Who Cares About Famous Atheists?

House MDI swear, the level of hero worship in atheism is just as bad as it is among theists.  If you watch Twitter for any length of time, you will see endless dripping praise for any well-known person who happens to be an atheist, or who makes any kind of non-religious statement, as though what someone says means jack shit with regard to the existence of a god.

Scads of pictures of Hitchens and Dawkins, Harris and Dennett scroll by with their pithy anti-religious sayings.  Perhaps worse yet are actors and actresses who are non-religious, but have absolutely zero expertise in anything even remotely related to religion, science, or anything but making believe on the big screen.  Why should their opinions about religion impress me?  But the absolute worst are the ones like I posted to the left, where they’re taking imaginary characters from TV and movies and ascribing an “expert” status on them!  These aren’t even real people!  Who cares what words were scripted to stick in their mouths?

If it wasn’t for throwing around tons of meaningless quotes, most atheists on Twitter wouldn’t have anything to do.  The problem is, a lot of them aren’t doing it to fill their time, they’re doing it specifically to piss off the opposition.  How do I know this?  The fact that all of these pithy little nonsense quotes are being forwarded on to specifically religious hashtags.  It isn’t for serious discussion or debate, it’s to piss people off.  This has a name.  Do you remember what that name is?  Yes, it’s trolling!

But don’t feel bad, the religious do the same damn thing back.  There are tons of theists posting absurd nonsense and copious amounts of religious quotes right back to the #atheism and #atheist hashtags.  Why?  Not because they want to discuss or debate their own positions, but because they want to anger atheists.  I can just imagine a bunch of immature Christians huddled in their mother’s basements giggling hysterically at their latest troll tweet, just as I can see immature atheists doing the same thing on our side of the wall.

You people all need to grow the hell up.

The reality is, throwing around quotes doesn’t prove anything  but your ability to cherry pick quotes.  Richard Dawkins’ scientific expertise cannot be distilled down to 140 characters, Christopher Hitchens’ wit and wisdom cannot be squashed down to a couple of keystrokes, neither the science nor the philosophy required to demonstrate the absurdity of religion is going to be exposed to the faithful in a handful of words and a picture.

I think it is important to engage theists on the actual issues and Twitter just isn’t the place to do it.  It has to be done in a place where you have room to present your evidence and where the other party can’t simply run away from the challenge.  Neither of those describe Twitter, or most places online.  As such, most atheists who are only too happy to throw around pithy quotes and absurd YouTube videos really aren’t participating in rational debate, they’re just trolling the opposition.

Aren’t we supposed to be above that?

5 thoughts on “Who Cares About Famous Atheists?

  1. I agree with your general thesis here, but have a few problems with some of your criticisms. First, unless and until atheist “hero worship” is on par with believing in a divine hero which is antithetical to atheism, that is a false equivalence. Not saying that atheists need to check themselves of this, but thinking that Hitchens was the shit is not on par with say…believing Jesus was the Song of god and died for all of our sins.

    Regarding the fictional character quotes: yeah, I’m with you there for the most part. If I were to give the benefit of the doubt here I could say that posting quotes from a fictional character points to a less than monolithic entertainment culture than some may think (i.e. not everything and everyone is religious), but I’m struggling to type that and take it seriously.

    I agree that atheists need more than someone else’s words and quotes should never be used as an argument. THAT is what the opposition does (“The Bible says…”). A quote being employed during a debate can be used to introduce a topic, a philosophical concept, or a criticism; but it should not be the meat of the debate.

    Atheists need more than other people’s words to even begin to enter a rational and productive debate (see: not trolling) with the religionists. However, I do not see sharing quotes—even when hashtagged as #Christianity for example—as trolling. Suddenly the term “trolling” and being called a “troll” has become generalized to be anyone saying anything anywhere that upsets someone else. That’s bullshit. A troll seeks to disrupt or derail a conversation solely for the sake of doing so or to provoke emotional responses. Posting a Robert Ingersoll quote that discusses Christianity and tagging it accurately is not trolling. Many of the negative reactions are due to the assumption by theists that their faith is deserving of respect. It is not.

    Quotes, whether you like them or not, can serve to inspire or shock people into thinking who have not thought about a particular subject a certain way. Sometimes people, maybe even famous people, say something that challenges the current paradigm. Recently I posted a quote by Penn Jillette on the Left Hemispheres Facebook page and someone made the comment “Never thought of it that way before…” That is the best reaction I could ever hope for. In anything.

    1. I agree with a lot of that, my point was that atheists were thinking that a point was great, just because it was said by someone well known. Twitter has become a forum for debating by quotation, anything by any of the "respected" atheists suddenly defeats any other argument, simply because someone "respected" said it. I've always thought and taught that it isn't who said a thing, it's what they said that matters. Just because Hitchens or Ingersol or Einstein said it doesn't make it true or valid or worthwhile, we have to look at what is being said, whether it's actually true, and actually argue the details rather than just tossing around quotes. While a quote can make you think, far too many people stop right there and never get to the heart of the matter.

  2. Well, i agree and disagree with you in this one. On one hand, yes, absolutely, Twitter is THE worst place to try to engage in a debate. In fact, i hate the whole Twitter subculture and keep myself as away from it as humanly possible. And, yes, using a quote from a fictitious character to make a valid point in your argument is idiotic and automatically self defeating. As a point of rhetoric, to try to being somewhat ironic about a point in a discussion, I think is admissible from time to time (it should be used wisely and sparsely, though). But never as a cornerstone of your position in a debate. That would be ridiculous to do.

    On the other hand, I do use memes constantly in my Facebook page precisely as a rhetoric weapon (and the usual suspects mentioned by you do appear from time to time). Using irony and humor to ilustrate a point – as well as a bit of wisdom from more discipline, educated minds than mine – I think is a valid tool. I try to be as un-trolling as possible ( and sometimes I fail, admittedly, and let myself carried away) with these memes and at the same time, I try to explained my point as best as I can given the space. Facebook is definitely better than Twitter in this respect, although not by much. However, as a starting point for more thorough and rewarding conversations, trough chat or emails, with people in both sides of the divide, I found this tactic to be quite effective.

    Now, all of this is in the context of putting myself and my worldview out there. Not to consciously trolling anybody and not because the mere posting of things regarding atheism and freethinking opinions, and expecting a counterview to them given their polemic nature, can be considered trolling (much less a debate) in and of itself. That´s clearly not the case. At least, not to me. I'm an introvert person and, because of that, quite reserved. Many people close to me didn't knew what my position was in terms of religion and being of latinoamerican descent, the religious quotient between my friends and relatives is high (hence, the appealing to faith in my social feed are also high). Now i could be wrong in my position, but this – to me- is as good as any other way to make my position clear.

    Thanks to keeping this blog. Is always worth reading. Cheers.

    1. I agree with a lot of what you said, I suppose what bothers me the most about throwing around quotes is that so many people really have no understanding of the subject matter beyond the quote mining. They don't understand what they're debating, but so long as they can come up with a pithy quote from someone well-known, they figure they're winning the debate. Instead of learning the subject matter and having one's own ideas, they rely solely on what others think.

      Come on people, there's no substitute for your own expertise.

      1. Your are quite right regarding throwing around quotes ignoring the context and not being clear about the issues. I had recently an experience with some mexican atheists facebook pages, where i was in shock to discover that the venom and the irrationality could be just as shameful as the theist´s. I retreat from those pages in disgust. They where perfectly happy to vilified and insult everything and everyone relating with religion, with little to nothing in terms of rational argument backing them up. And invariably, every exchange ended quickly in ad hominems and crude puns. Of course, I cant make a crude generalization on the whole mexican atheist movement exclusively on this one experience (admittedly, i did find bright voices in the general noise), but it was quite disappointing nonetheless. It was all pretty childish.

        The last line about "your own expertise" is beatiful. It resonates with me precisely because i spent a good chunk of my life in denial. Being agnostic out of – I think – misplace respect for my family´s believes. I didn´t want to be confrontational and alienate my love ones, so I play the agnostic game. As a result, in an unconscious – but nevertheless, deliberate way (if that make sense) – I keep away from looking to the issues head on. I look away from the negative aspects of religion, choosing not to peel the paint of respectability. Consequently, i became ignorant about the whole thing. And I live that way for years. So when I woke up of this slumber, I had to learn and relearn a whole lot of things, just in order to reevaluate my position. In that process, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris & Dennet (my so call usual suspects) were instrumental in my process of awakening. I never stop reading, though. Because, obviously, the point is to get your own conclusions. So in that sense my "honeymoon" with their thesis is over. I still respect those guys enormously (they represent exactly how i feel about religion, after all, and that is why I use their quotes) but nowadays – I think – I can make my own case, in my own words.

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