Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Uncivil discourse

A few months ago, I was friended on Facebook by a gentleman whom I didn't know, but who shared with me an interest in history and genealogy.  I accepted his request, figuring that in this day of electronic social media this could be a way to meet new friends.  (And in fact, there are Facebook friends of mine that I've never met in person, and who over time have become friends in the older, conventional definition of the word.)

A couple of days ago, this gentleman posted a photograph of a sign that said, "Merry Christmas!  One Nation Under God.  Disagree?  Don't Let The Border Hit You On The Ass On Your Way Out."  I posted a comment underneath saying, "Seriously?  We atheists should just leave?"

He responded only by making the photograph his profile picture.

I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to respond to this.  "Unfriending" him seems justified, but doesn't that just make it even less likely that he'll ever see what the problem is?  His seeming unwillingness to engage -- the fact that he didn't even respond to my comment -- is probably indicative of the fact that had he responded, it probably would have only been to tell me to go to hell in any case.

I find it disturbing how hard it can be for people of all stripes to remain civil these days.  Maybe it's always been this way, I don't know; but it seems, although admittedly I have no factual basis for this, to be getting worse and worse.  My general feeling is that most Christians are tolerant and moderate, and have no particular wish to dictate other people's beliefs; and most agnostics and atheists would respond to a hearty "Merry Christmas!" from a store clerk with a smile and a thank you, giving back the kindness based on its intention and taking no offense at some imagined assumption of religiosity.  A small but growing minority, on the other hand, seem determined to make this into some sort of war, and everyone is getting increasingly skittish.

Much has been made about whether the United States was founded as a "Christian nation," and with amazing facility people dredge up quotes from the Founding Fathers supporting their contention that clearly George Washington and the rest intended the USA to be a theocracy.  Or didn't.  Or didn't have any intention of addressing it at all.  In my opinion, however, all of this historiography misses the point; it's largely irrelevant what the Founding Fathers believed regarding this issue.  Consider some of the other things that the Founding Fathers believed -- that women should not be allowed to vote, that slavery was acceptable (and that slaves, for census purposes, counted as "3/5 of a person"), and that it was justified to appropriate land from the Native Americans.  We have abandoned all of those beliefs as unethical, immoral, and inappropriate for our day and age, with no yammering on about the fact that "the USA was founded as a nation where women couldn't vote!"  (Ladies, don't let the border hit you in the ass on your way out!)

The relevant question, here, is only whether the USA should be run as a theocracy now.  Should there, given the diversity of beliefs (and non-belief) we currently have, be prayer in schools?  A religious test for holding public office?  Should we be expecting that public officials mention their relationship with Jesus at every opportunity?  Or should we accept the fact that we are now, and have been for quite some time, a patchwork quilt of Christians (of denominations liberal to conservative), Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and probably a hundred others, where to mandate belief, even tacitly, would be not only unjust but an impossibility?

How about this instead: let's focus on tolerance.  Despite my reputation as a militant atheist, I honestly don't have a problem with what you believe or don't believe -- until you start using those beliefs to change public policy, to create laws that force those beliefs on others, or to justify acting like a boor.  Diversity of thought should enrich, not impoverish, a nation, and the War on Christmas foolishness only further divides us, cementing the "if you're not one of us, screw you" mentality that has done us nothing but harm in the past.

As far as my Facebook "friend:" I think I'll just let him be.  Maybe after reading this, he'll unfriend me -- who knows?  But until that point, I'll wish a Merry Christmas to all of my readers who celebrate it, a Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends, Happy Holidays to anyone who prefers that mode of address, and to the rest of you, a simple wish for Peace on Earth, and Good Will Toward... Everyone.


  1. I'd suggest adding your comeback about women who want to vote hitting the road to his original post, except I'd be a little afraid he'd interpret it as support.

  2. I could not agree more with this. That kind of ignorance, and intolerance serves only as hate mongering with no positive outcome. I'd also venture to say that this guy also probably loves the new Rick Perry ad about Obama's 'War on Religion'.

  3. For the record, I do not attend church and I am not a card carrying Bible beater. I am, however, a patriot.

    Atheists have, in recent years, made a bad name for themselves by filing lawsuits for the most frivolous of reasons. You don't want to salute the flag, I don't care, but please don't try to stop me or my children from saying the Pledge of Alegiance the way it was written. I know the media is often slanted, but I have yet to see a story about Christians trying to force atheists to pray. This country was founded by Christians and there are still a great big group of them living here. "Under God" and "In God We Trust" are part of our heritage. No, you don't have to believe, but let's respect those who do.

    I never say "Happy Holidays". I celebrate Christmas and it's "Merry Christmas" for me. If that offends someone, that's their problem. If I know someone is Jewish, Happy Hannukah it is. Pretty simple.

    In case my rambling missed the point (as it often does) I agree with you about tolerance. However, this is America. It was founded by English speaking Christians. Please respect that fact. I'm not willing to give up my American Heritage because it has become politically unacceptable to profess beliefs that have made this country as great as it is. You are free to to enjoy "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" so long as it does not infringe on my rights to do so either.

    BTW, Merry Christmas. :)

  4. Edward... I think you missed my point. I strongly believe that it is the vast minority of atheists who would even consider trying to stop you from saying Merry Christmas (or any of the other things you mentioned), just as it is the vast minority of Christians who would try to force their beliefs on me. Respect, as you've stated, is the central issue; and I maintain that putting up a sign in your front lawn saying "One Nation Under God, if you don't agree get the hell out of here" is disrespectful.

    Heritage isn't as important as tolerance -- my lack of belief should have NO influence whatsoever on your belief, and vice versa. We have much to learn from each other, and inflammatory slogans make that less likely to happen.

    For the record, I'm the son of a career Marine, and my lack of belief in god has no bearing on my patriotism. You made the statement, "You don't want to salute the flag..." -- you might well have been using the word "you" in its general sense, but you might want to be careful about making assumptions about someone's loyalty to the country based upon whether or not they are a Christian -- and also about making generalizations about all atheists because of the actions of a vocal few.

    No one, at least no one with any sense, is asking you to stop "professing your beliefs." I will, however, object every time someone implies that my status as a patriotic American citizen is in question because I don't believe in god.

    And regarding Christians forcing atheists to pray -- allow me to go on record as stating that I have gotten death threats for teaching evolution in high school biology classrooms. And no, I don't ridicule ANY student for his/her belief, and preface the unit on evolution with a demand that we all be respectful and understanding of people whose views differ. But your implication that the Christians are all innocent, and the atheists crazed radicals, is simply factually false.


  5. Congress just re-affirmed that our national motto is "In God We Trust". Nobody was challenging the motto in the first place, and it passed with 98% support.

    ...with that firmly in grasp, I don't think ANYONE is actually succeeding in changing our national dogma, come off it... the best offense is a good defense and the pretense of victimization allows the thumpers to further their agenda of turning us into a theocracy that the founding fathers never intended. I'm so sick of hearing about what our founding fathers "believed". They were the ones who DRAFTED the constitution which clearly stated separation of church and state. Stop trying to ignore that fact... it's annoying. They already spoke for themselves when they wrote our constitution. We don't need people championing causes that we "think" they would have wanted us to. You want to know how they felt, read the Constitution.

    Objectivity is patriotism. Questioning the prevailing powers is patriotism. Going to work everyday, contributing to the community, paying taxes, enriching the lives of others... is patriotic. There are a litany of ways a person can display love for country.

    Gordon has been a school teacher, in service of his community, for a quarter century. I can't think of anything more patriotic.

  6. Edward wrote:

    "I don't care, but please don't try to stop me or my children from saying the Pledge of Alegiance the way it was written."

    If you were saying The Pledge of Allegiance as it was written, you wouldn't include, "under God." The original pledge did not contain those words. They were added during the Eisenhower administration. The lawsuit you're referencing was an attempt to get back to the original pledge so as not to force non-Jews, non-Christians, and non-Muslims to essentially profess faith in God.

    But Gordon's right. What matters is the *spirit* of the Constitution and not the exact words or how they were originally rendered vs. how they are interpreted today.

    And I think the "war on Christmas" is foolish too. I use "happy holidays," because I don't know what faith the person I'm speaking to is, but you don't have to be Christian to celebrate Christmas. So "merry Christmas" doesn't bother me, nor does any other expression of holiday spirit.

    This is the time of year when people are nice to each other for no particular reason. Let's just all enjoy it.

  7. Didn't corporations kill Christmas a long time ago? I mean, "This year we all want something to believe in. Like being able to shop for the gifts we want, however we want. Only Sears lets you get the gifts you want, when you want at the prices you want. Now that's real joy. Guaranteed." I think the war is over.

  8. I am also one of those polite atheists who doesn't take offense when others wish me happy holidays in some form...since plenty of people know that I was raised by parents who went to parochial school and that I married into a Jewish family. If there were a religion called "be nice as often as possible and try to bring out the best in yourself and everyone else" I might just join. Gordon, you and I seem to be on a similar wavelength. Keep up the great posts. Oh, and Happy Holidays. LOL

  9. Yeah, one of my primary school contacts just had to go after she posted this one...