Chris Arnade responds, says the religious will feed me

December 27, 2013 • 6:32 am

Reader Barry kindly alerted Chris Arnade on Twi**er to the post I wrote yesterday . As you may recall, that post criticized Arnade’s piece in the Guardian arguing that atheism is a luxury for the wealthy.

Arnade replied with a series of tw**ts :

In his first, he promised Barry to retweet my piece if I spelled his name correctly. Indeed, I think I spelled it three different ways in the first version, including “Arnaud,” which is embarrassing. (The post was written in one go with no proofing.) After Barry informed me of this tw**t, I corrected the spelling. And I apologize for the errors.

Picture 1

Then, the retweet. Note that my photo on Twi**er is of Pia, Hili’s predecessor (she had only one tooth, a front fang, and so she always looked as if she was grimacing):

Picture 2

But of course Arnade didn’t agree with my piece (he doesn’t say why, but Twi**er doesn’t allow room):

Picture 3

And this comment from Arnade appeared later. I can’t be sure that it’s aimed at me, but I have my suspicions. . .

Picture 4Assuming it is directed at me—and surely I’m at least included in the group of “disagreeing atheists”—I will answer briefly.

1.  I don’t know what Arnade’s experience has been, but when religious people disagree with me, they don’t worry about me.  Yes, sometimes they do talk about hell—I’ve been damned several times—but I’ve never been brought things to read or, sadly, to eat. (Does Arnade know, though, that not all religions believe in hell? The Jews who curse me never wish for my eternal immolation.) If the faithful would bring me noms when I criticized them, I’d be as big as a house!  Come on, religionists, WHERE ARE MY NOMS????

2. I will maintain until my last breath that my critique of Arnade’s views was civil. In fact, not only do I not call him “dumb,” but there are no remarks about his person in my post.  I invite you to review what I said, though it’s probably a waste of time. I attacked Arnade’s argument, not his character, and even linked to his photography website. The “meanest” things I said were these:

“And [Arnade] ends his essay with about the most mean-spirited criticism of “strident” atheism that I’ve ever seen:”

“. . . Atheism is not just for the wealthy. In fact, it’s probably most useful, as Marx realized, for the downtrodden. Arnade is doing what we see so often: arguing that although religion is a delusion, and he doesn’t accept it, we must let the ‘little people’—in this case the poor and homeless—have their delusions.  That is an unforgivably condescending attitude, and another sad and gratuitous swipe at New Atheism, instantiated, as always, by Dawkins. There are many atheists on this planet, and not all of them have ‘done well.'”

What Arnade said about Dawkins in his piece was at least as “bad” as that.

3.  A proper answer to a thoughtful critique, if you must answer, is not “You’re being MEAN!” or “You called me DUMB!”  I have learned that when an opponent concentrates on tone and darkly mentions “defamation,” that person has no good counterarguments.

Well, at least Arnade didn’t threaten to sue me.

Finally, people who write on the Web need to learn at least four things:


  • This is the Internet, and the nature of discourse is informal, not academic. Do not expect to be treated with kid gloves.
  • If you criticize someone’s ideas, or even call them names, that is not libel in the U.S.A.  I could call someone horribly offensive names, or say that they’re crackpots, and those aren’t actionable offenses. Even less actionable is criticism of someone’s ideas.  I try to do the latter, not the former, but there is a certain type of writer—I won’t name names—who sees any criticism as either a personal attack or, indeed, libel.  These people need to grow a thicker skin, and realize that even if people have osculated their rumps for years, the osculatee is not immune to criticism.  Before you threaten someone with a lawsuit, look up what constitutes an actionable offense on the Internet.  Scientists, especially, should realize this, for all our lives we’re inundated with strong criticism (some of the reviewers of my papers, for instance, have said some pretty dire and personal things). If I could sue for criticism or character attacks, I’d have put the Discovery Institute out of business!
  • And this lesson applies especially to Arnade: the proper response to criticism of your ideas is either a judicious silence (recommended in Arnade’s case) or a point-by-point response. The proper response is not to say that your critics have called you “dumb,” particularly when they haven’t.
  • Tone trolling is not a response, and you don’t convince anyone when you play the “hurt feelings” card.

34 thoughts on “Chris Arnade responds, says the religious will feed me

  1. When religious people disagree with me they call me lots of interesting names and make threats. They don’t worry for me, they swell with pride fantasising about us meeting their god. And they have never brought me food, when religious people come knocking at my door they always get my cookies and coffee. Maybe if atheists went knocking on people’s doors handing out scientific essays on trilobites, particle accelerators or other criticisms of religion we may get cookies. This would probably be quite welcome here in England.

    1. Somehow I doubt it. His claims aren’t as outlandish and agreement with them doesn’t bring him $$. You never know though.

  2. Religious people usually either threaten me with hell (usually these ones don’t know me very well), sever ties with me (usually just on hearing I’m an atheist) or just agree to disagree and be nice to me. The latter is the only one that gives me food and none give me things to read.

    Now I’m hungry for all those noms that never were! I’m thinking shortbread cookies for some reason.

  3. I suppose it is possible that his life experiences with religious believers might have been as he describes, but that seems to be a very low order of probability.

    It seems more likely that he is making up just so stories to support the claims he has decided he wants to make. A common human failing that is encouraged by religious culture while science culture identifies it as a failing and intentionally arranges itself to try and keep it in check.

  4. “When religious people disagree with you…they bring you food.”

    Oh, so that was just an accident with a pizza delivery plane on 9/11?

    Oh, I forgot, that had nothing to do with religion.

  5. when an opponent concentrates on tone and darkly mentions “defamation,” that person has no good counterarguments.

    I just checked, that’s short enough to tw*t at him…

  6. The title of this post, “Chris Arnade responds, says the religious will feed me” means more to me if I read it as the religious will feed Arnade and he want them to feed him, metaphorically.

    He has an infatuation with the poor and down trodden. There is nothing specifically wrong with that, but I cannot help but think his motivations are driven by guilt that he has not had such a disadvantaged life.

    He should go to Mexico where he will see a great number of people pretending to be religious amongst the violence, drugs, and poverty (maybe he has already?). He should also consider that just because someone carries Jesus around their neck does not mean they are religious. Overall, he needs to think clearly about what is motivating these people and distinguish that from what motivates them to either pretend or manufacture religious belief. I am not sure he has been asking them the right questions. He is in a position to make a difference, but he seems resolute on letting mostly his photos tell a story rather than researching fundamental social, psychological, economic aspects of why people can behave the way they do given their circumstances.

  7. I was at at the home of some religious people on Christmas Day. When I left they gave us some cookies to take with us. Does that count?

    Probably not since our conversation hadn’t touched on religious matters… just the woes of old age, whether retirement will ever arrive, and how the two dogs at the party wouldn’t get along.

    Still, I got NOMS!

  8. Arnade: “When the religious disagree with you they worry for you, talk about hell and. Ring you tongs to eat and read.”

    Has Arnade never watched Fox News or listened to 1280AM “The Patriot”? What sort of insular existence could’ve given him the idea that religious brickbats are always tempered with generous bouquets? (And, frankly, when you’re having a serious debate, why do they need to be? Arnade is very concerned about our tone!)

    And I love how he just glides right past that he’ll thing, as if that’s not a horrible form of psychological abuse perpetrated against millions of children everywhere.

    Finally, maybe some atheists have responded with “you’re dumb”, but I’m having trouble of thinking of atheist arguments that consist only of “you’re dumb”. I suppose you could say that’s an implication of insisting people can do better, be more reasonable, but that’s an extremely disingenuous interpretation. I think Arnade is confusing “you’re wrong” with “you’re dumb”.

        1. …Ying Tong Ying Tong Ying Tong Ying Tong Ying Tong Iddle-I-Po…
          …Ying Tong Ying Tong Ying Tong Ying Tong Ying Tong Iddle-I-Po… Iddle-I-Po (keep up lad)
          …Ying Tong Ying Tong Ying Tong Ying Tong Ying Tong Iddle-I-Po… (etc.)

    1. I think it is very common that an atheist may say something like “that’s a bad idea, here’s why…” and a believer will hear “you are dumb”.

      It is very difficult for believers to separate themselves from the ideas they carry in their heads.

      1. Yes. The “you are dumb” commonly only occurs in the mind of the believer. Almost as if they feel defensive about something. This seems to be a common human reaction when foundational beliefs that are a key component of a person’s self image and worldview are criticized.

        It is a shame when self proclaimed atheists support this self deception.

      2. I rather suspect that believers do not have ideas in their heads as such – more like a set of emotional feelings which shape their sense of self. Ideas are then fabricated retrospectively to fit in with perceived social signals.

        So I think I am challenging their ideas – but they think I am assaulting their very being. Same words, different messages.

        The real life test would be to place young socially religious children in a different non-believing society, and see how social cues affect how they grow up.

  9. The food will not come to you, you have to go to the churches and synagogues to get the food.

    After the minyan, someone usually sponsors a kiddish with wine and sometimes scotch and/or schnapps. Herring, liver, challah and cookies. Perfect for 10 am.

  10. If I remember correctly, Arnade said he was surprised to find out that people living on the streets were not atheists, a perspective which I find astoundingly naive and intellectually disjointed for he, himself, connects atheism with being well off.

    Arnade is into connecting with needy people who are abandoned and neglected by others. However, such an emotional bond has its drawbacks, and it takes a very well grounded person to pull off this kind of encounter with consistency, resilience, and fortitude. I am guessing his atheist bashing is not the only expression of a wonky interface born out of the challenge and stress of hanging out with the homeless.

    1. I think Arnade said he was surprised to find out that people living on the streets were not atheists and that was supposedly one of the things that led him to conclude that atheism was for rich people.

      Like Jerry, I think that Marx was right: to great extent, religion is the opium of the people. I think that there are a lot of rich people who think religion is just fine and dandy for the ‘little people’ even though they don’t believe it themselves. It feeds into their patronizing attitude about the poor in that religion is ‘great for the suckers’ and – conveniently – helps to get the poor to accept their lot and not question whether the rich really deserve everything they’ve got.

      Matt Taibbi captured this in a fine little rant:

      …actual rich people can’t ever be the target. (Unless of course they’re Hollywood liberals, or George Soros, or in some other way linked to some acceptable class of villain, to liberals, immigrants, atheists, etc. — Ted Turner, say, married to Jane Fonda.) It’s a classic peasant mentality: going into fits of groveling and bowing whenever the master’s carriage rides by, then fuming against the Turks in Crimea or the Jews in the Pale or whoever after spending fifteen hard hours in the fields. You know you’re a peasant when you worship the very people who are right now, this minute, conning you and taking your shit. Whatever the master does, you’re on board. When you get frisky, he sticks a big cross in the middle of your village, and you spend the rest of your life praying to it with big googly eyes. Or he puts out newspapers full of innuendo about this or that faraway group and you immediately salute and rush off to join the hate squad. A good peasant is loyal, simpleminded, and full of misdirected anger. And that’s what we’ve got now, a lot of misdirected anger searching around for a non-target to mis-punish… can’t be mad at AIG, can’t be mad at Citi or Goldman Sachs. The real villains have to be the anti-AIG protesters! After all, those people earned those bonuses! If ever there was a textbook case of peasant thinking, it’s struggling middle-class Americans burned up in defense of taxpayer-funded bonuses to millionaires.

  11. Arnade writes an essay that illustrates how it is necessary to employ poor critical thinking and reasoning processes to explain erroneous conclusions. Beginning from the opposite end of the process is the approach he should try next time he wants to evaluate something, should he be interested in results that withstand objective review.

  12. As to point one – In the long and distant past, the Internet was created for academic discourse. And I’ve never known academics to treat other papers with kid gloves.

  13. “Atheist(sic) call you dumb”

    When they read criticisms of their dumb ideas it makes them feel dumb, so they feel as though they’ve been called dumb. Then they blame the person who pointed out the dumbness of their ideas. And to be fair, the distinction between being dumb and believing dumb things is not always that obvious.

    1. +1

      The way I think of it is that religious people don’t mind being ignorant; they only mind being called ignorant.

    1. The reference to food is true to an extent- bible studies and the like generally provide food and some forms of debate go on there… But thats a social environment, a gathering of friends. It’s not what happens when an outsider asks questions.

  14. The argument by certain atheists that the poor and homeless need religion while they don’t is truly “unforgivably condescending.” I don’t see them making the same argument in favor of any other deleterious dogma that is directly linked to socioeconomic status. No one is going “I’m not a racist or fascist but the poor and homeless find solace and a comforting community in their bigotry and misogyny so let them have it. And damn that Dawkins for being so fucking judgmental.” No one thinks that the Ku Klux Klans (unlike the new pope) new leader is “so lovable because they are so diplomatic and such a people person” no matter what approach they deploy. What matters are the core-beliefs of each dogma, not the marginal benefits that each dogma hides behind.

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