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Holy Trollers: How to argue about religion online
They are the same cast of characters that surface during every online debate about religion. Do you know a "Holy Troller?"
October 5th, 2013
08:00 AM ET

Holy Trollers: How to argue about religion online

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) –"Yo mama..."

Whenever I heard those two words while growing up in inner-city Baltimore, I knew something bad was about to happen. Trading insults was a childhood ritual. But everyone understood that one subject was off-limits. You didn’t talk about anybody’s momma unless you were prepared to start swinging.

Now that I’m all grown-up, I’ve discovered a new arena for combat: The reader’s comments section for stories about religion.

When I first started writing about religion for an online news site, I eagerly turned to the comment section for my articles, fishing for compliments and wondering if I had provoked any thoughtful discussions about faith.

I don’t wonder anymore.

When I look at the comment section now, I see a whole lot of “yo mamas” being tossed about. Readers exchange juvenile insults, condescending lectures and veer off into tangents that have nothing to do with the article they just read.

For years, I’ve listened to these “holy trollers” in silence. Now I’m calling them out. I’ve learned that the same types of people take over online discussions about faith and transform them into the verbal equivalent of a food fight. You may recognize some of these characters.

You might even recognize yourself.

The Street Corner Prophet

When the Belief Blog ran a recent article on a television host who declared that atheists “don’t have to live here,” a commenter identified as “Karie” got into a heated exchange with someone who called themselves “Bible Clown.”

Karie called Bible Clown a “disgusting, deviant perverted virus,” and a “Bozo,” before ending with this prediction:

Hell is coming for you love. Special dungeon just for u and u won’t be able to die. LOL.LOL.”

The street corner prophets often act as if they’re deeply concerned about the fate of souls they disagree with, but you can tell that they relish the prospect of eternal torment for their online enemies.

Some don’t even try to hide their true motives:

“I hope you like worms because you will have your own personal worm to feed off your fat drippings in hell for all eternity…”

That’s what a commenter called “HeavenSent” said to another following an article on evangelical Pastor Rick Warren. HeavenSent ended his malediction with one word: “Amen.”

Okay, so that’s the wrong way to argue about religion online if you’re a street corner prophet. Now, here’s the right way:

Not everyone who disagrees with you deserves eternal torment. People rarely listen to someone who is in perpetual attack mode.

“We change no one’s mind by attacking,” said Charles Camosy, an ethics professor at Fordham University in New York City.

Camosy has made a career out of bridging religious differences. He’s part of a “Contending Modernites” group, which finds common ground between Christians and Muslims. He’s also the co-founder of a website devoted to dialing down the heat in religious arguments entitled, “Catholic Moral Theology.”

Camosy says that online discussions about religion are difficult because they are not in person. Tone and nuance gets lost online.

“You can’t look them in the face,” he said. “You can’t shake their hand or give a hug. You find it very difficult to have that sort of embodied trust.”

The Provoker

There isn’t any notion of “embodied trust” with the next online character: The provoker.

The provoker doesn’t even pretend to care about the final destination for someone’s soul. They come out punching, and they love to say things that they probably wouldn’t say to someone in person.

In the recent article on Warren, a reader who went by the surname of “Just the Facts Ma’am,” tells another:

“Thanks for once again confirming how vulgar, uneducated and delusional you are Meredith.”

In an article about millennials leaving the church, a reader who identified herself as “Jenna,” tells another: “Jesus never said any of that mess. You are a false prophet if I’ve ever seen one.”

How to argue about religion if you’re a provoker:

No one will listen to you if they don’t like you, said Joe Carter, an evangelical blogger and author of “How to Argue like Jesus,” a book that explores how Jesus verbally tangled with his enemies and persuaded his friends.

Carter said Jesus was such an excellent communicator because he told stories that provoked emotions, took surprising twists and forced people to draw their own conclusions. But he also connected with people because of a simple reason: he cared about them.

“When people know that you care about them, they’re more likely to be persuaded by you,” Carter said. “We tend to be persuaded by people we like and trust. Jesus had that in spades.”

The Atheist

One of my best friends was an atheist. Whenever we ran into one other, we’d launch into these long, philosophical discussions about religion.  I loved it. Like many atheists I subsequently met, I discovered that he knew more about the Bible than most people who claimed to be religious.

It’s too bad that many of the exchanges between atheists and people of faith in our comments section don’t follow the same script. In fact, they have some of the nastiest religious arguments I’ve witnessed online.

A sample:

In a recent Belief Blog article about atheism, a reader identifying himself as “Sam Stone” says to another: “Free people do not need a savior, Kate. Only slaves need saviors.”

Another reader who identifies himself as “CamDEn1” tells a Christian, “You are an uneducated fool. Ever you heard of Richard Dawkins? Sam Harris? Atheists have more respected scholars than Christianity…”

I get the source of frustration for some atheists. They have longed been caricatured by people of faith as moral degenerates who don’t care about morality. Some of them, in turn, have caricatured people of faith as weak-minded hypocrites who believe in fairy tales.

Here’s how to argue over religion if you’re an atheist:

Get beyond the stereotypes and actually spend time with a person of faith. And if you’re a person of faith, do the same with an atheist. You might be surprised.

That’s what happened when Camosy, the Fordham University ethics professor, embarked on a speaking tour with the renowned atheist and philosopher, Peter Singer, who is seen by many as the founder of the animal rights movement.

Camosy said the speaking tour forced him to read and pay attention to Singer’s arguments. He discovered that they share concerns over global poverty. He saw Singer as a person of good will.

“That created the space for us to have an honest, open and fruitful exchange with one another rather than exchanging barbs,” Camosy said.

It also created the space for personal transformation.

“Actually reading him converted me to being a vegetarian,” Camosy said. “But it was only being open to his arguments that made me see.”

The Scholar

I have a friend who is smart – scary smart.  He’s a genial, funny guy who happens to be a theology professor. I try to hang with him when we talk religion, but there’s always a point in the conversation when he loses me. I compare that moment to watching the starship Enterprise go into warp drive. He just goes into hyperspace and my brain just isn’t big enough to follow.

There a lot of big brains in our blog’s comment sections. I call these readers “the scholars.”

Some of them are self-appointed biblical experts. They talk as if they have God’s cell phone number: God has revealed great mysteries to them. They know the divine plan.

In a recent article I wrote about contemporary Christians feeling as if they were persecuted, a reader identified as “Tom Skylark” let me know what all this persecution was really about.

 Skylark said:

“Christians will face continued persecution then 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 will happen right before the 7 year tribulation when Israel burns Russia’s weapons for 7 years. (Ezekiel 39:9). Those who are not taken in the rapture will have the opportunity to receive Christ during the 7 year tribulation but will be beheaded for their testimony. (Revelation 20:4). How far is Russia towards its prophetic position which means the rapture (! Thessalonians 4:16-17) is even closer?

Actually, I did not know that, and I’m still not sure what it means.

Sometimes the scholar is someone who believes all religion is hopelessly derivative: it’s all based on something that came before.

A reader by the name of “Seyedibar” responded to my article on Christian persecution with this:

“A little study of history and comparative religion goes a long way. Abraham is based on an Egyptian figure. His god was Ptah, not El, and his vision was of Memphis, not Israel. Jesus was likely based on a Merkabah mystic, one of a hairdresser and carpenter. .. And if you back a little further, Uguritic archaeology shows us that the book of Genesis is based on the ancestor kings of the Canaanites. Most Christians and Jews aren’t aware that the creator of the Garden of Eden, El, is recorded to have died of a wild boar attack.”

 Like I said, hyperspace. I just can’t go where “Seyedibar” has gone before. I love the scholar’s passion for religion, but some of them lose me when they try to deploy all their knowledge of history and religion in any effort to change someone else’ beliefs.

How to argue about religion if you’re a scholar:

Accept that there is a limit to knowledge. I’ve never seen anyone say in response to a religious argument: “You are right. Your argument is irrefutable. I’m going to jettison a lifetime of beliefs on the spot right now because I obviously have no coherent reply.”

It just doesn’t happen.

Gordon Newby, a professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies at Emory University, said most people change religious beliefs “not because of one argument” but only after long conversations and intimate exposure to another faith.

“Logical arguments are nice but they're not going to change someone’s life,” Newby said. “We’re way too complicated for that. We’re not programmed machines. We have this whole limbic system of emotions and appetites and everything else.”

The Peacemaker

There are some readers who give me hope when I go to the comment section. They are the “peacemakers,” and they surely bless me with their attitudes.

Peacemakers try to keep arguments from getting personal. They are the online referees.  They turn the other cheek.

An exchange between someone called “Bootyfunk” and “KatieRose” shows a peacemaker in action.

“Bootyfunk”  gets upset with “KatieRose” because she says  “we must respect all ideas in the world, no matter how crazy.”

Bootyfunk says people don’t have to respect all ideas, and tells Katie Rose she shouldn't tell people not to debate religion on a blog about religion.

What does KatieRose say in response? She doesn’t go to war. She makes the peace:

“Okay! That works for me,” KatieRose said. “I’m sorry if it sounded like I was ordering people not to talk about an issue: I just disagreed with the focus of the discussion.”

“Bootyfunk” ends the discussion with a smiley-face symbol and a “smooches, Katie.”

How to argue about religion if you’re a peacemaker:

Keep on doing what you’re doing.

If only the rest of the comment section had more peacemakers. I actually e-mailed readers like “Bootyfunk” and “KatieRose” to get their perspective, but all I got was silence. Not one commenter wanted to talk on the record for this story. Only one person – an atheist – responded to my invitations to chat, and he didn’t want his name used.

But I have a feeling I’ll hear again from these holy trollers when I scan the comment section of Belief Blog. So will you, even if you don’t read that much about religion. These holy trollers show up in our lives and our workplaces. Many of them will sit next to us at the dinner table when families and friends get together for the upcoming holidays.

When the conversation turns to religion, you may meet your holy troller, and you will have to make a choice.

Do I make the peace, or do I go the war?

What kind of holy troller will you be?

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Ethics • Internet • News media • Nones

soundoff (3,856 Responses)
  1. Bender Bending Rodriguez

    I respect one's decision to be an atheist.

    October 5, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      For most atheists it's a realization rather than a decision.

      On a completely different note, believers don't decide what to believe, either; belief follows c ompulsion.

      October 6, 2013 at 12:29 am |
  2. Buck Rogers

    Check it out, NASA's been busy hunting for our 'interstellar origins' via their fakery. So does their exposure place 'the religion of evolution' on shaky ground?

    http://www.fountainsofthegreatdeep.com/IFS.htm

    October 5, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
    • Mike

      Evolution is not a religion.
      http://evolution.berkeley.edu/
      Educate yourself instead of embarrassing yourself!

      October 5, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
  3. boris

    OΙΟΥΔΑΙΟΙ ΗΜΙΝ ΟΥΚ ΕΞΕΣΤΙΝ ΑΠΟΚΤΕΙΝΑΙ

    OYΔΕΝΑ ΙΝΑ Ο ΛΟΓΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΙΗΣΟΥ ΠΛΗΡΩΘΗ ΟΝ ΕΙ-

    ΠΕΝ ΣHΜΑΙΝΩΝ ΠΟΙΩ ΘΑΝΑΤΩ ΗΜΕΛΛΕΝ ΑΠΟ-

    ΘΝHΣΚΕΙΝ ΕΙΣΗΛΘΕΝ ΟΥΝ ΠΑΛΙΝ ΕΙΣ ΤΟ ΠΡΑΙΤΩ-

    ΡΙΟΝ Ο ΠIΛΑΤΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΕΦΩΝΗΣΕΝ ΤΟΝ ΙΗΣΟΥΝ

    ΚΑΙ ΕΙΠΕΝ ΑΥΤΩ ΣΥ ΕΙ O ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΤΩΝ ΙΟΥ-

    ΔAΙΩN

    the Jews, “For us it is not permitted to kill

    anyone,” so that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spoke signifying what kind of death he was going to

    die. Entered therefore again into the Praetorium Pilate and summoned Jesus

    and said to him, “Thou art king of the

    Jews?”

    October 5, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I don't think you actually looked at the fragment, boris. If it were in English it would look like this:

      the jews For us
      anyone so that the w
      oke signifying
      die en
      rium p
      and sai
      jews

      October 5, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
      • boris

        ΙΗΣΟΥΝ

        some scholar

        October 5, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Not mentioned in the P52 fragment.

          October 5, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
      • boris

        ΙΗΣΟΥΝ

        some scholar!!

        October 5, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
      • boris

        This manuscript, called the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, is on exhibition at Rylands Library in Manchester, UK. It measures 3.5 by 2.5 inches, and has writing on both front and back. The front contains parts of 7 lines from John 18: 31-33; the back contains parts of 7 lines from John 18: 37-38.

        October 5, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Have a close look at it, boris.

          October 5, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
        • Reality # 2

          So what?

          John's Gospel is of questionable historic value.

          To wit:

          From Professor Bruce Chilton in his book, Rabbi Jesus,

          "Conventionally, scholarship has accorded priority to the first three gospels in historical work on Jesus, putting progressively less credence in works of late date. John's Gospel for example is routinely dismissed as a source......

          From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_John#Authorship

          "Since "the higher criticism" of the 19th century, some historians have largely rejected the gospel of John as a reliable source of information about the historical Jesus.[3][4] "[M]ost commentators regard the work as anonymous,"[5] and date it to 90-100."

          "The authorship has been disputed since at least the second century, with mainstream Christianity believing that the author is John the Apostle, son of Zebedee. Modern experts usually consider the author to be an unknown non-eyewitness, though many apologetic Christian scholars still hold to the conservative Johannine view that ascribes authorship to John the Apostle."

          And from Professor Gerd Ludemann, in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 416,

          "Anyone looking for the historical Jesus will not find him in the Gospel of John. "

          See also http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/john.html

          October 5, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
      • boris

        This manuscript, called the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, is on exhibition at Rylands Library in Manchester, UK.

        October 5, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
        • FYI

          boris,

          Struggling to post? You must break up the word "doc.ument" to get past the automatic word filter.

          October 5, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
      • boris

        This fragment of John is probably the oldest New Testament manuscript discovered so far. Let’s say you found a puzzle piece that had a date stamp of 1929 on the back. Let’s say the partial picture on the puzzle piece that has not faded matches a puzzle piece from a complete 1982 puzzle that you own. Let’s say the shape of the puzzle piece fits perfectly into your 1982 puzzle. You would be fairly sure that your 1982 puzzle was originally made in 1929 or before.

        October 5, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          I don't think it works quite that way, boris. Perhaps you can show the larger puzzle that it, without reasonable doubt, fits into.

          October 5, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
      • boris

        What do we learn from the “puzzle piece” called P52?

        Early Date

        1. It suggests a 1st century date of the original writing of John’s gospel ~ not in the 2nd to 4th century, as some conspiracy theorists say. This papyrus was found in Egypt, having been copied in a particular Alexandrian script. Since it is dated 117-138 based on the particular script (a type of date-stamp), it means that the book of John (thought to be written in Ephesus) had to travel to Egypt and then be copied before early 2nd century. The P52 papyrus is so fragile that scholars do not want to run other types of tests, and so the dating, though considered very reliable by many, is not iron-clad. Some scholars even date P52 as early as 90 AD.
        Accuracy

        October 5, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
        • Reality # 2

          Early Christian Writings, earlychristianwritings.com/
          – a list of early Christian doc-uments to include the year of publication and a discussion of each.

          30-60 CE Passion Narrative
          40-80 Lost Sayings Gospel Q
          50-60 1 Thessalonians
          50-60 Philippians
          50-60 Galatians
          50-60 1 Corinthians
          50-60 2 Corinthians
          50-60 Romans
          50-60 Philemon
          50-80 Colossians
          50-90 Signs Gospel
          50-95 Book of Hebrews
          50-120 Didache
          50-140 Gospel of Thomas
          50-140 Oxyrhynchus 1224 Gospel
          50-200 Sophia of Jesus Christ
          65-80 Gospel of Mark
          70-100 Epistle of James
          70-120 Egerton Gospel
          70-160 Gospel of Peter
          70-160 Secret Mark
          70-200 Fayyum Fragment
          70-200 Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
          73-200 Mara Bar Serapion
          80-100 2 Thessalonians
          80-100 Ephesians
          80-100 Gospel of Matthew
          80-110 1 Peter
          80-120 Epistle of Barnabas
          80-130 Gospel of Luke
          80-130 Acts of the Apostles
          80-140 1 Clement
          80-150 Gospel of the Egyptians
          80-150 Gospel of the Hebrews
          80-250 Christian Sibyllines
          90-95 Apocalypse of John
          90-120 Gospel of John
          90-120 1 John
          90-120 2 John
          90-120 3 John
          90-120 Epistle of Jude
          93 Flavius Josephus
          100-150 1 Timothy
          100-150 2 Timothy
          100-150 T-itus
          100-150 Apocalypse of Peter
          100-150 Secret Book of James
          100-150 Preaching of Peter
          100-160 Gospel of the Ebionites
          100-160 Gospel of the Nazoreans
          100-160 Shepherd of Hermas
          100-160 2 Peter

          October 6, 2013 at 12:03 am |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Oh, my, boris. and how does that affect our respective stances on the larger issues?

          October 6, 2013 at 12:34 am |
      • boris

        2. It shows the accuracy of the preservation of this passage in John by its incredible agreement with later manuscripts. P52 has no significant variance with P66, a 2nd-3rd century papyrus fragment which includes much more of the gospel of John. P52 has no significant variance with our earliest gospels that are in codex (book) form, including 4th century Codex Sinaiticus, 4th century Codex Vaticanus, and 5th century Codex Alexandrinus. Variations that exist include word order and pronunciation (itacism) differences .

        October 5, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          It doesn't help to overstate the relationship with later, more complete, texts. I don't think P66 contains the part of the Gospel of John that P52 is said to cover. Refer to Floyd V. Filson's original paper on P66:

          The Biblical Archaeologist
          Vol. 20, No. 3 (Sep., 1957), pp. 53-63

          October 5, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
      • boris

        The early dating and high level of accuracy of P52 indicate that the gospel of John was written in the 1st century and preserved in a way that gives us confidence in the reliability of the gospel of John that we have in our Bibles.

        October 5, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
      • boris

        How is this relevant?

        We actually have early copies within decades of the originals. This far surpasses the proximity of other ancient doc
        uments, as Lee Strobel says:

        “Next to the New Testament, the greatest manuscript evidence for any other ancient work is for Homer’s Illiad of which there are fewer than 650 manuscripts that come a full thousand years after the original writing.”

        October 5, 2013 at 11:26 pm |
        • FYI

          boris,

          You might at least give credit to the blog site that you are copying from...

          October 5, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
      • boris

        According to Sir Frederick Kenyon, former director of the British Museum:

        “In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament. The last foundation for any doubt that the scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed.”

        P52 is an early doc
        ument that attests to the preservation and reliability of this passage in John 18. betsy mcpeak

        October 5, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
      • boris

        in other words, this phony ego-maniacal no-nothing lying witch got nothin

        thank you

        October 6, 2013 at 12:27 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      This is the Greek as best I can make it out:

      ΟΙ ΙΟΥΔΑΙ ΗΜ
      OYΔΕΝΑ ΙΝΑ Ο Λ
      ΠΕΝ ΣHΜΑΙΝΩ
      ΘΝHΣΚΕΙΝ Ε
      ΡΙΟΝ Ο Π
      ΚΑΙ ΕΙΠ
      AΙΩ

      October 5, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        No mention of ΙΗΣΟΥΝ (Jesus).

        October 5, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
        • gxm17

          TTTOO, I admire your patience.

          October 5, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
  4. boris

    faith
    The autographs “were destroyed after the Council of Nicaea” (26).

    [In point of fact, we have no knowledge of what happened to the original copies of the New Testament; they were probably simply used so much they wore out. There is not a scin t illa of evidence to suggest that they survived until Nicaea or that they were destroyed afterward; plenty of counter-evidence indicates they did not survive until Nicaea.]

    but this disgusting, self involved narcissist evidently finds truth and facts as disturbing as jesus himself. her bitter, raging hatred and contempt 4 all things that don't comply with her god-like demands, leaves her damaged goods.

    October 5, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
    • Jericho

      Hey, boris, were you happy being mentioned in this article under your other names "Karie" and "Meredith", the name you stole from the 9-11 widow? Bet you were.

      October 5, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
  5. boris

    We have no manuscript of the New Testament that dates prior to the fourth century (26).

    [This is just plain wrong: we have numerous fragmentary manuscripts that date from the second and third centuries.]

    and her groupies hang on her every word

    October 5, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      This is where I usually bring out those fragments, like P52, the oldest. They generally consist of very few, very incomplete, sentences that people feel are from some work that is known from a more complete form found much later (after much compilation, augmentation and editing, perhaps).

      October 5, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
      • gxm17

        TTTOO is right. There are no NT manuscripts dated to the first century and only a very few to the second. Further, the P52 fragment window stretches into the third century. But why entertain a discussion with someone who wants to pretend that a small scrap of paper is *proof* that the NT is fact? It's a scrap of paper, that may (or may not) have influenced one story in an anthology of stories.

        October 5, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
        • Russ

          @ gxm17: by your line of logic, MOST of ancient history needs to be dismissed.

          do a quick comparative study. there are no other ancient docu.ments with anywhere near this close of proximity to the events in question (most are many centuries later), much less with such a vast wealth of copies (most have only a handful of copies in comparison).

          this quick overview from an NT scholar will help you (note well his chart on comparative literature, and also that he's announcing 5 new 2nd century fragment finds, too):
          http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2012/03/21/an-interview-with-daniel-b-wallace-on-the-new-testament-manuscripts/

          October 5, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
        • gxm17

          Russ, you mean there's no proof of Jason and the Argonauts?

          Sorry, but I have no problem that Jason probably didn't exist or that the stories surrounding him are fictional. Because I don't believe he is the son of god, I don't worship him, I don't expect others to worship him, and I'm not heavily invested in proving his existence so any lack of proof of his existence and/or divinity does not shatter my world. It's just a fun movie with that cool fighting skeletons scene.

          Much of ancient history is a guess. Except for those Egyptian kings and queens who's tombs we've dug up. Although the fact that there is proof that they existed is not going to *prove* to me that they were the gods their people believed them to be.

          October 5, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
        • Russ

          @ gxm17: no, not Jason & the Argonauts. Suetonius, Josephus, etc. you want to draw a hard line between archeology and historical studies when they are interwoven. how do you even know what those Egyptian finds are if you can't READ the ancient doc.uments that are a PART of them?

          note: ancient myths come MANY centuries after the supposed events. the facts in question do matter as to whether an historical personage actually existed... not to mention one who claimed such megalomaniacal things about *himself* and yet – unlike any other such person in history – actually had them taken seriously... especially after his apparent defeat.

          as Yale scholar Kenneth Scott Latourette said:
          "Why, among all the cults and philosophies competing in the Greco-Roman world, did Christianity succeed and outstrip all others? Why did it succeed despite getting more severe opposition than any other? Why did it succeed though it had no influential backers in high places, but consisted mainly of the poor and slaves? How did it succeed so completely that it forced the most powerful state in history to come to terms with it, and then outlive the very empire that sought to uproot it? It is clear that at the very beginning of Christianity there must have occurred a vast release of energy perhaps unequaled in our history. Without it, the future course of the Christian religion is inexplicable."

          October 5, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          In the first instance, only the unfounded supernatural claims, which would be all of the supernatural claims, need to be dismissed until conclusively proven, which hasn't happened in 2,000+ tears so isn't likely to happen anytime soon.

          October 6, 2013 at 12:22 am |
        • gxm17

          Russ, I replied to your comment but it appears I've been banned. Just logged on with another email to let you know so you wouldn't think I was being overly rude.

          October 6, 2013 at 12:41 am |
        • gxm17

          Trying to slip past the censors one last time (and I promise I'm outta here). But this is too prime of an illustration to pass up because it is exactly this aspect of human behavior that must be taken into account: the human desire to edit the story, to alter the account to fit the narrative the editor(s) want to disseminate. Humans are such creatures of habit.

          October 6, 2013 at 12:55 am |
        • FYI

          gxm17,

          Could your seeming "banning" just be that you've run into the automatic word filter? Do you have the list of hints?

          October 6, 2013 at 1:02 am |
        • gxm17

          FYI, no; I do not have a list of hints. But I am feeling like I have accidentally wandered onto an online gaming community. 😀

          October 6, 2013 at 9:35 am |
  6. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Just as everyone who would have a dog as company and bring it around people is responsible for training it to be fit to be around people, believers have a responsibility to make their beliefs so. Thomas Jefferson was good enough to cut his bible down to the plausible, harmless, and useful parts. Please be responsible believers and do likewise. And don't feel like what is running in your head belongs in everyone else's head.

    October 5, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
    • Russ

      @ TTTOO: you basically just said: "it's wrong to impose your religious views on people. here's my view of religion. i'm imposing it on you."

      October 5, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        It's good to hear from you, Russ.

        October 5, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
        • Russ

          @ TTTOO: if there's one thing positive this article might accomplish, that's it.
          back at you, TTTOO.

          October 5, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      No, Russ. If it's tame, impose away. If you hope it will take over me, it would be impolite to bring it around.

      October 5, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
      • Russ

        @ TTTOO: why exclude the tenacious? wouldn't it be equally important if true?
        the semantics don't change the underlying contradiction.
        even in your response, you are dictating terms while claiming others should not dictate the terms.

        October 5, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          I think I suggested that beliefs are not necessarily harmless and not even, necessarily, meant to be so. I don't find a contradiction in pointing out that such things should be controlled. Was I over-generous in suggesting that the people who have such beliefs should be responsible for controlling them?

          October 5, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          I suggest that believers conclusively establish that their beliefs are true *before* determining that they are so important that they must evangelize or otherwise impose them. I further suggest that this is not the way believers have behaved to date.

          October 5, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
        • Russ

          @ TTTOO: "harmless... responsible... control..." – this is begging the question. your categories here require assuming the issue at hand is already answered when it is actually the thing in debate.

          your underlying grid for assessing another's set of beliefs IS still the problem. no matter how palatably you attempt to couch the concerns, it is still your belief system restricting theirs. in dictating terms for their beliefs, you are claiming a higher authority than that to which they ascribe *ultimate* authority. upon what basis can you silence them w/o falling prey to your own critique?

          the question remains: how are you not doing (though possibly with greater sophistication) the very thing you are claiming they never should do – namely, impose one's beliefs?

          October 5, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
        • Russ

          @ HotAirAce: adding the word "suggest" doesn't avoid the same problem. it's still doing the same thing.

          October 5, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Perhaps I am imposing by asking that other people adopt standards of behaviour that I think are desirable in communities. There is no CDC program on belief transmission. But, just as I can ask people to behave in certain ways to avoid transmitting viruses, I think I can ask people not to try to spread irrational beliefs.

          October 5, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
        • Russ

          @ TTTOO: do you disagree that there is a contradiction? you don't seem to be addressing my point directly, and you're continuing to do the same thing.

          even in your last remark, you called them "irrational beliefs." those with whom you disagree (like me) might say the same about your beliefs. on what basis does your set of beliefs gain precedence over theirs? and – in so doing – how is that not doing the very thing you were saying must not be done (imposing one's beliefs)?

          either you are making an equally exclusive truth claim about metaphysics (saying what is & isn't rational) or you make no such claim and as such have no basis to make an objection.

          most who are openly doing the former do not assert that "you can't impose your beliefs" because we recognize that's exactly what we ALL are doing – and that's exactly why we are having the discussion in the first place. but to claim the latter position and yet insist on exclusivity in virtually ANY form is self-refuting.

          October 5, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Perhaps you do have a basis on which to make your claims that I disagree with, Russ. Not everyone does. If the idea exists only to reinforce and perpetuate itself, and is epistemically irrational, is it right to spread it around. Am I right to say that it is not. It's really a question of ethics.

          October 5, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
        • Russ

          @ TTTOO: but ethics are derived from metaphysics (as is logic, for that matter)... and metaphysics is the entire debate in question. you can't answer a question about the foundation by appealing to the walls.

          October 6, 2013 at 12:11 am |
        • HotAirAce

          Russ, you missed the major point. I'll be much clearer. Shut the fuck up about your beliefs until *after* you can prove they are true.

          October 6, 2013 at 12:14 am |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Russ, would you say that we must be appealing to the same authority as the foundation of a common system of ethics before I can say what you ought or ought not do? Suppose you claim God as the ultimate authority as Hobbes would have had you do, whereas I only appeal to utility. Then do you believe it's true that I ought not make judgments on the ethics of your behaviour?

          October 6, 2013 at 9:49 am |
        • Russ

          @ HotAirAce: sounds like your foundational test for truth is "only what can be proven is true."
          problem is: that basis fails its own criteria. it can't be proven because it's assumed.
          it's self-refuting.

          October 8, 2013 at 10:15 am |
        • Russ

          @ TTTOO: no, quite the contrary. i welcome your honest dialogue & critique – even if coming from a separate metaphysical basis (though obviously, i will read that critique through my own grid & respond accordingly).

          my critique was of your position as a double standard: you were dictating terms to others while claiming the one necessary thing for dialogue was not dictating terms. you said it would be 'impolite.' you are – at the outset – failing your own criteria.

          in contrast, i want to admit openly that i am dictating terms – but i am not requiring that others avoid doing so (a double standard). rather, i think it's necessary for understanding our differing points of departure.

          in sum, in this instance, i am making a critique from WITHIN your logic (my position is immaterial to the critique), not from WITHOUT (imposing my own metaphysical basis upon yours). however, i am not against the latter, unlike your stated objection – though I am arguing that you are doing that as well (just unaware that you are?).

          October 8, 2013 at 10:35 am |
        • HotAirAce

          Their are numerous ways to establish truth that do not require assumptions. The scientific method and the justice system's rules of evidence are two examples. If your are going to state things as if they are true, you should state your assumptions so that they can be evaluated. Believers try to, and in fact have been quite successful at, stating things as if they are true without stating assumptions, nor have they submitted their beliefs to close scrutiny (scientific method, rules of evidence). Those days are coming to an end.

          October 9, 2013 at 1:33 am |
        • Russ

          @ HotAirAce: no, it's not just believers who are pointing out your failed logic.
          here's Nietzsche: "it is STILL a metaphysical faith that underlies our faith in science."

          point being, EVERYONE begins with such a circular point of departure. failing to admit that is failing to be self-aware. it disqualifies virtually anything else you'd say b/c you are building on a flawed foundation. flawed foundation, the building falls... no matter how strong the walls might seem.

          your two examples illustrate my point. the justice system DOES assume metaphysical truths. otherwise, where do these "inalienable rights" they presuppose come from? as for science, it readily admits its presuppositions. just look up methodological naturalism and note well the difference between methodological naturalism & philosophical naturalism. you have confused the two. the former is the scientific method (which carefully and purposefully does NOT make the metaphysical assumptions you are), the latter is scientism... a competing philosophical / metaphysical / (if not outright) religious truth claim.

          if you were doing methodological naturalism (as the scientific method claims to be doing), you would not be positioning yourself as a competing set of metaphysical truth claims. but clearly you are making such claims, which necessarily means you are doing philosophical naturalism. either you don't know the difference or you have purposefully conflated the two.

          science admits the difference and avoids your position. what you are doing is not science. it's scientism.

          October 9, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
  7. The fuzz

    As an atheist, I know it's futile to argue with a religious person; therefore, I don't. However, I find myself frustrated with the incessant belief that everyone, no matter what, should think the same way as religious people think. I don't care what you believe. You can believe what ever you want. Just quit passing laws that are totally religious based because you can't convert me intellectually to your way of life. I've been on the religious side and I deconverted because of evidence. Now show me someone who has gone the other way. Seriously, show me. You will never convert me back, but over time with more and more knowledge you will become free from the bondage of religion. I know it is scary but I am willing to make your transition easier if you want. Otherwise, I will leave you be if you leave me be. There is no god and the only true hell is the hell of you being stuck as a slave to religious tradition. Have a nice day!

    October 5, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • Dr. Smiley Friend

      " I've been on the religious side and I deconverted because of evidence."
      - The fuzz

      What's the evidence?

      October 5, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
    • Bob Isanberg III

      Well said!! 🙂 god worshipers should stop reading their un(holy) books and read more about the time period under which their "sacred texts" were written by Men, not gods, and not WOMEN (who are smarter than men), wow, they might have got something right! Like, the world is "round", orbits the sun, and disease is NOT WITCHCRAFT!! Christians/Muslims/Jews/Hindus/ are the epitome of BOTH ignorance AND EGO 😦

      October 5, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
  8. Sean

    The article should have be t.tled "Unholy Trollers..."

    October 5, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • Bob

      Or, "Yo mama Trollers"

      October 5, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
      • GonzoinHouston

        Yo moma so stupid, she trolls on CNN Belief Blogs!

        October 5, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
      • Bob

        'Yo mama trollers' are reflective progenies 😉

        October 5, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
  9. Answer

    Dear Mr. John Blake,

    Please classify what kind of "troller" that you yourself are. Thank you.

    October 5, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
  10. jeqal

    I read the article, I think that it is very basic. So many other things get tossed into arguments that somehow had devolved into religious arguments. Unfortunately, in todays current political climate, it's impossible not to introduce religion into the mix. Religion is the party of the right. Racism is the party of the left and somewhere pushed to the sides is everyone else trying to find a valid coalition that does not revolve around them being saved or erm become a rhetoricist. Madonna is coming up with a tour to heal the energy in the world, but what's wrong with the US is that extremists win and the majority are lost trying to hold hands with folks who essentially either think they are going to hell, or who believe they are responsible for Aunt Jemima wearing a dew rag. So, although it is nice to try and be a peacemaker, it takes a toll. I think most of us are really just trying to figure out what we really think about an issue, and use forums to hammer it out. The noise is left and right. The dolby is middle.

    October 5, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
    • laqej

      Dolby died with analog, dummy. The noise is just in your head now.

      October 5, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
    • Mary Jane

      Just a guess 🙂

      October 5, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
  11. RJ

    Thanks for your article. I like the idea of hearing other's viewpoints and engaging in civil – even if it's thought -provoking discussion. Insults won't win anyone over to a viewpoint.

    October 5, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
    • Frank

      Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.
      ― Thomas Jefferson

      In other words, you can't have a civil discussion with someone who supports childish ideas. Ridicule has its place, and religious superst itions deserve ridicule.

      October 5, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
  12. Malachi Allen

    I am a Christian and at times my faith is tested. I'm not 100 percent sure God doesn't exist but those who don't believe aren't 100 percent sure he doesn't. At the end of the day, I respect everyone's belief because there is always uncertainty. What I will live with is this... something came from nothing and that's no fairytale

    October 5, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
    • Roger that

      Atheists don't claim that a god doesn't exist. Atheists claim that there is no proof that a god exists. I'm very happy the Bible god doesn't exist because that god is very immoral. Keep an open mind, read a few books (including the Bible), and it will all come clear to you.

      October 5, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
      • Robert

        Actually quite a few Atheists claim that God does not exist. You are correct about the issue of proof but many see that as simply splitting hairs. They take the point "there is no proof of a God" to equate "there is no God". Also, the idea of a God is on the religious to prove. I could ramble on about this for a while so just Google "Flying Spaghetti Monster" and you'll get the idea.

        October 5, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
        • Frank

          There is no proof of a God, but God also doesn't make any logical sense to begin with. I don't have to look in every corner of the universe to know that a four-sided triangle just does not exist, and the same thing applies to God.

          October 5, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          "There are no gods, not even just one." is my shorthand for "the probability of there being any gods, even just one, is so small, virtually zero, that to say there are no gods is not much of an exaggeration."

          I belief this similar to believers saying "I believe in god." as shorthand to say "despite there not being a shred of factual, verifiable, objective or independent evidence to support my childish beliefs, I believe in the alleged god and other crap in The Babble."

          October 5, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
        • Sara

          HotAir, you really have no way of calculating such a probability.

          October 5, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          Obviously I'm good with my estimate. Others (Dawkins for one I believe) have attempted to come up with a more refined or definitive number. What would you put the probability of any god existing at?

          October 5, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
        • Sara

          HotAir, I wouldn't because I think the concept of any god at all is outside of or ability to measure. We have no universes against which to compare. I may have feelings of certainty to which I apply a percentage, but those aren't odds.

          Talking about a specific god is a little different because you can at least show them to be self contradictory. In which case if you accept certain logical pre ises, the odds are zero.

          October 6, 2013 at 6:49 am |
        • HotAirAce

          Odds and probability contain the same information but express it differently. They can be converted from one to the other mathematically. The (correct) use of odds or probability is a personal preference.

          Based on what I observe (personally and thru others), I believe that the probability/odds of there being any gods in the known universe is very low (virtually zero) and for the existence of any "local" gods smaller still. In both cases, I believe the probability does not warrant living as if gods do exist, and that those that do believe should not have greater influence or power because they belief unproven things.

          But I have not closed the door to the possibility of one or more gods existing. All I need is a better argument than the believers have put forward, or ideally, some actual (according to the scientific method) evidence. Well ok, we've heard zillions of words, so I would really need to see some evidence.

          October 6, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • Frank

      I'm 100% sure that the Christian God can't exist because it's just too ridiculous and illogical.

      October 5, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
  13. Hey! You!

    God creates you.
    God gives you a brain that concludes His existence is illogical.
    God condemns you to hell for that conclusion.

    October 5, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • bostontola

      What kind of god gives you a logical brain to find god illogical, then condemns you for it?

      October 5, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
      • Hey! You!

        Indeed!

        October 5, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        An imaginary one! But the evidence, lack of actually, suggests all alleged gods are imaginary.

        October 5, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • Louie

      makes perfect sense!

      October 5, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
    • hey hey you

      How's God's existence illogical? Is the existence of something from nothing logical?

      October 5, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
      • Hey! You!

        You answered your first question with your second one.

        October 6, 2013 at 12:35 am |
  14. Colin

    The bible is filled with stories that were used for thousands of years by Man, not gods.
    So....is the Christ god in hell for stealing its own holy work?
    Might explain why she hasn't been seen in awhile?
    Food for thought!

    October 5, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
    • Mary

      I have yet to see this argument refuted, its a fascinating idea. If you could truly get a believer of Christ to "admit" to some of the bible's fallacies it really does open the door then for their god to be in need of some form of punishment for breaking his own commandment. INTERESTING 🙂

      October 5, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • Colin

      Those God loves He reveals Himself to, sorry about you.

      October 5, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • Malachi Allen

      How so? I'm just curious because time is relevant to your argument and since most of our history doesn't have time stamps how are you so sure

      October 5, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
  15. tallulah13

    Actually, we can argue religion however we like. But the author is certainly welcome to his own opinion.

    October 5, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
  16. theridge

    folks who read cnn are more brainwashed than the religious peeps. there are 2 different types of mind control: religion (manmade not a personal belief in the Creator of the universe) and government (who funds and controls cnn)

    love ya but most ya'll are gonna feel the burn!

    October 5, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
    • Hey! You!

      What about you? I've never met a Christian who didn't believe they weren't going to Heaven.

      October 5, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
      • theridge

        That is up to the one who Judges to decide. He will make that decision for all of us.

        Love ya!

        October 5, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
        • Hey! You!

          'but most ya'll are gonna feel the burn!'

          Seems you've already punched your ticket.

          October 5, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
        • theridge

          Yea I overstep my boundries by throwing that accurate comment in there.

          October 5, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
        • Hey! You!

          'That is up to the one who Judges to decide.'

          You don't know if your statement is accurate or not, since judgement is not yours..

          October 5, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
        • Frank

          Ever meet any who didn't know a bunch of people who were going to hell as well?

          October 5, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
  17. I am the ape man

    Ku-Ku-Kachoo?

    October 5, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
  18. Mel

    Thank you. As an atheist, I usually dont visit religous sites or blogs, but this was shared on facebook. I was prepared for an "its them not us and this how you handle them" kind of article, but this was truly helpful and refreshing. I've shared it with my religious immediate family members, who happen to be provokers. 😉
    Again, thank you.

    October 5, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
  19. c.will

    I really do see a lot of hate on here. I don't believe that either side of the coin believes hate is a good thing. But I may be wrong.
    Good article.
    I hope people drop the hate for another persons ideas. Its really not hard to do. Ultimately it clouds my brain as I believe it does others as well.

    October 5, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
  20. James

    Why is 'The Atheist' a separate category? It seems that atheists could just as easily use the tactics of the other categories. It seems to me just another attempt to foster the view that atheists are somehow different from the rest of humanity.

    October 5, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
    • Colin

      The why is an unfathomable evil.

      October 5, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.