On the Treatment of Guest Authors

Hi folks,

Now that I’m rested, I’ve been catching up on the posts written by my guest authors, as well as the 200+ comments they attracted. I’m mostly up to date now, and I have to say a few things about the way they were treated.

In particular, I want to speak to Leah’s posts on mockery as a component of atheist strategy. I knew as soon as I saw those posts that they’d draw some sharp ripostes, which is fine. I’m not averse to people disagreeing with my guest authors – as some commenters noted, I personally differ with Leah regarding the wisdom of the PZ Myers “Crackergate” episode. I expect that anyone who posts on Daylight Atheism, either as an author or as a commenter, will be able to handle criticism. But a disappointing number of comments went well beyond that, crossing the line into rudeness, vitriol, and unwarranted personal attacks.

I’d prefer not to name names, but let me say that I find comments like “I hope Adam is back soon” to be highly offensive. I made my choices for guest authors because I had confidence in their abilities, and I interpret any personal slight against them as a personal slight against me. (There were some that were even more vicious and obnoxious, which I deleted. You know who you are.)

For the record, I’m pleased with all the guest posts and the conversation they inspired. Ideas like this are a valuable contribution to the discourse of the atheist community, even on the points where I don’t fully agree with them. Although I believe that mockery has a place in our strategy, it’s also necessary that we occasionally remind ourselves of the equal importance of civility and productive engagement. Leah’s strategy isn’t always the one I’d choose, but it has its place, and the many enlightening conversations that take place on her blog between atheists and religious believers are proof of that. She’s emphatically not one of the Mooneyites whose only goal is to get other atheists to shut up, and I wouldn’t have invited her to guest post if she was.

It seems there are some people who don’t know what the word “accommodationist” means. In its original sense, that word was used to describe those who believe that religion and science occupy strictly non-overlapping spheres of thought, and that we must never argue that science disproves any religious belief. It’s since widened somewhat to include those who urge atheists to stop criticizing religious belief or publicly expressing our atheism. But it’s never referred to those who merely express the opinion that mockery and ridicule sometimes aren’t the best strategy. If that’s the definition of accommodationism, then I’m an accommodationist. (But it isn’t, and I’m not.)

I don’t like having to write posts like this, but it needed to be said. If Leah chooses to return to finish this conversation, as she’s said she will, I trust she’ll be treated with more civility.

Friday Night Music: First Aid Kit
New on the Guardian: Beyond Debating God’s Existence
You Got Your Ideology in My Atheism!
You Got Your Ideology in My Atheism!
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://the-attempts.blogspot.com/ Darrick Lim

    Well said Adam. My sympathies lie more with the Gnus, but I’m all for different approaches, so long as no one’s playing tone police and telling other atheists/humanists how they should promote or defend our shared values and ideas. Which incidentally tends to be what accommodationists do (“All atheists have to be nice to religion like we are, otherwise YOU’RE NOT HELPING!”).

    Oh, and welcome back. Hope you and the missus had a lovely holiday. :)

  • Katie M

    I disagreed with Leah completely, but the comments absolutely appalled me.

  • Fargus

    Adam, I think part of what put me off a bit was the suggestion that we should only engage with what we know to be lies and misrepresentation if we can meet some threshold of “cogent and quick” presentation of those lies. But the theory of evolution, for instance, can’t be fully explained both cogently and quickly. Groundwork can be laid, but I’m reminded of the old saw about a lie getting around the world before the truth can even tie its shoes. Lying is easy and fast, and to say that we have to handicap ourselves with tone muzzles in addition to having to manage the impossible task of having to explain science in a comprehensible way before laypeople start to yawn, well, that seems as good as saying that we ought never to engage with the religious.

    I said in one of Leah’s previous posts that I don’t think that there’s much marginal utility in mocking people like Harold Camping, since everybody, even the religious, are mocking Harold Camping. But pivoting from Camping to the almost-identical crazy beliefs held by many, many religious people is something that is almost unquestionably useful to the conversation, even if it may be describable as mockery.

    Anyway, welcome back.

  • TommyP

    I enjoyed some of Leah’s points. While I do think it is best not to be a jerk right out the gate to the religious, it remains a powerful tool, and was a key player in my loss of faith. I owe a lot to the people who didn’t take my God for an answer, and demanded something more concrete.

  • Michus

    I think what TommyP said is what it’s really about. It doesn’t seem that helpful to me to heap derision and mockery on people for having a belief (and also an opinion). It’s not fair to them or to the people doing the mocking.

    That said, I think it’s fair to criticize and even mock /ideas/ such as religion or faith without proof and so on. Showing no respect to such ideas while still respecting the people will offer them a curious situation where thoughts they hold as utterly sacred and sacrosanct and utterly beyond examination are openly treated as unimportant or mundane by someone (an athiest presumably) speaking to them. Sure they might be a little upset about it, but shows civility while disagreeing with a core belief such as religion is bound to put some kind of uncertainty in the believer, showing them that such things CAN be thought about and CAN be examined without the world coming apart or god personally smiting them.

    Anyway, I didn’t get involved (or read more then a few posts) of the apparent furor of the original topic but those are my two cents on it anyway.

  • Rieux

    But it’s never referred to those who merely express the opinion that mockery and ridicule sometimes aren’t the best strategy.

    I think that’s an understatement of Leah’s argument, though. I didn’t see Leah say or imply that mockery/ridicule could ever be a legitimate (much less a “best”) strategy.

    And, as I hope was clear from my comments on the most recent Leah thread, it was Leah’s analysis of the issue, rather than her position itself, that I found troublesome—it appears she simply had never heard of the actual justifications that numerous Gnus (such as Richard Dawkins, Jason Rosenhouse, and Paul W., the three I quoted) cite for the use of ridicule. An argument against Gnu mockery that ignores all of that is, well, awfully disappointing.

    Her initial response to criticism was to point out that “Trying to treat people with respect is different from asserting that their beliefs are true, or, at a minimum, not actively harmful”—and it’s hard not to get riled up at that. Pretending that Gnu challenges to religious belief are contrary to “treat[ing] people with respect” is not just a flagrant foul, it’s a flagrant accommodationist foul; it’s exactly the kind of bait-and-switch that the Mooneys and Rosenaus of the world use to misrepresent you and the rest of us. “Trying to treat people with respect” is not a contraposition to ordinary Gnu uses of ridicule, and again I didn’t see any attempt on Leah’s part to avoid the unavoidable implications of that line.

    Finally, Leah linked to her previous critiques of Crackergate, and… uhhh. Well, they’re not pretty. As is evident on her blog’s threads, you posted a cogent rebuttal over there, and in her reply she ignored the central points in it in precisely the same way she ignored the Dawkins/Rosenhouse/Paul W. line back here. I mean, ouch.

    I think a case can be made for the reasonable limits of Gnu mockery of religion, and for specific contexts in which it’s more and less warranted. I just don’t think Leah did a very good job of making that case—and, worse, in her attempt she pushed several buttons that bear a close resemblance to the ones that big-time accommodationists continually push. (Which is why, I think, the passages I quoted from D/R/PW fit so well into the exchange, even though those guys were responding to no-fooling accommies.) The discussion just didn’t go very well.

  • Kaelik

    “There were some that were even more vicious and obnoxious, which I deleted. You know who you are.”

    They/ (We?) Probably don’t know. I know Leah specifically whined about how I was being rude by pointing out that she does not do what would most prevent the “suffering” of animals and plants, as she does in fact advocate murdering insects by the thousand, and plants as well. I did a quick Ctrl F through the posts, but I can’t even tell if you deleted any of my posts or not.

  • Neil

    I read the whole comment threads on the day and second day after the original postings, and didn’t see any obvious abuse…but then again, I don’t remember seeing anything that isn’t there now, so I must have just missed the really bad ones. Of the critical comments that remain I find nothing with which I disagree. In fact I found several, most notably Yahzi, with whom I agree completely, and I am still waiting for any serious discussion of the several good points raised. As Yahzi pointed out, a large part of the use of mocking is to deligitimize authority; I would go further and say that exempting religion from mockery by default to spare feelings and show respect actually helps to perpetuate illegitimate authority and creates yet another hurdle instead of clearing the path.

    Count me among those who found the “Whom shall we mock” post to be downright galling in its presumption of authority and intent of belittling, delegitimizing, and shush-shushing voices that are deemed too rude or disprespectful or otherwise short of whatever entirely subjective, manners-bound standard that self-appointed gatekeepers want to impose on us outspoken ruffians. I also found the “Sheen” post to be condescending to both atheists and believers. There are consequences, sometimes serious consequences, to irrational beliefs and I think that going out of our way to relieve the social consequences of ridiculous beliefs is not a tactic that will lead people to see atheists as reasonable and welcoming and compassionate, but as ignorable, unprincipled doormats who refuse to acknowledge reality if there’s a chance it might hurt the cause. Much like cowardly “moderate” believers, willing to sacrifice truth for feelings every time, and constantly painting any outspoken, unapologetic atheists as the equivalents of fundamentalists because it makes them seem reasonable by dishonest comparison.

    Leah’s list may be a good starting place, if your only goal is to engage in polite, friendly discourse with potentially reachable, moderate believers, with hopes of converting them to critical thinking, or getting them to critically evaluate their beliefs in baby steps. There is nothing wrong with that at all, but that doesn’t mean that it should be held up as some kind of standard for all atheist/christian interaction, unless your main goal is to be ignored by all but a few of the most reasonable and curious.

    Many of us do not have the time, the patience, or the inclination to coddle grown adults with fake respect and friendly smiles when they are peddling dangerous, bigoted, violent lies without shame. I generally don’t argue with believers with an aim at any kind of conversion, and when I do, it is definitely the “audience” who is the target. I don’t have time or energy to waste on supposedly mature adults who willingly and publicly wallow in dog crap and expect to be praised for it. They deserve ridicule, they have earned ridicule, they practically beg for ridicule, and I truly believe that it is in everyone’s best interest to let them have it at full volume, in front of even the children and old ladies, until they learn to quit asking for it.


    So, if you’re going to take a sarcastic, mocking approach, you’d best make sure:

    1.You’re actually being heard by Christians
    2.Who care about your opinion
    3.Who need your unique brand of contempt
    4.and that you can hate the belief while loving the believer
    Else, you should probably make a different use of your talents.

    My own rebuttals to Leah’s list:

    1: Make sure I’m being heard by christians.

    Not always my goal, sometimes I just want to let off steam and share frustrations with other freethinkers, and mostly I’m trying to reach the uncommitted before their minds are assaulted by religion.
    Anyway, seriously…how much can one speak in western society without being heard
    by christians? It doesn’t take much more than a whisper, really…they’re everywhere! P.Z. Myers’ regular readership is surely mostly atheists, but he sure gets press, doesn’t he? Just by blogging and speaking at relatively small events, there are plenty of christians who know who he is, and even they do some free advertising amongst themselves. He’s heaving dead cats into sanctuaries with a trebuchet, and there are influential christians who can’t stop talking about it. How many young folks and fence-sitters will he reach by being aggressive? Hard to say, but I’ll bet good money he’ll reach more than most, and plenty of good old-fashioned doubts will be sown.

    2:Who care about my opinion.

    Only applies to a very small cross section of christians, namely ones who know me personally and ALREADY KNOW that I am a reasonable and kind person. These are also the same christians that I feel the least need to preach to, since they are also mostly reasonable and kind (in most areas of life). Those who aren’t kind and reasonable (like some of my very religious, very conservative relatives) don’t get a free pass, no matter how much goodwill is already there. I may not release my full rancor on them like I would a faith healer on the internet, but they get as much honesty as I can give them without causing big family problems.

    3. Who need my unique brand of contempt(thanks for the extra condescension, really)

    I DON’T CARE WHAT THEY THINK THEY NEED. If they need to force their religion on other people through laws or social pressure, or defend those that do, then they need my contempt and ridicule in front of as many people and as loud as possible, period. Again, especially for the sake of those they are trying to scare and influence. Showing undue respect for ridiculous ideas does nothing but legitimize the ridiculous, and I will never support that. I will show basic civility to the PEOPLE behind the ideas, but that is all, and as soon as they show me that they are knowing liars, willing bigots, or power-worshipping authoritarians, even that very basic respect is negotiable and at risk.

    4. That you can hate the belief while loving the beliver.

    I honestly believe that I do a much better job of this than the vast majority of christians, who are commanded by their lord and savior to do so. I love them, I hope for them, sometimes I pity them, but I can’t and won’t fake respect. They have failed, most often at least partially voluntarily and willingly, to exercise logic, honesty, or any serious self-examination, which I require for true respect unless there are huge mitigating circumstances(which there sometimes are). If I go around living a life full of fake respect, it isn’t fair and honest to myself, and it isn’t fair or honest to them. And again, it does a huge disservice to those who are allowed to be suckered into religion without ever having heard anyone tell the damned truth, out of “respect”. I will never stand by and watch an innocent mind be corrupted without doing my damndest to stop it, and I couldn’t give two rancid rat turds who gets their feelings hurt if those are the stakes.

    If rude humor and mocking of sincere beliefs was murder, I’d be worse than John Wayne Gacy. But it isn’t, and we all know it isn’t- and every last believer, deep down under all the bullshit, knows it too. I think it’s about time we expected believers to acknowledge that simple fact like mature adults before lavishing too much respect on them.

  • Rieux

    Whoof, Neil, that’s heartfelt stuff. Thanks.

  • Neil

    Thanks to you too, Rieux, I didn’t get around to reading the third post before I commented. You opened up many topics related to points made by Yahzi and myself, and presented quite a few good arguments.

    Also, to Leah: I’m sure your rules and tactics work great for you, and just being an active blogger means you’re already doing more than me in at least some ways. I admire that on its own merit and would never ask you to change a thing. I surely don’t want you to feel any need to get in people’s faces or act like P.Z. Myers or anything. Do what feels right to you, and what works for you. But realize that for many like me, that ship has sailed…and good riddance. Religous people and religion in general have already gotten so much forced respect from me over the years that I have no more to give and don’t want any more to give. I don’t vicitimize people(even if they might feel slightly vicitmized at times, it passes quickly) and in truth I seek only to help the human race…but I am done making (or accepting) excuses for other people’s irrational, bigoted, or otherwise harmful beliefs, and I am done doing anything that I perceive might strengthen any claim of religious authority, even if it means I lose a battle to make a point in the overall struggle.

    And for the record, the “fake rapture” stunts are hilarious, and if anyone is truly offended by such things, be they a serious believer or a soft-hearted skeptic, they really need to grow up and quit taking every little thing so seriously. In my opinion, some religious teachings, namely things along the line of hell, rapture, original sin, and judgement day, are incredibly harmful and only serve to hurt, belittle and dominate both individuals and whole societies. I truly feel bad for those who believe and live in real terror, but that doesn’t mean they get a pass, especially if they are promoting the beliefs instead of examining them. I feel horrible for innocent victims of disease too, but I still wouldn’t stand by while they purposefully infected others, and I wouldn’t hide a treatment because it might be painful, scary, or embarrassing for some, and if I thought ridicule would help the situation I would still use it, as insensitive as it may be.

    Sorry to ramble, and a good evening to all!

  • http://superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    I liked Leah’s posts, part of the reason I didn’t bother writing any of my own.

  • Dark Jaguar

    I was giggling at the fake rapture video I saw, but, it’s hard to keep laughing when the person who thinks they missed the rapture is reduced to tears. Is it their own delusion that’s primarily at fault? Yes. However, as a human being I couldn’t laugh at the fact that that person was genuinely terrified the end was there. To be fair, even the ones putting on the stunt immediately realized the state she was in and ended it right there.

    It isn’t a matter of respecting the delusion. Not at all. To put it in perspective, imagine a mental patient with some doll they keep making and are utterly convinced is alive. That’s a harmful delusion that’d have to be pointed out as well as possible. Now, burn it while gleefully laughing at the patient screaming to stop “hurting” the doll. That’s the feeling I got when the stunt got too far. Did anyone ACTUALLY get hurt? No. Is their delusional belief really worthy of any sort of respect, in and of itself? No. But, I will certainly argue that at a certain point, causing mental anguish of that extent to a person is something that needs to be seriously considered, not for respect of the belief, but for not wanting to hurt people.

    Now, this is nuanced. What about the “distress” the countless catholics felt about PZ’s cracker incident? I think in that case the sheer number of people under that delusion needs that sort of an answer. Even if some genuinely feel that sort of pain (though in this case, I think the vast majority were just the typical “morally outraged”), the “treatment” in this case of demonstrating just how not-a-person the cracker actually is is worth it. It was an impersonal, distant, casual disregard. Heck, that’s why it works. Had he went out of his way to constantly hound a specific old person who he knew absolutely was truly convinced the cracker could feel pain and prance about while stabbing it and whatever, that would be a bit much… unless it’s the pope? I dunno, again it’s nuanced. Generally the rule I apply is “don’t take pleasure in the suffering of others”.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    I have my own conflicts with Leah’s position, but more than anything else the comments helped me understand how atheists get such a bad rap. The degree of offense and sense of personal entitlement reminded me of nothing more so than the fervor of religious believers, convinced there is truly no other way.

    (I should note that it wasn’t much, if any, different in the comments to Ritchie’s posts.)

  • jemand

    @Dark Jaguar,

    I agree with you regarding the fake rapture videos…. I couldn’t even watch it at all, the imagination of that kind of mental torment was just too much. I was indoctrinated into a different terrifying belief, and no other *person* terrified me like that, but I *DID* see a harvest moon once, and the gorgeous deep red hue was to me the deepest stab of terror, anguish, it’s indescribable. (Some prophecy thingy)

    It was several years after my deconversion that I could look at a harvest moon and not be acutely terrified, but actually appreciate it’s natural beauty.

    The idea that another *PERSON* could have caused such anguish to me, ON PURPOSE, because he or she thought my reaction and terror was FUNNY!!? Truly twisted. Just as twisted, I think, as the people who indoctrinated me with the belief in the FIRST place. Who also are evil for it. It’s like, this one group of people puts me in a chair, hooks up electrodes all over sensitive bits, hooks up a cattle prod, a rifle pointed at my knee, etc, ties me up and hooks everything up to one button, but doesn’t actually PUSH it themselves yet….

    And someone else comes along and pushes the button and LAUGHS watching me convulse.

    Not funny, not moral, not helpful, not good in any way. Just because the pain comes from brainwashing and is mental, doesn’t mean it’s any less, and deriving pleasure from pulling the trigger of the gun religious belief points at people is WRONG. It also, is NOT an effective criticism of the group that tied me to the chair in the first place. It ALSO puts some esoteric idea and the actors’ own pleasure above the victims safety.

    Mock the “gods” mercilessly, it does much good, mock the absurdities in the *beliefs,* mock the hypocrites who are imprisoning others, but help the captives become FREE, DON’T find the torture buttons and push them for giggles.

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    “Personal entitlement”? I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means. When boiled down, most of the disagreeing posts could be distilled down to: “You don’t get to decide what atheism means or how atheists behave.” Which, incidentally, is a position I’ve sometimes seen this very blog take. “Atheism is…” and “Atheists must be…”

  • Neil

    Geez….I had only heard about various “rapture” pranks, and had not seen any video of people crying and convulsing, etc…yes, if true, what has been described here is pretty mean and not doing anyone any good, I can certainly agree with that. Of course, I doubt it really did anyone any real harm either. People who are so easily reduced to tears tend to do it a lot, and get over it quickly. Often it’s just part of the show.

    I know anecdotes don’t count for much, and my whole life has been spent among fairly mainstream, modern American christians- but honestly, other than a few children and teens who were raised in extememly insulated, fundamentalist
    families, I have never personally seen anyone display that level of anxiety regarding their religious beliefs, and I’ve lived around huge numbers of
    bible-believing christians my whole life.

    In my experience, the vast majority maintain a pretty keen sense of reality in most areas of life, and don’t let their delusions cause them any real stress…which is one of the reasons I have such little respect for them. Most religious believers that I’ve met are just following tribal groupthink for either unexamined and undefined, or purely selfish reasons. They are perfectly willing to denounce gays, try to influence the government, complain about “godless liberals”, make fun of other religions, denounce atheists without any reasons, make grand assertions with zero evidence while expecting to be taken seriously, etc, etc, etc…yet I have rarely if ever met an adult who was sincerely afraid of damnation. The vast majority have either been smugly certain of their “saved” status, or not in the habit of thinking about it, and neither of those hypocritical positions gets any respect from me. I can’t feel too bad for them when they are needled a bit or openly mocked because of it, any more than I feel bad when any other liar, fraud, or snotty snob is mocked for their equally obnoxious and hypocritical behavior.

    There is a big difference between mocking someone who is smugly certain in their faith and who uses it as a social or political tool, or even enjoys the social privileges, and just going around messing with mentally unstable people for kicks. Not really the same thing at all. Also, I know firsthand the anxiety that religious fear can produce. I too have been a victim of this, if perhaps not in as severe and painful a way as happened to some. But I still cannot agree with some of the emotional overreactions here.

    kagerato said:”The degree of offense and sense of personal entitlement reminded me of nothing more so than the fervor of religious believers, convinced there is truly no other way.”

    Really? Going too far with a prank and making somebody cry is as bad as knowingly filling children’s heads with hurtful, scary lies and trying to control the moral and emotional lives of entire populations through fear and tribalism? REALLY? Poking fun at somebody’s obviously ridiculous delusions and causing a few moments of anxiety is enough to remind you of the behavior of people self-righteous enough to preach and wish ETERNAL HELLFIRE on anyone who disagrees with them? I can’t believe you can type something that ridiculous with a straight face. That’s more of an overreach than Roseanne Barr singing the national anthem. There is absolutely no honest comparison in any real way, and I find that comparison just as offensive as you apparently found the prank.

    And jemand said: ” Just as twisted, I think, as the people who indoctrinated me with the belief in the FIRST place.”

    Again, there is no real comparison. I don’t care how callous, how mean-spirited the pranksters were. How can you sit there and claim that there is any real comparison? Are the pranksters going to come by every single sunday for the rest of the victim’s life and taunt her again each week? Are the pranksters going to threaten her with eternal punishment if she refuses to be mocked again? Is their prank going to make her a second-class citizen or rob her of 10% of her income?

    Please, get real. It is truly disgusting to read claims that insensitive pranksters who poke fun at people who openly profess ridiculous beliefs are anywhere near as bad
    or mean or morally bankrupt as the people who continue to profit, both socially and financially, off the creation of mental cripples by promoting those beliefs in the first place. I know that religious and emotional stress can be very real and painful, but please try to clear your heads, people. No matter how temporarily painful a prank or mocking may be, no matter how innocent the victim (which is quite debateable in my opinion), being shown disrespect because of your choices is not even a drop in the bucket compared to the emotional blackmail, the mental handicapping, the immoral trap of lies and threats that constitutes religion.

    Sorry to go on, but christ on a cracker, I still can’t believe I actually read that correctly. No need for accomodationism here, apparently making a single person cry is tantamount to holding an atheist inquisition, so we’re just going to give up now and save everyone the trouble…hope you enjoy your new dark ages and second-class citizenship everybody, but at least no poor, persecuted christians got their feelings hurt, or had to face up to reality or anything!

  • jemand

    The same type of argument that allows the trivialization of “temporary” and therefor “dismissible” pain in the service of a higher goal, (secularization??) that is being promoted here, allows religious brainwashers to dismiss the pain THEY cause as being “temporary” because it is only during this life and is aimed to save one from a terrible eternity.

    How can you justify taking PLEASURE in inflicting pain on another human being, simply because it is “funny” and then condemn others who are inflicting pain in order to save someone from an eternal “hell.” The inquisitors would have said “no matter the pain, it’s justified because of… blah blah.”

    I mean, take this sentence: No matter how temporarily painful a prank or mocking may be, no matter how innocent the victim (which is quite debateable in my opinion), being shown disrespect because of your choices is not even a drop in the bucket compared to the emotional blackmail, the mental handicapping, the immoral trap of lies and threats that constitutes religion.

    Just change “prank” to something the kinds of Christians you don’t like would more likely say, and change “religion” to hell, and you have PRECISELY the argument that allows them to cause harm! And you call them the hypocrites :) (well, they are, ’tis true)

    But in anyway, I think you are misrepresenting and misunderstanding the opposing viewpoint.

  • jemand

    Neil, honestly, I have reread most of your posts and I think I greatly agree with you… in most cases. Again, let’s take as an example the delusional belief that paper dolls are real or something. As long as it’s just *words* it’s fine, talking about how silly it is to think that paper fibers can communicate like neurons in the brain, or could sense things, etc. Making fun of *beliefs* by analogies, pointing out the ridiculousness, calling out hypocrisy WHEREVER it’s found, calling out cruelties wherever THEY are found, pointing out through ridicule the moral bankruptcy of religion, etc. Even laughing at responses of words is fine too. Burning the paper doll in front of their face, not. Burning ANOTHER paper doll they DON’T think is conscious but fooling them into thinking it IS the doll that can feel, is also not fine.

    Where it crosses the line, I believe, is when you get into mean spirited pranks. And fake raptures are mean spirited pranks. And it’s not just religious pranks I have a problem with, pranks *in general* if they rely on taking enjoyment and pleasure from the humiliation and pain of others, if you don’t already *know* them incredibly deeply and know their characters intimately and have a mutual exchange of those kinds of pranks and know they are ok with it…. such pranks are cruel.

    So no, I really don’t think we necessarily disagree about *religion,* making fun of religious belief is something I agree with, and I’ll go along with.

    It’s pranks predicated on humiliation and pain that I have a problem with, religious OR secular. And anyone who likes those kinds of pranks and doesn’t bother to find the type of person who enjoys *receiving* those kinds of pranks (it’s kind of like sadomachistic sex in that *particular* respect), but would rather indiscriminately inflict them on anyone who’s been well set up for it (and religion DOES set people up for that well), is acting cruelly.

  • Kaelik


    The difference is the factual accuracy.

    If I decide that everyone goes to hell, unless they are murdered before they speak their first word, and so I murder infants to prevent them from going to hell, that’s terrible because I am wrong.

    If instead I invent a time machine and go back in time and kill Hitler, that’s okay, because I am preventing actual harm.

    Actions taken for the long term good are good iff they actually are in the long term good. If they are made for a false reason, they fail that test.

  • Neil


    That clears things up a bit, thank you! As I said, ANY joke that involves bringing a person to tears and fits is over the top and cruel, agreed. No question there.
    I wouldn’t go that far myself and don’t encourage it.

    It may be a failing on my part, but I still have trouble dredging up much real sympathy for people who have staked their identities on the idea that billions of people (not them, of course) deserve eternal hellfire for the crime of being human while the “elect” enjoy eternal bliss. I know that some are brainwashed, I know that some are comforted by their beliefs, but it’s still not a free pass for spreading horrible beliefs. Here’s an analogy for my point of view here: I have great pity for the very poor. I do what I can to help, and I encourage people to take the problem seriously. Some poor people, out of desperation, join criminal gangs. It gives them a sense of belonging, it provides friends, and together they threaten people, do crimes and support themselves by victimizing the more fortunate. These actions help them feel empowered and important, and may even save their lives once in a while. I still don’t hate them, and I understand the pressures they are under…but their solution still makes it hard for me to feel bad for them when they are caught or harmed. I view most religion as little more than a gang. Many religious groups make it a point to threaten, harrass, and try to control others through intimidation, lies and fear, such as rapture scares. If the tables are turned once in a while…I have a hard time feeling too bad for victims.

    No matter how cruel the joke…it ends. The bad feeling goes away. If the “victim” is willing to examine their reactions, they might even learn something useful about themselves and the problems with credulousness.

    But the person actually preaching hellfire is trying to make a LIFELONG difference in the victim. And if the victim, if they believe, might live in needless fear for the rest of their life. They might also spread this to others. They might force it on their children.

    I still think your comparison was way out of line. Your example may read the same as an analogy on paper, but in truth, even a really mean-spirited joke only lasts a few moments, maybe longer for a seriously unbalanced person with totally unquestioning faith.
    But the threats of hellfire made by religionists, if one believes them, are FOREVER. The punchline never comes, and there may be no getting over it. The threatened punishment is eternal, and also, the effects, when fully manifested, can be lifelong and debilitating on may levels. Was the joke really that mean and destructive? Really? I’m just not seeing it.

    You can switch words and make me sound just like an evangelist preaching “pain in life for heaven later”, and sure, it sounds the same at first…
    …the difference is, in practice anyone, even a religionist, can see that it is NOT the same. You are wanting me to agree that a few minutes of fear and shame are the same, or just as bad, or even similar to a LIFETIME of lies, fear, shame, and horror. Sorry, but that’s just dishonest, and I can’t agree. The analogy may work well as words on paper, but the physical and mental realities are MILES apart, in kind and in amount. Even if the logic allowing one behavior is analgous to the logic behind the other, the two things themselves are very, very different, and the only thing tying them together is how they make you FEEL. And sorry, but one of them definitely makes ME feel much, much worse than the other. They may both be wrong and bad, but they really aren’t at all truly comparable. One is tasteless and slightly cruel. The other is a lifelong systematic vehicle of oppression and control through fear. Not the same, at all.

    And still in no case could I blame the jokesters the way I blame the preachers and evangelistic followers. Reacting badly and insensitively to a persons delusions can never be as bad as the crime of planting and encouraging those delusions in the first place.

    Another anaolgy- If that were the case, then anyone who ever made fun of a handicapped person is just as bad as the person who crippled someone with a baseball bat. They may both make you feel bad as an observer, even equally bad…but if you were going to be the victim, which would you choose? A little cruel mockery, or a few swats with the bat? A few minutes of shame and fear, or a lifetime of lies and fear and maybe an eternity of hellfire as well? Not the same.

    Again, I think you are right for the most part as well, I just thought that comparing one cruel taunt to the lifetime of delusion and fear that is religion, is more than a little ridiculous.

  • jemand


    I don’t agree with you. Hitler was not a pre-ordained “bad guy” set to occur from the history of the planet unless someone had prescience and killed him from birth. No, he came of age in a particular culture, at a particular point of time, with particular personality traits and brought up with particular ways of shaping and dealing with his desires. Various things such as how the end of WWI shook out, the history of the Christian church and Judaism, and varying levels of “othering” that was acceptable in society at the time are what allowed the person born as Adolf, to become the murderer of millions.

    Removing that particular child would not have removed the environment that created him, and I’m not convinced that in the absence of THAT child rising to power someone *else* might have, and you CERTAINLY can’t convince me that there could not *possibly* be some influence on Adolf that would have avoided his eventual fate if allowed to live.

    I do not believe that so-called “eventual good” can justify something wrong like you describe in the present… And I’m not entirely sure how you are applying it to the present conversation.

  • Dark Jaguar

    Jemand, having been indoctrinated in the past myself, I can say I agree that if it’s a contest of degree, being indoctrinated to live a life of fear in the first place is the worse offense. That said, I can safely say that while I’m sure there’s plenty of “just going with the flow” religiosity, there’s also plenty of completely… legitimate? religiosity around. In my past state, I did a lot of things I’m not proud of, and the emotions I felt were certainly genuine. I can’t say I ever thought the end was nigh, but I had every now and then got a feeling of “abandonment”. (Interestingly enough, contrary to stereotypes, when I finally accepted my growing atheism in studying things like evolution in detail for the first time, I did NOT feel that feeling. At best I felt like I was the one abandoning something, but just a ghost of a whisper that was never there. When it finally crept up on me to the point I just said it, I felt nothing but relief, and I’ve never had any desire to go back or pangs of any kind. Reading other conversion stories, this is common, but not completely typical and there are exceptions, but I’m not one of them.)

    I think there is one other matter to bring to attention. After thinking about it, there is one obvious difference to pranking someone like that and pranking, say, the pope or a major religious figure, and that’s the actions the individual being disrespected have taken in the name of their delusion. That woman most likely only got so far as “being annoying” with her friend. The pope regularly uses his delusions to further all manner of terrible affairs across the world. I think at that point, hurting his feelings with a prank would be justifiable.

    So treating people like people is the main bullet point of this particular presentation. Take each situation on it’s own merits, and consider if another display of religious disrespect might accomplish the same goal without causing massive emotional distress to someone.

    As for the famous “would you kill Hitler?” thing, whoever phrases that question isn’t being creative enough. Here’s what you do. You abduct baby Hitler and take him back to the future with you. Crisis averted.

  • Kaelik


    Yes, there might be other ways to deal with the problem. The point is that murder, or otherwise causing suffering is justified if it actually reduces suffering in the long term.

    If you go back in time to kill FDR because you believe that he was a terrible commy president, and if someone else was elected we’d live in a perfect capitalist utopia with no suffering, that would not be justified. Not because killing people to make things better in term is not justified, but instead because you are wrong.

    Likewise, actions that cause some short term suffering in exchange for less suffering in the long term are acceptable when they actually reduce long term suffering, and not acceptable when they do not.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    Really? Going too far with a prank and making somebody cry is as bad as knowingly filling children’s heads with hurtful, scary lies and trying to control the moral and emotional lives of entire populations through fear and tribalism? REALLY? Poking fun at somebody’s obviously ridiculous delusions and causing a few moments of anxiety is enough to remind you of the behavior of people self-righteous enough to preach and wish ETERNAL HELLFIRE on anyone who disagrees with them? I can’t believe you can type something that ridiculous with a straight face.

    I said nothing of the sort.

    I still can’t believe I actually read that correctly.

    You didn’t, had enough awareness to know you didn’t, and still went off on an absurd rant. Well done.

    If you don’t understand what you’re reading, ask before wasting your time.

  • Neil

    Apologies if I misunderstood, kagerato. When you said:

    “The degree of offense and sense of personal entitlement reminded me of nothing more so than the fervor of religious believers, convinced there is truly no other way.”

    …it seemed to me you were referring to the commenters who I thought made completely valid points, just about all of which have still gone unanswered. I see now you were likely referring to other, more insulting comments which were removed, and which I must have missed, as I mentioned was possible in my first post(and yes, I should have kept that in mind as I wrote later!).

    In that mistaken context, I assumed you were somewhere closer to jemand’s position, in which there was an actual attempt to equate mean pranks by non-believers to the self-righteous evengelism and threats that religionists use. I got my conversations crossed, completely my bad. Oops!

    As far as your comment (properly understood) goes, If you were referring to any of the comments still standing, I really have to wonder what it was you found so objectionable, as the rudest things I read were along the lines of “I hope Adam is back soon”…a bit ugly perhaps, but hardly comparable to a religious fervor. Unless there was something FAR more offensive and “entitled” involved that was deleted, I think you’re exaggerating. I could easily be wrong, but since comments were deleted I guess I’ll never know for sure.

    And while I interpreted your particular comment incorrectly in haste, if you really think the bulk of what I wrote is an “absurd rant” when taken as a response to jemand’s comments, comparisons, and analogies (as most of it was intended), I’m not sure what the problem is. I’m sorry I misunderstood you and lumped you in with another’s position by mistake, but please feel free to disagree with the content of what I wrote, instead of just dumping a stupid, smug label on it because I included you by mistake. I’m pretty sure I didn’t misunderstand jemand’s comments, which were what I was mostly responding to- as the context provided by further comments between jemand and myself makes quite clear.

    Anyway, apologies again for misunderstanding and misrepresenting your words. Had I seen some of the truly offensive comments, I might well agree with you.

  • Rollingforest

    We can debate on when it is best to mock a person’s beliefs. But hopefully we can try to stay away from mocking the person’s value as an individual, especially if that person is trying to interact peacefully with our group.

  • Kogo

    Sorry, but all Leah ever seems to write are posts about how atheists can most efficiently apologize, surrender, convert, and silence themselves. Her main problem seems to be that atheists exist, have beliefs and then have the temerity to say and speak them aloud.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    In case anyone was still wondering, Kogo at #27 is a fine example of what I object to. The characterization is so poor and so detached from what was said as to be little more in substance than a personal attack.

  • Kogo

    Uh huh. Yeah, let me know next time Leah writes a post that *isn’t* some variation on, “Now I know this religious person *sounds* crazy, but if you just *look at it in the right frame of mind* . . .”

  • http://www.unequally-yoked.com/ LeahAdmin

    Kogo, try looking again at my second most recent post Call him Voldemort!. It should meet the criteria you mentioned above.

    Also, to everyone, I should finally have the longer response up by Monday. I’m in the middle of preparing for a big move, so everything is going slower than I would like. There will be a smaller something related to the mockery problem over at my blog tomorrow morning.