A recent post by the blogger Insanity Bytes 22 (IB) makes the rather fun implication that atheists are a political force that is partaking in discrimination against Christians. IB also does a rather splendid job of maligning atheists with acts of child abuse. If you are a respectable reader, you will of course go to IB’s post (‘The Cruelty of Atheists’) to confirm that it makes such an accusation. Go on, have a quick read. I’ll wait…
… Right, now you’re up to speed. You may have noticed the accusations, you may not have. So let me explain why I think the accusation and maligning is very real and very present in the post. The title is a very important start, but not the point. IB talks of people who psychologically abused her as a child. In context, it seems they are her parents although she never says. They may not be her parents: they could be other guardians or simply neighbours or other adults that had access to her home (family friends of some sort). However, I’ll continue in my assumption that they are her parents (it seems most reasonable for now). IB had good reason not to call them her parents: they didn’t fill their role as parents, so they may be parents in terms of biology. Given a horrible story like the one she offers, I’m sure you understand her want to to distance herself from her parents. I still will call them her parents, but only in a biological sense (unless she explicitly requests me to change my word choice).
We can see that IB has indeed been careful in the way she described her parents. And yet, she felt it proper to settle on the descriptor of “atheists”. She could have chosen to describe them in terms of being her parents (with a small disclaimer saying it’s only in the biological sense), alcoholics, or people with mental health problems. So her choice of descriptor is suspicious.
The post rather abruptly, yet seamlessly, changes from being her personal story to a commentary of the politicisation of atheism (i.e. secularism, although never uses the word). I also found this a jarring fact. Her story is an emotional and deeply personal one, and yet she has decided to give it an agenda. She is, of course, welcome to do that; it is her story. But if she is willing to reduce her story, publicly, to an issue of ruthless pragmatism she should permit us the same. Her political commentary on atheism is that it “actively engaging in bigotry against Christians”.
The atheists in the comments thread wanted to know whether IB was sincere in her word choice, accusation of bigotry and maligning with child abuse. She refused to state, clarify, expand upon or apologise for remarks. She was given ample opportunity to state that she meant atheists could be cruel; they are perfectly capable of being bad people. That claim is true. Atheists are no more incapable of cruelty than anyone else. Perhaps she never clarified her post to that end because that would be justifying that this accusation―that atheists cannot be cruel―has ever been made. Or perhaps she knows that once that angle has been illuminated, atheists might wish to point out the institutionalised abuse religion fosters, or that religious organisations have supported. There would have been an argument about which population supports the abuse of children the most.
The comments section was then filled with atheists (and person named Higharka, whose religious position isn’t clear) asking for IB to clarify. A small group of bloggers jumped to IB’s unneeded defense. I, and other atheists, were immediately accused of being insensitive and the details of our questions and challenges were ignored. Disagreements were shared, but remarkably few insults were fired off. Despite this, the small group of bloggers jumping to IB’s defense feigned hypersensitivity and claimed that the expression of disagreements was evidence indeed of the ‘the cruelty of atheists’. IB claims to have been called a “milch-cow”, which she wasn’t. It was offered as a possibility and as a question: “Or are you such a religious milch-cow that you cannot abide an ally in faith being legitimately criticized…?”
No one seemed gushing with false platitudes, but the atheists I read all certainly started off polite enough. No one was as rude. Most negative language was aimed particular and identified actions or decisions. IB’s crew refused to see this and accused the atheist community of being rude. This brings up the question of what politeness is to look like? To patronise IB by being tolerant of her bad reasoning and immature accusations seems to be her definition of polite. Anything short of patronising acceptance and bowing down to her passive aggressive and her direct insults she (and her crew) deem rude. Whereas the in the comments a different implied definition of politeness and rudeness compelled the atheists. Rudeness is when you lay unwarranted negativity on the person. IB’s definition stifles the free intellectual market and allows her to make her unwarranted claims. The atheists definition allowed them to address unwarranted negativity laid upon them, thus creating a fair “polite” environment; all negativity must be warranted or withdrawn to be called polite. The atheists stuck to this definition, and it is the definition I support (although, you can challenge it if you wish).
Accusations are, of course, a type of negativity. IB may have initially thought her accusations (and therefore her negativity) was warranted; that she had made no error in reasoning by associating the action of her parents with all atheists. Thus, she may have believed she was not being rude. The moment the error in her extreme and false extrapolation was pointed out her choices were to recant and apologise or to accept the label of rude. She chose neither. IB and her crew decided to continue in their rudeness.
Their rudeness came in the form of a barrage of unwarranted accusations. The accusations were that atheists’ accusations of the religious being retarded, deluded and not safe to be around children were ubiquitous. I was told that atheists I praise frequently make such personal and generalising accusations i.e. IB and her crew were accusing atheists of being rude. I don’t recall seeing such a thing from an atheist I hold in high regard. (I do recall seeing many events that can be spun this way: accusations of ‘if you really believe X then you are not fit to be around children, or are denying the evidence and being unreasonable. But that is far from the same thing.) The accusations of ubiquity are useful here; the accuser should be capable to provide an example. Yet they fought hard against needing to provide evidence, doing what Potholer54 says they’d do in his video ‘How to argue with assholes’ (negative language, but he defines the groups very well): I was told that I obviously know of these accusations and that I should do my homework. I was very suspicious of people not being able to substantiate things they claim are ubiquitous.
ColourStorm (spelling corrected for the UK) was one such accuser and has invested a good amount of time looking for evidence of such an accusation. His need to look so hard immediately undoes the accusation of ubiquity. He quoted me, which is never a good idea. The idea of misrepresenting someone to themselves immediately demonstrates your dishonesty and not your point. So he scoured further and eventually found a comment at the bottom of thread on another blogger’s (yet he refused a link, I had to do that footwork myself to verify the evidence). He was right that this was someone that I praise. It was a rare comment (not ubiquitous) and was aimed a very small and selective group of people and, I think, warranted. It wasn’t sensitive, but it wasn’t rude.
Comments were closed on that post, and another post aimed at me specifically on the issue. But this raises a point for on how to engage. I have become very confused about the politeness required. It’s an amazing double standard (triple standard, if you note how agitated IB, the person with a double standard, gets about double standards) how quickly people will cut off a conversation and the free market of ideas if they can. The intentional perception of rudeness is an intentional excuse, I imagine, to protect their ideas from criticism. To accuse a person without evidence or when the accusation is patently false is to be bearing false witness against your neighbour. How can the intellectual market function with such a pronounced and entrenched victim narrative? Should atheists have to tread so lightly as not to make a comment a person can take offence to, even when they are trying to take offence?