To Be or Not to Be… a Dick July 13, 2010

To Be or Not to Be… a Dick

One of the most discussed issues from The Amazing Meeting this past weekend was Phil Plait‘s talk about how we treat people who disagree with us. In essence, “Don’t Be a Dick.”

Here’s the gist of it:

Phil says (and I agree) most of us believed in something ridiculous at one point or another — whether it was homeopathy or horoscopes or god or psychics. Eventually, we got over it. Was it because someone called us mean names? Was it because someone mocked us? Doubtful.

[Insert your own cliché about “catching more flies with honey than vinegar” here.]

But there’s another side that says you can and should mock religious/pseudoscientific beliefs (and in some cases, people) or be extremely blunt when regarding them because, well, they’re pretty damn silly.

There was a time when I was strictly in the “friendly” camp. There’s a reason I picked “Friendly Atheist” as this site’s name a few years ago. But — as so many of you have told me since then — I’m moving away from that.

Not a lot. But enough that the site’s name admittedly doesn’t always describe me accurately. As I’ve told some people, when you get links and stories, day after day, about the horrible effects that religion has in society, you begin to wonder what redeeming qualities faith still has. You wonder whether it’s possible to build a bridge with religious believers. And if it is possible, do you really even want to?

I think it’s possible to reach out to certain segments of the religious population. I’m still trying to do that in a number of ways. There are some issues where I have no problem being blunt about how I feel and others where I don’t mind if the other person sticks to their faith.

For example, with the recent post about Christian apologies to the GLBT community, I like those Christians. I don’t care if they’re Christian. I don’t even care if they think homosexuality is immoral if they agree with me that homosexuals deserve equal rights, including the right to marry.

This weekend, I’ll be doing a Christian/atheist dialogue at a church in Bloomington, Illinois where we’ll discuss our beliefs in front of the congregation. I love these events. Every time I’ve done one of these dialogues, Christians have told me how much they appreciated hearing a different perspective. I’m not there to mock them and I have to desire to do that. I’m there to tell them what it’s like to be an atheist, how we feel about Christians, and which stereotypes about atheists are completely untrue. Will it change their minds? Probably not. Will it offer them a perspective they may not have heard before? I hope so.

But when it comes to issues like religion in politics or people doing awful things in the name of their faith, I’m not sympathetic at all. I don’t care if I mock them or call them jerks or if I offend anyone in the process.

So where does that put me on the Atheist Spectrum?

Not every atheist is a dick or an accommodationist — or as Phil put it in his talk, a warrior or a diplomat. Most of us are somewhere closer to the middle.

For what it’s worth, I think PZ Myers is closer to Phil’s side than a lot of people give him credit for. For that matter, so is Richard Dawkins.

It can get easily muddled, though. I don’t think we should give credit to religion where none is due. Like atheists who insist that religion and science are compatible. They’re not. I don’t care that some scientists are religious — they’re lying to themselves or compartmentalizing to the point that even they don’t see the problem.

I don’t care where you lie on the spectrum. I think there’s room for all types. I’ve gotten enough emails from once-religious readers to know that being civil and willing to engage with believers has its benefits. But a lot of atheist bloggers get those emails, even if they’re more critical of religious believers. Different believers will respond positively to different kinds of atheists.

It would be great if logical thinking was enough to convince people their absurd beliefs were wrong, but that just doesn’t happen in real life. PZ writes that slow and steady reasoning with believers-in-the-supernatural isn’t the only option:

… shock also works. Ultimately, people hold their religious beliefs for emotional reasons; deep down, fear and comfort, disgust and empathy are the tools religion uses to manipulate natural human desires. We would be idiots to shun emotional appeals, and it would also play into the ridiculous Spock stereotype of atheists as cold dead soulless people who substitute math for passion.

Sometimes you can reason people out of deeply held beliefs. But it helps if first you stir their discontent with those beliefs, if you wake them up to the fact that they look ridiculous…and that yes, there is a whole group of people who are laughing at them.

On a side note, I love that we’re having this discussion. It’s good to hear atheists willing to criticize other atheists. It’s healthy to have this debate.

David Hayward is referring to something very different, but I think his cartoon could apply here:

It’s not always a bad thing to go after each other. It makes all of us stronger when we can get through it, and better able to tackle the other side.

Do you consider yourself a “warrior” or “diplomat” or something else entirely?

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  • Sharklauncher

    This was exactly my feeling after watching Phil this weekend. I caught myself thinking, “Yes, but…”.

    Dr. Carol’s speech afterwards was incredibly well placed, and though her diagram of the pyramid looked like a slippery slope argument at first, I think it helps to understand that ridicule isn’t likely to help convince a strong believer, but in ridiculing that belief, the undecided will probably be more likely to join your side of the argument.

    The bigger part of Phil’s talk, to me, was that we all need to THINK about what it is we’re doing, and if we’re going to “be a dick”, we need to do so consciously and for the right reasons. Even as skeptics and nonbelievers, I think we tend to assume our rationality will be well received at all times, but this obviously isnt true. Communication is tricky and deserves its own deep consideration.

  • Ron in Houston

    How about a third option – speak out very loudly against abuses but otherwise leave people alone in their beliefs.

  • I think I’m somewhere on the w side of middle. I want dialogue, but my experience has been that Christians make a statement, statement is challenged, and their response is some cop-out about belief/faith, if they respond at all. It’s at that point where I think targeted mockery is warranted.

    However, blanket mockery, if thoughtful and/or witty is always warranted.

  • Nikki Bluue

    Bits of both, really. I never had any religious background growing up, so for that reason, I am a bit more diplomatic than others are.

    I do stand up and speak for myself when neccessary. As for “shock treatment”, I don’t know the bible/holy texts well enough to do that for others, so it’s best I don’t use scripture in a discussion with a theist. However, I can share why I am atheist, why I consider myself spiritual sans deity, what I glean from science and the world that sustains me and my mind/soul.

    I often get a bit of flack from other atheists on my defining myself as “spiritual atheist”. I agree it’s healthy to get flack—it strengthens my resolve as an atheist and keeps me on my toes in re: spiritual beliefs.

  • mkb

    I like Ron’s approach. Speak out when religion is causing harm or being unfairly privileged, otherwise leave people alone to believe whatever they wish.

  • phira

    I’m not sure it’s fair to say that people who haven’t found conflict between their religious beliefs and science are lying to themselves. I wasn’t always an atheist, and when I was in high school and fell in love with the biological sciences, it didn’t ever occur to me that there was even supposed to be conflict between religion and science until other people talked about how they couldn’t believe in evolution and god at the same time.

    Then again, I’m an American Jew who grew up in a moderately non-religious household. But I think that the whole science vs. religion and nothing in between argument is a misleading one. I’m tired of people treating science like a religion, since I had no trouble understanding evolution even back when I did think there was a god watching over me.

    Anyway, I don’t care what people personally believe until it starts hurting other people. Then I speak out. Restrict your beliefs (or lack of beliefs) to your own, single life. And that goes for other atheists, too. It’s JUST as rude to try to tell people not to believe in god as it is to try to tell people that there is one.

  • Kate

    I consider myself to be a diplomat. I’m not interested in trying to convert anyone to my way of thinking; if someone is willing to at least listen to my views and discuss them rationally, fine. Otherwise, it’s time for me to hit the road. Life is too short to allow it to be consumed by zealotry.

  • MaryD

    I don’t understand why you think atheism has common cause with homosexuality.

    For members of a bi-sexual species to promote homosexuality, (and they do, almost to the point that one would think it was mandatory), seems to me to be as irrational as a believe in an imaginary super-being.

  • I was also inspired by the quoted Pharyngula post to write about this topic. I’m going to look for Phil Plait’s talk – it sounds fascinating!

    I like the “warrior and diplomat” idea; I think most of us are a combination of both. I’m a diplomat in my daily life, but I can be roused into warrior mode when provoked.

    One situation in which I act the diplomat but wish I could be a warrior is when co-workers beam about sending their children to bible camp or Sunday school, or how proud they are that their kid was just confirmed. It makes me cry a little on the inside to see kids being indoctrinated into a religion.

  • As I’ve told some people, when you get links and stories, day after day, about the horrible effects that religion has in society, you begin to wonder what redeeming qualities faith still has.

    It doesn’t matter if there’s anything redeeming in faith. The only thing that matters is that other people believe it. And they have (and ought to have) a right to believe whatever stupid and/or heinous thing they want to believe. They do not stop being human and they do not stop deserving human decency. I don’t believe anyone ever does (and this is my stupid and/or heinous faith). There is a profound difference between taking incorrect beliefs to task and abusing people for what is an adaptive behavior that has arguably helped us survive as a species.

    Zealots of any sort make my stomach turn. Life is complex and nuanced. Falling into that is not a productive use of a skeptical mind.

    I qualify as a diplomat, but I consider myself checked out. If I wanted to be religious, I’d pick a faith.

  • Greg

    I think some people forget that there is a difference between being friendly, and being gutless, spineless, and lacking in principles.

    Sometimes people are jerks, idiots, or ill-educated on a particular score, and simply calling them out does not make you a jerk yourself, nor does it make you into a ‘warrior’ or prevent you being a ‘diplomat’.

    Just because you speak out against despicable acts and beliefs does not make you any less ‘friendly’, Hemant.

  • Trace

    “I don’t care where you lie on the spectrum.”


    I probably belong (self-diagnose) in/to the High Functioning end of the Atheist “disorder”.

    I am with Ron and Nikki. I find Atheists of the Book, perplexing.

  • @phira

    To me, it’s not that specific religious beliefs (e.g., there is a god, he watches us and judges our moral decision, etc.) are incompatible with scientific ones (all animals evolved from a common ancestor, the earth revolves around the sun, etc.), although they sometimes are. It’s that holding religious beliefs requires you to abandon the requirements for scientific thinking. I can believe that God exists and that the earth revolves around the sun at the same time without contradiction. But one belief is based on evidence through scientific experimentation and logic. The other is not; it’s based on something else (could be authority, wishful thinking, or something else). It’s special pleading to suggest we need rigorous tests and evidence to conclude that evolution by natural selection occurs, or that the universe is expanding, but that belief in god can be based on something else.

    That’s what I think most atheists mean when they say that science and religion are incompatible. It’s not about the specific beliefs, it’s about the way in which we decide what proposition to believe, and which not to.

    To me, this implies that if we found evidence one day that a god does exist, and the evidence eventually outweighs the evidence against god’s existence, believing in god would be a scientific belief, because its based on observed evidence. It’s not the belief itself that’s the problem, it’s how we come to believe it.

  • What I got more from Phil’s talk is, “If you want to convince someone that your argument is right, calling them names (being a dick) is not the way to go.” Which I think IS true. Once you sink to a really childish level, you’ve basically lost the argument with that person. Maybe I’ve had different experiences than other people, but normally once you lost it and start calling your opponent names, they just stop listening and you might as well stop talking.

    Now, that’s also not going to stop me from calling, say, Michael Behe an idiot. Because I’m not trying to convince him of anything, since I’m pretty sure he’s not going to be convinced. When talking to someone else who buys in to Intelligent Design, I might still say (depending on the conversation), “Well, I think Michael Behe is an idiot, and let me explain why, and here’s some stuff you could look at if you want to check it out.”

    I find it a little frustrating that I’ve seen blog posts equating “don’t be a dick” with being “soft” or accommodating or whatever. Consider a lot of what Phil says on his blog. He’s not exactly fluffy bunnies and rainbows and everyone in the world holding hands and singing songs. It’s very possible to still advocate strongly for one’s position and not call people or groups of people names.

  • Naomi

    “I don’t care that some scientists are religious — they’re lying to themselves or compartmentalizing to the point that even they don’t see the problem.”

    Lying to themselves? Is this just referring to Christians or all religious people? I can’t agree with this statement either way, but otherwise great blog.

  • Richard P.

    I try to use the right tool for the job. Sometimes nice sometimes not so nice. I do think ridicule is one of the most effective ways to get people to think about things. If you feel like a fool for what you believe, it stirs the desire to examine it.

    I think religion is destructive, I believe all non believers should do everything we can to eliminate it. If we continue to coddle delusional thinking it will only persist.
    I am not for burning christians or other religious persons at the stake, with the exception of a few, but we really need to quit giving it any respect and treat it with the contempt it deserves. As long as we treat it with any kind of difference it will continue on, by our own validation of it.

  • Laura

    I agree with Rachael. Just because you are a diplomat, doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover.

    For me: I tend toward diplomat. Most likely because my family, who are Christians, still love me despite my being a godless queer. I think we don’t hear enough stories of the Christians who fight for gay rights or the feminist Muslim. That might sound strange, but those people exist. I know them. We hear about the people who use religion to discriminate because the bad stuff makes better headlines.

    I think that people who are warriors tend to have more anger toward religion based on personal experiences. I do get really angry when I hear people using religion to defend their homophobia or misogyny. That’s when I turn into a warrior. Otherwise, I’m pretty likely to stay calm.

  • Stephen P


    I don’t understand why you think atheism has common cause with homosexuality.

    For members of a bi-sexual species to promote homosexuality, (and they do, almost to the point that one would think it was mandatory), seems to me to be as irrational as a believe in an imaginary super-being.

    Most of the time I consider myself to be one of the diplomats. But then someone posts something totally inane like this …

    Come on MaryD: give us one atheist article / book / blog post which promotes homosexuality almost to the point of it being mandatory. Just one. Can you do it? And if not, will you admit to being a complete, total [OK, the diplomat in me got back just in time].

    We don’t promote homosexuality. We just say that people who are homosexual should have the same legal rights as those who are not. Is that really so hard to understand?

  • Matt

    Sounds like I agree with most of the other posters. I don’t mind what other people believe. However, I will speak out against injustice and hatred when I see it. To do otherwise is cowardly. It isn’t so much about attacking religion as it’s about attacking bad actions. A Christian can speak out against racism and homophobia and nobody says they’re attacking religion. I don’t think atheists should be any different if they do the same.

    Personally, I have many close friends and family who are Christians. I don’t feel any urge to deconvert them. However, if they say or do something really intolerant, then I’ll yell at them. Woe be to them if they try to hide behind religion and accuse me of being intolerant. Luckily, most of these friends aren’t jerks.

  • Kevin

    Okay, here’s a advice-seeking situation that I don’t think reaches “Ask Richard” in terms of weightiness, but it ties in nicely with this theme, and so (with the hopes that I don’t derail anything), I’ll post it here.

    First, some background:

    I, an openly atheist guy, am now nearly 10 years into a successful, happy, and respectful marriage with a socially-liberal-yet-devoutly-Lutheran wife. I attribute a large part of our marital success to the mix of openness and willingness to compromise that existed prior to our tying the knot. Specifically, we agreed to the following compromise:

    (what she got): Our family would attend church every Sunday as a family (myself included). Our children would be “raised in the Lutheran faith”, meaning they’d attend services, sunday school, VBS, etc., and domestically, would be led in mealtime/bedtime prayer.

    Sounds bad, huh?

    (what I got): Unabashed openness. I would not be pressured or expected to do anything which might mislead people as to my atheism – including, most importantly, my children.

    So, I attend church weekly, but beyond politely standing/sitting when asked to do so, I do not participate (I tune out all songs, prayers, sermons, etc.; mostly I just read my kindle and keep the kids from making a racket). At home, I do not participate in prayers at meals, and my 4-year-old is already aware that this is because prayer is “talking to God”, Mommy thinks God is real, and Daddy doesn’t think God is real.

    Okay, that’s all only slightly pertinent, but may help in figuring out how I ought to approach this situation. We recently moved, and switched churches accordingly. The new church has a well-organized program for getting members to intermingle: encouraging members to join groups of 2 – 4 couples and engage in bi-monthly bible-studies (with a heavy emphasis on maintaining a light, social, and fun atmosphere).

    Upon joining the church, we immediately met another young couple, with children roughly matching ours age-wise, with whom we hit things off quite nicely. In particular, our respective 4-year-old’s hit it off tremednously well; this may officially become our son’s first peer best-friend. Despite my compromise, this burgeoning friedship between families has thus far been between my wife/kids and the other couple/kids: I’ve met them a couple times, but I’ve had a work situation which has kept me from attending church for the last few weeks.

    Anyway, they’ve invited us to join their couples group. They claim that they are very selective in their group – they strive to keep it 95% secular (my word, not theirs), meaning it’s mostly about playtime for the kids, alcohol and banter for adults, and oftentimes uses venues like waterparks and picnic grounds. However, to keep with the church-based-nature of the group, they do spend 15 – 30 minutes going through the church’s proscribed bible-lesson / devotional.

    Interestingly, after making the invitation, they left it open despite, in my wife’s words to them, me “not really believing in anything” (though she accepts it, she shies from using the A word).

    My wife accepted the invite, and our first get-together will be this coming weekend.

    Soo….. after all of that… Here’s the question:

    Assuming I go (all said and done, it’d feel weird not to), it seems I can choose from 3 options:
    1) Actively participate in the bible study as an atheist, advancing an atheist perspective on the issues under discussion. This would probably entail taking a contrarian stance and actively questioning the wisdom and assumed authority of biblical texts.

    2) Passively participate in the bible study, offering secular commentary / opinions on pertinent issues of the bible study, but mostly keeping my fish-out-of-the-water perspectives to myself.
    3) Do not participate. I could set the stage, from the get-go, as the “designated babysitter”, effectively allowing the other couples to do their bible study while I work to keep the kids happily out of their hair.

    Each of these has pros/cons. #1 seems the most honest, but it also seems the least friendly and potentially disruptive. It feels like the “be a dick” option (see, I told youthis tied into the OP!) #2 seems the most “go with the flow”, but feels slightly dishonest and somewhat cowardly in some way. #3 seems like it might be the best option, but it might be taken very poorly, where I’d be giving an air of me-vs-them (and maybe feeding the impression of atheists being willfully close-minded to Christian teachings).

    Any thoughts from the peanut gallery?

  • I only strive to be free from any boxes that other people draw. At times, I’m a diplomat, at times a warrior, at times I just stay quiet and only speak up when there are abuses. But mainly I’m just a bit of a prankster where I joke around about religion because its so fun to joke around about it.

  • Hazuki

    Unfortunately, it’s past time for the “speak out against abuses and leave the believers alone” approach. This country has hit critical mass of fundamentalist believers in government. Our rights are being eroded. Obama is further right than Reagan for frack’s sake! THAT’S how close we’ve come to theocracy.

    I guess I’m saying that when the “abuses” are a constant part of daily life and operation in this country, there’s no more room for appeasement.

  • I mostly find that name-calling turns me off, no matter who is doing it. I totally approve of calling out behavior. Bad behavior has an actual, measurable impact on people. But even in those cases, I still want to recognize the basic humanity of the person doing the bad behavior, and I think that when we get into name-calling, we diminish that.

    I’m sure that some are unable to distinguish between disdain for their beliefs and disdain for them, but I still think it’s an important distinction to make. And I would expect people to smack me upside the head if I’m caught name calling.

  • Humor, irony, satire, and even mocking should never fall under the category of “being a dick.” I’m going to make fun of Ray Comfort and people who believe the silly things he does. I just am. Sorry if that makes me a dick. And if people want to make fun of atheists by making lame jokes and sporting bumper stickers that say “April 1st is Atheists’ Day!” that’s fine. Humor—and indeed, ridicule—is one of the best weapons we have.

    The whole question of “diplomat or warrior” is moot without identifying the adversary. If the adversary is a moderate religious person, who doesn’t engage in counterfactual science-denial or silly apologetics (someone like Reza Aslan, or Rabbi Wolpe), then I’m more than happy to be a diplomat. Hey, I kinda like those guys. But if the adversary is someone like Ken Ham or Ray Comfort—knuckle-dragging theocrats who want garbage taught as science—then not only do I think I want to be a warrior, but I think it’s our obligation to be warriors. (And the obligation of all clear-thinking non-atheists, by the way.)

  • Matt

    Sorry, it sounds like you really got the shaft with your “compromise” (I.e. She got everything).

    My only thought. I have some close friends that are devout Christians. They know I’m an atheist. When I visit them over the weekend, they freely tell me I’m welcome to sleep in on Sunday while they get their church stuff out of the way. It works great.

    If I were you. I’d make sure everyone was aware I wasn’t religious and had no interest in bible study. You’re just there to support your wife’s interests, which is fine. Enjoy the waterpark, or wherever you’re going.

  • I guess I’m a diplomat, but it’s not a conscious decision. I just get along with everyone, and I’m not very confrontational. I suspect a lot of people on both sides just pick the method that’s most comfortable to them, and then try to find justifications for it. Like so:

    My method is best, because it’s more effective at persuading people. The bias we’re facing is the belief that we are smarter/better/more rational than average (see Carol Tavris, another TAM speaker). So if you insist that your opponents are horrible people, they’ll just get defensive. It is wise to emphasize that people can be wrong without being stupid or horrible (but only emphasize to the extent that it is true).

    PZ says shock tactics work sometimes, but is it really that frequent? Does he have any research to back that up, or does he just have a bunch of anecdotes and e-mails?

    I hate that the “diplomat” side seems to be lead by people like Chris Mooney and Nisbet. I disagree with them on substantive philosophical issues. Also, they’re kind of… not very diplomatic to the atheist community. I’m more Hemant’s kind of diplomat. Hemant doesn’t let diplomacy get in the way of taking a strong position.

  • I’d say that this is a “depends on the situation” situation.

    Am I gonna call someone a dumbass because he believes in fairies? Probably not. Am I going to point out that there’s no evidence fairies exist (and be foreceful as necessary)? Probably so.

    On the flip side, when I’m blogging or talking among non-theist friends, I find it both entertaining and relieving to be able to spout off and be vitriolic and snarky. It’s kind a matter of releasing all of the “holycrapcanyoubelievethisshit?!” sentiment.

    With regards to “shocking them with the truth”–there’s good reason for that. It’s more effective than slowly trying to cajole them with reason. This is better explained here:

    This is an article published recently called ‘How Facts Backfire’

    Very useful in pondering questions like these, for sure.

  • dave bockman

    I eagerly await Phil’s condemnation of PZ’s recent spittle-laden rant against libertarians:

  • @Kevin,

    I was actually in your situation a couple of years ago and opted for option 2. I participated in the bible studies but did not push any “atheist agenda” or even the atheist perspective. I did subtly questioned things and asked a lot of clarification questions to better understand their position and beliefs. I kind of used the bible studies as a way to better understand them. I figured they didn’t really have any interest in better understanding me. After about 3 years of doing this, I did finally put my foot down and told everyone that I wasn’t going to church anymore. My wife then followed suit. My kids never liked going anyway. So now we aren’t participating in any of it. My wife was actually put off a bit that their friendship was conditional with being part of the “Christian group” but that is simply how evangelicals view friendship. I do look back on the bible study “small group” as an interesting experience in learning about how the evangelical Christian mind works. Since I wasn’t raised religious, it was perhaps my only way to see first-hand how they think. As with many things in life, I’m glad I participated for a while but I’m also glad I’ve now stopped.

  • Karen


    What about offering those choices to the group? You could explain your position to them upfront (in a friendly way!) and then let them decide if they would prefer your honest participation in the bible study (including contrary opinions when appropriate) or prefer you to watch the kids. (I agree, option #2 seems least desirable).


  • I am a diplomat, but not an accommodationist. I’m not a dick, but I appreciate what the dicks are doing. It takes all kinds of voices, giving all kinds of messages, because within the religious communities there are individuals who respond to different messages on the spectrum. Surely there’s a place for everyone in atheism, even people who are frightened by cold logic and require warm, welcoming comfort.

    There are a lot of religious people, including some of the smartest, who cherish religion because it puts them in a position of authority. I don’t know what kind of message would appeal to them. “Right now, lots of people think you’re right, but if you become a skeptic, you will be right!” Maybe. But in that case, what they’re giving up is as good as what they’re promised. Not until their followers turn to skepticism will the prize be worthwhile. And many of those followers probably fall into the category of people who need comfort and security in their worldview.

    And I think I’m having a little luck with my approachable form of atheism. Several people in my life are becoming more accustomed to my way of thinking. One even just told me to read the latest XKCD because it’s mocking homeopathy. I’d call that a small victory!

  • Trevor

    I am an atheist/anti-religious person with many strong christian friends, so im a mix of both. We discuss religion, but never get angry about it. Most of my christian friends accept science when the proof is there that the fundamental religious belief is wrong, such as evolution. apart from that, when talking to strangers I can get angry depending on their openess to another view point. it is a case by case situation.

    There is a side of me that says, “Why should I care if they waste their lives living in a lie?” but the other side says, “Why should they live their lives by lies?”

  • Karmakin

    I’m a diplomat by nature, but I have no qualms about calling out privilege or the moral failings of religion. The problem is, even though my personality is of the diplomat, when I do speak up, I always sound like an asshole.

    It’s because we make such a big deal about tone, but tone takes a backseat in most cases to content. People are offended generally not with how you say it, but with what you say. It’s why someone like Dawkins, who is about as soft-touch a writer/talker as you’ll see, is seen as being this evil harsh guy.

    So the “to be a dick/not to be a dick” spectrum in the end is not as important as we think. While we shouldn’t be utter jerks about it, at the same time, that’s for our sake, not for the sake of convincing anybody.

  • Ms. Crazy Pants

    Where can I find out information about the event in Bloomington, IL?

    I’m mostly non-confrontational until someone says the line, “It’s only a theory,” when evolution comes up. I don’t really care if people want to say that their god made evolution, just as long as they aren’t blocking the actual study of evolution and claiming science is faith just because they’re too lazy to take the necessary classes or to conduct real experiments to understand it. (What one learns in grade school or most high schools does not count as an education in science.) Then I go into lecture mode on the what the scientific method is and what a scientific theory is. Most times I see people’s eyes glaze over in 2 seconds. They don’t want to know that information. I’m not even a scientist, so I sometimes wonder how it can be so difficult to other to understand a few of these concepts. I even know someone with a degree in biology who doesn’t understand the scientific method. That person with a science degree is not going to believe a person with a music degree telling them they’re wrong that a scientific theory is not just an opinion.

  • @Ms. Crazy Pants — I’ll post the information about the Bloomington event in the next couple days on this site!

  • Diplomat to be sure…99.9% of the time (the curse of being a nurse)…but tread on my boundaries and you will see that .01% that will politely but forcefully tell you where to step off.

    I just don’t like giving someone my personal, cognitive and emotional power by allowing them to elicit an angry response from me…and in the hospital (and I believe as in life as well) that is not only professional but also self protective…regardless of wether it is about a medication order or someone’s religious beliefs my first response is why does this bother me…and then is it worth my time and energy to address it?

    That way I know if my response is about my stuff or their stuff…if it’s my stuff then I need to look at myself…if it is theirs I need to know their motivation…it is amazing what people say and attack and get frustrated over that has nothing to do with the true underlying fear they are grappling with.

    In medicine there is a saying to “treat the disease not the symptom” and also “treat the person not the disease”…which addresses both the process of healing versus maintenace of a chronic condition and adopting a holistic perspective that encourages using treatment modalities that are inclusive of all aspects of what makes a human human respectively.

    We’re talking about people…the human condition…so unless they are psychotic or a sociopath there is something else there…and that is what I am interested in…what lies beneath…but maybe that’s why I am a psych nurse…it’s all about what lies beneath. Its real, its fundamental, and a god awful mess; but, I love it.

  • I’d like to point out here that even when you’re not trying to be a jerk in pointing out religious fallacies… people assume you’re a jerk. In fact, you’re considered a jerk just for having the audacity to question their beliefs. So… trying not to be a dick about it is admirable but possibly hopeless.

    Greta Christina actually had a really good article or “meme of the day” on this somewhere…I’ll hunt it down.

  • Thegoodman

    Like above posters have stated, it is difficult to be “friendly” person when you point blank tell someone that all of their beliefs and values are no only fictitious, but malicious in nature (oppression of women, social control, greed, etc..).

    It is like a judge who smiles politely while they sentence you to life in prison. It might be courteous of them to look nice while doing it, but they are still bearing bad news that will tear your world apart should you accept it.

  • Aj

    Isn’t it contradictory to claim that calling people names doesn’t change their minds while calling people “dicks” to change their minds? I hope that was intentional. I have no problem with diplomats as long as they’re not intolerant of other approaches. Accommodationists I think are disingenuous diplomats, I don’t think they actually believe NOMA. I don’t have problem with them, I disagree that their way is the best strategy for everyone. Religion apologists who are atheists like Mooney tend to portray other atheists as rude and ignorant, while throwing around ignorant insults at atheists like calling them “fundamentalists”. I would hardly call people who are intolerant of certain atheists or are promoting religion as “diplomats”, I’d call them dicks.

  • Vas

    Wow Hemant… that has to be the most profound and introspective thing I have read on your blog since I started reading it years ago, good for you. You’re a young cat and it makes sense that your views would slowly begin to shift as you are exposed to more information. This is kind of what sets the atheist apart from the Christian, atheist seek new information and adjust their world view according to the new information whereas Christians seek the same information over and over again, millions of ways of saying the same thing, all from a single source, all from a single book. All conclusions are made in advance of any new information and only information that can be reconciled with their single authoritative source is considered valid, all other information is discounted. Christians choose to be intellectually stunted and exert amazing amounts of energy toward that end.

    Not many people want to be dicks, (except when they are online for some reason) but then again a person can only take so much. You my friend are suffering from overexposure to heinous crap. This is the reason so many cops are dicks, when a significant portion of your life is spent with jackasses in your face doing reprehensible shit you slowly but surely begin to see assholes everywhere you look and it’s hard to be kind to assholes.Besides just being an atheist who will not sit down and shut up makes you a dick in the eyes of the faithful.

    As to “The Friendly Atheist” sorry but the brand already has value, you are kind of stuck with it, you may have been friendly when this all started and even now for the most part, but the shift away from Mr. Friendly is happening none the less. It is a pretty good blog name and has served you well, stuck is stuck, if people call you on the name so what, the name is not gospel. Heck I bet even some of the Old Testament junk was useful when it was first written, not so much now. Things change and sometimes you get stuck with outmoded nomenclature. By the way Hemant how long have you been at this? Really what a burden, day in day out wading through this bile, why do you do it? Are you setting the groundwork for being a professional atheist? I left the film business because I was becoming a dick like those I was surrounded by, I found another line of work that did not pose such a risk of dicklyness, (dicktatude?) and I’m glad I did it, just saying…

  • I lean towards the friendly/diplomatic approach, but I think that people respond to all different approaches. Upon being mocked, some people will get defensive, and others will respond by re-analyzing the belief that was questioned.

  • Rich Wilson

    Something I just posted on another blog seems apropos:

    I have a recent rule: Never apologize for something you mean to say. I never say “I’m sorry but…” Either you feel it’s true and is important enough that it needs to be said regardless of the offense, or it isn’t. We have the right to free speech (at least most of us reading this) but we do not have the right to not be offended. No sense in being rude of course, but I think the truth trumps offense.

    The “don’t be rude” can be a fine line. Certainly something you say can be perceived as rude, but for me there’s an important difference between “I don’t think either the God or the Tooth Fairy exist” and “You’re a moron if you believe in that crap”.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    [Insert your own cliché about “catching more flies with honey than vinegar” here.]


    The Condimentary Preferences of Drosophila

    L. Prism* and T. H. Morgan Cat, Insititute of Pissing About
    In a small-scale survey of the dietary preferences of kitchen Drosophila (species unknown), we find, contrary to received wisdom, that you catch significantly more flies with vinegar than with honey…

  • Les

    I’m sure there are plenty of people who feel I fall into the dick – or “warrior” – category of atheist and given the name of my site I can see why they might think that.

    That said, when I started doing podcasts (I’m only up to my third) I chose as my co-host a long-time friend and fellow blogger who happens to be a liberal Episcopalian. Other than his religious views, we have a lot in common and he’s definitely the sort of Christian I think others would benefit from emulating.

    I’ve done my fair share of mocking over the years, but when a believer shows up on my site and displays a sincere interest in an honest discussion I’ve taken the time to engage them in a more diplomatic manner. I have time for folks like that, I don’t have time for the folks who clearly just want to tell me I’m wrong and going to Hell.

  • I’m a diplomat. I’m extremely non-confrontational in person and try to avoid giving offense if at all possible.

    However, I do come at religion from a sociological and psychological standpoint, not an emotional one, so it seems like no matter how polite I try to be, I have had people think I’m insensitive. Digging around to get at the roots of their religious beliefs doesn’t seem to go over well, despite the fact that I’m scrupulously civil. In that sense, it may be impossible to be a truly friendly atheist if you’re telling theists that you find their worldview false and immoral.

    I think it’s important not to be demeaning, though. Throwing around terms like “zombie god” and “sky pixie” (both of which seem quite popular on atheist sites) is meant to be insulting. What’s the point of using words like that? It seems like rudeness for the sake of rudeness. Name-calling never goes over well; it just makes the recipient dislike you along with your message. I do believe it’s better to attempt a level of civility in discussions with theists, so at least they don’t perceive us as being intentionally cruel.

  • Hitch

    Neither warrior nor diplomat. There are times to fight, but usually that fight is forced by others. Overall I think I’m a builder, in the sense of working towards building a better world. We can do lots of things without having to engage people who are most likely going to try to oppose or detract it. But one can also be honest without fighting. One does not need to be a diplomat to make friends.

    The best friends are those that appreciate your honesty not those that stay with you because you always agree. But even the harshest honesty can be expressed in a way that avoids unnecessary escalation (at least I’m trying). The harshest truth is best expressed with a smile and a stretched out hand.

  • Vene

    I will be friendly and courteous to start with, and will do so as long as we’re having a civil discussion. I consider good arguments, I really do, and if I think that they’re actually analyzing what I say, I’m okay with disagreement. Now, if they start going insane on me or start in with fallacies, then I stop the friendliness and go on the attack.

  • I do like to discuss various things with other atheists, but I don’t consider myself either an aggressive conversation partner or a pushover. I guess I might be considered a diplomat, because I try to handle conversations tactfully, but I generally lose patience pretty fast with incredibly rude/pushy individuals (atheist or not).

    I see someone responded to MaryD, but I would like to also. In my opinion, a major tenet of activism is to back other people up. Since queer people are often not well-liked, and atheists are often not well-liked, we should support each other to make each individual group stronger, instead of dividing up into the “who’s the bigger victim” game. (and what Stephen P said)

  • Kelley

    I must admit that I have not looked through all the comments to find if someone has pointed this out about your honey vs. vinegar statement:

    And since you were so apt to point out the incorrect cliche in the paper (‘No Atheists in Foxholes’), I’m pointing out yours. Not that it’s bad. This particular comic just makes me laugh. >.>

  • plutosdad

    Balsamic vinegar is sweet though, and cheap balsamic is nothing other than vinegar mixed with grape juice and even added sugar! so, since most of the examples of catching flies with vinegar use balsamic, I think those examples are rather disengenuous, they are both sugary.

    Though apple cider vinegar works, and other vinegars really don’t. So something about the apple cider vinegar is different.

  • The second part of the picture should be a wolf being eaten by a bunch of other wolves.

  • I wasn’t a fan of Phil’s talk… I mean, if he means generally, then awesome. That’s right, I don’t stand up on tables at the restaurant and yell “Religious people, you’re all making a terrible mistake, you idiots!!” But if he’s speaking specifically, and of the piece of PZ Myers that I believe that he is referring to, sorry, gotta side with PZ. All PZ really said was that your religious ideas are no more special than ideas about Bigfoot or moon landing hoaxers. Oh, who, btw, Phil embarrassed the moon landing hoaxer I’m assuming probably greatly during his talk. (I was told he was quite polite to him afterward in private, and I’m sure he was.) That doesn’t change the fact that he belittled him in front of 1,300 people. Why is that okay but laughing at religion isn’t? Is there some kind of continuum of skeptical ideas, with some holding greater credence and respect than others? Funk that noise. All ideas should be open to skeptical criticism. I’m worried about the people who liked Phil’s thing just because he’s Phil Plait. There seems to be a surprising amount of ‘group think’ in the ‘freethinking’ community. I would think it would be better to think for yourself…

  • I’ve always been annoyed with those who assert there’s only one way to behave as an atheist/agnostic. I’m a bit in your face with my atheism. Is it better than being friendly? Not really. Some of are good for rocking the boat, some of us are good for making connections, each has a role to play.

  • muggle

    Was that gross cartoon really necessary? I swear, they’re getting worse and worse.

    Hemant, sounds like you’re struggling with it but I think you need to take a breather from this convention you went to before you decide on majorly changing anything. You’re still in the haze of a few pretty intense days.

    I say neither way is entirely right or wrong. Basically, there’s a time to be a warrior and a time to be a diplomat. If we truly believe in religious freedom (and we’re crazy if we don’t), we have to respect others’ ridiculous beliefs. However, this does not mean we have to meekly turn the other cheek when someone disrespects us.

    Also, if someone asks me questions about my disbelief, they get honest answers even when it won’t be pleasant for them to hear. I’ll say it as gently as possible if I have a history of friendliness and respect with the person asking. If I don’t, then they’re kind of rude to be demanding that I explain my disbelief to them and their feelings don’t matter as much. Usually, with the friends, they eventually, unfortunately, say we’ll have to agree to disagree about that but you know what? That’s okay. They agree with me on the important stuff: equality, religious freedom, compassion and respect for one another and, like me, Christians or other theists who don’t hold those things in regard are despised as hypocrites.

    When, however, you’re dealing with the Rush Limbaughs, Ann Coulters and Falwells of this world, it’s gloves off because theirs are. Within reason. No need for out and out civil war quite yet. It may come though I ardently hope not but, right now, it’s best fought with the blogs and the books and the signs and, last but not least, the lawsuits.

    Oh, and Hemant, you are young and will change and grow but I sincerely hope you will always be somewhat deserving of the friendly tag. Despite criticisms here, you still are. As you know, I finally got your book and am about a third of the way through (according to Kindle anyway) and I can tell you’ve changed much since you wrote it but not in many important ways.

    One way that makes you uniquely you is that you want togetherness in people not separate camps. I think we should strive for this, bringing people closer together instead of increasing the diviseness. I think both sides have had their fill of hating. Let’s hope so.

    Frankly, I don’t think we need to be overly aggressive. Science is shredding religion bit by bit. One reason our numbers are up is simply because we now know too much about the world to be naive about it. This is only going to increase from here on out.

    I vote you remain the friendly Atheist.

  • Crystal, I didn’t make fun of the Moon Hoax guy. I mentioned the Hoax twice: once was to say that we don’t hear from them much anymore (really, the guy who showed up at TAM is like the last of the breed), and the second time was simply to say that when you talk about ways the eyes can be fooled, the idea that shadows aren’t parallel on the Moon doesn’t point to conspiracy.

    I’m willing to take criticism of my talk, but it should be fair and accurate.

  • We don’t mince words when dealing with racists? Christians are bigots, so do we need to mince words? How I behave towards the religious depends entirely on whether I am actually talking TO them. This is an atheist site, I don’t expect you (or anybody) to be polite towards religion. When I speak with people who believe in god, I am far more respectful to their face. That doesn’t mean I agree with them, that just means that social pressures require me to not be an ass. But I won’t hesitate to call them out on their nonsense in the most tactful way possible.

  • stephanie

    + 1 for the use of Wheaton’s Law, but -1 for the lack of citation. ;P

    Eh, I’m kind of a live and let live sort of person being that I think this life is all we get. So I’m on Ron in Houston’s team; abuses should not be tolerated, otherwise, why not leave people to their religion, their lucky golf shirt, their magazine/online quizzes or their horoscope in the newspaper?

  • Robin Ferguson

    I tend to be more diplomatic, but I think it takes all kinds. I definitely don’t like when either side resorts to name calling.

    While I was listening to Phil Plait this was the first thing I thought of: the insults that crop up in the debates that take place in the comments and forums. It takes the conversation to a playground level that is not needed and has the possibility to shut down any further communication. I found it very intimidating when I moved to a more skeptic point of view and began investigating what it means to be a skeptic.

  • Yes, it would be really nice to be able to not be a dick, wouldn’t it? One thing that many people are missing here is that there are multiple parties to any communication, at least two. One person is the sender of communications, and others are the recipient(s). Each party is going to have a separate perception of the manner in which the message was communicated. I can think that I am being very nice in discussing where I think that an idea is wrong, but the recipient quite possibly may take it as me being a dick. So, I can try to be nice but still be seen as a dick.

    I see this is criticisms of Dawkins, especially. I have never seen him be ungracious, and yet he is a vilified man and people call him a poster boy of bad atheism. Perceptions vary based on the recipient, colored by prejudices and expectations.

    Many of you can say you are diplomats, but do you know if that is the way that people perceive you? Phil doesn’t think that he was humiliating the moon landing hoax guy, Crystal thought he was. Two people have different impressions of the same event, and these differences are playing out in that thread.

    I am a dick and a diplomat at times, and as others have pointed out there are times and places for a range of approaches. Discerning the proper approach is not easy, but for diplomats to shame other approaches is not; well, it’s “not helping.”

  • More than “to be a dick, or not to be a dick?” I’m interested in what specific behaviors people find (excuse the word) dickish. Does it make a person a “dick” to point out that believing in the divinity of Christ is, insofar as evidence is concerned, tantamount to believing in Santa? Does it make a person a “dick” to point out that science denialism makes a person look idiotic? Not everything comes down to tone-of-voice or style. What I’m getting at is that some things we say will be greeted with hostility no matter what, and we’ll be called dicks for saying them no matter what. So I think we should distinguish between things that are legitimately dickish and things that merely get us called dicks. E.g., I don’t think name-calling is universally dickish. If it’s somewhat called for, or especially if it’s used for humor, I think name-calling is an awesome rhetorical strategy, actually. It doesn’t always have to be nasty. When Shermer calls Deepak Chopra a “woo-peddler,” is he being a “dick”? On the flip side, when D’Souza calls Richard Dawkins a “fundamentalist” and an “ignoramus,” I don’t think he’s being a “dick.” He’s simply stating his opinion of RD and his work. I happen not to agree with that opinion—in fact, I think it’s downright backwards—but I’m not going to call D’Souza a “dick” for being honest about his position. Actually, I appreciate the candor because it allows for a clear discussion.

    To me, a “dick” is someone who scratches your car and doesn’t leave a note. A “dick” is someone who borrows money and “forgets” to pay it back. But someone who, engaged in a debate, candidly makes their position as clear as possible, is rarely a “dick” in my book.

  • Phil doesn’t think that he was humiliating the moon landing hoax guy, Crystal thought he was. Two people have different impressions of the same event, and these differences are playing out in that thread.

    I’m going to back up Phil here. He really did not mock the moon hoaxer guy, not under any interpretation. I think Crystal just remembers it wrong. The moon hoaxer appeared during Adam Savage’s talk, not Phil’s. Phil only briefly noted we hardly ever see moon hoaxers anymore.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    Crystal D & Muggle said it all.
    It seems that the division between the two atheist camps is not as wide as many claim. Both the “nicest” and “rudest” atheists are willing to be both civil or dicks, depending on the circumstances.
    Venue matters, too. Few people would be rude face to face – but the internet does often bring out the bluntness in people. As Hemant points, being repeatedly “spammed” by those who choose to remain ignorant (as opposed by those who have genuine questions & open minds) does wear down one’s civility. As does, listening to the professional CreoId’ers who know they are lying. (Them , I just want to bitchslap!)

  • Dan W

    I’d definitely say I’m somewhere in the middle, not fully “warrior” or “diplomat”. I can get along with theists just fine, in a live-and-let-live kind of way, as long as they are willing to do the same with me. But when they decide to insult me or try to convert me because of my atheism (and this happens more commonly online by the way), then I become less civil towards them.

    It really depends on the situation. I generally avoid debating the existence of god(s) with theists, because I find that mostly pointless and I’m tired of hearing the same tired old arguments for their god’s existence. Yet I can have a friendly, reasoned discussion about religion with a theist if he/she is willing to listen to my views and honestly interested in learning about an atheistic point-of-view. The theists I’m most likely to mock about their beliefs are the fundie jerks who mock and insult me about my atheism. Most others I don’t have a problem with, when talking to them in person. Of course, I’ll point out when some theists are being bigots and/or morons. 🙂

  • Dan W

    I guess my more confrontational moments when discussing things with theists are when they display massive ignorance in something they are arguing about, such as evolution. I usually feel the need to jump in and tell them how they are wrong about whatever the topic is, and try to explain what the facts actually are.

  • Geek Gazette

    I’d say I’m more diplomatic. I worked with a guy who was getting his doctorate in theology and we used to discuss religion regularly. He use to tell me I was the most civil atheist he had ever met. While I thought that was very nice of him to say, I felt bad that free-thinkers and atheist have such a bad rep.
    Our discussions got pretty heated at times and no topic was out of bounds, but they were always respectful. He was an extremely intelligent guy and I thought it was odd that he actually believed the way he did. It is rare that I meet people of above average intelligence or that are well educated that aren’t skeptics, atheist or at least agnostic.
    I have to admit that he came back at me a few times with ideas/questions for which I had no answer. He really stumped me good a few times. Of course the first thing I did when I got home was go through my books, hit the library or jump on the internet because I wasn’t and never did let him keep me stumped.
    In situations like this I have no problem being diplomatic. We both thoroughly enjoyed the discussions/debates and never resorted to name calling. Unfortunately, he was also the most civil christian I have ever met. So most of the time I end up either keeping my mouth shut for my own safety or I end up in what I intend to be a civil discussion but instead ends up with me getting threatened or insulted.

  • Brian Macker

    Besides being a dick PZ Myers has the additional handicap of being a bigot. He’s bigoted against libertarians.

  • Pete

    Doesnt really matter who it was,but a couple of comments said this.

    I qualify as a diplomat, but I consider myself checked out. If I wanted to be religious, I’d pick a faith.

    I think that people who are warriors tend to have more anger toward religion based on personal experiences

    Im just as very thankful for Hemant Mehta the friendly Atheist types, as i am for the PZ Meyers type.But come on folks we have had close on a couple of thousand years of keeping it all diplomatic and terribly sweet,lets get real here.Where did that get us.

    And yes i have a very bad personal experience with a particularly abusive faith,and some folks also have had a bad personal experience with rape.But does that mean we should all need get diplomatic and make sure erveryone always all politically correct when discussing how abusive rape is.No i cant see why,infact this silly attitude is most likely why changes in attitudes towards females took so look to change.And racism and slavey,we always have some of those folks who think we should find ways to accomadate everything.

    People who think this way.

    I qualify as a diplomat, but I consider myself checked out. If I wanted to be religious, I’d pick a faith.

    Really live a fairy tale type life style, a dream world.How many folks do they really think can get to make a total choice about being or not being an Islamic or West bro baptist or poligamist Mormon or JW.

    Folks living fairy tale lives who like being sweet and keeping everyone happy, just forget or plain havent even thought about this stuff in enough depth yet.Because if they had they would know that quite often personal choice has little to do with matters.If so happens your family you are born to is poligamist Mormon or West bro Baptist ,it often a case you best just pull your head in and try to follow suit the best you can do .Or risk! losing the love of your own whole family and often even all the friends you grew up with too.

    Ignorant folks will say well your family obviously just didnt love you anyway.But these people obviously havent got much of an idea of the power of religion and manipulation of minds and cult control.And how strong the grip of fear of hell can change the natural behaviour of humans.

    Folks only need to think just how hard it is for many atheists in the U.S.A, to even be a little honest and simply come out and tell their faithful family of their atheism.Its not easy for many folks,there is still a large number of atheist who must live a lie so as not to upset the faithful.

    If instead it was rapists or racists or slave owners we were dealing with,i ask myself would these diplomatic folk living a fairytale life still be suggesting maybe we shouldnt ever leave friendliness and dipolmacy behind.

  • Pete

    I dont know much about this Phil Plait fellow.

    But what folks need to be a little wary of is that many faithful folks are trained as pastors and priests and have become experts at manipulation and converting folks.Hell many of these faithful people even manage to get many folks believing the most crazy things,take Jim Jones for instance.Dont they.

    And many of these people are not totally stupid either.

    This Phil Plait and other folk need to be very wary of faithful folk converting them into backing down! and becoming all soft! on matters of faith.

    Folks who bend to please these faithful folk might think its a very smart move at the time.

    But will they think it so smart years down the track when to many folks have been converted and lulled into going easy on faith …And once again the atheist movement dies away ,and once again us atheist are left looking like stunned mullets ,lost children ,wondering how the hell it was the faithful managed to always win ! and alway keep faith moving forward! and bringing us all the nastiness along with it.

  • muggle

    Christians are bigots.

    My what an utterly bigoted statement.

  • Sharon Hill

    It takes all kinds to reach out to all aspects of the audience. There is a time to present a strongly worded view but most times, we are talking about everyday people conversing. There are plenty of those advocating atheism and skepticism (two different things as I see it which are clearly getting confused here) who are willing to give PZ and Penn & Teller their stage on one hand and recognize the value of Daniel Loxton and Phil Plait on the other. Civility, particularly in comments, has been totally lost in some forums. This is rampant on the internet in general. I see this as escalating the vitriol and entrenching existing views.

    The “Don’t be a Dick” approach is particularly helpful when talking to fence sitters regarding questionable claims. It can sway them. I’m not sure it is the same for religious issues because of the cultural baggage. It’s my preference that TAM not turn into a atheist convention (those already exist and I’m not interested). And, I believe everyone could take something valuable from Phil’s talk (or Massimo’s or Carol’s).

    For some of the younger, mouthier people, asshole skepticism is a phase. This was also a theme of the Beyond BS podcast that was recorded on Thurs. night. I don’t know when that will be available…but it was a hot topic.

    Finally, I’d like to add an opinion: your use of the running gag about “atheists eating babies” is particularly juvenile, unfunny and gross even as a joke. To refer to Phil’s guidelines: Does it help the cause? No. I can’t see how it helps. YMMV. I turn away from your blog because of this and probably miss other meaningful things you might say. So, I also vote you remain “friendly” and see how that works compared to the alternative.

  • colin

    foot soldier

  • I apologize if Phil wasn’t intending to embarrass the moon hoaxer. I understand Phil wrote his speech prior to the moon hoaxer, who yes, I know, was directing his comments toward Adam Savage, but it was delivered after the fact, so the man was pointed out to basically everyone. (I know, I know, as if he wasn’t already…) I guess I’m just assuming that if I was pointed out in a crowd that large, even if it wasn’t specifically directed toward me, that I would be a tad embarrassed.

    I’m just saying that I find it amusing that we can laugh at moon hoaxers and videos of fake aliens or people who swallow up sugary watery magic pills, but not at a science teacher who thinks that ‘goddidit’ is an acceptable answer on a science test. To be fair, the question on the test was ridiculous and not very clear, but I wouldn’t go to a church Sunday school and answer their God and Jesus questions in a secular manner if I thought my job depended on it. Maybe that’s just me…

    I just think that people should read the PZ post on Pamela Gay. I agree with him totally. I’m not sure if Phil’s speech even had anything to do with that, but that’s the rumor. This is just another danger of being vague when making public comments. I heard multiple interpretations of the speech that day and lots of “it was about ‘this or that'”. That’s probably the funniest part- people could imagine their OWN dicks in their lives (and not anatomy, btw) while he was talking, so a ton of people agreed with it.

    Is my information incorrect? Is this just general? Because then, if it’s just general, well, then it’s just a big no duh. But if it is specific, then I have to wonder and question. That’s just how I am, I’m a skeptic and an atheist.

  • @Hypatia’s Daughter
    Excellent point about the venue affecting the dickish level. For example, PZ tends to come off as polite and charming in person, but on his blog can’t seem to help calling anyone who disagrees with him (in politics,* religion,** woo, whatever) brain-dead maniacs or some variation.

    I act similarly – nice in person, dick online – and so do many other people.

    Having been utterly unconvinced by PZ’s name-calling to change my views on anything, I prefer politeness if I want to convince someone else of my viewpoint and am in a patient mood.

    *All non-socialists.

    **Everyone who isn’t a “warrior” atheist.

  • NeverTheTwain

    It seems to me that overall this is a matter of dilating reaction. Most of us are diplomatic in personal situations–PZ’s “I don’t punch Granny for saying ‘bless you'” comment illustrates this–but our reactions expand (or should expand) as the stakes rise–as the beliefs we criticize become culturally dominant, or fall from the lips of an individual with enormous media presence, or potentially affect public policy.

    At that point, using a loud voice and every rhetorical weapon at your disposal seems sensible and viable. To insist on restraining ourselves to pillow talk in a big, noisy arena seems pretty pointless to me.

    I’m sure few people have been awakened to skeptical thinking by being mocked or sneered at to their face…but many (myself included) were awakened, at least in part, by seeing other people (like Uri Geller, for example) mocked and called out and embarrassed. It made me think about my own beliefs.

    What’s wrong with that?

  • Sandman

    heres my twopennethworth, you did ask….

    I share NO common ground with a person of faith. None. We live on the same planet….thats it. A planet they make increasingly unsafe and unpleasant for me and mine.

    We now live in the shadow of the bomb, the fear of the germ, and the age of the $5 bottle of sarin. Gone are the days when religion fulled murerousness was limited by swords and bows, stakes and racks, and the simple fact of geography.

    For 250 years of so called Enlightenment we the non faith inflicted have tried our best to use reason and just get along. 250 years of constant frustration and refusal to compromise by faith heads. Several million more victims of their stupidity.

    I grew up in a country torn apart by 25 years of catholic vs protestant sectarian violence. Now I live in Thailand, a country with a similar problem except its muslims v buddhists. A pattern repeated again and again and again all over the world.

    Well y know what….Ive had a skinful of it.

    You dont try to reason with a foaming at the mouth mad dog in your garden – you go get your gun and shoot the bastard between the eyes.

    Similarly I dont reason with faith heads. The least you can expect is my very apparent sarcasm, bitter barrage of mockery and overt disrespect…the debate equivalent of spitting in your face. I do it on purpose to provoke. You may say I am being childish or exemplifying ill adjusted social mores…. I dont give a flying toss what someone who beleves in an invisible friend thinks. In my book you are insane by default. Your opinion matters less to me than a mustard burp.

    Every time a bomb goes off, or faith is rammed into our lives, then that creates 100 reasonable atheists like the good Prof D, a couple of militants like Hitch, and one potential fuck you firecracker like me. To the faithful I suggest you start negotiating with the likes of Prof D and Mr H whilst you still can.

    Otherwise one day they wont be there, but there will be a whole army of unreasonable ones like me who will see your churches in ashes, your pastors hanging from lampposts and the filthy lies you promulgate consigned to the dust of history where it belongs.

    Personally Im hoping you just keep on creating angy anti-theists like me.

    And if that makes me a Dick, then its a badge I wear proudly. In my book you apologists are facilitators…. grow a spine.

  • vera


    I guess your precursors hung blacks and Jews from lampposts. You’ve progressed to threatening theists with it instead. And that is supposed to be an improvement? Good grief.

    Ahem… wasn’t the enlightenment idea to stop heretic abuse?

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