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Monday Morning Hate-mail and the Brilliant Dr Pamela Gay

August 17, 2010

I recently blogged about Religious dogma and hate, where I threw a spotlight on the worst type of bigot – the religious “true believer”, that type who believes it’s their God-ordained mission to make war on all those who make known any opposing view. But I’ve realised I left out an equally unhelpful, bigoted, rabid group of “true-unbelievers”, the militant Atheists who for some reason believe it is their mission to attack people who publicly express their faith.

I am an atheist myself, and it took me almost thirty years of reflection, contemplation and self-analysis to get to that point. Throughout the years I’ve gone from blind-faith as a child, to ‘non-mainstream faith’, which I described as “spiritualism” throughout my teens and early twenties, then a kind of belief in the Gaia “mother earth” view, where deities were replaced with a “natural system”, to my current resting point which I call WYSIWYG – what you see is what you get.

This journey was personal, mostly introspective, occasionally shared with others during quiet, respectful discussion of their and my views, but fundamentally and most importantly MINE. I was not coerced, berated, hated or persecuted. I was free to make this journey in my own time, in my own way, and haver never felt the need to force any of my views, which are entirely unprovable and unfalsifiable, on to anyone else.

Since my entrée into the world of skepticism I have been exposed to some of the most inspiring, well-rounded, sharing and dedicated people I have ever encountered. One of those people is Dr Pamela Gay, Astronomer and Associate Professor at Southern Illinois University, and co-host of the brilliant “Astronomycast” podcast.

This-morning I awoke to this disturbing Tweet and Facebook post by Pamela

“As someone getting hate mail from atheists & Christians, I have to say the atheist hate mail senders do a better job at filling my inbox 😦 “

The Facebook post then spawned lots of discussion, mostly very supportive of course, since all commenters are Facebook “Friends” with Pamela. Pamela responded to the group with the following:

“Thanks everyone for all your overwhelming support. It was just one of those morning where I was up far too early working and first I got my daily comics, then I got an email that looked professional and, uh, wasn’t, then it was the regular Monday attack on my blog … People say not to care, but I have to admit it really bothers me when anyone decides their best way to change the world is to say hateful things to strangers like me. This isn’t the type of world I want to live in. While today it was the atheists, back in March it was the Christians. Both sides have a deafening minority of people that make it hard to focus on education and research and actually making the world better. It is a waste of energy – including my energy if only because I have to spend time ejecting them from my inbox. I am a fan of rhetoric and debate over coffee (or depending on the topic, something differently strong), but there is a difference between agreeing to disagree while trying to understand one another and out right condemning someone who is different. One way of living builds communities that are diverse and interconnected. The other just increases my desire to hide in my little home office and not come out again. I know people are good – every meetup reaffirms that there are a lot of you out there worth knowing – but on Monday morning very few people have a checklist to write kindness-emails to like minded souls. Sadly, extremists on both sides have lists of people the send weekly hate to. I’m now one of the hate receivers. I can take it. I just don’t have to like it.”

Now I want to say this: It doesn’t matter whether you call yourself an Atheist, a Christian, Muslim, Jew or whatever – if you attack people for simply having or lacking certain beliefs, you do yourself and your belief system a disservice. People like Pamela have already done more for the the world through their contributions to collective wisdom and education than any small-minded, hypocrite with a grudge could ever lay claim to. By attacking strong, dedicated, tolerant heroes like Pamela, all you do is spread hate and poison society.

And to Pamela I say this – I know you’re strong enough to take it, but you’re right – you don’t have to like it. I don’t like it either, and I will absolutely defend your right to personal beliefs until the day I shuffle off this little orb we share.

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From → Skepticism

4 Comments
  1. Pamela permalink

    All I can say is thank you 🙂

  2. limey permalink

    Well said sir.

    There is room on this earth for all of us and I find this new trend of millitant skeptisim and New Atheist extreemism deeply concerning. Its as though a whole new type of cult is being formed around us. A cult that requires absolute rejection of anything that is not evidence based and prooveable.

    The fierce vitriol being aimed at Pamela and others, like Phil Plait, who dare to suggest there is another way and that actually behaving with decency and respect to other poeple is a good thing, something to be valued in fact.

    The insular attitude that is being generated within the skeptical community is going to be a barrier to getting poeple to accept the turth.

    I could go on as this is a subject I feel pasionate about and I utterly agree with Phil on the matter.

    One last thing, AstronomyCast is my No1 podcast, and I listen to a large number of skeptical and scientific podcasts. Pamela and Fraiser have inspired in me a very real desire to learn more about the universe. Its a genuine hunger for more and more information. My wife keeps telling me to go and do a degree on the subject, maybe I will one day. This desire is down to the brilliant and inclusive way that AstronomyCast is presented. The other shows, which tend to be exclusive in their attitude to others, should learn something from that.

    • Thank you limey, I couldn’t agree with you more.

      Although I’m an atheist, I respect the views and beliefs of others, and so long as they don’t result in harm, those beliefs don’t matter at all to me – I’ll judge people on how they conduct themselves, what their values are, and what they contribute. I tend to agree with the late Perry DeAngelis whom I once heard say that (paraphrased), the honest ‘skeptical’ response to religion should be ‘agnosticism’, since we can neither prove, nor disprove the existence of God. With that view, and my atheism aside, any religion could be 100% correct for all I know, so I have no grounds on which to challenge anyone for their beliefs.

      I also echo your sentiments on Phil Plait’s “Don’t be a dick” TAM speech and subsequent, follow-up blog posts. We need to be inclusive, respectful and most of all, open to discussion. Yelling people down will never change their views, and will only serve to alienate yourself and your views, with spin-off negative effects for all skeptics who are then painted with the same “bigot” brush.

      Regarding AstronomyCast – well I couldn’t have put that better myself! I think Pamela and Fraser are an inspiration to many, and they’re true heroes to me (super-heroes in fact – see my other post about that).

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