Friday, March 4, 2011


There's a lot about this video that makes it a bit of a train wreck. It's all very typical, and something I've unfortunately experienced from both sides.

What really intrigues me starts at about 9:10.

If you do go back and watch the entire video, and you're anything like me, the gum chewer will make your teeth itch with his overwhelmingly snotty attitude. For 9 minutes (excluding cuts to a woman who seems a little more well-meaning, if equally clueless and presumptuous) he condescends to PZ Myers as if he was speaking to a very small child. The irony would be hilarious if this sort of thing weren't so common.

Gum-chewer is an idiot. And he revels in it. He finds his ignorance delicious, and he wraps it around him like a grand cloak, strutting and pontificating for people he obviously perceives to be his lessers. He grows more and more haughty as he throws all of his stock arguments out, hoping desperately one will stick. When none do, he falls back on the "we're not going to convince each other" line. Myers won't allow an easy retreat, however, and calls him out.

"There's a good reason for that, and that's because you're an ignorant fool and I'm an educated scientist."
Gum-chewer's waning confidence soars. You can see the "gotcha" moment flash in his eyes as his smirk returns. He's won on the merits of civility. None of his "arguments" worked, but at least he's the better person because he was courteous, polite, civil, and kind. If your opponent stoops to attacks, while you remain calm, you're obviously superior as is your position by extension of your inherent goodness in the face of their boorishness.

And here we are again on planet Bizarro Christian.

It is not courteous to arrive at a gathering to which you've not been invited to protest the very existence of those in attendance. It is not polite to waste people's time by interrupting their day with a display intended to make oneself feel superior. It is not civil to engage, distract, or in some cases attempt to harass people going about their business in order to attempt to derail their lives completely. It is not kind to distribute books containing information stolen from its author, twisted, edited, misrepresented, all to serve an agenda that attacks the original content by presenting a false and warped version of it.

Likewise, what PZ Myers said was not discourteous in the least. Gum-chewer was profoundly ignorant. He was ignorant of the identity of the person with whom he was speaking. He was obviously ignorant of the nature of evolution and its basic precepts. He was ignorant of the most basic concepts foundational to biology. He was ignorant of the ridiculously flimsy nature of the claims he was making. If he was anything other than a fool, those aspects of his personality were not immediately apparent.

What Myers said was simply fact. Gum-chewer was attempting to engage in a conversation he was woefully unprepared for. This man has completely sheltered himself from any of the information necessary to meaningful discussion on the subject he was trying to broach. These protesters inserted themselves into the space of another group of people, demanded attention, and did not even bother to do any preparation in the realm of the subject they want to engage people on.

How is that civility? It is audacity.

And armed with this presumptuousness, these types of protesters go even further and demand that they are listened to with rapt attention, and never challenged. They want to derail people's conversations, daily lives, with the ultimately goal of derailing their very existence, and any resistance is considered rude.

This example is merely a microcosm of something that happens on a much larger scale particularly in the U.S.* As the country attempts to have a discussion about where we should be headed, Bizarro Christians jump up and demand their positions be heard. They then proceed to bring nothing of substance to the table, instead relying on attacks, verbal slight of hand or outright lies to get them through the conversation. When called out for such behavior they hide behind of veil of religious belief as untouchable. You can't have it both ways. Either you're part of the debate and the views you present are open to critical examination, or they're protected from such challenges because they're personal and therefore private - and as such should be removed from the conversation.

I would argue that having ones faith challenged is a good thing for the cultivation of said faith, in any case, but that's a post in its own right.

When my family got together for holiday meals, we generally had a table for the adults, and a table for the children. Often, the kids wanted to sit at the grown up table (until they discovered it was incredibly boring, in any case). This was permitted so long as the child behaved appropriately in that environment. If one of the children sat with the adults and began demanding attention, getting loud, derailing or distracting the conversation the adults were having, or otherwise trying to change the mood at the table from adult-centric to kid-centric, they were promptly removed and placed at the appropriate table. Their behavior wasn't necessarily bad, it was simply inappropriate for that context. They had an environment in which they could act that way, and the grown up table wasn't it.

This is how we should treat Bizarro Christians. They have their kid's table. They can talk about whatever absurd thing they want, bicker, steal from each other's plates, cry about who got more of what, break each other's toys, or even just enjoy each other's company and play quietly amongst themselves. It's up to them, really. But they have their mega-churches, and their radio shows, and their websites, and television stations, and publishing houses, and record companies, and on and on and on. It's not as if their table is small. They take up a lot of space in this country, and they have a lot of room to do whatever is it they want to do. We have no motivation to let them take the skeptic's conventions, science classrooms, and floor of the senate and house as well.

But we let them. Why?

I have no problem with faith informing what people do in their day to day lives. You can't really compartmentalize such a huge part of yourself away. My faith informs the fact that I value rational discourse. It is partially my faith that makes me want to keep explorations of religion out of the political discourse and especially out of the realm of science. Attempting to equate the two disrespects them both.

It is not discourteous to tell a petulant brat that they are being obnoxious, and must behave appropriately if they wish to stay.

*I can't speak to anywhere outside of North America, as I've only visited Australia and Israel, and wasn't either place long enough to get a good bead on the political or religious discourse from anything but an outsider's perspective.

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