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Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Why respond rationally when frenzied slander is an option?

Last week I blogged about an unfortunate incident in which a college student killed himself. The reason I blogged about this tragic but otherwise unremarkable event is that the diseased gnomes at World Net Daily publicized the views of the victim's father. Specifically, they promulgated his belief that it was reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion that drove his son to end his life. Now, for the record, though I haven't read The God Delusion, I have commented previously and extensively on the reactions to it. I will also admit that I am divided on Dawkins' attacks on religion. On the one hand, I think his aggressiveness may be counter-productive. On the other hand, I've had enough copies of the f-ing Watchtower shoved into my door and been bothered by missionaries enough times to think that publishing a book advocating atheism- a book that people have to choose to read- is not unreasonable. In any case, my reaction to the claim that Dawkins' book caused a suicide more or less boiled down to, "Probably it was not the main, or even a major, cause in and of itself but if it was assigned by a biology professor, that was probably inappropriate." So, to sum up, someone blamed atheism for a suicide and I more or less responded in a calm and reasonable* fashion.

Well, as it turns out, I am not the only one who noticed this story. Our old pals at- you guessed it- Conservapedia** picked this one up too. And, in a break from the normal, their initial headline was only moderately offensive:



Or, in primitive primate language:

The God Delusion forced upon a young college kid by a professor who hated his Christianity; the sad result is written here:


And yes, for Conservapedia, that actually qualifies as only moderately offensive. Yet, if the headline was only somewhat offensive, the subsequent commentary strays into hysterical ranting. My particular favorites are in spiffy red boxes:



Particularly notice the first two comments which are so ignorant I can't decide if I should laugh or cry:

What a horrible story on the main page. Richard Dawkins must be somewhere laughing that he managed to lead at least one young soul from Christ to an eternity in hell. Is there anyway he can be charged with murder or a similar crime? This should be a Conservapeda project to bring Richard Dawkins to justice.--Saxplayer 19:38, 21 November 2008 (EST)

Quite possibly, if he was American. Counselling suicide is a crime in most (all?) jurisdictions, and the God Delusion does just that. However, as a Brit., he's largely untouchable. RodWeathers 19:41, 21 November 2008 (EST)


Lemme get this straight: Conservapedia is supposed to become some sort of vigilante group that brings atheists to justice? And how exactly would anyone charge Dawkins with murder since, you know, his book doesn't say "God doesn't exist so you should just off yourself"?*** I guess the legal precedent would sure make for some fun debates. You know, Dawkins spreads beliefs that lead to a suicide so he's culpable for murder. Someone actually commits murder because they think god told them to, and they believe in god because the bible tells them so, and some folks claim that the bible is the inerrant word of god so... um... god killed those people then, right?****

And what the ever-loving-fuck is up with that whole "He's British so he's untouchable" thing? Seriously? You think that's the only obstacle here?

Now, you might think that this is just a bunch of kooks complaining in a public forum and, yes, that is a succinct definition of Conservapedia. More accurately, you might think these comments don't reflect the views of Schlafly and his stormtroopers. You might be right but, given this subsequent development on the mainpage, I doubt it:



Or, in plain old English:

Message to evolutionist Richard Dawkins: Do you still stand by these absurd and shameful statements of yours: “What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question."? Conservapedia wishes to inform you that the horrendous and barbarous acts done by Hitler are not difficult to condemn as being utterly wrong.


Okay, so, to recap, Dawkins is now responsible not only for the suicide of someone he's never met, but also for the holocaust? That's fairly impressive since when the war in the Pacific ended Dawkins was four. Regardless, however, what of this apparent claim by Dawkins that maybe Hitler was right? Shouldn't we be offended? Oh, hell no. This is just classic quote mining as Dawkins was making a more general point about morality. You can actually see the source of the quote, from a rather negative questioner, here:

“I’m actually rather interested in the shifting zeitgeist. If you travel anywhere in the Western world, you find a consensus of opinion which is recognizably different from what it was only a matter of a decade or two ago. You and I are both a part of that same zeitgeist, and [as to where] we get our moral outlook, one can almost use phrases like ‘it’s in the air.’”

At this point, perhaps a word of explanation is necessary. Zeitgeist is a German word meaning “spirit of the age.” Dawkins here refers to the prevailing moral climate or mood of a given place or time. We may observe that what constitutes moral or ethical behavior differs from one culture to another; indeed, it may even differ within a given culture. This is not in dispute. The question, rather, is this: should moral standards be based on the societal zeitgeist or should they look beyond it to something else?

I asked an obvious question: “As we speak of this shifting zeitgeist, how are we to determine who’s right? If we do not acknowledge some sort of external [standard], what is to prevent us from saying that the Muslim [extremists] aren’t right?”

“Yes, absolutely fascinating.” His response was immediate. “What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question. But whatever [defines morality], it’s not the Bible. If it was, we’d be stoning people for breaking the Sabbath.”


So, in other words, he's not arguing that Hitler was a great guy, he's just arguing that our reasons for understanding that Hitler wasn't a great guy do not necessarily derive from the bible. And I think he's right.

So what have we learned today? Eh. Nothing much. Conservapedia is still a cesspool of human stupidity and unreason. Dawkins is still being misrespresented. And for all of my flippancy, I still write posts that are at least marginally more reasonable than my alleged "betters."

Situation normal.


* In my opinion, anyway, and since this is my blog, yours doesn't count.

** For those who are wondering about my ongoing effort to stop blogging about Conservapedia- hey, I made it over a month this time!

*** If it did a more appropriate title would be, "The Worthwhile Life Delusion."

**** Yes, I know, suddenly the logic can't be right because it leads to a conclusion we don't like. Awesome.

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