Last night on live television Clementine Ford called fellow journalist, Miranda Devine, “a c**t”. The ABC has today publicly apologised to Devine, although Ford has begun moving through the expletive vocabulary as people on twitter dare suggest that a civil society requires civil discourse.
The topic for last night’s episode of Hack Live was, Is Male Privilege Bullsh!t?” With such a cleanly articulated topic for conversation, should anyone be surprised that one of the program’s guests took liberty with language?
Only hours earlier The Age published a piece by Andrew Street, asking the question, ‘Why do atheists have to behave like such jerks?’
Andrew Street bemoans the behaviour of some of his fellow atheists including the likes of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Summarising a piece by Mark Oppenheminer, Street admits that such behaviours are a massive problem in the international atheist community. His particular and present concern is the treatment Clementine Ford has received since being invitated to speak at the Atheist Global Convention in Melbourne. Without question, the online abuse is appalling. Street quotes the moderators of the Convention’s Facebook page, ”we have been deleting specific rape and death threats as they occur… there have been substantial numbers”. There is no justification for such demeaning and disgraceful threats and language, and I’m pleased to hear Andrew Street confronting it.
Toward his conclusion, Street makes a swipe at ACL, trying to analogise ACL with the crude atheists attacking Ford. This comparison is sadly predictable, and greatly misplaced:
He writes, “It also means such groups end up much like the Australian Christian Lobby: filled with reactionary voices that don’t remotely represent the diverse community for which they’re claiming to speak.”
The Australian Christian Lobby may not share views on sexuality and marriage that many atheists hold, but they do not resort to vulgarity, and they are known for their advocacy for women against sexual exploitation. One may not agree with ACL but one cannot associate them with the kind of vitriol that Ford has been subjected to and has also dished out.
Street’s article is revealing, for he is rightly concerned about the attitudes and behaviour of his fellow atheists, but he doesn’t recognise how their creed gives no protection from such assaults, indeed atheism gives license to demean and hate. Not for a second do I think that this is a problem exclusive for atheism, we should keep in mind that the same can also be said of many religions.
While Street’s article doesn’t dig so deep, it helpfully reminds us that worldview matters and that from the heart we speak.
“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34).
Much of Australia’s intelligentsia insists that there are few if any axioms and that ethics is mostly freelance. We cannot however do away with them and the most convinced anti-theist recognises that there are right ways and wrong ways to treat people. This deeply rooted belief doesn’t stem from atheism but from Christianity.
We often treat people in ways similar to how have been treated, and it is a vicious cycle. With a decisiveness and efficacy that makes the Hadron collider appear like recycled garbage, Jesus Christ broke the cycle. He showed us how to live and he lived that life on our behalf. He made himself a substitute, not returning hate for hate but enduring it on the cross. This grace and kindness does more than give us the example par excellence for public conversation, for he liberates the human heart from hate, as well as from pride that stems from forced adherence to cultural conventions. No doubt Christians have at times forgotten this good news, and even proven themselves unChristian by using speech that contradicts the character of Jesus Christ. This love given by Christ changes attitudes and behavior, such that we show respect toward those with whom we have significant disagreement, not because society demands civility, but because we wish to share this infectious love that God has given to us.