Genderism, Atheism, and Civil Discourse falls off the precipice

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?


Hack Live

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.

2 thoughts on “Genderism, Atheism, and Civil Discourse falls off the precipice

  1. “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.”

    That’s simply not right and nothing more than an assertion on your part. While I agree that there are plenty of people who have no ethics to their behaviour, it’s not restricted to atheists, as you rightly point out.

    Religion is no protection from assaults. In fact, it quiet often gives license to demean people like me, at least in some people’s version of their faith.

    I know of plenty of atheists, we are well grounded in reality. We have solid ethics that are built on humanity, not as you seem to suggest Christianity. Being nice to one another goes back well before your religion first put its stamp on western society. The notion that knowledge of right and wrong is a christian value is really, quite frankly, embarrassing as we watch the church get consumed in scandal after scandal.

    I try really hard not to lump all christians in the same bucket, it would be nice if you’d do the same.

    As to the use of language as a way of making a point, you know what. As much as I refrain from using it in my public discourse, at the end of the day I have been harassed and told by religious people that I’m a sinner, an abomination, bound for hell and plenty of other unwarranted and uncivil attacks, so you’ll have to pardon me if I get a bit sweary sometimes.

    Murray, thanks again for your thought provoking blog.

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  2. Civil discourse is more than just using nice words, though.
    If someone is treating other people as less than human based on their bigotry, and has history, politicians and churches on their side, profanity is warranted. The playing field wasn’t level in the first place so the discourse wasn’t civil from the word go, regardless how polite the language might be.

    I disagree with your assertion that ethics are rooted in Christianity. I think Christianity co-opted the ethical frameworks already available when it came about, many of which are common to communities worldwide and long pre-dating Christianity, and added preferences about what to wear, who gets the best cuts of the offerings and proscribing a lot of stuff that should only be of concern to the consenting adults involved.
    By adopting a lot of that which people agree with at a bone level (don’t murder, don’t steal) it gave itself tacit credibility when it tried to convince us that we should worship no other God (a tacit nod to the religion’s henotheistic origins). Most religions mangage to get “Don’t Murder” and “Don’t Steal” on their books because those are traits that favour individual success in a communal animal, which we are. Murder and theft only help a person get ahead if they are the exception to the rule, and if they don’t get caught. Getting that much correct in a holy text doesn’t automatically mean any of the other prohibitions or prescriptions carry any merit, and the Bible offers us many examples of laws we don’t follow because they are anathema to our more developed ethical frameworks.

    That Christian teachings accept slavery as innocuous and treat rape as a crime against property gives us some indication of how short Christian morality falls short of the ethics in play in modern Australia, where slavery is considered abhorrent and rape is considered a crime against an individual.

    Ethics can arise without religion and in forms more coherent than the morality of Christianity. Philosophers have been mapping these matters from first principles for thousands of years, but our species has been developing its innate sense of right and wrong for far longer.

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