Thursday, October 27, 2011

Some atheists

It seems to happen every time I mistakenly scroll down to the comments below a certain type of news story. True, it would be better never to look at comments below a news article in the first place, as news article commenters tend to be...interesting sorts...but there's a certain type of article that seems to set up a rather bizarre chain reaction, as follows:

First, the article itself will tell about some fairly sad or tragic news event (which covers just about everything except weight loss articles, something new everyone should be worried about dying from articles, political articles, and economic and/or science news the reporter obviously didn't understand but wrote a provocative, hard-hitting piece about anyway articles). Then, in the comments, some person will employ prayerful and/or Christian language directed at the person or people impacted by the tragedy, of the "Prayers going out to the Smith family," or "God bless the people of Rabid Squirrel Junction as they dig out from underneath the volcano" variety, or something like that.

The next chain in our reaction is equally predictable: some disciple of New Atheism will show up to trash the person who prayed, prayers in general, tragedies in general (often handing out "Darwin Awards" to the deceased), and any human being who actually tries to find any transcendent meaning in life whatsoever.

Fortunately, these sorts of comments resemble Hobbes' description of the life of man, in that most of them are solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and (thankfully) short. Unfortunately, they tend to act upon the assembled virtual crowd like a catalyst, and the commenters will turn from pretending to comment on the article to their own pet faith-related subjects; they all have their own axes to grind, their own agendas to push, their own views of God and man to propound--and all of this delights the sort of self-avowed atheist who shows up in these sorts of comment threads, because he can now engage in the sort of argument where sooner or later he can showcase his brilliance and high-minded intellectualism by a copious use of the phrases "sky-daddy" and "flying spaghetti monster."

Now, just as the typical Christian ought not be lumped in with the most extreme stereotypes, so ought not the sky-daddy-dude who delights in irrelevant comment and Christian-trolling be mistaken for a typical atheist. It would be unfair and counter-productive to ask an intelligent, thoughtful, rational, civil atheist to explain all these atheists who show up not just in comment boxes below news stories, but in comment boxes below all sorts of Christian writings, theological debates, etc. to make essentially the same snotty sky-daddy remarks. It is not at all polite to assume that just because someone is an atheist, he must also be rude to people of faith, unwilling to engage in philosophical discussions, or uninterested in questions about virtue. It is unkind to suppose that all atheists believe in the same thing; they only agree that they don't believe in God--and not all of them are united as to which God they don't believe in, so to speak. It behooves Christians who enter discussions, online or in real life, with atheists to remember all of this.

Of course, it is true that many atheists have no problem lumping all Christians, or "Christianists" as some of them may sometimes say, together. They may think all Christians are sola scriptura types, that all Christians shun the theory of evolution, that all Christians dislike science generally, that all Christians would like to impose a theocracy on the United States, and so on. They may even assume all of these things, and when told otherwise by a specific Christian, they may demand answers for those Christians who do believe any of these things, just as if a Christian were to ask them to defend the overuse of the flying spaghetti monster even if they think it's stupid, too, and have never brought it up in an argument.

But that doesn't mean we should turn around and treat them the same way. "Do unto others," and all that, you know.


Alisha De Freitas said...

Very nice post. A good reminder. I also have the urge to use the word "copious" now.

(Check your email.)

freddy said...

If people thought that com-boxes were places for rational exchange of ideas, as here and a few other places, you might get courteous, rational commentary. In a tragic news article, you might even get a variety of hopeful and helpful reactions ranging from the faith-filled "Prayers for the poor folk of Rabid Squirrel Junction!" to the rational "Hope the survivors of the Rabid Squirrel Junction Disaster get the care they need!."

Unfortunately, many people, especially those who feel the need to comment on news articles, see the com-box as mission territory. In fact they seem to see the com-box as Mission Territory Deep in the Cannibal and Snake Infested Internet Jungle.

Go figure.

Turmarion said...

Good post. I also like that you got Hobbes's full quote, something rarely done! The "nasty, brutish, and short" part is usually all that gets quoted. Kudos!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

The purpose of comment boxes on news articles is to increase advertising revenues by showing off how many people were exposed to advertising for the time it took to write their little diatribes.

Also, if you favor conspiracy theories, it creates the emotional illusion in our political psyches that we are having an influence on the content of the news and the course of history, when nobody is reading except other disputatious and powerless souls like ourselves.

Still, it never ceases to amaze me that some atheists devote so much time and effort to talking at length about something they believe does not exist.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Amen to that.

I think many people who post comments on news articles are "hater" types who love to be rude. They hit "enter" before thinking and I wouldn't judge anybody else by what they write.

Indygo Wolf said...

While not an Atheist, I admit it sometimes irks me to read someone mention faith (in any sense of the word) when commenting on a tragedy. I think it is because I know that not eery practices the same faith and it could be considered rude to pray for someone who does not believe in your personal faith.

Barbara C. said...

Why would it be rude to pray for someone who does not believe in your personal faith? If a Muslim or a Jew or a Hindu wanted to pray for me I wouldn't find it offensive. And if an atheist just wanted to offer hope for a better outcome I wouldn't find that offensive either.

One of my friends has severe heart problems (he's on the transplant list). During a really bad episode, his atheist brother issued a statement saying that while he personally didn't believe that prayer did anything real he respected the sentiment of love that was being expressed by those offering prayers.

If someone finds it rude, then they are someone who is going out of their way to reject love, compassion, and caring.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Barbara- I agree with you. I have friends of various beliefs and if they say they'll pray in a way that's not my way, or send good vibes, or express their good intentions in some way that may not match my way, why would I be offended?
I think we should be tolerant and realize when people have good intentions.

Indygo Wolf said...

I, personally, do not find it rude either (unless it is someone who is praying that I will suddenly change both my faith and my preference in love) if someone offers to pray for me.

But, I have seen some pretty scary responses from people who have been offered prayers. They do not mind being told "hoping for the best" but the words "prayer", "pray" and "God bless" is like throwing matches on dynamite.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this -- nicely put. I used to be an atheist, and never acted so rudely. However, I was always struck by those people of faith who responded to attacks with grace and kindness. I always wondered what they had, that I didn't...

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Praying that Jews will be converted and will accept Jesus as Messiah is offensive to Judaism. Praying in the name of Jesus that a Jewish person will recover from triple bypass surgery is a different matter entirely. Fill in the blank with any pair of religious beliefs.