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.

2013 Favs: Don’t Be a Jerk About It

Jerk

I’m an elected official, which is a spiffy way of saying that I’m a politician.

I am also a blogger.

It would seem, based on those two things, that I must have an opinion about every single thing in the known universe. But that’s not true. In fact, I actually don’t have an opinion about most things. I don’t care if you wear blue shoes or brown, if you shave your head or grow your hair down to your waist.

It matters not to me if you believe that the moon landing was a fraud or that your favorite food is spinach with Kool-Aid. We can still be friends, no matter if you love Bill Clinton or loathe him. Ditto for both Bushes and President Obama.

Here, for your consideration, is a small sampling of the things that I do not care about. Feel free to add your own list of what you don’t care about in the com boxes.

1. I don’t care if you wear a veil to mass. I’m not going to. But if you feel it’s a statement you want to make, whether it’s about sanctity, modesty, or fashion, then be my guest. I’m for you putting whatever you want on your own head.

2. I don’t care if you wear a beard. I only kiss one man and he’s the only man whose hirsutedness matters to me. The rest of you can go slick or bearded or some version in between. It is, after all, your face.

3. I don’t care if you think Halloween is verboten, or you’ve been designing your costume for months. That is your call.Don t be a jerk

Now we come to the I don’t cares with a caveat, and that caveat is, don’t be a jerk about it.

4. I don’t care if you are a Republican or a Democrat. Just don’t be a jerk about it.

5. I don’t care if you are a vegetarian or a meat eater. Just don’t be a jerk about it.

6. I don’t care if you are an atheist or an evangelist. Just don’t be a jerk about it.

7. I don’t care if you are gay or straight. Just don’t be a jerk about it.

8. I don’t care if you are a Protestant or a Catholic. Just don’t be a jerk about it.

9. I don’t even care if you are smart or stupid. But if you are smart, for pete’s sake, don’t be a jerk about it.

What, exactly, does “don’t be a jerk about it” mean? I could reference Jehovah’s Witnesses on Saturday morning. But, Jehovah’s Witnesses on Saturday morning do not even begin to sink to the level of self-righteous, mean-spirited, carping jerkiness that born again Republican/Democrat/vegetarian/atheist/gay/straight/protestant/Catholic/smarties can be. In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses on Saturday mornings are, in my experience, unfailingly polite and soft spoken. I have never had one of them call me a single name for telling them that I can’t talk now.

The jerks I’m talking about have their pictures in the dictionary right next to holier-than-thou and cross referenced with bully, rude and vulgar.

The trouble in describing this particular flavor of jerkiness is that we’ve lost the common basis for what constitutes healthy human interaction. We can’t define it, so we also can’t define what it’s not. That allows jerkiness to reign supreme and run amuck and generally tip over tables and pour people’s beer in their laps and then tell them the whole thing is their fault since everybody knows that it’s “immoral” by the jerk’s code to drink Coor’s (Budweiser/Tap/etc) beer.

I think that the best way to handle this glaring lack in our common language is to go back a few decades, or maybe even a century or so, to resurrect the Victorian word “boor.”

Picture a Victorian lady with a plumed hat and gloves, carrying a frilly parasol and looking down her little nose at you and pronouncing,  “sir or madam, you are a boor.”

That fits, doesn’t it? It sounds so … entitled … when it’s contrasted with the relatively wimpy “you’re being a jerk” of our day.

And that is what’s lacking here. The jerks of the world have given themselves endless entitlement to practice their jerkiness on people who were minding their own business and didn’t ask to interact with them. They feel entitled to go banging into other people’s lives to throw insults and non-sequiturs around because … well, because they’ve told themselves they are entitled.

What we need is for nice people to get a little entitlement to match that of the jerks of the world. I don’t mean that we should join them in their behavior. I am not advocating that people fight the jerks by becoming jerks themselves. Maybe it’s time we just tell ourselves that we are entitled to, among other things, not listen to people just because they get in our faces and demand that we listen to them.

Maybe we should tell the boors, that if they persist in their boorishness, we won’t play with them anymore. They’ll have to take their toys and go play with the other jerks over in their yard with no grass and broken glass scattered around.

If, on the other hand, they can manage to stop engaging in their bullying, defaming, chest-pounding gorilla act and tame their inner jerk, they can come around.

I can do that, if you can. I can shut jerks down like slamming a lid shut. I can also let reformed jerks come play in my yard.

Because I don’t really care if someone is a vegetarian/republican/democrat/atheist/gay/straight/protestant/Catholic/smartie with a beard who wears a veil while putting on their Halloween costume to go denounce trick or treaters.

But I will not put up with them being a jerk about it.

Internet Self Defense and Locust Trolls

Every so often a post I write gets picked up by one of the 800 pound gorillas of the internet.

It’s almost always a very simple post that took no effort to write and which has, at most, one idea without any nuances or development.

I’m still quite new at this blogging stuff, so my opinions about it are forming, not formed. One of my forming, but not quite formed opinions is that if you want mega huge traffic numbers, you need to dumb your writing down.

I’m not going to do that, mainly because I don’t care about mega huge traffic numbers. That has nothing to do with the purpose of this blog. I don’t want every reader. I want readers who are interested in building a community of people who want to stand up for Jesus.

That said, whenever one of these internet gorillas links to one of my posts, I first become aware of it by the sudden influx of profane, foul-mouthed insults that appear in my com boxes. That’s what happened Saturday.

Two of my posts got picked up by other blogs with large followings. One of them was just another blogging colleague. But one was a major news service who keeps their numbers up by trashifying their coverage.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what was happening. I literally sat and watched the comment numbers tick up, one after the other, 44, 45, 46, 47 … 200, 300 …, just about as fast as the little meter could register them.

The two posts that got this loving attention were the humorous one where I compared atheists to vampires and the not-so-humorous one where I said that President Obama’s The First Time ad demeaned women and was beneath the dignity of his office.

I let any comment that I thought would lead to some sort of intelligent discussion through. I deleted comments that attacked Christians, Christianity, cursed, called me names (there were a lot of these), or which advanced arguments that I’ve learned are just come-ons for circular agenda-stealing, blog-destroying verbal wrangling that has no end.

The result: only a smattering of comments made their way through, and my trash file is blushing from shame about what I dumped into it.

I’ve learned that when I get one of these nasty-comment storms, the easiest way to delete is to use my cell phone. That way, I can just use my thumb to touch that little trash icon and send the f-bombs and you are a (insert misogynist name for a woman’s body part) away to virtual oblivion.

These surges of nut case comments don’t usually last too long. These people aren’t actual readers. They’re more like plagues of locusts. They fly through, destroy your blog if you let them, and then fly on, searching for somewhere else to behave like abusive wackos.

Before I went to bed last night, I studied the various stats from these two particular locust clouds. The Obama locusts almost all flew in on a mobile device, primarily either an iPhone or an iPad. The iPhone had by far the highest numbers of all the devices they used. I own both these gadgets. In fact, I used my iPhone to delete these little darlings. I’m not making a connection between Apple and internet nut jobs.

What I am thinking is that these are most likely internet savvy people. They evidently read internet news services on their mobile devices and then one-off a few foul-mouthed assaults in what appears to be an almost reflexive manner. I’m guessing that most of them don’t even remember making a comment on Public Catholic.

I think the atheist-vampire locusts are a much older crowd than the Obama locusts, and also much more intentional. They tend to fly in on their computers, and on Internet Explorer. Again, this has nothing to do with Microsoft. I think it’s more of a generational thing.

The Obama locusts focused almost exclusively on sexual thinking, which is not surprising, given the nature of the ad I wrote about. Their language was what you’d expect. A number of them were women. Most of their comments were focused on me personally. About the nicest thing anybody called me was “prude.” It went downhill — waaaayyyyy downhill — from there.

The atheist locusts came in with angry diatribes against Christians and Christianity. Some of them referenced their many victories in the courts limiting Christians’ freedom of speech and expression (not that they called it this) and angry comments about how vile they found the symbolism of the cross. None of them that I can remember actually attacked the Lord Himself. And most of them weren’t aimed at me. So far as I can remember, they were all male.

I don’t remember an atheist who called me any of the ugly names our society uses for women, which is certainly more than I can say for the Obama locusts. Instead, they gave full vent to their hatred of Christianity.

The Obama Locusts just buzzed in, dropped their load of insults and flew on by. The atheist locusts stayed to argue. When I deleted their comments, they circled back with insults and threats demanding that I undelete them. A couple of them went over the top with this.

All in all, it was an interesting exercise; my own little laboratory for the study of internet trolls in action. I’m not saying that all Obama supporters or all atheists behave like this. Obviously most of the members of both these groups were out enjoying their weekend. I’ve written other posts that got me zapped from Christian trolls who just flew in to quote canon law and tell me that I’m not pro-life enough.

The internet gives people a cloak of anonymity that lets them behave as they really want to, rather than as they feel they have to. For most people, that doesn’t mean much of anything at all. But for some, it’s a ticket to verbally act out their lower passions without regard for consequences. I also think that for some of them trashing other people on the internet is their primary recreation.

When I study the comments on other blogs and talk to other bloggers, it rapidly becomes apparent that Christian blogs are a primary — not exclusive, but primary — target of these attacks.

I’ve never seen a blog where a man gets called the kind of names that I get called. Of course, we are such a misogynist society that our language doesn’t even HAVE those names for men.

It’s no surprise, really, that two of the primary targets of these foul-mouthed internet attacks should be women and Christians. After all, our politically correct society has limited the targets. Who else can you call filthy names and be intolerant of except women and Christians?

My point is that we don’t have to let internet trolls take over our conversations, destroy our on-line communities and keep us from accomplishing what we want to accomplish with our blogs. We can stop them.

All we have to do is use that delete button.


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