Free speech and free attention

This post is going to cover two different themes: social media and the attention it brings people, and Christian privilege in the public square. They’re related, I promise I’ll get to that point.

I grew up in a time that was right on the front end of the Internet age. As a freshman computer science undergraduate student in 1992, the Internet was still a weird buzzword that social rejects and highly specialized academics used.

The host of the local morning show that I used to listen to once told a funny story where he didn’t want to be pestered by the guy sitting next to him on an airplane. “So what do you do?” asked the guy in the story. “Computers,” lied the professional radio host. “That shut him right up!” he bragged. You can imagine how much that story cheered up a guy like me as I wrangled with projects in UNIX and struggled through classes on data structures and algorithms, and got scorned by the frat guys in my dorm suite.

People didn’t really get what was going on with the internet yet.  This cartoon was considered very amusing at the time.

On Facebook, a select group of 57 people know you're a dog.

The New Yorker mentions the Internet in 1993. How erudite of them.


Just a few years later, the computer lab at my university was swarming with liberal arts majors checking their email. About half a decade after I received my BS, MySpace was born, opening up the internet to even more casual users. Blogging became a big thing. A few years on, MySpace was eclipsed by Facebook and Twitter. I barely used them for a while, but one day in 2008 I turned around and noticed that everyone I knew had a significant amount of content on there. So I became an enthusiastic Facebook user. This year I’ve finally decided to get more active on Twitter too.  (Follow me, @RussellGlasser, if you like.)

Anyway, this whole thing seems to have gone hand in hand with the reality TV phenomenon.  People not only expect to get fifteen minutes of fame, as per Andy Warhol, but they seem to presume that they’ll get a low level of attention at all times.  You watch a movie, you write a two sentence review of it, and people react to what you said immediately.  Sometimes you get into flame wars, and sometimes your friends love and praise your insight.  It’s kind of addicting.

Meanwhile, YouTube can make somebody a TV star for a few minutes or longer — randomly, capriciously, but often in an incredibly global way.  That Gangnam Style song is topping the charts in 30 countries, and it’s a major victory for the Korean music industry.  This is thanks in no small part to the ability of people to spread foreign content they like as easily as emailing a link to their friends.  The video has over a BILLION HITS on YouTube.

"Na je nun ta..." "SH!" "Hey... sexy lady..." "SH!"

And someday it will have — dare I say it? — MILLIONS.

So I’m assuming that PSY is grateful for social media, that’s all I’m saying.

You don’t have to be a big media backed star to get famous, but it’s hard to predict exactly what will make you famous. A decent amateur video on Funny Or Die may be seen by more people than a big screen comedy that flops.  There’s now a whole industry of TV shows in the mold of Pop Idol / American Idol that are selling the idea of yanking schmucks off the street and making them famous, although they can be famous because they’re talented or famous because they really, really, REALLY suck.

The lure of quick fame is so tantalizing that it can cause some people to do incredibly stupid things.  For example, a few years ago, world class idiot Richard Heene faked losing his son in a balloon accident, wasting the time and resources of the police and the National Guard and causing the Denver airport to be shut down.  He did it because he wanted to get enough national attention so he could pitch his own reality show.  He didn’t get the show, and he was convicted on felony charges.  But he still got his wish for fame, if only because he’s now famous enough for me to mention him now so I can illustrate what kind of assholes are born of fame addiction.

In pointing out this phenomenon, I’m not trying to except myself from it.  I’m always the first one to say that I’ve got an ego.  The Atheist Experience owes a lot to Internet word of mouth publicity.  We’re a relatively small phenomenon, and I know some people associated with the show (hi Tracie) absolutely hate it when people refer to them as celebrities, but I like reading our fan mail — most of the time — because it’s still fun to hear that the stuff we say impacts people’s thinking some of the time. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  Our outreach to people is voluntary.  We’re never so overly concerned about being popular that we let it get in the way of doing content that we think is interesting.  Sometimes we get emails saying that someone intends to quit watching because of something we did, but that rarely concerns us enough to fundamentally change our approach.

Even if the Internet has amplified both the desire and ability to make people pay attention to you, it certainly didn’t invent it in the first place.  Some kinds of attention seekers are very familiar to atheists, because a reoccurring topic that comes up a lot on the show is the concept of Christian Privilege.  This privilege pops up especially when an issue comes up regarding separation of church and state.

Here’s a joke.  I’m warning you in advance, it’s not a funny joke.

A dog had followed his owner to school. His owner was a fourth grader at a public elementary school. However, when the bell rang, the dog sidled inside the building and made it all the way to the child’s classroom before a teacher noticed and shoo’ed him outside, closing the door behind him. The dog sat down, whimpered and stared at the closed doors. Then God appeared beside the dog, patted his head, and said, “Don’t feel bad fella’…. they won’t let ME in either.”

Sound familiar? It’s the same kind of line that arrogant, privileged douche-nozzle Mike Huckabee was pushing on us a few weeks ago, when he said that school shootings are inevitable when “we’ve systematically removed God from our schools.”  What his claim boils down to is that the omnipotent creator of the universe is physically prevented from rescuing little kids because there is no organized school prayer.

Similarly, the 60’s atheist provocateur Madalyn Murray O’Hair is frequently described as being the person who “kicked God out of schools.”  Student activist Jessica Ahlquist was described as an “evil little thing” by her state representative for pursuing a lawsuit to get a mural with a Christian prayer removed from her public school.

The truth is that prayer has never been removed from schools.   Students and teachers alike are free to pray on school grounds, when and where they choose to do so, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their school day or disrupt class for the other kids.  What the courts have decided is that, since public schools are public and host people of all faiths (and, of course, people of none), the school may not use their state authority to lead prayers, or otherwise coerce students and employees in the direction of a favored religion.  That’s it.

Similarly, in principle the local government should not issue proclamations in promotion of a favored religion; a state sponsored “national day of prayer” shouldn’t exist, and so forth and so on.  Private citizens are free to do private things.  They’re free to do many of those things in public.  They’re not allowed to leverage public resources in order to inflict their prayers or proclamations or endorsements or whatever on the rest of us.  It’s that simple.

I like to sum this up issue with this basic one liner: You have the right to say what you want, but you don’t have the right to make people listen.  As long as this point is properly observed, this issue hasn’t got a thing to do with free speech.

I’ve raised two distinct points here: One is that the Internet feeds our desire for attention and amplifies our impression that what we say is important.  The other is that some people — often Christians looking for a megaphone to broadcast their religion — see “freedom of speech” as synonymous with “forcing people to listen to you.”  Let me draw these points together a bit on a recent topic here: Message boards, comment lists, and other outlets of social networking sites.

I’d actually been sitting on this post a few days when I notice that Matt Dillahunty had made a video — or a “drive to work brain dump” as he called it — that kind of touches on this topic.  Matt’s been criticized recently for blocking people from his Twitter and Facebook feeds; some people are telling him that he’s somehow violating their free speech.  We get the same complaints any time we ban people from the TV show chat room or this blog.

If you get blocked from somebody’s YouTube comments, your free speech rights under the United States Constitution have not been violated.  People who complain about being blocked are not complaining because they can’t say what they want.  You haven’t been banned from the entire Internet.  You’ve just been banned from saying this on one forum.  And after all, the Constitution doesn’t guarantee that you can say what you want, everywhere, all the time.  If you take a megaphone onto the campus of a private college and start ranting, campus security services have the right to remove you.  If you jump onto the pulpit of a church, shove the minister out of the way, and start reading from “God Is Not Great,” the church authorities aren’t being thugs and bullies when they ask you to leave — it’s their church.

And if you call The Atheist Experience and we hang up on you, we haven’t censored you.  Go ahead, start your own anti-Atheist TV show.  Make your own web site telling us we’re bad people.  Create yourself a nice little #AtheistExperienceBullies hashtag on Twitter.  Just don’t expect that you’ll get to spam our forums, message boards, or Twitter feeds 24/7 with links to your efforts.

What it comes down to is that the web is a big network of various private spaces.  My Facebook page, my Twitter account, my blog, and my email are among those private spaces.  Some people are more open to comments than others, but there have been many times when I’ve gotten aggressive emails saying “You’re stupid because you’re an atheist and I demand that you address me.”  My answer is, “You’re a very rude person, and I’m not interested in talking to you.”  My attention, or anyone’s, is not among your mandated rights.


  1. Michele says

    So true! I recently saw a video of a woman saying how she understood what atheists were talking about (how religious people can be rude and pushy and how religion itself is messed up), and at the very top there was a comment from a guy all pissed that he’d been blocked by the woman. Go down the page, and the guy had 20+ comments to this woman trying to CONVERT HER to Christianity!!! He just wouldn’t give up. Then when she finally told him to leave her alone, he got all offended and acted like SHE was not giving him a chance. I wrote something to him saying it’s people like HIM that she was talking about in her video (ones that insist their religion is right and everything else is wrong)…and he got all mad at me, claiming I was bullying him and that I had a dark heart…and ended it with “you should come back to Jesus”!
    It’s bad enough when you can’t go on an atheist video on YouTube without these guys lurking and jumping on you the first comment you make…but they don’t give up, and then they claim YOU are the bad one for just wanting them to stop harassing you. (Of course, to them, it isn’t harassing – it’s “saving” you. Just like to them, gays who don’t want to be proselytized to are the bullies, not them.) They need to get over themselves and over this “victim” complex when, in reality, many of them are the aggressor!

  2. John Kruger says

    Not a hard concept really. Freedom of speech has never meant saying whatever you want at any time. Is it so difficult to think about what life would be like if bomb threats could never be punished, courts of law could be shouted down, or people could not be prevented from entering your house and lecturing you? Wesboro Baptist Church, the KKK, and lots of other unpopular ideologies can be expressed in the right circumstances, but none of them have the right to force their way on to every forum everywhere.

    Think, people. THINK.

  3. Sercee says

    Good article, but

    “What his claim boils down to is that the omnipotent creator of the universe is physically prevented from rescuing little kids because there is no organized school prayer.”

    I’ve never once thought that to be the case. It’s quite possible I’m giving those guys too much credit by not assuming that’s what they literally meant, but I always thought the idea was that by keeping God out of school we were forcing kids to grow up without religion and, thus, they were all going to turn into murdering psychopaths. Which is also completely retarded, but still.

  4. Lord Narf says

    Well, I can come up with half a dozen interpretations for Huckabee’s (and so many others’) statement about how everything has been worse since we banned prayer from school. None of them are any better than Russel’s interpretation.

    And I actually do know some people who state the very similar “God won’t save us from this sort of thing, because we’ve thrown him out of our country.” Hell, that’s the message that the Westboro Baptist Church is pushing, and many agree with the message, if not their methods.

  5. jacobfromlost says

    Me: Thank you, Russell, for the point about prayer in school, and the point(s) about free speech.

    Sercee: “but I always thought the idea was that by keeping God out of school we were forcing kids to grow up without religion and, thus, they were all going to turn into murdering psychopaths.”

    Me: I think believers will take whichever interpretation they want…or all of them at once. But in this case, I think Russell’s interpretation is very much in play. Not only to they imply (or flat say) god is blocked from entering schools, but there is the inverse implication that perpetrators of these kinds of mass shootings are ruled out as being Christians (or “true Christians”). I never understood this implication, as supposedly the entire purpose of Jesus was to save us from our sins–not just the minor ones, but ALL of them. As long as you believed in Jesus, that is all that matters. (And if Jesus only saves you from your minor sins…what’s the point? Who needs saving from a few white lies and a pen they stole from the bank?)

    The other problem is that Adam Lanza seems to have been home schooled for most (or at least many) of his school years, apparently by his mother…and he then took his mother’s weapons and shot her four times in the head, before continuing his rampage elsewhere. His only connection to Sandyhook seems to be that he went there for 5th grade.

    So god seems to be blocked from both home schooling and public schooling…which sort of seems like god isn’t doing anything anywhere, even when he intelligently designs an unhinged person with easy access to weapons. What weird…contradictory…coincidences.

  6. Lord Narf says

    I never understood this implication, as supposedly the entire purpose of Jesus was to save us from our sins–not just the minor ones, but ALL of them. As long as you believed in Jesus, that is all that matters. (And if Jesus only saves you from your minor sins…what’s the point? Who needs saving from a few white lies and a pen they stole from the bank?)

    Well, of course they’re not going to be protected. If they allowed prayer to be driven out of schools, then they obviously were never true Christians, and weren’t saved.

  7. Tony the Queer Shoop (proud supporter of Radical Feminism) says

    I can just imagine Thunderf00t’s response to this post. He and his followers seem to think freedom of speech means they should be able to say what they want, where and when they want.
    One thing I never understood: how can their god be omnipotent if lowly humans can kick him out of class?

  8. serena says

    This is actually a point often touched on in online gaming forums, when game publishers remove or lock complaint threads. Often the angry customer will ignore service request/resolution procedure, post angry rants in public forums, make multis*, get permanently banned, all the while crying the mantra ‘but the customer is always right!!” (which is very closely related to the good ol’ Freeze Peach).

    In the case of gaming communities there is often a TOS ‘terms of service’ which one must agree to before being permitted to participate in discussions, which usually specifies the general ‘our house our rules, subject to change without notice’ clause. Heck you as a player don’t even have any rights to any of the content, they can delete, alter, ban your account at any time for any reason, you don’t own your account (even in pay-to-play games). This is by far a stricter rule set than say, someone’s personal Facebook or Twitter (or even these blogs seem to have) but I treat my personal content in this way. My livestreaming channel especially, while I can’t limit who watches it, I can definitely limit who is allowed to participate. Free Speech in my ‘house’ can only be granted by me.

    *’multis’ being multiple accounts, sometimes intended to cheat the game with extra resources or to make dissenting posts on forums – I’ve never heard of this being called ‘sock-puppeting’ until I began to read atheist/freethought community stuff. Serves me right for being addicted to mmo’s for years, heh.

  9. Stacy says

    The slimepitters pull this one all the time. A blogger bans an anti-feminist from commenting? Somebody blocks people who’ve been harassing her on Twitter? OMG WHAT ABOUT FREEZE PEACH!!11!

  10. curiousgeorge says

    In response to Mike Huckabee’s quote:

    It’s an interesting thing. We ask why there’s violence in our schools but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we do not want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability…..

    I would be very interested in hearing Mr. Huckabee’s explanation of this incident: where 19 church members were assasinated.

    and also the recent killing of the pastor in Forest Hills Texas.

    Assumably they are talking about eterneity, life, what reponsiblity means, accountability, yet, there is carnage.

  11. Lord Narf says

    Nah, they probably weren’t real Christians. You know how they have all of those liberal posers, in Texas.

  12. Alverant says

    I’m going to talk more about the first part of your message. I was in college in 1992 and used the dial-up service Prodigy where I’d post on their bill boards and got my first real look at how conservatives act. I flamed with the best of them. Then there was online chat and … other things. They charged by the hour so my Dad found out how much time I spent online. Back then I only knew about dial-up services. There were no browsers yet. Not really. You didn’t register for classes using a website, you had to TCP/IP in on a DOS screen. The internet as we know it now only picked up as I graduated.

    By then the dial-up services were dying off and changing. We saw this in AOL. Prodigy became a web hosting service and I made my own website on their account. It got me my first job in 1997. Yep, back then having your own site was enough. It showed you knew what you were doing. I was a hard coder, no WISIWYG for me (and still none for me). It was there where I learned ColdFusion and marveled at the idea of dynamic code. I remember when Microsoft made its browser part of the OS and saw the WebServices report shift from Netscape to IE as the most commonly used browser. Those were the days when I made a significant reduction in load time just by eliminating the white space in the code.

    Yep those were the days. Getting broadband for the first time was amazing. If I were religious I would swear I heard the “Halleluiah” chorus when loaded instantly and I got mp3s in seconds. Kids today don’t understand how far we’ve come.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  13. Kazim says

    I was on Prodigy too. My parents got it when I was a freshman. I loved it… spent a ton of time around the atheism section of Teen board. That was the first time I got a real taste of arguing with strangers on a forum, and I HAD TO HAVE MORE. 😉 That was when I got into the hard stuff by finding Usenet.

  14. JE Hoyes says

    I like arguing/discussing things on usenet (originally) and now forums & YouTube etc. One of the things I appreciate most is the free flow of ideas especially between people with whom I disagree (sometimes vehemently), no matter how fair or foul the idea. I used to killfile trolls and bores but sometimes I would miss out on key elements to the discourse by redacting rather than reacting. As much as I agree that rude, ranty, bigoted or “thick” people can be dispiriting to have to deal with, especially if they get sweary or cruel, how one deals with them says quite a bit about how open one is to the free flow of ideas.

    I’m often struck by how youtubers post a video and get all offended when other people take offence. It seems to have an air of hypocrisy about it. There are those who block all comments, in which case I don’t watch their videos. It’s simple – if there’s no discourse, they might just as well be broadcasting propaganda. I’m interested what you have to say in your video but that’s only the start – how does that message stand up to scrutiny? You should be as interested to know about that as I am.

  15. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    Oh gawd, makes me feel old. My first experience of the Internet was 1st year of university (also doing BSc CompSci) in 1990. We had connected terminals in our halls/dorms. My final year project, 93-94, was building a Gopher client in C++.

    I think that the first thing that I did on the Internet was to troll Usenet when drunk, and play MUDs.

  16. curiousgeorge says

    I am new to discussion boards on the internet. I agree with you that it is a great way to discuss ideas and try to gain perspective. I also think that the internet is an effective way to effective change and that the Atheist Experience show is doing a lot more than they realize to help lessen the impact of extremist religous thinking on our culture.

    One of the things I’ve discovered is that cyber bullying is very easy to do and I suspect there are a lot of things expressed on the internet in a way that the person would not say to another person in a face to face conversation. It is much easier to run one’s fingers to an anonymous person than it is to say the same thing face to face. Additionally, I think because the back and forth discourse is quick – it is easy to take what someone is saying out of context or hone in on just one point being made because there are not enough qualifiers in the responses. Finally, there is no inflexion and it is a very “black and white” form of communication, I guess those little icons can help, but many people don’t want to use them or think they are silly.

  17. JE Hoyes says

    My basic rule of thumb is to only accept truth statements. So, just because someone says or writes something untrue or unprovable or personally unflattering, it doesn’t make it true. Why would I give someone else the power to define me or my world view? Someone calling me something doesn’t make it so. I feel the same way about compliments and other embroidered information. Of course people have attempted to insult and “bully” me but if there’s no truth to their output it’s not information; it’s merely garbage… If I’m short and skinny that’s true, if they say I’m short and fat that’s false so, no harm done either way. Hope I’m explaining myself clearly here – I find I take too many words to make my point so that it can become unclear. I suppose the “sticks and stones” rhyme covers it.

    So, when the host hangs up on a caller for saying something “beyond the pale” or blocks all comments on their YouTube channel, I sometimes feel that the caller or viewer will feel more likely to stick to a poorly constructed opinion than to see the errors in it. For instance, Sunday’s show with the discussion about morality – it would have been interesting to hear how Shane could defend his clearly appalling statement. If Christians hold this as a principle, then thinking people everywhere need to know that this is a position defended by the bible. And, let’s be honest – such appalling views expressed by theists are meat and drink to an atheist show. One Christian defending rape as god’s punishment means higher viewing figures for the show and a sense of moral oneupmanship to atheists. A show with everyone calling in to agree would be less interesting. But, please tell me if you think I’m wrong.

  18. says

    The story of the dog and the god outside of the school is missing the last part:

    If that dog had the same history of violence that the Christian god has, I wouldn’t want it roaming around the halls of a school either. It should be put down, or at the very least, locked 24/7 in a kennel.

  19. rvkevin says

    I think many have seen his first clip, but here he doubles down. @1:09

    He says its not just about prayer in schools. He says its because Christian imagery can’t be displayed on public land, forcing religious businesses to pay for women’s healthcare (i.e. birth control), acknowledging that psychological disorders exist rather than simply saying people sin, and thinking that homosexuality (he doesn’t explicitly say this, but I think this is what he was referencing) is normal.

    I think it’s along the lines of thinking that ethics is the domain of religion. At the end, he says that this would have prevented if we taught the ten commandments. After all, if we don’t teach the ten commandments, how can we teach people not to kill each other? Yeah, I don’t understand it either.

  20. roggg says

    Very good post, but I’m going to nitpick a little. If you hang up on someone, you may not have violated their right to free speech, but you have censored them. Not that that is a bad thing. It’s your media channel, and you’re not beholden to any caller to promulgate their view-points. But to say that a person is not censored unless all methods of communication are blocked sets the bar so ridiculously high that the concept of censorship loses meaning. IMO of course.

  21. says

    roggg, you’re wrong about censorship. Private citizens cannot censor each other. Censorship is when the government prevents you from speaking, not when a private citizen refuses to give you a platform. For instance, the people who run this blog can delete your comment and ban you for being ignorant about censorship… and if you email them to complain about being censored then you will have justified the ban. 🙂

    Coincidentally, some idiot on Twitter just told Jen McCreight that he has a right to Tweet to her, and while blocking him is a privilege she shouldn’t be allowed to exercise it. Talk about getting it all wrong!

  22. says

    But to say that a person is not censored unless all methods of communication are blocked sets the bar so ridiculously high that the concept of censorship loses meaning.

    But that is not the bar that is being set. Even when the government censors people, all their methods of communication are not blocked. It’s just that they risk government reprisal if they use those methods of communication and are caught. THAT is the sina qua non of ACTUAL censorship, not the total lack of any other methods of communication. In fact, short of burying someone alive, I can’t think of a practical way to even achieve cutting a person off from all or even most other methods of communication!

    Please, if you are going to argue, get the position against which you are arguing correct.

  23. says

    The one liner Kasim used “you have the right to say what you want, but you don’t have the right to make people listen.” I have a different take, the line I use “you have the right to say what you want, you don’t have the right to be heard.” The timeline at the beginning of the article unleash the memory of my first email using the military world wide locator to my future wife also in the military, that was 1985.

  24. curiousgeorge says

    I can come up with 4 different reasons Christian zealots use to explain tragedy (no particular order).

    1. The God’s Wrath explanation. God’s wrath is triggered by the misbehavior of a human or group of humans, whether it be not praying in school, legalizing abortion, worshiping idols, just to start the list of infractions. I believe this God’s wrath explanation was EXACTLY what Mike Huckabee was using as his explanation in his original statement.

    His original statement speaks for itself. He said – we’ve removed God from schools therefore we have carnage. I view this second video as nothing but an attempt on his part to take back what he said to deflect criticism. The giveaway is at the beginning of his statment when he explains he blames was it the liberal media for misrepresenting his statement. I call bullshit.

    Anyway, the other three excuses I commonly hear Christians give for tragedy are:

    2. God works in mysterious ways, usually followed by but it is all part of his plan and we’ll understand it once in heaven.

    3. Satan caused the event.

    4. This one is a version of #2, but is different enough to list as it’s own, that this type of event or this particular event was prophisied in the Book of Revlations and is just a sign that we are living in the End Days.

  25. sonorus says

    Over Christmas I had to listen to some church people complain about how “they” were banning nativity scenes. Really? Because I see them everywhere! In fact in the touristy area nearby there’s a whole store that sells nothing but. Some of them are quite nice. I’m a sucker for handcrafted stuff even if it is a bit kitschy. That’s not what they meant of course. They were upset that city tax dollars weren’t allowed to be spent putting up a city display. A few days later I drove past the church these folks attend. They had nothing up for Christmas. Nothing. If they want to put up a nativity scene, why don’t they put up their own? They have the property and the money. They want the state and the retailers to do their job for them! And then they want to complain when it’s not done to their liking.

    I hate the phrase “banning religion from the public square”. Most public squares in this country have at least one church facing them. Religious people should not be censored. They have their right to free speech but so does everyone else. The state should be neutral. Put up your own display. Preach your message. If people like it, they will join you. If not, well that’s too bad but your right to practice your own religion doesn’t mean other people have to join your cult and your right to free speech doesn’t guarantee that anyone has to agree with you or exempt you from criticism or even ridicule. Do your own thing. Proclaim your own ideas and beliefs. Just don’t expect someone else to pay for it or even pay attention.

  26. curiousgeorge says

    I meant to say in my reply that I agree with the posters interpretation of Mr. Huckabee’s statement. Mr. Huckabee was saying – since we have removed school prayer from our schools – there is no longer any protection – noone should be surprised when there is carnage. It is like saying if the security guard doens’t get his paycheck he is going to get pissed and he won’t show up for work. God’s “payment” is made in the form of prayer, acknowledgment, respect and praise.

  27. Warp says

    “What his claim boils down to is that the omnipotent creator of the universe is physically prevented from rescuing little kids because there is no organized school prayer.”

    I don’t think that’s what they mean. What they mean is that God throws a temper tantrum when praising him is hindered, and he basically says “you don’t love me? Well, see if I ever help you with anything. That’ll show you!” (Of course they don’t phrase it like that, but effectively it’s that.)

    And btw, when people (or at least some of them) say “you are violating my freedom of speech”, I think it’s just a case of poorly expressing what they want to say. What they really mean to say is “you are such a huge proponent of freedom of speech, but when someone says something you don’t like, you censor it. You are a hypocrite.”

  28. roggg says

    Joe: I’m not sure what definition of censorship you use, but outside the US at least, censorship is used to mean a lot more than governmental censorship, with even “self censorship” being a valid use of the term. Private individuals can censor one another, but that is not an abridgment of free speech rights. In any case, this does not detract from Russel’s point or post which I largely agree with, and I don’t want to get into a prolonged discussion of the meanings of words.

  29. says

    Roggg, it is possible to talk about censorshp by corporations, in this present quasi-fascist world in which we live. “Self-censorship” describes when individuals decide to not risk government (or possibly corporate) reprisals by not engaging in speech that could get them in trouble, so it still refers to censorship.

    To apply the term censorship to bannings from blogs and Twitter blocks is ridiculous and silly.

  30. says

    I don’t think there’s a contradiction between censorship and free speech.

    It’s not contradictory for me to want to keep my blog tidy and reasonable and the comments relevant while at the same time supporting the very same censored people from going out and doing their own thing.

    It’s not contradictory for me to want to keep my house clean while supporting your right to have your house messy.

  31. says

    I’d also throw in that I don’t see censorship as an intrinsically bad thing, any more than I see intolerance as an intrinsically bad thing.

    Some things shouldn’t be tolerated, and some things make sense to censor. I see it has appropriate to censor gore and violence in childrens’ books, for example.

  32. curiousgeorge says

    I agree with you that it is a great way to share ideas. We’re taught it is not nice to “argue religion and politics” and it is hard to find people to discuss these topic. Also, atheism still is taboo in my social circles anyway.

    In terms of “truth”. I’m interested in sharing facts, yes. But I think I can’t see where we can avoid basing some of our world view on things that cannot be proven. There is still too much we do not know. I want to hear people’s ideas and information on what we know on subjects we do not know everything.

    I have only had a chance to watch the video clip, so I haven’t seen the whole call. I think the caller got enough of his answer out that he was going down the path of explaining that this child was not innocent because of the concept of original sin and that humans are inherently bad. Yes, he was hung up on quickly, so maybe we can’t know for sure.

    Sexual abuse of a child is a vile subject. It was being used as an extreme example by Tracie Harris to make a point about an indifferent God as portrayed in the Bible. I think the call went to such a dark place in that this caller actually even could come up with a rationalization that Mr. Dilahunty simply could not stomach the discussion any longer so in what appeared to be a reflex in which he was not in total control he pulled the trigger and ended the call in this instance.

    I also don’t see where there was anything to be gained for atheism in continuing the call. Reason being, Christians do not per se condone child rape. When considering the actual issue of child abuse (not just the disucssion of the God character’s indifference to child rape) I think we can safely asume that abusers would come in the form of all different religions, races and there would be atheist abusers as well.

  33. JE Hoyes says

    curiousgeorge: “Sexual abuse of a child is a vile subject. It was being used as an extreme example by Tracie Harris to make a point about an indifferent God as portrayed in the Bible. I think the call went to such a dark place in that this caller actually even could come up with a rationalization that Mr. Dilahunty simply could not stomach the discussion any longer so in what appeared to be a reflex in which he was not in total control he pulled the trigger and ended the call in this instance.”

    Perhaps, introducing the child rape example was an error of judgement. If one can’t discuss the concept through to logical or illogical conclusions then a different, less emotive, example should be used. Shane would have done everyone a service if he had reframed Tracie’s example with a different, yet similarly over-the-top, example. In a way, the hosts were driving the discussion into the weeds on purpose… Then they got huffy because Shane continued to drive it along. It was a poorly chosen example but, as examples go, it cuts across other beliefs because we can usually all* agree that child rape is bad (*except child rapists, I guess).

    Really, getting to the place where one is not able to stomach a god hypothesis is a good way to finally reject it. I think I rejected the bible as a moral code, and authentic explanation of how life began, within the first couple of chapters – because it was so full of disprovable, unprovable and unjust assertions and was simply unfair and revolting. But some people, if they can accept the bible entirely, probably need to find that same revulsion only if they have to face the kind of cross-examination introduced by the hosts. Who knows, perhaps Shane thinks his point was so “knock-down” good that the hosts didn’t have a good enough response so they had to swear at him, in an ad hominem attack and hang up.

  34. JE Hoyes says

    Perhaps, freedom of speech does mean exactly that. The right to say what you want, when you want any place, any time. That freedom doesn’t then protect one from law or social censure. I can disagree with someone and explain why but I will always make best headway if I stay within the norms of social approval… Even if I disagree with any of those norms, I should be able to find a way to oppose legal or social protocols rationally. Even bomb threats are only punished within reasonable tolerances that are prescribed at the outset – the threat can still be made and the threatener therefore accepts the consequences. A forum, by definition, is an arena for the exchange of ideas. So, whether that forum is here or a public square, the forum is where one goes to expose oneself to the extensive flavours of human interaction. Without the forum being fully free – we end up with group-think dominating the sceptic and disallowing deviation. I can see that house rules apply, where the discussion is being hosted, therefore the naysayer has to find a way to naysay within those rules. In the case of hosted events and forums, house rules apply but house rules should also be up for debate even after they’ve been “cast in stone” – how does one form rules for discussing house rules?

  35. JE Hoyes says

    In the case of a forum such as this one, the “government” is made up of host, ISP, website owner, TOS, Poster of the original post. All of which can “censor”, to varying degrees, who is allowed on the forum and what they’re allowed to say. Group dynamics within the threads that cascade from that OP can censure another participant. And, if the censors are intimidating enough, the dynamic of the group will reflect what they sense is approved of by the censor. The government then uses the group to censor through censure.

    Overall, the system of control is much stronger for the “government” than for the dissenter. Rolling with the punches in a forum is probably more likely to overcome the bias that’s likely to coalesce in Internet forums and help everyone to go beyond indoctrination and group-think.

  36. sonorus says

    That’s not censorship. You are the publisher of your own blog. You have every right to delete comments or to block anyone from commenting. Some blogs don’t even have a comments section. Your blog, your rules. That is not censorship. If the government shut down your blog because you criticized its policies or actions, that would be censorship. It’s not censorship if the New York Times doesn’t print my letter to the editor. You are the publisher and have a right to decide what goes on your site.

  37. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    Otherwise known as “not on my lawn” as opposed to censorship.

    Yes, technically you can call it the c word in the widest possible sense, but the bar isn’t as high as you make out. The other person is only losing one specific “lawn” on which they can dump. Look at it this way – I play in a band, and we are not going to shut up because one particular person in the audience doesn’t like us. It’s like that, but backwards. I think. 🙂

  38. says

    I cannot help but wonder if the Mike Huckabees of this topic really think that school prayer and images allowed in public schools are literally talismans of protection. Therefore, anything that God could do for us in a dangerous situation is prevented without the hoodoo.

    I’m not saying this of all Christians. But a lot of believers retain sort of pagan (as in “folk”) beliefs and superstitions. They believe in lucky numbers, and lucky shirts and things to “help” their sports team win. There are a lot of old superstitions still in play. With this mindset, surely some like Huckabee believe that prayers and pictures and jewelry are sorts of spells and magic items to protect them. I don’t want to be prejudiced against Mormons in particular, but the religion does select specific objects as blessed and protective.

    Just sayin’.

  39. Lord Narf says

    I wouldn’t exactly say that prayer in school is like a talisman. I don’t think that most Christians think the prayer itself is magical, in some way. It’s more like it’s an appeal to God, and God himself protects us. A talisman is sort of powerful, in and of itself, and anyone can use it, regardless of how worthy they are. Talismans would only work in the case of an unobservant god who is in the habit of proxying his/her power into something and not giving a damn what the power is used for.

    Likewise, forcing prayer into school is just one of the many ways that we kiss God’s ass, as a country, so that hopefully he will treat us nicely. The whole view is kind of grossly myopic, though. They’re not grasping what omnipotence really means. If God really acted to do good things for those who worship him and punish those who oppose him, then he wouldn’t act against an entire freaking country. Or if he did, he’d be an immoral, capricious god who has the omnipotence to focus his divine wrath and only hit the offenders, and he chooses not to.

    The whole concept is completely fucked, really, and they can’t see it.

  40. JE Hoyes says

    Blogs without a comments section could be regarded as propaganda. If the blogger includes an adjudicated comments section, that would be akin to manipulating the media – which is worse than no comments because it gives the impression that there is no dissent, (just like Fox News purposefully leaves out important information in order to broadcast their own brand of propaganda). A blog with an open, uncensored comments section is closer to a free press. Obviously, from time to time, that freedom allows the free press to publish unsubstantiated assertions that can cause embarrassment or discomfort. However, anything libellous can be dealt with by the actual law. Hence, the recent Twitter furore over the twitterati naming an innocent person of being something he is not – he was able to seek legal redress.

  41. JE Hoyes says

    “If you jump onto the pulpit of a church, shove the minister out of the way, and start reading from “God Is Not Great,” the church authorities aren’t being thugs and bullies when they ask you to leave – it’s their church.”

    Are you happy to liken an atheist blog to how a church runs? I’m uncomfortable with that analogy.

  42. Kazim says

    Blogs without a comments section could be regarded as propaganda.

    How dramatic. And I suppose that every time you read a nonfiction book or watch a documentary, in the absence of direct feedback to the author you are also struggling against tyranny.

  43. JE Hoyes says

    Within that realm, one could be frustrated at the lack of dialogue. Fortunately, in the realm of blogs – the ability to give instant feedback or commentary is an important aspect of reading a blog. I can enjoy a monologue or soliloquy as much as the next person, but in order to move the action along, you generally need dialogue, or at the very least, reference to psyches outside of the 1st person. So, if I don’t like a book, I can avoid a particular author, newspaper or genre, if enough of us do that the author gets our feedback. But it’s not efficient, which might be why forums are so busy and vivid with much more diverse and entertaining opinions. I’m interested in your opinion but you’re not the only person worth reading.

  44. Kazim says

    Yes, I see. And that inefficiency must be why, as I’ve noticed, books and movies have now become completely obsolete. Because gaining knowledge directly from message boards, and Reddit are now the only way of obtaining reliable information.

  45. JE Hoyes says

    In the case of blogs and forums, the commentary needs to be in context. Otherwise, if I wrote this comment anywhere else, it loses relevance and is no longer timely. An atheist, freethought blog has a reputation to maintain for open, free dialogue, of all the blogs in all the world a free thought blog has to be open to retain that title… Would you not agree? You are of course free to disagree.

  46. Lord Narf says

    That doesn’t stop it from being a good analogy. In many human behaviors, we’re going to be able to draw parallels, and it’s useful to see them, where they exist.

    You could say that an atheism group serves the same purpose as a church, drawing together like-minded people to fulfill the social need that most people feel. If we want to draw the socially-religious non-believers out of their churches, we need to offer them a parallel.

    Atheists have some things in common with religious people, not because atheism is like religion, but because both groups are made up of people.

  47. JE Hoyes says

    One still has to be discerning about the information. But, open discourse is one of the best ways I know of getting to truths quickly. Unfortunately, broadcast media still has the edge when it comes to propagating truths and untruths to the largest audience. Both broadcast and memecast channels have their place.

  48. Lord Narf says

    If atheism/freethought blogs were all completely unmoderated, they would be overrun by obnoxious theists in no time. There’s a matter of preventing the forum from deteriorating into a Facebook-style free-for-all. You don’t have to go to the extreme of a site like Atheist Nexus, before it’s beneficial to exert some measure of control.

  49. Lord Narf says

    I already have coffee. What kind of addict do you take me for? I’m nothing if not committed to it.

  50. JE Hoyes says

    I disagree. The parallel is not one I would wish to draw it was an unfortunate analogy. If I thought atheism was just another religion or church, I’d have to find another name for my disbelief in gods. If I thought the word freethought meant group think, I’d have to find a different name for being a freethinker.

  51. Lord Narf says

    Uhhhhhhh, have you had debates with theists much? They can pour on more lies and logically invalid arguments in one post than we can deal with in twenty responses. There’s a thing called the Gish gallop. Sometimes, you just have to nuke them and be done with it.

    Plus, there are more of them than there are of us. If we let them run free on the blogs after they’ve demonstrated that they’re not worth talking to, you’d have a hard time wading through the drivel to follow the discussion between freethinkers.

  52. Kazim says

    Also, too, that explains the curious fact that no reliable information was accumulated until Internet message boards became popular around the mid 90’s.

  53. says

    We may be using different definitions.

    Newspapers use censorship all the time, such as on swear words in articles. In those cases, they censor specific words. Under your definition, the cliche “*CENSORED*” is not censorship.

    Here’s a bit from the infallible Wikipedia, emphasis mine:

    Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body. It can be done by governments and private organizations or by individuals who engage in self-censorship. It occurs in a variety of different contexts including speech, books, music, films and other arts, the press, radio, television, and the Internet for a variety of reasons including national security, to control obscenity, child pornography, and hate speech, to protect children, to promote or restrict political or religious views, to prevent slander and libel, and to protect intellectual property. It may or may not be legal. Many countries provide strong protections against censorship by law, but none of these protections are absolute and it is frequently necessary to balance conflicting rights in order to determine what can and cannot be censored.

    I think I’m using a broader definition than you. Your definition appears to be restricted to government action violating free speech rights.

  54. Lord Narf says

    Did you even read my comment? I specifically said that it’s not another religion or church, and that the parallels come from other similarities between atheists and religious types.

    And if you think that atheism groups engage in group think, you need to go to a few more events. You get much more argument than you get within most other groups of like-minded people.

  55. Lord Narf says

    Damn, Russel beat me by less than 30 seconds. That was in response to JE, obviously. I should have included block-quoted material.

  56. JE Hoyes says

    One of the pleasures of being an active atheist, rather than inactive one, is in contrasting one’s rational, sceptical thoughts with those of the closed-off theist. Being able to discuss theology with a theist can be much more interesting and entertaining than sitting in a circle agreeing with everyone. I know, it’s probably a waste of time trying to convert a theist through rational argument but it’s still more useful than not bothering. But I take your point – this is an atheist-only blog so theists would be wasting their time commenting, I guess all the atheists here would ignore any such comment as being off-topic.

    By the way, I merely make these pro-dissent comments to put forward the opposing view, just to stop us from being too complacent. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was being holier than thou; I love to play devil’s advocate. Mind you, on the whole, I’m pro-dissent.

  57. JE Hoyes says

    Lord Narf, the ability to killfile was a useful tool against trolls and thread bloat. But the whole point of a discussion board or forum is to discuss. If I agreed with everything everyone ever said, life would be boring for me. As much as it almost pains me to admit I would miss the argument itself and, although I agree with Richard Dawkins that once we’d settled the argument about religion we could go on to more important things, I’d still miss the friction a little. But then, we’d easily find other things on which to disagree (such as the ability or right to post unpleasant or unpleasing comments on blogs). Anyway, the Atheist Experience show is brought to life by the theist callers (IMO). Perhaps this blog post is brought to life by the frisson of disagreement in the comments.

  58. Lord Narf says

    Theists are welcome, as long as they can have a rational discussion on the subject at hand. We just frequently get the opposite sort, invading and flooding a comment thread with all sorts of stupidity.

    We had a particularly obnoxious one, about 6 or 8 posts back. He kept diverting a discussion about Atheism+, I think it was, with all sorts of authoritarian, theistic bullshit. Not even vaguely appropriate, when he’s not an atheist.

  59. Lord Narf says

    There’s still a difference between useful, informative disagreement and having fundamentalists spray their dogma all over a message thread, then plug their ears.

    I’ve encountered both sorts, in person. Some people really want to have a discussion about their religion. Others just look at you while you’re responding, thinking about the next preaching subject in their witnessing, rather than listening to your response.

  60. JE Hoyes says

    Kazim: “Also, too, that explains the curious fact that no reliable information was accumulated until Internet message boards became popular around the mid 90′s.”

    I find it difficult to discuss things clearly when people seem to be using sarcasm, were you being sarcastic? I’m a Brit, and apparently we’re usually very good at being sarcastic and detecting sarcasm but I’m not so good at it – I’d appreciate it if you could be clear with your meaning. One thing that seems to be happening more recently in this current “communication age” (the paradigm that puts more control in the hands of the masses rather than their ‘dear’ leaders) is that it’s possible to find that groundswell of dissent that brings forth movements such as the Arab spring (for the good or bad of it). For many centuries past the common man has been fairly easy to suppress or manipulate by successive governments, corporations, media. But we appear to be at the beginning of a new way of dealing with one another – there’s a kind of level playing field where, for instance, misogynists can be called out on their beliefs – right out in the open as it were. For so many years we’ve had to put up with the media portraying men and women in certain roles and, the lone dissenter could be pilloried in the very media she or he wished to call to book. Nowadays, I don’t feel so much like a lone dissenter even though I am one. Although, I have to say that I am beginning to feel ever so slightly lonely here. All the same, I’ve made my points and can be happy that they haven’t been censored, even though they do seem to be unacceptable to the few commenters here. Eventually I will learn what is acceptable and will comment accordingly. [pause] No I won’t, (I was being sarcastic that time).

  61. JE Hoyes says

    In that case, the ability for each individual participant in a thread to killfile a thread or commenter (as viewed on their PC) would be the way to go, I would think – rather than all the power of who can post, and what they post, being in the hands of one person (the blogger), who might be tempted to “hang up” on a commenter, even if the rest of the whole wide world is hanging on their every word (sarcasm). It would be more democratic that way. Does freethought blogs enable the ability for all participants to hide posts from individual posters or hide specific threads?

  62. JE Hoyes says

    The parallel Kazim seemed to be implying was that, if you don’t want to be singing from the same hymn sheet, you should expect to be asked to leave the church. It could imply that this blog is run like a church – top down and has no room for any opposing view. Maybe I misinterpreted his meaning, it was an unhelpful analogy if it can be interpreted that way. I’m not happy with that parallel even if other people are, I think it’s ambiguous at best.

  63. JE Hoyes says

    Yes, spam is a problem. I agree, Off-topic pointlessness is a problem. But I’m more in favour of allowing dissent even if it means including spam and off-topic thread drift and bloat. This is why I prefer forums where participants can hide or reveal uninteresting threads or commenters who are forever posting off-topic shash.

  64. JE Hoyes says

    The whole analogy assumes that the “congregation”, or readers of this blog, are open-mouthed innocents who need to be spoon-fed a truth and not dissect it in the round. I’m not keen on the analogy – however one re-labels the protagonists. Commenters here are not babies or adherents, we’re spirited, intelligent and, hopefully, somewhat rebellious. I like to see dispute, even if I agree with the original post in every detail, which I don’t in this case… Not in every detail.

  65. curiousgeorge says

    I’ve always been interested in the concept and allure of being “saved”. I have heard the hosts of the show talk about how believing brings comfort to Christians. I wonder whether being saved is a coping mechanism for the human psyche to deal with guilt, stress caused by life’s problems and awareness of death. I might buy cold medicine with an additive for sleep to prevent cold symptoms (guilt & stress from life’s problems), get some rest (totally block out life’s problems) and keep from developing pneumonia (prevent death).

    Prayer might be seen as the key active ingredient in the medicine. Possibly the Holy Spirit, sermons, bible study and all the rest are active healing ingredients as well. The Doctor’s (Minister) orders are that via his training (God/Jesus of the Bible) that we the medicine must be taken daily and weekly (church attendance) as prescribed. Also, the medicine is not free. The holy doctor, nor the manual provide any guarantess that the patients will be cured of all the “symptoms’, but there is a promise of relief and the the ultimate cure which is life after death.

    I have a real problem living in an enviorment of such mass delusion. I also have a lot of issues with what is considered acceptable in terms of equity towards women, children, race, and homosexuals to the average Christian. I also take issue with how Christ’s teachings impact self-respect at both the individual level and how that effects others and our culture.

    It is also very hard to general about Christianity, because it takes on a lot of different forms and this medicinal model doesn’t seem to apply to everyone who takes on the mindset especially the extremist and haters.

  66. fortran says

    I think a clear distinction should be made between rights and ethics/consistency. It is obviously Person A’s right (right here meaning able to do it legally) to block Person B from the social media outlet that Person A has some control over. It doesn’t violate Person B’s rights at all. However, if Person A blocks people too easily then their actions may not be particularly desirable IF open discussion is valued (and especially if Person A has openly stated a valuing of debate and discussion).

  67. says

    “the church authorities aren’t being thugs and bullies when they ask you to leave – it’s their church.”
    So to what extension the free speach is allowed? and to be free to have the attention? and to be free not having injustice regarding what I have to say? For exemple if I have to write a paper on Morality in University and I want to do a paper on Jesus or Nietzsche and my teacher or my university or my country doesn’t allow it because they dissaproved Jesus or Nietzsche, to which extend they have the right, to forbid me, to gave me 0 or to force me to leave the University or to go to jail or to be banished from my or a country?

  68. Loonyyy says

    I think a lot of Atheist YouTubers could use this lesson. I get so sick of idiots like Thunderf00t ranting about comment and ratings censorship as being a denial of free speech.

    The problem might be that I was watching Thunderf00t though.

  69. Lord Narf says

    Yeah, Thunderf00t is such a mixed bag. He does great videos about science and religion, but his political and social perspectives are so fucked up.


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