Win a Few, Lose a Few (Atheists / Agnostics and Me)

Win a Few, Lose a Few (Atheists / Agnostics and Me) September 1, 2015


Poster from the 1880s, regarding  the famous novella written by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, published in 1886. [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

This very day, I received the following two remarkably divergent replies from atheists or agnostics here at Patheos, within a few hours of each other:

1) “I have only had the pleasure of interacting with you on here for a few weeks, but from what I have seen you are a very fair and honest person. You just happen to disagree with me on a major point of life … but there is a great deal of satisfaction debating with someone is honest and mature.”

[later revision] The second negative reply was of a “personal attack” nature. I’m happy to report that things have since been patched up between us (with mutual apologies offered). Nevertheless, I have been the recipient of a mountain of personal abuse from quite a few atheists in threads dealing with atheism here (several of them banned for clear violation of my Discussion Policy), so my point still stands. I need not cite bore my readers to death with alternate examples. They are all over the comboxes of any paper of mine about atheism. I replied to the first person:

Excellent. Thanks for the compliment. You seem the same to me, too. It’s always this way with atheist discussion and myself. If I show up in a new place where atheists and agnostics are, all hell breaks loose after I give a few arguments. Lot’s of ’em decide to get angry, insult, and they usually split. Then when the dust settles down a bit, a smaller number of thicker-skinned, more self-confident and tolerable atheists decide I’m not Vlad the Impaler, and might actually be capable of uttering a few cogent replies, and they stick around, and we have great discussion and fun. You’re of that type. Many atheists who have commented here are, sadly, of the other type. This is how it goes with me. Usually people love me or loathe me. Not much in-between. :-) That’s how it was (very much so) with Jesus and Paul, too (people wanted to murder them, and eventually succeeded), so I figure I’m doin’ something right.

There’s only one o’ me! It’s amazing that such contradictory perceptions of yours truly could take place in the space of one day. But perception, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, ain’t it? It’s affected by many factors, leading to widely different opinions of (in this instance) one solitary person.

This “contrary” tendency of behavior also applies to other categories of what I regard as “obstinate” folks, when it comes to Catholicism: the angry / hostile faction of atheists and radical Catholic reactionaries on the far right fringe of the Catholic faith. I mentioned all three of these groups in my “Discussion Policy.” It’s almost always one of these three groups whenever I have difficult online encounters, ending up in blistering attacks and insults coming my way. I post this mainly for its humorous value, and to show what it is like in the day-to-day life of a Catholic apologist. This is all part of the package; an occupational hazard.
I was also roundly insulted and denigrated at length today by a Calvinist on another discussion thread. Anti-Catholics (a small minority of Protestantism, and mostly from among the “fundamentalist” fringe sub-group) despise Catholics every bit as much (likely even more) than some atheists do, because they don’t regard us as Christians. All in a day’s work . . . In summary, I wrote today on my Facebook page, where an earlier form of this article was originally posted:
I love dialogues so much, that I’m willing to put up with this nonsense 70-80% of the time or more, in order to get to a rare gem of dialogue. I think it was Socrates or Plato who said that true dialogue can only take place with some significant measure of mutual respect and even friendship. That’s why it is impossible to do with anti-Catholics, radical Catholic reactionaries, and the angry / arrogant brand of atheist, because they offer no such respect to orthodox Catholics.
But back to the difficult (coterie or faction of) atheists. Here are my general thoughts:
I make (rather typically, as I am a “bulldog” debater) several pointed observations about ideas that I reject, but not about people. Granted, the line in such passionate debates can often be a very fine one, but certainly, in most cases, what I said, and its tone (however judged) was no more harsh or acerbic than what my atheist opponent stated.

So, in a word, it’s a case of the proverbial, “you can dish it out but you can’t take it.” Or, “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” 

I offer a number of replies to standard atheist arguments, that they may not usually hear (I’ve been debating atheists and agnostics off and on for 34 years). In the face of that, my atheist opponents only have so many choices:

1. Interact with such replies.

2. Admit that some replies have a point, and concede the point; possibly with retraction of stated contrary positions.

3. Refuse to interact and change the topic or obfuscate, so as to avoid the intellectual responsibility in dialogue of interacting with one’s opponent.

4. Insult and/or split.

Our (usually very intelligent) atheist friends too often choose option #4. It’s a great shame, because most atheists are sharp and interesting people. I love interacting with intelligent, thoughtful people. I don’t care what they believe. I’m impressed that they think [seriously, about competing ideas], in a world where most people don’t. I’m not claiming my points necessarily always overthrew atheist arguments. But they are replies, and lots of folks (even many brilliant folks) don’t want to hear replies or criticisms of their view.

It remains true as ever, that even the greatest geniuses can accept false premises and misunderstand various fields of knowledge. As a socratic debater, I always go right to premises, in talking with people who disbelieve a lot of what I believe. That was the purpose of my recent, highly controversial paper about atheism, that was clarified at length by a second paper. Many atheists and agnostics cannot handle that (just as many, many Christians, likewise, cannot handle strong criticism or critique of anything in their faith). They’re not used to being challenged, and are very used to being the “smart guys” when dealing with Christians insufficiently versed in their own theology or in (more often) apologetics, so that they can defend it against outsiders.

And so, not infrequently, they (i.e., the sort of angry / hostile atheist, so prevalent online) get mad and attack the relatively more informed Christian who deigns and dares to offer some — any — reply (whether good or bad is beside my present point); and they take their ball and bat and go home. I’m happy to let my readers (you)  decide why that happened in specific instances: whether breakdowns of discussion happened because I was an insufferable ass and idiot, and supposedly attacked my opponents and deliberately misrepresented, or because my opponents couldn’t stand being given replies, and refused to counter-reply minus the (or instead of) personal attacks.

 I’ll continue be here. I ain’t going anywhere. And I’ll keep seeking out atheists and agnostics who can talk calmly and rationally with Christians who offer critiques of their views, too. On the relatively rare occasions when true dialogue occurs, it’s usually very interesting and helpful to at least achieve better mutual understanding. Neither side gets anywhere not properly and accurately understanding the thinking (and moral character and intellectual acumen) of the other.

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