So much for getting things done tonight. And here I thought I had bags and bags of time, but all it takes is getting caught up in one Pharyngula thread and time goes spiralling down into a supermassive black hole. Research: nil. Work on this blog: nearly nil. Obsession with current discussion: stratospheric. Has been instructive, though, and a few Pharynguloids (is that what we’re calling ourselves these days?) have stopped by, which is always more than welcome.
*Waves madly* Hello, you!
Right, well. In a nutshell for those who haven’t the foggiest what I’m talking about: PZ posted a little notice about an actual atheist being interviewed on a local (MN) Christian radio station, Kenny got his ass kicked in the comments thread (just as he always does, the man’s a masochist), and Karen Simon stopped by to snivel at us for being uncivilized bastards.
That sort o’ thing doesn’t play well to this crowd. Karen promptly got her ass handed to her, and things would have gone very badly for her indeed had she not apologized and explained herself. A fruitful discussion ensued. I’d like to think some progress was made, and will be made now she’s dropped by here. It’s certainly clarified a few things for me, but raised more questions than answers.
To wit: why the fuck do Christians do this to themselves? I understand the ones who come by to proselytize – it’s what they do, they’re like the Borg. But I do not understand why Christians dump their views into the thread and then get offended when the atheists proceed to pick them apart.
It’s an atheist thread, moreover one filled with science-minded atheists who can spot a flaw in logic faster than a shark scents blood. Fuck, we annihilate each other over flaws in logic. What the fuck do Christians think we’re going to do? Pat them on the head and coo over how nice their moderate delusion is? Not bleedin’ likely, guv.
I think, from engaging in this discussion tonight, I begin to see some of the difficulties. We’re talking past each other. For all we’re speaking English, we don’t speak the same language. We’re alien to each other, and alas, very few Christians come into the atheists’ territory willing to play by atheists’ rules.
Do not even begin the “but the atheists aren’t playing by Christian rules!” snivel. We played by those rules for ages, and they got the discussion absolutely nowhere. Our turn.
So. This shall develop as time goes on and I get a chance to observe more atheist-Christian interaction, but here’s what I’ve got for now:
1. Understand that in our house, you will win no converts. Atheists for the most part weren’t born or raised that way: a lot of them are ex-believers, and they’re not going to be talked back into the fold. There’s no argument under the sun you can use that they haven’t heard a thousand times before. Time 1001 will make no damned difference. So just give it up. Shh before you even begin to proselytize. And if atheists mistake your attentions, don’t get all butt-hurt: we run into so many proselytizers-in-sheep’s-clothing that we’re a little gunshy and apt to overreact. You may not have been attempting to convert, but if the atheist takes your discussion as such an attempt, apologize, clarify, and move right on.
2. Be clear about your purpose. I’ve noticed a lot of Christians get mightily offended when they say something, we snark back, and it turns into a shouting match because the Christian can’t tell us what the fuck they’re doing spouting off views not related to the thread to begin with. Explain. Don’t assume we know what you’re here for: we’ve already assumed the worst from the second you mentioned your faith. It’s habit born from long experience. Remember, we’ve probably been dealing with a bunch of incoherent rabid fundies from several threads back, and our patience has probably worn thin long ago.
3. Refrain from demanding proof of God’s non-existence. That’s not what we’re here for. Challenging an atheist to provide proof that God doesn’t exist is just as useless as us demanding you to prove his existence by the rules of scientific evidence. If either one of us could accomplish those feats, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
4. Speaking of proof, the Bible isn’t. Neither are personal anecdotes, fervent belief, or anything else subjective or self-referential. Neither is “but billions of people believe!” Billions of people once believed in a flat earth. Science PWND them. Too fucking bad. If you’re going to get into the proof pissing contest, which you shouldn’t, learn what science means by “proof.”
5. Don’t move the damned goal posts. That’s a ridiculous trick and it’ll get you spanked. If you can’t answer the original challenge, just say so. Don’t try moving the goal posts and pretending you just scored. You’ll get annihilated, and you’ll have deserved it. Evading the challenge is just as bad, by the way. Refusing to answer when you’re the one who started the discussion just makes you look like a coward. Same with being happy to scrum until someone says something you don’t like, and then falling back on the lofty, “I’m so above that, I refuse to discuss it with you” bullshit. If you don’t want to accept the challenge, don’t start it. Period.
6. No snivelling. No one’s impressed by tears, whining, cries of “You’re being so mean!” or “You’re so unfair!” or “You just don’t understand!” We’re not here to sing kumbaya. We’re not swayed by “Bu-bu-but it’s what I believe, and you’re disrespecting that!” arguments. We’re atheists: religion gets no special pleading and no special treatment here, and getting choked up over it won’t help you in the slightest. If you can’t take that kind of heat, you have no business being in an atheist’s kitchen. This extends to concern trolling about bad language, blasphemy, and other such things: you knew what you were getting in to. Your lectures won’t change a damn thing. They’ll just earn you the title of “concern troll,” so if that’s not what you came to be, refrain from snivelling and silly lectures about civility.
7. No pity. We bloody can’t stand it. Some of you religious bastards seem to think that atheism is some horrible, nihilistic disease. “Poor buggers, they don’t believe in God, how sad for them” drips from your every word. You yourself can’t imagine how one could live a happy life without God, so you think we must be miserable. Newsflash: we’re not. I have, in fact, met far more happy, unconflicted atheists than I have happy, unconflicted believers. We’re free. We enjoy life. We love our families, friends, pets, and all of the other things you take joy in. What you fill with spirituality, we fill with other things. We notice no lack, and we don’t appreciate being treated like poor victims who don’t know any better.
8. Don’t take it personally. When we’re tearing apart your argument, we’re not attacking you. We probably like you just fine, especially if you’ve contributed something useful to the discussion. But your arguments about God, well, they’re going to suffer. Be prepared for it, and do try to give as good as you get. We respect someone who engages us openly, honestly, and holds their own to the best of their ability.
9. Absolutely under any circumstances never ever bring up that old “atheism is a religion too” chestnut. That’s one of the dumbest things you could possibly say. Absence of belief is not a religion. We don’t have “faith” in the non-existence of God. That’s just one of those whiny, snivelly things religious people do to try to win arguments, and all it does is make you look like a total fuckwit. If you’re here to earn any respect at all, do not shoot yourself in both legs by that snooty “atheism is religio
n” crap. And if you even beg
in to start with the “but you’re really agnostics” bullshit, I shall give you such a smack.
10. A ready wit, a good sense of humor, and a willingness to give as good as you get are essential. Display those things, and the acrimony will probably go right away. Have fun with this stuff. Especially here.
11. We can agree to disagree. My best friend and I do it. We don’t waste our time trying to change each other. He’s religious, I’m not. That’s the way it is. We agree to disagree on that point and move right along to the points we do agree on, which are legion (see his take on the Worldnutdaily, for starters). The point is not to win, but to play the game. Find points of commonality, achieve some understanding of each other’s views even if we heartily disagree with those views, decide how we’re going to work together for a better world without crowding each other too badly: these things we don’t need to be in full agreement for. We don’t need to have the same world view to be in harmony. Hell, we don’t even need to be in harmony, when it comes right down to it. But we do need to concede the war as unwinnable, sometimes, and get past that fact.
12 (not 11 again, sorry bout that). Finally, there’s the door. I hope you can stay, I truly do. I hope we get somewhere in our dialogue. But not if you’re miserable. If you’re deeply offended, outraged, upset, shocked, and battered, and you can’t stand how mean we are, and you’re angry at our outrageous blasphemy and godless ways, there’s an exit. You don’t have to be here. If we’re getting nowhere, you can go somewhere else. Have a nice day. We really do wish you well.
*Karen should keep in mind that while this post was inspired by the Pharyngula thread, it is not aimed exclusively at her, but at all Christians who mix it up with atheists. She’s not the only Christian who’s gotten off on the wrong foot on an atheist blog, and she shan’t be the last. This post will hopefully help them understand why we get so pissed at what they consider inoffensive behavior. And if any of them are offended by the rules, they should consult Rule #11 forthwith.