Audiences And Approaches

Our friend Crommie has written a post basically saying that he recognizes that it’s a good thing that there are people like me who write with religious believers in mind but that it’s also okay for him to write in a way that is indifferent to whether he offends them. He justifies his approach basically by arguing that atheists are worth writing for for their own sake, because apathetic atheists need to be inspired with fire for getting involved, and because uncommitted people who are in the middle between theists and atheists can actually benefit from writing that may have turn off religious people. I do not really disagree with any of that. But I still don’t see where it necessitates (or even legitimizes) gratuitous insults. I get the impression he thinks that since many religious people are easily offended and won’t read his honest stuff anyway, he does not need to worry about carefully calibrating his words so as to be fair to them nonetheless so that they don’t have legitimate cause to be offended if they do happen to stop by. That, in a nutshell, is my view. I do not write for religious people, I write so that if they come by and get offended it’s their fault and not mine.

That’s the tl;dr version. Below the fold is my fuller statement about who I write for and why:

What I write on this blog is what I think is true. If the things I thought were true were the honey that brought masses of religious people here that would be fantastic. I would love it if tons of religious people read this blog. Especially if they deconverted. That would be some crazy fun and make me feel really fulfilled.

But, alas, while I have some religious readers, they are not what you would call my “prime demographic”. And that’s okay too. I am not in the candy business, I am not good at sugar coating things. I am in the bitter truth business. Actually, I’m just in the truth business. And the religious often find my truths about religion bitter, rather than sweet. And it drives many religious people away and draws a lot of atheists, who think they’re sweet. Which is fantastic too because I love atheists and get along naturally with atheists (at least when we’re talking about atheism!) for obvious reasons. And, actually, like Crommie I feel no need to bend over backwards to draw religious people as it would mean compromising way too much straightforwardness to do so.

So, given the realities of the readership, I expect atheists to make up more of my audience. I acknowledge this fact and tailor things so that they will profit the most from them. Since atheists are already here, I make this an atheist activism blog in addition to my basic plan of having it be a philosophy blog about ethics and atheistic philosophy of religion. This is really fulfilling, since I love atheists and love having them around and love knowing when I benefit them and the atheist movement in any way I can.

But I am not actively interested in excluding religious people from also finding what I am doing interesting and exciting. And I have no idea what benefit there would be to going out of my way to insulting them unnecessarily. I get it that in just saying what I think, no matter how well-reasoned or how politely I say it, I will offend many of them and that’s out of my control to stop it. But I would not dream of saying that I want to make this place a forum they would not want to read if they were the types who could intellectually stomach my ideas.

If I threw my atheist readers vitriolic red meat that abused religious people rather than just criticized them in pointed ways, that might please the crowd but would it make my readers any better thinkers or any more constructive debaters or any more loving people who worked for and cared about the flourishing of all people, including their political and philosophical enemies? Or would it just whip up an angry tribe and inspire them to get torches and go burn the witches?

I am not interested in whipping up a mob. I am not interested in demonizing my opponents just because sometimes they are spectacularly wrong and stomach-turning harmful. I am interested in exposing those harms and abuses.

And though I realize that some people in the uncommitted middle might not be personally repulsed by hostile treatment of my religious philosophical and political enemies but might, through my poisoning of the wells, convert to my side—especially since I am exposing systematically all their falsehoods and harms too.

But I don’t want conversions, I don’t want someone to be emotionally swayed into agreement or persuaded to demonize people falsely. I want someone to see the force of my reasons and feel logically compelled to agree.

I want my atheist readers to learn and debate, not froth. I want them to get angry at injustice and work to counter it, but not to become hateful people over it. I want them to become better people.

And I want the uncommitted to be impressed by how rational my positions are and to be inspired to work on the intellectual and moral virtues that I talk about and hopefully embody in my writing.

And I want the believers to find I have written nothing that gives them the slightest legitimate cause to write me off as a hateful, rabble-rousing, closed-minded, hypocritically irrationalistic, tribalistic bigot. I want them to get frustrated, challenged, and inspired by the clarity of my thought and the fairness of its presentation, and to grow to have either a more rationalistic interpretation of their religion and/or, ideally, to abandon their faith altogether.

I honestly see no benefit in not aiming to appeal to all people in this way and instead in wanting to take having a primarily atheist audience as an opportunity to lower my standards of civility or accuracy in discussion of people or ideas. I can be just as uncompromisingly truthful while not being abusive. So, why compromise myself morally?

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.