The Raving Theist

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Just Silly?

December 5, 2006 | 27 Comments

Discussing the case of the Portland atheist expelled from art school for questioning a fellow student’s belief in leprechauns, Shelley of Just Shelley (in the comment section of Pharyngula) opined that the guy was just a bully who deserved what he got. “I don’t have a lot of sympathy for anyone who aggressively pushes ANY belief on others, and that includes atheists,” she concluded.

This led to a general questioning of Shelley’s atheistic bona fides. Ultimately she confessed that “I don’t believe in a God, I don’t not believe in a God, I frankly don’t care.” Further controversy ensued, some of it focused on whether the law of the excluded middle precluded Shelley’s “don’t believe/don’t not believe” posture (atheist luminary Austin Cline weighed in on that particular question). Martin Wisse of Wis[s]e Words eventually took the discussion in a sociological direction:

The great white elephant in this thread: gender. Shelley started by setting out her position, somebody asserted that no, she was an atheist, she explained why she didn’t call herself that, more people piled in with why she’s WRONG without listening to her arguments, people started to congratulate themselves for how clearheaded they were and she wasn’t, Shelley got angry and in response got labeled “stupid” and “an asshole” and all but hysterical.

It’s an unfortunately typical downwards spiral in online discussions in a largely male context when some female poster disagrees with the status quo.

It doesn’t help that the alpha male here, PZ his own bad self, does nothing to correct the more egregious assholes but instead piles in on Shelley.

Wisse elaborated on these thoughts at his blog, with Shelley concurring at hers.

For my part, I neither agree nor don’t not agree with Shelley and Wisse. On the one hand, rude atheistic bullying was perfected by Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Ayn Rand so it’s hardly a male invention. On the other hand, some men do assume an intellectually patronizing and belittling attitude towards women out of motives not completely related to being correct about the topic under discussion.

But the real elephant in the thread was how no one ever picked up on Wisse’s misuse of “white elephant,” which refers to a kind of sale. An unspoken but obvious truth is just a plain old elephant in the room, not a white one. Although a “white” elephant is occasionally invoked to make a clever point about the role of the race issue in politics, the only color used in other contexts — to emphasize the animal’s conspicuity–is pink. Unless it’s a unicorn, in which case it’s invisible.


27 Responses to “Just Silly?”

  1. nekouken
    December 5th, 2006 @ 11:52 pm

    Actually, “white elephant” is a term that refers to a gift the upkeep of which exceeds its usefulness. It comes from the East Asian albino elephant, which Indian monarchs would keep as pets and gift to particularly esteemed servants. The trouble with them was that they could not be used as transportation, beast of burden or any other useful purpose, nor could they be neglected, regifted, killed or otherwise removed from the new owner’s care — essentially recieving a white elephant was an inadvertent punishment.

    His metaphor was mixed, to be sure, but your correction was woefully incorrect — the white elephant sale is nothing more than a whimsical, self-parodying reference to the East Asian white elephant.

    Also, the mixed metaphor wasn’t the elephant in the thread — your analysis was fine until you brought it up.

  2. Kate B.
    December 6th, 2006 @ 9:55 am

    “I neither agree nor don’t not agree with …”


  3. Martin Wisse
    December 6th, 2006 @ 12:34 pm


    That’ll teach me not to review a comment made in haste when using it as the base for a blogpost…

  4. The Exterminator
    December 6th, 2006 @ 4:27 pm

    Perhaps the white elephant everyone is referring to is the one that was Stolen in the Mark Twain story. And, by the way, pink elephants are conspicuous only to those who are conspicuously drunk.

    All kidding aside, the mammoth blogosphere is gender-neutral, as is rudeness. The only difference between rude atheists and rude believers is that we don’t justify our behavior by quoting biblical verses.

    The serious question raised by the student versus leprechaun story is: When does “assertive” become “rude”? This has been dealt with ad nauseam on atheist blogs everywhere, but it’s still an interesting question. In our society, religious zealots are committed, but atheists are offensive.

    My solution is to suggest to an arguing/debating believer that HE OR SHE is being rude. As in, “Why are you so rude as to keep hammering me with your beliefs when I obviously think they’re ridiculous.”

  5. sam
    December 7th, 2006 @ 8:46 am

    When are women going to get off this FEMENISM
    reverse chauvinism.

    When guys are rude with a woman for her views
    they would be equally rude with a man who holds
    the same views.

    I am a man, and when it comes to philosophical
    and other discussions, I do not care or even
    pay attention to the gender of the people I am
    debating with.

    If a guy or woman is rude to me I do not start
    accusing them of being abusive ONLY because
    I am a man. SO WHY DO WOMEN ALWAYS invoke
    this gender stuff.

    It is the 21st century, it is time that women stop
    asking for special treatment for being women.

    We are equal, and just because you are women
    does not make you More Equal.

    When guys are rude to you, be rude back, and
    hold up your end of the discussion and do not
    start shouting I AM A WOMAN you have to treat
    me with special gloves.

    If you do, then YOU WOMEN ARE perpetuating
    the Gender diffrentiation.

    I am guessing that to many women the extra
    privilages they get from that kind of reverse
    chauvinism is hard to resist.

  6. Thorngod
    December 7th, 2006 @ 9:57 am

    Different is never equal! Though in general I agree with you.

  7. Snakefish
    December 8th, 2006 @ 12:27 am

    Does it work the same for black people? Or are they allowed to have the specail gloves.

    “Why’d you pull me over? BECAUSE I’M BLACK?!?!”

    “… No, because you were driving 90 in a 45 zone at 3 o’clock in the afternoon while weaving on both sides of the road.”

    “THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT! Just because I’M BLACK.”

  8. sam
    December 8th, 2006 @ 1:19 am

    When I say “equal”, I mean equal in importance and

    We can be different in abilities and views and biological
    attributes but we are EQUAL IN VALUE.

    But also when it comes to academic discussions and
    pursuits, men and women ARE equal.

    Verbal wrangling is not a wrestling match!
    Women can hold their end with extreme ability.

  9. Thorngod
    December 8th, 2006 @ 8:37 am

    I was sure you saw those distinctions. Some people don’t.

  10. Thorngod
    December 8th, 2006 @ 4:23 pm

    I heard a few days ago that the number of blog sites is now so enormous that the average number of bloggers per site is 1. It appears that this site is closing in on the average.

  11. miles hendon
    December 9th, 2006 @ 3:12 pm

    I find it interesting that no one else has done in this thread of comments what Im about to do: make fun of idiots who believe in leprachans.

    Can you “EFFING” believe ANYONE on earth actually believes in little men with magical powers with a pot of gold that can cast spells actually exist? Yup, it must be art school. Lemme see, I just bet the guy in question has bangs of hair (colored jet black, or if his hair is black, has brunette highlights on the ends of the bands) hanging in his face, uses eyeliner, puts on white base make-up, has no muscle tone whatsoever, wears shirts with pictures of unicorns on them. And will never contribute to society in any meaningful way until he is well into his thirties. What in the hell have we done to our youth? I cannot believe how wimpy and effiminized the white boys are getting to be especially.

    Maybe he also believes in Unicorns, fairies, magic spells, witches (white good ones and dark bad ones), warlocks, sorcerers, vampires, wolf-men, dissapearing people, aliens, and sacred groves. Public education…………doin’ its job.

  12. Aric Clark
    December 9th, 2006 @ 3:24 pm

    From a sociological perspective it is simply untrue to say that racial and gender inequalities are not a pervasive reality in all social interactions. Every single situation has an inherent power dynamic which the different parties are acting into or out of largely subconsciously. It is only ignorance that allows one to say ‘I make no distinctions when dealing with people different from myself’. The truth is we may try to treat others with something approximating equality, but our own responses are being subtly shaped by the cultural expectations that have been trained into us.

    This does not mean, of course, that these inequalities themselves exhaustively explain all interactions. Of course, the black man you referred to being pulled over may have been really breaking a law, but study after study after study has also shown that racial profiling is a reality. Black men and women simply ARE more likely to get pulled over for committing the same offense as a white person or even when not committing any offense at all.

    The same is true with women in various ways. We would be arrogant and foolish to completely dismiss the role these power dynamics might play in our actions.

    Of course, this all takes a strange twist on the internet when one can easily hold long debates with someone without knowing anything about their gender or ethnic background. Even in those instances however it has been shown in studies that people are usually operating with unconscious assumptions about the gender and race of the person they are interacting with based on subtle clues in the text. These assumptions are often totally wrong and yet they still color our responses. Even more concrete proof that we are always adjusting our perceptions of people and judging them not based on their arguments or logic, but based on who we assume they are.

    I do not suggest these dynamics are totally determinative, but they are omnipresent and they should therefore be taken seriously.

  13. ShadowofGod
    December 9th, 2006 @ 9:56 pm

    @miles hendon

    the leprechanist was a girl, not a guy. You could have read the entire article and posts in half the time it took you to formulate your witless stereotyping.

    I’d like to see how she looks like, just to compare it with my mental picture. I’m imagining vacant eyes above a mouth spewing half-intelligible prattle(leprechauns and string theory, WTF??). The culmination of proof against natural selection and Darwin, she munches on her leftover tofurkey while mending her shattered aura from deep purple and cockroach brown to canary yellow and sky blue, from having inadvertently stepped on grass earlier that day on her way to her astrologist/medium and induced bad karma from countless living being she injured or expired. How would i feel if it were me who was reborn as an ant and stepped on, she “thinks” sadly. I must have been an atheist in my past life to induce such a sad fate. Then again, mars is in the seventh house, in conjunction with Neptune and the sun. This must be what Mother Babalorixa (astrologist/medium/psychic/irish) meant when she said the something would happen somewhere at sometime today! It was preordained!

  14. sam
    December 11th, 2006 @ 7:13 am

    Aric Clark said:
    “Even more concrete proof that we are always adjusting our
    perceptions of people and judging them not based on their
    arguments or logic, but based on who we assume they are.”

    Well, does that not include a woman shouting “male

    A woman claiming that a man is verbally abusive
    because she is a woman is based upon that woman’s
    perception that he is a man and therefore a chauvinist.

    The man may have had no such tendencies and was
    only abusive due to the argument content.

    Also she was accusing ALL of the men on the sight
    of the same chauvinism including the sight administrator.
    Does that sound a little bit on the paranoid side, or maybe
    if not paranoid, PREJUDICED.

    If every time we argue with someone we have
    to bendover backwords to curb the language we use
    then we might as well not have any discussion whatsoever.

    I am thinking that is exactly what’s happening anyway.

    Intelligent inquiry and research are rapidly becoming
    a thing of the past.

    Benighted people are winning because we cannot
    tell them that they are Morons, it is not P.C.

    When even the universities of a country stop students
    from discussions then the subsequent degeneration
    of all knowledge is not far off.

    That is how we start ideas like “Intelligent Design”, and
    try to pass it off as a scientific theory on par with evolution.

    To quote Soth Park “Science help us all” …… :-O

  15. Thorngod
    December 11th, 2006 @ 10:51 am

    I’m wit yo, Sam.

  16. Aric Clark
    December 11th, 2006 @ 3:00 pm

    Of course the issue of assumptions based on gender roles and race apply in the case of a woman saying “chauvinist!”. However, it simply is the case that we live in a patriarchal culture and so the accusation of chauvinism is a bit more credible then the accusation of reverse chauvinism. This doesn’t mean that we should all jump and panic whenever a woman declares that she has been mistreated, but we ought to take her seriously and if, in our opinion, she has not been mistreated then we calmly suggest that she might be mistaken.

    I don’t see any credible evidence that intelligent inquiry is becoming a thing of the past. Indeed some of the most intelligent and incisive inquiry in the social sciences at least is being done by feminists.

    And it is misleading rhetoric to suggest that you are being asked to bend over backwards to curb your language. There is no excuse for being abusive and it certainly doesn’t pass for intelligent inquiry. It is perfectly possible to be critical and argumentative without being rude or chauvinistic. Your words suggest you are more interested in haranguing people you disagree with than genuine debate.

  17. Aric Clark
    December 11th, 2006 @ 3:02 pm

    Forgive me. That last comment was addressed to Sam.

  18. sam
    December 12th, 2006 @ 1:57 am

    People who resort to abuse to overwhelm their interlocutor
    are stupid, and aggressive. BUT, not by default chauvinists
    because they happen to be men.

    If Shelly accused them of being unintelligent, I would
    agree with her, but she accused them of being abusive,
    not due to lack of civility or intelligence, but due to the
    fact that she is a woman, and they are men.

    That is what I am objecting to.

    Arick Clark, it seems to me that YOU are the one who
    is making things personal here not me. I am still
    commenting on a social phenomenon that concerns
    many people. I did not infer things about you
    or put words in your mouth, but you are doing that to me.

    When I say curb our words, it does not mean I am advocating
    Verbal abuse. We all know that there is no modern book
    that does not have some sort of “she/he” construction or at
    least an APOLOGY for why the author prefers to use “he” alone.

    Arick Clark said:
    “Your words suggest you are more interested in haranguing
    people you disagree with than genuine debate.”

    Well Arick, I am being harangued by you right now due to your
    assumptions about my intentions and your pre-conceived ideas.
    Should I assume that you are doing this because I am a man
    and you do not like men?????

    Notice that YOU are the one who is degenerating this debate
    into personal attacks. PLEASE STOP IT !

  19. sam
    December 12th, 2006 @ 2:49 am

    Arick Clark said:
    “However, it simply is the case that we live in a patriarchal
    culture ”

    Well Arick, who do we have to thank for that???????
    You claim to be a preacher on your web site.
    A preacher of what religion?

    Europe and europeans, before the virus of Christianity
    infected our societies, were not patriarchal societies.
    On the contrary Godesses and Female cults were the
    more common religions.

    Aric Clark said:
    “Indeed some of the most intelligent and incisive inquiry
    in the social sciences at least is being done by feminists.”

    I am glad that PREACHERS are not able to do their
    job ANY MORE, and that is why women are able to contribute
    to our society AGAIN.

    If preachers STILL had their way you would have never been able to make your above comment.
    (see the quote from 1 Timothy 2:12 below)

    If you are a preacher of christianity then READ YOUR
    BIBLE, here are a few quotations:

    1 Corinthians 11:3 (KJV) But I would have you know, that
    the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the
    woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

    1 Corinthians 11:7 (KJV) For a man indeed ought not to
    cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and
    glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

    1 Corinthians 11:9 (KJV) Neither was the man created for
    the woman; but the woman for the man.

    1 Timothy 2:11 (KJV) Let the woman learn in silence with all

    1 Timothy 2:12 (KJV) But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor
    to usurp authority over the man, but to be in

  20. Aric Clark
    December 12th, 2006 @ 5:43 pm


    In the first instance my apologies that my comment came across as a personal attack. These forums are really not the best medium for contentious debate precisely because of the frequency and ease with which miscommunication occurs. I should be more circumspect in my words to attempt and avoid that.

    My point was merely that your rhetoric struck me as making little distinction between meaningful critique and verbal abuse. A tactical move usually made to obscure the individual’s intention to be overly aggressive behind obstensibly legitimate debate. In any case, you seem to think you understand the distinction so I’ll let the point lie.

    You’ve taken the conversation on an interesting diversion which I don’t think is really inside the scope of these comment threads. I welcome a discussion with you about Biblical hermeneutics and the sins of the church. Please come and comment at my blog and I will provide you my email address if you genuinely wish to hear my views on this. Suffice to say I have in fact read the Bible many times and as you well know it is perfectly possible to belong within a tradition or culture and yet remain critical of it. I do not see the preachers role the same way you do and I think you espouse some gross generalizations that have truth in them, but are nevertheless flawed.

    On the root issue – that of the role of Chauvinism in Shelley’s debacle over at Pharyngula, you and I don’t seem to disagree as much as it first appeared. You see reverse chauvinism behind Shelley’s assumption that the abuse she received was because she was a woman and believe that the feminist movement has strained politically correct language to the point where it becomes difficult to talk plainly for fear of giving offense. I think we need to take complaints like Shelley’s seriously because chauvinism is such a present reality, though I don’t disagree that in this particular instance it doesn’t seem like the primary factor, and I think that it is possible to be both polite and disagree at the same time. It seems more a difference of degree than kind.

  21. Cthulance
    December 12th, 2006 @ 11:48 pm

    Blog whores eagerly awaiting comments in their off-site blogs… I can’t wait for the next entry in this dead place. I just can’t wait! Literally.

  22. sam
    December 13th, 2006 @ 6:15 am

    I am going to assume that you are more sincere with
    your apology than your comment below implies, and
    thus apology accepted.

    Aric Clark said”
    “you seem to think you understand the distinction”

    I do not “THINK” that I understand the difference
    I DO understand it.

    Aric Clark said:
    “I welcome a discussion with you about Biblical hermeneutics
    and the sins of the church. Please come and comment at my blog”

    No thanks Aric, I think it is a futile pursuit to discuss religion
    with people who say:
    “belong within a tradition or culture and yet remain critical of it”

    Richard Dawkins has written many books that address
    every hackneyed issue and response you and I might argue about.

    Read any of them if you are brave enough.

    You cannot “Pick And Choose” the bits of the Bible that happen
    to be NOT OUT OF FASHION these days and still call yourself
    a Christian. Start a new religion if you must, but do not
    defraud christianity by making the Bible Politically Correct (P.C.).

    The church has a history of burning people alive for doing
    exactly that in bygone ages. If they had the power to do it
    again they would, as evidenced by the Bush doctrine, and the
    resurgence of Evangelical Power in the USA.

  23. beepbeepitsme
    December 13th, 2006 @ 7:17 am

    Why was the assumption made that people were rude to her BECAUSE she was female?

  24. Aric Clark
    December 13th, 2006 @ 3:55 pm

    I’ve read the God Delusion by Dawkins and some of Sam Harris’ work as well. I find them unconvincing. It is easy to attack and dismantle a caricature of the religion you start out uncritically despising. It is much more difficult to engage with honest people of faith as though they might actually be people of intelligence and not at least nuance your position a bit.

    I of course have no problem with you or anyone else being atheist and I’ve no interest in trying to convince you to agree with me. I come to sites like this, because occasionally I encounter people of genuine insight with viewpoints different from mine and they enrich my worldview. Often I also just get attacked by idiots who are just as insecure and rigid in their beliefs as fundamentalist Christians and therefore threatened by a person who comes from a different perspective without also being illiterate and close-minded.

    You are wrong about Biblical Hermeneutics in general. It is not a matter of “picking and choosing” texts that support your position as if the Bible were some kind of oracle with every verse having a plain meaning clear even when taken out of context or without being read in the original language or engaging with the historical circumstances of the text… Please. You act like philologists and theologians read the book like it’s “See Dick Run” or something. That is the same kind of immature reading that the evangelical Christians you despise would give – who by no means represent the dominant historical approach to scriptural interpretation.

    You think there’s no point talking to me. That’s fine. I remain open to any conversation you’d like to have, on your terms.

  25. Godthorn
    December 13th, 2006 @ 11:20 pm

    Hermeneutics be damned! The only things that can possibly be revealed by scriptural interpretation are who exactly said what, where and when they said it, why they said it and what they meant by it. No further truth will be revealed thereby. There are no Spinozas among the personages in the Bible; there is no Descarte nor Leibniz among them even. The Big Question is not answered therein. And the fact that fundamentalists, by and large, are a little closer to insanity than Catholics and Presbyterians does not vindicate the more scholarly and sophisticated beliefs of the latter. The religious belief of an Aric Clark, a C.E. Lewis or a Teilhard de Chardin is no more credible than that of a Borneo headhunter who worships a big rock. All are equally nonsensical.

  26. Aric Clark
    December 14th, 2006 @ 4:51 pm

    Actually Godthorn, what you’ve just done is reveal your own hermeneutic. If you start beforehand with the presupposition that the only truth that is possible is the one you’ve described, sure enough, that will be the only truth you will find or accept. If you decide a priori that all religious belief is equally nonsensical than that will be the only answer you acknowledge. It has nothing to do with objective truth or reality and it’s a thoroughly unscientific way of approaching the topic. You’re welcome to your blind faith, I hope it comforts you.

  27. Godthorn
    December 14th, 2006 @ 11:06 pm

    A posteriori, my friend; over half a century of reading, thinking and observation. If there is one religious claim that is tenable, I have yet to encounter it. Write onto separate pages each of the major beliefs and features of every religion you can inquire into, including those of the Amazonian and New Guinian jungles tribes, and the Bushmen and the Hottentot, shuffle them well and fire them into the heavens, and any denizen of Tau Ceti or Ootihoiti or other extraterrestrial locale who happens onto them and can decipher them will be unable to distinguish the “sophisticated” religious beliefs from the “primitive” ones, and he will label all with the big “S.”
    (Multiple choice: Shit or Superstition.)

    Is that scientific enough?

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