16 August 2015

Ignoring his own behavior, Randal Rauser implores Christians and atheists to be nicer to each other

If there's anything that grinds my gears, it's sanctimonious hypocrisy. I didn't like it when thrice-divorced conservatives complained that legalizing gay marriage would ruin 'traditional marriage'. I don't like it when Christians lecture us on the evils of sex before (and outside of) marriage when the statistic show they indulge as much as anyone else. Sanctimony is obnoxious, and so is the almost inevitable hypocrisy that follows. So when Randal Rauser writes an article for Slate which calls the diplomatic relationship between atheists and Christians "a total disaster", bemoans the "general deterioration in the public square of civil discourse", and tells us that "my call is to invite atheists into real conversation, to make space for their ideas, to try to understand the world as they do, and to be shaped by the resulting exchange", one might get the impression that Randal is one of the people who is actually working in his own interactions with non-believers to create such irenic dialogue. That impression would be wrong.

So when he tells me that I "regularly engage in precisely the kind of marginalizing rhetoric that I decry in this article," I have to pause for a moment just to let the foamy tide of hypocrisy soak in. Randal's written a fair bit of stuff I agree with, and I've had plenty of cordial discussions with him. But press Randal hard in a discussion , and he can quickly reveal himself as sanctimonious, evasive, condescending, and patronizing. Now to his credit, he generally avoids the kind of sweeping declarative statements that he's talking about in his article. He doesn't say things like, "atheists are fools!". But then again, I don't go around saying "Christians are lunks!" or some such thing either. Most of us don't. There's a wide gulf between a wholly intolerant windbag and a charitable opponent, and that's where Randal fails to practice what he preaches.

But don't take it from me. Are these the kind of statements befitting charitable, irenic dialogue?
This took about five minutes of scrolling through old Disqus comments. It's the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes, his condescension is forthright, like in the first comment; other times it's thinly-veiled, as in the the highlighted comment. But for someone quick to chastise others for their lack of charity, he sure knows how to drag the conversation down. I think that's why Randal has caricatured me as 'hostile' and 'combative': I'm not afraid to call him out on his hypocrisy, evasiveness, or rudeness. It is, as Hitch would say, calling a spade a spade.
Now, look: I'm not going to sit here and pretend I don't ever lose my patience in protracted internet debates. It happens. My point is not that Randal is unusual in this regard, and I don't think I'm better than him — we all fall short of our ideals from time to time. Scroll through almost anyone's Disqus history and you'll find similar snide quips from time to time. I find Steven Jake of The Christian Agnostic to be a super nice guy and an enjoyable interlocutor, but we've lost our patience with each other a few times, too. We're all passionate about this stuff, and it happens. It's not a big deal as long as we can accept our human faults, shake hands and march onward. I'm certainly not saying that Randal is a bad person or that it's impossible to have a substantive, cordial and enjoyable discussion with him — as I said earlier, I've had many. But Randal nonetheless has a penchant for speaking patronizingly and condescendingly toward his atheist interlocutors while simultaneously posturing himself as a measured and patient opponent, and he's now very publicly imploring atheists and Christians alike to try harder to understand one another. With his pattern of rude behavior, there's an old saying that's apropos: Physician, heal thyself.

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