On Being a Dick
On Being a Dick
Fri Aug 20, 2010
A certain post of mine on this blog is getting a bit of attention, due, somewhat indirectly to Phil Plait’s plea to atheists not to be dicks. For example, it’s mentioned at the Atheist Experience blog (due to me foolishly mentioning it in the comments of the previous post there.)
In the aforementioned post, I was not just a dick, but deliberately a dick, or as I prefer to be called, an asshole. I did this on the theory that sometimes you’ve got to piss people off in order to motivate them to actually think deeply enough for them to make some progress, rather than them just going glassy-eyed and saying, “whatever,” and moving on, unchanged. Well, actually this is a slight bit of revisionism and rationalization on my part. Slight, because I had thought about these things prior to writing that post, so if it was rationalization, it was a bit of rationalization done ahead of time, and premeditation is not a typical feature of what people usually call rationalization.
That being said, what triggered the post was a particularly bile-filled yet still hilarious video by a Christian youtuber, “glenreb”.
Now, I’m going to tell you another story. Back in 2004, when George Bush The Dumbest was elected, no, fucking re-elected President, I got a little pissed off at work at all the people who’d voted for him — a second time. And it came to be known that I didn’t think too highly of religion.
In the following couple of years, I began to get emails from an anonymous someone at work, forwarded through an intermediary asking questions about my beliefs, or lack thereof. Later I found out that anonymous wasn’t just one person, but a group of people. A DVD of Ronda Chervin being interviewed by some Catholic cable tv dude was shoved under my office door. I watched it, and came away thinking of it as “Dumb interviewed by Dumber.” Now, I’m not the type of person to get all offended by such things, and go whining to HR and get management to come down and treat us like children and get the mean religious people to stop talking to me, or some stupid shit like that. I prefer to live and work in a society where adults can talk amongst themselves about whatever we want to talk about, even if some of the people want to talk about some seriously stupid shit with other people who may not be particularly interested in hearing all about Jesus.
All of this is just background to the point I’m trying to make here though. Fast forward to 2010. There’s a guy standing in my cube (everybody has cubes not offices anymore, welcome to the future) who was once a Christian, but now considers himself an agnostic (not yet willing to call himself an atheist, but progress is progress) and he’s telling me about an email I had “sent out” (actually I’d sent it to one person, the intermediary — this was how I came to know that “anonymous” was more than one person) which compared Christianity to belief in leprechauns. The point of the email, which I’ll reproduce here (approximately) was mostly to explain what it feels like to be an atheist in the U.S. The main point was not to compare Christianity to belief in leprechauns for the sake of the comparison, but to illustrate how it felt to be an atheist in the U.S.
In fact, I thought I had bent over backwards in an attempt to avoid being offensive. Nevertheless, this guy in my cube in 2010, six years later, is telling me about this email and saying that at the time he’d thought that it was “Soooooooooo offensive!” But, he went on to add that now, now, in 2010, he can see it, he can relate, even agree. In other words, score one for our side!
Here’s the letter which was, at the time, deemed sooooooo offensive. (It is partly a response to the assertion that Einstein was a theist of the same sort as your average Texas Christian):
First off, I don’t think all believers are idiots. If you’re brought up with religion from childhood, and in a religion like Christianity or Islam, these religions have many features which make them extremely difficult to shake off. Threats of hell for leaving. The prospect of possible estrangement, divorce, etc for changing your mind about religion, etc. Just read the accounts written by people who have managed to shake off religion sometime (there are loads of them on the internet, here’s a good place to start: http://ebonmusings.org/atheism/index.html#deconversion
I do think most believers haven’t really given their religion, and the religions of others very much thought, and I say that because of the naive sort of comments they make and questions they ask (e.g. where does morality come from without religion, etc. [ed. This was the subject of a previous email from anonymous])
If atheists are sometimes angry, there’s a good reason for it. Faith — believing things to a degree of certainty which exceeds (sometimes greatly) what is warranted by the available evidence — is exactly what drove those planes into those towers on 9/11. So yeah, that kind of idiotic, unquestioning belief, and the actions which follow from it make me angry. But that is an extreme, rather atypical example. Yet the beliefs held by millions who do not fly planes into buildings are no less absurd. Religion allows sane people to believe by the millions what one person alone would have to be insane to believe. [ed. Yeah, I totally ripped off Sam Harris here.]
I may repeat myself, but let me try to give you some idea about what it feels like to be an atheist in this country. This is going to be difficult for you to take seriously, but to get my meaning you’re going to have to suspend disbelief and take this seriously for a moment. Imagine that 90% of the people around you seriously believe that leprechauns exist. You might think, so what? What do I care what they believe? What effect would that have on me? I wouldn’t be bothered in the least. Well, let’s continue. Not only do they believe in leprechauns, they have special leprechaun hunting stores which stock all manner of contraptions and books about leprechauns, and special schools which teach children about leprechauns, and all of this is exempt from taxation, while the non-leprechaun-believers like yourself get nothing from it. Moreover, the leprechaun believers are constantly bitching and moaning about the non-leprechaun believers, sometimes going so far as to actually shun them, or refuse to communicate with them except anonymously through an intermediary. [ed. This last sentence was a dig at the anonymous sender of the email to which this email is a response] From time to time you meet some nice girl, but each time you let slip that you happen to think this leprechaun stuff is a load of nonsense, they break off communication and disappear, having been apparently brainwashed to believe non-leprechaun-believers are not suitable company. If you want to pursue an elected office, you had better believe in the leprechauns, and express your belief loudly and publicly, or you can forget it (Unless your a pro-wrestler in Minnesota, perhaps. [ed. This is a reference to Jesse Ventura]) Surverys [sic] show that non-leprechaun believers are the least trusted of all minorities. http://www.mndaily.com/articles/2006/03/24/67686
Sometimes you argue with the leprechaun-believers, and you find that after hundreds of such arguments, not a single solitary leprechaun believer has any arguments worth a crap. Not a one.
If you’re unlucky enough to be from a family who takes their leprechaun belief very seriously, you may find yourself excommunicated, divorced, and generally reviled by your own family.
Dealing with that sort of thing day after day, year after year, after awhile, and a few really bad experiences, you’re going to a be a tad touchy when the leprechaun believers come around with their same old tired “arguments” consisting mainly of holes that you’ve seen defeated a thousand times before.
And all of that whilst not a single person has ever captured, killed, or photographed a leprechaun, nor has anyone showed up with a big pot of gold, despite centuries of ritualized leprechaun hunting.
You may think the leprechaun story is not a good analogy for various reasons. From my point of view it’s a fine analogy, but, even if it weren’t a good analogy, the point is to demonstrate what it feels like to be an atheist in this country and give you some clue about why some atheists might be a bit touchy on the topic of religion, that is my intent with this story. The analogy is secondary. I’m not the only one who’s made such analogies, for example: http://www.brentrasmussen.com/log/node/363
So, I’m one of the touchy atheists. I happen to know there are at least 3 other atheists on this floor in this building. I don’t see them arguing, or being touchy. Probably nobody’s pissed them off quite like I’ve been pissed off yet, or they’re just the sort of person who shies away from rocking the boat.
Now, back to Einstein.
At most he was a deist, which means he thought that if there was a god of any sort, it was the sort that started the universe and then stepped back and did not interfere any further with it.
Now, I’ve never, ever seen a deist try to proselytize or otherwise shove their beliefs onto others, or get special privileges by force of law as I have seen Christians do in this country. If you were merely a deist, well, you’d have no real quarrel with me.
So you’re trying to lump Einstein, a mere deist at most, in with your own religion. Nah, Deism is much closer to agnosticism than it is to Christianity.
Here’s a quote:
“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.” — Albert Einstein
That’s from a letter he wrote on Mar 24, 1954.
He also said:
“I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.”
More here: http://einsteinandreligion.com/
[...some info which might identify the recipient omitted...]
So, that letter was apparently, at the time, considered “soooooooooooooo offensive….”. And this assessment was from one of the very “reasonable” ones — one so reasonable that he was actually convinced to eventually abandon Christianity!
Now I ask you: What is the point of not being a dick? If the point is not to offend, well, here’s a news flash for you: Your very existence is a grave offense to many of these people. There is no polite way to say that you do not believe what they believe. Whether you’re deliberately a dick about it, or attempt to be polite, it doesn’t matter. You offend them anyway. They are trained to be offended by your very existence. You’re already a dick, just by existing. Might as well have some fun with it.