Thursday, November 23, 2006

"Do unto others..."

Happy Turkey Day, everyone!

I have been away on vacation and recently returned after two adventure-filled weeks in Thailand! I posted a few pictures online here. It was sweltering hot, unlike the frigid temperatures that greeted me upon my return to the US. Much of central Thailand was flooded out due to heavy storms in the northern part of the country, so many people's homes were submerged under waist-deep waters. It was sad to see so much devastation. But the people there are very resilient and know to expect this kind of flooding every decade or so. For them, life goes on without skipping a beat.

Now that I am back, I have had a chance to see Paul Manata's latest diatribe against me. It is a long post full of mockery, insults, mischaracterizations, contorted inferences, brazen evasions, etc. The usual fare.

I have made many notes in response to what Paul has stated, and some of them I will be posting on my blog over the next few weeks, as time allows.

In this post, I wanted to briefly explore the topic of pejoratives, as it was one of the sparks that initiated our recent volley of exchanges.

As anyone who may have been reading should already know, one of Paul's chief complaints in his recent messages concerning my blog, is that my use of the expression "invisible magic being" is "pejorative." This suggests to me that he finds this expression to be offensive when applied to his god, which in turn tells me that my use of this expression to refer to his god hurts his feelings. Indeed, he has made a big deal about this ever since I explained to James Anderson, who mentioned in a comment that he did not understand why I use it, that I use this expression because of its open-endedness in referring to a whole smorgasbord of allegedly supernatural entities which, according to mystical worldviews, exist in some realm beyond the reach of our senses and influence the world in which we exist. I find it useful because it neatly subsumes not only the Christian god, but any god, deity, demon, devil, angel, gremlin, fairy, pixie, or the like. Believers in such mystical notions do not have to like the term, but their likes and dislikes are not my concern.

Now, while I have never denied that the expression "invisible magic being" may carry pejorative connotations for some readers, Paul is mistaken when he says that I "did write a post trying to argue that the expression was not 'pejorative'." I have no idea where he thinks I did this, for he does not link to a post in which I was "trying to argue that the expression [in quesiton] was not 'pejorative'." When I grant that this expression may have connotations for some readers, Paul apparently interprets this as some kind of concession to a point he was trying to make. But most expressions carry connotations, many of which are determined by the contextual sum assumed by a reader or listener. Regardless, it's fine with me if Paul or anyone else wants to think that this expression is pejorative; they can think whatever they want. The term suits my purposes, and I am justified in using it as I have explained. Paul then wants to say that my "response to Anderson was false." But what exactly is he referring to? Specifically which statement in my response to James does Paul think was false? He does not point it out for us. To make matters even more tiresome than they already are, Paul treats the matter as if it were sandbox squabble: "You lost, I won," he writes. "Don’t be a sore loser." Who is really sore here? Certainly not I.

Now, what I'm wondering is why Paul is so concerned with all this. Does Paul have something against the use of pejoratives? He does not come out and say explicitly one way or another whether he thinks using pejoratives is wrong. So if he does not tell us what he thinks in this regard, we have to infer his position from what he states.

For instance, he writes:

we see Dawson agree that he was being pejorative. He actually intends to use pejoratives.

This is interesting given the context of what has transpired between us, and given the fact that Paul professes to be a Christian. He accuses me of "being pejorative" and intending "to use pejoratives." Does Paul have a problem with the use of pejoratives? Does he think it is wrong to use pejoratives? Does he think it detracts from personal character, from one’s message, from one’s moral status perhaps? At one point he refers to my use of this expression as "poisoning the well." So from what he has written, it strongly appears that Paul considers the use of pejoratives to be bad in some way.

This is why I put these questions on the table: because Paul seems pretty handy with a pejorative peppermill of his own. Just glancing through his response to me, you will see him routinely referring to me personally (as opposed to something I have merely affirmed) with words like "monkey," "bafoon," "baboon," "hack," "joker," "fool," "goof ball," etc. Now, it does not bother me that Paul chooses to "pepper" his postings with words of this nature. In fact, I realize that he has no alternative, since his worldview is indefensible and his contentions against mine are untenable (more on this in later postings). But we should ask: are the expressions that Paul peppers throughout his post not pejorative in nature as he has used them? Is he not intending them as personal insults? Is he not using them as a shortcut to discredit me personally? To "poison the well," as it were? If not, why does he use them? If he admits that they are pejoratives, then why is he getting all into a fuss when I use expressions that he considers pejorative, especially when they are not the personal insults he has used against me?

Can you say hypocrite?

It is important for us to remember that, as a self-professing Christian, Paul implicitly affirms the teachings of the bible. That's well and good, for we have a standard to refer to in evaluating Paul's behavior, to see if his choices and actions match his stated commitments. But it's one thing to preach something, and entirely another to actually abide by it. For instance, Matthew 7:12 has Jesus give the following, what is commonly called "the Golden Rule":

Do unto others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.

Now, I could be wrong in supposing that Paul wants to try to following the teachings with the New Testament ascribes to Jesus. But I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt and assume that Paul really means it when he aligns himself with orthodox Christainity. After all, Christian apologists, even amateurs like Paul Manata, love to make a lot of hay when it comes to matters of morality. It is an issue that is apparently close to their heart.

So by this token, we can infer, based on the teaching given in Mt. 7:12 and Paul's profession as a Christian, that his behavior toward me is indicative of how he wants me to behave toward him. Whatever he does to me, must be what he wants me to do to him. But I'm not going to follow his example. I am not going to call Paul "monkey," "bafoon," "baboon," "hack," "joker," "fool," "goof ball," or any of the other slanderous names he has used on me. If Paul feels a need to use abusive language, then I leave that choice up to him. Personally, I don't think it adds any merit to one's case when he resorts to such childish forms of ridicule. Perhaps Paul disagrees.

Sadly, I have not seen any of Paul's "brothers in Christ" call him on his behavior. So far as what I know (and I admit that I am far from "all-seeing"), none of his fellow Christians have made an effort to correct him on this. By not doing so, other Christians who have read Paul's writings tacitly condone his behavior. In fact, many seem to encourage it by praising his voluminous writing ventures. Indeed, James Anderson made it a point to raise a question on why I use the expression "invisible magic being," but I have not seen him raise any question on why Paul uses words like "monkey," "bafoon," "baboon," "hack," "joker," "fool," "goof ball," et al., when responding to his opponents.

Of course, I have no doubt that Paul or any other Christian will not have a hard time trying to find a way to excuse the name-calling and condescending tone that characterizes so much of Paul's writing. The religious mind is one that is constantly looking for a backdoor to sneak through. This is the kind of "righteousness" we can expect Christians to model before non-believers. Their contempt for people who do not profess belief in their invisible magic beings prevents them from raising themselves to the demands of civility and honor in their dealings with them. As apologists hoping to vindicate their faith commitments, they should realize how their behavior speaks louder than any arguments they may think they have. But will they? Not if they follow Paul down the path that he has paved with constant wear.

by Dawson Bethrick

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