"I get e-mail."
At this point, PZ goes on to explain that trolls typically send him gay pornography in an attempt to shock him. Thankfully, that is not the case - not because gay porn disgusts me (I'm more likely to be envious of the physiques of the actors involved), but because the e-mail in question originates from my grandfather, and I think we can all agree that receiving porn from grandfathers, be it hetero, homo, or otherwise, is just rather awkward. But I digress.
Many people lament the "FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: OBAMA HATES CHRISTIANS!" e-mails their aunts, uncles, grandmothers, and/or grandfathers send them. Thankfully, I am spared that - 99% of the time. Every once in a while, though, the stars collude together, and something like this drops into my inbox:
Hoo, boy. That's quite the e-mail there. It has, in order:LIFE WITHOUT GOD IS LIKE AN UNSHARPENED PENCIL---IT HAS NO POINTI am honored to do this!ACLU has filed a suit to end prayer from the military completely. They're making great progress. The Navy Chaplains can no longer mention Jesus' name in prayer thanks to the ACLU and others.I'm not breaking this one.Prayer chain for our Military... Don't break it!Please send this on after a short prayer. Pray for our Don't break it!Prayer:'Lord, hold our troops in your loving hands Protect them as they protect us Bless them and their families for the selfless acts they perform for us in our time of need. In Jesus' name, Amen.'Prayer Request: When you receive this, please stop for a moment and say a prayer for our troops around the world.There is nothing attached. Just send this to people in your address book. Do not let it stop with you. Of all the gifts you could give a Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman, & others deployed in harm's way, prayer is the very best one.GOD BLESS YOU FOR PASSING IT ON!
- Insinuated that non-monotheists (and, let's be honest, it's a statement about non-Jews and -Christians) have no point in life.
- Made a false accusation of religious persecution by the ACLU
- Set up prayer as the "best gift" you can give to soldiers in our armed forces.
One friend once described me as having taken the stance of "not letting assholes go unchallenged". While I don't think this e-mail makes my grandfather an asshole (more likely, he has never been challenged on these statements or required to think out their implications), the principal remains the same: this is a dumb e-mail, and it should be challenged.
Oh, I should preface this by saying: this is not me at my most collected, mature, or calm. Judge me as you will. :)
Now, on the "To:" list were a number of direct and indirect family members, and I knew that some of them would take umbrage if I tried to call out the first or second bullets, and I felt like being a bit constructive this time, so (maybe because ReasonFest left a little Epstein in me?), I decided to take the humanist route and suggest something that would actually benefit someone:
If you want to give a gift that's effective and will be actually valued by those in our military (regardless of their religious and non-religious inclinations), I would encourage you to go through one of the many charities that collect funds and gifts for them endorsed by military.com:http://www.military.com/spouse/content/military-life/military-resources/how-to-support-our-troops.htmlHaving seen the accounts first-hand, they are far more appreciative of physical and tangible items such as phone cards, phones, toiletries, and snacks.Just...don't send books, especially Bill O'Reilly books:http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2011/10/bill-oreilly-shouldnt-take-us-soldiers-burning-his-books-personally/43886/
Harmless enough, I thought. Sure, it insinuates that prayer isn't the "best gift" you can give, but I thought I'd make it a little light-hearted with (what I saw as) an amusing story at the end. I got an e-mail from one relative thanking me, and then later received this e-mail from my uncle:
Your response is grotesquely in appropriate and insulting to your Grandfather. I would hope that you would apologize and take his feelings into account next time before you reply with such callous disregard for his beliefs.Once again you have totally missed the point.
I was tired when I received this, and I fired off a response that may not have been the most intellectual or mature response:
You'll have to pardon me for suggesting something that actually helps people while not endorsing the imposition of religious beliefs on others.
I wasn't entirely pleased with that response, so I followed it up with:
The continued snarkiness probably didn't help defuse the situation, and "high road" is an extremely relative term here, but, thinking I knew who was the sender (I later figured out it was not that person but, instead, my uncle, but the effect remains the same), I wasn't too concerned with preserving the current structural integrity of bridges.Furthermore, I took the high road. I could have pointed out that the complaint is a complete fabrication, but chose instead to offer a suggestion on a way to actually help people.But don't let facts, research, and demonstrably effective helpful measures get in your way.1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Navy_Chaplain_Corps#Controversies
The morning after, I received the following:
You have just spit in the face of your grandfather, a man that loves and cares for you very deeply. If you call that the "high road" you are an arrogant ass. A real man would have given a damn about the pain that his comments caused regardless of his beliefs and simply appologized.I later responded:
In hindsight, the Jessica Ahlquist thing wasn't at all a spitting on my beliefs, and I wish I had saved it for further down the e-mail chain when it would have been relevant, but, like I said - this isn't me at my best. A response came with the next dawning of the sun:You imply that the opinion expressed in the initial e-mail is something worth respecting. Why, though? Let's revisit the e-mail in question."Life Without God is Like an Unsharpened Pencil - It Has No Point"This is the opening statement of the e-mail. While Grandfather Hyde is, to my knowledge, unaware that I am an atheist, that doesn't excuse the hate expressed by this statement. My life has plenty of purpose, found in helping people around me (such as, as suggested in my initial response, purchasing and contributing toward the purchase of gift packages for military soldiers) and generally trying to leave the world in a better state than I found it. The implication that my life has no point is something that I find offensive.Why aren't equally accusing him of not giving a damn about my feelings, or the feelings of any non-monotheist who might see this e-mail?"The Navy Chaplains can no longer mention Jesus' name in prayer thanks to the ACLU and others."This is a only a partial truth, and is used as part of the never-ending wailing of Christians over their loss of preference as "persecution". If you - and Grandfather Hyde - had bothered to spend a few seconds on Google (I kid you not, you can find out the truth by searching "navy chaplains can't say jesus"), you both would be aware of Klingenschmitt's misrepresentation of these facts.Curiously, though, you don't seem concerned with the misrepresentation of facts to further the "Christian persecution" conspiracy (not that you've ever demonstrated a willingness to support a secular government that treats no religion with undue preference - more on that later). Is misinformation and political propaganda not something you concern yourself with?"Of all the gifts you could give a Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman, & others deployed in harm's way, prayer is the very best one."If this had been a simple "pray for the soldiers!" e-mail, I would have ignored it, deleted it, and been on my way. However, if you're going to hitch your prayer illusion train to misinformation and hateful messaging, I don't think it's unfair for me to respond. I didn't think, though, everyone would appreciate receiving an equivalent to this e-mail, so I merely offered a counter-proposal of doing something that actually helps someone: donations via care packages.Beyond that, to call prayer as "the very best" gift you can give is just a perpetuation of the oldest form of slacktivism that is prayer. I know it's easier to tell everyone to talk to the guy in the sky and ask him to keep people safe, but if you stopped pretending that it was any more effective than changing one's Facebook profile picture to stop child abuse and actually did something to help those people you'll claim to care about in your "FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW:" e-mails, the world might actually end up being a bit nicer.Could I have been softer in my wording? Yes. Did I need to be? Given the tone set by the original e-mail, I'd say - firmly - "No." Did I "spit in the face of [my] grandfather"? Hardly. I calmly suggested something that I know is appreciated by the same people that the original e-mail purported to benefit. If even one of the people who received my initial response puts a dollar toward a care package for a soldier, then I'll have, indirectly, done a thousand fold better than if the e-mail was forwarded a million times and each recipient prayed - "two hands working are worth a thousand clasped in prayer", "prayer: how to do nothing and still think you're helping", and, to borrow and paraphrase from the timeless classic 'Bad Santa': "Shit in one hand and pray in the other. See which one fills up first."Now, can I claim that you've been disrespectful toward my beliefs? It leaps to mind that, when I posted about Christians harassing and threatening Jessica Ahlquist with violence and death, your first - and only - response was to defend those people, painting the picture of the Christians as being persecuted and lashing out only because they'd been driven into a corner. I find the fact that you would attempt to excuse and justify death threats and threats of violence against someone for simply promoting secularism repugnant and offensive to me as a humanist. If you're going to try to take the moral high ground, I'd recommend you do some introspection and re-evaluate just where your priorities are before you try playing that card again.Look at that. I did all that without calling you any names, like "arrogant ass."
Apoligize to your GrandfatherOn a less mature note, we're now up to two different spellings of "apologize". The principal of "a million monkeys on typewriters" would indicate that, had this e-mail chain continued, we'd eventually arrive at the correct spelling; but, again, I digress.
Suspecting that he hadn't actually bothered to read the e-mail at all, I respond with the following:
Thank you for taking the time to read my e-mail and respond to my points. I'll see you on Facebook.To which he responded:
Do you honestly believe that this has anything to do with you being right or being wrong??? You disrespected your Grandfather and his beliefs and you owe him an apology. No, I didn't read your email, because it is irrelevant.Unfortunately I will not see you on Facebook because I had to block your feeds (not because of what you write, but because of the volume.). I honestly enjoy our occasional debates and the added perspective of many of your friends. But in this case you has simple crossed the line. Your Grandfather deserves your respect, whether or not you agree with him and what he believes.Please do what is right.
Ahh, so now we get to the heart of the matter: whether or not my grandfather is right to do something, he must be shown respect at all times. I suspect that my uncle hasn't really extrapolated this out to situations where my uncle, himself, would find the statements offensive. I respond:
I didn't disrespect him, I chose not to respect his opinion, because it was mean, factually unfounded, and unhelpful. A smart person can still hold stupid ideas and a nice person can still hold mean opinions; pretending otherwise and refusing to address such ideas only perpetuates the existence of the idea. You need to learn how to divorce the person from the idea.I didn't feel that covered all the points, though, and decided to wrap this up by finally calling my uncle out on all of his crap:
Well, approximately twenty-four hours now, and no response. I think the last of my e-mail was almost prophetic in nature. So, yes, it's a bit of a "pearls before swine" scenario, but I'll be damned if it wasn't at least a bit cathartic to unload on someone, especially when that person is deserving of it.I'll add this:You seem to be laboring beneath the idea that, because he is my grandfather, his opinions are deserving of respect. Whether or not this is because you adhere to the "respect your elders" philosophy, the "family members are automatically due respect" philosophy, or some combination thereof, I can only speculate for now. However, this is a flawed premise; being older or related by blood or marriage does not magically grant immunity from criticisms of ideas.I love and respect my father, but not merely because he's my father. He's smart, he has a thirst for knowledge for which I credit as being the source of my own, and he's willing to hear others' perspectives; these are all traits I find admirable and respectable. However, if we came to me and told me that my life has no point because I don't believe in his god, tried to spin a lie, and tried to trumpet prayer as the best gift you can give someone, I'd call him out on it, too, because it's still a mean, false, and unhelpful thing to say. The person who says it doesn't change the credibility and respectability of the statement.Additionally, although I can't prove it beyond an absolute minimal reasonable doubt, I suspect your biased preference toward Christianity is feeding into your position here. If my grandfather had sent an e-mail out saying, "Life with God is pointless, because all you're doing is playing the mindless drone in the machine", spun a lie about Newt Gingrich wanting to make the U.S. a papal state, and talked about how the best gift you can give to our soldiers is the gift of thanks, I don't think you'd be nearly as concerned about his feelings on the matter.Of course, given your past statement, I doubt you're going to actually read this, which is another point I'd like to touch on: you are closed-minded and unwilling to consider things from a different viewpoint or to re-evaluate your stance based on new facts. You make up your mind before entering a new situation and God help you if you'll ever actually think you were wrong. You call it "discussions" with my friends, but what they really were was you popping into the threads, shouting out something that you thought would stir the hornet's nest, and then run off again to your corner of the Internet. You're never interested in actually discussing something or finding out new information, never interested in testing out your arguments and discarding the ones that don't work, never interested in looking for an argument you've not heard before. It turns out that your unsubscription from me worked out well mutually, because I was really starting to get tired of your stubborn jackassery, but this whole e-mail chain has roused that irritation. Try, sometime, reading a book written by someone who has a different opinion than yours. If you actually go into it open-minded, you might actually learn something for once.