A few years back, I saw an interesting talk by astronomer Phil Plait about not being a dick when dealing with people of differing opinions. This talk resonated with me for several reasons. First, I have always preferred to treat everyone with a basic level of respect and dignity, at least until they prove utterly unworthy of it. Secondly, I had become frustrated with the intellectual dishonesty permeating religious apologetics and frankly needed a reminder to be respectful even in disagreement. Finally, I am a lifelong fan of science, and I have great respect for gifted science educators. I believe Plait falls into that category.
Among the points made by Plait was that none of us change our minds because people who disagree with us get in our faces and call us names and tell us we are stupid. I do believe religious ideas are mostly unsupported by any compelling evidence, and there are no good reasons to believe any supernatural claims. I do not, however, assume that religious people are stupid or automatically question their character. There are myriad bad examples out there (Ted Haggard, Jim Baker, Dinesh D’Souza, etc.) I can quickly point to if I want to show that being religious doesn’t make you a good person.
Fortunately, most of the atheists, skeptics, free thinkers I have known have also seemed like kind and decent people. They don’t just default to personal attacks, name-calling, or other such tactics. They most often listen to the argument of others and proceed with a rational discussion about the merits of the case. Sometimes this changes minds. Sometimes it doesn’t. Even when it doesn’t change minds about the matters in disagreement, it does sometimes change perceptions about the character of people with whom we disagree. For example, I believe the idea that I would go to Hell for all eternity simply because I don’t believe in Jesus is quite evil. However, I have never personally met a Christian who I believe to be evil. I know they are out there, I mentioned three in the previous paragraph, I just haven’t met them. I feel the same about the overwhelming majority of atheists I’ve met.
I woke up this morning to something that changed my feeling on this just a bit. This is hardly earth-shattering, it is not a big deal, but it is at least rant worthy in my estimation.
I recently took the time to start an author page for my book and other writings. It has only been up for about a week. Most of the reaction has been positive, and it is much appreciated. Some of the interaction with the page is slightly confusing. This confusion is at least partly due to the title of my book, “God Loves You: Some Restrictions May Apply (And Many Other Christian Dilemmas.” On the cover of the book, the words “God Loves You” appear most prominently. I believe this leads some friends of religion to a Pavlovian response to cheer the book without realizing its nature. While the cover layout was a decision by the publisher, I didn’t argue against it. And I admit, I thought the title was clever. I jokingly refer to it as my red flag operation to get religious people to buy the book.
Unfortunately, this has also shown me that a complaint I hear from many of my religious friends does have some merit. Some atheists are angry, bitter, quick to attack, and are frankly, as Phil Plait argued in his video, dicks.
While there were many responses to the page since I checked just before bed, three stood out and motivated this response. There were two posts actually, and one private message. They are pictured here for reference.
The first one that caught my eye was the private message, though I believe he sent it last. In that private message, the sender informed me that I “look like a pedo and a womanizer.” Well, I appreciate the keen observation. I certainly don’t want to look like a pedo. And frankly, I’m not so sure I want to look like a womanizer.
Of course, not everyone is going to like me or my book. I decided to ignore it. I assumed, falsely, that this was a religious person offended by my stance on religion. In the second post, the poster was advising me to jump off the bridge in the photo. That’s nice. And finally, I saw the post posing the question, “who said there is a god”. I assume this was a question. There was no “?”, so maybe he was making a statement about someone named “Who.” Not sure.
As this is early morning diatribe of mine is going to come in at just under one thousand words, it may appear that I am upset about living rent-free in this person’s head like this. It may also appear it is, in fact, he who is living rent-free in my head. Honestly, I only found him mildly amusing except for one thing. Out of curiosity, I clicked on this person’s profile and saw he proudly professes himself to be an atheist. He has shown me that there are atheists out there who haven’t yet heard the message Phil Plait delivered back in 2010.
Here’s the thing. If you disagree with someone’s beliefs, you can do so respectfully. Establish a dialogue. Maybe you should find out what the person believes before you attack it (the idea, not the person). Possibly even try to employ Rapoport’s Rules and criticize with kindness. If you attack someone you don’t know by calling them a pedo and a womanizer simply because you assume they are religious; you’re a dick. If you attack an atheist, who wrote a book about atheism, on the author’s page about his book on atheism, because you think he is religious, you’re an ignorant dick. Don’t be a dick.