Don’t be a Dick, unless your name is Richard, or why I often don’t read the comments


May 6, 2013 by kittynh

I’d like to first off say, that I always read the comments to be posted to “Yankee Skeptic”.  This is my blog, and my choice is to read every comment submitted.  I don’t post every comment, but I read every comment.

I often don’t post a comment not because it is an attack on me or my writing, but because someone else is being attacked.  They don’t sign off on everything I write, and I feel using my blog comments as a place for bullying would be not fair to the person being attacked.  It’s one thing to start a fight, but to throw someone into a fight without their consent, is well, being a dick.

There was one case though where a very well known blogger asked me if he could include my name in his blog, with a warning it was going to generate some negative comments.  I was proud give him permission to use my name.

My slight brush with “fame” started when one of my favorite skeptics and friends,  Phil Plait, gave a talk at TAM called “Don’t Be A Dick”.  His timing was perfect.  I had just survived the Richard Dawkins “why any believer is horrible and just adding to the problem” talk.  Let’s face it Dawkins is big time, no make that BIG TIME.  I like him as I know several people that left a faith that was harmful to them just from reading one of his books.

True story, one of my atheist friend gave her son a Kindle.  Her son   was also at that time a Christian.  My friend smartly loaded up the kindle with books, including one of Richard Dawkins.  Her son eventually ran out of reading material, and is so avid a reader that he is read the Dawkins book. He became an atheist, and for him, this was incredibly important.  He left a faith that was adamant in the belief that what he was born as, homosexual, was a sin.

I have nothing but admiration for Dawkin’s the writer.

However, I was feeling, slightly unwelcome at TAM as I am a Deist.  Yes, I know all the arguments.  I have two lovely atheist daughters that I am proud of and admire.  But I just can’t kick that belief, and what that belief gave and gives me.  I was rather relieved recently when reading that Thomas Paine and I kind of feel the same about God.  I go out of my way to be respectful of my atheist friends and family.  I have to laugh as the majority of my friends are atheists, and they are far more respectful to me than Christians and other believers are to them.

One problem with having a Deist at TAM, I introduced Randi to Jesus.  Jesus was quite refreshing.

One problem with having a Deist at TAM, I introduced Randi to Jesus. Jesus was quite refreshing.

Sometimes, a new friend is shocked when I have to break it to them “Well, you know, I’m not an atheist.”  I don’t bring it up often, and I belong to several atheist organizations because I feel the need to help combat the extreme prejudice I see my atheist friends and family endure.

Still, I’m not going to lie.  I do feel a spiritual connection and it has proven helpful to me in my life.  Growing up in a loving liberal progressive church that was focused on activism in this world, rather than the afterlife, probably contributed to my deep connection to what is very possibly a wrong perception on my part.  I am a dinosaur, as liberal progressive churches die out and extremists clash with a growing atheist population. I am also very relieved  that my daughters became atheists rather than fundamentalist extremist believers of any sort.

some people claim skepticism is just a cult, but I just ignore that (photo by Susan Gerbic)

some people claim skepticism is just a cult, but I just ignore that (photo by Susan Gerbic)

But, that TAM was I was wondering if I should still be a skeptic.  I wanted to still be part of the skeptic community of course!  I never minded talking about or defending my limited beliefs when challenged, it was just not something I was comfortable doing over and over again.  Still, if you have a belief and can’t defend it, it isn’t much of a belief.

Dawkins at one point mentioned he didn’t work with or hang around with people that were believers in God. He seemed to think he never was around religious people at all.  I found that a bit odd, certainly he met many people during his day that believed in some sort of religion. Perhaps his definition of “friend” and “interaction” was different than mine.  I know the people at restaurants I regularly eat at, I know the librarians and all about their families, I know the people at the local post office.  I can’t imagine one can go through their lives without meeting and interacting and getting to know lots of religious people.  It’s hard to avoid them!  But perhaps he was implying atheists shouldn’t hang out or be friends with any believers.  That was when I began to feel worried about attending TAM.

I sort of pulled into my shell, wondering if it was really alright for me to be at TAM, or was I insulting all my atheist friends.  After all, atheist, except Dawkins it seems, have to put up with believers at work, at home with their families, with their neighbors and sometimes they lost friends because of their lack of belief.  I worried I was trespassing on one of their few times to really bond with fellow atheists and while I enjoyed being able to talk about my own work and find suggestions and inspiration at TAM, was I wrong to be there?

Then Phil gave his talk “Don’t Be A Dick”.  I sat there is wonder, as a feeling of “Hey it’s OK for me to be here!” washed over me.  I also began to see that other people attending had some beliefs I wasn’t comfortable with.  I’m not much of a Libertarian.  I have had to sit through some Libertarian talks I didn’t agree with at all.  But do I think Libertarian leaders shouldn’t come and talk about their belief we’ll all do just fine without the government? Of course they are welcome,  because they are defending their belief, and educating me. I may not come out agreeing, but I don’t think any two people in the world agree on everything.

Phil’s talk brought me out of a funk.  I had been pretty much hiding from people, there was a sense some people might not want to eat with me or have a drink at the bar with me. My close skeptic friends that already know I’m a Deist were fine, but I was sticking pretty close to them.

Phil’s talk, about how we need to be more inclusive and also respectful to our fellow human beings, believers or not, was life changing.  Here was someone that also had written books that were a huge impact on the lives of others, especially the many students I had worked with that love “Bad Astronomy”.  His blog opens the world to all of us.  I read it and so often say “Wow, the Universe is so incredibly weird!”  (It is!).  He’s also just a very nice person.  If Phil said it was fine for me to be at TAM, it was fine for me to be at TAM.  Inclusion is a win/win situation.  While I wouldn’t want fundie Christians to invade TAM, I rather imagine they would more than meet their match with the erudite and intelligent skeptics that would challenge them.

I did indeed go crying up to Phil. TAM is a very important event I look forward to every year.  Phil gave me back TAM.

Later Phil asked if he could include my name in the blog post he was writing about the talk. He knew it would get a lot of commentary.  I was  honored to say “Of course”.  Sure enough, if you look online, his talk and blog posts garnered a lot of attention and negative, as well as positive, reactions.

Many people for the first time, that thought they knew me, found out I wasn’t an atheist.  I had to deal with that.  But one thing I did not have to deal with were the comments.  I just didn’t read them.  My friends, those that were willing to accept my not being an atheist, kept asking “Did you READ what so and so wrote?”  I would reply with “Well, no I haven’t and I won’t be doing so”.

I had a chuckle also when I attended an event later where I chatted briefly with Dawkins and even sat one table over from him.  I laughed as while not friends, he was indeed interacting with someone that was not an atheist.  He just didn’t know it, and somehow he survived.


I was THIS CLOSE! Wonderful writer, skeptic and atheist leader, and I’m feeling fine now, really.

I try to keep Phil’s words in mind with my work with believers of Bigfoot, aliens and ghosts.   The average believer is truly a person deserving of being treated with respect.  We may not agree, but intelligent conversation and educational interaction will convert far more than threats and derision.

I have a place at TAM, here I am with a whole panel of ATHEIST leaders.  No one was hit by lightning bolts.

I have a place at TAM, here I am with a whole panel of ATHEIST leaders. No one was hit by lightning bolts.

In other words, I have to practice “Don’t Be a Dick” in my own skeptic work, and indeed I hope in my day to day interactions with other people.

Dawkins may not interact or know any believers in the paranormal, be it Bigfoot or God, but I do.  Keeping Phil’s words in mind just makes life a little more better for all of us.

18 thoughts on “Don’t be a Dick, unless your name is Richard, or why I often don’t read the comments

  1. Sheeple says:

    Happy you felt better about being at TAM but there’s just one thing, TAM isn’t an atheist convention, it’s a skeptic’s convention. I don’t really see how you feel not being one would cancel out the other. There are more than a few theist skeptics, it’s not mutually exclusive. Notwithstanding, happy you’re feeling better about attending.

    • kittynh says:

      I could also see myself going to an atheist convention or event, if just to show my continues support for atheist. Talk about a group that has to put up with a lot of prejudice and hatred! I’m not gay, but I support gay rights. Same here, I am a member of a couple of atheist groups, with their permission. We have to end the prejudice and educate people about atheism and atheists. I even started a “take an atheist to lunch” day where I worked. I set people, believers, up with atheists. Many had never sat down with someone that was an atheist and just talked before. No one converted or deconverted anyone, but the non atheists learned a lot.

  2. Tom Harris says:

    Right on, Kitty. You & Phil are 100% right (IMHO) .

  3. calluminati says:

    I really enjoyed this read. I remember watching Phil Plaits talk and being quite surprised because I realised there were disagreements within the skeptical community. Your deistic belief is one of the most the interesting part of your post. Could you explain a bit more about why you’re a deist? How do you overcome the argument that what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence?

    • kittynh says:

      I would say, that I am really aware of the absurdity of there being a God. I long ago gave up on the afterlife business. Probably my problem is that while I grew up in a home with a father that was far from perfect and indeed at times abusive, the church proved an oasis of calm and comfort. The emphasis on activism and simple goodness, which I still see now in the Episcopalian Church, more than likely accounts for my continued belief. The church taught me to see good in everyone (even when it’s very hard) and yeah I still have that odd “well, someone is there that cares” feeling even in my darkest moments. It’s a peculiar source of strength, that I am glad to say my own daughters never have needed. I think perhaps growing up in a strong loving family with parents that they had wrapped around their fingers (still do) resulted in confident women that have no need what for me is truly the comfort of religious belief. I can look at it logically all day, and one day I might change my mind. Randi and I once joked I will have a death bed conversion to atheism! But, for now, it’s still there and a most definite good thing in my life.

      • calluminati says:

        Thanks for clearing that up. It’s interesting to hear that it’s mainly because of personal experiences/circumstances. Who knows, Randi might be right!

  4. Thank you, Kitty.
    Anyone that would think less or negative about you just because you are a deist is not someone I would want to hang around with either.
    I enjoyed Phil’s talk as well. I had some friends who seemed to take umbrage at it, which I still don’t fully understand.

    And in that last picture, we see David Silverman of American Atheists.
    His wife is not an atheist, and it doesn’t seem to bother him much!

  5. Actually, I was totally with you until you talked about it being OK for libertarians to talk about libertarian issues at a skeptics’ event. This fusion of libertarianism and skepticism by Shermer, Dunning, Penn/Teller (and surely others) is problematic, at the least.

    I’ve blogged more than once about this issue. Just as Gnu Atheists are the primary reason I don’t normally use the word “atheist” about myself even in the company of unbelievers, this is the primary reason I don’t use the word “skeptic” about myself in somewhat similar situations, though there are others, too.

    • kittynh says:

      I have to say, I’ve really tried to understand the Libertarian viewpoint. I live in New Hampshire, which is called “The Shire” by Libertarians and is supposed to be the state targeted for Libertarians to move to and become involved politically. I’ve met a lot of Libertarians, and have found they are far from in agreement. Liberty Radio is based in Keene. Shows include people that believe 9-11 was a government conspiracy and vaccinating children is dangerous. Then there are balanced views, but I would say they haven’t convinced me at all. I listen, and am polite, but still not buying it and all.

      • Well, having voted Green (though not a registered party member) in the past few elections, even Democrats don’t fully convince me.

        That said, if some Green made untrue claims about renewable energy, say, and it were at a skeptics’ convention, I’d object just as much as Libertarians doing that, as part of a presentation. (I should have made that more clear in my original post.) That’s the principle.

        If Penn and Teller, or whomever, want to spread libertarian fairy dust in the hallways, fine. But, nobody should be doing that as part of a presentation.

        Nor, per a certain blog with “skeptic” as part of its name, should they be doing that as part of blog posts there. You can probably guess which one I mean.

  6. Alex says:

    Your interpretation of what Dawkins said is comically absurd. It’s pretty clear that he was merely stating that the relationships which he actively cultivates tend to be with people who are non-believers. Of course he runs into religious people all the time. Of course he probably has a business relationship or a vague acquaintance with someone who happens to be religious. It would be ridiculous to suggest otherwise. Did you honestly misunderstand what he said, or are you intentionally misrepresenting it?

    Either way, there should be no reason for you to feel out of place in the skeptical community. Even Christians are welcome in skepticism, as long as they’re not the mouth-breathing young-earth-jezus-rode-on-dinosaurs variety. Skepticism doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything – it’s just a toolset for how we examine the world around us. It’s ok for us to reach different conclusions, as long as we can have an intelligent discussion about it. That’s how we learn.

    • kittynh says:

      I would say I needed to be a little clearer that I was being a bit humorous there. His remark was of course not meant to cover the people he ran into day in and day out. I am also a very outgoing person that makes it a point to know about the people I interact with, their families, how are they doing…..
      It was just his wording of it made it sound as if he lived in a world without believers. Anyway, I do highly respect his work, and have indeed interacted with him socially without any problems. I believe Phil was speaking to all of us, and I remember his words whenever I feel like rolling my eyes with the Bigfoot group I work with.

      • Alex says:

        Thanks for clearing that up. I don’t agree with Phil 100% … I think MOST of the time we should try to be civil, but there are definitely times when being a “dick” can be valuable. Sometimes we have to say the things that need saying, regardless of who may be offended by it. But for the most part Phil’s talk was right on the money, and I’m glad he was able to make you feel more comfortable.

  7. Oke Millett says:

    Kitty! You should always feel welcome! Indeed, a prominent Atheist just ‘divorced’ himself from skepticism, presumably because… well… he’s a bit of a dick. Anyways great post, and I admire you with all your deism intact – don’t change a thing (unless you want to!)

    • kittynh says:

      Atheists are far more supportive and nice and accepting to me, than religious people are to atheists. Truly, I am “blessed” with wonderful atheist friends. (or just lucky, or insert your own appropriate skeptic word)

  8. Roy A says:

    Honestly, although I’m an atheist, I got really tired of the constant low-level backhanded sniping and and belittling shown to believers who are otherwise rational and trying to follow the truth. I don’t consider myself a part of the “movement” anymore. SGU is about the only contact I have these days (until I followed Phil’s Facebook link to this post).

    My analogy is this, made political for effect: Let’s say you have a Muslim who believes in free markets and the minimum government and tax rates. He decides to go hang out with Republicans…but is constantly hearing nasty remarks directed toward Muslims…jokes about bombs, jihad, etc. When he complains he is told that of COURSE he’s welcome, and he IS sincerely welcomed by that person. But at every meeting and function and dinner conversation he hears little comments and jokes that remind him “you don’t really belong here”…how welcome do you think he will really feel, despite agreeing on most of their platform? (Feel free to make a left-leaning version of this, it’s not hard.)

    Religion is so ingrained and so pervasive that to expect everyone (or even most people) to just give it up may indeed be doctrinally pure…but it’s insanely unrealistic. It’s going to have to be given a pass in daily life, because unlike homeopathy, it’s really deeply ingrained, perhaps hardwired into us. We who don’t believe are the weird ones, even if we are correct.

    In Texas I worked hard with a group (90% of whom were devout believers– Protestant, Catholic and Jewish) to turn the tide on the local school boards against Creationists, for whom a local school board seat is a toe in the door to getting to the state board. Had we all been nonbelievers, I doubt we’d have been able to garner 10% of the support we did. But most of those people would feel really uncomfortable and unwelcome at TAM despite their defense of science.

  9. Roy A says:

    And I should say, I’m not against arguing for atheism…just not as part and parcel of public-outreach skepticism. A few people are indeed convinced by Dawkins, et al, but they are not usually the same people who need convincing to get their immunizations or not let ID into their kids’ science classrooms. I think the latter can be driven off if they feel they are looked down upon and ridiculed instead of engaged.

  10. […] Don’t be a Dick, unless your name is William, or why I often don’t read the comments ( […]

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