Wednesday, July 23, 2008

An irrational atheist

Today a gentleman whose privacy I'll respect by not revealing his name sent an email to the TV show address with the subject line "Victory for atheists." I'm afraid it's anything but. Indeed, it's a textbook example of how to fumble the ball.

The fellow in question had sent an irate letter to the Laurel and Hardy apologetics team of Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron, complaining about an insulting anti-atheist bumper sticker they were selling online. Boasting to us that his letter had persuaded them to remove the offending sticker from their site, he went on to quote himself in full, and he doesn't start off badly.

Your Item #500 Atheist Day bumper sticker is a very un-Christian insult to all atheists. Just because your Bible states something, does not mandate that you use this information to insult atheists like me.

I am not a fool, and I want you to change the wording of your sticker. The average driver can easily read the words:


But the words of Psalm 14:1, which are below these words, cannot be easily seen by any motorist.

Then, as the letter progresses, you can see his emotions starting to run away with him.

My life as an American Atheist has been unalterably changed by your bumper sticker. I would never be elected to any political position in our country, because your bumper sticker has poisoned most believers minds.

I demand that you use your own savior's command to Love your neighbor as yourself, and change your bumper sticker to read something like this:


Well, the inability of atheists to make much headway in American politics, despite the Constitution's ban on a religious test (a ban that is openly violated by the constitutions of a number of individual states, like Texas), is rooted in a religious bigotry against unbelievers that was in play long before Frick and Frack decided to sell a stupid bumper sticker online. But then our writer starts to run right off the rails...

I understand that the U.S. Constitution guarantees you freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. However, that does not give you unlimited license to publicly insult those who do not share your beliefs.

Uh...well, yeah, dude. It does.

Free speech is exactly that. Insults are not illegal. There are actionably libelous and slanderous remarks that one can make that are not Constitutionally protected. But merely lobbing an insult at somebody doesn't qualify. And there is no Constitutional protection against having your feelings hurt. Here, our writer is simply making as big a fool of himself as the Catholics who have been throwing a colossal group shitfit these past several days over PZ Myers' mocking of the Eucharist cracker.

Regrettably, our writer, figuring "in for a penny, in for a pound," wraps everything up with an Oscar-worthy exercise in shark-jumping.

If, by August 23, 2008 your bumper sticker has not been changed on your web site, I will file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, in San Antonio, and have a restraining order issued to order you to change your sticker.

Insert sound of screeching tires, a loud crash, followed by a sustained explosion.

Hmm, what does this kind of pissy, bully-boy rhetoric remind me of? Certainly it's nothing I'd attach the word "rational" to, and indeed, no offense to our writer here (though I can't imagine I'll avoid it), while Psalm 14:1 does not apply to atheists or atheism as a philosophy, it applies like hell to his behavior here.

It's one thing to sue or threaten to sue if you have actually been harmed, or if an actionable offense has been made. But threatening legal action simply as a means of stifling the speech of someone who simply holds a view different to your own, and who has only made remarks that have bruised your feelings, is reprehensible behavior, full stop. And if you were dumb enough actually to file such a suit, expect not only an immediate dismissal but quite possibly a Rule 11(b) ass-reaming on top of it.

As Matt has pointed out to this fellow, not only has he moronically validated the bigotry Cameron and Comfort hold against atheists by being such a reactionary hothead over something as banal as a bumper sticker, but, if they did indeed remove the sticker from their site in response to his email, then this is simply something that we can fully expect them to use, in their next blog posts and podcasts and whatever else they do, to paint themselves as the calm, reasonable ones, the charitable, kind Christians who out of the goodness of their hearts will honor this poor unsaved person's feelings, despite his hostile and bullying tone, which is, of course, just the way you are when you're godless and lost. In other words, this dumbass has just handed the two most dishonest and inept apologists in all of pop-Christianity a three-pointer.

So let this be a lesson to atheists everywhere. We're human, and certainly can't expect to be entirely rational and unemotional when things affect us as humans, and cause us to feel a level of hurt. But unlike PZ's Catholic mob, we ought to have a perspective they lack. Nothing here that was "holy" or inviolable to atheists was damaged by this bumper sticker. And I cannot for the life of me think how this writer can prove he's suffered any kind of harm because of its mere existence. As rational beings, we must know that we live in a world of many differing and often hostile views, none moreso than those between religious believers and skeptics. Some people we'll have civil disagreements with, others will be more heated and emotional. But we all have a right to expression, and to use bullying threats to silence someone's opposing views while claiming bogus "harm" is something no rationalist can or should countenance.

If our writer thought he'd find a sympathetic ear and support when he emailed us to boast of his "victory," I'm afraid he got a rude surprise, one which I'll happily make ruder by exposing his foolishness here as an epic fail for which he should feel duly embarrassed. I expect this kind of thing from extremist religious ideologues. I expect better from atheists, as we should always be guided by reason, even when we're a little bit cranky that day. Atheists who go four-alarm-irrational will find themselves thoroughly hosed if we hear about it.

Addendum: The original writer has finally been reduced simply to calling Matt "such an asshole" in response to Matt's explanations as to why he did the wrong thing. That says all that needs to be said about the guy's character, I do believe. I wonder if he'll threaten to sue next?


  1. Nice. Y'know, I wouldn't be surprised if this clown is a theo mole trying to make us all look like hair-trigger reactionary cranks. He couldn't have done a better job of completely misrepresenting us if he was Ray "Hand Banana" Comfort himself. With friends like this guy, who the hell needs Ben Stein and Anne Coulter?

    With all the millions of reasonable, quiet, non-retarded atheists out there, it only takes one like this guy to confirm that "strident, militant fundamentalist" tag that theists like to pin on us constantly.

    To the anonymous "victor": do us all a favour and keep your bloody trap shut. Thank you in advance.

  2. Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to send this reply to the author directly? Why attempt to publicly humiliate him? Did he he give permission to publish the exchange?

  3. I personally embrace the idea that even a fool can figure out there is no god. I'm not quite sure where that leaves believers.

  4. Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to send this reply to the author directly? Why attempt to publicly humiliate him? Did he he give permission to publish the exchange?

    Several people did respond to him directly, and their response was not subtle. His actions could potentially impact a lot of people in the atheist community, and not in a good way. For this reason alone, I think a public discussion of what he did is appropriate.

    As far as publicly humiliating him, how has anyone done this? His name isn't published here, so you won't know who he is unless he's dumb enough to actually file a lawsuit.

  5. Is there a chance the letter to ray was meant to be sarcastic? ray has been making his own threats of lawsuits over the Creationist Day bumper stickers, as well:

    I'm not saying this guy isn't for real, but could these threats be connected?

  6. Atheists don't need their bumper sticker to match the Muslims' teddy bear or Catholics' cracker.

    Those bumper stickers would actually be useful as an identifier of people to not be bothered with.

  7. Well that's unfortunate. Still, I find it remarkable that here on the atheist side we have no qualms about calling out our own on bullshit. You don't see that much on the other side since if you embrace the idea that the ends justify the means, then it's all good.

    I think Don's point is hilarious, btw.

  8. Juju,

    As Jen pointed out, we did respond directly. The writer's responses to those letters has been to repeat his silly claims that the sticker is somehow "false advertising" and therefore "illegal." Clearly his emotions have clouded his reason in this situation, and he has some weird personal stake in not just blowing the whole thing off.

    It's doubly foolish, because it's not as if atheists don't print up plenty of their own bumper stickers that Christians would find offensive as well. Again, there's nothing libelous or actionable about simply hurting someone's feelings.

    As for publicly humiliating the writer, well, that's his problem. Remember, out of respect for the man's privacy I have not revealed his name, so if anyone's publicly humiliating him, it's himself, by freely emailing lots of atheist groups boasting of his silly letter to Comfort. I do think it's important to discuss this kind of behavior publicly, because, while I expect such stupidity from theistic wingnuts (vide the excessive hysteria that has come in the wake of PZ's "Crackergate"), I hold atheists to higher standards of intellectual integrity.

  9. Martin blatantly tried to steal my thunder, but I'll be going ahead with the rant on this subject on Sunday. ;)

    I've had a continuing dialog with the individual (though that's probably not an accurate portrayal), during which he has claimed that the bumper sticker isn't opinion, it's a lie, it's false advertising and it's illegal.

    He also forwarded a congratulatory message from someone who is supposedly the head of another large atheist organization - as if an argument from authority would slip past me.

    He's demonstrating that, in his case, the bumper sticker is accurate.

  10. OMFG, nal, just when I thought it wasn't possible for my opinion of Patrick to drop any further.

    He sued Wal-Mart because one greeter said something he doesn't like? Does Wal-Mart need little warning stickers on the door saying "The opinions of the greeters do not reflect that of Wal-Mart"? It's like he's dying to make sure that big corporations assert even more draconian control over their employees than they do now.

  11. That's hilarious. Bravo, guys.

    Oh, and Matt, why do you always have to be such an asshole? You know, by calmly and succinctly explaining errors in people's thinking. You know, it's intolerant to not confirm someone's deeply held beliefs.

    Or that's what I'm regularly told anyway.

    But yeah, the bumper sticker is most certainly correct in this case, and it doesn't surprise me. I've been an atheist for years, and I've met loads of irrational ones. Which just goes to show you that fools compose the entire human spectrum: Atheist, Theist, Black, White, Swedish, or Norwegian, we're all just gobshites.

    If only someone had told the mystery writer.

    With threats of legal action against Ray, he's coming dangerously close to Pulling a Yomin™

  12. First, who here discusses their personal life, including details of their marriage and their positions on religion with cashiers? How does that come up?

    Cashier: Did you find everything ok today?
    Patrick: Yes, just like I found my honey bunny here. You know we've been married for 30 years and our marriage is based on atheism


    Second, how does one have a marriage based on atheism? I thought you base a marriage on love, compatibility, and those sorts of things. How do you base a marriage on doubting the validity of god claims?

    Third, how does this warrant suing Walmart?

  13. Hey, if we're going to quote scripture, Psalms 14 whatever is a late arrival!

    GOD's Very First Commandment:
    I. "Have no other gods before me!"

    1. God acknowledges that there are other gods, so much for monotheism!
    2. God commands us to have no other gods before him.

    I follow it faithfully.

    I have no gods before having any!

    Frish - Fearless Leader, LA Brights

  14. Oh well. So much for my plan of respecting the guy's privacy by letting him remain unnamed.

  15. Which is more than Ray Comfort did. Patrick Greene does not seem to be the kind of person who relishes his privacy.

    /OT: that Digg stuff really slows down the page loading.

  16. Ok then, point taken. :)

  17. Which is more than Ray Comfort did. Patrick Greene does not seem to be the kind of person who relishes his privacy.

    But of course. People with persecution complexes/fetishes don't stay anywhere near the closet. They're out and loud and proud and in everyone's face, so that if anyone says so much as "dude, could you tone it down?" they can scream "stop oppressing me!" and go off on how bad they've had it.

    I mean, we've all seen this with Christians, right? It may be slightly surprising to see it coming from an atheist, but the concept shouldn't be totally foreign.


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