Monday 29 July 2013
DR TIM STANLEY IS A HISTORIAN OF THE UNITED STATES. HIS BIOGRAPHY OF PAT BUCHANAN IS OUT NOW. HIS PERSONAL WEBSITE IS WWW.TIMOTHYSTANLEY.CO.UKAND YOU CAN FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @TIMOTHY_STANLEY.
If we’re cracking down on Twitter abuse, can we include Richard Dawkins and the atheist trolls?
Richard Dawkins: a clever but horrible man
There’s a lot of talk at the moment about civilising Twitter – and it’s a conversation that we need to have. I’m not in favour of banning free speech, except when it’s an obvious incitement to violence, but there’s no denying that Twitter has become a bear pit. In the long run, that might not be an entirely bad thing. The invention of social media – an unregulated, semi-anonymous public space – has handed us a chance to explore what is and isn’t acceptable discourse in the Internet age. We’re in the process of building a new online etiquette, and it could teach us some self-discipline. We’re slowly learning that sticks and stones might break our bones, but words can hurt, too.
So this gives me an opportunity to flag up a particular kind of abuse that’s annoyed me for a long time: aggressive online atheism. Don’t get me wrong: this is in no way comparable to the terrible sexual abuse that has recently gained headlines. But it’s still amazing how people feel that they can casually mock the spiritual and emotional convictions of others – including Tweeting directly at believers that God doesn’t exist and they’re either liars or idiots for saying so. One man who does this with gay abandon is Richard Dawkins. Apparently Prof Dawkins is a genius who writes beautifully about chromosomes and cave men. Well, bully for him. But he’s a bully, nonetheless. A recent Tweet that caused a stir: “Don’t ask God to cure cancer & world poverty. He’s too busy finding you a parking space & fixing the weather for your barbecue.” Hilarious. Or on Islam: “Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Muhamed flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him as a serious journalist.” Of course, that’s the same New Statesman that invited Dick Dawkins to edit it for a week – so, yeah, its taste is questionable.
Prof Dawkins is only sending out Tweets rather than Tweeting directly at individuals – which makes him more of a passive aggressive bully than the full on shove-you-head-down-a-toilet variety. But there are plenty of the alpha male atheists around and I’ve had many come knocking at my Twitter feed. I don’t hate them, I don’t want them banned, and they certainly don’t make me want to boycott Twitter. But I would like them, and the Neanderthal Dawkins, to consider the following.
When you insult my faith you go right to the heart of what makes me me. When you’re trying to convince me in 140 characters of sub-GCSE philosophical abuse that God doesn’t exist, you’re trying to take away the faith that gets me up in the morning, gets me through the day and helps me sleep at night. You’re ridiculing a God without whom I suspect I might not even be alive, and a God that I prayed to when my mother was going through cancer therapy. You’re knocking a Church that provides me with compassion and friendship without asking for anything in return – perhaps the greatest, most wonderful discovery of my adult life. You see, people don’t generally believe in God for reasons of convenience or intellectual laziness. It’s usually fulfilling a deep need – filling a soul with love that might otherwise be quite empty and alone. In short, when you try to destroy someone’s faith you’re not being a brilliant logician. You’re being a jerk.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not calling for Dawkins or his ilk to be banned. I’m thick skinned and I can take the odd badly spelled Tweet telling me that I’m a simpleton. But if we are having a grown up conversation about what is and isn’t offensive, can we Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and All Of The Above be a part of it, too? Or is only liberal secularists who are allowed to take offence?
- ‘An illiterate disgrace’: Richard Dawkins writes scathing review of Amazon instruction manual (secularnewsdaily.com)
- Book Review: The God Delusion (anglophiletoad.wordpress.com)