Atheists in the Comboxes UPDATED AND BUMPED

This is a special note to evangelical atheists, religion haters, and members of the Church of Scientism who are haunting my comboxes leaving snippy little screeds.

You bore me, and you’ve been boring me for far too long. When I was returning to the Church after being out for 15 years, my first task was to read a lot of atheist writers to learn the nature of their arguments, and see if they had merit. Since I already had a decent background in Classical studies, anthropology, philosophy, and comparative religion, I was shocked at the utter emptiness of everything I found. Dead-end arguments, faulty reasoning, bad faith, contempt, meanness, and a heapin’ helpin’ of ignorance made it an enlightening experience. I’d developed a sense of how to appreciate Truth during my years as a Platonist, and I saw there was no truth there.

I’ve found very few atheists who argue better since then. Leah Libresco argues in good faith, but she seems awfully alone out there, and honestly, it’s just not a debate I care to engage any longer. I’ve done it already, and it is so very dull. So much of internet atheism reminds me of Terry Eagleton’s famous takedown of the New Atheists, when he noted that Richard Dawkins “writes as though ‘Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness’ is a mighty funny way to describe a Grecian urn.” Honestly, while there is still a Wordsworth poem unread, or a Martha Argerich album unheard, or a Buster Keaton movie unwatched, how on earth can I justify taking the finite time remaining to me to answer yet another “the Gospels are fiction” screed for someone who will never accept my explanation?

The great problem is that for every principled, reasonable atheist there appear to be a thousand with serious personality disorders, or as Mark Shea calls them, “Napoleon Dynamite with a mean streak.” This particular kind of atheist is a fundamentalist. A reflexive contempt for the religious thought that formed that backbone of human civilization destroys their ability to think coherently. Their hatred of religion becomes a kind of anti-intellectualism that poses as serious thought. They worship one particular thing–the human brain–without bothering to wonder how, or even if, their thoughts correlate to reality. The idea that materialism is the only rational philosophy is itself a highly irrational viewpoint, but they are incapable of seeing that.

They also reserve a special contempt for traditional religion while living off its fruits. For example, there’s nothing in the observable universe to make the statement “all men are created equal” even remotely true. By the standards of materialism, based purely on observation, the very opposite is the truth. We are only able to say “all men are created equal” because of our Christian heritage, and our belief in a transcendent God in Whose image we are created.

Here’s a little example from the comboxes of the kind of rote reactionary ignorance this kind of mind produces: “The creation story of your own religion involves a man created out of dust who is convinced by his rib-woman wife to eat a magical fruit because a talking snake told her that it would make them like gods.  The universe as we know it took much longer than six days to form, human beings didn’t spring forth from dust or rib bones, fruit isn’t magical, and snakes lack the vocal apparatus or the mental ability to speak.  Before you slam Mormanism [sic] for being False, make sure the insurance policy of that glass house of yours is all paid up.”

Where does one begin to dismantle this kind of grade-school stupidity? It shows no understanding of how people of faith read their own texts, makes pointless observations about facts not in dispute, and piles all of its rhetorical eggs in a basket marked “sneering contempt.” There’s no there there. I know some bloggers permit this kind of tripe out of a sense of fairness or openness, or in order to refute it, but I have neither the time nor inclination to do so. Comments like this–the bread and butter of fundamentalist atheism on the internet–will not be posted here, and the account will be marked as spam.

Remarks like this are routine in posts on any subject, no matter how irrelevant. If the subject is religion, and we’re debating points T, U, and V, this kind of comment attempts to yank us back to debating points A, B, and C. You don’t enter a nuanced debate about a religious issue by saying religious issues are not worthy of debate. It’s like showing up at a soccer game and complaining that the team isn’t playing hockey correctly. It makes no sense, and its only purpose is for the atheist to thumb his nose at the squares, shout “FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER!”, and pat himself on the back for speaking “truth” to the dumb rubes who believe all this God stuff.

I’m not interested. A long debate on Catholic subjects is going on in this post, with multiple responses, including comments from someone with whom I completely disagree. I don’t think he’s always stayed on form with his debate, but he’s making his points, they are relevant to the story in question, and things seem to be staying fairly civil, so I’ve let it go all on its own and stayed out of it. Wouldn’t dream of taking it down.

But then someone wandered into that long and nuanced debate and posted the comment which I quote above. Why? To what end? What is the purpose? What does it accomplish?

As I get deeper into studying this material, I find myself further from the basic points of debate which seem to grip so many in the comboxes. My area of concentration seems to be settling on Jewish and Christian texts from about 200BC to 200AD. (Totally didn’t see that one coming, by the way: I figured my thesis would be on some aspect of Thomistics.) It’s a little difficult to go from studying relationships among the wisdom books, the pseudepigrapha, the deuterocanonicals, and early Christian writing, back to answering “Bwa ha ha! You worship a Jesus cookie!” I’m sure other people people do it much better.

Thus, the pointless atheist squib (which may well be the same text cut and pasted on every religious site this fellow visits, regardless of topic) won’t be published, so just save your time and toddle on back to Reddit and post your little Flying Spaghetti Monster pics and chortle over how superior you are to those silly benighted God-botherers. You will be one with the Pharisee who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” (Except, of course, in the place where it says “God,” you can insert “brain,” or maybe “gravity,” since that seems to be the answer for everything.)

Our prayer will be different. It will be a prayer for the mercy and grace of God to shine in the dark places and soften hearts of stone so love may find a place to abide. (I know, I know: how tragically unhip.)

NOTE: Just to be extra meta, I’ve turned off the comboxes for this post on comboxes. You can always yell at me on Twitter.

UPDATE: Both Leah Libresco and Mark Shea replied to this post, which just started out as an addendum to my combox policy. Frank Weathers offers another way to witness.

I posted the following at Unequally Yoked:

You are a very reasonable person, and your attitude of “assuming commenters are arguing in good faith and replying as though they’d asked you a slightly more respectfully phrased question” is a perfect approach. I wish I had the patience for that.

My greater irritation is how so many of the comments (I don’t post most) are just wholly off-topic and merely regurgitate atheist talking points, almost like a cut-and-paste job. In my post I compared it to wandering into a soccer game and complaining that the teams are playing hockey wrong. This seems to be the “treat them with contempt” approach encouraged by Dawkins. I’m assuming reasonable atheists understand that this is less “bold new way to debate” and more “borderline personality disorder.”

The other trap they fall into is this idea that only atheists possess reason, or at least that they possess some fuller and more complete kind of reason. It really does no one any good to assume that a faith tradition that includes Augustine, Aquinas, Scotus, Roger Bacon, and countless scientists, artists, and philosophers is somehow reason-deficient. I know this is part of the shtick for many fundie atheists–pretend that faith is so unreasonable that it can merely fall under a barrage of scorn–but you know, that really doesn’t work with educated adults. Go ahead an assume we’ve all read the same books, and have come to different conclusions.

By the way, I know that Christians do the same thing. Even I get weird Christian comments. When I write about games, I’ve had the fundies telling me that these are just the devil’s playground &c &c. Someone scolded me about my post on the Patron Saint of Gamers because such a thing isn’t really Christian, or something. (And just a quick note: if someone in the combox tells you you’re going to hell, they’re probably not Catholic. Or, at least, not a Catholic who knows squat about their faith. We’re not even sure Judas is hell.)


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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.