Well, this is exciting. I’ve had a whole swarm of new followers and passers-by after my Bieber-blog was some kind of featured Thing Of The Day on WordPress. Huzzah! You’re all very welcome. I appreciate all the feedback – the general opinion in the comments seems to be that I was too easy on Bieber for being self-centred, which is certainly valid, but absolutely nobody declared that I’m worse than Hitler-AIDS for thinking what I did. So that’s very encouraging.
That post was a bit of an outlier, though. I’ve barely mentioned Justin Bieber before, and I don’t expect he’ll come up again anytime soon. Today, I’m getting back to one of the more consistent themes of this place. Feel free to continue joining in, or to quietly wander off again once you’ve realised what I’m actually like.
So, let’s recap the story so far:
God does not exist.
There, that pretty much covers it.
And as well as posting articles about this on my blog, sporadically but at length, I’ve recently been cultivating a new hobby: tweeting at people who are wrong on the internet and being nice to them.
The results to date have been mixed.
I’ve had some long conversations, some short ones. Some have been fun and felt kinda fruitful, some have just been frustrating. Some have taught me that holy balls, going round and round in endless futile circles trying to explain what scientists mean by the word “theory” is a really excellent test of patience.
But none of them has involved shouting. None of them has degenerated into a series of abusive epithets in all-caps. None of them has deviated irretrievably from the point into irrelevant personal matters. None of them has become bitter and spiteful.
None of them has been typical of what can happen to even quite moderate discussions between intelligent people of like mind, in other words. Particularly when you’re trying to cram your own nuanced opinion into 140 characters and don’t go out of your way to give the benefit of the doubt to someone else struggling to do the same.
The reason it hasn’t gone that way is fairly simple: I am in total control of exactly 50% of the conversation. I don’t want meanness, sniping, tribalism, and point-scoring to play any part in that 50%. So they don’t.
It’s a sort of experiment, once I decided I trusted myself not to get carried away and tell people what I actually think of them. I go trawling the Twitterscape for mentions of #atheists, say, find some people with whose opinions I take issue, and send them a message. Something I think they might understand, and be able to respond to in turn.
I don’t want to make them feel bad for what they think. I don’t want to try forcing my correctness on them (even though some of them are really, truly, crashingly wrong). There’s no point attempting to browbeat someone like that when a) you’re hoping they might change their mind in your favour, and b) you’re a few impotent pixels of text on a screen on their phone, easily ignored and dismissed with a casual flick of a thumb. If I try being like that, they’ll probably just call me a dick, and they may not be wrong. So I try to find a way to make a point that they’ll be able to absorb.
Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes I do a lot of swearing about how ridiculous these people are, but I do it in my brain and under my breath. Why would I also type it into the internet? We’re back to “me as total cock” territory there. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all. It’s very often the latter. (I very briefly attempted to engage with some of the crowd of lunatics who, apparently within minutes of hearing about the horrific explosions in Boston today, decided that atheists were responsible and Richard Dawkins has blood on his hands. I quickly realised this to be a Serious Mistake, and shouldn’t even have needed reminding of what a pointless endeavour it was. Still, no caps, and no calling anybody a fucking shitsack, so a moral victory.)
Sometimes it does work. At least, as much as such an experiment can possibly work. Some people have said they’ve enjoyed talking to me, after I’ve spent a while strongly disagreeing with them about everything that matters. Some people have given the impression of having heard a new perspective, and being given something new to think about. I haven’t deconverted any Christians yet, but how often does that happen in the course of a single conversation? That’s not the aim. The overall tone of the global conversation has shifted in some small way toward the positive. Which is about all I can do.
And sometimes people are just so wrong – about, say, to pick a topic not remotely at random, the Christian notion of Hell – that it gives me material for another lengthy bloggish ramble. Coming soon to a browser near you. (Possibly tomorrow. Watch this space.)