People are beginning to protest Twitter’s abominable support for speech without responsibility (it’s not “free speech”, let’s call it what it is) in response to recent excesses. When Caroline Criado-Perez campaigned to have famous women represented on banknotes, which sounds like an innocuous and worthwhile effort to make, she was flooded with rape threats and hatred. I suppose it could be a specific detestation of Jane Austen, but more likely it’s simply an aspect of the misogynistic nature of an unfortunately loud part of online culture. And no, I don’t respect the “it’s just a joke” excuse, that pathetic last resort of a common variant of Dunning-Krueger syndrome in which, rather than assuming a competence they don’t have, they believe they actually have a sense of humor because they can get other humorless toads to mistake contempt for jocularity.
But you know what’s as bad as telling women that you’d like to “smash them up the arse” or that women “deserve this type of abuse”? Telling them that
Santa Claus God doesn’t exist. Tim Stanley is very upset.
So this gives me an opportunity to flag up a particular kind of abuse that’s annoyed me for a long time: aggressive online atheism. Don’t get me wrong: this is in no way comparable to the terrible sexual abuse that has recently gained headlines.
But that’s not going to stop you from comparing them, Tim!
But it’s still amazing how people feel that they can casually mock the spiritual and emotional convictions of others – including Tweeting directly at believers that God doesn’t exist and they’re either liars or idiots for saying so. One man who does this with gay abandon is Richard Dawkins. Apparently Prof Dawkins is a genius who writes beautifully about chromosomes and cave men. Well, bully for him. But he’s a bully, nonetheless. A recent Tweet that caused a stir: "Don’t ask God to cure cancer & world poverty. He’s too busy finding you a parking space & fixing the weather for your barbecue." Hilarious. Or on Islam: "Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Muhamed flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him as a serious journalist." Of course, that’s the same New Statesman that invited Dick Dawkins to edit it for a week – so, yeah, its taste is questionable.
That’s the worst you can find, Tim? Really? Those are actually valid points: people do believe in praying to the almighty ruler of the universe for better parking spots or fortuitous weather for their personal entertainment, and they do believe in absurdities like winged horses or transubstantiation or dead gods coming back to life. What you’re asking for is not that people stop bullying you, which they aren’t, but that they close their eyes and pretend that your follies are reasonable and rational.
How dare you?
Those women you are comparing yourself to are asking for safety and respect for their existence as human beings; you are asking that we privilege your idiotic delusions and exempt them from critical thought. You want us to regard your belief in saints and angels and deities as just as much a human right as women’s right to not be raped.
There is no comparison.
You want to silence atheists. That’s the only way to interpret this:
Prof Dawkins is only sending out Tweets rather than Tweeting directly at individuals – which makes him more of a passive aggressive bully than the full on shove-you-head-down-a-toilet variety. But there are plenty of the alpha male atheists around and I’ve had many come knocking at my Twitter feed. I don’t hate them, I don’t want them banned, and they certainly don’t make me want to boycott Twitter. But I would like them, and the Neanderthal Dawkins, to consider the following.
As you admit, Dawkins was not personally harrassing you. He wasn’t addressing anything directly at you — which makes him very easy to ignore. Even the atheists who directly address you*, as I am with this post, are most likely not threatening you with physical abuse, or waging interminable campaigns to hound you off the medium.
You’re also comparing a dismissal of ludicrous religious beliefs with getting your head shoved down a toilet. No, it’s nothing like that. I get told all the time that ideas that I accept and express strongly, such as promoting science and evolution, are not just wrong, but evil — and strangely, confident as I am in the value of science, I always feel that the other guy is repeatedly dunking their head in a toilet of their own making.
But then, I’m not trying to prop up inanity. You are. I can understand you might be a little sensitive about having your affiliations recognized as the foolishness that they are, and you might feel inadequate to actually defend Catholicism or Anglicanism or the Baptist faiths you’ve flitted among…but that’s your failing, not Dawkins’. You aren’t facing an existential or physical threat, you aren’t being intimidated, you aren’t being told that your existence as a human being is in question…you are being challenged intellectually to deal with the implications of ideas that you, by your own words, consider to be essential to your existence.
When you insult my faith you go right to the heart of what makes me me.
Wait, which faith, which you? The you that was brought up Baptist, or the you that converted to Catholicism? If your faith is the heart of who you are, weren’t your religious conversions greater assaults on your identity than Richard Dawkins tweeting something you don’t like?
When you’re trying to convince me in 140 characters of sub-GCSE philosophical abuse that God doesn’t exist, you’re trying to take away the faith that gets me up in the morning, gets me through the day and helps me sleep at night. You’re ridiculing a God without whom I suspect I might not even be alive, and a God that I prayed to when my mother was going through cancer therapy.
I find that ineffably sad. You can’t even get up in the morning without a belief in a nonexistent entity? This will make you envious: atheists get up in the morning and go to sleep at night with no more difficulty than believers. Your god, and even more, belief in your god, are entirely superfluous to functional human existence.
There is no god and never has been, so the fact that you’re alive now again demonstrates the irrelevance of your belief.
When your mother was sick with cancer (my sympathies, that’s a pain I’d wish on no one), was it your prayers or modern medicine that helped her? Before you answer, consider that the experiment has been done: we’ve had thousands of years in which people had nothing but prayer to turn to in response to cancer, no medicine at all, and it didn’t help.
You’re knocking a Church that provides me with compassion and friendship without asking for anything in return – perhaps the greatest, most wonderful discovery of my adult life. You see, people don’t generally believe in God for reasons of convenience or intellectual laziness. It’s usually fulfilling a deep need – filling a soul with love that might otherwise be quite empty and alone. In short, when you try to destroy someone’s faith you’re not being a brilliant logician. You’re being a jerk.
Errm, the church asks nothing in return? There’s no collection plate that gets passed around at your services? How do they pay for their building, maintain the services of priests, and otherwise function?
You’re a Catholic. Have you ever looked at the opulence of the Vatican and wondered where all that material wealth came from?
I’m an atheist. I know that a human being doesn’t need a god to be fulfilled, happy, and productive. So when I see someone trying to destroy another’s faith, I see a helpful act — an effort to remove a parasite that is afflicting a person’s life. It’s a good thing. Think of it as chemotherapy for the soul.
You’d be a better person without that nonsense polluting your brain, Tim. Not necessarily a good person, because there’s still much more to be done than simply shedding superstition to be truly good, but it might help.
If nothing else, it would remove the insecurity of holding stupid ideas, and it might also help you get rid of that very Christian ‘sin’ of self-martyrdom — it’s rather tacky to see women getting threatened with rape and rushing to put up your own personal cross, you know.
*You don’t have to remind me that there are atheists who ar capable of such uncivilized behavior — I’ve been targeted by some myself. If you are the target of such a campaign, then of course you would have legitimate grounds for complaint…but as you know, Richard Dawkins has done no such thing.