intent.

Words sometimes can, and do cause harm.

Martin: Says the piece of shit fucktool who wrote this: “Matt, by the way, Beth is an ugly fucking goon. Jesus Christ, you couldn’t do any better than to find some ginger-haired pug-faced neanderthal for a potential wife? You can tell by the slanted aloof look on her face that her daddy definitely boned her in her ginger asshole a few more times than was necessary.” Speaking from experience, Gavin?

Tracie: Not when they’re honest assessments handed out to anonymous callers by people who have no authority over them or desire to interfere in their lives.

Martin: And it’s my honest assessment that Gavin is a piece of shit fucktool. It would be tragic if he were to jump off a bridge. Not to me, but to someone.

What you are promoting by your unwavering support of the first amendment over all else is that respect, human decency, common courtesy, and polite restraint are worth nothing, and count for nothing.

Martin: (Breathe… count to 10…)

Tracie: Wow. So, unless we gut free speech (for the speech that most needs defending — offensive speech), we’re against human decency: false dilemma fallacy. Fred Phelps may be indecent, but I can guarantee you that someone somewhere thinks what you have to say is indecent…

Martin: I’d say those someones number in the thousands by now.

Tracie: Should we only talk, then, about the weather? The fact is, you don’t pass laws protecting speech that are intended to protect small talk and compliments. What sort of speech needs legal protection? That would be speech that is in danger of being silenced. Like him or not, that would be Fred Phelps.

That, to me, is shameful. Whether the Constitution says it or not, with freedom comes responsibility.

Martin: I think your very existence is shameful and irresponsible, Gavin. That’s the thing about life. You gotta take the bad with the good.

Tracie: And maturity. Learn that you’re hurting yourself. Stop blaming others for your childish offenses and attitude. Learn to not be so sensitive to what other people think. You really can choose to not care or worry about it. Try it. You’ll be amazed how simple it is.

There is an element of verbal abuse that you have totally ignored, and that is the emotional element.

Martin: I think I’m just going to stop buying irony/hypocrisy meters. When they explode so frequently they get expensive to replace.

Tracie: When a person is, again, anonymous, and has a capacity to hang up at any time, you can’t verbally abuse them beyond what they agree to accept. Again, if they don’t like what they get, click, and we’re shut down — it’s that easy. How can I abuse anyone, beyond what they agree to accept, who has the capacity to shut me down that easily at any time?

Words can be strung together in such a fashion that they are considered abuse, legally. Ask psychologists about the effects of emotional abuse. Sometimes the effects can be as profound as the effects of physical abuse.

Martin: Did you consult a psychologist before composing that impressive string of remarks about Beth, you cockwart?

Tracie: Yes, and these studies were done on the short-term exposure (couple minutes or less) of AETV callers who where otherwise stable and had a host they don’t even know say to them, as they were totally anonymous, “that’s ridiculous.” This is what destroys lives and damages psyches for a lifetime: not abusive parenting over many years, but an arguably rude two-minute phone conversation with a complete stranger, over which the caller has complete control, and can hang up at any time.

I’ve avoided insults in this email…

Martin: If there are any insults, the more offensive and hurtful the better, that I have failed to inflict upon you in answering this email, the oversight was unintentional. I invite our readers to make up the deficit.

Tracie: I’m guessing because you used them all up in your prior lunatic rants. But what you held back in insult, you made up for in inanity.

…to lay out in specific language exactly why I have a problem with hosts on your show verbally abusing callers.

Tracie: I think your complaint is unmerited, for reasons expressed above.

Martin: Good job replacing “self-righteous dishonest bullshit” with “unmerited” there, Tracie. Sounds much more polite and civil. Goodness knows we wouldn’t want Gav to go running off in tears or anything.

It is immoral.

Tracie: No, you’re saying that, but you haven’t demonstrated it. People need to take some personal, adult responsibility at some point in their lives and stop blaming others for how they feel and react.

Martin: And by “people,” we mean “Gavin.”

Tracie: If you go fetal and require 20 years of group therapy because an Internet show host called you “ridiculous,” I think your problems existed before you called our show.

Martin: You think?

It hurts people more than you likely realize.

Tracie: Only immature, codependent “adults” who like to saddle others with their emotional responses and needs. If it were small children, who aren’t fully emotionally developed, calling us, you might have a point.

Martin: I think Gavin has pulled off the remarkable feat of belonging to both those categories.

Sure, it gets a few laughs from the less-mature people amidst your viewers… but some of us take offense to it

Martin: Because Gavin is, of course, one of our more mature viewers…LOLOCAUST!

Tracie: And I should care, why? Some viewers aren’t immature, and don’t see a problem with it, and aren’t just giggling over it.

…and rightly so.

Tracie: Says you.

Martin: And you are more worthy of being taken seriously than any other tone troll how, again?

All else aside, you’re supposed to be mature adults conducting a discussion program.

Martin: No! You can’t make me!

Tracie: Says the guy who can’t even take responsib
ility for himself and his emotional reactions, the guy who wrote a list of immature idiotic libelous garbage to a group of strangers on the Internet. Yes, you’re the poster boy for judging “maturity.” If I, or anyone, go fetal because I am called “idiot,” that’s not the problem of the person who assessed and described me as an idiot. I need to work out my own some self-esteem issues. But I can’t expect others to live their lives walking on egg shells, worried that every person they meet is a fragile, emotional basket case. People deserve more credit than that.

You ask people to call in.

Tracie: And if they want to, they do.

You invite them to contact you,

Tracie: Yes,and they know what the score is when they call.

Martin: Is this pitiful stupid boy somehow equating “invite” with “force”?

…only to abuse them in many cases.

Tracie: I call Shenanigans. If you call in and are unreasonable, and you’re called “unreasonable” (or some facsimile thereof), that’s no more “abuse” than calling a red-head a red-head. I’ve said it 1,000 times, and here is 1,001: If you don’t want to be called “stupid,” the best way to avoid it is to not make stupid comments to us on the phone. Being stupid, and then getting angry when you are described as “stupid,” is…well…stupid.

Martin: Really, we only pile on the abuse when it is earned. Take you, for instance…

That isn’t illegal, but is it morally acceptable?

Martin: I can honestly say that there is coliform bacteria slaloming around my toilet bowl that gives more of a shit (see what I did there?) about what you think is “morally acceptable” than I do. And you lost your right to take any kind of moral high ground on any subject about 10 emails ago. Tone trolling from such a contemptible and dishonest hypocrite is only good for a laugh, or a sneer of disgust.

Tracie: It’s not morally anything. Comparing an AETV host who says to an anonymous caller after a couple minutes “you’re being an idiot” to people damaging their kids using verbal abuse on a forming, immature mind…is just…well…stupid, again.

Even further, do you think such behavior paints you as a respectable organization?

Martin: We have 14 years of establishing ourselves as a respectable organization, and have achieved global acclaim thereby. Matt has engaged in public debates with clergymen. Some of the rest of us have represented ACA in both formal and informal capacities, and met with uniformly friendly responses. We get several emails a week from viewers who thank us for helping with their personal crises of belief and conviction, for helping them deal with religious family members in ways that don’t alienate them from their families altogether, or just to say thanks for all we do. So, we’re not worried about being perceived as a respectable organization, because we know we are. And it’s because — pay attention to this point closely — the overwhelming majority of our viewers are not emotionally stunted adolescent hysterics who hear the occasional rude word on our TV show, and get their panties so bunched that they feel sufficiently justified to bombard us with repeated baseless legal threats, risible bragging about “exposing” us in a “documentary,” and vile insults about people’s fianceés that are so far beyond the pale of decency that any possible chance of recovering any level of respect for yourself is beyond hope. In other words, total pieces of shit like you, Gavin, are a thankfully rare breed, and I hope you live up to your promise now that this email has been posted and fuck. off. forever.

Couldn’t that behavior actually discourage some people from joining your organization or watching future episodes of the show?

Tracie:Possibly…but on the other hand lots of people like the show for the same reasons you’re complaining about it. Changing the game to gain viewers at the potential cost of losing those who enjoy the current format would be robbing Peter to pay Paul, to borrow a Bible metaphor. This is your view, your opinion. Others disagree and write in to praise the very behavior that apparently upsets you.

Martin: It is my sincerest hope that you have been dissuaded from all of those things, and from contacting us again in any form, and perhaps even from living anywhere on Earth other than a small rocky desert island where no one has to remember you exist. But I’ll take the first two in a pinch.

Many times, the harsh treatment of a caller might be somewhat justified, if they begin yelling, swearing, or being disrespectful.

Tracie: I don’t see how that works. If I think yelling and swearing are wrong, I don’t see how it is suddenly justified with “two wrongs make a right”? That’s unreasonable. It isn’t like throwing punches, where I might actually have to be violent in response to violence for self-defense. Screaming at someone screaming at me has no benefit, is not required for self-preservation, and therefore has no “justification.” But it does demonstrate the immature framework you’re operating within.

Martin: Hold on, you mean, suddenly, now, Gavin is twigging to the very basic point that sometimes, it’s the caller who’s rude, and that it may happen that we treat them rudely in return? Which is what we’ve been explaining all along? Christ, I knew he was slow, but seriously. Still, Tracie’s right. If a call is descending to the level of a screaming match, it’s easier to just hang up.

But often enough, you begin yelling or insulting even when the caller has been totally calm, collected, and respectful the whole time.

Tracie: Really? You used Jeff’s responses to callers regarding Hell as an example in prior notes. Is threatening someone calmly with “hell” moral? Is it kind? Is it “respectful”? Calling you human garbage that deserves to be tortured forever, is fine, if you don’t yell it? I disagree.

You paint me as a fool,

Martin: Oh no, I paint you as much worse. And I just call ‘em as I see ‘em.

Tracie: No, you paint yourself as a fool. We just publicized it, because you said you were going to publicize it anyway, yourself.

and I partially deserve it,

Tracie: You own all your own words, fully, not partially. Other people control none of them.

Martin: Yes, like all moral hypocrites, you’ll use a scorched-earth policy of utter condemnation against others, while cutting yourself plenty of slack. Have you considered a career at Fox News?

but I do have a mature message underneath all the BS.

Tracie: And when you get done defending childish codependency, I look forward to hearing to this more “mature message.”

Martin: Because from our vantage point, we see BS underneath, and on top of, all the other BS.

My message is: With your show, you have a tremendous opportunity to open hearts and minds to the fallacies of religion.

Martin: Man, and here I thought we were a cooking show.

Tracie: Oh, that I know. I know because we get mail daily from people telling us we’ve helped them with exactly that.

Martin: Just from the last couple of days:

Don’t know if this show is still on in the US, but I think it’s great! It’s
so rare to see people who have really thought about the whole god think. I’m
in Australia so I can only watch on Yo
utube..Thanks a lot for your time..Cheers, Peter C.

I don’t make much right now in terms of income, but no doubt when I get my proverbial shit together I will be donating. You guys have changed my life in a way that seriously brings tears to my eyes. I hope you can continue to spread the real good news haha. I haven’t gotten to call in but I will next week. Thank you so much…you’ll never TOTALLY understand just how much you’ve helped me. (Jonathan Haggerty)

Please know that you are some of the most moral and virtuous people I’ve ever known, and also know that I’m not one to make bold statements like that disingenuously. Not only do you, unlike most, make moral behavior a top priority, you use reason to answer the tough moral questions that many others would prefer just to dismiss and ignore. You pursue truth, you deeply value intellectual honesty, you’re willing to admit when you don’t know something and also willing to admit when you were wrong, and you give me hope for the future and inspire me to pursue morality and virtue as you do. As disheartened as you surely must become from time to time when you see all that goes on around you, please never forget that your efforts are not in vain. You are heroes to many of us, and I thank you enormously for your service to humanity–you are champions of all the things that are most valuable in this world. (Logan Vanover)

In many ways, you squander that opportunity by resorting to insults, name calling, ridiculing callers or swearing at them, etc.

Tracie: And yet, we get mail from people saying we’ve helped them. Is it possible that some people respond to seeing stupidity called out openly and honestly, and other people prefer a less direct approach? This is why we have different personalities presenting on AETV, by the way. Different strokes and all. Let me assure you we do reach people. And if you think you’d rather see people reached in a different format, which is the same every time, may I suggest that rather than threaten to spend your time making documentaries to slander Internet strangers, you put your unique talents to work making your own show using your real name and location — like we do at AETV. Then you can do it how YOU prefer.

Atheists are supposed to be intelligent and mature, aren’t we?

Martin: It would be nice to think so, which makes your situation all the more tragic.

Tracie: I looked up “atheist” in the dictionary, and it says nothing of the kind. So, I don’t know where you got that these are atheist attributes.

When you exhibit certain behaviors on the show, you appear immature, sometimes petty even.

Martin: And you have frankly lost any chance that I would have any respect for or interest in your opinion of my behavior or anyone else’s, since your own has been unforgivable.

Tracie: Your opinion. You’re entitled to it. Others disagree and write to tell us the opposite of what you’re saying.

You have a responsibility to your viewers that I believe you take too lightly, or not at all.

Martin: And what you believe is both provably wrong, as it’s taken from a gross misrepresentation of how we actually conduct the show, and immaterial, as you’ve demonstrated yourself and your opinions to be unworthy of respect. Really, you could have handled all this so much better.

Tracie: And other viewers, again, disagree with you. So why should we disregard their input and go only with yours?

People aren’t just calling in, unprompted. You are inviting them to call.

Tracie: Yes, we get that. And they make a decision to call or not. Are they going to say something stupid or not? It’s up to them.

You state that you want productive discussion.

Tracie: Right: don’t call up to talk about your beliefs and then say you’ve no intention of defending them. You’ll be asked “why the fuck did you call, then?” Be prepared. Don’t call up and say you think all humans are such scum they deserve to be tortured forever; you’ll be told you’re a dehumanizing, evil person. Be prepared. But even if you’re not bright, if you try to be kind and honest, you’ll get a good reception almost 100 percent of the time on AETV, I can promise you.

The way you frame everything when asking viewers to call in implies that some level of respect and decency will be observed during the conversation.

Martin: A concept you don’t seem to grasp works both ways.

Tracie: And “some level” is. If your claim is that we are a free-for-all and exercise no judgment regarding who gets what sort of response, I beg to differ. We’re not perfect, and mistakes are made, but for the most part, we talk to people who are interested in talking openly and honestly, and who can reason, and we drop those who can’t. And those who are dishonest or disrespectful (and bringing up hell IS disrespectful) get a boot out the door on occasion, it’s true.

When you begin angrily swearing and insulting people, you have contradicted the implications you made when you asked people to call in.

Martin: Oh, you mean like when I call you a miserable piece of shit fucktool and cordially invite you to go blow a charging buffalo? Yeah, I guess, but sometimes it just feels so right.

Tracie: Unless you can show me where someone was honest and reasonable and respectful and a host just went ballistic on him/her, I beg to differ. Again, “calmly” telling Jeff he’s utterly vile is hardly “respectful.”

You don’t only do this with theists, though. Occasionally you also belittle and denigrate a non believer.

Tracie: That’s because we’re equal-opportunity when a caller is an idiot. We’re examining their beliefs and ideas and reasons. If they suck, they suck. We’re not trying to be biased against theists with regard to being stupid. Any idiot who calls, and insists on being an idiot, can expect to be branded an idiot. If they’re not called out for it, they’ve had a lucky call.

Martin: Indeed, it would be the nadir of hypocrisy for us to let atheists (like Charlie the Homophobe) get a pass saying stupid and contemptible things while excoriating theists for it. We don’t do that.

Surely you can see how that kind of behavior can be counterproductive, and how it can potentially cast your organization in a bad light.

Martin: Except we don’t engage in that behavior to the degree you’re whining about, and we know already that our group is in anything but a bad light. So your concerns can be dismissed.

Tracie: What I see is that you think this. And you’re not the only one who thinks this. But we get a lot more letters from viewers who enjoy the format than ones like yours, which are only very occasional (and almost always, as this one, defending their position by defending sick, codependent attitudes as something we should all bend over to accommodate.) I disagree with that attitude.

I also believe it discourages people (particularly believers) from calling in at all.

Tracie: And yet they call. And they write. And they post at our blog.

Martin: Yup, no decrease in any of that traffic. Even a little bit.

There are many people who might think about calling in, but decide not to once they observe you screaming and swearing at someone on the air.

Tracie: Only if they don’t grasp what inspired the rant. And if they can’t decipher that, then th
ey’re probably not reasonable. We’re not psychotics at AETV. We use discernment. Even the most volatile hosts on their most angry days, still explain why they’re ranting as they rant. If I can’t pay attention to the substance, because I’m style-obsessed, then I shouldn’t call AETV, because AETV wants substance. Style doesn’t matter. As I said, calmly calling me “reprobate” as one threatens me with Hell is not “respectful,” just because it’s stylistically calm. The substance is still disgusting and vulgar. I’m not really impressed with the calm delivery.

Ask yourself, do you really think such behavior is going to get you more calls from believers, or fewer?

Tracie: I don’t know…do you? If so, how? Again, I suggest you use your real name and location and start your own show doing it your way, and show us how it should be done. Prove your point. Test your assertion. If you think you can build a better mouse trap, nobody at AETV is stopping you.

Martin: Again, we didn’t start this show last fucking week, assclown. (Oops, naughty Martin is swearing again! Doesn’t he know how much that drives people away?) We’ve been doing it since 1997. And it has only gotten bigger, and bigger, and bigger. So unless you can show us we’ve been suffering some drastic drop-off of our viewership simply because Jeff calls some guy an idiot for threatening us with the imaginary wrath of an imaginary magic pixie in the sky, I see no reason to concern myself with this “crisis” that exists only in the swirling vortex of confusion between your ears.

This particular email lays out my concerns adequately. If you are truly interested in representing me honestly in your posts to facebook and the blog, I ask that you post this email as well, in a new and separate post.

Tracie: Done.

Martin: …and dusted.

If you can do that much for me, you will never hear from me again.

Martin: Hope springs eternal.

Tracie: As the full text of your message was included above, I hope you are a man of your word. I expect no one at AETV to every hear from you again. And at this point, if you contact TAE, we have no obligation to reply, as you will have demonstrated that your commitment meant nothing and was simply a hollow, false promise.

I guess if you don’t, I can only conclude that you want to spin things once again by leaving out the real message I’ve been trying to get across. This message is exactly what I’ve been trying to say all along.

Martin: (sarcastic look) Oh really? Then what, pray tell, were all the threats of lawsuits and exposés, libelous remarks about financial malfeasance, and unconscionable personal insults — all of which we reproduced in full without any alterations of any kind — in aid of? I fancy you think you were “teaching us a lesson” of some kind, when in fact you were literally demolishing your reputation online as thoroughly as any one human being could hope. Really, what would a prospective employer have to say about someone who comes so thoroughly unhinged over views that differ from his own? The degree to which you’ve damaged yourself in this whole series of exchanges is possibly considerable. But again, we didn’t make you do it. Your own choices in life are what come back to haunt you.

Tracie: Good. Then you’ve made your statement publicly via AETV. I hope that satisfies you, as you said it would. Again, as I included your full text in this response, I now declare the right to ignore all your future letters, which you have promised not to write (but I doubt you’ll hold to your word on that; call me a pessimist). And another EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION ATTEMPT FLAG: Your final attempt at such, again a sign of your codependent nature, is to play what is generally known as “chicken.” Basically like a kid in a school yard saying “if you don’t do X, you’re chicken.” Just to confirm, I didn’t post your letter in order to avoid your assessment of me as someone who only wants to “spin” things. Frankly, you’re an idiot, and I don’t know who you are, wouldn’t recognize you on a street in broad daylight. So you’re literally nothing in my world. But, your stupidity merits a good calling out and a breakdown, a demonstration of how stupid is as stupid does. Also, I’m sick of your flood of ugly, pointless, vile garbage in the AETV in-box, and if posting this latest bit of trash will end your disturbed stream of consciousness insanity to AETV, as you promised it would (but we’ll see if you abide by your own promises, right?), it’s totally, totally worth it. I hope you will keep your word and never contact anyone at AETV again.

Martin: And though we heathen types don’t often say this…Amen!

Open thread on episode #712

I’m not Hitchens, and so I’m often not as articulate when I speak as when I write. But here, after some thought, is what I find annoying about Charlie the Atheist Homophobe’s arguments.

His obsession with words and their proper definitions would be a lot more persuasive if he weren’t being so self-serving and hypocritical about how he argues his position. When he called Tracie and me two weeks ago, the burden of his argument was that the word homophobia has a colloquial meaning that has changed and evolved from its dictionary definition, so as to incorporate such things as “disgust” rather than strictly “irrational fear” (the meaning of “phobia” in a nutshell). Charlie was supportive of this evolution of homophobia’s meaning, of course.

But he is not similarly supportive of a change and evolution of the definition of marriage. While homophobia gets to expand its meaning to include a variety of emotional states, marriage does not get to expand its meaning to include a variety of relationship commitments, including same-sex couples (even though the almighty dictionary says it can). And Charlie’s whole justification for opposing any expansion of marriage‘s definition is an appeal to tradition and consensus, the very things he thinks should be ignored in the case of homophobia.

It’s a pure double standard, of the sort that people who are smart enough to know better often hold, so as to convince themselves that an intellectually and morally offensive point of view is in fact intellectually and morally justified. But as Russell said, if the guy isn’t actually out to impinge on anyone’s rights, then his word games are just so much noise.

I personally still don’t get why people so desperately latch onto these kinds of justifications. I’d find it ridiculously presumptuous of me to instruct a couple of strangers, who happened to be consenting adults, on what term they were allowed to apply to their personal relationship commitment, because “traditional” terms made me uncomfortable. If gay people want to be married and call it “marriage,” how does that harm me? How does it negatively impact my life in any degree whatsoever? What’s it got to do with me anyway? Nothing, that’s what.

And yet Charlie is so desperate to justify his folly that he’ll call my position irrational. Whatever. Seems to me the dude’s on no more sensible, let alone honest, ground than Tony Perkins.