To Get These Pests
Off Your Back?
with Fred Hermon

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Fred Hermon"
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Tuesday, December 26, 2000 10:50 PM

We have had similar problems, as you can probably guess. I'm taking your word for it that you have done what you've said, and now it's time to get tough, time to let him know, in no uncertain terms, that this is not acceptable behavior.

Some might argue that you shouldn't snivel about what's happening today because you were "asking for it" by entertaining this fellow in the past. I disagree. A woman sees a man in a bar and flirts with him (knowing nothing else about him other than that he's good looking). It turns out, though, that this fellow is a jerk, a bigot, and very aggressive. But she's bored and lets him buy her a few rounds. Has she earned a role as his captive audience for having winked at him from afar? for having let him buy a few rounds? I think neither is the case.

But let's suppose that all the regular kiss-off lines prove ineffective. He follows her around and continues his pursuit of her. An effective thing for the woman to do would be to become very offended at some small thing he says or does and to use that as an excuse to end the situation -- firmly, loudly, and in plain sight of everyone in the bar (particularly the doorkeeper or the bartender). Some might say this is not tactful, but where does tact fit in when protecting yourself from harassment? especially when tactful means have thus far failed to accomplish your goal?

The same goes for this lay minister. Most Christian preachers in the West are not as persistent as you describe. Preachers seem to know better, having learned tact in Seminary; it's the lay ministers who more often tend to become as you describe.

The solution with persistent jerks who continue to inflict their religion upon us, is to see their behavior as harassment borne out of bigotry. I took this position with a Roman Catholic lay apologist named Cameron Pearl. This fellow writes me out of the blue and announces, "You are on our prayer list. We will pray for you always." I wrote back saying that it's one thing for him to pray for me in the privacy of his own imagination (or even in a prayer group), but it's another thing altogether for him to inform me of his activity -- especially when he knows nothing more about me than my atheism.

I pointed out, subtly and tactfully, that his behavior made it appear that he was trying to say he was superior to me (this is bigotry, but I didn't use this word until much later). In the second exchange he wrote back and continued to justify his actions. So I pulled the verbal equivalent of a trick I picked up from Miss Manners: I talked right by him, seemingly oblivious to his attempts to justify his actions, and all the while laying down in detail my position.

Did this stop him? No. But at least it laid the groundwork to justify my telling him to stop, and eventually, when this didn't work, that I wanted to hear no more from him. Finally, I asked his server to place a filter on his account (this part is not included in the file, but occurred later). Apparently they called him up and gave him the business. He wrote back one more time, sniveled a bit, suggested that I was being a weenie for not wanting to tackle his theological provocations, and then scurried away. They always accuse you of ruinning away from the debate because you're unable to confront their challenges -- their challenges being so formidable, and all that. (And they're the ones who think there's a debate raging in the first place!) I recently got one from a guy who deliberately acted the bigot just to see if I'd blow him off. Of course I'll blow the guy off! Woudn't you? This jackass likewise accused me of being too afraid to confront his contorted logic and tired Bible arguments. Then he complained that blowing him off for his bigotry is not a valid argument against his position, and therefore his god exists after all.

So, when the going gets tough, I first lay the groundwork for calling what they do inappropriate. (Cameron Pearl was easy: he announced to me that he was praying for me, which in my book constitutes bigotry if all you know about me is my atheism and if your announcement appears to be a statement claiming superiority over me for being a theist.) Then I tell them -- in no uncertain terms -- that they must stop what they are doing.This is why I first lay the groundwork by explaining why such behavior is wrong. They don't even have to get it -- the person who needs to "get it" is you, to give you the emotional momentum so you will take the necessary steps to get them to stop. I also try to see if they'll at least acknowledge my point if I think they're reasonable and intelligent enough to even grasp where I'm coming from -- I mistook Cameron Pearl for one of these individuals. Finally, if they don't stop, I stop all contact with the person. If it's a bartender, I stop going to that bar on their nights (or altogether). If it's a relative this is a much tougher decision -- especially if you're a minor -- and you're more likely to end up not having to go that far. Finally, if need be, I enlist the aid of a third party to try to communicate to the person that I want no further contact and why. All this involves a progression of behavior on my part, each new request following the person's unresponsiveness to the previous request.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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