Delusion & Moderation

OK, I’ve got a new moderation rule here at the old blog.  I probably don’t have to say this since most of the folks who comment here are decent, civil people of a pleasant and respectful demeanor.  I have no problems with people questioning each other’s belief systems, as long as people conduct the discussion in a polite, civil fashion.  In the spirit of this statement, I will in no way tolerate one person dismissing another person as delusional.  This is a tactic used by some atheists in denigrating their opponents during a discussion.  It seems to have become popular since the publication of Richard Dawkin’s book The God Delusion.  In the tradition of “monkey see, monkey do” some theists are now using this tactic as well.  I consider this to be a personal attack and will moderate any comment containing this kind of language.

I realize that some people will dismiss this new rule as a “politically correct” restriction of intellectual debate.  Tough crackers.  There are plenty of ways to tell another person that you feel they are mistaken without insulting them.  If you feel particularly attached to using this kind of verbiage, there are many venues where you are free to do so.  My blog is not one of them.

That is all.

Edited to add:

It also occurs to me that using the terms delusion and delusional is an attempt to employ the social stigma surrounding mental illness as a means of denigrating another person in a discussion.  This is a manifestation of prejudice against people who suffer from mental illness and is yet another reason why I will not tolerate this kind of language in this blog space.  As with any words that employ prejudice as an epithet, I deplore such language.

You will be warned only once.  Persisting in using this language will result in being permanently banned from participating in commenting.

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~ by timberwraith on January 2, 2011.

18 Responses to “Delusion & Moderation”

  1. Sounds like an excellent policy to me. And happy new year!

  2. Hey Rachel! Happy new year to you as well!

    Yeah, I actually had an obnoxious person at an atheist blog brand me as “delusional” during a recent internet discussion. There’s nothing like personal experience to bring the reality of shitty behavior into view.

    I also think that Dawkins should be called out for employing the very same stigma. There’s nothing like trying to make your point via prejudice against another group. It’s a very old and widely employed tradition.

  3. I finished reading “The God Delusion” about a week ago. Did you read the book?

  4. In Dawkins’ defence, he did write an entire book defending the proposition. The same is not true of most people, atheist or religious, who casually throw the word around in blog comments.

    While I wouldn’t take this approach to moderation myself, I don’t think the restriction will have any real ill effect on the debate and I can certainly understand why one might consider the word to do more harm than good in this context. I think it’s reaching to connect this to prejudice against the mentally ill, but I also think your initial justification was strong enough on its own.

  5. Beforewisdom, I’ve heard Dawkins speak on several occasions. I don’t particularly like his attitude. In fact, I generally dislike the abrasive, evangelistic approach of at least three of the “four horsemen” who have written books that have been so influential in what folks now call “new atheism” or “gnu atheism.” Consequently, I’m loath to toss money their way. If I decide that I can stomach reading him, I might consider getting Dawkins’ book at the library.

  6. Thekeyofatheist, consider the difference between the titles “The God Myth” and “The God Delusion.” Both titles are provocative and both convey the idea that the notion of God is not bound in reality. However, the latter title is far more cutting because it implies that the bearer of the belief is psychologically damaged. It grabs people’s attention because it automatically associates the specter of mental illness with a belief system. Consequently, the phrase not only diminishes the beliefs of theists but also diminishes theists themselves. Were it not for the negative image people commonly associate with those who are mentally ill, the use of the word “delusion” would have far less emotional impact.

    Every time a non-believer uses this terminology when challenging an opponent, these assumptions are accessed because they are embedded in common cultural prejudices.

    When a movement begins to use language that calls upon cultural assumptions surrounding a group of people who are treated as lesser than, this language is designed to diminish the full personhood of its opponents. It is used to re-designate its adversaries as the other.

    Right now, people still use the term gay to describe someone who is seen as stupid or gauche. People still describe men and boys who do not measure up to common assumptions surrounding masculinity as girls, ladies, or women. It’s a very similar process and is designed to use the negative social status of the group referenced by such language to exert social pressure over the targeted person or group.

  7. By the way, this quote pretty much epitomizes why I dislike Dawkins:

    Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.

    You might say that two can play at that game. Suppose the religious start treating us with naked contempt, how would we like it? I think the answer is that there is a real asymmetry here. We have so much more to be contemptuous about! And we are so much better at it.

    (Quote found via Gurdur’s blog, Stranger In An Even Stranger Land)

    If people want to reduce discourse to this level, I certainly can’t stop them. However, I refuse to participate in this immature, bullying behavior.

  8. Ah ha. I actually have read a few chapter’s of Dawkin’s book. Yesterday, I had a memory of reading some new atheist book that I found sitting on a night stand in the bedroom where I was house sitting several years ago. I thought it was Dawkin’s book, but when I checked Amazon.com, yesterday, the publication date was far too recent. I checked Wikipedia today and realized the actual publication date is 2006, which is about the time when I did that house sitting.

    I remember that my overall impression was, “It’s very readable, but there’s not much new here.” Obviously, it wasn’t that memorable because I didn’t bother buying the book and several years later, I had to think really hard to realize that it was Dawkin’s book.

    It’s now four years later and I have a far more diverse understanding of religion than I did in the not so distant past. Four years ago, I probably could have read The God Delusion in its entirety and thought nothing of it. Now, I’d rather read a book that examines and critiques religion in a more balanced, academic way without derogatory references to people’s mental health. In fact, I’d like to find a book that gives an honest appraisal of both the good and bad of world religions and how they have influenced cultures across the world throughout history. There are now plenty of books that fluff up non-believers feathers and portray religious people as dangerous, dim minded dolts. I’d like to read something that takes a different approach, preferably a book that finds some way of starting from neutral ground.

  9. Perfectly reasonable policy.
    My first thought was, “delusional” is a marginally more polite way of calling someone “crazy.” Then on reflection I realized it’s arguably worse, because “crazy” is a plain word that anyone might toss off in a moment of excitement, while “delusional” creates a patronizing pretext of scientific authority… Then I saw your update, which also raises an important issue…
    If/when my own humble blog begins to attract enough traffic to require its own rules, I think I’d try to draw the line somwehere between attacking an idea and attacking the person holding it…

  10. Timberwraithe;

    I actually finished reading the book “The God Delusion” about two weeks ago. I thought it started off with a negative tone, despite Dawkins devoting an entire chapter to stating that was not his intent.

    Things is, once you get past that, the book is fascinating in that it makes you see how religion gets many unfair advantages and causes many problems. I’ve been an atheist since I was 18, so I was shocked that I didn’t see these things. It makes for very, very interesting reading.

    But back to the point, once you see those “new” imbalances, you can understand ( not the same as endorsing ) why an atheist would be angry.

    Dawkins book was deep. I don’t think the web board atheists you are complaining about are coming from there. In my experience web board jockeys and *some* atheists come from a place of pumping up their ego by making sophomoric observations.

    You’ve been on the web a long time, you know what I mean.

    Apart from the web board crowd most ( not all ) atheists are either going to be a part of that sophomoric self congratulatory antagonistic group -OR- they are just not going to care enough to make ANY comments.

    You are getting into rediscovering Christianity and you are offended you aren’t getting any love for it from the sophomoric web board crowd. Are you really surprised at that?

    No matter what you get into there will be people who will criticize and people who will give you a thumbs up. That will never change. Getting angry at the people who criticize is tilting at windmills.

    Wouldn’t you rather use your time for something gratifying?

  11. I would like to ask people to consider separating the use of the word “delusional” as a literal term from the use of it as a pejorative and reserve judgment of how Dawkins uses it until they have read his book with that word in the title. No disrespect to anyone, you really can’t judge a book until you have read it.

    I stopped reading reading “The God Delusion” several times, only to be surprised at having to update my opinion of it once I picked it up again.

  12. TR;

    It is your blog, your ball, your call. IMO it isn’t much to ask people not to be intentionally insulting.

  13. You are getting into rediscovering Christianity and you are offended you aren’t getting any love for it from the sophomoric web board crowd. Are you really surprised at that?

    I’m not exactly rediscovering Christianity, certainly not in the sense of becoming an adherent. I’m simply learning that the religion includes a wide latitude of belief systems and approaches, some variations of which are humane and caring, as opposed to the rather distorted, mediocre version that damaged me as a child.

    In spite of that damage, I’m not much on dismissing an entire group of people as defective and beneath contempt. So, it helps to recognize that a diversity of people exists within a group and that they too contain a fair chunk of decent folk who are actually quite sane, regardless of what folks think of a belief in a deity.

    As far as “reclaiming” the word delusional. Absolutely not, and I believe I’ve done an adequate job of explaining why in this post and comment thread.

    As far as atheists on the web are concerned, yes I’m aware that a number of boisterous, immature individuals are drawn to the web. However, as with the fundamentalist part of Christianity, it’s the noisier, more annoying part of a demographic that gets the most attention and creates the publicly visible face of the movement. Before the internet, there was the news media and its never ending search for controversial voices. Nothing attracts attention like hard core idiocy. I’m doing what I can with my tiny little blog to counter that idiocy.

    Btw, if you check out the blog listing in my side bar, you’ll find a number of mellower, level headed non-believers and believers. I’m well aware that a spectrum of people exist on all sides of these issues, believer and non-believer alike.

    It’s not my goal to run religion out of town, guns a blazing. What I’m seeking is reform of religion and spiritual traditions rather than eradication. Yes, I am aware that in the US, Christianity has a lot of social privilege over other belief systems. Although, there’s evidence that this will start to shift over the coming decades with each new generation of young people. There’s a clear trend across the decades that the young are seeking greater degrees of secularism and expressing a tendency to practice spirituality in a way that exists independently of organized religion.

    I think the important thing that many atheists fail to realize is that it’s going to be nearly impossible to eradicate the impulse toward “spiritual thinking.” Even if you look at the statistics of highly secular Europe, there’s still a large majority of people who either believe in a god or believe in a “life force” of some kind. Religion is declining, but the impulse to see the world through a non-materialist lens is still there. That’s one of the reasons why I think reform is more realistic than eradication.

  14. Oh, and just for the record, trollish language is by no means limited to angry, disagreeable people on the internet. Atheists in the real world have billboards for that purpose.

    Again, someone has to counter the public face these people are putting forth. Goodness knows, atheists have spent a bit of verbiage complaining that calmer, less radical religious people do not put forth enough effort in calling out fundamentalist members of their religion.

  15. Thought I’d let you know that my experiences and reactions, reading the same book, were a parallel of yours–except that, alas, I bought my copy new. My view, when it comes to atheism–as anything else–is that I prefer to read people who’re sincere and display proofs that they have thought deeply on the subject and are not out to gore any oxen. The Epicurian approach is miles above this sort of thing, and Lucretius’ poem De Rerum Natura a great classic. (Can’t think of the English translation now–On the Order of Nature, I think.)

  16. Oh dear, Arsen. I think your comment wound up on the wrong thread. I’ll see if I can post a copy to The God Delusion thread for you.

  17. Yes, it did! Thanks for moving it. For some reason I thought that the delusion and & moderation thematic grew out of comments on Dawkins’ book….

  18. I replied to you on the other thread, btw.

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