If a response is beneath you, don’t respond!

A few months ago, a pretty ridiculous anti-atheist article was published in Portland State University’s student-run newspaper, the Daily Vanguard. The same article was just reprinted by the student newspaper at the University of Oregon, the Daily Emerald. It’s a real gem, for sure:

Hmm, let’s see…I could either listen to someone pushing their religion on me, or listen to you aggressively espouse how not to believe. Either way, guilt is involved and, sadly, you come off a hell of a lot more like a pompous and arrogant bastard!

I can just bet that the author is so busy patting himself on his hypocritical back that he hasn’t seen the furor this has raised. But that’s not what this post is about. The article is practically a parody of itself, and can essentially be summed up as “I don’t want to hear you, so shut up”.

This post is about the response by the University of Oregon’s campus atheist group, the Alliance of Happy Atheists. The official response was fine (if dismissive), characterizing the article as being of little more intellectual value than an angry YouTube comment. Later on, however, the following was posted over at Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist blog:

As a member and committee chair of UO’s Alliance of Happy Atheists, I would like to ask the FriendlyAtheist readers to please contact The Daily Emerald to let them know that re-printing this rant was a blatant attempt to intimidate and harass the non-religious students on campus, especially those who are members in AHA! Our group is not so much upset at the author of the article, but are offended and confused as to why our newspaper would pick this 3 month old hateful rant and print it now. AHA! supports the free speech, even of those who disagree with atheism or our group. But this was not an attempt at an intelligent, respectful debate between the religious and secular; rather it was a deliberate attempt to insult a group of students at this school. If any of you have the time and motivation, we would really appreciate if you could go to the Daily Emerald’s website and send them an email letting them know that this was extremely discriminatory and unprofessional. Please don’t waste anytime trying to counter the illogical statements made by Dick Richards (that would be beneath us). We don’t care about some obnoxious douche who can’t write or argue; we do care about whether our campus newspaper respects their students enough to print good-quality and tasteful articles.

Thanks!
AHA! Education Committee Chair,
Shireen Noroozi

All the responses I’ve seen so far seem to fall into two categories – either they follow Shireen’s line of thinking above and call for people to take action and get in touch with the Daily Emerald’s editorial staff, or they follow the strict free speech line and say that we shouldn’t be engaging in censorship. For the most part, I don’t have any problems with either of these.

There are a few things in Shireen’s post that I feel need to be addressed. First:

AHA! supports the free speech, even of those who disagree with atheism or our group. But this was not an attempt at an intelligent, respectful debate between the religious and secular; rather it was a deliberate attempt to insult a group of students at this school.

I hate to say it, but they’re not supporting free speech through their actions. We really don’t have a right to be free from being offended. We can’t demand that theists allow us to be heard to say things they find offensive, then turn around and cry foul when they do the same. We’re all giving him what he wants by paying any attention to him at all. He’s an idiot; let his own words speak for him.

Next:

We don’t care about some obnoxious douche who can’t write or argue;…

Except that you clearly do. Your response has said so, and loudly. If you don’t care, don’t respond.

Essentially, Shireen’s response, as I read it, is “we don’t think he should be canned, but we do think he shouldn’t be allowed to speak his mind if it offends anyone.” Being politically correct isn’t going to help. Saying that his language is discriminatory and unprofessional really isn’t saying anything about whether or not he’s wrong. Much better to respond by countering what he says with a level-headed tone than by calling the PC police, I’d say.

If it’s beneath you to respond, let it be beneath you, because going around telling everyone just how beneath you it is is a sign that it actually does matter to you. Plus, you’re feeding the troll. DON’T FEED THE TROLLS!

If it matters to AHA!, then they shouldn’t be ashamed of saying so. But it should matter that he’s wrong, not that he’s a fool. Even a fool can occasionally be right, if he’s lucky. Dismissing him as a bigot won’t do anything to convince the people who might even slightly agree with him that his positions are unwarranted.

I understand that it’s not even a free speech issue. It’s not unconstitutional for a student-run paper to censor a rabid viewpoint. But it’s still censorship, and I’m deeply committed to preventing that whenever possible. Yes, do contact the Daily Emerald’s staff. Let your complaints be heard. But also:

  1. Don’t act like it doesn’t matter. It mattered enough for you to respond and send out a call to action.
  2. Don’t refuse to refute simply because he made an ass of himself. His diatribe might be convincing to someone. After all, we do have people like Glenn Beck with millions of followers…

If we really feel that it matters and we mount any kind of response at all, we can’t afford to be dismissive of idiots just because they’re idiots. Plenty of people will see the bits they agree with and ignore the idiocy for convenience’s sake. But for goodness’ sake, don’t feed the trolls… pick your battles!

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