Christian in a Post Christian World: How Should We Handle Attacks from Atheist Internet Trolls?

Atheism1

How do we respond to people who follow Dr Dawkins’ advice to mock and ridicule us with contempt and in public?

One reaction is to try to reason with the mockers and ridiculers.

Another would be to mock and ridicule back.

A third might be to invite them to, as we say here in Oklahoma, “take it outside.”

The problem with all these responses is that people who deliberately and with malice of forethought single out a group of people for public mockery and ridicule have, by their actions, placed themselves beyond the pale of civil society. Their behavior is reprehensible. So long as they continue to engage in it, they do not deserve the courtesy of either replies or engagement of any sort.

I posted Dawkins: Mock Them. Ridicule Them. In Public. With Contempt with the expectation that I would get a flurry of idiotic comments from atheist provocateurs, trying to engage the readers of this blog in verbal mud wrestling. I was not disappointed. I deleted all but two of these which I let through because they were the least offensive. I wanted to make them available as an educational exercise for the Christians who read Public Catholic.

I think we need to become aware of this asinine behavior and decide how to handle it.

Two of Public Catholic’s regular readers tried to answer these comments. One reader went the way of giving the commenter the benefit of the doubt and trying to answer it intelligently. The other reader replied with anger.

Neither response was wrong.

But it is interesting that one of the atheist provocateurs immediately pounced on the angry response with an ad hominem attack on Catholics. It was actually a comic pose for this individual to take, considering the spate of claptrap — all insulting — he had tried to post on this blog. It is also interesting that he did not want to answer the more measured reply. He went instead for the response he had been trying to provoke, which was anger.

Now, I’m sure he’ll re-tell this tale of his daring assault on the Catholics — with himself as the hero — to his fellow atheist provocateurs.

Do I hear the word “childish?” How about the phrase “grade school?”

They both fit.

And that is the point.

It doesn’t make any difference what you say to people like this. Anger is as good as reason. They aren’t trying to engage in legitimate discussion. They are trying to provoke, so they can count coup when they get back to their den.

This is what their leader, Dr Dawkins, has taught them to do.

The entire edifice of their tawdry behavior is based on a pretense they pretend that they are intellectually superior. This pose is something that Dr Dawkins and many of the other “new atheists” have used to peddle their worn-out arguments to impressionable and desperately insecure people who want above all things to be different, special and superior. They tell these people that all they have to do to prove their intelligence is take a pose of unbelief and behave like a pack of hounds on the verbal attack.

Of course, anyone who buys this pandering sell-job is unlikely to be all that canny. But that’s another issue for another post.

The reason they come over here and behave like trolls is that this behavior gives them something to brag about later.

Not all atheists behave like this. But there are enough of them who do to make life miserable for everybody else.

Unfortunately, not every obnoxious atheist you will meet in your life is going to fall into the braggadocio category. Some of them are genuinely hate-filled jerks who get a kick out of hurting other people. Our society has decided that race baiting and gay baiting are no longer acceptable sports. It has replaced it with Christian-baiting. Especially in our institutions of higher learning and in certain parts of the country, it is socially acceptable to publicly mock, ridicule and treat Christians with contempt. It is certainly acceptable to do so in our movies and on made for cable television.

So what’s a Christian to do?

Let’s focus today on the online atheist trolls who come onto blogs and take over the discussion. These fall into two types. The first just argues in an endless circle. They can go all day and never say one original thing, and they are unashamed to repeat themselves over and over. They never stop making their argumentative comments. These people seem to have a goal of taking over other people’s conversations and focusing them on themselves and their agendas.

You’ll notice that I made a statement in the blog rules here that I don’t allow people to take over this blog with their agendas. That statement is there for people like this.

This isn’t discussion. It’s bullying.

I’ve seen it at public meetings when a group comes in and begins yelling and taking over the mike. They can effectively end all discourse and shut down the meeting. This is not free speech. It is something quite the opposite of free speech, since it has the effect of keeping others from joining into discussion. It also serves the purpose of ending public meetings. I’ve seen many groups just decide to end public discussion because they could not handle the disruptive bullies who show up.

In an online forum like this one, their behavior is easy to stop, if the person who’s running the blog has the will. All I have to do to shut them down and allow others to speak is delete their blasts of 20 hateful comments, or, as I often do, allow the most thoughtful of their blast of twenty comments through and delete the rest. If I didn’t, the nice people who enjoy this blog would end up leaving and all I would have left would be the trashy trolls and their hate-filled, bullying agenda.

Another tactic I’ve seen is to make comments like the two that I let through on the Dawkins post. These aren’t anything even vaguely resembling an attempt at discussion. They are nonsensical little barbs designed to provoke. I would guess that what they are hoping to provoke is something they can use to brag about later.

I think these kinds of comments come from the lower end of the atheist spectrum; the mentally — if not chronologically — adolescent members of the atheist  group who are total and absolute followers of their leadership. These is a certain swagger to their behavior, but certainly nothing that is recognizable as intellectual gravitas.

I almost never let these kinds of things through to the Public Catholic board. When I do, it’s always for illustrative purposes.

There is a lot of this tripe out there in the blogosphere, so what’s a Christian to do when he or she encounters it?

My feeling is that if a blog is run for the entertainment of this type of person and they tend to dominate the discussion, your peace of mind requires that you shun that blog. Why go through trying to talk to people who have such aggressively closed minds? They need prayer more than they need argument.

It’s all right to practice on the few of these that I let through on Public Catholic. That’s usually why I let them through. So you can have a go at them and learn from the experience.

One thing I have observed: Nothing makes atheist trolls more upset than being ignored. When I delete them, they respond with snotty comments directed at me personally. These can get quite ugly, but they don’t bother me. Rather, they confirm my original decision to delete their earlier comments. I didn’t create this blog to provide a forum for atheists. That’s not its purpose. I also didn’t create it to attract as much traffic of any sort that I could get.

Public Catholic is here to help Christians stand for Jesus in a post-Christian world. I range all over the map with the topics I cover, but all of them are in some way connected (at least in my mind) with that one goal. One of the most important facets of standing for Jesus in a post Christian world is learning the mental trick of standing a bit apart from that world and thinking things through for yourself. You cannot follow Christ and be swept up by the gods of this world, or their many memes.

Every so often I put up a post dealing with the new atheism and its vitriol. I never do this to annoy the new atheists. I always do it to help you learn how to deal with them.

We’ll talk later about the much more serious attacks that come against Christians in our real lives. For now, let’s try to discern how to handle the internet atheist trolls.

If you have a blog of your own, how do you handle them there?

Do any of them manage to shake your faith?

Do they make you want to hide your faith when you go online to avoid attack?

Do they overwhelm you?

Can you answer them, or do you just want to leave the premises when they start their stuff?

These are all questions we need to explore. They are part of what it means to be a Christian today.

  • Anthony Loreto

    I have come across some of the more intelligent “atheists,” in reality, which are leading others down that path. However, when I got to know the leader of the group personally it turns out he was caught up in witch craft, demonic worship, ect… I think we need to be aware of an actual evil intent here. The attack for the sake of attack in public forums has to be addressed as true danger, because these are the things that were done to Catholics just before the revolution in Communist Russia. Then the attacks became physical. There is a deep, and true hatred among these people, which is not rational, or logical, but operates purely out of hate.

    • Joseph X.

      I get the impression that Dawkins is just simply an evil fellow. Some of his comments and reactions strike me as totally hate-filled, dare I say satanic.

      • routkay

        I believe Dawkins has a deep and bitter hatred for God because of his physical condition. To “get even,” he insists that there is no God and encourages others not just to be atheist and mind their own business, but to attack believers (and not coincidentally, people who are not as disabled as he is.) Clear example of why Hate and Envy are Deadly Sins.

        • Archaeopteryx

          I’m not aware Dawkins suffers from any major disability. Are you sure you’re not confusing him for Stephen Hawking?

  • peggy-o

    It’s astonishing to me that people do this or even have the time. “Get a Life” comes to mind. I think Anthony makes a good point regarding the need for awareness of malice and evil intent. I have a priest friend who is training for exorcisms. He suggests praying the Litany of the Saints where there is suspicion of satanic attacks.

    As a reader, I definitely appreciate your screening out these. If these attacks took over, I would probably not read the comments or move on. Dialoguing in these boxes is a good thing, where at least they stay fairly reasonable and productive.

    My son who is in debate always suggests being concise and staying on point and counterpoint. We have many apologetics conversations. Btw, he received training in your home state last summer in Lawton–maybe OK is well prepared.

    Most my experience is in person and I try to show respect but think its fair to call out personal attacks or outlandish claims. For example, there is more than ample evidence on transubstantiation with testing and human dna so Dawkins is really ignorant on that subject. Ravi is right –its anger and its self destructive. We should always have prayer in our arsenal against all attacks. Thanks Rebecca!

    • hamiltonr

      Thanks Peg!

    • Bill S

      “I think Anthony makes a good point regarding the need for awareness of malice and evil intent.”

      How about a desire to proclaim the real truth as opposed to what is pedaled as some sort of ultimate “Truth”.

  • Mary E.

    There’s a distinct pattern of behavior that Internet trolls share, regardless of subject-matter: they refuse to acknowledge and respond to questions or objections. They may counter-attack, or double back on their original positions, or simply ignore posts by other commenters. At that point, it’s reasonable to conclude that you’re dealing with someone who is trying to score points or provoke a hostile reaction, not someone who wants to enter into a genuine discussion (regardless of what they claim) and I, for one, would not fault you for deleting their posts.

    • hamiltonr

      Thank you Mary.

  • erikcampano

    The trick to dealing with people whom you find distasteful is compassion. Instead of hitting with anger (provokes revenge), or ignoring them (dehumanizes), or “reasoning” with them (a pretense for conflict), try to befriend them. Find out where they’re from, why they’re reading your blog, what they value, love, why they believe what they believe. If they need to spew rhetoric that you disagree with, let them spew it. But carry on, and distract the conversation, building a friendship with them beyond discussion of theism v. atheism. You might find that there’s a genuine person in there who just needs a little love. This method requires more energy than the others, but reaps great benefits. You will be doing good for someone, they’ll come to honor you, and you might learn that they’re not as ignorant/mean-spirited as you originally thought they were. It’s good for your own soul, too. Matthew 5:46-47.

    I have a quite a bit of experience with “trolls”, Rebecca. If you’d like some actual examples of communicating with them until you find the best in them and they find the best in you, let me know.

    • Angelo Ocampo

      They will see any chances for friendship as a chance for them to try convert you.

      • erikcampano

        My experience doesn’t bear that out.

        And who cares? If your beliefs are right, then you shouldn’t worry about anyone trying to convert you.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I tried to relieve you for a while. Bill S. has been posting at Outside the Autistic Asylum so much that I converted the comments to Disqus.

    Here’s one thing I do. Act as if any sentence I find insulting doesn’t exist, then respond to any point that is worth responding to. And then keep baiting with occasional articles disproving his points.

    My latest attack is to compare late term abortion and infanticide *directly* to euthanasia, since large numbers of late term abortions are of wanted, but disabled, children, often with shortened potential lifespans.

    • Bill S

      “Here’s one thing I do. Act as if any sentence I find insulting doesn’t exist,”

      Funny. And I thought you just didn’t have an answer for some of the points I was trying to make. Thank you for converting to Disqus where you don’t have to try to read and type weird codes with your responses.

  • Liberty

    I enjoy discussing differences with people when I post things on my Facebook but I have several former students who like to argue without ceasing and simply become bullies as you noted above. It becomes trying to discuss anything with them because they refuse to address what I’m actually saying and the facts and instead continue to repeat the same Leftist crap over and over while insulting me and taking what I’ve said out of context. One even screencapped a conversation we had on my *private* Facebook wall & reposted it everywhere for others to mock. They are bullies.

  • Bill S

    This is Jeopardy. Let’s meet today’s contestants. From Boston, Massachusetts, an Atheist Internet Troll, Bill S…

  • John W. Morehead

    Sorry I missed this when first posted. You might be interested in The World Table, a new resource that transforms bad online behaviors and forms of interaction between people with strong differences. It has application to religion as well as politics and more. It is a resource of the Foundation for Religious Dipomacy. Learn more at http://www.theworldtable.org. You can learn more about FRD’s Evangelical chapter at http://www.religious-diplomacy.org/evangelichapter.

  • Shane

    Can one of you please and I am serious where in the bible it was ever stated that race baiting orr gay baiting or heck any kind of baiting was ever acceptable? I also want to know why you would think it would be acceptable to do any of that stuff. Stephen King said it best in Carrie, “You can only push someone so far before they push back.”


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