rhetoric sans pareil

July 27, 2009

Re: Wintery Knight – Ghoulish Lies and Hypocrisy

Hey people. Just a quick post.

I stumbled on this post today. I left a response which was left to moderation for approval. I suspected it would be deleted, so I copied it to my computer just in case. Disappointingly, I was right.

I could let it slide – but it’s an example of a particularly ghoulish tendency I’ve noticed amongst a certain kind of religious believer. They’ll take some tragedy, and then twist that tragedy into something they can use to tar those they disagree with. It’s feeding on the suffering of others. It’s vulturish, disgusting, and – in this particular case – very unchristian.

For all my dissagreements with Christians and other theists, I can at least take on board that the vast majority are moderate, average human beings. Sure, we dissagree on a few things, and I have a beef with certain aspects of those disagreements. But I can happily co-exist with most believers.

But there are some people who call themselves a Christian that must make other Christians cringe with embarrassment. The Wintery Knight post above – and this is not the first time I’ve had a comment deleted by this individual – is just such a cringe-worthy example. I don’t feel comfortable letting it slide. I need to show the reasonable believers out there exactly why belief can sometimes get under my skin. Sometimes we atheists froth at the mouth, it’s true. But sometimes, it’s for good reason.

Here is Wintery Knight’s post, just in case he (I presume it’s a he) deletes or edits it later.

Excerpt:

A Christian woman accused of distributing the Bible, a book banned in communist North Korea, was publicly executed last month for the crime, South Korean activists said Friday.

The 33-year-old mother of three, Ri Hyon Ok, also was accused of spying for South Korea and the United States, and of organizing dissidents, a rights group said in Seoul, citing documents obtained from the North.

The Investigative Commission on Crime Against Humanity report included a copy of Ri’s government-issued photo ID and said her husband, children and parents were sent to a political prison the day after her June 16 execution.

A woman’s human rights are violated by a left-wing communist dictator. Where is the outcry from the secular left? Where is the Hollywood elite? Where is the ACLU? Is she not the right kind of victim?

Is there a difference between the atheist Kim Jong Il and other atheists like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens? Is the murder of this woman wrong, on atheism? Why is it wrong? Why is it rational to not murder innocent people, on atheism?

Below is my comment, now deleted.

Is there a difference between the atheist Kim Jong Il and other atheists like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens?

I challenge you thus: Find a single reference from something that Harris, Dawkins, or Hitchens actually wrote that suggests that any of them would be anything but dismayed at the plight of the woman so executed.

Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens are free thinkers. They are committed to freedom of speech and freedom of thought – particularly Hitchens. The death penalty for practicing religion is against everything they stand for.

You are correct that an execution over religious opinion and practice is deplorable. Your attempt to twist this unfortunate and tragic event so you can use it to tar the names of free-thinkers over their opinions, with which you disagree, is as ghoulish as it is hypocritical and disgusting.

I just want to re-iterate that I’m not holding this up as an example of all believers. Happily, many of my friends are religious believers, and I know that they would never be so base as to stoop to Wintery Knight’s tactics of bearing false witness against atheists in order to attempt a ghoulish act of emotional blackmail.

I’m not going to let this stand unchallenged. I call you out, Wintery Knight. You’ve borne false witness against atheists – that’s supposed to be a sin to you. My challenge stands. Find me a single reference relating to something that Harris, Dawkins, or Hitchens actually wrote or said that supports your conception that any of them would be anything but aghast at the plight of the woman who was so executed.

I am confident you’ll be unable to produce one. Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens are freethinkers – all three of them are ardent supporters of free speech. As are Daniel Dennett, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Victor Stegner, Stephen Pinker, and many thousands and perhaps millions of other atheists who are not so well known as these.

You have borne false witness against we atheists, Wintery Knight. You’ve lied about us. You owe us – and God – an apology.

I invite you to set the record straight.

12 Comments »

  1. Hello Che, it’s been a while.

    Sadly, you’re right… the behavior of some Christians cause the rest of us to cringe. Even worse, the linked-to post nearly as bad as they get. Don’t get me wrong, we still love our fellow brothers and sisters, but yeah, we cringe sometimes.

    Aside from a little bit biting last paragraph, your post seems fine, and should have been answered.

    Of course, the issue here is her saying there’s no difference between Kim Jong II and all other atheists. I can understand that. Amusingly, atheists (but not ALL atheists, haha) often to the same thing to Christians, unfairly generalizing the behavior of an extreme minority as representative of the whole group. I can definitely understand how you have a problem with that.

    Hello Che, it’s been a while.

    Sadly, you’re right… the behavior of some Christians cause the rest of us to cringe. Even worse, the linked-to post nearly as bad as they get. Don’t get me wrong, we still love our fellow brothers and sisters, but yeah, we cringe sometimes.

    Aside from a little bit biting last paragraph, your post seems fine, and should have been answered.

    Of course, the issue here is her saying there’s no difference between Kim Jong II and all other atheists. I can understand that. Amusingly, atheists (but not ALL atheists, haha) often to the same thing to Christians, unfairly generalizing the behavior of an extreme minority as representative of the whole group. I can definitely understand how you have a problem with that.

    However, I think Wintery Knight also asks a valid question, one of the main questions in this philosophical arena:

    how does an atheistic (or naturalistic) worldview provide rational value to a human life? Why is murder wrong in an atheistic worldview?

    I personally think this question is a bit overused, and I’m sure you have a response to it. However, the question warrants answering in this discussion, as it hasn’t been addressed in either the post’s comment or your post.

    Just to be clear, I don’t mean this as an all-out attack on atheism. I’m just curious how atheists, when self-examining their worldview, answer the above question.

    Comment by Richard — July 28, 2009 @ 2:58 am

  2. Whoops, looks like something got flipped between the writing and the copying and pasting. Sorry about that.

    I’m computer literate! I promise!

    Comment by Richard — July 28, 2009 @ 3:02 am

  3. I find Wintery Knight to be a bigoted, disingenuous and intellectually dishonest blogger. I refuse to give this person any cred by visiting that blog.

    how does an atheistic (or naturalistic) worldview provide rational value to a human life? Why is murder wrong in an atheistic worldview?

    I disagree that the question is valid. Indeed, I view it is a non sequitur. Atheism supplies an answer to this question no more than does a belief in a god.

    Murder being wrong, for instance, is easily understandable in terms of reciprocal altruism. I would not want to be murdered so I don’t murder others.

    I dispute that religion provides such a moral code at all. It can in fact defeat reciprocal altruism by shifting the moral responsibility of a heinous act onto the deity. God told the Israelites to annihilate the Canaanites. William Lane Craig even considers the act of slaughtering the Canaanite children moral. I find that incredibly repugnant.

    This has been pointed out to Wintery Knight by myself before I chose to refuse him the time of day. He has no response to this yet continues to promulgate this nonsense.

    Comment by Shamelessly Atheist — July 28, 2009 @ 5:37 am

  4. A long time ago, I tried to engage Wintery Knight on the subject of atheists having no basis for morality. With all of the volumes written on ethics, it is astounding that his blog treats the question as if none of that stuff exists – Almost like he’s the first person to ever think of asking an atheist about their morals.

    The problem is that he doesn’t ask. He tells everyone that we have no moral foundations in no uncertain terms. When I tried to discuss it, the posts simply weren’t approved. Approved posts disappear, complete with responses if needed.

    I just tried it again. Same thing. This “Christian” thug simply tells the same over-the-top lies (and he has to know they are by now) over and over and blocks anyone who tries to rebut. I strongly suspect now that he “cooked” the atheist questionnaire results as well.

    In short, he’s a pious scumbag.

    Comment by Kylektowe — December 25, 2009 @ 3:25 pm

  5. I think Richard’s question is a fair one, and deserves a response.

    how does an atheistic (or naturalistic) worldview provide rational value to a human life? Why is murder wrong in an atheistic worldview?

    I personally think this question is a bit overused, and I’m sure you have a response to it. However, the question warrants answering in this discussion, as it hasn’t been addressed in either the post’s comment or your post.

    Just to be clear, I don’t mean this as an all-out attack on atheism. I’m just curious how atheists, when self-examining their worldview, answer the above question.

    We humans are social animals. We enjoy each others’ company, we depend on cooperation, and, to that end, we live together in societies.

    All of this adds up to the fact that a weak version of the golden rule is a fact of nature: don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Of course no one has a complete list of the people we depend on – I just know that I go to the grocery store, and they have the food I need.

    People who treated others within (their community) as they wanted to be treated were successful in life, and had children more often than people who didn’t, and acted like psychopaths. Over time – thousands of generations – we evolved to cope with our social environment just like with our physical environment.

    Fear is a very real emotion that’s triggered by all sorts of things in the world. Morality is a very real set of emotions, which are also triggered by all sorts of things in our social world. Both are universal to all humans, and depend on our makeup, rather than our particular beliefs about how the world began and what happens after death.

    Comment by Forrest — February 10, 2010 @ 6:43 am

  6. Wintery Knight is a tragic parody on the devolution of Christianity. Not only are you not the first person to have your comments deleted by this delusional individual, but you can’t possibly know how many comments this person has deleted. If you read the comments allowed on this person’s site, we see they are decidedly sycophantic. We can only conclude from this that Wintery Knight is less about exposing truth than accumulating consensus.

    Comment by Galloway Grumblefield — March 1, 2010 @ 4:02 am

  7. I just googled “Wintery Knight” and I landed here.

    I posted on his blog. He edited my post and LIED to his readers about what I had said.

    You can see the sordid tale here.

    Very odd.

    Comment by contrararian — April 13, 2010 @ 7:46 pm

  8. The full story:

    Wintery Knight Is A Liar, a Coward and a Scoundrel.

    Thanks :)

    Comment by contrararian — April 15, 2010 @ 12:07 am

  9. I’m not sure I want to get drawn into the name-calling. If I find a blog unwilling to dialog fairly, I just go somewhere else. What’s the point of attacking them. That seems like the path to war, eventually.

    The difference between the value of life for a Christian (not merely a god-fearer) is the conviction that human life is created by God in his image, making every life precious, more so innocent life (i.e. the unborn) and say murderers and despots. By comparison, as indicated above, an atheist can only value life as it benefits the atheist. He may choose to see value in a more highly evolved organism, but he has nothing inherent to provide his moral choice, where moral choices are even acknowledged.

    As far as Wintery Knight, asking a question may imply equivalence between a tyrant and a writer, but it may merely be a question. Of course, if reasonable attempts to answer the question are not accepted, then it’s not an honest question. However, when I moderate responses to my blog, I delete those that are simply nasty, as harmful to a rational discussion.

    Comment by Roger. — May 31, 2010 @ 12:03 pm

    • You have a point Roger. There’s two sides to this kind of thing.

      On the one hand – why write about something you hate? When I write a criticism of something that angers me, that just increases the number of words dedicated to something that angers me. Why increase the amount of crap in the world?

      On the other hand – what people say, think and write matters. Each individual point may be a drop in the ocean – but each drop matters as much as every other. Critique – including bold, hard, uncompromising critique – is a good thing.

      With hindsight, it does feel like I’m guilty of cross-blog troll-feeding. Spending more time reading over his blog, I can’t see how anyone could take him seriously… But despite that, I still feel better for knowing that there are other people engaged in active, hard-hitting criticism of WK’s entries.

      Perhaps it’s just SIWOTI at play, but I think it’s important that someone should confront these kinds of issues.

      That aside:

      … an atheist can only value life as it benefits the atheist.

      To use the term ‘can only’ here is demonstrably false.

      Cross out the word ‘atheist’ and insert ‘human being’ and the fallacy should become apparent. Humans are interesting in that we can and do appeal to many different kinds of values in different settings. This ability is demonstrably performed by many different people all the time.

      Observe my fumbling attempts to channel A C Grayling:

      There are slightly less than 1,000 months in the average human lifespan. Some of that time should reasonably be spent thinking about what to do with the rest.

      Consider seriously the prospect of spending most – if not all – of that time in service of simply furthering the interests of the self. To spend 1,000 months of effort on the self, only to have that self dissolve back into the state of pre-birth should strike us as an obscene waste of a scarce (and therefore, precious) resource. The prospect of entire human lives wasted in such a way is profoundly depressing.

      How much better to contribute time and energy into something more than just the self, that will have some lasting contribution, however small, to the benefit of the world that we must eventually leave behind.

      Comment by Ubiquitous Che — May 31, 2010 @ 12:51 pm

  10. I was responding to an earlier atheist’s attempt to explain where the value of life originates for the atheist. You offer several opinions from atheists, but there is no authoritative source. How does one atheist convince another that a pure, self-centered ethic is “wrong?” Indeed, with the rejection of the idea of any moral authority, everyone is free to choose for himself. This is the very nature of the current relativistic attitude, increasingly common in our culture.

    Comment by Roger. — May 31, 2010 @ 3:44 pm

    • Before I get into this, there is a very good series of lectures online at http://webcast.berkeley.edu/course_details.php?seriesid=1906978535

      It’s an introductory course in Rhetoric by a professor named Daniel Coffeen. He has one of the most annoying voices ever. And when he waxes lyrical about homeopathy I want to claw his eyes out. The course, however, is very interesting. I highly recommend it. Listening to those lectures a little more than a year ago is where I came across the point I’m about to make now.

      Abandoning the notion of total moral authority doesn’t automatically mean that we have to also abandon criticism. It doesn’t mean that you can’t argue persuasively against a given position, call it out as wrong, appeal to common values, and progress through a moral discourse. On the contrary. We must. Meaning moral discourse in any other form demonstrably fails.

      For example: That language is a human invention does not imply that anything goes. It is true that language is fuzzy, there’s a lot of areas that are ambiguous, and we can deplexement a new word any time we like. But there are always going to be some sentences that elephant a bargle telephone running of petunias cielhook greased moop table box as chair lift flat bing quetzalcoatl.

      My contention – and the contention of others who agree with me – is that morality is something that humans do. It is a human invention the way that language is a human invention. Like language, some moral assertions are obviously sound. Others are ambiguous. And others are totally incoherent. To have a mature discourse around ethical and moral issues requires that we acknowledge this simple fact about how moral discourse actually performs in practice.

      This is much more difficult than total moral anarchy. Those who favor moral anarchy object to this kind of view. However, if they are going to attempt to object to it coherently, they must appeal to some kind of framework of coherent moral and ethical discourse with appeals to goals and values.

      It is also much more difficult to embrace the realities of moral discourse than it is to appeal to a pre-packaged and shrink-wrapped set of authoritarian moral assertions. People in favor of such a view may appeal to a posited moral authority figure (God, Moral Law, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, etc) as the source for all moral assertions – but then they must engage in dialog to persuade people like me why we should accept the moral assertions of any such alleged absolute moral authority as valid in the first place.

      Consider: Even if there was a God, why then should I obey His assertions about alleged moral law? If (hypothetically) God existed and subsequently commanded me to commit some act I considered to be morally reprehensible – torture and kill an innocent child, perhaps – would I be morally right or morally wrong for telling him to stick His moral authority up his almighty posterior, regardless of whatever eternal damnations that may await me as reward for my rebellion?

      To phrase it plainly: If I don’t accept an alleged moral authority, then how would a person persuade me that I should do so? They couldn’t appeal to that authority directly. They would have to do something else – appeal to my reason through a discourse around shared values, appeal to my emotions and prejudices, bribery or even through threat of violence. However, once that happens, the self-declared absolutist is no longer an absolutist. They have descended into the very kind of fuzzy and complex moral discussion that they claim to be advocating against in the first place.

      Whether you’re an anarchist or a moral absolutist, you still can’t get away from the need for a coherent, nuanced, and pragmatically fuzzy ethical framework within which we must couch our moral discourse.

      By necessity that framework will exclude some moral concepts as incoherent. Others will be fuzzy. Some will be obviously great.

      So total anarchy is clearly incorrect, as you imply. But so too is total moral authoritarianism. Simply acknowledging the complexities we face regarding moral discourse requires that we move away from either extreme.

      A metaphor for the problem Coffeen uses at one point is that of a surfer. When a surfer is riding a wave, who is in control – the surfer or the wave?

      The surfer can do pretty much anything he likes – move up or down, side to side, up over the edge of the wave into the air and back down again. But he can’t do absolutely anything he likes, or he will fall off. There’s this tension between which is the controlling force of the surfer’s motion.

      Mature and coherent moral discussion shares a similar kind of tension between utter relativism and appeals to moral absolutes.

      Comment by Ubiquitous Che — May 31, 2010 @ 4:59 pm


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