Thursday, January 20, 2011

Free Speech and Atheist-Christian Discussion: Controversies, Proposals, and "Rights" vs. the Rudimentary Ethical Demands of Civility (vs. "DagoodS")

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This discussion started as a result of my ongoing vigorous exchanges with atheist "DagoodS" concerning the existence of skeptics who once denied that the historical Hittites existed. Here are the three papers:

The Hittites: Atheist "DagoodS" Lies About Christian Apologists Supposedly Lying About How Biblical Critics Once Doubted Their Historical Existence

Habitually "Lying" Christian Apologists?: 19th Century "Hittites Didn't Exist" Radical Skepticism & Examination of Atheist DagoodS' Replies & Charges

Hittite Skeptics Chronicles, Part III: Specific Citations of Denial (Budge, Sumner, & Conder) and Biblical Historical Accuracy (in the Time of Elisha)

Ultra-ridiculous insulting statements were then made by Larry (aka Barefoot Bum): a frequent commenter on DagoodS' blog. I objected, and this opened up a wider discussion about free speech and blog policies of conduct and how atheists and Christians can profitably engage in civil discourse.

Bum's words will be in purple; DagoodS' in blue.

* * *
Wow, Dave. I've played Dungeons and Dragons, I've been into computers since I was 12, and I know a lot of 2nd and 3rd rate musicians. But I've never seen a more pathetic, obsessed loser than you. You're digging into 200 year old references to try to justify calling lie an offhand comment that is obviously true in the general case. To be honest, even if all the evidence weren't against you, I'd be embarrassed to be a Christian just because you're one.

And the funniest thing is... you'll might really dig up some 3rd rate academic from the 1630s or something who really did say "The Hittites never existed." And Dagood will laugh and say, "I stand corrected," and move on with his life. And all anyone will remember is that Dave Armstrong is this weird, obsessed little troll and never remember that wow, you were actually right, in your weird, pathetic, loser, living-in-mom's-basement way.

I did the whole "philosophical discussion" thing with Christians about ten years ago. I lasted about a year. But in the end, what's going to doom Christianity is not the enormous philosophical flaws, not the absurd theology, not even the hatefulness and contemptible morals of Christians. What's really going to doom Christianity is that everyone who really takes it seriously becomes a grotesque, obsessed, scrofulous little gnome that no ordinary person with a job, a mortgage, and a bowling team with a shot at the playoffs really wants to have as a friend. (1-19-11)

Will DagoodS even censure such an outrageous comment? Does he enforce any standards of conduct at all on his blog? Or does he wish to convey the "irrational, angry, condescending atheist" image that is pervasive on 200 other prominent atheist blogs and websites?

No one would be allowed to come within a million miles of such an insulting comment on my blog, at atheists' expense. I would at least protest it loudly if I didn't remove it altogether. I had two atheists in my own home two months ago (one of them being Jon, a friend of DagoodS), presenting their opinions, and they were treated with perfect courtesy and respect by eight or so of us Christians, while arguing that Jesus didn't exist.

I replied to this diatribe:

Bitterness and hostility will make you miserable, Larry, whether you're an atheist or a Christian or a Hindu. It'll eat you (and kill you) from the inside out. You desperately need God's love to transform you. Your mindless insults don't and won't stop me from doing what I do (defending Christianity).

You sure don't make atheism appealing to anyone with this sort of pathetic derision towards someone, simply because he is defending with facts a group of people who have been accused of being a pack of inveterate liars. You long ago decided that Christians are a bunch of contemptible liars (I've seen other comments of yours) [e.g., "Christianity and theism . . . must at some level rest on a foundation not just of delusion or mistake, but intentional outright mendacity" -- 11-8-07), so you were nowhere near ready to change your mind on that, no matter what I came up with.

It was quite likely that this thing would get increasingly insulting from the atheist end, in direct proportion to counter-evidence that I managed to produce. That's just how it goes (sadly) in most atheist-Christian interaction.

I told my wife yesterday that if I came up with something indisputable, an exponential increase of insults would occur (rather than accepting any correction). You made me a prophet once again. What DagoodS does remains to be seen -- he can imitate you or take a much, much higher road, but we have observed your reaction and it will be recorded in all its glory on my post.

Lastly, I must say that I do admire the imaginative and original eloquence of "grotesque, obsessed, scrofulous little gnome." That goes right near the top of the list of some of my favorite all-time insults. :-) Thanks for the laugh there! (1-19-11)

Bum is quite ludicrously entertaining, in his own way, with colorful statements on his blog such as the following:

Philosophy is, after all, a profession where idiots such as Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne are held in real esteem even by their nominally atheist colleagues. (8-21-10)

Historically, theologically and ideologically, Christianity without the moderating influence of secularism is just as much a gigantic hellhole of sadistic evil as is modern Islam. (6-5-10)

I'm interested in reasonable debate, but 95% of the people who disagree with me are either flat-out liars (e.g. Christians) or idiots (e.g. anarchists). . . . it seems like I'm so far out of any ideological box that my opinions put seemingly reasonable people into a state of apoplectic rage or embittered betrayal. I just don't care that you don't like me any more because of what I said. I learned long ago that most people don't like me no matter what I say or do; if that's the result of a flaw in my character or intellect, it's one I'm powerless to correct. . . . I assume unless proven otherwise that everyone thinks I'm a jackass, so don't expect me to be crestfallen that you personally think I'm a jackass. (4-29-10)

So many Christians are just out-and-out liars one wonders if they have the basic intelligence and reading comprehension to understand, "Thou shalt not bear false witness." (5-10-09)

. . . you [Christians] all are retards and liars. (4-19-09)

Okay, folks! Just to give some idea of the thinking that goes on in the mind of the person who characterized me today as a "pathetic, obsessed loser . . . weird, obsessed little troll . . . living-in-mom's-basement . . . a grotesque, obsessed [did he forget to mention "obsessed"?], scrofulous little gnome that no ordinary person . . . really wants to have as a friend." At least he didn't call me a liar, huh? He says himself that most people think he is a "jackass" but I'm the one that no one wants to be friends with. Right . . .

Pray for this man. It is a very sad thing in the end, even though the insults are humorous to observe on another level. Only God can ultimately set him free from his bitterness and contempt, and whatever pain and hurt is inside of him. He's only hurting himself.

This is the typical nonsense that we apologists have to deal with all the time, should we dare to make a few good points in the course of a discussion with certain groups that do not exactly rapturously admire Christians (or Catholics, within the sphere of Christianity, as the case may be). I don't even ask prayer for myself to put up with garbage like this. I'm used to it; it's an occupational hazard. It's a complete yawner.

I ask for prayer for people who are obviously hurting deeply and desperately need God. We can condemn the unethical nature of these sorts of insults, but we must always have compassion towards the persons involved, and love them no matter what they think of us. There but for the grace of God go I . . .

I commented on DagoodS' non-reaction to Bum's insults on his blog:

I see now that you have absolutely no ethical standards on your blog, since you won't speak out against Bum's vapid, rank insults, whereas when a friend of mine referred to the "stupidity of atheism" on my blog I immediately distanced myself from it and made it clear that it was not my view. Thanks for the clarification.

Now we know that if a theist or Christian dares set foot in this venue, he or she is open to almost every imaginable insult. It doesn't bother me personally (I'm used to it as an apologist), but it is an important matter of principle where it seems to me that Christians and atheists could easily agree. The same debate is taking place on the national political scene: how do we approach our opponents? (1-20-11)

It's good to see that you (DagoodS) chose not to go down the road of mere vacuous insults. I commend you for that and it's heartening to see. But you seem to not have any problem with other cohorts on your blog getting down into the mud and slinging horse manure at those they disagree with. (1-20-11)

I would hope this unnecessary, but since I feel compelled to address it, apparently I am concerned enough to post this comment. (I really only wanted to address one (1) thing with Dave Armstrong—find the skeptic who said “Hittites never existed.” Alas, must momentarily branch out.)

Each blog is different. Each blog owner has the privilege to determine their own comment policy. They can only include comments from Christians or from red-headed people or no comments at all. They can bar swearing; they can require it. Their choice.

I favor a wide-open policy. I allow just about anything. (Please don’t test this—I really don’t want to start some monitoring system!) This comes partly from my distaste for censorship; partly from my belief allowing people to say what they want is illuminating.

If someone doesn’t like it, they are free to complain on their own blog, or comments here. But I am not going to do anything about it.

Larry a.k.a. The Barefoot Bum – you are more than welcome to post comments on my blog.

Dave Armstrong – you are more than welcome to post comments on my blog.

DoOrDoNot, Vinny, HeisSailing, Like a Child, Zoe, Rambling Taoist, atimetorend, D’Ma, Jon, Geds, paul, martin, Clay Jones, Cory Tucholski, Jim Jordan, Stan, OneSmallStep…and all the others who will lambaste me for forgetting their name or not including them – you are more than welcome to post comments on my blog.

Feel free to complain about what the other person said and to complain about my not deleting what the other person said.

But I won’t do anything about it. (1-20-11)

Okay; I like free speech, too. That's why I have over 650 debates posted on my blog. Both sides are fully presented. But what do you think about the value and utility of Bum's remarks at my expense? Allowing free speech and one's opinions of certain sentiments expressed are two different things.

You have chosen to have no standards of conduct at all on your blog. I do have a requirement (at least in the long run) of rudimentary courtesy of mine, because I want to maintain a venue where people feel free to speak without being trashed and pilloried, sans any rational argument. Thus, I will ban folks who do nothing but insult (extreme cases). Bum wouldn't be banned as long as he made substantive remarks (as he does here too). But if all he did was insult, he would be, because that insults the intelligence of my readers and cheapens my blog, which is trying to do something different.

The free speech is not absolute on my blog. It's not here, either, really. I may be allowed to speak (which is elementary) but the more I render my opinions, the more insults come (including from you) and I am accused of being a troll, etc. (which means precisely that I am improperly speaking -- being out of line -- on this blog).

That's the double standard. Yes, I am allowed to have my say, but it has to co-exist with a ton of horse manure being dropped on my head, whereas people like you and Bum don't have the distraction of being buried in manure because your opinions are disagreed with.

Along with the "right" to free speech comes (I submit) a right to being allowed to speak without the incessant insulting, which is an insult to the intelligence of all who truly value the exchange of ideas (as I believe you do, as much as I do). This is the demands of routine, rudimentary charity, that atheists and Christians alike value.

You yourself like to point out that I am supposedly so vastly different in person, and that people change online. I can't imagine (having met you now, twice) you and other atheists standing by and saying and doing nothing if Bum launched into his tirade against me in person, that we saw above. That wouldn't happen. He would be told to shut up or leave the room.

That's more than just a "right of free speech" issue: it is the commonly agreed norms of charity in discourse and human relations.

I try to further those ends online as well as in person. I don't make a radical distinction between the two. If someone had started blasting your friend Jon when he was at my house presenting his view that Jesus didn't exist (saying about him what Bum said about me), I would have promptly escorted him to the door. Why should it be any different online than it would be in person? (1-20-11)


Martin said...

It would be an interesting test to have a few of the typical commenters from Triblog drop in on Dagoods and make a bunch of make anti- atheist remarks. Think he would tolerate it for a short while. The other sides rudeness is always worse than your sides.

Martin said...

I think this it's a very fine response to the bum.

I chopped the huge link, if it doesn't work try going to the blog