Doing it for the fence sitters
So, in my catching up reading, I was surprised to find out that people are petulantly blaming the victim yet again for a trumped-up media crisis. To summarize: PZ Myers defends a kid who stole a communion wafer out of mass by pointing out that it’s just a wafer, and anyone who believes otherwise is lying to themselves. Bill Donohue sics his minions of godbags on PZ, rendering his email box unusable amongst other things. They’re attempting to get him fired, but I don’t think that’s going to work out. It’s clear that the godbags are 100% in the wrong, nay 1000% in the wrong. They are wrong to harass PZ. They are wrong to be offended, since this entire situation is the dictionary definition of stupid. They are wrong to believe that communion crackers are sacred. They need to get their heads straight. Any rational person can see this is the end of the story.
But no. Soft-headed “must respect the crazy beliefs of others so long as they call it ‘religion'” thinking is kicking in, and the victim of this nonsense—PZ Myers—is being chastised for being insufficiently respectful of other people’s stubbornly false beliefs. Rebecca chronicles the people saying that PZ should have tread more lightly and not been so blunt about his belief that nonsense is nonsense. I understand the urge to avoid hurting people’s feelings, or even just to avoid strife, but really, this special respect that religion gets that other beliefs are not afforded has got to stop. Yes, I know people are especially touchy about religious beliefs. The touchiness functions to protect the religious beliefs from criticism. If you react with such outrage and hurt over criticism of your beliefs that discussion is impossible and people have to plug their ears (or change their email addresses) to stop all the caterwauling, then you make people more reluctant to criticize your beliefs. Which is necessary, because your beliefs are so obviously bullshit that they’ll crumple under any serious examination. If your beliefs rest on solid ground, you can hear criticisms without falling apart. Believe me; a good half to 3/4 of this blog is dedicated to examining right wing criticisms of our beliefs and arguing with them, and so far, no one here has moved to the right. Because our beliefs—unlike the belief in transubstantiation—are solid.
Rebecca suggests that the atheists who prescribe the no-mockery rule to other atheists are missing the point.
A percentage of the omgrude crowd is upset because they do not think PZ’s words help further the skeptical movement because he won’t convince any of the hardcore group that they are crazy. I agree that he probably won’t convince many true believers, but I disagree that he doesn’t help rational people. Just about any time someone dares to point out the absurdity of irrational thinking, he does a great service to many other rational thinkers who were too scared or unsure to say so themselves.
Did Trey Parker and Matt Stone convince any true believers when they called John Edward the Biggest Douche in the Universe? Probably not many, but I bet they influenced a lot of young people who might have been on the fence. There’s no one right way to communicate skepticism, and for every Trey & Matt we need a Carl Sagan. For every PZ, we need a Julia Sweeney or a Hemant. If one isn’t to your taste, you’re free to ignore him, but it’s short-sighted to claim that person is hindering the “skeptical movement” just because he’s not your bag.
Exactly. The wrong assumption underlying the “be nice or you’ll run them off” argument is that anyone mounting an argument about feminism, liberalism, atheism, skepticism, whatever is trying to win over the hardcore people opposed to us. No, we’re not. I see the Bill Donohues and John McCains and Charles Johnsons of the world as complete lost causes, their brains too fried by bullshit to be salvageable. We’re trying to win over the fence sitters, many of whom respond well to mockery and humor. Especially in the case of a ridiculous belief like transubstantiation. The irony of all this is that while people are wringing their hands worrying about whether or not PZ went too far, the backlash against him is probably helping his cause, because it shows that these people are losing their minds and making death threats over a cracker. Which is a good inroad, for someone trying to win over the fence sitters, into pointing out that this is not an idle threat, historically speaking, because a lot of people have been murdered over this particular battle over whether or not that cracker is really Jesus flesh or just kinda Jesus flesh.* You know, real people made of real flesh, not made of cracker flesh. Or even without it, because I suspect a lot of sane people with good will towards Catholicism are disgusted and closer to rejecting the church outright over this crap, as they should be.
If you want my honest opinion, and since this is blogging I assume you do, I think that the hand-wringers are speaking more from an subconscious belief that religion deserves special treatment more than a real concern that we’re losing anyone. But like I said, if you have this subconscious urge to protect religion, remind yourself that you’ve been indoctrinated precisely so that nonsensical beliefs can be protected from criticism. Don’t take that lying down! We’ve all been brainwashed. We need to get angry about that, not defensive. Every time you think, “Maybe I shouldn’t say that Jesus really wasn’t a god, because that might hurt some deluded soul’s feelings,” think about how you’re being roped into the great conspiracy and muddle through. Together, we can topple the religious exception from criticism.
*Because he’s the son of god, he tastes more like chicken than pork. True story.