One of my earliest posts on Daylight Atheism was about the torrent of angry, obscene, hateful messages that inevitably greets any atheist who speaks out in public. We’re seeing this happen again, this time aimed at Blair Scott of American Atheists, who recently appeared on Fox News to discuss that group’s lawsuit against a cross in the 9/11 Memorial Museum. (Appearing on Fox is a surefire way to bring the angry lunatics out from under their rocks.) Here’s a sample:
“i say kill them all and let them see for themselves that there is God” —Paul Altum
“Shoot them. Shoot to kill.” —Bob O’Connell
“Nail them to that cross then display it” —Mike Holeschek
“these people are f’ing scum of the earth. can we start killing them now?” —Michael Perri [Editor's Note: He can gleefully fantasize about committing mass murder, but he won't type the word "fucking"?]
“I love Jesus, and the cross and if you dont, I hope someone rapes you!” —Sindy Clock
Note, I didn’t redact the names. These were Facebook comments, and if anyone is stupid enough to post this kind of filth under their real name, they deserve what they get. As far as I’m concerned, when you start making threats, you forfeit your right to anonymity. You can see these comments and more preserved for posterity, here and here, as well as a third page that preserved a different sampling, although it unfortunately redacted the names of the guilty. (I do have to give credit to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who actually discussed the lawsuit without demagoguing, a rarity among politicians.)
These violent, deranged messages put the lie to the claim that religion is a superior source of morality compared to atheism, much less that it’s the only valid source of morality. What it really is, is a tribal marker – a convenient way of identifying those who belong versus those who are outsiders. And while believers can be very compassionate and generous toward fellow members of the tribe, they’re equally swift to turn aggressive and violent when someone trespasses on one of the tribe’s taboos.
Ths isn’t even a new phenomenon. In the 1870s, the famous biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of natural selection, agreed to answer the challenge of a flat-earther who bet £500 – good money even today and an enormous sum back then – that no one could prove the Earth’s surface was curved. The wager involved hanging markers from two bridges along a canal, each at the same distance above the water, and then sighting through a telescope to prove that one was higher than the other due to the planet’s curvature. The judge declared that Wallace had won the bet, but his victory brought on a flood of death threats and bile from infuriated flat-earthers. As Steve Jones writes:
A hint of their response comes from a letter to his wife: “Madam – If your infernal thief of a husband is brought home some day on a hurdle, with every bone in his head smashed to pulp, you will know the reason.”
Although Wallace’s hate mail was slightly more literate than the drooling maniacs on Facebook, the striking similarity shows that it doesn’t matter what the taboo is, whether it’s the flat Earth or crosses in a 9/11 museum. It only matters that a religious faction holds it to be sacred. Announce yourself in opposition to it, and you can be sure you’ll attract the hate of the mob. The bright side of this ugliness is that, unlike in ages past, there’s a secular community that can point it out and publicize it, which aids our cause by helping to sever the perceived link between religion and morality.