Civility, Negativity, and Atheism-as-Identity

Lately, this blog has been receiving a huge number of scornful, obscene, profanity-laden comments from anonymous atheists. I’ve been deleting the bulk of them without explanation. I toyed with the idea of writing an official comment policy (no swearing, hate speech, personal threats, saying mean things about my mother, etc.).

For now, though, I’m just going to post a short instructional video for those wishing NOT to have their comments continually deleted.

There was a time when this would have gotten under my skin (and probably drawn me into some of my infamously long debates in the comment threads). I also realize that I bring some of this upon myself by uttering occasional blasphemies against The Wise Atheistic Consensus Of The Internet and Modern ScienceTM.

But on a serious note, I feel a tremendous amount of compassion for these anonymous individuals. In my experience, this kind of rage often has a personal back-story.  (To quote GB Shaw, “The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.”Setting aside the intellectual arguments for and against atheism, I think it’s monumentally tragic that anyone might be driven away from the Truth because of mistreatment at the hands of those who profess to be Christians.

I’m also reminded of a recent article that appeared in The Telegraph (from the perspective of an atheist):

“Surely there was a time when you could say to someone “I am an atheist” without them instantly assuming you were a smug, self-righteous loather of dumb hicks given to making pseudo-clever statements like, “Well, Leviticus also frowns upon having unkempt hair, did you know that?” Things are now so bad that I tend to keep my atheism to myself, and instead mumble something about being a very lapsed Catholic if I’m put on the spot, for fear that uttering the A-word will make people think I’m a Dawkins drone with a mammoth superiority complex and a hives-like allergy to nurses wearing crucifixes…

There’s even a website called Atheist Meme Base, whose most popular tags tell you everything you need to know about it and about the kind of people who borrow its memes to proselytise about godlessness to the ignorant: “indoctrination”, “Christians”, “funny”, “hell”, “misogyny”, “scumbag God”, “logic”. Atheists in the public sphere spend their every tragic waking hour doing little more than mocking the faithful…

The problem with today’s campaigning atheists is that they have turned their absence of belief in God into the be-all and end-all of their personality. Which is bizarre. Atheism merely signals what you don’t believe in, not what you do believe in. It’s a negative. And therefore, basing your entire worldview on it is bound to generate immense amounts of negativity…

Today’s atheism-as-identity is really about absolving oneself of the tough task of explaining what one is for, what one loves, what one has faith in, in favour of the far easier and fun pastime of saying what one is against and what one hates. An identity based on a nothing will inevitably be a quite hostile identity, sometimes viciously so, particularly towards opposite identities that are based on a something – in this case on a belief in God.”

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What Bloggers Can Learn From Solomon

Note: This guest piece was written by Corey P. You should visit his blog, the Ink Slinger, for more great stuff.

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Prov. 20:18: “Every purpose is established by counsel: and with good advice make war.”

On the surface, writing a blog post and going to war have little in common. It’s the principle that counts. Before setting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – you might consider picking the brains of those around you. Two (or three or four) heads are better than one. Professor Anthony Bradley of King’s College has a similar strategy, and he describes it this way: “(1) Test idea on social media, (2) listen to feedback, (3) blog it, (4) listen, (5) write article, (6) listen, (7) put in book.”

Prov. 15:28: “The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.”

One click, and your thoughts are available for all the world to see – which makes it freakishly easy to forget the responsibility you have to weigh your words. Just because you can say whatever you want doesn’t mean you ought to, and just because you want to say something doesn’t mean you have something to say.

Many years ago, when I was first learning how to handle a firearm, my Dad would often remind me to “keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.” To offer a modified blogger-friendly version of that advice: keep your mouse off the publish button until you’re ready (and I mean really ready) to publish.

Prov. 18:13: “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”

This is an extension of the previous point. I realize how tempting it is to be “the first” blogger to write about something – the latest theological kerfuffle, for instance – and there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with being quick on the draw. But watch out. If a rumor catches your hear, remember it’s a rumor: don’t be hasty to give your opinion unless you have facts to back your opinion up. The world isn’t going to end if your response is a few days late, and you’ll save yourself quite a bit of embarrassment if you make an effort to get the facts straight beforehand.

Prov. 15:4: “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.”

If your posts have a reputation for being nasty and acidic, you’re doing it wrong. Speak the truth, and speak it boldly, but speak it in love. Obnoxious, spittle-soaked writing isn’t God-honoring, and it won’t gain you a steady readership. It’s generally pretty easy to tell when a writer is angry and looking for someone or something to stomp on. Who wants to stick around for that?

Prov. 27:17: “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”

Just as your spoken words have the power of life and death (Prov. 21:23), so do your written words. You use them to build up or tear down; encourage or discourage; advance the truth or advance a lie. The things you say (and the things you don’t) will make an impact: pray that it’s a good one, and work hard to that end.

Prov. 26:17: “He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears.”

Translation: don’t be a troll. If roaming the web stirring up strife is your idea of time well spent, it’s time for a heart check. There’s a world of difference between contending and being contentious, and there’s a world of trouble to be found in confusing the two.

Prov. 26:12: “Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.”

Last but not least, nobody likes a know-it-all. The only people who never make mistakes are the ones who never do anything; so if you’ve written something in error, and someone calls you on it, don’t arch your back and spit. Consider the reproof. If there is justice in it, acknowledge the justice in it. Learn what you can, and do better the next time around.