Recently, I had the distinct blessing (Mt 5:11-12) of being the target of 21 out of [literally] 54 atheists who appeared in a combox of a post on the blog run by atheist Jonathan MS Pearce (and also a second one). It started out on the topic of my critiques of deconversion stories, and then quickly descended into an avalanche of complaining (and, well, lying) about my strict, zero-tolerance-of-insults moderation policy on my blog: then to outright malice and vitriol. I explained till I was blue in the face why I have such a policy, but no matter. As I recently commented:
People get mad when they are banned, just as we have disgruntled former employees, athletes angry when they are ejected from a game, etc. That’s just how it is. But it ain’t my problem. The umpire (or judge) is always unpopular with the ones he disagrees with.
This was a full-scale, old-fashioned “feeding frenzy.” This is my term for when virtually everyone in a given online group decides to focus upon attacking and savaging one person with a dissenting view. Anything goes. Any insult is permissible. Nothing is forbidden. Ethics goes straight out the window. Atheists aren’t the only ones who do it. Christians do it all the time, too (as I’ve been decrying and condemning for many years). It’s a general human failing, and one of the most despicable ongoing scandals of online behavior.
And thus we are brought to Example #4,978,109 of notorious “angry atheist” online behavior: a huge problem (at least when Christians dare show up). More thoughtful atheists will decry this phenomenon along with me, and I have publicly stated several times that these types do not represent atheism as a whole, and that atheists I know in person are not like this.
But, that said, it remains a gigantic scandal, and a “PR” problem for the atheist image. It certainly doesn’t make for a very appealing face. Other atheists flat-out deny that it is any problem, and/or say that Christians behave just as badly towards atheists. When Christians do that (and they do, far too often), I roundly condemn it. I don’t do it. No one on my blog or Facebook page does it, because I have great people there, and they know I wouldn’t allow it, in any event.
Jonathan MS Pearce (as he wrote about) is perfectly content to allow this sort of disgraceful behavior on his blog, not because he himself loves it, but rather, as a necessary evil, for the sake of the principle and value of free speech (as he sees it). I couldn’t disagree with him more than I do. But to his credit, at least he was one of only two atheists who stood up for me at all during this debacle. He wrote in the same piece:
With direct regard to Dave Armstrong, . . . well done to him for coming here and suffering the slings and arrows of atheists’ wrath. It takes a lot of time to read and comment on such extensive and scattered threads as that one, and I commend him for getting involved and defending himself. Goodonya, mate.
The only other atheist to do so was “Sastra”:
I once knew [Dave] on a debate listserv many many years ago . . . That Dave Armstrong was both intelligent and likeable, by the way. WRONG — but still nice.
I think Dave is generally an honorable person, . . .
The rest is almost wholly insults. For those who think angry atheists aren’t alive and well online and as hostile, malicious, and vitriolic as ever, take a look at what happened in just two comboxes. Imagine what the response would be if I literally wished that some atheist would “die” (as “Raging Bee” [apt name!] did below)? We’d never hear the end of how “hateful” Christians are. All comments were directed personally to me [warning: some may not care for some of the “PG-13” language; I’ve bleeped out the worst of it]:
Ian Cooper . . . you’ve sallied out of your little walled castle (presumably because you’re looking to increase your dwindling fanbase by grabbing a few of Jonathan’s Christian readers) . . .
It’s not our fault that you’ve pissed off so many of us. And no one’s asking you to argue with all of us. You could just take your knocks, or just go back to your safe space and post another anti-atheist hit piece – you won’t find us there, snowflake.
If he was sincere, he wouldn’t stifle dissent. He would welcome it and address it. He doesn’t do that.
. . . what a ban really says, quite clearly, is “I’m not smart enough to take this guy on”.
. . . when a blogger regularly attacks atheists, preventing them from defending themselves from such attacks is the act of a coward and a bully. A decent, fair and honest person does not pick a fight with someone he’s bound and gagged first. If David Armstrong doesn’t want atheists to respond, maybe he shouldn’t be attacking us in the first place.
Have you read 1984? “War is peace”, “Freedom is slavery”, “Ignorance is strength” – and apparently “suppression of dissent is true dialogue”.
Armstrong allows a few atheists to post to his site – presumably to keep up the pretense that he welcomes critical voices, but it’s just for show.
All I’m saying is that banning critical voices is intellectual cowardice.
Your problem is that you think disagreement is uncivil. [I replied: “My view is that uncivil disagreement is uncivil and not worth anyone’s time”]
. . . one hardcore scumbag.
If he was intelligent, likeable and nice, he wouldn’t be banning people merely for disagreeing with him on his Patheos page.
[Ian Cooper added, when he discovered this post: “He quoted me, seemingly at some length. I skimmed it and didn’t bother to read his responses, as I’m well aware of the type of disingenuous scumbag he is, so doubtless he will have taken things out of context to make them look as unhinged as possible. Par for the course with a dirtbag like that. But hey, at least I got to get some of my thoughts onto his blog. Even though he’s using them for his purposes, at least they’ll show his readership that there are a bunch of people who think he’s scum.”]
josh You cry and bitch about a comparison you don’t like and then ban someone else, who didn’t make it, for not agreeing with you sight unseen.