Recently Richard Dawkins, speaking at the so-called ‘reason’ rally encouraged the crowd to ridicule Catholics. He said when someone claims to be Catholic that atheists should first not believe that they are, then Dawkins urges his followers to

Mock them! Ridicule them! In public!

Unfortunately this wasn’t a one off comment. Responding to an article about how to treat top scientists who are Christians, he wrote in favor “ridicule” and “contempt”. He says that atheists should ignore those with well thought out opinions, instead:

I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’€™t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.

That’s a pretty major departure from reason. Using reason one seeks to encourage people to think about problems long and deeply. You engage the strongest arguments, not the weakest. You don’t push your beliefs (or lack of them) by social stigma- such you behaving anti-socially towards them, ridiculing and laughing at people in public and urging others to follow your lead. These are the tactics of a bully, not of a scientist.

Dawkins continues,

You might say that two can play at that game. Suppose the religious start treating us with naked contempt, how would we like it? I think the answer is that there is a real asymmetry here. We have so much more to be contemptuous about! And we are so much better at it. We have scathingly witty spokesmen of the calibre of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Who have the faith-heads got, by comparison? Ann Coulter is about as good as it gets. We can’t lose!

He rationalizes antisocial behavior by suggesting that it will be effective. Despite the fact that Dawkins wouldn’t like people to behave the same way towards himself, he thinks he says atheists are better at ridiculing others. I have no doubt he’s right and public mockery is a very effective way of getting someone to take a badly considered position. So why shouldn’t everyone follow Dawkins advice?

Jesus taught the exact opposite. He said,

In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Confucius said,

Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself.

Across the world, from East to West, people recognize treating others in a way which you wouldn’t like is wrong. Dawkins urges us to treat others in a way which he himself would not like to be treated. The reason people shouldn’t behave like Ann Coulter or Richard Dawkins, is not because it is ineffective. It is because it is wrong.

For Christians, Jesus goes further. Even for people who might be considered our enemies, Jesus says we should love them,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

So should we, whether we’re Christian or atheist, act like Richard Dawkins and Ann Coulter, WBC or David Silverman? No. Instead, 1 Peter gives a good way to disagree – to disagree with reason and respect

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.


Face of the new atheism

January 17, 2010

Craigslist is most famous for its free advertisements, including for adult services and for housing – and it also has a series of active message boards catering to all different interests. One of those is religion:  there is an atheist forum, but no Christian forum. For a few years an impromptu, but unofficial “Celebrate Jesus” forum for prayer requests had served the small Christian community. However, if you visit the prayer forum today, it is over-run by atheists.

Looking through the history, it is possible to piece together what happened. At first a personal request for prayer would meet atheist abuse. For example, to someone experiencing muscle pain, and wanting to go to the doctor:

you’re self-obsessed, uneducated, and you have absolutely NO insight… Pain? You want to know what pain is, you stupid cunt?

There was a lot of this low level stuff, and that is pretty standard for the Internet. Soon, though all Christians posts were “flagged”. Whole pages of Christian posts simply went missing, with only atheist comments left. Sexually suggestive images accompanied increasing volumes of abuse. It  becoming more and more extreme, suggesting that the regular members should commit kill themselves or that they were were paedophiles. Handles were created to impersonate regular Christians. They even impersonated me, even though I was almost never there.

One lovely woman whose ex-husband recently died, was impersonated as saying:


Or the same woman:

Help me! please! I am maries vagina. I need sex like crazy. She deprives me of it constantly

By this this time there was far more spam than Christian posts, so that when a Christian did post, they got a response like this:

josheb isa self-proclaimed alcoholic & sociopath. total gdamn dishonest, manipulative, aggressive, dickwiping, schmoozy, sack of shit… am i glad i don’t have to deal with people like that in the real world, it is why guns were invented.

Unfortunately that is not exactly an isolated example. Even after Christians no longer went to the forum (the prayer forum secretly moved to a different location), spam and abusive posting continued for several months – posting to the silent void. Needless to say there isn’t a rational argument in sight.

To me, this is the face of “new” atheism. They are encouraged by people like Dawkins and Harris not only to despise Christianity, but also to disrespect Christians. It is a sad situation: to spend all day, every single day, for month after month, posting abuse on the Internet. What a bad deal they offer, and what a bad deal they took: To replace love of your neighbour for the abuse of atheism.

Photo: Lawrence OP