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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I sent a response.

Hi Randy,

It seems to me that for you it comes down to likability. What would it take for an atheist to be likable to a theist? Could an atheist feel free to talk at all about atheism and still be considered likable? Or does that make the theist uncomfortable and thus make the atheist unlikable. Do people like Ellen Johnson, who is always polite on television, still come off as unlikable simply because she states her views unequivocally?

I agree that some atheists are angry or arrogant or that ubiquitous unlikable. Not to sound like a school yard argument, but so are theists. Why isn't the term for "angry theist"? The reason that atheists are labeled as angry and dismissed is because people don't like having their views challenged.

I see two issues here. One, that an atheist can be classified as angry when he isn't expressing anger. The other is when an atheist expresses anger he is dismissed because he's angry. As if there's no reason to be angry. As if anger can never be used in a positive way.

I could say, "Man, that Keith Olbermann is always ranting on and on. I can't believe those angry Democrats. Their spokesperson is out of control." But would that be fair? Are all Democrats like Keith, all with the same ideology? And is it wrong to be angry in public just because it's unlikable? Does Keith only hurt Democrats because he expresses anger, arrogance, and is, I'm sure, unlikable to many people?

I also agree with your ideas about being persuasive. I dislike confrontation. It makes me uncomfortable. These letters aren't an easy thing for me to write. I'm constantly trying to be nice, to soften anything I say that might be interpreted as impolite. But, sometimes it's good to be angry and passionate. Persuasion is great, but there isn't just one way to achieve a goal. Sometimes passion, even anger, reaches people that persuasion won't.

You may think that Dawkins and Hitchens are doing more harm than good for atheists. But they are good at motivating people to think and feel passionate. They've mainstreamed atheism enough that many people who might not have spoken out, now feel comfortable doing so. Sometimes you can't be nice or likable when you're challenging the status quo.

Thanks for responding,

P.S. I should have asked you before, but I posted my first letter and your response on my blog. If you're uncomfortable with this exchange being public, I'll take down your half of the exchange. When I first put it up I didn't think about asking you. I just thought it'd be fair to post your response. But after thinking about it some more I realized that the assumption is that email is private and shouldn't be published without permission.

And thank you guys for encouraging me. I'm not good at debate because really, I just want to get along. Even friendly debates make me a bit uncomfortable. But I think this has been good for me. I've had friends over the years tell me I needed to be more outspoken (or as a co-worker said, "find your inner bitch") over the years, which was their way of telling me to stop worrying and speak my mind.

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