Monday, April 10, 2017

Faith-Heads and Silly-Billies

Jimmy S. M. wrote: Do you really take "faith-head" to be as insulting as "nigger"? It sounds more like calling someone a "silly-billy" to me..

Silly-billy? No, I don't think so. Dawkins, for one, is very clear about what he is trying to do:

I have from time to time expressed sympathy for the accommodationist tendency so ably criticized here by Jerry Coyne. I have occasionally worried that – just maybe – Eugenie Scott [of the NCSE] and the appeasers might have a point, a purely political point but one, nevertheless, that we should carefully consider. I have lately found myself moving away from that sympathy.

I suspect that most of our regular readers here would agree that ridicule, of a humorous nature, is likely to be more effective than the sort of snuggling-up and head-patting that Jerry is attacking. I lately started to think that we need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt.

Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.

You might say that two can play at that game. Suppose the religious start treating us with naked contempt, how would we like it? I think the answer is that there is a real asymmetry here. We have so much more to be contemptuous about! And we are so much better at it. We have scathingly witty spokesmen of the calibre of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Who have the faith-heads got, by comparison? Ann Coulter is about as good as it gets. We can’t lose!

Richard Carrier put it this way, which John Loftus endorsed. 

By and large the minds of the ridiculous can't be changed. It's their flock we're talking to. But even the ridiculous change under ridicule some respond by getting more ridiculous (and those are the ones who could never be swayed even by the politest methods), but others accumulate shame until they see the error of their ways (I've met many ex-evangelicals who have told me exactly that). Thus, ridicule converts the convertible and marginalizes the untouchable. There is no more effective strategy in a culture war.

Message: Even though you we are ostensibly in a conversation with you, we are actually talking through you to some low information "fence-sitters" who, in fear of the social penalty they might pay if the went to your side of the fence, will head meekly over to ours. You think you are my discussion partner, and equal in the conversation, but you're not. You don't count, it's the stupid people who might consider following you. 

It's interesting that Tom Clark, of, maintains that this whole attitude presupposes that religious people have made bad choices, which in turn presupposes a kind of contra-causal freedom neither he nor Dawkins think we possess. (Remember Basil's car?) Why be so mad at Christians for not following what you take to be the evidence? Does the evidence, as you see it, suggest that they can help doing so? 

That is why, for quite awhile now, I have broken the bad habit of posting in Debunking Christianity. In the final analysis, someone who takes this line isn't really talking to you, so what is the point of talking to them. 

What if someone behaved this way toward gay people? 


unkleE said...

Fair call, Victor. A conversation requires people to converse, to consider what each other says and respond to it thoughtfully. There are fundamentalists on both sides, and just as "they" think people like me are beyond being worth talking to, the same conclusion applies to them. And it's not just christians saying that, I have seen atheists say the same.

One further point. The rationalist (really empiricist) ideal is for us all to follow Clifford's principle and govern our ideas by evidence. But this argument gives up on that, which is interesting, and relies on emotion (ridicule) to convert - just like the worst televangelist!

It is a sad state of affairs.

Jimmy S. M. said...

I'm reacting to the seemingly lame and toothless insult "faith-head" and your comparison of it to "nigger," a term loaded with the history of slavery, lynchings, disenfranchisement. I maintain it's a preposterous comparison.

Why do you find it insulting anyway? Isn't Faith a good thing in your worldview? I'm a self described hop-head, I like the IPA style of beer. If someone who doesn't uses that as a pejorative, so what? I like what I like. If someone calls me a steak-head because I hit the weight room and count my macros, they mean it as an insult, but who cares, if they don't even lift?

For an insult to mean much it has to be from someone you respect, or has power over you. A certain self righteous mouthpiece for God gratuitously insults pretty much everyone on this forum regularly, and so what? He has no power, he has earned no respect so it's more amusing than anything.

As for the Dawkins/Loftus project of ridicule, that's not my tactic, I appreciate the arguments more than the rhetorical points

lasym21 said...


Sticks and stones may break my bones
but words will never hurt me

At a certain age, you realize that rhyming doesn't guarantee the truth of something.

And ribbing someone for weight-lifting or enjoying craft beer is a little different than ribbing someone for fantasizing their way into the wrong universe, eh?

Jimmy S. M. said...

>Sticks and stones may break my bones/but words will never hurt me

Yeah I'd never say that, words can hurt as much as anything. From a respected teacher, mentor, or a lover, parent or child they can be incredibly painful.

>And ribbing someone for weight-lifting or enjoying craft beer is a little different than ribbing someone for fantasizing their way into the wrong universe, eh?

Again, faith is supposedly a good thing to a Christian. So I'm trying to think of parallels where an excess of something I consider good could be used as an insult against me.

Starhopper said...


I'm with you on "hop-head".

Whenever I'm in a bar and I don't recognize the brands on tap, I just ask for "something hoppy" and I'm never disappointed.

Jimmy S. M. said...


Nice. My local theocracy mandates all beer stronger than 4% abv sit an a hot warehouse until it's ruined and then sold at 200% of the avg national price. So I end up brewing my own to get anything decent.