An Open Letter to the Secular Community

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It is an amazing time to be part of the secular movement. Look at what’s happened in 2012 alone. We held the Reason Rally, the largest event our community has ever had, which brought over 20,000 atheists, humanists, and other secular people together on the National Mall. We are growing, attracting new people, and drawing more attention than ever before. A big part of that growth is thanks to our large and dynamic online community. Online secular communities have helped people encounter new ideas, deepen and broaden their thinking, and even change their minds.


A Problem with Online Communication

At the same time, the fact that so much of our community is online brings with it certain challenges. Communicating primarily online can make it difficult to recognize each other’s humanity. Online we don’t have the same vocal and physical cues to tell us what another person means by his or her comments, so it’s easier for misunderstandings to develop. The instantaneous and impersonal nature of online communication also makes it much easier for these misunderstandings to escalate, or for civil arguments to turn into bitter fights. Like many online communities, our comment and forum threads all too often become places for name calling and even threats, rather than honest dialogue based on mutual respect. Between the small but vocal number of abusive participants (often called “trolls”) who hurl threats and insults, and the overheated rhetoric of some ordinarily friendly and reasonable people, our online environment is in danger of turning toxic. Fortunately, our secular values of reason and compassion give us tools to rise above the lowest common denominator of online communication.

Our Position and Our Pledge

We, the leaders of the undersigned national secular organizations, pledge to make our best efforts toward improving the tone and substance of online discussions. The secular movement as a whole is friendly, welcoming, and committed to the use of reason and evidence as a means of resolving disagreements. We refuse to allow the deplorable conduct of a few to debase the reasonable, appropriate, and respectful conduct of the overwhelming majority of our community.

We seek to promote productive debate and discussion. We firmly believe open and candid discussion is the most reliable means of resolving differences of opinion and bringing about needed change.

Insults, slurs, expressions of hatred, and threats undermine our shared values of open and candid discussion because they move us away from an exchange of views supported with reasons.

Of course we will disagree with each other on some issues, but we can do a better job of expressing our disagreements. We can resolve to avoid mischaracterizing the positions of others, relying on rumors as the basis for our opinions, and using inappropriate tactics such as guilt by association. Instead, we can give one another the benefit of the doubt, strive to understand the whole story, and de-escalate rhetoric to foster more productive discussions. We can become better at disagreeing by treating each other like reasonable human beings.

It takes patience to educate people, but we can change how people think by having a constructive dialogue. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t bother in the first place to communicate online about important issues.

The Debate over Sexism and Feminism

Before listing some specific recommendations regarding improvement of online communications, we have observations about one particular set of interrelated issues that has engaged much of the secular community in the past year, namely sexism within the secular movement, the appropriate way to interpret feminism, and the extent to which feminism, however interpreted, should influence the conduct, policies, and goals of movement organizations. This set of issues is worthy of careful consideration, but in a few areas our positions should be very clear.

The principle that women and men should have equal rights flows from our core values as a movement. Historically, there has been a close connection between traditional religion and suppression of women, with dogma and superstition providing the rationale for depriving women of fundamental rights. In promoting science and secularism, we are at the same time seeking to secure the dignity of all individuals. We seek not only civil equality for everyone, regardless of sex, but an end to discriminatory social structures and conventions – again often the legacy of our religious heritage—that limit opportunities for both women and men.

Unfortunately, the discussion of these issues has suffered from the same problems that plague online discussion in general—although arguably to a greater extent. Some blogs and comments actually exhibit hatred, including rape threats and insults denigrating women. Hatred has no place in our movement. We unequivocally and unreservedly condemn those who resort to communicating in such a vile and despicable manner.

Our Approach

Here are some things that we plan to do to make our online secular community a place where we can exchange ideas and views instead of insults. We hope that others may also find this approach useful.

Here are some things that we plan to do to make our online secular community a place where we can exchange ideas and views instead of insults. We hope that others may also find this approach useful.

  • Moderate blogs and forums.
    Any organization or individual engaged in blogging or administering a forum has an obligation to moderate comments. Slurs, threats, and so forth beget more of the same. Keeping our online spaces free of these elements creates a civil climate that makes it much easier for people to engage issues productively.

  • Go offline before going online: pick up the phone. 
    When you hear that an organization or member of our community is doing something that you think is wrong or bad for the community, call and talk with them, find out what they are actually doing and why they are doing it. If you don’t have a phone number, send a private email and arrange a time to talk. So much of the time there’s more to the story, and talking to another person on the other side of the issue can help us more fully understand the situation. Plus, a phone call makes it easier for people who are making mistakes to change course, because they aren’t on the defensive as they would be after being called out publicly.

  • Listen more.
    We miss the nuances and differences within “the other side” once an issue becomes polarized, while continuing to see our side as filled with nuance and distinctions. There is a tendency to stop listening and treat everyone associated with an opposing position as a monolithic group. People can be painted with views that aren’t their own just because they may disagree with some aspects of your own position. We should listen more so we can see distinctions among those with opposing views and start to move toward a more accurate understanding of the issues rather than being deadlocked into two entrenched camps.

  • Dial down the drama.
    It’s tempting to overuse inflammatory and derogatory rhetoric. It gets attention. We should be cautious about using this tactic within our community because of the long-term damage it does to relationships and morale. When critiquing people within our community, everyone should remember that our goal is to persuade our allies to see our perspective and modify their opinions. Insults don’t change opinions; they harden them.

  • Be more charitable.
    We should remember that the purpose of argument within our community is to come to shared and correct conclusions that move us forward, not to score points against the opposing side. To that end, we should apply the principle of charity, which tells us to aim our argument against the best interpretation of the opposing arguments rather than picking off weaker versions. By applying the principle of charity we will elevate the discussion so we’re actually talking about our real differences, not just engaging in a pointless exchange.

  • Trust but verify.
    Before we believe and repost something we see, we should ask ourselves about the evidence provided and the context. It’s easy for multiple people saying the same thing to look like a lot of evidence, but if their statements are all based on the same original source, they do not constitute independent verification. We should look for the original data and corroboration from independent sources before believing and spreading claims.

  • Help others along.
    We should remember that we weren’t born knowing the things we know now. To get to the reasoned conclusions that we’ve reached, we learned by reading, thinking, and talking with others. When we encounter someone espousing a view we think is based on lack of knowledge or experience, we should remember that we have all held ill-informed views. We should cultivate patience and try to educate instead of condemn.

By improving our online culture, we can make this movement a place that engages, fulfills, and welcomes a growing number and increasing diversity of secular people.

Sincerely,

David Silverman, President, American Atheists
Rebecca Hale, President, American Humanist Association
Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director, American Humanist Association
Chuck VonDerAhe, President, Atheist Alliance of America
Richard Haynes, President, Atheist Nexus
Ayanna Watson, CEO, Black Atheists of America, Inc.
Mandisa L. Thomas, President, Black Nonbelievers, Inc.
Mynga Futrell, for Brights Central, at The Brights' Net
Amanda Metskas, Executive Director, Camp Quest
Ronald Lindsay, President and CEO, Center for Inquiry
Tom Flynn, Executive Director, The Council for Secular Humanism
Jan Meshon, President, FreeThoughtAction
Joseph McDaniel Stewart, Vice President, FreeThoughtAction
Margaret Downey, Founder and President, Freethought Society
D.J. Grothe, President, James Randi Educational Foundation
Stuart Jordan, President, Institute for Science and Human Values
Jason Torpy, President, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers
R. Elisabeth Cornwell, Executive Director, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
Edwina Rogers, Executive Director, Secular Coalition for America
August E. Brunsman IV, Executive Director, Secular Student Alliance
Todd Stiefel, President, Stiefel Freethought Foundation
Fred Edwords, National Director, United Coalition of Reason


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57 COMMENTS

  1. Bravo. I endorse the sentiment here wholeheartedly.

    I offer only one caveat of sorts. Plain speaking about bad ideas will inevitably lead to “offense” being taken. It is possible to “respect” one’s opponents too much, allowing weak ideas to stand unchallenged for “reverences” sake. Slurs and threats are obviously beyond the pale, and to whatever extent we have a “community” it should be united in condemning such tactics. But I am positive we will also see this statement cited from time to time by folks who feel offended by critiques of their dearly held notions – rather than by true personal attacks.

    Here’s to all the brave Moderators who face-up to the unenviable task of enforcing “the line.” May they continue to hunt the trolls without suppressing frank, challenging, and sometimes even difficult speech.

  2. There are quite a few issues to address in the OP, – some of which relate to standards of user debate and moderation on particular sites.

    However, we should not forget the positive side of on-line communication, or the advantages over verbal discussion!

    Those who are guilty of these faults, have them preserved in the archives for themselves and others to reflect upon later.

    Similarly, those who use dishonest tricks of debate, or references to pseudo-knowledge, have their arguments preserved for later analysis, without the pressure of requiring a quick answer. Time allows for checking with authenticated reference materials.

    @OP -Between the small but vocal number of abusive participants (often called “trolls”) who hurl threats and insults, and the overheated rhetoric of some ordinarily friendly and reasonable people, our online environment is in danger of turning toxic.

    I wonder how many instances we can find in the archives on this site, where trolls have beautifully illustrated the flaws in the thinking they have come to assert as “superior”, or the vacuous nature of assertions, fallacies, or semantics on which their claims rest?

  3. I have a concern.

    The Open Letter is laudable and noble and, while its aims are undoubtedly sincere and well judged, is it missing a fundamental point about on-line communities for Nones?

    I don’t recognise the Letter’s use of the word secular, but it is clear that agnostics, atheists, humanists, sceptics and others who have suffered under the heel of religion are finding a voice by finding each other.

    The thing is, the suffering was – is – real. When people find others of a similar kind they have the opportunity to share. A trouble shared is a trouble halved. Once the taps are open the emotions flow freely. Anger appears to be a very common reaction.

    It is asking an awful lot to tone down our emotional responses if we see our new home being desecrated.

    In addition I’ve seen a lot of people start out angry, then their tone changes as they realise that there are points to be made and civility and polite manners slowly emerge in their notes.

    To paraphrase a character in Animal House (Otter?): As a freshman I myself suffered from language so ugly that regular Posters used to beat me up twice a week.

    The rules are good. Please [and this goes for moderators too] follow them and please, give extra charity to new blood. They need our understanding more.

    Peace.

    • In reply to #4 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

      I have a concern.

      The Open Letter is laudable and noble and, while its aims are undoubtedly sincere and well judged, is it missing a fundamental point about on-line communities for Nones?

      I don’t recognise the Letter’s use of the word secular, but it is clear that agnostics, atheists, humanists, sceptics and others who have suffered under the heel of religion are finding a voice by finding each other.

      The thing is, the suffering was – is – real. When people find others of a similar kind they have the opportunity to share. A trouble shared is a trouble halved. Once the taps are open the emotions flow freely. Anger appears to be a very common reaction.

      It is asking an awful lot to tone down our emotional responses if we see our new home being desecrated.

      In addition I’ve seen a lot of people start out angry, then their tone changes as they realise that there are points to be made and civility and polite manners slowly emerge in their notes.

      To paraphrase a character in Animal House (Otter?): As a freshman I myself suffered from language so ugly that regular Posters used to beat me up twice a week.

      The rules are good. Please [and this goes for moderators too] follow them and please, give extra charity to new blood. They need our understanding more.

      Peace.

      Understood, Stephen. However, I don’t think that the people you are thinking of are who this letter is aimed at.

      Unfortunately, there are some people who use the notion of righteous anger, not to initially vent and then calm down (an understandable thing as you, rightly, point out), but instead as a free pass to be unpleasant to everyone.

      You can see the difference between the two types of people when you ask yourself whether receiving calm reasoned responses (your points to be made) makes this person relax – or instead make them EVEN MORE grumpy.

      Now, I always think you should give evidence for your views when you can, so I must link to an example of the latter case (Left Side Positive) in the comments on the Skepchick article on this.

      http://skepchick.org/2013/04/an-open-letter-to-secular-community-leaders/#comments

      It really is quite remarkable to read their posts. It rather like listening to a musician who has mastered circular breathing. Staying power is all very laudable, but after a while it becomes disturbing. Taken to extremes, to stops being music and becomes noise.

      Bottom line: I rather suspect the letter was not about preventing the odd outburst, more about looking askance at the “Kenny G” types one can (too often) find on our message boards.

      Oh, and peace right back to you :)

        • In reply to #18 by Corylus:

          Sorry, clickable link.

          I really would recommend this being read by others too. Just a quick scroll should be enough to demonstrate the problem.

          Yep. It’s lost in the first sentence.

          Good news! The leaders of the secular movement have gone to the mountaintop and returned holding a stone tablet engraved with wisdom for us to behold.

          The desire to have an argument or to be clever has overwhelmed any attempt at a discussion. You want to have a discussion don’t start with sarcasm.

          Michael

          • It’s a very good letter. I particularly like this:

            We miss the nuances and differences within “the other side” once an issue becomes polarized, while continuing to see our side as filled with nuance and distinctions. There is a tendency to stop listening and treat everyone associated with an opposing position as a monolithic group

            Corylus’s link at #18 is an excellent example of the problem. The exchange in the comments is frustrating, to say the least.

      • In reply to #17 by Corylus:

        Hi Corylus,

        I don’t think that the people you are thinking of are who this letter is aimed at.

        Rebecca Watson is one kind of person I was thinking of when I outlined my concern. I appreciate that my focus on new people coming to atheist / humanist sites does not make that clear – sorry.

        Rebecca’s column (that you linked to) is exactly the kind of thing that we all need to consider when we think about how we look to the World at large.

        Rebecca is a special case in the sense that she has been actively vilified by some atheists and sceptics. No-one deserves that. For that reason alone it’s going to take her a very long time to come to terms with the reactions she has received … and so her anger continues to spill out. It seems to me that she will probably only be mollified by a substantive project addressing her main concerns.

        Don’t misunderstand me, I think Rebecca is exactly the kind of person who needs to really take the Open Letter’s Approach on board.

        Unfortunately, there are some people who use the notion of righteous anger, not to initially vent and then calm down (an understandable thing as you, rightly, point out), but instead as a free pass to be unpleasant to everyone.

        Charity Corylus, please, always charity.

        I agree that righteous anger is not a good way to bring people to us. It’s clear that religions are very keen on using it to enhance in-group solidarity, and Rebecca has been quite good at gathering a splinter group that is very focused, but (and the post you linked to is a prime example) it has the corollary effect of alienating anyone who does not hold the exact same view or is not fully versed in all the facts.

        But none of that takes away from the fact that Rebecca is right to hold up a mirror to what is happening. We may not like her presentation – I for one deplore it – but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t right about some things.

        This highlights another weakness in the Open Letter. If I had been asked to draft it, the need for greater empathy would have been more clearly spelled out. We can never expect it from others, particularly when they are as passionate as Rebecca Watson, but that doesn’t excuse us from applying it ourselves.

        You can see the difference between the two types of people when you ask yourself whether receiving calm reasoned responses (your points to be made) makes this person relax – or instead make them EVEN MORE grumpy.

        Isn’t that why the Open Letter was needed? Empathy and patience are all that is needed to overcome misunderstandings on-line. Again, the Open Letter could have been better drafted to highlight the fact that we all apply our own emphasis when reading text. It’s one of the first things most of us learn about on-line discussion; emphasis and accent can completely change the meaning of a sentence.

        Staying power is all very laudable, but after a while it becomes disturbing. Taken to extremes, to stops being music and becomes noise.

        Persistence is useless?

        I wish there were more people making a noise. Politically speaking: When there is silence, anything will do. Clearly we have some very persuasive voices among us, so simply banging the drum is not required – but I cannot bring myself to censure someone who is less authoritative, convincing and clear. If they’re also emphatic and enthusiastic then it is doubly troubling that anyone should feel the need to shut them up, or shut them out.

        The bottom line is that anyone can be right, and you’re free to stop listening whenever you like. That’s where I’ve got to with Rebecca – I’ve just stopped listening. As the authors of the Open Letter so rightly state: “Insults don’t change opinions; they harden them.” The religious are welcome to their doctrine of ‘an eye for an eye’, I won’t be adopting it and I’ll see all the more clearly for that.

        Is the Open Letter a plea that will be heeded? Only time will tell.

        Peace.

  4. “I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.” -Daniel Dennett

    Mike

  5. I can’t disagree with any specific part of this but like many of the other posters I find this problematic.

    Hitchens often confused people when he said he was happy for people to believe whatever they liked. ‘But I will continue to ridicule your beliefs and I hope you can take it’. Strong disagreement even ridicule does not make us guilty of hatred.

    I don’t think enough credit is given to the voices that loudly and clearly where prepared to offend. I was aware of humanism long before God is not great, but very few of my acquaintances were before the God delusion etc. Humanism if it does not contain some activism and anger will be swamped by apologists deflections. Part of that is helped by the debate and argument.

    I personally don’t bite my tongue at work anymore I use humor and even ridicule (gently) to rib the more extreme views, I don’t listen polity while someone who has no similar consideration for me shoots off rubbish, I speak and I have noticed at work that others more timid than me have started to speak too, this has made some of the obnoxious people a little less likely to shoot their mouths off. This has been helped to a great degree by arguments I have had on this site (often on the loosing side). I would be very hesitant to give up all these gains in a cloud of niceness which will not be reciprocated.

    • In reply to #7 by Reckless Monkey:

      Hitchens often confused people when he said he was happy for people to believe whatever they liked. ‘But I will continue to ridicule your beliefs and I hope you can take it’. Strong disagreement even ridicule does not make us guilty of hatred.

      I concur. Hitchens is a grand example of someone who can be very offensive while being completely composed and sincere during a debate. It would be difficult to allow all of the things he has said in debates to be said in posts, I can imagine. However, the offensive things in which he speaks of are offensive because they are the core issues of faith. These issues are inevitably offensive, and yet they need addressing, need discussion.

      I sincerely agree that there is a line between being a troll and being a civilized debater. That said, I believe that Christopher Hitchens was no troll, and that his arguments, however very offensive to some, were well intended, thought provoking and just. Can it be said that Christopher Hitchens did not treat his opponents as reasonable human beings(as stated in post)?

      I also agree that the distinction between the troll and the just has been muddied on the internet. To listen to Hitchens speak the words and to read them in a post would likely get different reactions. The same could also be said for many well meaning and composed debaters who may be taken for trolls. The lack of a voice or a face to connect the words to will certainly make the task of ‘hunting trolls’ more difficult. So, in conclusion, please, do take care to not omit simply because a post is offensive, but rather because it is purely an attack or an insult, with no logic or reason to guide it.

      Oh, and one last thing, I second the motion of Stephen of Wimbledon. “…give extra charity to new blood.”

  6. “true believers” in religion have no respect whatever for people who disagree with them. Really religious people think atheists are going to hell and will burn forever. Why should atheists show any respect for people who think that way?

    • In reply to #12 by Jay G:

      “true believers” in religion have no respect whatever for people who disagree with them. Really religious people think atheists are going to hell and will burn forever. Why should atheists show any respect for people who think that way?

      to show that we are better than they are… that should be reason enough.. that being said, we should not let ourselves be trampled on and we should also ´fight´ for our beliefs and convictions and if we are attacked purely on basis of not beleiving the bs which has been fed to us for the past millenia we should counterattack (I do not believe in pre-emptive strikes, not being an american ;) )

      • In reply to #34 by pieper1973:

        In reply to #12 by Jay G:

        “true believers” in religion have no respect whatever for people who disagree with them. Really religious people think atheists are going to hell and will burn forever. Why should atheists show any respect for people who think that way?

        to show that we are better than they are… that should be reason enough.. that being said, we should not let ourselves be trampled on and we should also ´fight´ for our beliefs and convictions and if we are attacked purely on basis of not beleiving the bs which has been fed to us for the past millenia we should counterattack (I do not believe in pre-emptive strikes, not being an american ;) )

        Final scene of the movie, where the bad guy is at the mercy of the good guy, pistol in hand:

        Good guy: “This is for my wife”

        Bad guy: “Do it!”

        Sidekick: “If you kill him then you’re no better than he is”

        Bad guy: “I enjoyed killing your wife. Haha cough ha”

        …pause…

        The good guy lowers the pistol.

        Bad guy: “Why?”

        Good guy: “Because I don’t want to sink to your level”

        – Scene –

        So assuming you don’t know what you mean by counterattack, this is the way to proceed.

        I’ve always had a problem with this ending. There is really no need to prove that the good guy is above the level of the bad guy, as the audience has already consented to the fact that the good guy is acting out of strength rather than weakness, morality rather than vice, in wishing to end the bad guy’s life in the first place. I always think “but what about your wife, he killed your wife”, and wonder what the 89 minutes of film leading up to this ending really was for. Perhaps he should have been a better Christian and forgiven the bad guy in the first place, but why waste my evening on this mediocre message? Surely a revenge movie should build up to, you know, actual revenge.

        When you’re considering why a person who has disrespected you in their religious terms, deserves your respect, perhaps you should instead consider how far you should go in damaging them in return.

  7. I could be wrong, of course, but I don’t think the author of this was writing about giving offense about religion. I read this article to mean we should remain civil when questioning others’ posts and how they meant something, or just retaliating with a snide post instead of just asking them to clarify. I feel I’ve been a victim of the kind of attacks the author is speaking of because I didn’t put enough room between answering a quote and then going on to talk about something else. The person’s tone in writing to me seemed hostile, but who knows? I just ignored it because it didn’t seem worth the time to engage.

  8. “Pick up the phone.” And talk to who exactly. Most of the people who post vile stuff on the internet are anonymous, which is why they do it and (mostly) get away with it.

    I wonder if D.J. Grothe read the letter before signing it.

    • In reply to #14 by Don Quijote:

      “Pick up the phone.” And talk to who exactly. Most of the people who post vile stuff on the internet are anonymous, which is why they do it and (mostly) get away with it.

      I wonder if D.J. Grothe read the letter before signing it.

      I have to wonder if you read it ! This is exactly the kind of comment the the letter is talking about. WOW! didn’t take long did it?

      • In reply to #16 by ligertwood:

        In reply to #14 by Don Quijote:

        “Pick up the phone.” And talk to who exactly. Most of the people who post vile stuff on the internet are anonymous, which is why they do it and (mostly) get away with it.

        I wonder if D.J. Grothe read the letter before signing it.

        I have to wonder if you read it ! This is exactly the kind of comment the the letter is talking about. WOW! didn’t take long did it?

        Oh, I read it , which is what made me ask the question about Grothe. Did you read his response to harassment at TAM? What is wrong with my comment? Can I pick up the phone and ask you?

        See mmurray’s reply at #20, he understood what I meant.

        • In reply to #29 by Don Quijote:

          In reply to #16 by ligertwood:

          In reply to #14 by Don Quijote:

          “Pick up the phone.” And talk to who exactly. Most of the people who post vile stuff on the internet are anonymous, which is why they do it and (mostly) get away with it.

          I wonder if D.J. Grothe read the letter before signing it.

          I have to wonder if you read it ! This is exactly the kind of comment the the letter is talking about. WOW! didn’t take long did it?

          Oh, I read it , which is what made me ask the question about Grothe. Did you read his response to harassment at TAM? What is wrong with my comment? Can I pick up the phone and ask you?

          See mmurray’s reply at #20, he understood what I meant.

          Yes I’ve seen his response to the Tam situation, in fact I have spoken personally to him about it. Regardless of whether he is guilty of any of the allegations brought against him (and there is no evidence to support those accusations) the fact is that he signed the letter, so let’s move on already.

    • In reply to #14 by Don Quijote:

      “Pick up the phone.” And talk to who exactly. Most of the people who post vile stuff on the internet are anonymous, which is why they do it and (mostly) get away with it.

      I wonder if D.J. Grothe read the letter before signing it.

      I don’t think this is aimed at the anonymous trolls though as much as the so-called “leaders” whose first response to anything another “leader” says is to chuck the Principle of Charity out the window and reach for their blog or their twitter account so they can pour petrol on the flames. I’ve often wondered why they don’t exchange a few emails first to make sure there was not some misunderstanding. I guess it’s because they want the misunderstanding. Like with the North Koreans the inflammatory remarks serve some internal political purpose with their supports.

      Michael

  9. Excellent Letter, however some names are conspicuous by their absence and I notice that the usual mud slinging has already begun. I don’t know what else the leaders of this movement can do to put an end to this crap but we could all do with and end to the usual inuendo etc.

  10. As skeptics, we should be able to attack any idea voraciously. If our criticism stands up to counter-criticism, then it may gain merit. Unfortunately, too many people mistake a strong attack of their ideas as a personal attack on them. In response, instead of defending their idea, they attack the critic or, and this is becoming common in the atheist blogosphere, they outright ban their critics from their blogs. They even make statements such as, “You’ve posted at a blog that has criticized me (or my opinion), therefore you’re automatically banned from posting here too”. This is a childish response to criticism and is the antithesis of skepticism. People who do this should lose respect in the atheist community. In fact, they do and when this happens, it is common to play their game by dismissing them with an ad hominem attack in return. This snowballs and the result is what we are currently experiencing in the atheist community.

  11. I freely admit it is difficult for me to be civil, even cordial or genial, with theocrats who, in another not-so-distant time, would have cheerfully tortured me, burned me at the stake, hung me, beheaded me, and mutilated my dead body as a lesson for others of my ilk for not agreeing to their theology.

    I find in dealing with all bullies, if you don’ fight back when attacked, you only make yourself a target for future abuse. Theocratic bullies, like all bullies when confronted, will simply go after a weaker target. Unfortunately, this most often means our children.

    To me, bullies include those who passively enable the more aggressive by supporting them. The active 9/11 perpetrators would not have been successful without the passive support of many thousands (millions?) of donors, welcoming home-owners, expediters, mosque-supporters, apologists, and sympathizers.

    Do we atheists, agnostics, humanists, and secularists owe theocrats any civility for their past and present behaviors? Obviously we don’t want to alienate any would-be converts, but it seems that most who bother to respond in on-line forums have already made up their minds. I want to do the right thing, but it seems that thing always depends upon an unpredictable scenario.

  12. One even tougher challenge in online communication is the use of irony and parody. Conventional wisdom seems to say that these tools are of no use in online conversations as the written word doesn’t convey it. I have a hard time getting my head around this one considering people like Oscar Wilde made a career out of it (I’m not suggesting we can all be Wildes, but we can still have fun playing the same game). I think a distinction between trolling and taking the piss needs to be made; Trolls write inflammatory comments to get arguments started, piss takers write obviously absurd comments in order to make a point. The phrase ‘troll’ is in danger of being over-used to the point of becoming meaningless, with people throwing at anyone they disagree with, or when they can’t cook up a witty retort (the online equivalent of ‘oh haha’) It’s tough to get right, and experience has taught me some people just don’t get it, but I think it would be a shame if this style of discourse got caught in the fire aimed at those whose only intention is to offend and annoy.

  13. Thank you so much for the long considered response Stephen.

    I had a long one of my own written out to send to you, but I saw that it included some rehashing of subjects that I have been done to death on the internet. I suspect the moderaters would like to avoid these being brought up yet again, so I decided to ixnay it. I do hope you don’t think me rude for not going through each point. Mind you, looking though your comment we are pretty close anyway. We agree that vilification in a bad thing, and that patience shown in online exchanges bear fruits.

    Not that there are not some differences in emphasis though. For example, I agree that Rebecca is a ‘special case’, but not, I suspect in quite the same way you do :P I have been watching that lady’s antics for some considerable time and to say I am unimpressed is an understatement. However, as you note that you have ‘stopped listening’ to her we end up, again, at the same place.

    So, I will only address two points where I think I can clear things up even more.

    Firstly,

    Me: Unfortunately, there are some people who use the notion of righteous anger, not to initially vent and then calm down (an understandable thing as you, rightly, point out), but instead as a free pass to be unpleasant to everyone.

    You: Charity Corylus, please, always charity.

    Right. I agree with the need for charity, but there comes a point where you see so much of this behaviour that to keep up with the charity in spite of it would make a mug of you. For example, in the case I linked I see no other probable explanation of the behaviour shown. To show willing though, let me give you another example in support of my view. See here.

    N.B. This is also an example of the danger you talked about with regard to “ alienating anyone who does not hold the exact same view”. This was alienation of someone who seems quite vulnerable and I was sad to see it happen.

    Secondly,

    Me: Staying power is all very laudable, but after a while it becomes disturbing. Taken to extremes, to stops being music and becomes noise.

    You: Persistence is useless?

    No, of course not. (Although I agree with W.C. Fields* in some instances) Here you came up against my sense of humour that not everybody shares – my bad! I was setting the scene for my own ‘musician’ analogy and was talking metaphorically waaay too soon.

    PAX :)

    -=-=-=

    *He said “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”

    • In reply to #30 by Corylus:

      Hi Corylus,

      I agree with the need for charity, but there comes a point where you see so much of this behaviour that to keep up with the charity in spite of it would make a mug of you.

      Not necessarily. There are usually three sets of people in any on-line discussion and two sets typically consist of one person. But the other set, on a popular site like this one, can easily run into thousands. They see the charitable interpretation being ignored or deliberately undermined. Minds can be changed even when they are not visible.

      For example, in the case I linked I see no other probable explanation of the behaviour shown. To show willing though, let me give you another example in support of my view. See here.

      I’m sorry but I may be confused. I took that to mean that Rebecca’s post and the attached comments are a display of charitable interpretations being deliberately ignored? I don’t think that’s true. I may not be aware of some perspective on the text that would explain your point of view (going back to accent and emphasis). It seems to me that she is angry, her comments section is full of people ready to give her a reassuring echo-chamber and it is apparent that this results in a page that entirely misses the point of the Open Letter.

      That is very depressing – but it seems to me that it isn’t charity being ignored, it is charity not even being seen sitting just past the end of noses.

      The same goes for your second example too – a lot of people who appear to be talking past each other and not listening. They’re also not taking the nuance of language into account (back, yet again, to emphasis in text being added by the Reader).

      In the end, as I think you’ll agree, we can’t mollycoddle people on-line. If we need to make a point we have to get into their heads – and that means a well-placed poke in the proverbial eye.

      I’ve always loved W.C. Fields. Speaking of which it’s time to remember his advice on water, and take a trip to the fridge.

      Those who are easily shocked, should be shocked more often.
      Mae West

      Peace.

  14. Hi I thought I would give my opinion on this.

    People who are, or are potentially, de-converting from religion, require the support of the atheist community for their intellectual needs and also for their wellbeing. Internet message boards and chatrooms only have a partial chance of satisfying the first requirement, and only a very slight chance of the latter.

    Often, the internet is a mercenary experience and not any sort of therapeutic environment. There is nothing that can or should be done about this. As much as I enjoy the idea that our self-appointed leaders (Richard Dawkins is a fantastic fellow, but he is certainly not my leader) wish to control the internet discussion to make it less venomous and misrepresentative, I don’t think that’s a plausible goal in any sense. Once control starts to limit discussion and opinion, the debate moves somewhere else.

    I also want to suggest that you distance trolling from the use of rhetoric. The most dangerous mischaracterization of opinion does not in fact happen via trolling or being arrogant, which are easily seen through (except by the de-converting who likely run a mile from the debate because of them – again, there is nothing you can do about this). The most dangerous mischaracterizations occur through being “reasonable, appropriate and respectful”, and which indicate a rhetorical debate. More radical and uncomfortable rhetoric needs to be employed against these (not by me, unfortunately I don’t have the time currently) in an attempt to realise atheism’s utterly radical theses. And to reiterate, given (what must be misguided) attempts at control the real debate moves elsewhere.

    • The article gives no specifics of the type of situation to be considered. It is a global motherhood statement that can easily be used to silence all dissent if adhered to because its reach is general.

      No thanks.

      • In reply to #37 by DanDare:

        The article gives no specifics of the type of situation to be considered. It is a global motherhood statement that can easily be used to silence all dissent if adhered to because its reach is general.

        No thanks.

        What about the letter has the potential to silence all dissent? I don’t see it but I’m not insisting that you are wrong about it. I don’t get the impression that the intent of the letter is to sneak in a clause that is about silencing dissent. Which sections of it do you think have that potential and how would you refine them to preserve what it seems to want to do, which is to suggest that there are standards of reason to which we should aspire and long established methods of reasonable communication which we should strive to adhere to?

        It’s a mess out there right now. Corylus gave a couple of examples of ways in which we are clearly missing the point. They’re important to read. I don’t want to draw that mess to this site. The Mods wouldn’t have it anyway and they put up with a lot.

        A couple of years ago, I had no idea what was going on out there. Now, I do. The letter is important.

  15. Call me late to the party or ridiculously parochial (both accusations that would get a swift “Mea culpa” from me), but aren’t a lot of the recommendations espoused in the open letter already being acted upon on atheistic and secular websites? Sure, dodgy argumentation appears on this site from time to time, but I’ve never been under the impression that anyone approves of it or ignores its existence, and trolls will be trolls.

    In any case, wouldn’t it be more productive to spend more time and resources on helping atheists and so on meet face to face – e.g. at more rallies, events, demonstrations, social gatherings, and societies – if the problem is about losing some vital subtleties and reassurances of honesty when using on-line communication?

  16. In reply to #39 by susanlatimer:

    In reply to #37 by DanDare:

    The article gives no specifics of the type of situation to be considered. It is a global motherhood statement that can easily be used to silence all dissent if adhered to because its reach is general.

    No thanks.

    What about the letter has the potential to silence all dissent? …

    A couple of years ago, I had no idea what was going on out there. Now, I do. The letter is important.

    The letter is important as an example of what NOT to be doing: having a central scrutinizing politburo handing down universally vague tone edicts from on high. Never ceases to amaze how the “freedom” part in the phrase “freedom of speech” persists in not being understood all over again by precisely those supposedly best equipped to have gotten it by now.

    The old website was replete with posts containing colourful language. No punches pulled, no holds barred. Language no different from that uttered by any mainstream comedian the likes of the dozen or so that can be heard slagging off religion here was de rigeur (to much greater effect than all comments here combined) Now, less if any of those voices remain. Instead we appear to be overrun with, apologists and accomodationists with Greenwaldian proclivities and hair-trigger tone/hostility sensitivity.

    The only thing worse than censorship from outside is self-censorship where you’re constantly looking over your inner shoulder for fear of “offending™” the thin skinned or setting off a tone-tantrum in the moderator. Political correctness is the first stage of this rot setting in; The Protocols of the Elders of Tone tries to codifies it.

    Now if you want to designate this website a safe-haven from confrontational fact, evidence and reason based rigorous discourse to coddle the easy to offend, thin of skin or newbie to such interactions -not necessarily a bad idea- then label it thus. Call it, say, RDFRS lite. or 1.0 For the rest of us there’d be RDFRS 2.0 or advanced. In order to access it you’d have to understand the following:

    1. Offense is taken not given.
    2. Hostility if perceived or real is directed at your ideas not your person unless you persist, after having it politely pointed out, with dishonest tactics e.g. strawmanning, making false or unsupported accusations a la Greenwald etc. We know it when we see it.
    3. Censorship cannot be acceptable. That includes tone control. Otherwise the real debate, as Stardroid notes above (#33), will move elsewhere.
    4. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
    • In reply to #41 by godsbuster:

      In reply to #39 by susanlatimer:

      Now if you want to designate this website a safe-haven from confrontational fact, evidence and reason based rigorous discourse to coddle the easy to offend, thin of skin or newbie to such interactions -not necessarily a bad idea- then label it thus.

      But I don’t. I don’t think the letter is about this website. I think it’s addressing issues going on in the secular community where the discourse is being conducted in such a way that confrontational fact and evidence are not the main players.

      2.Hostility if perceived or real is directed at your ideas not your person unless you persist, after having it politely pointed out, with dishonest tactics e.g. strawmanning, making false or unsupported accusations a la Greenwald etc. We know it when we see it.

      I agree.

      3.Censorship cannot be acceptable. That includes tone control.

      I agree.

      • In reply to #42 by susanlatimer:

        In reply to #41 by godsbuster:

        In reply to #39 by susanlatimer:

        Now if you want to designate this website a safe-haven from confrontational fact, evidence and reason based rigorous discourse to coddle the easy to offend, thin of skin or newbie to such interactions -not necessarily a bad idea- then label it thus.

        But I don’t. I don’t think the letter is about this website. I think it’s addressing issues going on in the secular community where the discourse is being conducted in such a way that confrontational fact and evidence are not the main players.

        Which is why I said the letter is vague. It may have been about what you describe, or it may have been about what godsbuster is describing. If you sign up to the letter you don’t know which you are agreeing to.

        In addition, politeness is often used as a control mechanism. For example here in Australia our state schools have a complaints escalating system. It is used to stifle activism against religious encroachment on our state education system. If you have a complaint about a religious nut preaching hell to your kids you must take the complaint, politely, to the principal. The principles in schools where this happens are turning out to be dominionist pentecostal. So after months you get some polite crap from the principle about fairness and both sides of the argument. If you still have the energy you must then front the Regional Director, also probably a pentecostal by now who will use passive aggression to tell you your complaints are unwarranted and rude and make the baby cheeses cry. During the month or so this is going around Peter Garret can come out on TV and say all these rude atheists are silly because he has never received any complaints from “Actual Parents”. Fuck that.

  17. To that end, we should apply the principle of charity, which tells us to aim our argument against the best interpretation of the opposing arguments rather than picking off weaker versions.

    Well, no, actually. Since this is text that stays online for ever if you do that the less charitable version stands in the minds of readers who come upon it. Better to knock out all likely interpretations. This whole letter is a good example of the need to rebut the less charitable interpretation.

    Previous commenters have said things like “that is probably not who the letter is targeted at” in rebutting some criticisms of the letter. However, if the target of the letter is unclear (and it is since its context is not laid out) then we must consider all targets that the readers, not the writers, may infer. We then address our criticisms of the letter in the context of each such target as we arrive at

    • In reply to #44 by DanDare:

      if the target of the letter is unclear (and it is since its context is not laid out) then we must consider all targets that the readers, not the writers, may infer. We then address our criticisms of the letter in the context of each such target as we arrive at

      Fair enough. It is unclear and the letter as a plea for reasoned discourse should be evaluated on its own terms, its language examined for all possible implications. It’s nice to see people here doing that.

      That’s one of the things I really like about this place.

      • In reply to #47 by susanlatimer:

        In reply to #44 by DanDare:

        if the target of the letter is unclear (and it is since its context is not laid out) then we must consider all targets that the readers, not the writers, may infer. We then address our criticisms of the letter in the context of each such target as we arrive at

        Fair enough. It is unclear and the letter as a plea for reasoned discourse should be evaluated on its own terms, its language examined for all possible implications. It’s nice to see people here doing that.

        That’s one of the things I really like about this place.

        Of course the insistence on reasoned discourse would only apply to our side. Our whole conversation with our godbothering brothers and sisters is precisely that: a goddamn never ending plea for reasoned discourse.

        • In reply to #52 by godsbuster:

          Of course the insistence on reasoned discourse would only apply to our side.

          The letter seems to be trying to deal with bad behaviour in the secular community, arguments among ourselves, not with theists.

          Our whole conversation with our godbothering brothers and sisters is precisely that: a goddamn never ending plea for reasoned discourse.

          But that’s not what they do. There are lots of recent examples on this site of theists breaking rule after rule and then claiming to be offended and insulted when they’re not allowed to get away with it. It is not pleading for reasoned discourse. It is special pleading.

          I’ve seen a few flaws in the letter having read it a few times and agree that parts might be a little vague and ripe for abuse. But those flaws can be discovered, evaluated, communicated and corrected through reasonable discourse. That’s exactly why we’ve been able to discuss this and my mind has been changed a little.

          If you had called me an asshole or a liar or an accomodationist instead of respectfully arguing ideas, I would have learned nothing. You didn’t. You went after ideas as you have consistently done in all your comments on this site. That’s reasoned discourse.

    • In reply to #44 by DanDare:

      To that end, we should apply the principle of charity, which tells us to aim our argument against the best interpretation of the opposing arguments rather than picking off weaker versions.

      Well, no, actually. Since this is text that stays online for ever if you do that the less charitable version stands in the minds of readers who come upon it. Better to knock out all likely interpretations. This whole letter is a good example of the need to rebut the less charitable interpretation.

      Exactly. Because an example of a less charitable interpretation could be to see it as a call to self-censorship or a call to spur monitors on to heavy-handedness.

      Previous commenters have said things like “that is probably not who the letter is targeted at” in rebutting some criticisms of the letter. However, if the target of the letter is unclear (and it is since its context is not laid out) then we must consider all targets that the readers, not the writers, may infer. We then address our criticisms of the letter in the context of each such target as we arrive at

      Vagueness is the last refuge of scoundrels. That’s what’s been keeping the faith racketeers afloat. Anointing the rank and file true believers with theism, morphing into semi-deism when faced with mild questioning and moving the goal posts all the way out to “God is the Great Mystery or the Laws of Nature” when frantically trying to ward off antitheist broadsides.

      If the letter drafters really want to have an impact they should instead stipulate the standards of evidence and reasoning that everyone has to adhere to. E.g. no straw-(wo)manning, no ad homs*, no quote mining, no context pruning, no special pleading, no appeals to authority, no making shit up, etc. In short everything we find in the godbotherer’s bag of tricks.

      *A real challenge when faced with wading through a cesspool of intellectual dishonesty. This goes to your previous post where you reference passive aggression -one of the most noxious forms of intellectual dishonesty.

  18. Sample:

    “I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.” -Daniel Dennett

    Have I considered the possibility that my entire life has been devoted to a delusion? Not a rude question at all, and one which any true Christian revels in being asked. The question has been considered, the available evidence has been analysed, and the conclusion has been reached: my life has not been devoted to a delusion. So, Dan, where shall we start? With reason itself? Yep. Let’s look at whether philosophical naturalism can explain the validity of reason and mind. Or perhaps you would like to start with free will? How about morality? Complexity? Cosmology? Consciousness? Feeling a bit uncomfortable now, are we? Hey, Dan, could I just ask you a little question: “Have you seriously considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? After all, it’s not as though your naturalistic explanations are very convincing, are they? And I haven’t even got onto the self-refuting nature of empiricism…

    • In reply to #45 by inoma_ilala:

      Hi Inoma,

      “I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.” -Daniel Dennett

      … where shall we start? With reason itself? Let’s look at whether philosophical naturalism can explain the validity of reason and mind.

      On what evidence do you base your hypothesis of reason and mind being separate?

      … perhaps you would like to start with free will? How about morality? Complexity? Cosmology? Consciousness?

      Whatever works for you.

      After all, it’s not as though your naturalistic explanations are very convincing, are they?

      They’re a site more convincing than supernatural explanations. But I’m ready to be persuaded.

      I haven’t even got onto the self-refuting nature of empiricism…

      Go for it.

      Peace.

    • In reply to #45 by inoma_ilala:

      So, Dan, where shall we start? With reason itself? Yep. Let’s look at whether philosophical naturalism can explain the validity of reason and mind. Or perhaps you would like to start with free will? How about morality? Complexity? Cosmology? Consciousness?

      Yeah. If only Dan Dennett put a little more thought into those subjects.

      Have you read anything he’s written?

      As Stephen said,

      Go for it

    • In reply to #45 by inoma_ilala:

      Hi Inoma,

      Please remember this Site’s Terms an Conditions, you shouldn’t be posting off-topic.

      Susan and I, and probably a few others, would welcome a discussion with you on the points you raised.

      If you really have the courage of your convictions … why not start a discussion thread?

      All you have to do is log in and go here.

      Peace.

  19. Mods’ message

    A reminder that our Terms of Use require comments to be on the topic of the OP. Users who wish to take the discussion in a different direction are free to submit a discussion topic for consideration by going to http://www.richarddawkins.net/discussions and clicking on “Submit Discussion” towards the top of the page. Please read the Guidance/FAQ provided first.

    Thank you

    The mods

    • In reply to #54 by Moderator:

      Mods’ message

      A reminder that our Terms of Use require comments to be on the topic of the OP. Users who wish to take the discussion in a different direction are free to submit a discussion topic for consideration by going to http://www.richarddawkins.net/discussions and clicking on “Submit Discussion” towards the top of the page. Please read the Guidance/FAQ provided first.

      Thank you

      The mods

      Sorry Mods. I deleted my badly written comment mostly because it was badly written. If it were better written, I would have left it. It wasn’t worth arguing about.

      I will say that my inquiry about the links I mentioned were completely on topic in my thinking. I wasn’t asking for opinions about the subject matter in the links, but rather, about the manner in which the discussions were conducted. It seems like a bit of a cheat on my part to leave your intervention hanging like that when I deleted the comment that provoked it.

      Anyway, I was too vague. “What do you think about the links?” could be interpreted either way. My fault.

      @godsbuster

      an example of a less charitable interpretation could be to see it as a call to self-censorship or a call to spur monitors on to heavy-handedness.

      0n the principle of charity, we can start here. It’s not carved in stone and it can be and has been challenged. It’s a pretty good place to start, though.

      Vagueness is the last refuge of scoundrels. That’s what’s been keeping the faith racketeers afloat.

      Yes.

      If the letter drafters really want to have an impact they should instead stipulate the standards of evidence and reasoning that everyone has to adhere to. E.g. no straw-(wo)manning, no ad homs*, no quote mining, no context pruning, no special pleading, no appeals to authority, no making shit up, etc. In short everything we find in the godbotherer’s bag of tricks.

      Yes. We have to remember that reason is a method that is often overwhelmed by other human tendencies. It’s hard fought and It’s not just the “godbotherers” who can screw it up. It takes a lot of practice.

      It can be measured by the standards you’ve listed and refined by the standards that emanate from those.

      passive aggression -one of the most noxious forms of intellectual dishonesty.

      I couldn’t agree more. It’s important that we do better than say, “we know it when we see it” but that we agree on standards that keep us from fooling ourselves at least as much as they keep others from fooling themselves or fooling others or us. (I hope that makes a little bit of sense.)

  20. I wonder why there is no a word about radical life extension and transhumanism in secular agenda at the moment? As a most rational and educated part of the public we can not ignore any more the scientific revolution going on now in this sphere. We are protecting rights and freedoms, and right for life is the basic right. Religious believe in afterlife delays life extension science and we have wonderful and perfect argument against religion and for common sense. There are no doubts that the aging and death will be defeated by the science if the civilization will survive the only issue is the speed of such development. Will we have it in our lifetime or the generation next to ours will depends on the speed of the progress that relions delay. Life of worms is already extended 10 folds, mice – more than 2 folds, dozens of animals which mortality does not depend on age discovered (so they do not age in our understanding, see negligible senecense), mice are rejuvenated by at least 3 ways already (e.g. http://www.mprize.org ), a lot of organs can be regenarated and regeneration medicine now going high + progress is moving faster every year. It is clear that next drug blockbusters will be heroprotectors – drugs active aging several age related diseases and extending life. I am here to say that the most of the life extension researchers and advocates are atheists, and it is reasonable all other atheists look into information about this most important scientific revolution going now and think about its values. Radical life extension for animals is a history already, the same results for people are achievable very fast, during the additional lifetime gained the new life extension technologies will step in and so on. Immortal animals such as Turritopsis nutricula are the reality. Negligible senescence is reality, achived by evolution for many species by many different ways. Dozens of scientists say that the aging os a curable disease, e.g. http://www.imminst.org/cureaging/ Why not strengthen links between secular, transhumanists and radical life extension communities, since there are common values and they are overlapping already?

  21. I for my part would like to thank the site for getting behind principals of real equality for all. Rather then favoring one group over another. The recent cancer that has grown in atheism is killing it. Handing your opposition a hammer and saying “Hit me!” is not a good way to win. I think this this site has taken a very reasonable position and I hope others follow the lead.

    The language of devision should not be used on each other. Statements like “you are with us or against us!” IMHO have no place in rational discourse. Don’t take that to mean that I think everyone should sit around singing and hugging. Or that people,organizations and even movements should not be called out openly and loudly on their bovine excrement. They should be. There are so few out spoken atheists, It seems to me a poor use of time and minds to attack each other.

    Thank you
    ~We all share a common disbelief.~

  22. This was a bit of a sticking point in the gay community as well. Like gays, atheists (freethinkers, nones, et. al.) are not the devils we are made out to be by the mainstream theistic communities, but also like gays, we aren’t angels either. Is it not appropriate to represent ourselves as completely rational, psychologically centered masters of ourselves, when we really are (as anyone else) just-folks.

    In fact, like gays, or any other marginalized group, what we really want is to be regarded as just-folks.

    If American Atheists, the American Humanist Association or whoever wants to set up workshops for novice debaters to hone their skills and their arguments, great. If they want to develop a voluntary code of debate etiquette, great. But it will not serve us to assume that all atheists are capable or interested in being less of a jackass on line. We can only go as far as make resources for those who want to improve their own character, and I encourage those willing to do the work to develop such resources. I, (for one) would use them.

    I almost think this should get a name like the dolphin rule, in that dolphins (porpoises, etc.) were thought in the mainstream to be benevolent, almost angelic creatures during the late 20th century. In studying their behavior we’ve since learned they are capable of some pretty extreme malice. So it is with pretty much any subculture in civilization: some people are just jerks.

    Regarding how we approach the intolerant subdivisions of the mainstream, I suspect a psychological approach is going to be more useful than a logical one. If we engage people with an understanding of why people believe in what they do, or why they become so emotionally invested in the absurd, that is going to serve us better than sharp logic and clever turns of phrase that are going to be rejected anyway.

    • In reply to #61 by Uriel-238:

      If we engage people with an understanding of why people believe in what they do, or why they become so emotionally invested in the absurd, that is going to serve us better than sharp logic and clever turns of phrase that are going to be rejected anyway.

      Why not both? How do we deal with why people believe what they do in any reliable way without logic?

      Where do we go from there? That’s a question that should never be overlooked.

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