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The Friday Morning Listen: Elvis Costello – Spike

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It was a long time ago, probably in the mid-1970s. There had been fights about why-do-I-have-to-go-if-I-don't-believe-any-of-it and all of that. Mom just couldn't accept that I wasn't a believer. At some point not long after those arguments, I stopped going to church. It was a relief, as my thoughts on the subject of the existence of a supreme being made me feel out out place in a supposed house of worship.

But this isn't about me and my lack of religion. It's about attitudes toward the religious. More closely, it's about the crust of hardened clichés, reductive thought, and the Internet.

Earlier in the week, I was reading this article at Salon.com entitled "Why I finally joined a church." A self-described religious skeptic, writer Jane Roper had a minor change of heart after having twins and deciding that she wanted to seek out an organization that would help her and her children to deal with the many issues of life, death, and community. So she joined a Unitarian Universalist church. My one sentence distillation of her family's needs and subsequent decision is truly inadequate, so I urge you to read her article.

Roper's ideas seemed reasonable enough to me. The company of like-minded individuals is almost always a good thing. Her desire for her kids to be witness to an active, working community is admirable. It wouldn't be my choice, but I'm so not a joiner that my opinion on the matter isn't relevant.

By Monday afternoon, the article had received nearly 150 comments. A day later, almost 250. The amount of vitriol, snottiness, arrogance, and just plain rudeness was spectacular. Yes, I know, it's the Internet. Was I to expect anything different? After all of these years, I should never be amazed at the things people will say when they can hide behind their net moniker. They would never say this stuff in person (despite their silly protestations to the contrary).

Somehow, the all-knowing goons on the Internet managed to take Roper's calm and even-handed ideas and twist them around into phlegm-coated accusations of: brain-washing, wishy-washy thinking, poor logic, lazy thought, and selfishness. It's didn't stop there though as Jane Roper, the evil parent, is apparently engaging in child abuse, religious indoctrination, and lying to her children. Can bestiality be far behind?!

The commentary devolved into usual web poo-fling, with posters giving themselves verbal hernias in the attempt to find the next clever way to dump on the author (and other writers as well), her apparent lack of parenting skills, and religion in general. Everybody has the right answer. Everybody knows that right way. The Christian commenters know that the true way can only be found in "the word." The atheists know that everybody else is full of shit. All of it without a single molecule of empathy. Heck, one poster even said that Roper shouldn't have had children. Amazing.

There were some defenses here and there, and I'm going to quote a bit of the best one:

So what has happened to us in the US that we are so harsh to each other, that we can so blithely write such negative comments to each other because someone has joined a church (not a "correct" church??), that we excoriate someone for simply stating her desire that she and her family meet with people they feel comfortable and connected with, joining a group of other similarly minded (and non-judgmental) people to build their sense of community?

We can look down our smug noses at the rest of the world as we crow that this is the "greatest country on earth." And yes, a great country is open to all sorts of viewpoints. I'm not here to squelch any of them. But this lack of empathy extends far, far beyond religion. It's one of our biggest problems, and I'm not even sure that we're aware of it.

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About Mark Saleski

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Again, numerous avenues of thought about a subject that pertains to the unprovable is a waste of time. Now, if people want to get together and help each other out with life issues, become friends, get support,etc.then that’s fine with me and I actually think those are positive things but to reduce that great effort down to something based upon single & personal experiences that is clouded in our very limited translation of the world & universe around us, that just screams of emotion not intelligence!

    You can call my view “reductive” all you want but when so many “religions” can’t produce any facts to back up their theories and those theories can be held up by prejudice & separatism then I can only resort to dismissing such bullsh!t.

  • well, that’s ok. hitchens has a reductive view of religion too. it helps him sell books.

  • There you go, Jordan, you’re the kind of agnostic everybody can like.

    Instead of religion, one might think of “religious/spiritual” experience, even of a kind of faith (in any number of things).

    Quite a different matter.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Brian, I respect your position but I think Mark is right when he states that you have a rather reductionist view of the subject that lacks empathy.

    Now, I’m not sure where I come down in terms of belief. I’m certainly not a religious individual, nor am I served by theism anymore. And traditional understandings of religion don’t really mean much to me, although I do respect the practitioners and empathize with them on multiple levels.

    I also realize that there are numerous avenues of religion and of religious thought. There is actually such a thing as Christian atheism (Paul van Buren, Thomas J. J. Altizer, Gustavo Bueno) for example. The point is that there are so many facets to the overarching invention or idea of religion that to generalize the concept with such regularity, as you do, is simply foolish.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus


    Hell, it’s a great quote! If I could get a free sub out of it, as long as it’s not that Subway sh!t, then that’s more than what any f*cking religion ever gave me except for maybe glazed doughnuts.But, that isn’t too health conscious. Well, maybe, because they don’t believe in Science they figure you will work it off in the afterlife? Forgive me, I’m rambling…

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I agree with you, Mark.

    “and what somebody can get out of religion often has nothing to do with the existence or not of a supreme being.”

    Ha, I would say,”Go find a good hobby then”,but, I understand your point even if I think that that person might just need a hug…

  • Jordan Richardson

    “What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.” -Christopher Hitchens

    Do you have some sort of stamp card for using this quote or something, B? One more time, get a free sub?

  • this is such a silly argument for us to get in, since neither of us are believers….i’m also not a joiner in any way so even if i was attracted to the mild philosophy-spreading of something like the u.u. church, it would never happen for me.

    and what somebody can get out of religion often has nothing to do with the existence or not of a supreme being.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Honestly, Mark, what is their to empathize with?

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “..and your reductive characterization of religion..”

    “What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.” -Christopher Hitchens

  • that’s right. you can’t empathize, and your reductive characterization of religion shows it…which was my point all along.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Then I either don’t understand the point or I can’t be empathetic to someone who knows the strains that religion can put on one’s life just to put their own children through it.

  • freedom of speech. in no way did i say or imply that people shouldn’t be able to say those things.

    freedom of speech means the freedom to make an ass out of yourself in public. sadly, it’s an all too common thing.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    One more thing… How do you know that all those comments are from people in the US? Huh?

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    *Oops* What I meant:

    “…as opposed to some stranger being ridiculed for posting [a story] about choices that she is lucky to have here in the US.”

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Well ya know, Mark, “Freedom of Speech” still covers the KKK. So, as much as I do or don’t agree with your article I COULD say, honestly, that there are more important things to get worked up over as opposed to some stranger posting about choices that she is lucky to have here in the US. But, I won’t…

  • from God’s Comic:

    “I’ve been wading through all this unbelievable
    junk and wondering if I should have given
    the world to the monkeys”

    and yes, she put something out there on the internet…and just because people react like goons doesn’t mean it’s right. yep, she could have made a different decision, but that’s not the point.

  • Irene Wagner

    Dunno about its not being about music, Zing. Costello on Spike sings:
    You’re nobody in this town
    You’re nobody in this crowd
    You’re nobody ’til everybody in this town
    knows you’re poison
    Got your number knows it must be avoided
    You’re nobody ’til everybody in this town
    thinks you’re a bastard.

    In any other circumstance, Jane might be grateful for the upswing in hits from Salon to her blog, no matter how she gets them–but those who left comments to a new mom, who is very likely having days on which she’s desperately unsure of herself, that she should have her kids taken away? THAT’s poison!

    Thanks for giving all those who commented this way, Mark Saleski, fair “shame on you” time, from the Dick Dawkins devotees who are being trained to say such things, to the Christians who have forgetten that “gentleness and respect” is part of their Biblical code. I’d better stay away from that thread, because I’m a Christian, too, and I’m getting too pissed off to comment with “gentleness and respect” to anyone there.

  • Cool article, Mark. In total agreement with you.

  • zingzing

    unitarianism is as much a religion as this is an article about music.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Good Article, But (of course) I don’t necessarily agree.

    Yes… I agree that people can get absolutely, ridiculously rude on the internet. It is horrible but is it really any different to what people say or do in/to public things, in general. I mean, sure, no one stands around spewing insults vehemently at random strangers but they do liter & graffiti stuff that isn’t theirs. Honestly, what kinds of responses do most people get when they stand out in a crowded area with either a religious alert or some sort of political stance? Maybe it’s a little bit of a stretch and I’m not condoning their behavior but she did put something personal out on the intertubes.

    As for her article, I really don’t see why she can’t join other “communities” if she wants her kids to have positive experiences and if she truly doesn’t believe, why wouldn’t she just give them a head start so they don’t have to experience that life-confusing guilt & intimidation just to end up rejecting it later on. There are way too many reasons,but, these are my opinions.