Writing your own “Atheist manual and cookbook”

Via the eChurch blog I learn that secularist scholar R. J. Hoffmann is getting a little fed up with some of his atheist co-religionists.  In this post he outlines the tactics the latter employ.

The Sure-Fire Atheist Rapid Response Manual

When I wrote Atheism’s Little Idea I said atheists were small. But (and this is embarrassing to confess) I had no idea how clever.

There’s a species of ant in Papua New Guinea that is so small you need a magnifying glass to see that they’re insects and not swirling grains of sand.  But drop a crumb of cheese on the ground and an army of ten zillion will appear out of nowhere, through the floor cracks where they live invisibly, and devour the cheese before you can retrieve and pop it subtly into your mouth.  …

When the atheists had grown tired of my “endless harangues against atheism” last year they swarmed at me, Jacques Berlinerblau, and Michael Ruse all at once. We said, in different tones, that they were playing too rough, were turning people off (including fellow unbelievers) with their flatfooted tactics, and needed to behave like adults with real arguments and day jobs.

The atheist swarm may actually have eaten the other two because I haven’t heard from them in a long time.

But it was then I learned their strange language and breeding habits:  Like all small things, their safety is in numbers. One atheist alone is hardly a match for his (or her) natural enemies, the Christian Nation, the low-wattage Dims and flabby franks like me who send mixed signals about what they really believe. But one thousand atheists on a single mission can take down a faitheist, an accommodationist and a Associate Reformed Presbyterian pre-Millennialist going through a divorce in about a minute. I’ll tell you this: if Osama bin Laden had ranted about atheists and not “the West” (where is that exactly?) he would have been cheese crumbs in October 2001.

I have come to be a huge admirer of how the atheists organize for their own protection and what they are able to accomplish on a low budget.  I have wondered how this is possible ever since I was almost eaten last spring.

Most of us have been the victims of the group lynching tactic described here.

But Hoffmann goes further.  He has observed that these people behave as if they were following instructions.  And he has devised a “manual” of tactics.

Now  this made me smile indeed!  You see, I have often thought of doing the same!  Once you have observed a few atheist fora, and seen the kinds of arguments made, and the dishonest tactics deployed to beat up opposition, such a manual almost writes itself.

Hoffmann’s work is a first draft, but so often it hits the nail on the head.  A few extracts will give you a flavour of what he says.  And it’s all true! — every last word of it.

(5)  If you don’t understand the Straw Man Defense, resort immediately to one of the following:

(a) Call the enemy arrogant.  Our enemies are all arrogant or they wouldn’t be blogging against us so this is bound to work.  Words like “pompous,” “misguided,”  ”pathetically out of touch,” “incredibly uninformed” and similar expressions will work just as well.  Try to avoid “full of shit” and if you use the word “erroneous”: remember there are two r’s.  (see also spelling tips under accommodation/accomodation/akomodation).

(b)  Call the enemy ignorant. This is basic because anyone who disagrees with atheism is ignorant.  You can also use some of the same words: incredibly ignorant, unbelievably ignorant; I don’t know how you’re able to tie your shoes-ignorant.

The next one brought a wry smile to my face.  Not only atheists try this ploy, as I found out last week when I was on the receiving end of a (futile) attempt to lynch me on my own blog:

(6)  If you find that a website is “moderated” say that it violates the fundamental right of Free Speech guaranteed to atheism in the Constitution. …

How often have I heard that tired old attempt to manipulate me into allowing people to lynch me on my own personal blog?

Dr Hoffmann’s post is sane and civilised.  Indeed it has reminded me that, long ago, I had quite a bit of respect for atheists.  My own ideas about the shape of Roman paganism I owe to an atheist author whom I read from a library shelf long ago.  Likewise I was impressed with the precision thinking that I found in J. S. Mill.

But when I came online, I found something else.  I found atheism that was dishonest, abusive, and hateful.  Almost all the online atheist writing is beneath contempt.

This is not a question of disagreement about religion, but simply about honesty.  An intelligent atheist must find his co-religionists painfully embarassing.

Writing these words recalls an early online experience.  I have never forgotten encountering a post, back in 1998 or so, in some now vanished or decrepit usenet forum, by an atheist named Steven Carr, who seemed to be a student in Edinburgh or something of the kind.  It was about the apocryphal gospels, and he was trying to wear down someone talking about the bible by hitting them with factoids.  In those days I knew much less about Christian history than I do now, but even then I knew enough to see that the post was not honest, even from an atheist point of view.  It was clear to me that he was engaged in deliberate deception of someone that he believed wouldn’t know much about the apocrypha, attempting to bully with pseudo-scholarship.  I remember reading that post, and thinking to myself: “If you know enough about the history of the bible to write that lot, you know enough to know that your argument is neither fair nor an accurate representation of the facts.”

I have seen so much dishonest argument since.

I happened to see a post in a forum the other day, in response to some post of my own.  It was the same Steven Carr.  He was looking rather the worse for the 14 years that he had spent labouring for atheism.  Hate does funny things to those who indulge it.  Any pretence at reason or logic had long departed.  All he could manage was abuse.  He spat a mindless jeer in my direction, utterly irrelevant to my post.  That was all that was left of him.  He had become just a barking, rabid dog.

It is possible to be indifferent to truth, and interested only in convenience, in winning rather than being in the right.  But those who despise the right use of the intellect need not expect to enjoy the use of it for very long.

Hoffmann, it seems, has enough sanity to realise that atheists are destroying themselves.   We may commend him for this brave stand.  A principled atheism is not always a bad thing.  Superstition and priestcraft are not good things, and any student of modern Anglican affairs can find ample examples of the latter.  Christians will remember that Christ was crucified, not by atheists, but by a plot hatched by the religious authorities of the day.

Let us hope that Dr Hoffmann can achieve a revolution in atheism.

UPDATE: I have just deleted the first attempt in the comments to use this blog to attack Dr. Hoffmann for “censorship”.

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More on Methodius

My posts on the works of Methodius in Old Slavonic here and here have attracted a wealth of learned comment, for which many thanks.

Mikhail Vedeshkin kindly left links to online Russian resources about Methodius.

Here you can find a few works of Methodius translated into modern Russian.

http://mystudies.narod.ru/name/m/methodius.htm

“The feast of 10 virgins or about virginity”
http://mystudies.narod.ru/library/m/methodius/virgins/000.htm

“About the freedom of will or against the Valentinians”
http://mystudies.narod.ru/library/m/methodius/advalent.htm

“About Resurrection or against Origen”
http://mystudies.narod.ru/library/m/methodius/resurr.htm

“About creation or against Origen”
http://mystudies.narod.ru/library/m/methodius/creation.htm

Thanks to Google translate, I learn a little more from the first link.    It lists works of Methodius in Greek and Slavonic.  Then it continues:

Translations into Russian from these languages.

Methodius, bishop of Patara. His collected works // Trans. ed. Е. Lovyagin. – St. Petersburg, 1877.  The same: 2d ed. – St. Petersburg, 1905.

Some published Arch. Michael (Chub) in the collection “Theological Works» (№ №. 2, 3, 10, 11)

The existence of the Lovyagin book (in two editions) is new and useful.  I’m not quite sure whether the Old Slavonic text is printed, or just a Russian translation.  Nor am I sure where a copy of these volumes might be found.  I have a feeling from Google that “E. Lovyagin” might be “Evgraf Lovyagin”, of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy.  This rather dodgy-looking site tells me:

1822 – 1909), Professor of St. Petersburg Theological Academy. Major works: “On the merits of St. Athanasius to the church in the fight against Arians” (St. Petersburg, 1850) and “On the relation of the classical writers of the Bible on the outlook of Christian apologists (St. Petersburg, 1872, dissertation). His articles theological, , . prepared editions of the monuments of Christian literature, . part in the original text, . with Russian introductions and explanations, . part in the translation from the original text, . as well as the execution of transfers are listed by Professor AI,. Garden in the article: “Professor E.I. Lovyagin “(” Christian Herald “in 1909,” 15, (obituary Lovyagin).

I find, indeed, that a search for “Lovyagin” in COPAC produces results, and Evgraf Ivanovitch (Евграфа Ловягина) does indeed seem to be our man.  Sadly none of the results are the Methodius volume.  A search in the LOC catalogue for “Lovyagin” produced no results at all!  Nor did a search at the BNF.  I wonder, perhaps, whether there is some other way of anglicising his name?

The page continues with a useful overview of all the works, and with some references.

Writings that have come down to us only in short fragments.

Lovyagin, 1877, p.252-259.  Against Porphyry, and On the martyrs.

There are then two more works, which the page labels as probably apocryphal, on Palm Sunday and on the Presentation of the Lord.  These are given from the 1905 edition of Lovyagin (p.161-170) and the 1996 “Library of the Fathers and doctors of the Church. Creation St. Gregory the Miracle Worker and St. Methodius bishop and martyr. – M. Palmer, 1996” (Библиотека отцов и учителей Церкви. Творения св. Григория Чудотворца и св. Мефодия епископа и мученика. – М.: Паломник, 1996.) which must be a reprint as regards Methodius.

This is a rather splendid site, and with a great number of texts in Russian, including Euthymius Zigabenus, Epiphanius’ Panarion — neither of which we have in English. 

I would draw attention to this page, or rather the Google translate version here, where the site author, the excellent Sergei Pavlov, asks for help in locating copies of various patristic texts in Russian.  (There is an email address there too, in bitmap form of course).  It doesn’t seem as if he has a copy of the Lovyagin book(s). 

I realise that I don’t know of a reliable source for Russian books in PDF form (or, indeed, any other).

In other news I have had an email back from one of my enquiries, telling me of a British professor of Slavicist studies, who might be able to help with a translation or know someone who can.  I will wait until I have the text in my hands before contacting him.

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Some notes on blogging

From time to time all of us who upload content to the web get to wondering what we’re doing and whether it’s worth it.  This happens, even if you don’t have someone spitting insults at you — it’s a normal part of human nature. 

This was brought on by a question asked at eChurch blog, Does anybody else ever go through a blogging crisis of confidence?

For me it always starts with ‘blogging block’; I just don’t seem to be able to find anything worth blogging about, and I’m never sure if this is because there is nothing interesting to blog about; or whether it’s more reflective of my state of mind.

Then comes a crisis in confidence. Everybody else seems so damn smart and knowledgeable on any given subject; that I feel like a know-nothing fraud.

I thought that I’d offer some thoughts on this (rather inward-looking) subject. 

I myself have found blogging a bit difficult lately, but I also know why.  My current job takes a lot out of me, and I’m also very busy with some other necessary but boring business which leaves me very little time to think about anything else.

Each of us, when we blog, or write articles online, draws upon what we are currently thinking about.  But most people can only do this for a while before they need to replenish the “reservoir”.  Otherwise, we grow “cruel dry”, as Addison did when writing the Spectator.  It’s natural, and of no other significance.  When we can’t write, it means only that we need to read, that we need to browse, to refill ourselves.  Your cup can only overflow if it is full!  This applies, even to those uploading material by others.  If we just haven’t the time to do this, it will be difficult to blog.

But sometimes we all just don’t feel that original.  In such circumstances, I think it is important to have a few volumes of miscellaneous literature that we can plunder for quotations or witty material.  Regular readers will have observed that I often post from Paley’s collection of Greek Wit.  When I was reading Aulus Gellius — itself a work of precisely this kind — I posted extracts from that.  Martial’s epigrams are short and there’s usually something to say.  I think that a supply of such works, which are easy to read as well as to quote from, is a useful help.  Of course the works must not be works which are in everyone’s hands.

The other question raised is about how valuable what we do is.  How useful, in a way, is this very post, except perhaps to other bloggers and website maintainers?  Am I writing something that anyone will wish to read, even six months hence?

I confess that I don’t really care.

That may seem harsh, but really, just imagine what would happen if I worried about what I write everytime I uploaded something, every time I blogged?  I’d soon cease to do anything at all.  Human nature is what it is, and it is a mistake to over-analyse these things.  From time to time I look at the blog stats, which continue to rise, and that’s as much as I need.  Indeed I don’t even care about that.

Commenters can be a danger, in this respect.  On this blog everyone is nice, and the nature of the subject is that the online thug is a rare visitor.  But current affairs blogs, by their very nature, attract aggressive disagreement.  This can wear down the blogger.  Indeed I have seen “comments” elsewhere which were plainly intended for no other purpose, a form of soft-intimidation. 

My own response to any comment that annoys me is brutal — I delete it.  This blog isn’t a public forum, but rather my diary online, in which people of goodwill are welcome to share, and add notes in the margin.  This disposes of such people.  It’s really important to retain control of one’s own blog, and not be intimidated by specious cries of “censorship” — often made by people who themselves won’t allow any disagreement.  As my experience in Wikipedia early this year showed me, there is no lack of criminals online who write solely to silence others, and wreck their work, and care nothing for the public weal. 

Doubtless one day I shall cease to blog.  This journal of what I am doing and thinking about will fall silent.  So do we all. One day I shall die.  One day the moon will fall and the sun grow cold.  We all know this: but we do not act upon this knowledge, for to do so is to become less than human, and to worry ourselves silly.  We must write as if we will live forever, and as if we will live forever, and as if surrounded by friends.

But in the mean time I have a few objectives: firstly, to enjoy what I do, and secondly to share that with the like-minded. 

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From my diary

I’ve found some rather good photographs of a fresco in a Mithraeum at Marino in the Alban Hills near Rome on a blog entry here.  The fresco depicts the “tauroctony” — Mithras killing the bull.  This is present in every temple of Mithras, but in this case it is a colour painting on the wall, rather than a stone relief, coloured or otherwise.

The most interesting elements are the side-panels, which depict elements of the myth of Mithras.  Since no literary source explains them, or indeed gives us the details of the mysteries of Mithras, we are forced to guess at their meaning.

These side-panels are not always present in a tauroctony, but I have seen them before.  The content seems to vary a little.  The bottom right panel at Marino shows Mithras drawing a bow.  The blog says this is the “water miracle”; not sure how we know that water is involved.  (You have to be wary around these iconographical people — they tend to state as fact their own theories about what can be seen in an image!)

A very nice post, all the same.  I wonder where the images come from?

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Eight Evil Thoughts

An incoming link drew my attention to a wonderful series at Patristics and Philosophy, entitled Eight Evil Thoughts.  The summaries of each Evil Thought are marvellous!  The material is drawn from Evagrius.

Particularly interesting to me was the Sixth Evil Thought.  It is:

…a type of restlessness that comes upon the monk around noon. What generally happens is this. First, the monk begins to feel that the day is just dragging along or that the task set before him is too difficult. Then, the monk searches to see if any of the other monks are coming to visit him. If not, he returns to his task. However, soon there grows dissatisfaction with where he is at in his life and that none of the other monks care about him. If anyone has done him wrong, he begins to think on that which then leads to anger. Since where he is at now is so terrible, he dwells on thoughts of foreign places and thinks about how wonderful they would be. He then begins to rationalize the need to leave his current location…

I was tempted to replace the word “monk” with “programmer”.  I’ve worked in places like that, in truth!

One of the very nice elements of the series is the references, which include “ET” (which I think means “English translation”).  Far more blog posts should have these.  It is, in my opinion, a failing of WordPress and other blogging software that it is actually rather awkward to add footnotes. 

Returning to the subject, however, I think we need to be a little wary.  Asceticism is not the way that Christ preached, but is really borrowed from the world, I think.  But there is much practical wisdom to be found in these ideas for the Christian.

And for the programmer.

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How far back is “living memory”?

At political blog CrashBangWallace, the answer is “quite a long way”.  He writes that the great events of history are within touching distance.

In one of these pleasingly highbrow moments which proves that the internet is not just about videos of cats and moon-walking budgies, a clip has gone viral on Twitter today showing a 1956 TV appearance of the last surviving eye witness of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination:  <video>

By that time the man in question was 96, an impressive achievement for a lifelong pipesmoker born in the mid-19th Century.

The video itself is an interesting historical curio, but the message it carries is even more interesting. We tend to think of history as being distant – particularly that history which is not recorded in colour or even in film or sound. In reality, though, it’s remarkably close.

I’m told that as a small child I met a lady in her 90s who had when a small child herself met someone whose father fought at the Battle of Waterloo. That’s three degrees of separation between me in the 21st century and a British soldier in 1815. Similarly there must be quite a number of people still living who met the gentleman in the Lincoln video.

Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, which is now 146 years ago.

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

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The shifting, sifting sands of what is normal on the internet

Reading the Cranmer blog this evening, I find that the good archbishop has been obliged to place some limits on who can comment.

His Grace is now forced to devote more time each day trying to stem the tide of offensive and irrelevant comment than he is able to dedicate to each morning’s missive. When one is forced to spend the first hour of one’s day not in the crucial contemplation of religio-political issues but in the cleansing of the temple, it is evident that something must change. …

His Grace has attempted to make his blog a bastion of free speech, but there are those who are intent on hijacking every thread for their own malignant and malicious purposes. When he has directly emailed the perpetrators and politely asked them to desist, he receives insult, invective, and condemantion that he is not prepared to tell ‘the truth’. …

His Grace has therefore decided to ban all ‘anonymous’ comments, thereby forcing all communicants to register a Google account (pseudonymous, if preferred) before they may contribute to a discussion thread. Should individual accounts thereafter prove irritating or offensive, it is easier to identify the individuals (who sometimes post under a plurality of ad hoc identities) and ban them. …

His Grace will hereafter monitor any progress and prays that it will ameliorate his happiness and general well being. Should there be no improvement, he will not hesitate to take more drastic action, however terminal: he is not averse to silence or cessation.

This is a sad day, but evidently a necessary one, and “His Grace” has acted with moderation and restraint.

We have all been used to presuming that everyone on the internet is basically a decent human being.  In the past, being smaller in number, this was largely true.  Even the hackers really meant no harm.

But the internet has grown to include all sections of society.  And in every society known to man, there are criminals.

A pedant might say that a criminal is someone who breaks a law which a powerful man has chosen to impose on a society.  But this is to get things backward.

A criminal is a man who preys on his fellow men.   He is the kind of man who will do whatever he likes, regardless of the injury caused to others, simply because he wishes, or it gives him advantage of some kind, or for any other reason.   Such human beasts have always existed, and any society tries to protect its members from them, by various means.  They are destroyers, creating nothing and wrecking for any purpose and none.

Perhaps the time has come to recognise that the criminals are now well-established on the web.  We have all tolerated the troll; although trolling is clearly a moral wrong in most circumstances, as it violates the principle of “do not do to others what you would not like done to you”, in that it causes upset at the very least. 

But this tolerance of wrong-doing is now being used by much worse people.  There have been vulnerable teenagers driven to suicide by campaigns of bullying and harassment online.  I myself experienced a vicious assault of the same nature, designed to seize control of the Mithras article in Wikipedia, evidently without the slightest concern for right or wrong or anything but the culprits’ own base wishes.  Fortunately I’ve been online a long time, and maintain emotional detachment; but that these people meant to do me injury, to hand out a beating in order to steal the fruits of my labour, is not remotely in doubt.

Perhaps we need to stop thinking about “harassment”, about “trolling”, about “bullying”, and start thinking of this as what it is — assault.  It is a form of battery, exploiting the most powerful and engaging form of communication known to man to inflict pain and misery.  It is a criminal act.

One obvious cure for it is to require everyone using the internet to register, and to write and post under their own name.   Few of the criminals above would care to have their conduct under their own name. 

At present the effect of allowing the criminals to rampage unchecked is that using your own name online is becoming rarer and rarer.  In Wikipedia fewer and fewer people do so, because it disadvantages them so, when faced with trolls who frequently change their identities or post under different names.  The same is true in nearly all the fora known to me.

Yet which of us would trust a politician with the power to control who has access to the internet?  To control what may, or may not be said?

These are difficult times.  I hope that some middle path may be found.  But that the criminals need to be dealt with … that is becoming ever more urgent.

UPDATE: A couple of hours later, I see a news report on Sky. An academic study reports that 35% of teachers have suffered some form of online abuse; and in a quarter of the cases, parents are responsible. 

One of the most prevalent types of abuse was through the creation of a Facebook group to be abusive about a particular teacher.

The report said there was evidence of pupils trying to establish fake Facebook pages in a teacher’s name, posting videos of teachers in class on YouTube, and setting up whole websites to be abusive about a single or group of staff.

The BBC version is here, and offers some horrifying details:

“Some parents view teachers as fair game for abuse,” Prof Phippen said.

“They use online technologies to hide behind while posting lies and abuse about their chosen victim.”

Intimidation, harassment … enough.  We’re talking about violence, and those doing it are criminals.

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On actually reading texts

Duane Smith of Abnormal Interests usefully highlights on his blog a post by John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry:

Scholars are known to succumb to a grave and debilitating disease: that of spending all their days reading each other rather than the texts and other artifacts that are supposed to be the objects of their research. …

There is a pressing need for original-language editions of ancient texts with translation and commentary. Vast corpora of texts are out of reach of all but a few specialists. There are enormous quantities of texts in a dozen ancient languages which deserve to be presented to a larger public with the goal of allowing them to assume their rightful place within a larger corpus of ancient texts of interest to anyone who wishes to grasp the history of ideas and the course of human history over the long duration.

Well put indeed.

The focus of the remarks is concerned with Akkadian; yet the point about translation is true for Greek and Latin too.

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The discovery of Manichaean literature at Medinat Madu

There is an excellent and delightful article on this here, which I thoroughly recommend.  I can’t wait for the next part, on the Turfan discoveries!

For those interested, I have some rather dry notes on the discovery of the Medinat Madu codices here.

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