Yesterday a man named Ron left a comment on my blog post “Editing The Bible: A Developmental Letter to God.” I won’t give out any intimate personal information about this man (which is more than he did for me) but I will say that it shook me. I’ve gotten my fair share of negative comments on my blog — I expect as much, I know I can be contentious — but this was unique in its vitriol and condescention. It was also really poorly constructed and highlighted some of the most overwhelming problems with Christian apologetics. Which is why it’s getting it’s own blog post.
Before continuing, I want to make something clear: I welcome comments on any of my published works online, and I will have a conversation about anything with anyone. Many of you already know this about me. As long as we approach the table with mutual respect, I will take time out of my day to talk to you, listen to you, and learn from you. But that mutual respect is important, and if I don’t feel like you can give that to me, I’m not going to engage. I spent too much of my life being disrespected by men who thought they could speak for and over me, and that’s over now. So I blocked Ron, and I deleted his comment.
Unfortunately, the negativity, aggression, and invalidation I felt in his comment followed me into today. I think it bothers me mostly because of how absolutely illogical and faulty it was. The skeptic, the critical thinker, the editor, and honestly the woman who is fed up with this kind of talking-down-to demanded I rummage through the WordPress trash bin and set some things to rights. So this, my friends, is the Gospel According to Ron, or How Not To Comment On A Blog.
I’ll be happy to take up these questions with you, each in turn, in any order you’d like, so long as we can set a few ground rules first. It really depends whether these are earnest objections or mere complaints. Objections call for answers, complaints do not. Which are these?
Right away, the little red flag goes up, does it not, ladies? Here is a man assuming that this blog post was written specifically for him, which he is now called to correct for the sake of educating me. He acts as if I’ve asked for this feedback, as if there is no way I might not want to conversate with him.
I was also forced to ask: did he even read the post? The points I make in it aren’t objections or complaints. They are jokes. Which I don’t need explained to me, but thank you very much. Also, I’m a bit confused about his criteria for “objections” vs. “complaints” — what makes them different from each other? Why do complaints not deserve answers? And what makes him think I’m worried about “deserving” his answers in the first place?
It gets better. Oh, does it just.
My own walk as a disciple of Jesus Christ didn’t start in earnest until I was 19 years old, and I had been exposed to all the objections you note by the time I was 20, and had already found the answers.
I’m sorry, but this doesn’t impress me at all. Honey, if you want to be taken seriously, please don’t claim that you learned “all the answers” at the ripe old age of 20. I guarantee that no one could learn everything there was to know about Christianity (or anything else) within a year. And even if he had been exposed to some of the answers he claims, the way he puts it makes it sound like he simply stopped looking about thirty-odd years ago. The prefrontal cortex (the part of the human brain in charge of rationality) isn’t even fully formed at the age of 20, and he is relying on answers he came across thirty-odd years ago?
Now, I am well aware that I am only in my mid-twenties myself. So who am I to point the finger? The difference between Ron and me is that I am coming from a place of admitting that I don’t know all the answers, that I couldn’t possibly know all the answers, and that I will always be learning new things that will contradict my old assumptions. That’s what it means to be agnostic, that’s the basis of my atheism. And this is frightening to people who want to believe that they can check the “Understanding The Universe” box off before leaving undergrad.
I have no time for arguments that are dominated by emotion. It’s obvious these are all emotionally laden subjects for you, and if what you want is emotional satisfaction you have my condolences, but I can’t be involved with that.
I cannot wrap my head around Ron’s train of thought here: he doesn’t have to even talk to me, why is he making it sound like he’s being pressurd into it against his will at my desperate behest? Imagine being a man — so convinced that a woman needs your powers of explanation that you drag yourself kicking and screaming into her comments section. What must that sense of entitlement feel like? Ron, if you can’t be involved with that, that’s just fine with me. In fact, I’d prefer it.
I am a bit unclear about what he means by these subjects being “obviously emotionally laden” for me. The particular post he was commenting on was a humorous piece on the technicality of developmental editing and some fundamental biblical critiques. Again, I’m not convinced he’s even read it.
First, no bullshit. If we’re going to pretend your father was a pastor, rather than a very sick theological and philosophical hack, there is no way forward… If we can’t start with the truth we won’t stumble upon it later, so lets put aside all the bullshit. You’re not a pastor’s kid.
Oh… oh wait, he’s actually talking about another post I’d written, “I Watched Christianity Torture My Father.” He’s also calling my personal story and understanding of myself “bullshit”(twice!) which seems a bit… emotionally laden, doesn’t it, Ron?
Putting a pin in that for a moment, I would be the first to admit that my experience as the child of a preacher was not average, and honestly I don’t even put much stock in the title “pastor’s kid,” so I’m unsure why he feels the need to attack it so strongly. Technically, my father wasn’t ordained, so objection to that term is valid to an extent. But that’s not the direction Ron’s argument takes. He goes with a textbook No True Scottsman fallacy instead.
“Your father wasn’t a pastor, he was a very sick theological and philosophical hack,” Ron says, as though there is no possible way in which the two could coincide. Pastors are only good, and therefore anyone who isn’t good is automatically not a pastor. It’s the same damn game Christians play when they point to other people interpreting the Bible and say, “Oh, well, they aren’t real Christians.” How convenient and neatly black-and-white such a worldview is. I would suggest that Ron take a peek at this Reddit thread, which keeps a tally of pastors, bishops, and priests arrested for things like murder, rape, pedophelia, and sex trafficking. There are countless religious leaders who fall both into the “pastor” and “sick hack” category, and no one gets to disown all the inconvenient ones because nuance and contradiction is uncomfortable.
Also, can we just appreciate this phrase for a moment: “If we can’t start with the truth we won’t stumble upon it later.” This is so indicative of the entire gnostic philosophy (and Christianity in particular), and so absolutely against how anything in the real world works. No one starts with the truth, that’s not possible. Everything is a process of trial and error, and only an open mind, intellectual honesty, and constant searching will get you anywhere near the truth (not just of God, of anything). To suggest otherwise is to admit that you are blind to real conversation or any kind of meaningful change of mind, because you think you “already have the truth.” Why would you go looking for it if you’ve already got it? Why would you want to have a real conversation with a skeptic if you think you’ve answered all their questions when you were 20 years old?
You’re an abuse victim who hasn’t yet gotten to the point she can claim to be a survivor…. And of course growing up with such a perverse father figure you can’t help but have perverse notions about God Himself. You were dealt a bad hand, and it’s not your fault that you’re pissed about this. You have my sympathies.
And here we have the money shot, ladies and gentlemen. That well-known apologist trifecta that all deconverted atheists are familiar with: the diagnosis, the dismissal, and — once again — the No True Scottsman fallacy (Ron seems to like this one quite a bit). Well, he’s right about one thing: I sure am pissed off.
In Ron’s head, I am angry at God. I am angry at someone who was a “representative” of God. I am damaged, a victim of abuse, entertaining perverse and warped notions about reality. Never mind that to be angry at God suggests a belief in said God, which I do not have. Never mind that Ron knows nothing about me, has never spoken with me, and has no idea whether or not I see myself as a survivor. Never mind that in the blog post he’s getting all of this from (which I’m increasingly sure he didn’t read) I explicitly state:
Too often those who know my father’s story will blame him for my atheism: “You weren’t exposed to true Christianity as a child, so you fell away,” is the one they usually go for. Or, “Of course you are mad at God, if you’re thinking of your dad’s version.”
I don’t consider my time growing up or my dad’s faith representative of my personal relationship with Christ, such as it used to be. I truly owned my Christianity in college, grew as a Christian around stable, mature, thinking believers who presented me with much more palatable and less warped versions of God. Only after five or so years of this did I walk away. Not from my dad, or my dad’s God. From my own.
No, no, Ron knows me. That is the truth that he started with: People who reject God are angry and crazy and damaged. He is sane, I am not. He is rational, I am not. Therefore, I am easily dismissed. This is the defense mechanism he has built in his head to protect him from ever thinking rationally about his flawed epistemology.
Of course, this assumption about the source of my disbelief says a lot more about him than it does me. In his world, things are reacted to emotionally (as much distain as he seems to have for it when it comes from an outspoken woman online). In his world, strong emotions are enough to justify a shift in worldview, a bad experience with a group of people is enough to cause a change in belief. That’s not rational thought, and no one engaging in rational thought would jump to this assumption. They’d ask: “Why?” and “What convinced you?” and “How do you know?” (All of which I’d be more than happy to answer and have in many different posts.)
What happens if I have a bad experience with an atheist? Does that mean that suddenly I’m going to be flung from this belief as well? What if I said that I’ve had equally bad experiences with other atheists? What if said I was raped by one? What if I said it hasn’t given me any pause in claiming an atheistic identity myself? Because emotion and personal experience don’t form the basis of my belief (or lack thereof). That’s difficult for a lot of Christians like Ron to understand, because for them personal experience is the bedrock of their salvation.
Looking at the above [points made in the blog post], I know it would be about 100 pages to answer the objections you’ve already made. I’m willing to type like that, but I am not willing to spend my time a moment past when you convince me this is mere whining. I am an entrepreneur and I work 70 hour weeks. I do not have time to waste.
I have many questions about this particular portion of this essay, which might make more sense as a list. Let’s discuss!
A) Admitting to me that answering four questions about the Bible will take him a hundred pages is tantamount to admitting that his theology is useless. He has proved my point for me: no book (especially one so important as the Bible) should need to be explained and defended in a novel-length dissertation by a random online commenter. That’s not good writing. God is a shitty memoirist, and His attempt at saving the human race needs a whole lot of critique. That was kind of the whole point of the post.
B) Using the phrase “mere whining” says all I need to know about what Ron thinks of my input. Why on earth would I want to engage in a conversation where the presupposition is going to be that my thoughts are “mere whines”? And why on earth would I expend time and energy trying to “convince” a man to take my thoughts seriously?
C) I appreciate Ron’s busy schedule. As a fellow entrepreneur who works 70 hours a week sustaining multiple careers, I would like to offer some advice: first, writing an unsolicited essay on my ineptitude as a thinker and writer is already a waste of both our time. Second, Ron might want to look into some time management courses — I seem to have plenty of extra time to maintain a blog and pursue my career.
If you continually demonstrate a spirit of interest, of exploration, of a desire for discovery and perhaps even healing, we can take up your very freshman objections one at a time time. I can even bear some insult if you like, but I will not waste my time.
Here Ron graciously positions himself as a benevolent teacher, to whom I must submit, continually demonstrating the appropriate mindset lest he revoke the privilege of his time (which is apparently in very high demand). He might even heal me. The misogyny is strong with this one.
Here’s the thing, I’m all for all those things: a spirit of interest, exploration, discovery, and yes, even healing. But honestly, Ron, I’m already doing that on a daily basis, on my own terms, in a way that actually seeks the truth instead of assuming I’ve started with it. I don’t need your help for that. In fact, after reading this more than once, I think you might actually need mine.
I started this post mostly as a way to vent, to express the icky negative feelings that roiled in my gut the last two days. But now I mostly just feel sorry for Ron. Of course, I wouldn’t be so bold (having never met the man) to psychologically diagnose him or tell him things about himself that he obviously knows better than I. But I will say this, because he said he could take an insult:
Ron, you’re really, really bad at starting conversations, avoiding logical fallacies, and apparently time management. Your mindset is self-aggrandizing, self-righteous, and self-limiting, and living like that sounds exhausting and embittering. As a woman who has survived, and who has left the comfort of personal experience to explore the swirling epistemological depths that terrify you … I will not waste my time with your bullshit.