Saturday, September 29, 2007

Angry, Irrational Atheists and Other Ex-Christians On the Prowl Again: Christopher Hitchens vs. Fr. George Rutler / The Good Folks at ExChristian.Net

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Let me start out with a strong disclaimer: I personally know many atheists who do not (repeat: do NOT) fit into this characterization. I've often defended atheists against individual irrational Christians. One must judge every person individually. Atheists may possibly be saved. Some who state that they are former Christians may very well indeed have been Christians at one time (a non-Calvinist Christian need not deny this, as it is a quite biblical notion). Atheists are not inevitably immoral or amoral or ethically relativistic, or politically liberal, etc. I've stated all this many times. I have nothing against atheists as people. I have no hostility towards atheists as a class, or prejudice whatsoever. I approach anyone and everyone with an unassuming attitude and without cynicism. In fact, I cause myself no end of misery for this reason.

That said, it is undeniable that many atheists are very angry people, obsessed with Christians, quite irrational, rude, absurd, and foolish in dialologue with Christians, unable to withstand a critique of their "deconversion" stories, condescending, hostile, patronizing, and burdened with considerable personal prejudice against Christians and Christianity. It's unarguable. Examples are innumerable. Ten minutes cruising the comboxes of virtually any major "former Christian" blog or website will confirm this beyond all possible refutation or doubt.

Recently, I have had an experience of this myself (for about the 50th time), in critiquing the "anti-testimony" of Dave Van Allen, webmaster of ExChristian.Net. He made one terse "reply " only loosely connected, if at all, to my actual critique) and then descended into purely personal, petty attacks (see my direct reply to the latter, documenting the folly of one particular scurrilous lie), along with "attaboy rah-rahs" from a dozen or so of his cronies on his blog, who all wanted to "reply" to me also (me being the lone Christian around in that particular thread, and supposed to be able to answer twelve people at once?).

Twelve or so insulting atheists against one Christian attempting to participate in rational discourse: that sounds fair and right, doesn't it? Hardly any of them dare to come to my blog, where they would be treated with politeness and courtesy, but I am expected to stay there and engage in "discourse." Not a chance. It would be an insult to my intelligence and that of any thinking, fair-minded person, and to the very notion of rational dialogue, for me to remain in such a farcical situation.

Sadly, this pack mentality a very common characteristic not only of atheists, but of many people on the Internet of many belief-systems . . . anyone can get with twelve other like-minded zealots and attack a dissenter from that circle. That takes neither guts not brains to do. But let one person offer a rational critique of one's reasons for leaving Christianity and it is Chicken Little and Super-Paranoia Time.

What I find especially interesting was the repeated denial by Dr. Jim Arvo, that (many) atheists (as a generalization) exhibit such irrational anger and hostility. In our sub-dialogue regarding Van Allen he reiterated this over and over:

[ME] ...many atheists collapse Christianity into know-nothing fundamentalism, so that it can be dismissed as 'anti-intellectual' and 'anti-science'...

I don't know who the "many" are that you speak of.

. . . Bottom line: don't dismiss all atheists as simply thinking they are smarter than anybody else.

Many clearly do think so. Again, I appeal to the rhetoric commonly seen here and in similar places, about how "imbecilic" and "obviously false" Christianity is. That is the language of condescension and a "know-it-all" mentality.

. . . You guys usually regard them as primitive gullible simpletons (part of that is "chronological snobbery", as C.S. Lewis calls it), and so expect to find massive error and contradiction.

That's a crass generalization.

It certainly is a generalization, by nature. Whether it is "crass" or not depends on whether it is a true general observation. I say it is.

His reasoning capabilities apparently exhausted (despite obviously having a head on his shoulders and being a professor), Jim himself then jumped right into personal insult:

I was quite clear that I read only part of your writings, and only responded to part of them. If you actually have something of substance to offer, then please direct me to it, or recap it here. I honestly don't have the time to sift through all you've written looking for something that may make sense to me . . . If you cannot bring yourself to admit that the clear surface meaning of the two Judas accounts are problematic, then it seems to me that you cannot even enter into the debate in a meaningful way IMHO.
In giving examples of the legion of "angry, irrational atheists" I wrote:
Such rhetoric is very common among atheists / agnostics / skeptics / "freethinkers". Look at Dawkins and Hitchens, for heaven's sake. There are exceptions (you seem to be one of them and I know others personally from the Internet and in "real life") but I stand by my generalization, based on many years of experience of debates and discussions. I used the word "many"; not "most" or "almost all."
Lo and behold, I discovered a tidbit about Christopher Hitchens today that confirms what I am saying, rather strikingly. It was reported by journalist Richard Lawrence Poe and has been noted by (former atheist) Jeff Miller (the "Curt Jester") and (former Episcopal priest) Taylor Marshall. Poe writes:
Eyewitnesses report that Hitchens erupted into a drunken rage at a recent promotional event for his book. Hitchens reportedly descended from the stage, visibly inebriated, approached a Roman Catholic priest in the audience [Fr. George Rutler], and began shouting at him, only inches from his face. Hitchens’ manner appeared so physically menacing, witnesses say, that a plainclothes bodyguard on duty at the event rushed in and escorted the drunken scribe from the room.

All of this happened four and a half months ago, on May 1. It was never reported in the press. A conspiracy of silence shielded the bestselling author from the negative publicity his behavior seemingly should have earned him.

. . . Billed as, “An Evening with Christopher Hitchens“, the event was presented by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and featured a discussion between Hitchens and Peter Collier (who is Director of Publications for the Freedom Center). During that discussion, Hitchens offered many insults — laced with a generous helping of obscene, Anglo-Saxon expletives — to such beloved religious figures as the late Mother Teresa. One eyewitness states that Hitchens’ “drunken, rambling, anti-Semitic, bigoted and foul-mouthed rant” caused “two-thirds of the people to leave in disgust” before the talk had ended.

[some of the lurid details can be read in the Poe article; also in another post elsewhere; be forewarned about gutter language]

. . .During the question-and-answer period following Hitchens’ talk, Father George Rutler took the floor and the following exchange ensued:

FATHER RUTLER: I have met saints. You cannot explain the existence of saints without God. I was nine years chaplain with Mother Teresa [inaudible]. You have called her a whore, a demagogue. She’s in heaven that you don’t believe in, but she’s praying for you. If you do not believe in heaven, that’s why you drink.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Excuse me?
FATHER RUTLER: That’s why you drink. God has offered us happiness, all of us. And you will either die a Catholic or a madman, and I’ll tell you the difference.
And secondly, I’m an officer with this club. And this conversation has been beneath the dignity of this club. . . .
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Well, it is now. . . . It is now.
FATHER RUTLER: And I’d just say that…
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Fine host you turned out to be.
FATHER RUTLER: …this club, we’ve had very open discussion. But we’ve never heard such vulgarity and bigotry.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Till now.
FATHER RUTLER: And I am, I don’t want to see this in this club again. And I think I represent the officers of this noble…
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Your claim to know what a [saint] is or what heaven is is as absurd as your [inaudible] arrogance, your unkindness and your lack of hospitality. . . . You should be ashamed. . . . And you are supposed to represent a church of charity and kindness?
. . . It was after the above exchange that the real fireworks started, according to witnesses. This blog has obtained a written account of the incident by one eyewitness, which states the following:
“At the end of the event as he staggered, sweating and red faced, out of the room, he [Hitchens] advanced on Father Rutler in a threatening and physical manner, screaming that this beloved pastor and brilliant scholar whom he had never met was `a child molester and a lazy layabout who never did a day’s work in his life’. His behavior was so frightening that a bodyguard put himself between Hitchens and Father Rutler to protect him. Several of the event organizers then escorted Hitchens to the men’s room and when he emerged he continued his psychotic rant, repeating the same calumnious and baseless screed as before. It was then that Father Rutler, in the most charitable manner, told Hitchens [for the second time] that he will `either die a madman or a Roman Catholic’. … Unless he faces his alcoholism soon, I am betting on the ‘madman’ ending for him.” (4)
. . . I hope and pray that Mr. Hitchens will seek the help he needs in his struggle with alcohol. And I hope that someday soon, when his mind has cleared, Mr. Hitchens will see the need to pay a visit to Father Rutler and deliver to him face to face the apology this good and saintly man so plainly deserves.

. . . Two extremely reliable eyewitnesses, who were seated close to Father Rutler, have vouched for the version of events set forth in this article. A third eyewitness — Father Rutler himself — while declining my request for an interview, did not deny the essence of the story.
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Fr. Rutler was a hero of 9-11, spending the day
hearing confessions and giving last rites to firemen

Poe's article also includes two e-mail responses from Christopher Hitchens. The Penraker blog noted with delightfully acid sarcasm: "Hitchens would then be a very poor example of the supposedly wonderful, kind, generous, pacific world of atheism."

So much for the supposed rarity of "angry, irrational" atheists. Hitchens (along with Richard Dawkins, who would win no prize for rudimentary fairness towards Christians, either) is one of the most famous ones today.

Dr. Arvo claimed that the folks who frequent ExChristian.Net were (in the main) of a high calibre as well: of a sort that wouldn't participate in mere mockery or hostile irrationality towards their fellow human Christian brothers and sisters. I had (to no avail) documented in my replies to him thus far some examples of exactly what I was contending, from the same thread in which I was participating; notably, from one "rd":
. . . the total fallacy of religions is anyway? Your longing for a belief in the after life that you are willing to deny the obvious? The obvious truth being, that it's all a lie.

Anytime you need faith in order to believe something, you are expected to go beyond your own intellectual honesty and accentually lie to yourself knowing full well deep down inside it could not possibly be true.

Kill the old self and lie to the new self, step beyond reality into mental delusions of psuedo [sic] grandeur.

. . . incredable [sic] imbecilic nonsense . . .
Also, here are some tidbits from Dave Van Allen, whose deconversion I was critiquing (all from his story or his later comments in the combox underneath it):
My mind was opened to reality, and is continuing to be opened to reality, as the myths and gods of my youth are abandoned to be replaced by reason.

Christianity is just another man-made, phony cult - that's all . . . all it really does is enslave the mind.

[W]hen Christianity condemned the pursuit of science, viewing it as an attack on faith, many centuries of ignorant darkness, disease, and painful death resulted.


Christianity caused the Dark Ages.

Religion is complete emotion — thought means little.

No matter how ridiculous, illogical, stupid, and irrational, anything in this book seems, all of you who want to call yourselves Christians, and go to a wonderful place when you leave this life, must suspend all rational thought processes, turn your brains off to anything except the particular doctrine being promulgated by your particular sect.

I have no reason to hate those religions. I do have a reason to hate Christianity. By way of analogy: You can't hate someone else's ex-wife. But you can hate your own.
And in his "reply" to me, he wrote:
Can you show me any evidence outside your book of myths for the existence of a mysterious, maniacal, meglomanic [sic], Jewish deity living somewhere in the sky that has promised everlasting retributive horror to be reigned [sic] down on all those who have the wrong thoughts in their heads about his existence?
Thank you very much, Dave Van Allen, for being a quintessential example of the proverbial (Irrationally) Angry Atheist. Here are some additional sterling examples of Pure Rationality, fair-mindedness, and open-mindedness, from the same discussion thread I participated in. These are the folks who want to engage in discussion and "dialogue" with me:
ME: I make sure that all atheists and agnostics are treated cordially and respectfully on my (Catholic) blog.

"boomSLANG": ....and we make sure that all self-righteous theists are treated like people . . .

ME: “…supposedly anti-science…” and "…allegedly 'caused the Dark Ages.'"

Huey: Dave, you use the words ‘supposedly’ and ‘allegedly’ as though there is some question about the statements they are attached to and in examining your website, you do a lot of that. There is no ‘supposedly’ and 'allegedly' about their application in this instance and using language to suggest otherwise is simply a form of dishonesty.

The Catholic Church has a long and well documented history of suppressing science, with the tools brought to bear being censure, torture and murder . . . The dark ages were brought about by the Catholic Church's control of knowledge. This extended to the confiscation of scientific and engineering texts and their subsequent destruction. It also included, and still does to this day, the censoring of knowledge that their laity may possess. The advancement of enlightenment, both scientifically and socially, was achieved in spite of, not because of the Catholic Church.

Bill: Whatever the belief, motivation and emotion behind your actions, you can be sure they are personal and not driven by god or pure rational thought. They are emotional driven.

RD: What we have observed here folks from the comments left from Dave Armstrong, is the effects of that poison. We've tasted it and it made us sick so we stopped drinking it. I suggest he do the same.

"eel shepherd": . . . Jesus of Nazareth, who likely never existed.
A brief review of similar statements elsewhere on ExChristian.Net reveals some real classics of substance- and rationality-free hatred against Christians and Christianity (my emphases):
Christianity suggests that God regrets that he created the world, and could be gratified by torturing every one of its inhabitants in hell for eternity. I cannot believe that I believed such idiocy for so long. Such a God, if it existed, deserves to be denounced, not worshipped. . . . It truly is an elaborate hoax, but I am glad I have now seen the light. I love Christians but hate Christianity.

(George Basel, 5-7-05)

Christianity does nothing but condemn people who share a different belief system, and it enslaves people's minds like it did mine. I am not afraid to say that I hate Christianity, and that Christianity SUCKS!!!!

(C.W., 11-23-06)

I hate Christianity for a variety of reasons. The first is the Bible.

(Sarah, 5-12-04)

Oh we all know what being a Christian is all about... it is about hate. Christianity is just plan silly, the idea of Jesus is silly. Go back to your little church, stuff your head in the sand... and live your lie.

(Onanite, 1-5-06)

There's no reason to hate God... after all, you can't hate that which doesn't exist. I choose to hate Christianity, and the destructive power it has on human kind.

(Anonymous, 9-26-06)

If my anger were to materilize [sic] as a bomb, I could blow up a whole residential block. That's what a psychologist told me. He also said that my depression was anger based. But, currently, I am more angry at myself for having believed the %&$#%&%@ that [sic] I am at the christian church itself. Perhaps in ten years I will actually hate christianity like you do today.

But I am somewhat angry at the church. I am particularly angry at the self-righteous hypocrites that thought they had the right to tell me how to feel, how to behave,what to do, and what to believe. Boy, do I ever hate them.

(Lorena, 5-31-06)

But now, it's different. When the fear comes, so does something else. Rage. Anger. Hatred.

I hate to see IT manifest itself in so many ways. The arrogance, the pride, the self-inflated egos of those who say "I'm saved and you're not." I hate to see IT spreading. Whenever I see Billy Graham, I cringe. I see an angry man preaching a fear based message to people who need help. In his messages I find threats and absolutes.

. . . I want to stop IT. I want to see IT lying on the ground, bleeding and dying a painful death for all the misery it has caused. IT deserves nothing less. If there is a hell, then IT should be the only permanent resident. Fear has no place in heaven.

"…Hope you have an asbestos suit, cause you're going to HELL…"

SHUT UP! FOR GOD'S SAKE, SHUT UP!

I grab IT by the neck and I squeeze. I squeeze hard. IT gasps and grabs at IT's throat, IT's copy of the bible falling into the mud.

I squeeze, pushing IT towards the mud.

"DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU'VE DONE?!" I roar. "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH I HATE YOU?!"

IT changes form. IT's face shifts rapidly. A fundamentalist, hell fire and brimstone preacher, who's kind rants and raves about the torments of hell upon the unbelievers.

. . . Before I can finish the squeeze, IT's form shifts again. This time, it's Billy Graham.

"Mr. Graham." I hiss. "I've been wanting to do this for a very long time." I pick him off the ground and hurl him into a wall. His bible falls from his shirt pocket. I grab it and rip it to shreds. "Where's your precious bible quotes now Mr. Graham?!" I shout, grabbing him by the collar and slamming him back into the wall.

"Tell me Mr. Graham." I hiss to his face. "How do you feel telling well-meaning people that they are doomed to hellfire because they haven't accepted Jesus? How often do you stand up on that dinky little podium of yours and tell the audience that we're all sinners? How often do you tell people that they're damned, damnit?! You my friend, spread fear. You spread the caner. I hope you like that!"

Grabbing his throat, my fingers digging into his skin, I hurl him over my head and face first into a wall. He falls, neck broken. But it's not finished.

Above me, the cloudy sky pours rain as I walk over to Mr. Graham's lifeless corpse. Then IT changes again, this time to the authors of all the fear based bible books and material I've ever seen. IT stands up and looks at me, glaring.

"…It's too bad that you're going to Hell…"

I scream and jump on IT, sending us both into the mud. I grab IT and punch, claw and tear at the faces, the ones who told me that they were my friend, trying to save me. The ones who say that Jesus is the only savior, the ones who frightened me with their work.

I scream and tear at them all, ripping their faces to bloody shreds. All the anger, all the hatred has boiled to the surface, and there is no stopping it. All the mental anguish and all the fear will be dealt with.

With a final slash I send the broken, bashed in face of Greg Laurie sliding through the mud into a rock. I stand, and I stare at the ruined, bloody face of IT. And I turn, facing away. All the pain, all the hatred at these people who threaten me, even if they aren't aware of it. I hate them all. I hate them.

. . . …and I stare into the face of Jesus Christ.

I pause. My clenched fist, so eager to pulverize, hesitates. From the mud, Jesus looks up at me, his face unreadable. No anger, no hate, no love, nothing. He just looks at me, as if letting me know that I can bash his face in if I want.

I look at him.

"Why?" I ask, tears coming from my eyes. "Why?"

He looks at me.

"Do you have any idea, any idea at all, about all the pain your sayings would cause? Do you have any idea at all how much I hate what you say? Do you have any idea whatsoever how much I hate the religion that follows you? Do you have any idea how much I hate its doctrines, its exclusiveness, its fear?! Do you?! DO YOU?!"

He doesn't answer.

"WHY?!" I scream. "WHY, WHY, WHY?!?!?!" Over and over and over I keep screaming it, screaming at a man who supposedly said he was the son of God, at the man that millions adore and worship.

And yet…he does not answer me.

"I HATE YOU!" I scream. "I HATE YOU!"

And then IT changes one more time. The face and body of Jesus vanish, replaced with an unexpected form.

Mine.

I stare at myself, standing there. My own face is angry. My own face is full of rage. IT glares back at me with the same anger I have.

My God…why? I'm becoming just like IT.

Maybe it's not the people I hate. It’s the fear that they spread that I hate. It's the darkness that they spread that I despise, that I detest. It's the ideas that drive people apart, that cripple people's lives, that plunges them into the depths of despair and fear.

That's what I hate. I don't hate these people. I hate the darkness within them…and me.

For fear is like cancer. It takes hold and it doesn't let go.

. . . I prayed to God while I was in bed. No, more like, pleaded and cried. I ranted at God how I hated Christianity, how I hate its doctrines, its exclusiveness, and how it uses fear. I ranted at God at how much I hated it, how I thought it was a cancer upon the earth that needed to be wiped out.

(Ian, 6-16-06)

. . . we don't "hate" Christians---however, yes, many of us loathe Christianity, and especially the tactics used to promote it.

(boomSLANG, 11-18-06)

Have I fully denied the existence of God? No... I have more rebelled from Christianity and ran from this Jesus that I have come to hate. How do I love someone I don't even like?! I don't love God, and I don't know how to, This God that loves me is the only source of power to save me ....yet he chooses not to!

(Mark Fouche, 1-23-06)
After this remarkable and pathetic parade of irrational anger and folly, I would actually like to end on a positive note, just as I began on one. I wrote a post about how atheist Jim Lazarus was excoriating an atheist group called The Rational Response Squad, for their ridiculous attacks on Christians and Christianity. Some excerpted highlights:
Every single catch phrase is something along the lines of, "Believing in God is a disease, and we can cure it!" or "Theism is a mind virus!", etc. The entire project reeks of arrogance. It'd be nice to see them have to deal with a series of intelligent theists, and see how they perform.

But I can't support a movement that depicts theism as a mind disease. It's incredibly arrogant, in my never so humble opinion.

My problems were based on the arrogance and narrow mindedness of its attitude, evidenced by the way that you've been acting toward believers the entire time. Your catch phrases and slogans are especially telling. Right on the front page: "Fighting to Free Humanity from the Mind Disorder Known as Theism".

Suggesting that belief in theism is worthy of comparison to beliefs of men in mental institutions demonstrates the same close-minded and arrogant attitude that I mentioned in my post. Simply because some believers support ridiculous things does not mean that they all do, or that theism itself is necessarily a deranged idea.

I'm speaking out against arrogance in the form of shallow analysis from a "better than thou" perspective, where "shallow" is essentially a cheap consideration of whatever issue a person is opposing. There's a difference between this and calling a clearly unintelligent person, unintelligent.

If you think that Ray is an intelligent theist, then this would actually prove that you have no idea what an intelligent theist is really like. I've met more sophisticated believers in teenage Christian chatrooms than Ray Comfort. If you're looking for intelligent theists, try Richard Swinburne, or Paul Moser, or William Lane Craig, or many believers in the Reformed tradition, or other up-and-coming names in theistic apologetics such as Victor Reppert, Douglas Groothuis, and others. These are intelligent believers, as well as those who have committed themselves to studying and defending the arguments put forward by them, and the number of those people is growing every day.

By pushing the issue on Comfort, you've more or less proved one of the complaints that I made at the outset. FAOR has set out an agenda against theism, and yet it falls horribly short of that by focusing its criticisms against unimpressive believers. From there, you make sweeping claims about theism in general and by extension believers in general, calling it a mind disease. At the end of the day your project comes nowhere close to a strong critique of theism in general, and therefore "Anonymous" is correct when he or she says that this program is only on the level of teenagers and those people who are "Mad At God".

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