Saturday, August 2, 2008

Catching Flies

Have you ever heard the saying that goes something like, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar"?

I do not wish to compare my readers to flies, but I think there is a lot of truth in this, and wanting to "catch flies with honey" is one of the motivations behind this blog and its title.

I recently engaged in a discussion with other atheists about the tone of our message.

I read some words written by an atheist that rubbed me the wrong way. This is not a smear campaign and I am not even going to say who, I only want to discuss what I think are ineffective ways of communicating.

The first problem I had, which was definitely not the biggest, was with the profanity.

This may be partially due to the remnants of my religious upbringing, but I really dislike profanity.

Of course I use it sometimes. But I think the setting is entirely important. It is one thing to use it with my friends or in private, but to use profanity in a loud and public way, I find, is very juvenile.

When I meet people who overuse profanity or who use it inappropriately, I usually interpret that as a lack of consideration or politeness.

Just because we have the freedom of speech, that does not justify our saying anything that comes to mind!

When one is attempting to make a point, or to spread their ideas, I find the use of profanity to be highly ineffective and think it is really a turn-off.

The thing that most bothered me was that this person was obviously representing an atheist view-point with his/her writing. It bothered me that a believer or someone looking for answers or who is just curious might stumble upon these words and be turned off by them.

If I were to walk into the public library looking for information or help, I would definitely be put off by the librarian yelling at me, and using personal attacks and profanity. I would probably stop my search for the information or atleast never patronize that library again.

I found the tone and language to be very ineffective at conveying any kind of message, and it bothered me that this kind of attitude or message is only perpetuating negative stereotypes of atheism.

I was then told that it is the reader's own fault if they choose to associate these words with a group, not the writer's. But don't we do the same thing every day when we read Ray Comfort's blog or hear about some denomination or church doing something ridiculous in the news?

I was also told that I was basically labelling atheism as a religion just like "fundies" do, which I find to be completely ridiculous because of course when you are writing a public blog that attacks religious beliefs from an atheist view-point, you are representing atheism. I'm not saying it is right or that people should see you as a representative, but they do and they will.

I am a representative for atheism on this blog, and I know that. As such, I do my best to be polite and to give thoughtful responses, not just rants, hatred, and profanity.

It is a fact of life that we are constantly representing a group by our actions and words. As a person living in a foreign land, I am constantly seen as a representative of my country. As a young person, I am often seen as a representative of my age group. I could go on to include hair color and many other factors, but I think I've made my point.

The issue is not whether or not it is right that your words represent the group as a whole. The fact is, that they do. Whether you like it or not, your words are posted on the internet for the world to see. Why would you use language that alienates instead of using "honey" to communicate your message?

Obviously the point of having a blog is to communicate a message, to share your views, and hopefully, to atleast make them think about it. If this is not your goal, then perhaps your blog would better be labelled as a private diary if it is only a place to vent your anger at the world.

And if you wish to continue using vinegar in your methods, understand that you will probably not have much success catching any flies. This fly was definitely not impressed.

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Leland said...

Hey! New reader here, just found you through Digg. In the interest of full disclosure, I'd like to say up front that I'm a religious person, a Christian.

That said, I really appreciate your blog and your approach for two main reasons. First, as a religious person I'm all too aware of the attacks made against me and others like me by the more angry atheists out there, and know first-hand how those rants can kill off any desire to engage in meaningful dialogue; I tend to think that the conversation between theists and atheists is a very important one to be having, and would like to be able to get on with it without feeling attacked.

Second, I'm often as appalled as you are by the actions of many religious folk in this country and elsewhere. From abortion issues to the nonsense that is creationism, I often feel alienated by my Christian and otherwise-religious brethren. I tend to believe that it is my duty as a religious person to work to create meaningful expressions of my faith that can coexist with other beliefs and non-believers alike; the issues of radical religion today, I feel, are the problem of both more reasonable religious and non-religious folks alike. Many atheists do not offer me the opportunity to participate in this work.

Thanks; I'll definitely be following this blog. Keep up the good work.

vjack said...

The thing that is great about the atheist blogosphere growing so much is that there will be at least 20 blogs that fit the style virtually anyone is looking for. For those who like their atheism softer, more conciliatory, etc., there are some great options. For those who prefer an in-your-face style, there are many others. I tend to think that the diversity of styles is a good thing. After all, the honey and vinegar notion probably depends greatly on who we are trying to catch.

The Amiable Atheist said...

Leland, thank you. I am glad you found my site and I appreciate you being here. I hope I can continue to facilitate an open and civil discussion.

That's a good point that you make, vjack. I hadn't considered that.

But I still think the more "in-your-face-style" is largely ineffective at reaching believers. It seems that its primary purpose is to serve as entertainment for other atheists.

So when I see a blog that attempts to engage in discussion with religious people, but constantly uses profanity and personal insults, I see this as the wrong approach, and I see it as being damaging to an atheist's reputation.

Thanks for your comments!

The Amiable Atheist said...

Sorry, I have been thinking about this topic alot, and I thought of something I wanted to add :)

Many believers have the wrong impression about atheists, and they think we are people without morals, or criminals.

When they read something that is profane and rude, this stereotype is likely to be reinforced.

Wouldn't it be better if these people instead, read something written by an atheist that was the opposite of what they expected?

In my view, being civil is just one small way to help change the bad name that atheists have.

DB said...

I agree with much of what you said, and I try to keep my new Atheist blog a lot more respectful than I keep my political blog, but sometimes it is hard (as I put my fist in my mouth while reading responses!). While I see your point that a Christian would respond more positively to the message if we are nicer, I would have to say that most blogs (mine included) do not intend to reach a Christian audience. My intention isn't to convert, rather get minds thinking about random stuff, and I could see it possibly getting out of hand from time to time.

On that note, I am quite surprised at who my "regulars" are: a bunch of atheists, a mormon, and a creationist!) So, maybe my tone is quite respectful afterall! Everyone is welcome in any case, but as you know so well, some people (on both sides) have very strong view points.