I Don’t Really Give A Fuck About Tone, Per Se

In my ten posts of tips for reaching out to religious believers this past week, people have repeatedly gotten the idea that I was fretting about tone. But I wasn’t. I never used the word and it never even crossed my mind to do so. I am concerned with the truth and with the good. That’s it.

The worst false dichotomy in the atheist blogosphere is that all criticism of abusive language towards religious people is tone trolling from people who don’t want to address the rational arguments that the New Atheists are making.

Before I am misunderstood again, let me make this abundantly clear. I know. Religious people claim offense even when we are being exceedingly polite. I am not advocating that we bend over backwards to accommodate those who unjustly accuse us of being rude when we are just being rational, challenging, and unapologetic. 

I am never advising anyone to water down the truth to gain acceptance. I am never advising anyone to pretend superstition or faith or myth are completely compatible with science. I am never saying we should soft pedal calling out the harms religions are genuinely responsible for. I am never saying that we should avoid using all negative words in describing religious people or their actions.

The reason I say that we should not call religious people names is because those are not truthful, they’re false. And lying for atheism is as bad (if not worse) than lying for Jesus. I don’t want you to avoid calling religious people stupid not only because it will turn them off, but because it is false and it makes us look—you guessed it, irrational and immature when we stoop to it. They’re not stupid. As I took great pains to point out last week, they are influenced by powerful psychologically natural prejudices being exploited and shaped by tremendous cultural forces. Calling them stupid and frothing at the mouth over how stupid and thickheaded they are is counterproductive. It will make them rightly turn away and not want to listen to you.

Even I, a passionate atheist by any metric, don’t want to listen to atheists who call religious people names. It embarrasses me and puts me off. And it’s not the tone, I mind. I love a great no-holds-barred rational takedown of religious falsehood or abuse. I wrote my dissertation on Friedrich Fucking Nietzsche for no-god’s sake! I can handle a harsh tone criticizing religion. Believe me. Nietzsche shook my faith out of me with as aggressive an assault on it as I could have ever endured but it was all brilliant and insightful, not juvenile and lazy. And search Camels With Hammers, you will find numerous angry and aggressive indictments of faith and faith-based institutions. What I can’t handle is bumper sticker worthy bullshit written by schoolyard bullies who can’t make specific, effective attacks but just sputter meaningless abusive distracting insults that offer no illumination and which give our enemies all the ammunition they need to dismiss our arguments.

I advocated defeating their best arguments and taking the reasoning of each specific believer you address seriously on its own terms. This is not because I’m a pushover who would rather lose an argument than offend anyone. It’s also not because I don’t know my way around an aggressive argument. Seriously, I’m a professional philosopher, I know how to win an argument. I want atheists to fucking win arguments.

I see straw man attacks on theism and just roll my eyes and think, “great job, that’ll really help”. Straw men are consolation to the enemy. Think about it: Don’t you just love when the other political party to yours or the theists mischaracterize your position and lose their shit calling you names, so you can just ignore what they say and ridicule them for not understanding simple distinctions and for being extremists? When I read a right wing commenter on the internet call the left wing “libtards” (or even just “libs”—Rush’s derisive nickname for us), I tune out immediately. I don’t want us to do the same thing. Not because it’s a mean tone. But because it’s an irrational debating tactic. And because even when it’s just us atheists talking among ourselves, it just breeds hate and not insight. What possible good comes from that? What possible good comes from patting ourselves on the back that we can knock down straw men?

I don’t want us to speak in loose generalities that are false. By all means, post the awful, terrible things crazy religious people say and do. I will join you in pointing attention to it and ridiculing the absurd and giving righteous anger to the harmful. But make a, well, irrational remark like “this is what religion does” as though religion is just this simple monolithic thing and I am going to roll my eyes because you said something false and that’s bad to me because I’m a rationalist and a philosopher who cares about truth. And it’s also eye-roll-inducing because you just gave the religious their wiggle room to wriggle away. It’s a shitty strategy. And why do this among fellow atheists even? Even if you don’t care to reach out to theists, why sloppily lower your standards for accuracy when only talking to other atheists? Why not, you know, model good, precise arguments that will eventually be effective with theists when your atheist readers eventually do try to actually persuade others we’re right?

The argument that “they’ll just say we called them stupid anyway” even when all we have done is reasonable is bogus. Yes, they will make that claim. But if we don’t actually call them stupid, we can actually tell them, “No, we didn’t call you stupid, we explained why you made errors. It’s common to make errors based on ignorance and cognitive bias and as influenced by longstanding cultural and intellectual traditions. But, nonetheless, they are errors. Here are our reasons. Please address them or admit we won the argument.” But if we actually called them stupid, we then legitimately gave them the morally defensible excuse to say, “you’re abusive bigots, we refuse to listen”.

But “they should listen to our arguments even if we pepper them with gratuitous insults”, you say? No, not really. If I punch you in the face and then say, “Now that I have your attention, here is my rational disquisition on why you are wrong and deserved to be punched”, I’d say you have every right to ignore me, I waved my right to be heard. You’re not just a whiner when “all you focus on” later is the fact that I punched you and tried to bully you. You’re right to say, I don’t talk to bullies. That’s not you being prissy about tone. It’s about you refusing to sink the discourse into the sewer with people who resort to emotional appeals instead of targeted rational appeals.

You can use the following harsh targeted, specific words in your attacks on specific religious people, ideas, beliefs, arguments, or general patterns of religious thought which you specify, as long as your accusations are true and rationally delimited, and you won’t hear a peep from me about getting the vapors because your “tone” upset my delicate ears: authoritarian, patriarchal, lie, liar, weaselly, homophobic, racist, self-righteous, hypocritical, anti-intellectual, anti-rational, privileged, theocratic, corporatist, abusive, violent, regressive, stagnant, anti-progress, absurd, fallacious, superstitious, misogynistic, sexist, chauvinistic, bullshit, devious, medieval, whiny, easily offended, evasive, slippery, corrupt, dangerous disingenuous, manipulative, oppressive, genocidal, tyrannical, woo-peddler, sleazy, ignorant.

Use those and other words with adequate qualifications so you’re not tarring all religious ideas or beliefs or people foolishly indiscriminately, you are not using abusives that do not describe a bad thing with due harshness but which instead just go further into dehumanizing the Other, and I will just nod my head. Speak in too loose generalities or move beyond harshly denouncing bad behaviors and ideas to demonizing people in a primarily tribalistic way, and you signal bigotry or ignorance of the complexity of the histories and philosophies of the religions you’re attacking. And that’s wrong ethically and intellectually. And it’s not a matter of tone but a matter of truth and the avoidance of hatred.

Finally, I talk about not demonizing religious people and learning to love them because, again, it’s true that they are not generally demons and it’s true that much about them can and should rightly be loved despite their vices which we are unusually highly attuned to recognizing and disliking. To be fair, just, tolerant, benevolent, constructive, persuasive, and truthful people, we should do the hard work of loving our enemies because they actually deserve it and not just as a sales strategy and not just because we cannot ever put together a nice harsh polemic (also grounded in truth). When I talk about being patient and gracious, it is directly part of the same post calling us to be unapologetic and rigorous too. It is giving advice on how to make the hardest, most effective “sell” you can without being an invasive, pushy, judgmental, domineering asshole like the kinds of proselytizers atheists themselves routinely and rightly attack all the time.

It’s not about tone, it’s about treating people consistent with the truth like rationalists should do.

And just as Christians set themselves up as the epitome of love and charity and rain down on themselves immense deserved derision for every deviation from those claimed ideals, we set ourselves up to be scrutinized especially hard for our every deviation from strict rational honesty and accuracy in our ideals. And we rightly should be held to them. If we believe in rationalism, we should fight for it rationalistically and not rationally sloppily. If we hate religious intolerance towards out-group members so much then we should be extra-vigilant about taking the plank out of our own eyes and make sure that we do not mingle our truth-based criticism with unrestrained hate that corrupts it and makes us intolerant, regardless of whether some of our points are abstractly true.

I already said more this morning about my commitment to rationalism and not tribalism. I also discussed whether to what extent I intend my blog to be readable by believers.

[UPDATE: 7/29/12 There were three places where I originally wrote that things atheists suggest doing were "stupid". Each time I put the word in italics. I have changed each of those to the word "irrational" in italics. At the time I was trying to be ironic by using the word "stupid" to describe the tactic of calling people stupid. I have since persuaded myself that even that is unnecessarily ableist against people of lesser education and in-born intellectual ability.]

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City on a Hill
Comparing Humanism and Religion and Exploring Their Relationships to Each Other
City on a Hill
A Moral Philosopher on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson
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.

  • JT Eberhard

    Will get to this after work. You can always feel free to link back to your blog from mine, btw. FtB brothers unite!

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      hahaha, thanks, JT. I’ve honestly been seriously impressed by your blog the last 10 days. Keep up the great work!

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

    Hear, hear. Good posts, both.

  • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

    Many people don’t use logic and reason to argue in favor of atheism because neither is necessary for seeing the truth in it. Yes, atheism can be supported by both, but I honestly don’t think they’re necessary, nor are logic or reason useful tools when dealing with a believer. If a religious person valued logic and reason, they wouldn’t be religious (that’s just simple logic).

    I think too many atheists conflate things like logic, reason, science and other lofty intellectual pursuits as being somehow inexorably linked to atheism, when they are not. They are for me, they are for you, they are for many others, but they are not a necessity in the same way that faith is a requirement for religion.

    When I talk about being patient and gracious, it is directly part of the same post calling us to be unapologetic and rigorous too. It is giving advice on how to make the hardest, most effective “sell” you can without being an invasive, pushy, judgmental, domineering asshole like the kinds of proselytizers atheists themselves routinely and rightly attack all the time.

    That pretty much sums it up, for me. Religious people were drawn to the invasive, pushy, judgmental, domineering assholes (or were simply ones themselves). Being all of those things just may be the most effective means of getting people to embrace atheism. How many others are like me and were drawn to atheism by someone like George Carlin, who embraces all of the fallacies you criticize here, from name-calling to exaggerated demonization?

    You’re an educated person, and I respect that, but one thing you need to come to grips with is that most people are stupid, religious or not. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s true and won’t change anytime soon. When you learned about rhetorical fallacies, you had to be educated on why they are wrong and should be rejected. Here in the real world, those aren’t called fallacies, they are “tactics,” and they work. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t have been taught about them in an effort to diffuse their effectiveness in you, we would just instinctively recognize logical fallacies. Instead, fallacies exist because they have been employed to great success since as early as we have written records.

    We are born and raised to trust in fallacies, and to employ them for the purposes of leading someone to the truth is not immoral. It is good that you focus on telling the truth and remaining intellectually honest, but that is a hard medicine to swallow for a fool. Logical fallacies are little more than spoonfuls of sugar that help the medicine go down. While I wouldn’t want to make the diet of saccharin arguments, but you catch more flies with honey. Logic and reason are acquired tastes, but fallacies appeal to the kid in all of us.

    • The Christian Cynic


      If a religious person valued logic and reason, they wouldn’t be religious (that’s just simple logic).

      I think this might be meta-level irony: a statement about how theists are so utterly illogical that is itself devoid of logic.

      To our intrepid host: I wholeheartedly thank you for this post, not as a theist but as a fellow human being. You said everything right (that I can see), and as a someone who’s found a lot more common ground, philosophically speaking, with atheists in the past several years, I will testify that every instance where I was convinced of something wrong was by an atheist (or atheists) who basically followed your prescription for reasonable engagement. I haven’t read the rest of this series yet, but I’ll be looking for them shortly. (Nice blog you have here!)

    • John Morales

      So, Christian Cynic, upon what epistemic basis do you base your theism?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Thanks, Cynic. I hope you stick around!

  • martha

    “I don’t really give a fuck about tone, per se.” Yet here you are, using a shift in tone to illustrate your point. +10 for artful writing.

  • http://www.brilyn.net Brian Lynchehaun

    I wish I had read this years ago.

    Message received, understood, and I stand chagrined that I have allowed my feelings to dictate my ire, rather than forge more pointed arguments (and/or walk away).

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Thanks, Brian. We’ve all been there, man. (Or at least, I know I have on at least several memorable occasions!)

  • Karmakin

    I think a lot of this is a reply to me :)

    The honest truth is, I’m actually on the conciliatory side of things myself. It’s my personality. I’m not a jerk, people say I don’t even know how to be one. I tend to try to keep as neutral of a stance I can in personal issues, I don’t like peeving people off. It’s just not my way.

    I don’t call religious people stupid or delusional. In fact, I don’t even think that they ARE. I actually think that the “religious experience” is actually something tangible, they’re just mistaken at what it actually is. (Either a state similar to meditation or a cathartic (shared emotional) experience)

    I do however think it takes all types. Different people respond to different arguments. Even bad arguments.

    I actually take the Dawkins view. You’re not arguing with the person you’re debating with, you’re actually making a case for all the people watching the debate.

    One thing I WILL say, is that I think that arguing in terms of philosophy and theology is generally..I don’t want to say a waste of time, because it’s not, I personally enjoy it myself…it’s not the most productive thing in the world. I don’t think the average layperson can be expected to have a grasp on the deep philosophical arguments (on either side), and as such, cultural (and I would argue trope-esque) factors are much more important.

    But in the end, my beef with religion is mostly an issue with privilege, and I think said privilege should be challenged constantly, as it’s the only way to remove it. I think it’s a fine line you do need to walk, as you do want to respect the person but give zero respect to their beliefs. And as long as you don’t really care how they say they feel, as long as to yourself you be true, it’s probably fine.

    But. I think it should be pointed out constantly that generally speaking when in these sorts of debates, that we’re generally not the jerks here. Atheism isn’t a “jerk” ideology. It’s the people who think that you have to be a believer in something to be a good person, who worship a deity who gives infinite punishment to people outside their tribe…they’re the jerks here. And it’s their privilege that we don’t challenge them on this.

    Which is why even though I don’t do it, I also don’t blame people who DO go around calling them stupid or delusional or whatever. Because the bar of acceptable debate has already been set LONG before any of us got on the scene, and quite frankly, that stuff is fairly tame. Is it counter-productive? Depends on the audience. But, stuff like that obviously works..a lot. (The political joke would be look at the Republican party) I wish it didn’t, of course. But it does.

    In short, I don’t see it as “sinking” to their level as much as understanding that they probably have a better view of the acceptable tone of the discourse than we, as outsiders, do.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Jerky is as jerky does, Karmakin. Or, as Nietzsche says, “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.”

      You’re no better than they are when you do what they do, PERIOD.

      But, no, this whole post wasn’t really aimed at your comment. It set off the alarm bell when I read the word tone in your comment but your comment was a little more nuanced than that, so I addressed the point about tone as it had been raised more generally as a theme in comments.

      And, yeah, I disagree. Philosophical arguments are stronger than you think, religious people are smarter and more reachable than you think, and ass hole behavior is even bad when atheists engage in it.

  • http://www.secularcafe.org/index.php David B

    I think that is a fine post.

    On my favourite discussion board (which you recently joined but haven’t posted in yet:() we have to weigh civility v free speech, and are reasonably robust in what we allow, but as far as calling the religious stupid – well some prove themselves to be not very bright, it is true, but some are in fact just sucked into religion. Calling them stupid doesn’t help work out what their sticking point is, and working on that with them.

    I sometimes have to remind people that those they are calling stupid believe the same as some of the best and brightest of us believed for years, and sometimes decades, and who would then have argues along the same lines.

    One example of a sticking point one can work at, when one finds it, is that some people have decided that without a god then morality becomes devoid of meaning, that morality is not devoid of meaning, therefore God.

    Not a stupid person – practising neuroscientist.

    After a pretty long process, and persuading her to read Dennett, she could see a meaningfulness in morality without god.

    I have another bee in my bonnet about why some people believe, and how to address it, but that is too long to address now, as well as being off topic.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Thanks, David. As you note, and I think too many of my commenters are seeming to grasp, not every religious believer comes to religion through an especially irrational process or is unshakably bound to their irrational beliefs. I worry too many atheists are deluded into thinking every believer out there is a hard core proselytizing evangelical fundamentalist when many have much softer faiths whose implications they simply have not been patiently and dialectically forced to consider.

  • http://spinozasbicycle.blogspot.com mikeg

    You’re all a bunch of assholes.

  • John Morales

    The reason I say that we should not call religious people names is because those are not truthful, they’re false.

    That’s an interesting universal claim; is it a priori or a posteriori?

    • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

      Sounds a priori to me. He’s not saying that, on average, religious people aren’t stupid. He’s saying that being religious doesn’t necessarily entail stupidity, which is something you can work out without looking at too much evidence.

      I could be wrong, though – feel free to correct me, Daniel.

    • John Morales

      Phil, you introduced the quantification, to wit: “on average”.

      (And, by so doing, implicitly grant that some religous people may justifiably merit being ‘called names’.
      If so, you’re in agreement with me.)

    • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

      From the first tip:
      You do not need to be stupid to be a believer. … Being uneducated, scared away from education, or viscerally loyal even in the teeth of education is enough.

      I am in agreement with you, and I suspect Daniel is as well. It seems monumentally, well, stupid to argue that no religious believers are stupid. What about Daniel’s post leads you to think that’s what he means?

    • John Morales

      That which I quoted.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Yes, this is basically right. There are several ways we could define stupid and explore its appropriate applicability. Hopefully I will have time to tease those out soon.

  • http://www.themindisaterriblething.com shripathikamath

    What is the breadth of your experience in this matter, Daniel? I ask as a matter of curiosity. Have you spoken before audiences many times, or interacted in various newsgroups, or …from where you collected these guidelines?

    (How did you gauge their effectiveness, is what I am getting at?)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      I have a PhD in philosophy, I spent 21 years as an evangelical Christian, as such I started “giving the Gospel” at 13 I studied philosophy and Christian Thought at one of the nation’s most conservative evangelical colleges, I deconverted, I spent 10 years as an atheist interacting with a predominantly Christian graduate student body at Fordham earning my PhD, I have a fundamentalist preacher for a brother, my mother is an evangelical Christian, I have taught 69 sections of philosophy over the last 8 and a half years, I have run an atheist blog for the last 2 years and nearly a half years, and through all of this have amassed enough hours in philosophical and theological debates for several people’s lifetimes. Plus, I’m a halfway decent lay psychologist who is, for the most part, pretty good with people.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/ Jason Thibeault

    Funny how, when I said “let’s not depict Teabaggers as zombies“, I got called out about tone. I think there are so many people beating the “PZ isn’t nice to theists” drum that people around these parts have gotten hypersensitive to tone, to the point where anyone who advocates being reasonable over being tribal is de facto on par with Chris Mooney.

    • http://www.themindisaterriblething.com shripathikamath

      Hey! Chris Mooney writes some decent articles once in a while, so stop picking on him.

      Teabaggers are not zombies, a lot of them are plain bigoted, and paid for. So yeah, “teabagger are not zombies” is a complete capitulation, and an insult to zombies. So you deserve the scorn you may have received (I am guessing here, because I did not read your article or the outrage)

      For my part, I’m simply trying to find out how Daniel estimated or experienced this to be a winning or winnable strategy.

      I find some of his points to be incisive, I can relate to them via mistakes corrected, others are probably more nuanced and in light of this last post not what I thought I understood them to be. Maybe it takes a third reading.

      Like “Don’t Call Religious Believers Stupid.”

      OK. I don’t call religious wingnuts stupid at least most of time, but what if they are, or they act like it?

      Then Daniel says (here)
      “I am never saying that we should avoid using all negative words in describing religious people or their actions.”

      Wait, isn’t ‘stupid’ a negative word?


      [My best impression of a PZ minion blasting me somewhere for saying something like "Yes, Ron Paul once ran on the Libertarian ticket, but he is a Republican and his stance does not match that of the Libertarian party's on this matter"]

      [reverts to present]

      OK, I will read one more sentence (that should be enough to convince someone that I have NOT READ anything past that.)

      “The reason I say that we should not call religious people names is because those are not truthful, they’re false.”

      Huh? How do you know that they are false? Have you interacted with the stupid half-wits I have conversed with?

      [And I don't care to get into rationalization gymnastics as those which follow #9]

      Which is why I seek more info, like actual field test results of some sort to understand what I thought I understood but now seem to have missed.

      For example, my experience is limited to several years of discussing atheism vs Christianity on the INTURrrrrNET some 10,000+ posts, 100+ email exchanges with a couple of individuals, and each yielded one de-conversion each.

      My rules? Something like

      1. Always be civil and truthful.
      2. But be polite only as far as you can tolerate your own hypocrisy.
      3. Call out bullshit in the tone most appropriate to the company.
      4. It is OK to let a thought go unexpressed.

      all stemming from a bastardization of

      “Learn to shrink yourself to the size of the company you are in. Take their tone, whatever it may be, and excel in it if you can; but never pretend to give the tone. A free conversation will no more bear a dictator than a free government will.”
      - Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl Chesterfield

      That’s pretty much it. (Kinda like my very own Herb Cain 999 plan or Rick Scott 777 plan)

      Two (2) de-conversions is what I have to show for it.

      If I can improve on that great! So when someone offers a string of Lettermanesque top tens, I get curious.

      ‘DEATH TO MOONEY’ might be inappropriate here, right?

    • John Morales


      Two (2) de-conversions is what I have to show for it.

      Dunno about de-conversions — me, I grab that Overton window and run to the right.

      (dextrous, am I)

  • AYY

    “. . . Rush’s derisive nickname for us” What do you mean “us?” There are plenty of atheist/secular conservatives, at least one of whom reads your blog. BTW, I listen to Rush on and off. The only libs I’ve ever heard him malign are public figures, and he’s usually specific about what he disagrees with. Rush is more restrained than many others in his position.

    If anything I think your post goes too far in your suggestion about the words that can be used. Most of them are simply emotive or suggest stereotypical thinking on the part of the person who uses them. I suppose “medieval” is okay, because it’s usually factual without being disparaging, but I’d hesitate to use most of the others. They just add more heat than light.

    • http://www.themindisaterriblething.com shripathikamath

      Can you point out, specifically, what Rush disagreed about Rev. Wright’s connection with Obama, and how he managed to condense that to a (missing?) comparison with Pastor Jeffress’s vis-a-vis Perry? Or is that not one of the things covered by the ‘usually’ clause?

      I listened to Rush regularly till Jan 1994.

      Now I listen to him occasionally.

      Rush is more restrained than many others in his position.


      He did teach me one aphorism: “There is a simple rule to selling. You have to offer something that people want to buy”

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      All I meant by “us” was the left-leaning types indicated in the previous clause. I didn’t mean to imply that all atheists were left-leaning.

  • usagichan

    Not only do you indulge in tribalism, you engender it in the community you profess to care about so much (good luck with the “New not Gnu, Blunt but not Insulting Atheists”). Anyway, I appreciated the introduction to Metaethics – the Philosophy was interesting but the self righteous lecturing of the top ten tips series is too cloying a sauce for my taste (but don’t worry – it’s a popular flavour and there will be plenty of customers to reassure you it is just right). Consider this though, there is at least one reader this series has driven away (I know – you don’t need me).

    One last thought, since you seem to be keen to keep hold of the biblical tradition (all that stuff about loving the enemy, or motes in eyes etc) – Luke 18: 9-14.

    Unlike Arnie, I won’t be back!

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      That’s a shame. You will be missed. I don’t see anything “self-righteous” about what I have done. Arguing for high ethical standards is not the same thing as assuming I am better at living up to them than anyone else.

      The idea that calling your own group to a high ethical standard that practices what it preaches (strict rationality in all things) even when engaging its irrational enemies makes me a tribalist is laughable.

      If that’s what scares away readers, then I guess I’ll have to live with losing them.

    • http://www.themindisaterriblething.com shripathikamath

      You gave up too easily. At least taunt him for Chrissakes, and see if he comes back.

    • http://www.themindisaterriblething.com shripathikamath

      Even Michael Keaton made some unpopular movies usagichan, but really “The Dream Team” was not all that bad.

      “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it” – Aristotle, circa 350 BCE

      Summon your inner Aristotle and stay. I heard that there will be cake later.

    • John Morales

      And pie in the sky when you die.

  • fastlane

    Meh, call people stupid, but let them earn it, is my philosophy.

    Right out the gate, I won’t necessarily call someone stupid simply for saying they hold some beliefs that I disagree with.

    It’s like respect, everyone gets a base level of respect as a matter of course, but that can go to zero very quickly.

    Some people are stupid, and they deserve to be called such. I generally reserve that for those who have illustrated that it’s willful stupidity, but I have no qualms about saying so.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    Whenever I discuss religion publicly my main goal is to bring those who may be on the fence over to my side. While trying to convince the theist may be an admirable goal, it is secondary to destigmatizing atheism in the eyes of the majority of Americans who say they are religious, but are functionally illiterate in terms of the bible.

  • dubliner

    I just wanted to say how much of a relief it is to find a post like this on freethoughts. I’m a middle aged Irish female atheist who was pretty excited some years ago when it became clear that more and more people around the world thought like I do. The internet was such a breakthrough for people of my generation who grew up in religious societies.

    However in the last couple of years I’ve become pretty disillusioned with some of the Atheist headliners and even more so with their fanclubs. I’ve discovered that often not only do they behave like testosterone driven rude fratboys to people who are religious but even towards any atheist who might happen to disagree with a specific topic under discussion.

    I think frankly that it is an American phenomenon primarily and one that I hope the rest of the world doesn’t ape. You seem to have echo chamber websites which are incredibly aggressive towards different points of view. I’ve been a member of a very popular Irish discussion forum for many years (10,000 posts to my name!) and discussion within it is very robust indeed and members span the political and cultural spectrum but the kind of ‘bullyboy’ schoolyard tactics employed so regularly on say Pharyngula would elicit derision on that site. It’s good to see a commentator like Camel refuse to bow to the hordes who scream ‘tone troll’ at anyone who values adult conversation and says so.

    • John Morales


      It’s good to see a commentator like Camel refuse to bow to the hordes who scream ‘tone troll’ at anyone who values adult conversation and says so.

      You are a commentator, I am a commentator; Camels With Hammers is a blogger (this is his blog) and a commentator.

      (Your misconception about the hordes [sic] is duly noted, BTW)

    • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

      If we’re going to be pedantic I guess we’re commenters, not commentators. And while I appreciate the value of a place like Pharyngula, are you seriously suggesting that they don’t occasionally use schoolyard tactics or that they don’t embrace their horde-identity?

    • John Morales

      “occasionally” is a very good caveat.

      (So, no)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Thanks so much, dubliner. I hope you stick around!

  • http://langcultcog.com/traumatized DuWayne

    I haven’t gotten the chance to read all ten of those posts yet – though I do intend to. I think your point here is interesting and important. All too often people equate a lot of the positive assertions you have made (at least in the titles of your posts and the two that I have read) with being all sunshine and roses. I will have to admit that I fell into that as well…

    But thinking about it – thinking about what I mean when I talk about loving others, I realize that it really has little to do with tone and more to do with how we accept others. I took the whole biblical notion of loving my neighbors to essentially be an all encompassing admonition – especially when put in conjunction with the admonishment to let my actions be a witness for Christ. And I lived it.

    That didn’t mean that I accepted what people had to say, or necessarily accepted a given individual at all. I got angry with people and developed very strong antipathies. But always on some level I understood that these were all humans and I wanted to see them accept God’s grace – I just also understood that it might not be my witness that would foster that. But I essentially cared for them, for their humanity and imperfections (I had and accepted I had many imperfections of my own – to a pathological degree thanks to my faith).

    This is something I have comfortably carried with me out of Christianity. Honestly it hasn’t even changed much, because as a product of doing I learned to appreciate caring for others without admonishments from God to do so. I discovered that I felt that no matter how much I might fuck up (and I have seriously fucked up in my time), I still had this this important factor to bolster me – to push me onward.

    But that still doesn’t mean that I am going to play nice all the time. Nor does it mean that I am always going to disconnect ideas and actions from the persons perpetuating them. I rarely attack people directly, but reserve the ability to do so because it is important to recognize that some people have so corrupted themselves by corrupting the world around them that they bloody well deserve the scorn. But even in that context, I recognize that they too are human beings – no matter how inhumane their actions and ideas might be.

    I think it is easy for me, because I have seriously fucked up and hurt my family, along with myself. Yet I have been able to find redemption of a sort (post-Christianity) and downright want to see that same redemption for others. Because while it has not and never can assuage the guilt, it makes it possible for me to function and enjoy the moments in life that should be enjoyable.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Yeah, I am with you on all of that, DuWayne.

  • Steve A

    A fair bit after the fact, but an interesting linguistic thought about the word bullshit: In its current usage, it would seem to restrict itself to the description of ideas. When someone calls “bullshit” in a debate/discussion, it would take some serious mental gymnastics to make it to the point where it would be taken as a personal attack. The relevant contrast here is with ‘stupid’, which selects for either animates or ideas. In essence, you can have a stupid person or a stupid idea, but only a bullshit idea, not a bullshit person.

    Just an idle linguist musing; the selectional restrictions of ‘stupid’ and ‘bullshit’ mirror the points you make about making a clear distinction between an individual and their ideas.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Right on, Steve.

  • Doc Gills

    I always start from the position, “I might be wrong,” because it forces me to rigorously examine my own beliefs. Once I have done so, I can then proceed humbly, but with great certainty.

    On the one hand, this means I have anticipated and answered most of the arguments that may be raised. On the other hand, it also leaves me open, to respond to new ideas with, “I never thought of that. I need to think it through. Thank you.”

    The problem is that some true believers, of any stripe, feel I have lost the discussion before we even begin, since they know they are right, see my pro-active doubt as a weakness, and may never really engage me in a discussion.

  • BWE

    “The problem is that some true believers, of any stripe, feel I have lost the discussion before we even begin, since they know they are right, see my pro-active doubt as a weakness, and may never really engage me in a discussion.”

    But if you can’t reach them with logic, you won’t by abuse either. Just having the arguments out there to see is enough.

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