Atheist Bullying: Three Perspectives for Christians

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Anti-Christian, atheist bullying has been a roiling American undertow whose waves are surfacing ever more often into plain view. Mikey Weinstein is belligerently beating up on the world’s most powerful military, some of whose leaders (not all of them!) are yelling “Dive and hide!” when he speaks a word to them. Jerry Coyne and others of his ilk are trying to swamp a fellow professor’s boat — that of Ball State’s Eric Hedin — because he dared to teach something they disagree with. These represent only the froth on the waves. The current underneath it all is running continually stronger.

For much of Christian history, and in much of the world still today, this is familiar business. Right now, in 2013, men and women are dying for the faith every day. Nik Ripken wrote of this at length in the ill-named but otherwise excellentThe Insanity of God, one of whose themes was the utter ordinariness of persecution.

Three Questions in the Face of Atheist Bullying

It’s not ordinary in America.* Not even in the relatively mild form in which it’s being practiced today. We’re not ready for it, and we don’t know how to handle it.

I want to suggest three ways to think about it, in the form of three questions:

1. From whence does our help come?

2. Who’s really most at risk?

3. What’s our best line of defense?

1. From Whence Does Our Help Come?

Often it seems our first reflex is to run to the Constitution. Yes, the Bill of Rights was written to protect religious liberty, specifically in the Establishment Clause, but additionally in its guarantees of free speech and assembly. As courts increasingly discount the public relevance of religious beliefs, however, as for example in the Prop 8 case, the Constitution’s protection is becoming thinner and thinner.

I’m starting to wonder whether we’ve put too much trust in it.

I’m not suggesting we disband any Christian legal defense societies. When the apostle Paul had the opportunity to appeal his case to Caesar, he took it. We can do likewise in the courts.

But as we do so, there ought to be in us a clear and palpable sense of trust in God and joy in his unchanging provision. Think of how the New Testament instructs us with regard to persecution: “Count it all joy.” “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial.” “Rejoice and be glad, for so they persecuted the prophets before you.” “Let endurance have its perfect result in you, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” “I do not count the trials of the present age worthy of comparison with the glories of the age to come.” “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Do we believe this?

Now I want to be clear: I am not Eric Hedin. I don’t know what his experience feels like right now. I doubt I could imagine how crushing the pressure might seem. As far as I am aware, on the other hand, he could be living Christ’s promises as joyfully as any saint ever has.

So this is in no way directed toward any individual. It’s for American Christianity. Is the pressure heating up on us? God can handle it. We’re just fine in his good and gracious hands. But the way things are trending, we had better get accustomed to resting in his protection and deliverance, because simply being American isn’t going to accomplish that for us the way it used to.

2. Who Is Most At Risk?

When Jesus was facing his week of trial, torture, and execution, he wept for the city. He knew he would come out victorious, but that some of them would die in their sins, as he told the Pharisees in John 8.

It may seem that Christianity is under pressure, but really, now: the way of Christ has lasted thousands of years, and it will outlast this present age. Christ has already secured victory for all time. Christianity has nothing to fear. American church-ianity may totter and in some places fall, but that’s a small thing. The faith will stand.

No, what’s most at risk are the lives of our spiritual opponents, who have put themselves in harm’s way with the God of the universe. They are our fellow human beings; thus Jesus’ instructions to pray for them.

Next most at risk are those they will influence, including many people whom we love, especially our children but also the children of many other parents.

And next are those among us whose faith rests on a weak foundation, and who may be swept away with the changing tides.

If you are in one of these groups you are vulnerable. I think it’s possible any of us could be in the third, even if we think our faith is strong. And so the question becomes,

3. What’s Our Best Line of Defense?

What indeed is our best defense? It’s not in the courts. Sure, the courts are fine as far as they go (less every day, or so it seems), but we have something far better. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (ESV) reads,

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

To unbelievers that may sound bellicose, but clearly they have nothing to fear from it. Our not-of-the-flesh weaponry starts with prayer, continues with the word of God, and proceeds through to the destruction of arguments and lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God. We believe there is power in prayer and in God’s word. We believe Christianity’s arguments carry the strength of truth. If we’re wrong, then we have nothing but a wisp of foam to bring against the unbeliever.

If we’re right, though, and if there is a good God who has spoken and who answers prayer, then unbelievers would do well to let that God win them over with his goodness. Far better that their arguments and opinions be destroyed than their lives.

Conclusion: To Fight For What Really Matters

Suppose then we lost everything in the courts, the legislatures, the executive offices, and the plebiscites. It would indeed be a loss, a tragic one — but not a decisive one. We still have prayer. We still have the truth of God in his word. We still have God himself on our side. Let us not fear for ourselves, except that we would waver in unbelief.

Besides that, let’s fear for our opponents’ destiny. That includes Mikey Weinstein, Jerry Coyne, and any of the other new atheist bullies. Let us fear also for those they may carry down with them. And let us contend for them as God would have us contend.

Maybe God will turn everything around with widespread awakening and revival, which is one thing for which all believers ought to pray. If not, then it looks like we have a lot to get accustomed to in a changing America. Remember, God is not surprised. His arm is not shortened so that he cannot save. We may come to know him through this in ways we never dreamed. May it be so: but may it also be that many will be rescued and will find life in him.

*Readers from other countries, please accept my apologies for speaking to the situation I know best, here in the United States. I trust you’ll know how to translate this into whatever fits your own country.

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88 Responses to “ Atheist Bullying: Three Perspectives for Christians ”

  1. All true. And yet, we can’t have an entitlement mentality. Many of the places where the early church thrived (e.g. Ephesus) are gone or have little to no Christian presence today. It doesn’t take rich, white Americans for God to be glorified. He can glorify Himself quite apart from us. With that caveat, I’m on board. The American church can stand confidently in Christ, but can’t stand cavalierly in the notion that God can’t do without us.

  2. Don’t you want to offer some explanation about why Weinstein and Coyne are “atheist bullies”? Am I the only one among your readers who isn’t up-to-date on these cases?

    Maybe it’s too soon to seek help, assess risk and prepare a line of defense. Some Christians may actually agree with what Weinstein and Coyne are saying, and some atheists also disagree, with Coyne at least. It’s a complicated discussion.

  3. I agree that Hedin is being subject to bullying from some (though not all, or even all prominent) atheists. But not all of your examples hold up.

    Mikey Weinstein is belligerently beating up on the world’s most powerful military, some of whose leaders (not all of them!) are yelling “Dive and hide!” when he speaks a word to them.

    If you actually look at the cases that Weinstein et. al. have addressed – like this one – you’ll see that what they are actually concerned about is superior officers using their positions to foist their religion onto their subordinates.

    The military bans fraternization between officers and enlisted. In the cases of dating, sexual relationships, etc., fraternization is flatly prohibited – even when the relationship is free from perceived bias, unfairness, coercion, etc. – because some relationships have too much potential for abuse.

    Is it imaginable that evangelization of enlisted troops by their superior officers could be such a circumstance? They have much more power than a boss in civilian life. As the Marine fraternization policy states, “(REMEMBER: when dealing with the subject of fraternization, perceptions are as deadly as reality).”

    Ask yourself how you’d feel if your CO asked, even politely, if you’d ever considered adopting, say, Islam or Wicca.

    I’m afraid I have to disagree with you that that represents ‘bullying’.

    Our not-of-the-flesh weaponry starts with prayer

    The MRFF is no stranger to prayer. Like, for example, praying for all the women involved with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to get breast cancer.

  4. You state it so serenely, Ray. Here are Weinstein’s own words.

    Today, we face incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nation’s armed forces.

    Bullying. He has the Pentagon’s ear with that kind of extremist hate.

    As for prayer, I don’t get what you’re about there. You say, “for example,” and then you cite an obvious outlier that cannot credibly be considered an exams of anything but itself. It’s anecdotal evidence of nothing except that it happened once. You ought to know better.

  5. Tom Gilson –

    Bullying. He has the Pentagon’s ear with that kind of extremist hate.

    If I swapped a few words – say, “Darwinist” for “fundamentalist Christian”, and so forth – do you think it would look out of place in a press release from any number of Christian organizations? How about as a comment on your blog?

    I agree his rhetoric is often over-the-top. On the other hand… see the first link (“this one”) in comment #4. If something like that doesn’t get any coverage, I guess I’m not surprised that upping the rhetoric is needed to get any attention.

    It’s anecdotal evidence of nothing except that it happened once.

    Well, the MRFF has a lot of anecdotes. Quite possibly he’s run into a few ‘monsters’ you haven’t.

  6. Those emails to Mikey Weinstein make me very sad.

    They do not represent biblical Christianity. (See the OP.) These messages are not Christian. They represent a seriously twisted, distorted, and false ripoff of Christian terminology.

    I have never personally encountered “monsters” of this sort, and certainly not in the military. I lived for eleven years in a community with the world’s highest concentration of military personnel. For two of those years I worked with a military ministry, and spent a lot of time with Christian officers and enlisted.

    Weinstein’s representation of “monsters” is not just over the top. It’s wrong. It’s completely distorted. It’s false.

    There are indeed monster-like people who claim to represent Christianity, but I doubt there are many in the military.

    And from personal experience, decades of working with some of the most socially and evangelistically activist Christians on the planet, I can absolutely guarantee you that these emails do not represent real Christianity, but only an angry and unChristian fringe. Real Christians — the thousands whom I know — would say, “I agree with what you wrote in the OP, Tom. Thanks for the reminder.”

    This is not anecdotal. I have an experience base from which I can speak it very confidently.

    I was a Human Resource director for Campus Crusade for Christ for several years. I spent five years on a team that included our internal auditors. My role in both positions included problem solving, meaning that I saw this highly energized evangelistic organization at its worst. And its worst was way, way, way, way, way better than these emails to Weinstein — so much so that I don’t know how many “way, way, ways” it would take to properly explain it. I’ve seen one instance of identifiable hate in almost forty years of connection with Campus Crusade/Cru; and even that one person was still able to get along with the person (me) toward whom she had expressed it, and I did not reciprocate her feelings.

    I spent two years with the highly activist Colson Center for Christian worldview. Everyone there was deeply disturbed over distorted “Christianity” like Fred Phelps’s. Everyone there would be extremely in disagreement with these emails, if they knew about them.

    I have sat with hundreds of mission leaders from agencies and churches all across America. These people lead American Christianity. They lead it from an attitude of love.

    So I can confidently assure you that I have a broad and wide sampling of American Evangelical Christianity to draw from. I am connected with what might be expected to be the worst of it, if activism on behalf of the faith is considered “bad.” What’s there is love, in about 99% proportion.

    If there were indeed “monsters” out there in any numbers, I would have run into them. As you point out, I haven’t. It’s not because I’ve kept myself isolated; I haven’t. It’s because the “monsters” are very, very, very few, and they aren’t in leadership. (Fred Phelps is the obvious exception: he’s a leader of maybe a couple dozen people. Big whoop.)

    There are exceptions, of course. There is nominalism, there is gossip and back-biting in some churches, and there is hatred in some places. But on the whole, Evangelical Christianity is not being led in that way in America.

    Those emails did not come from American Christianity as I know it (and I know it very well). Their senders do not represent Christianity.

    So again, if this was your “for example,” then what it exemplifies is a fringe, a group that virtually all Christian leaders would disavow emphatically. It’s not an example of Christianity.

  7. Tom Gilson –

    Yes, it would look out of place.

    See the comments at uncommon descent sometime. (The cartoon they’re commenting on here.)

    “Remember what was done in the USSR against Christians and anyone who dared question the state and communism. Same for the PRoC even to this day… In fact, if current trends and pushes by atheist fanatics working under the insidious influences of Satanists and various anti-christ groups continue, nothing is more likely. All you have to do is read the hateful and violent words of professional idiots like PZ Meyers et al. to see how just a few steps further on could bring literal violence into play.”

  8. Oh, for Pete’s sake.

    See “the comments,” you say.

    Which ones? How many are like that? What do they exemplify? What larger population do they represent? Are they written by thought leaders? (Everything written by Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, Krauss, Myers, and Coyne, is — obviously — written by a thought leader.) Was this comment endorsed by anyone? Supported? Approved?

    Do you have the slightest means to turn this isolated incident into something empirical?

    Have you seen the comments at Coyne’s blog? At Myers’? At Panda’s Thumb?

    Someday I wish I could have the time to run a sociological study into the comparative tone of comments on atheist blogs and Christian ones. In the meantime I’ll keep my expected conclusions to myself, and remind you that you don’t have anything approaching evidence of anything interesting here. You have an anecdote.

  9. Tom Gilson –

    If there were indeed “monsters” out there in any numbers, I would have run into them.

    Ah, but you’re a Christian. I regret to inform you that there are a distressing number of Christians who don’t get along so well with people who aren’t Christian.

    I mean, every single time a church/state entanglement lawsuit comes up, the plaintiffs get to be on the business end of death threats, vandalism, and – frequently enough – actual violence. Ask Jessica Ahlquist, or Joann Bell, or the Dobriches.

  10. And I’m still telling you that there’s a massive difference in the way the thought leaders on both sides of this debate operate.

  11. But the point of the post wasn’t to compare bad Christians with bad atheists and determine who is badder. I’m done being baited with that. I’m embarrassed I let myself be carried this far with it. Sometimes I’m not so bright about these things.

  12. But the point of the post wasn’t to compare bad Christians with bad atheists and determine who is badder.

    About 2 hours ago I almost commented on this. Luke 18:9-14 is a good reminder for us all. Glad to see you are moving on.

  13. Tom Gilson –

    But the point of the post wasn’t to compare bad Christians with bad atheists and determine who is badder.

    And that wasn’t my point, either.

    I’m pointing out that bad Christians exist – and frankly, they seem a lot more common to me than to you, apparently, but I think I hear more from atheists than you – and Weinstein deals with them a lot more than either of us. His attitude is going to be colored by the hazing he received in the military (including a beating that required hospitalization), and the hazing his sons received.

    So yeah, he seems to have encountered some monsters. As I’ve pointed out, lots of people who’ve been public about their atheism seem to be found by monsters of one level or another.

    I think Weinstein’s rhetoric is over-the-top, but (a) matter-of-fact doesn’t seem to get anything changed, and (b) I’m not surprised he’s a little… sensitive.

    And I’m still telling you that there’s a massive difference in the way the thought leaders on both sides of this debate operate.

    Given that there isn’t an election process for atheist ‘thought leaders’, or a creed, or anything like that, of course they’re going to operate differently. Neither Dawkins nor Harris nor Hitchens nor even Dennett have ever been my pope. And they disagree with each other a lot more than Christian leaders do, and about more substantive issue. Myers thinks Harris is all wet on ethics, and I think he’s quite a bit more wrong than right, particularly about the implications of some of his positions.

    The only atheist blog I follow regularly is Ed Brayton’s, and he’s not exactly famous. But he tries to admit when he’s been wrong, and I think you’d appreciate this post from yesterday.

  14. I understand.

    It wasn’t a strong answer (obviously!). Over on another thread I’ve been communicating with Ray about a series of strange things he’s done: putting words in my mouth, and then disingenuously denying it when I objected to him doing that. So I was feeling a bit sour when I read #19. And in #16 I had said I wanted to pull out of this topic, but Ray found a way to press the point anyway.

    I’ll be back in a minute with something real to say to him.

  15. Ray, let’s see if we can find some points of agreement here:

    1. Bad Christians exist.
    2. Bad persons exist who claim to be Christians but really aren’t. (I hope you’ll agree that this is true; it seems obvious enough.)
    3. Mikey Weinstein has been treated poorly by persons in Group 2, certainly.
    4. Chances are good that he has also been treated poorly by persons in Group 1.
    5. It would be difficult — and it wouldn’t be his job! — to discern whether he was being mistreated by a Group 1 or Group 2 person.
    6. Regardless, the kind of maltreatment he received is not consistent with what the Bible teaches Christians to do and to be.
    7. And the treatment he has received in these hate letters is not typical of Evangelical Christians in general.

    Can you agree with me on that much?

  16. Fair enough, Tom. I’m not aware of these discussions so I’m obviously missing something. Was just a little surprised as it’s not your usual style.

    One question relating to point number 2. Side-stepping some potentially interesting theological tangents, is it possible that there are bad people who are Christians? Or at least they believe/ do bad things but in other ways the tick the boxes? I’m trying to think of this from the outsiders perspective.

    I actually think it is perfectly fair for Christians to say “such an action is against Christ (not to mention the victim) and is therefore unChristian” or some such. Yet I have some sympathy with the atheist who wouldn’t find this to be an acceptable answer. Such an atheist might reply that there are 30,000+ denominations and there is no “True Christian”. While I think this misses the point, which you have stated in 6, nevertheless it seems like an obvious objection.

  17. I can agree with all those points.

    (I’m slightly wobbly on #6, since the Bible’s a big book and lots of Chrisitans throughout history have found what they needed in it to justify all kinds of actions. But I’ll grant that there’s a pretty solid modern consensus among Christians that, say, issuing a death threat to somebody who’s not threatening your life is a bad thing. (Of course, threaten a Eucharist and you can expect some blowback. (People might even try to get you fired from the university you teach at!)))

  18. I’m glad we can agree on some things. But you can’t resist another jab, can you? We had agreed on points 1 and 2, remember?

    Anyway, let me ask you this now:

    Given that wrongs are being done, one side to another, do you think Weinstein’s comments in the Huffington Post were justifiable? You said they were “over the top,” but I don’t know quite what you mean by that. Were they hyperbole, not to be taken seriously? Were they slightly extreme? Were they completely out of line? Or something else?

  19. TBH, I’m more concerned with the minor challenges, e.g. – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/02/atheists-churches-free-parking?INTCMP=SRCH

    In part I think that sometimes outspoken atheists have a point when they attempt tp counter the privileged position that a particular religion enjoys in a secular State. However, it also looks to me like there is *sometimes* a petty vindictiveness and mean-spiritedness lying at the heart of these challenges. What is worrying is that some parts of society writ large approves.

    I look to my own country and what is replacing Roman Catholicism (I’m not RC, btw) is a certain type of low level hostility towards religion in general and Christianity in particular (or a certain understanding of Christianity) . I’m not really sure what can be done about this. We live, at least in part, in an upside-down kingdom apparently.

    But maybe I hang around forums arguing with angry atheists too much ad I’m getting a bad impression.

    (Just some random thoughts)

  20. Last year year at the “Reason Rally” Richard Dawkins said this:

    So when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is: “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you until you tell me do you really believe — for example, if they say they are Catholic — do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?” Mock them! Ridicule them! In public! Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits.

    Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.
    http://ladydifadden.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/transcript-of-richard-dawkins-speech-from-reason-rally-2012/

    Ironically, Dawkins and I have a point of agreement here. We both agree that the doctrine of Transubstantiation is ridiculous. However, here is where we part company: I don’t think it is ethical to mock and publicly (or privately) ridicule another persons beliefs with contempt. That is a form of persecution (and it really is persecution) which is meant to be coercive not persuasive.

  21. Tom Gilson –

    Were they hyperbole, not to be taken seriously? Were they slightly extreme? Were they completely out of line? Or something else?

    I’d say “slightly extreme”, if that’s not too oxymoronic. He’s overstating the case, but there’s a real case there. The whole spiritual fitness thing, for example, which somehow ends up having a very Christian focus. Hazing and bullying still happen. Officers do overstep their bounds. And, yes, there are Christian groups who look upon the military as a great way to do missions work, and that scares me. Not because I take seriously the idea of, say, an American putsch, but because it makes operating in, say, Islamic regions much more fraught for our troops.

    I don’t like the sensationalizing way the media works these days, almost mandating hucksterism to get any attention, either. The MRFF gets a lot of attention, but you don’t see the MAAF mentioned nearly as often. I wonder if proselytization in the military would even be an issue anyone but atheists noticed, if it weren’t for Weinstein’s rhetoric…

    So overall I’d say his words are… understandable and pragmatic. But I really wish things were different and I could reject them wholeheartedly.

  22. Compare his response, please, to what I’ve recommended here in the OP for Christians. Actually, it’s not my recommendation; it’s basic Christian teaching, and has been since Jesus set the example long ago.

    Which do you think is closer to being a right way of dealing with attacks?

  23. Tom Gilson –

    Which do you think is closer to being a right way of dealing with attacks?

    Depends a lot on the attack. I’m not a Christian, so ‘turn the other cheek’ doesn’t really work for me, though I commend forgiveness when warranted. Since I also don’t believe in life after death or that there will be any cosmic interventions, it’s pretty much on us humans to deal with attacks on our own.

    I mean, I don’t think (1) is right, that there’s a God to help anybody. I don’t think there’s a hell, so ditto on (2). And so (3) doesn’t really obtain, either, except to the extent that maintaining perspective is important. Like I said, I don’t lie awake nights worrying about Christians in the military staging a coup. But there are still worrying issues such as the ones I listed.

  24. I read a piece this morning by Franklin Graham, entitled Is Our Nation Intolerant of Christianity?

    The first line of the article is: “Recently I was at a White House meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and had the opportunity to remind him that our main problem in America is that we have taken God out of our society and out of our government.”

    How an intelligent person could pair that title and sentence and not see the burning irony is simply beyond me.

    Let’s just agree that any group taking private meetings with the vice-president of the country isn’t in risk of being marginalized.

    And then there’s this, this, this, and this, which are the first 4 of the 6 million results Google returns for the search phrase “obama meets with christian leaders”.

    Has Obama ever met with an atheist leader? If he has, I can’t find any record of it. The Obama one-on-one with, say, Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris? Never happened (and it never will). Obama has a one-on-one with Rev. This or Rev. That or the Reverends from Here or There? Too many to list.

    In my experience, “atheist bullying” is a term applied by Christians to loss of Christian privilege: for example, removing pictures of Jesus from schools, or Christian prayers from legislative meetings. In other words, when atheists stop obviously illegal Christian activities, that’s “atheist bullying”.

    How many states are there that prevent Christians from holding public office, or being on a jury or a witness in a trial? Oh, right, that’s atheists, not Christians.

    How many organizations funded by public money, like the Boy Scouts, don’t allow Christians to openly speak of their faith? Oh, right, that’s atheists, not Christians.

    How many judges have sentenced people to probation on the condition they stop going to church? Oh, right, that’s actually judges sentencing atheists to attend church.

    Which recent President said “I don’t know that Christians should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation that denies God exists.” Oh, right… that was George Bush speaking about atheists.

    As John Stewart magnificently said: You have confused a war on your religion, with not always getting what you want.

  25. Hi, Keith.

    John Stewart has his opinions. I don’t mind.

    There are a lot of ways in which Christians are not being persecuted. I don’t dispute that. But that wasn’t what I was writing about. I was writing about ways in which we’re experiencing increased pressure, and what to do when that happens.

    There are a lot of ways atheists in which atheists are treated differently than Christians. But that wasn’t what I was writing about either. I’m sure you don’t think it’s necessary for me to write about atheists, and give them advice on how to handle maltreatment, when I’m sitting down to write about Christians and offer them advice.

    Now, with respect to what I was writing about, do you have any thoughts?

  26. So then, Ray, let me ask you this if I may:

    Would you rather live in a world where offenses were generally escalated in return, or de-escalated?

  27. Has Obama ever met with an atheist leader?

    I don’t even understand why you would ask this question.

    Atheism is a lack of belief in deities (so I’m told). Atheists don’t organize around atheism – there’s nothing to organize around. There can’t be atheist leaders – what is there to lead? Dawkins and Harris are polemic writers, not leaders.

    Perhaps you meant humanists?

  28. From the OP:

    Often it seems our first reflex is to run to the Constitution. Yes, the Bill of Rights was written to protect religious liberty, specifically in the Establishment Clause, but additionally in its guarantees of free speech and assembly. As courts increasingly discount the public relevance of religious beliefs, however, as for example in the Prop 8 case, the Constitution’s protection is becoming thinner and thinner.

    Actually the First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

    Notice that there are two clauses in regards to religious liberty: (1) the establishment clause and (2) the free exercise clause. These two clauses were intended to compliment, or balance, one another. The establishment clause was intended to limit government intrusion into religion and not necessarily vice-versa. The free exercise clause guarantees our religious liberty. It’s important that this balance be maintained. If it’s lost the whole purpose of the First Amendment is lost.

    Unfortunately, some atheist activists have been able to use use the courts to turn the establishment clause into something of of a weapon to attack religion, but this actually ends up undermining religious liberty.

    Who is going to protect my religious liberty if the government is hostile to religion? The First Amendment also says I have the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” But do I have this right if the Government is hostile to religion? What good is it if the Government is hostile?

    Atheist’s like Richard Dawkins miss this completely. This is what he said at last years “Reason Rally” in Washington, DC:

    I see myself as an emissary from a benighted country that does not have a constitutional separation between church and state. Indeed it doesn’t have a written constitution at all. We have a head of state who’s also the head of the Church of England. The church is deeply entwined in British public life. The American Constitution is a precious treasure, the envy of the world. The First Amendment of the Constitution, which enshrines the separation between church and state, is the model for secular constitutions the world over and deserves to be imitated the world over.

    Maybe Dawkins should sometime try to read the whole First Amendment. Maybe he should try to understand what religious liberty really is and what it means. Maybe then he would have some second thoughts about urging his followers to: “Mock them! [religious believers] Ridicule them! In public! Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits.”

    What about respecting the rights of your fellow man?

  29. Atheism is a lack of belief in deities (so I’m told). Atheists don’t organize around atheism – there’s nothing to organize around. There can’t be atheist leaders – what is there to lead? Dawkins and Harris are polemic writers, not leaders.

    Perhaps you meant humanists?

    I notice that ‘atheism’ shifts between being a complete lack of belief and even lack of any claims, and a way of life, depending on how useful it is in the current context.

    An atheist, defined simply as someone who lacks belief in God, wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to anything from a moment of silence in class, a compulsory prayer, or a flat out theocracy.

  30. JAD –

    I don’t think it is ethical to mock and publicly (or privately) ridicule another persons beliefs with contempt. That is a form of persecution (and it really is persecution) which is meant to be coercive not persuasive.

    Depends on how contemptible the belief is. I’ve got no problem mocking Illinois Nazis, for example. I’ll heap derision on the notion that rape is funny, or that human “races” have any real biological significance. And I’ll very earnestly mock the notion that someone gets to insist that other people respect their sacred cows on pain of death or other threats. (I took part in Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, for example.)

    Historically, people have resorted to threats and violence at even the suspicion that their beliefs are being mocked or disrespected (and, of course, this still happens in a lot of the world today. This has led to an attitude that religious beliefs require respect, that they can’t be publicly addressed or even questioned.

    But you can’t demand that someone respect your ideas. Respect the person sure, but ideas – not so much. (That’s not the same as ‘error has no rights’, btw. The saying attributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” applies.)

    Out of politeness, I don’t go around mocking Transubstantiation. I don’t really care. But when people threaten someone with death, or even expulsion from school, for not respecting a consecrated wafer, I’m happy to bring on the mocking.

  31. JAD –

    Maybe Dawkins should sometime try to read the whole First Amendment.

    Maybe you should quote the whole First Amendment. To wit: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [emphasis on the parts you left out]

    How does someone mocking your religious beliefs (“or abridging the freedom of speech”) impede your religious liberty? If I see a church marquee that says “Atheism is the belief that nothing exploded and creating everything”, is my liberty infringed?

  32. Ray,
    First of all, in this context I was talking about religious beliefs. Second, if someone is involved in something that’s illegal and immoral, what’s ridicule going to accomplish? Third, if you truly “Respect the person…but [not his] ideas” why not try reason rather than ridicule? I really don’t see any context where ridicule is necessary.

    Finally, why does the NFL have a rule against taunting?

  33. How does someone “abridging the freedom of speech” impede my religious liberty, you ask?

    Was that a serious question, or a typo?

    And Ray, where do you draw the line of contemptibility, at which you feel the freedom to hold Christians in open derision?

    Take the Eucharist, for example. (Edit: see the comments after this one, please, before trying to wade through what follows here.) I’m not Catholic, and I don’t believe in transubstantiation, but it’s not because it’s a natively contemptible notion. It requires accepting a certain attitude toward substance and accident, which are perfectly respectable terms in metaphysics. If there were biblical reason to suppose that Christ were actually present there, being sacrificed again as it were, then I would find that both important and believable.

    Notice what I said: it would believable in that case because (a) it’s resting on a very respectable philosophical foundation, and (b) there were reasons to believe it. Biblically based reasons are reasons.

    Now it happens I disagree with it because there are no biblical grounds for it. My guess is that you disagree for entirely different reasons: that it’s stupid to think a cracker could be the body of Christ.

    But if your disagreement rises to contempt, then there’s a lot involved there. The practice of communion (as many Protestants term the Eucharist ceremony) is at the core of Christian practice. It is, in Protestant terms, a crucial act of uniting in remembrance of Christ. Some Protestants invest it with even more meaning, but I need not go into that. The point is that Christ himself placed it at the center of Christian practice. So when you ridicule the Eucharist you are ridiculing the whole of Christian religion, unless …

    … unless you are ridiculing it just because a cracker can’t be the body of Christ, in which case you are displaying something like philosophical naivete, or perhaps a form of ignorant contempt for thinkers who have actually spent time on this issue philosophically. I emphasize ignorant. It’s one of those two, or else …

    … or else you take exception to it on biblical grounds like I do, which I don’t think is the case.

    So in ridiculing the Catholic Eucharist, you are either ridiculing philosophy, which is not religion, which I don’t think you want to do; or you are laughing at all of Christianity, period.

    Which brings me back around, finally, to where I started from. By now you may have forgotten that I started there (I almost did!), but there’s a point to this. Where do you draw the line of ridicule? If it’s the Eucharist, then either your ridicule is based on philosophical ignorance, or your line is drawn right at the very beginning of Christian religion, and your contempt and derision encompasses the whole of it.

    That’s how it seems to me, but I haven’t forgotten that I asked this in the form of a question, and that I’ve been running a riff on what I think your position might entail. I could be wrong about that. So again the question: Where do you draw the line of ridicule, of derision, of contempt, when it comes to Christianity?

  34. When you mock the Eucharist, what exactly are you ridiculing?

    Is it the biblical exegesis that says Christ is actually there in the elements? No, I don’t think you give biblical exegesis that much credence.

    Is it the philosophical tradition that draws a conceptual distinction between substance and accident, whereby Christ’s presence could be there substantially without changing the accidents (the properties of wafer-ness, and wine-ness)? You can dispute that, certainly. But mocking is not disputing, and to ridicule a philosophical matter like that without attention to the technical background of what you’re ridiculing is to display ignorance.

    If neither of those, then what?

  35. Was that a serious question, or a typo?

    It was poorly worded. I was referring back to the text of the First Amendment. Let’s try:

    How does someone mocking your religious beliefs impede your religious liberty? (Especially in light of the “or abridging the freedom of speech” clause in the First Amendment.)

    It requires accepting a certain attitude toward substance and accident, which are perfectly respectable terms in metaphysics.

    An attitude I disagree with, in point of fact. I do not accept that substance and accident can be divorced in the way required for transubstantiation to hold. Indeed, I think that attitude is driven by the need to justify transubstantiation.

    But that’s a side issue. Your key question is:

    And Ray, where do you draw the line of contemptibility, at which you feel the freedom to hold Christians in open derision?

    The moment Christians make demands of me or mine, based on the Christian religion. As I said in the video that I linked to (it’s only four minutes long), “I’ve got no problem with Mormons excommunicating people they consider to be violating their laws. I think it’s stupid, but people have the right to be wrong. I do have a problem – a very large one – with them trying to impose their standard of behavior on others who don’t share their beliefs or accept the authority of their ‘prophets’.” The same holds for orthodox Christians, Muslims, Buddhist, Wiccans, etc. etc.

    At that point – the point where it starts to impinge on my freedom of action – it becomes my business. And while I will start out polite, I will resort to derision if necessary.

  36. Okay, then, suppose Christians successfully brought out the vote to block gay “marriage” in your state.

    Would you consider that worthy of derision?

    Suppose Christians carried out the same campaign but gay “marriage” was allowed in your state.

    Do you think derision would be called for on our part?

    Generally speaking, when it comes to any public policy issue at all, where polite reasoning does not produce consensus, do you think mutual contempt and mockery are the best way to make decisions together?

    (Do not think I use scare quotes around “marriage” derisively. They’re not scare quotes as much as they are my acknowledgement that there is something there that some people call marriage, and which I do not.)

  37. Tom Gilson –

    Okay, then, suppose Christians successfully brought out the vote to block gay “marriage” in your state.

    Oh, they already did. Blocked civil unions too, in fact.

    Since I think that’s a case of religious presuppositions being imposed on people who don’t agree with them, yes, derision is called for if necessary. It’s certainly not the first resort, but it’s on the list. (Well before, say, armed revolution or anything like that.)

    Suppose Christians carried out the same campaign but gay “marriage” was allowed in your state. Do you think derision would be called for on our part?

    Hardly. Christians would still be free to refrain from same-sex marriage, homosexual activity, and drinking or working on the Sabbath.

    I would not support any restrictions whatsoever on what Christians could teach in the pulpit, either – I think churches have a perfect right to refuse to marry interracial couples, or to say that ‘God hates Fags’. I don’t think you – or anyone who reads your blogs – holds those opinions, note. But if those extreme opinions get full Constitutional expression, I can’t see how saying that ‘homosexual marriage is not marriage in the eyes of God’ could possibly be actionable.

    Generally speaking, when it comes to any public policy issue at all, where polite reasoning does not produce consensus, do you think mutual contempt and mockery are the best way to make decisions together?

    No, but it’s sometimes necessary. In pretty much the same way war is hardly the best way to resolve conflicts between nations, but is sometimes necessary.

  38. So there is no line at all for free speech? What about teens mocking a ridiculing a teenager who has cerebral palsy? Or, teens mocking a retired man who is minding his own business but is out in the neighborhood taking a walk? You’re morally, ethically, legally okay with teenagers engaging in those kinds of behaviors?

  39. There is a distinction – a legal one, even – between derision and harassment. Too, what I’m morally and ethically okay with can differ with what I’m legally OK with. JAD, you’d have to specify your cases with a lot more detail for me to have any idea if they crossed the line from rude and boorish to illegal.

    Even if some kinds of mocking someone with cerebral palsy are legal, that’s not to say I think they are moral or ethical. And attacking someone’s handicaps or age is, er, different from attacking someone’s beliefs. Attacking a person is different from attacking a person’s ideas.

  40. So you’re okay with derision and mocking and contempt for certain ideas and ideals, including religious ones, especially if they have an impact on public policy. You think it would be appropriate to use these methods against Christians if we won at the polls, but not appropriate for us to do the same with you if your side won, because we could live in our own private worlds and ignore how the world was changing around us — as if it didn’t matter.

    You’re fine with what we say in our pulpits — private spaces, again. I don’t think you’re fine with the idea that persons would take their church learning and practice it in the wider world. But you would be willing to pull out the contempt on us if we did.

    You view contempt as justifiable for the same kind of reasons that war might be: to win. It seems to me (pardon me, but it really does) that you’ll do whatever it takes, short of physical violence, to beat down an ideological opponent, at least on some issues.

    (Why stop short of physical violence, I wonder? Contempt can be brutal. Social exclusion — which I think you’d be willing to practice — can be just awful. Why stop there, when you’ve already decided it’s okay to go that far down the road? Just wondering.)

    JAD, I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve seen all I need to see of Ray’s position. He’s described it. He’s content with it. I think it’s sad and grievous. In the end it’s going to hurt him more than anyone. But that’s his choice, until he changes his mind.

    I will do as I said in the OP, and pray. Ray, you can accept that information in whatever way you like, but I will pray for you.

  41. And attacking someone’s handicaps or age is, er, different from attacking someone’s beliefs. Attacking a person is different from attacking a person’s ideas.

    Is it? Aren’t someone’s ideas part of that person? In fact if you are a physicalist (not sure if you are) then you are attacking a person if you are attacking their ideas.

  42. @Ray Ingles:

    An attitude I disagree with, in point of fact. I do not accept that substance and accident can be divorced in the way required for transubstantiation to hold. Indeed, I think that attitude is driven by the need to justify transubstantiation.

    And your attitude is driven by the need to reject transubstantiation.

    Trivially, the discussion surrounding the metaphysical issues raised by the Transubstantiation emerged from a need to understand and clarify the issues surrounding transubstantiation. There is a distinction between the context from which a certain position arises (e.g. theological justifications of Transubstantiation), from their *logical* defense, which exist and yet you feel free to ignore. It could indeed be the case that the metaphysical distinctions necessary to hold Transubstantiation would never have arisen outside of the specific Christian context in which they did; but the historical, cultural, psychological, what have-you background speaks nothing of the logical status of the defense of the specific doctrine. Even more so, because there are *independent* reasons to accept Transubstantiation (whether you accept them or not is irrelevant to my point) so your “thought” is a stellar example of a fallacy whose name I will leave to you to discover.

  43. JAD @40:

    Ridicule (sarcasm, mockery) isn’t necessary, of course, but people use ridicule because it works. Ridicule is a lot more “interesting” to most people than “reason”, and it’s a way of applying peer pressure because it marginalizes a view. Ridicule can persuade the undecided to follow the crowd and it tends to silence dissent.

    Tom @43, 45:

    I believe it’s wrong to mock or ridicule the religious; I do not hold Christians in derision, open or otherwise. I have no wish to restrict the practice of religion (within the limits of human sacrifice and so on). But mocking beliefs? Any time, any place.

    When you say “[Are you ridiculing] the philosophical tradition that draws a conceptual distinction between substance and accident, whereby Christ’s presence could be there substantially without changing the accidents (the properties of wafer-ness, and wine-ness)?”, and say only the ignorant would mock that

    I would reply you’re just trying to make this an argument you can win, because the average person simply doesn’t care and won’t make it past the first phrase, and an intelligent person will spend a year debating that distinction with you.

    When I say “Catholics believe in literal cannibalism!”, I’m trying to make it an argument I can win, because the average high-school student will reply “REALLY!? That’s freakin’ gross!”

    Neither one of us is misleading anyone, we’re just choosing to make the arguments we believe will persuade our audience.

    Tom @45:

    Christians blocking gay “marriage”? That’s not the question, the question is why they blocked it.

    You present a rational view and argument on gay marriage, with which I disagree, but I don’t believe I’ve ever mocked your belief.

    If someone yells “Because God said Leviticus!”, yeah, I’m going to mock that one, pretty mercilessly.

    Tom @50:

    I don’t think Ray said you shouldn’t mock atheists, and from my point of view, feel free. If I hold beliefs deserving of ridicule, I’m good with that. Maybe I’ll learn something. 🙂

    I respect your right to say what you like in the pulpit, and I respect your right to take church learning out into the world. If your church learning includes a belief that God buried the dinosaur bones, well, “mockers gotta mock”.

  44. Keith, what does “You’re just trying to make this an argument you can win” mean, that’s different for me than it is for you?

    I made a point drawn out of intellectual history. You swept it aside because you don’t think some people will take it seriously and others will take too long to talk about it.

    Was sweeping it aside not part of your trying to make it a different kind of argument that you can win?

    I have a suggestion: let’s not try playing those kinds of games at all, okay? If it’s a good argument, let it be a good argument. If it isn’t then say why you think it isn’t. How the uneducated would deal with an argument has no relevance to its quality.

    As for how the educated would deal with it, recall why I brought it up: it wasn’t to support transubstantiation; I don’t even believe in it! It was to clarify for Ray what he was mocking. If educated people can spend a year debating it, then maybe Ray isn’t well advised to laugh it off derisively.

    I would mock, “Because God said Leviticus!” too. As far as I know, he never did say Leviticus, at least not in the Bible. Someone else tagged that title to it.

    Four-word slogans are easy to mock. Go ahead and do it, if you ever hear someone try it on you.

    But if someone draws a cogent argument out of Leviticus, in context of culture and all of biblical revelation, supporting the validity of their interpretation, discriminating that principle from other parts of the OT that are merely cultural, and generally basing their opinion on a well-constructed argument, well, count on them taking more than four words for them to speak it. And then choose which portion you’ll dispute, on what grounds. And then decide whether you’ll mock.

  45. Ray didn’t tell me he thinks contempt, ridicule, and mockery are poor means of accomplishing social policy, when less ill-mannered means fail. You’re right about that, Keith.

    I gave my response to that in #50.

    I’m still wondering why he thinks (as I assume he does) it’s a good idea to stop short of physical violence. I’m sure he believes it; I’m not accusing him of anything. I just can’t see what principle he follows to draw the line between verbal violence and physical.

  46. Tom @55:

    I meant to be obvious: I was absolutely re-phrasing the argument as “one I can win”. My point was that we all do that, nobody highlights their weak arguments during the debate, and we all want the argument to happen on our home fields.

    I would love a world in which a good argument was a good argument.

    Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in.

    I think we’re in for a bumpy ride for the next few decades in this country, and much longer worldwide. This is a clash of world views, and one view is going to win and one is going to lose.

    Most of the people that will make this decision aren’t going to debate the finer points of theology. So… evangelical preachers will preach hellfire sermons and hold healing services, atheists will ridicule the Old Testament stories and demand to see the medical records. We will all use the strategies and arguments we believe will resonate with those we want to convince.

    Tom @56:

    I’ve read back through the thread, and I’m missing the point.

    Why is it surprising a person in this society would be willing to be verbally, but not physically, aggressive? Isn’t that a common line we (mostly) all draw?

  47. G. Rodrigues @53:

    Translation:

    Yes, the arguments came from trying to justify Transubstantiation.
    That fact doesn’t make the justification false.
    There are other reasons to believe in Transubstantiation.

    Interesting — what are the “independent reasons to accept Transubstantiation”?

  48. @Keith:

    Interesting — what are the “independent reasons to accept Transubstantiation”?

    This is off-topic, and honestly, I really do not understand your aim in making this question. There are a couple of possibilities I can think of:

    (1) You think there are no reasons; but this is obviously and patently false as even a cursory glance on the grounding and justification of dogma shows.

    (2) You think that it may be the case there are reasons, but in the best, they are not compelling, in the worst, they are right-down wrong. To determine which, go read a book on say, revealed (Catholic) theology.

    Either way, it is irrelevant to the point I was making.

    note: and by the way, your “translation” is innacurate.

  49. Ray @ 46:

    “Since I think that’s a case of religious presuppositions being imposed on people who don’t agree with them, yes, derision is called for if necessary.”

    Out of interest, is your objection here (a) that it’s wrong to impose your presuppositions on people who don’t agree with them, or (b) that it’s OK to impose presuppositions unless these presuppositions are religious? (a) would make any laws impossible, whereas (b) just seems arbitrary.

  50. G. Rodrigues –

    There is a distinction between the context from which a certain position arises (e.g. theological justifications of Transubstantiation), from their *logical* defense, which exist and yet you feel free to ignore.

    You are correct. But I didn’t say that the arguments were wrong because they were “driven by the need to justify transubstantiation.” I just said, “I do not accept that substance and accident can be divorced in the way required for transubstantiation to hold.” Then I noted that the arguments seemed to be “driven by the need to justify transubstantiation.”

    True, I didn’t go into a detailed refutation of transubstantiation. But that was because “This is off-topic, and… Either way, it is irrelevant to the point I was making.”

  51. Tom Gilson –

    So you’re okay with derision and mocking and contempt for certain ideas and ideals, including religious ones, especially if they have an impact on public policy.

    It’s not “especially when they have an impact on public policy.” It’s “when they have an impact on public policy”. It’s wrong to deride people for something that’s none of your business and doesn’t affect your life.

    But there’s another condition that must apply, too – and it’s strange that you didn’t include it, since you yourself specified it. That condition is “where polite reasoning does not produce consensus”.

    You think it would be appropriate to use these methods against Christians if we won at the polls, but not appropriate for us to do the same with you if your side won,

    Always and in every case, right? Oh, wait, I didn’t say that either. As noted in #31, “maintaining perspective is important.” A secular proverb applies: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I don’t audit our local city council to see if they pray before meetings.

    That said, I pointed out a radical disjunction in this case – the ‘marriage defense’ side proposes to continue historical restrictions against a set of people. They have been completely unwilling to compromise – until recently, anyway, when there’s signs they might lose.

    No similar restrictions are proposed against those opposed to same-sex marriage. As noted, they will be free to do exactly what they are doing today, right now.

    A secular proverb I try to live by, a saying by Robert Heinlein – “Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Remember this – it may offer a way to make him your friend.” Derision and contempt are for “where polite reasoning does not produce consensus”. Speaking of:

    because we could live in our own private worlds and ignore how the world was changing around us — as if it didn’t matter.

    I’m not convinced that all chances for argument are exhausted yet, anyway. How ’bout this tidbit? In the decade since same-sex partnerships became legal, heterosexual marriage rates increased 10.7 percent in Denmark, 12.7 percent in Norway, and 28.8 percent in Sweden. Divorce rates dropped in all three countries. I don’t think your world is going to be rocked as much as you think by same-sex marriage.

    You view contempt as justifiable for the same kind of reasons that war might be: to win.

    If it’s an important issue, and compromise is impossible, then conflict is inevitable. The thing to do is use proportionate tools, and avoid escalation where possible. Polite argumentation is the best way – but you yourself specified conditions “where polite reasoning does not produce consensus”. At that point, you start using other tools of persuasion.

    That “proportionate” is important, too. Derision is less of an escalation than violence. I don’t see same-sex marriage as important enough to justify escalation to violence. Violence is for more existential threats.

  52. I don’t think your world is going to be rocked as much as you think by same-sex marriage.

    This hinges on the definition of “rocked”, and it comes as no surprise that you disagree with everything that Christianity teaches about man’s purpose.

  53. Oh, and regarding why Mikey Weinstein might think there are bad Christians (however defined) in the military – another email from just this past Sunday: “Our church is near a large Army base. Our church had a faith retreat this weekend. Many military families among us. You were the main topic… Saw the pictures of you and your family in the book. Too bad for you. And worse for them. We prayed at the retreat this weekend that they will surely burn for all time. In the unquechable fires of hell… Our Lord and Savior has promised us this. That He will make our prayers for you to witness those you love and care for suffer come true.”

    If you got these kinds of emails on a regular basis, you might be a tad prickly too. Seems to me at least a fair amount of atheist “bullying” is reactive rather than initiated by atheists.

  54. Ray, I could get a tad prickly about you putting needless comments like that on my blog. You’ve made that point previously, and I’ve responded to it already. What more do you want, if that wasn’t enough of a response? Shall I renounce the faith? Go join Weinstein’s organization? Give him my 403(b)? Why wasn’t it enough that I agreed with you there was a problem there, and gave it some thoughtful consideration already?

    You’re just poking us with a stick. You’re trying to get prickly responses from us. You got one from me.

    Satisfied?

  55. Ray,

    Does it matter that the Domain Name (gracbthine.com) listed in the latest email Weinstein supposedly received is not registered? So how do you verify that it actually came from a Christian individual/church/organization or that someone is not misrepresenting the facts or legitimacy of the email?

  56. Tom Gilson –

    You’ve made that point previously

    Yes, but since the conversation is ongoing, and it just came out today, I thought it relevant – speaking to the frequency that this sort of thing happens. I don’t plan on pointing out more.

    toddes – Email is rather easy to spoof that way, and since people have lost jobs over such threatening emails in the past, malefactors have motivation to do so. It’s worth noting the content of that verified email – it’s not out of line with what Weinstein received.

  57. Ray,

    How is linking to a mail dump by PZ Myers proof that the email received by Weinstein is legitimate? Never mind that neither example resemble the email supposedly received by Weinstein or even identify the sender as a Christian. Perhaps you meant to link to something else?

    Spoofing works both ways. What prevents an atheist from spoofing an email and sending it to Weinstein?

    Why not just apologize for using an unverifiable example and move on instead of doubling-up and trying to defend it?

  58. While I’m not trying to belittle the impact a nasty email can have – I’ve received several in my time – I wonder if P.Z. Myers is really the man you should be using as a sympathetic example, Ray?

    Amusingly mean-spirited wafer histrionics aside, he has shown himself to be an uncharitable bully. See here for more.

    So are we now done with comparing unsavoury character/ deeds on either side?

  59. I met PZ at the Reason Rally, along with my friend Blake Anderson, who had invited PZ to his church. There’s a back story there: PZ had complained about Christians planning to attend the Reason Rally, and said he doubted he’d be welcome in any church — upon which Blake publicly invited him. PZ acknowledged that invitation on his blog, and rejected it with some of his usual nasty sarcasm.

    Anyway, when we met him, and he realized this was the same Blake, he said, “I could never go to church — I couldn’t be respectful.” I pointed out that we were being respectful at that atheists’ rally, upon which he asked, “Are they ridiculing you?” We answered, “yes, some of them.” To which he answered, “They should be.”

    That’s PZ.

    And he has a whole lot of atheist acolytes emulating him. I’m not saying it’s a majority or even typical of atheists, but it describes his Pharyngula blog following pretty well.

  60. Ray, thank you for agreeing there’s no more need to point at new emails to MW.

    If you re-read my post, you’ll find it’s written to Christians who are experiencing atheist bullying, and it’s encouraging them to respond well. I remain rather amazed that you found something in that to object to.

    Here’s what’s happening in post after post after post after post after post: you’re poking the topic from a distance with a stick, trying to see what kind of scurrying about you can provoke. I’ve been guilty of letting you make me react.

    This doesn’t describe everything you do on the blog; if it did, I’d put a ban on your participation. But it’s happening a lot, and I’m going to be watching for it. I’ll be watching myself so that you don’t succeed in sucking me in to your game. And I’ll be careful to make sure no one else gets drawn in, either. Because I don’t want you continuing to lure us off topic as you have been.

  61. toddes –

    Never mind that neither example resemble the email supposedly received by Weinstein or even identify the sender as a Christian.

    Actually, the sender of the threat to Myers identified himself as Catholic.

    I’m not aware of any case where such a threat turned out to be a hoax by an atheist. Can you point to one?

    Why not just apologize for using an unverifiable example and move on instead of doubling-up and trying to defend it?

    Can you point to a pattern of churches receiving threatening emails claiming to be from atheists?

    (‘I mean, sure, there was a flaming cross in the yard of those black people, but the ones who left it were wearing white robes and masks. How do we know they weren’t black themselves?’)

    BSquibs –

    Amusingly mean-spirited wafer histrionics aside, he has shown himself to be an uncharitable bully… So are we now done with comparing unsavoury character/ deeds on either side?

    Not accepting an apology is pretty much the same as threatening to beat someone’s brains in. You got me there.

    Tom Gilson –

    >That’s PZ.

    Oddly enough, this is PZ too, just this last Sunday.

  62. Not accepting an apology is pretty much the same as threatening to beat someone’s brains in. You got me there.

    Ray, I never attempted to draw such an analogy and you know it. It would have been better to ignore my comment than wilfully misrepresent my point.

  63. Can you point to a pattern of churches receiving threatening emails claiming to be from atheists?

    We are told that atheist behavior has nothing to do with atheism proper, so what would this demonstrate? I can only think of one thing: it would demonstrate that some people are jerks. Now that that’s settled, can we move on?

  64. Tom Gilson –

    If you re-read my post, you’ll find it’s written to Christians who are experiencing atheist bullying, and it’s encouraging them to respond well. I remain rather amazed that you found something in that to object to.

    If you re-read my response, you’ll find I objected that some of your examples don’t actually represent ‘bullying’. The last line of the very first paragraph of my very first comment on this thread: “But not all of your examples hold up.”

    I didn’t even say there’s no such thing as ‘atheist bullying’ – I agreed that some of what Hedin’s received is bullying, for example. I just objected to some of your examples.

    BSquibs – I represented your point as I read it. If that wasn’t your point, what did you mean? That PZ is often obstreperous, and thus deserves death threats, because he’s not “a sympathetic example”? If that’s not your point, either, I confess that I’m at a loss.

    SteveK – I can point to a pattern of atheists receiving threatening emails (and phone calls, and vandalism, and violence), often traceable to people who profess to be Christian. Now toddes suggests that it’s reasonable to suppose that atheists are faking a lot of this.

    If atheists are frequently willing to spoof emails and send fake threats, why don’t they do that to churches, too? Why is the pattern pretty much exclusively directed at atheists?

    I suggest a simpler explanation is that the threats actually do come from “Bad Christians” and “Bad persons exist who claim to be Christians but really aren’t.”

  65. The emails to Weinstein are no longer relevant to this discussion.

    I’ll give you each one more chance to say something, and then I’ll delete any further comments that refer to them.

    This was about how Christians should respond to ill treatment. It wasn’t about whether anyone else has been treated poorly.

    Got it?

  66. Ray, I’m not sure how you could think that I was justifying death threats towards P.Z. Myers. Is that really what you thought?

    OK, lets say that rather than an uncharitable reading on your part, the fault was with my lack of clear communication. So lets break it down. (Please forgive me as I paraphrase the posts.)

    You: P.Z. Myers received death threats. Here are some links…

    Me: While the effects of such nasty emails should not be underestimated (I don’t approve of this type of behaviour) are you sure you want to use P.Z. Myers as an example? I ask because Myers used his popularity to whip his audience into a pant-wetting frenzy over a sign that existed for a handful of minutes. He targeted an individual who had repeatedly apologised for a mistake. Moreover, Myers even criticised those amongst his own ranks (atheism writ large) who thought that this ice-cream seller deserved forgiveness.

    With me so far?

    The point I was making was simple. Myers is a bully and if one is looking for an example of popular online personality fomenting poisonously hostile attitudes in the whole religion debate then he is good a character as any to start.

    I didn’t think that this would need explanation, Ray, especially to a chap of your undoubted intelligence.

  67. As you may know, Thomas Jefferson didn’t agree with the Trinity. But did you know he thought ridicule was the appropriate response?

    Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity.

    (To be clear, I am not attacking anybody here — it just amused me that Jefferson would probably have approved of T-shirt slogans and “Condescending Wonka” memes.)

  68. BSquibs –

    I ask because Myers used his popularity to whip his audience into a pant-wetting frenzy over a sign that existed for a handful of minutes.

    A pants-wetting frenzy of… not getting gelato from the guy? What PZ said, in rejecting the apology, was, “You’ll just have to live with the fact that I won’t be buying your ice cream on the rare occasions I visit your town, while I have to live with the fact that I live in a country where my rejection of your religion makes me a pariah.”

    He didn’t call for the pitchforks and torches. He just said he wasn’t going to buy from that establishment, and invited others not to as well. If you want to call that ‘bullying’, then OK, I guess. But then, these guys must be bullies, too.

    [There was a hyperlink there that I have deleted. Ray, it’s time you grow up (I say that advisedly) and pay attention to the multiply-repeated fact that this blog post is not about “if-you-can-find-a-bully-hey!-I-can-find-one-too.” I wanted to respond to the earlier part of this post or I would have deleted the whole thing. Keep this up and I’ll mark your comments to go into moderation before they’re published publicly. — Tom]

  69. Ray Ingles, are you intentionally lying or can’t you read? The reference was to what P.Z. Myers said to “his audience,” not to the Gelato Guy. Here’s some of what he said,

    Meanwhile, we will still be regarded as the least trustworthy minority in the country; we still have to deal with the fact that we are excluded from the political discourse; we still have to walk into courtrooms with the ten commandments on display; we have to watch these nice, sincere, classy people elect gay hating bigots, anti-science know-nothings, and flaming misogynists to high office….

    And f*** your stupid smiley face too, Jason! …

    I don’t give a damn about your tradition. I call it institutionalized intellectual cowardice. This rationale was a roundabout excuse to tiptoe around the hulking monster of gullibility and foolishness that has dominated the US for so long, to nibble at the margins and pick off targets only supported by a minority….

    There was more, but you get the point.

  70. Tom Gilson –

    There was more, but you get the point.

    The point was in the ‘more’. You skipped over this bit that PZ said – to his audience – “I do not call for a vendetta, and I’m not demanding that he be punished — it’s a guy selling ice cream — but I do not forgive. I do not forget. I set him aside, I ignore him, but I do not call him ‘friend’ or ‘brother’, I do not call him sincere or classy.”

    That’s not bullying at all. That’s way better, in fact – it’s being angry and still making sure not to take any steps beyond ‘disfellowship’ (if you will).

    this blog post is not about “if-you-can-find-a-bully-hey!-I-can-find-one-too.”

    I’m challenging the fundamental conception that BSquibs has, in fact, found a bully. So pointing out others that (a) are ‘guilty’ of exactly what he’s accusing Myers of, but (b) don’t seem to get called ‘bullies’ by Christians – that seems relevant to me.

    In other words, I’m not saying “if-you-can-find-a-bully-hey!-I-can-find-one-too.” Rather, I’m saying, “you claim to have found a bully but people who agree with you who do the exact same thing somehow aren’t bullies”.

    If NOM aren’t bullies, then Myers isn’t either.

  71. I still think growing up and stopping the tit-for-tat would be a great idea.

    And the point you still miss is that BSquibs was talking about what Myers was saying to Myers’ audience.

    This is getting very repetitive and tiresome. If you have something new to say, by all means say it. If you repeat yourself again, I’m going to call off your participation in this discussion. See #9 in the discussion policies.

  72. I’m also going to request that no one else feed this tit-for-tat he keeps trying to play. We’ll let each reader decide for him- or herself whether he has won the game.

  73. Ray, I think you have again failed to understand me. But perhaps this discussion has run it’s course and is no longer fruitful to keep at it.

  74. You Christians are seriously obnoxious. “waaah Im butthurt because someone used science and logic against me” grow up. Im tired of dealing with Christians everyday in my face saying “u r going to hell11!!!” maybe you should start with your own attitudes.

  75. So Miranda, my first response was to ask you a quick question. Now a more specific one: where do you see me or any other Christian on this blog whining because someone used science or logic against us? Has anyone here stood in your face saying you’re going to hell?

    If you are a supporter of science and logic then you are also a supporter of evidence-based knowledge. I challenge you: there is no evidence here of what you are charging us with. Prove me wrong if you wish. The invitation is open.

    Unless you can do that, your charge here reveals much more about yourself than about us.

    If other Christians have done that around you, I’d be glad to talk to them for you.