Saturday, September 04, 2010

Dickly situation

I was having a semi-bored wander about the blogosphere when I came across a blogger who'd recently attended church with their atheist group. I'm not quite sure what their reasons for attending were, as I haven't read much of the blog, where perhaps it was explained. It wasn't family commitments or anything like that: it seemed to be an exercise they undertook.

By her account they were treated hospitably and on the whole the experience was pleasant. When the collection plate was passed around, they weren't expected to contribute, but a couple of them did as they'd come with pre-prepared envelopes, which contained atheist quotations.

I was just a bit head-in-hands about that.

I could see shoving a pamphlett of quotes into a doorstepping evangelist's hand as fair exchange for theirs. But going to a church and sneaking quotes into the collection plate seems a bit ... I dunno, I'm struggling to put it into words. Cowardly? Ungracious? Pointless? I mean, who's going to find it? The vicar or ushery types who are just going to dump it in the bin and think 'what a wanker' at best.

And it's not even funny.

I mean, putting some Monopoly money in, that'd be funny*.

There's been a lot of talk in the sceptical/atheistic blogosphere about "[not] being a dick" (Phil Plait @ Bad Astronomy being at the eye of the storm). I think a lot of good points have been made: it's good to be passionate and assertive about your position, but throwing insults around isn't all that productive. It does open you to the concern trolls who claim that it's impossible to listen to your arguments when you're so aggressive/sweary/whatever (I had one of them recently on my homeopathy post) and if only you'd change your tone they'd address your points.

Of course, it's true that tone can turn people off. It can also be an excuse not to engage. A bit of both, mayhap.

And sometimes it's impossible to discuss a subject without causing offence, however carefully you word your opposing position, because it's so close to a person's heart/identity.

I can read PZ or Dawkins etc and think nothing of the language they use (at the time), while a theist might be horribly offended. I can be pissed off by MacDowell and the like, whereas the theist mightn't pick up on how derogatory they can be. It's to do with confirmation biases, I think: dead easy to go along with/downplay the stuff you have some sympathy with, while reacting badly to perceived slight against your position. Like I can understand Dawkins/Myers etc being rather irascible when presented with something like "how come there are still monkeys" or its ilk, as if it's something new they'll have never heard before. Decades of study & research and someone with no knowledge of their field thinks they can bust them with something lifted from Answers in Genesis. I daresay theologists think the same about atheists throwing out bits of the Bible at them (although theology seems to me gussied-up literary criticism**).

So where does that leave us? I do think that too much treading on egg-shells makes it impossible to discuss or scrutinise religion. And it is necessary to scrutinise religion cos the institutions that arise from it often flex their muscles politically and socially, trying to affect larger populations than just their congregations. And frankly some of the congregations need protecting from the excesses of their institutions.

But there's no need to abuse your average, passing theist. Or go into their places of worship and be a bit of an arse... I'm not sure whether putting atheist quotes into a collection plate is dickish or just sad.

* From a certain perspective. Admittedly not all perspectives.
No less dickish, but funnier.
** That's probably offensive right there.


primitivepeople said...

Very well said. It seems utterly pointless to do something like that, purely to cause offence. There's no point having a beef with the wrong people, and doing something which is only going to put up barriers and make everyone think you're a tosser.

I had this experience repeatedly when I was working on the tram on display in Edinburgh. Most people seem reasonably impressed with the tram project, although they're frustrated about why it's taking so long to build (as am I). Anyway, on a fairly regular basis, people would come in and rant at some length about what a huge waste of money it was, how it was ruining the city, how it wasn't needed, how no-one wanted it, how it was making the crops fail* etc etc. Just how, exactly, was I supposed to respond to that? I obviously didn't agree, or I wouldn't be standing there doing the job. And what was I supposed to do? Say "Oh, I'm sorry, although I'm on a temporary contract at minimum wage and have no decision-making powers whatsoever, I'll go and cancel the project immediately?" Argh!

I loathe Tesco with a passion and think that it's run by scum of the worst kind, but is it doing anything positive at all to rant at the check-out operators? Of course it's not! was good for atheists to go to church, as it shows an open-minded willingness to consider an alternative position. But it wasn't good just to insult the people there. How dumb that is, oh, how dumb. :( It makes them just as bad as the worst kind of fundies that they slag off, and just prevents any positive dialogue.

It's why I loathe Dawkins, by the way - he's so aggressively hostile and insulting towards Christians that I just can't stomach his writing. He may be a great scientist, but he's a very unpleasant person in lots of ways. As soon as you raise the stakes like that, and get so confrontational, you immediately lose any moral authority you might have had, and will just make your opponents think you're a knob-end.

But hey, Christians manage to shoot themselves in the foot all the time. Qu'ran burning, anyone? Gah.

Anonymous said...

Concern troll LOL! That's me. It's just that when people ask questions on the internet, and you're kind and polite enough to answer them, you find it quite unmannerly if the other person reads your answer and responds with insults. That's why I would walk away at that point. But also a lot of the time the whole thing got boring. You have to have a fresh perspective for this and I got too long in the tooth. The people who were up for polite and impersonal debates were rarer than hen's teeth. Good post. Abster x

Mephitis said...

Well, PP, I wouldn't go so far as to say these people *insulted* the people at the church: it's not like they told everyone they were poo-poo heads or anything. The quotes were relatively innocuous, I felt, and would have only been seen by probably one person. But uncalled for and rude, yeah. Thanks for the linkage, btw.

Abs, there's quite a funny site called 'trollcats' (dunno if you already know it) that's got some great troll descriptors :D. I think I'd be called a tone troll meself for this blog-post #shrug#. So be it. I love the concern trollcat, great eyebrows.