Civility, Like Tolerance, Like Free Speech, Like Human Rights, Like Freethought, Like Peace, Like Justice, Are All Contingent On the Truth
I have suffered attacks from both Christians and atheists mostly because I Stand in the Gap, but also because I do not suffer fools gladly. Never have, probably never will. Sometimes my temperament gets in the way and I’m sorry that’s the way it is, but that’s the way it is sometimes. My temperament is what makes me who I am though. Without it I would not be as passionate or effective as I am in debunking Christianity. You’ll have to take the good with the bad I suppose. It’s all I can offer. I hope it’s enough. I sincerely apologize if it isn’t good enough to some of my readers. It’s who I am. I can no more change who I am than you can change who you are. But I like who I am and I don’t give a damn if anyone of you think otherwise. Really!
Now enters Dan Fincke, a former Freethought Blogger, who just issued a pledge to civility that I’m supposed to sign, something Jeff Lowder has endorsed with his full support. Ed Clint calls it a Lemon Pledge though, while Chris Hallquist says he’s not signing it, just as Notung said he won’t be signing it. Others have chimed in as well, like Damion Reinhardt, and especially Russell Blackford. More responses are certainly coming. I wonder why Hemant Mehta hasn’t endorsed it or commented on it, since he seems to link to things that concern most atheists. Well, now. What am I supposed to make of this? I pride myself on being sort of a mediator, someone who thinks outside the box, so let’s see if I can. If not, at least I tried. I’m in a unique situation since I sometimes get attacked by both sides.
First off, I must say that the mark of a great post is one that gets people thinking, and Dan did that. Kudos to him. Second, I think I know where he’s coming from. There is way too much atheist bashing by other atheists from different sides with fewer of us trying to understand one another. So Fincke’s intentions are certainly welcomed, very much so. But take for instance Greta Christina’s book, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless. I take it Dan agrees with Greta. I’m not sure about Lowder, since he has yet to state for the record whether he thinks religious faith is both irrational and dangerous, something that appears to be a point of serious contention between him and me. Nonetheless, if Jeff and Dan disagree about Christina’s book, where she is definitely not being civil to religionists, then agreeing with the civility pledge doesn’t mean much, since it lacks the needed specificity.
You see, there are just some things we cannot tolerate. There are some things we cannot be civil about. We’re not talking about hurting anyone physically, mind you. We all agree against doing that. It’s about treating some ideas respectfully. Whether we can do this depends on what we think is the truth. This is likewise the case when it comes to ideas of free speech, human rights, freethought, peace and justice. If we know anything about political correctness, Stanley Fish effectively argued (I think) that there’s no such thing as free speech: and it’s a good thing, too. Just like free speech is a political prize won by the diligent, so also are human rights—-they too are a political prize won by the diligent (they’re certainly not God-given rights). Likewise the notion of freethought, as PZ Myers has correctly argued, has a truth component (or content) to it. Whether there is peace in the world depends on what we think is a peaceful society (just think what a dyed-in-the-wool Communist or Militant Muslim might think). And the same goes for justice. Justice is not just treating everyone equally given past inequities. It means uplifting the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, the marginalized, the minorities, and the oppressed to their rightful place at the table, which has been denied for decades, and centuries.
All of the above mentioned ideas have to do with what we think is the truth, period, no if ands or buts about it. All atheists should share some basic agreement with what these ideas entail, I would think. There is room for some debate on a few of the particulars though, a few of which can be, and are, hotly debated. In these debates I know what it’s like to have an idea I hold dear rejected. It’s as if someone had just rejected me. It’s hard not to take something personally. If Fincke is saying this, or implying it, then the point is very well taken. Yes, we must try as best as possible to do just that, as difficult as it is for us to do. Bending over backwards might not be a good metaphor for this, but something like it might be worth doing more often.
So with regard to civility itself, I agree with Professor Keith Parsons who wrote in a comment at Lowder’s blog these wise words:
I think that we should be civil to those that deserve civility. However, an across-the-board promise to be civil come what may sounds like a Grover Norquist-like pledge not to raise taxes come what may. Civility should be our default position. We should begin by offering civility, yet that initial offer implies a duty of reciprocity. If you extend the hand of civility, how many times do you have to have it bitten before you stop offering? How should you deal with those whose stock-in-trade is derision, calumny, ad hominem, straw man, arrogance, and boorishness? Generally, silence is the best response. After all, a lot of the louts are really just trying to get attention, On the other hand, it might sometimes be good to call them out or maybe give them a taste of their own medicine. The uncivil generally have a grossly inflated sense of their own intelligence, goodness, or importance, and sometimes it is appropriate to puncture their balloons.
I hereby reserve my right to tell some people to fuck off. It doesn’t happen that often at all, but it does happen, especially when it comes to ideas that harm others. No, there are some ideas that I cannot treat with civility. Again, it doesn’t happen much, and like all reasonable people, I do my best to be civil. But as the weeks and months and years go by if I continually see the same obtuseness, the same imperviousness to reason, the same utter ignorance, and especially the same harmful ideas spouted as unthinking dogma, I will eventually lash out uncivilly. What sometimes irks me the most are atheists who stand in the way of what I’m doing, because they can do the most damage to my goals. Some atheists don’t understand this, but then they don’t know the amount of time and sacrifice I have put into what I’m doing either. Maybe I should consider this fact in the future and modify how I respond, we’ll see. It will depend on the idea, the person, how much patience I have that day, and/or the quality and quantity of beer (or none at all) I’ve had.
Cheers, all, even Jeff Lowder.