Where Logic Meets Love

Mocking the "Sky Fairy," or How Not to Convert Me to Atheism

Friday, February 8, 2013

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Mocking the 'Sky Fairy,' or How Not to Convert Me to Atheism | Faith Permeating Life

I read a lot of blogs, and I find that most blogs attract communities around them that are similarly minded to the blogger(s). So Christian blogs like mine tend to have mostly Christian readers, along with some people who are at least open to and/or tolerant of the Christian faith. Gay rights blogs attract people who care about gay rights, and so on.

Then there are those times when a post goes viral and starts drawing in readers and commenters from all over the place.

I saw this happen most recently when Justin Lee's post on the "tipping pastor" incident went viral and was eventually re-posted on the Huffington Post. (He has a great follow-up post here.) And when a post about Christianity starts getting lots of comments by non-Christians, it's only a matter of time before someone uses the opportunity to make derisive comments about faith in general. This often comes in the form of a sarcastic quip about the "sky fairy" or some other dismissive name for God.

Look -- you're totally allowed to believe what you want. It's a free country. But don't make yourself look like an idiot while trying to imply that you're too "enlightened" to believe in God.

Making a "sky fairy" comment doesn't make you come off as superior or more intelligent, except perhaps among your friends who also draw their self-worth from thinking about how smart they are for being atheists. It just makes you sound ignorant and close-minded, revealing your narrow worldview in which explanations other than your own are always wrong. You are operating under a closed system of Truth in which you must deride or ignore anyone's experiences that don't fit into your model of the world.

In that way, you're very similar to those whose religious worldview is so fixed that they feel they must sarcastically mock things like evolution, rather than seeking to understand why someone might believe in it, or else risk having their entire concept of Truth shattered.

Other than trying to make yourself sound enlightened, what exactly are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to convince me that my faith is wrong? "Wow, you're right, my faith in God sounds so silly when you put it like that, therefore I am going to immediately stop believing everything."

Trying to get people to see the error of their ways by putting it in overly simplistic terms works about as well for converting people to atheism as it does for converting people to Christianity. I don't know anyone who has been shamed-and-preached-at into suddenly becoming a Christian, nor do I know anyone who has been sarcastically mocked into becoming an atheist.

I think the biggest reason the "sky fairy" comments bother me is that they flagrantly conflate Christians and Christianity.* So in the case of Justin's post, which was about Christians being bad at showing Christ's love to the world, the kind of comments I'm describing tried to imply that you can't expect anything more from people who are stupid enough to believe in God in the first place.

But the fact that we fall short of the standard set by our religion doesn't tell you anything about the veracity of that religion itself. And people who are rude or make stupid mistakes are by no means limited to Christianity. It would make equally little sense to say of an atheist who did something stupid, "Well, what do you expect from someone who doesn't believe in God?" The truth or falsehood of our religious system is not dependent upon the actions of those who adhere to it.

In short, I don't think these comments accomplish much of anything short of making the commenter feel better about themselves and their close-minded view of the world. They certainly don't make me think anything positive about the commenter, nor cause me to re-examine my own beliefs.

Do you know the kind of comments I'm talking about? What is your reaction to them?


*Christianity is, of course, not the only religion with a God and therefore not the only one attacked by ridiculing belief in a higher power, but it's the one in this particular example and most often the context in which I see these comments being made.

16 comments:

  1. It's very true. It's always far easier to score points with your own crowd than it is to actually talk with people who think differently. And in some ways the internet makes it easier to live in our own little thought-bubbles since we can search the world for people who think *exactly* like us. Makes it easier to demean and dehumanize other positions.

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    1. I don't know; it's hard to say. I mean, it may be that the people making these comments normally frequent sites about atheism where they all sit around and make fun of Christianity. Or it may be that they regularly go on Christian sites to talk about how ridiculous and stupid it is to believe in God. My point about blogs drawing a similar readership wasn't necessarily to say that that's a good or bad thing. When you've got someone like Justin, who is so full of grace and humility, gently challenging other Christians to be better about living out their faith, then I think it's good and appropriate that it's read mostly by the intended audience. Drawing in the "unwashed masses," as a viral post does, can drag the conversation down to very unproductive levels like I described here.

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    2. Yes, viral posts unfortunately do tend to degenerate into the exact same argument, whatever the original topic. :-P

      Trolling opposing sites to comment is really the same thing as reading completely likeminded sites, though--either way, you don't have to engage opposing viewpoints as *people* on the internet.

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    3. Right, exactly, that's the point I was trying to make -- that it's not just staying in our own circle that causes people to "demean and dehumanize other positions." Whether you're spending time on sites where you agree with everything or sites where you disagree with everything, or anywhere in between, you have to want to learn and keep an open mind in order to really be challenged.

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  2. Yes, yes, yes. Could not have said it better myself! It pisses me off when people act like whatever they believe is the only thing that could possibly be correct, whether they're religious or atheists. The pastor in that story deserves every bad thing that's being said about her, but her religion does not.

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    1. Well, I thought Justin's point was a valid one, that when Christians consistently follow a pattern of acting like stingy jerks, people begin to associate that with Christianity. But there's also a difference between the comments saying, "Yes, I've had a lot of bad experiences with Christians and it's turned me off of wanting to know any more about Christianity" and "Of course Christians are assholes because their religion is fake LOL" which is obnoxious and also illogical.

      I appreciated Justin's follow-up post where he clarified that the story about the pastor was just a "hook" to make his point about behaving better toward other people, and that heaping criticism on her doesn't make the world a better place.

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  3. Yes, it's SO easy to get caught in this trap and make this mistake.

    Because you DO get positive feedback from your "crowd" for doing this. Sometimes a troubling amount of it. This feedback is addictive and can only make you more sure of yourself when you really shouldn't be.

    That's why I recommend reading a variety of blogs, news sources, etc. If you are acting like an jackass, someone, somewhere will call you out on it.

    http://allpartoflifesrichpageant.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/both-sides-now/

    "The truth or falsehood of our religious system is not dependent upon the actions of those who adhere to it." - Thank God for that! (literally)

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    1. What's interesting is that I'm not sure the people leaving comments in this particular case even realized they were on a Christian blog. They saw Justin's point about how Christians aren't always loving, and many of them concluded he hated all Christians and decided he would appreciate their sharing their own hatred of Christians.

      I do think seeking out other viewpoints can be beneficial to the extent that you're able to do so with an open mind and a desire to learn. However, when people go to blogs with viewpoints they vehemently disagree with, and then take the time to compose comments telling the blogger exactly why they're wrong about everything, that's not expanding your mind, that's just spewing your self-righteousness all over the Internet. I prefer to read things where I agree with most of the writers' premises but am able to be challenged on certain issues, and where the blogger and commenters are generally respectful and want to learn from one another. Otherwise it just results in me being angry and/or sharing my self-righteous rightness via comments, and that's not helpful for anyone.

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  4. I think you're spot on with this. It really bothers me when anyone is arrogant and rude when it comes to matters of belief... Doesn't matter if it's an atheist who's calling anyone who believes in a God an idiot or a Christian telling someone of another faith that they're going to go to Hell.

    I had a friend who's one of those outspoken atheists who acts like a jerk... and I remember the point where I lost a lot of respect for the guy was one day he started whining to me because he got kicked off of an internet mailing list because he had responded to a woman who was really upset and asked for prayers and thoughts for a family member of hers who had cancer and was pretty close to death and he decided that it was an appropriate time to lecture the woman as to why prayer doesn't work and just couldn't understand why he'd gotten kicked off because she was the one who went off topic. *facepalm*

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    1. *facepalm* is exactly right.

      I went to a knitting Meetup that ended up just being me and the woman who organized it, and when I told her I was knitting a prayer shawl she indicated that she felt that was a sham and any supposed "healings" as a result of prayer were just positive thinking. Well, thanks... lemme just throw out this prayer shawl then since you're obviously right and all those people instantly and inexplicably healed from their diseases were just really good at thinking positively. Why not at least ask me (not sarcastically) why I believe in prayer shawls enough to spend hours and hours knitting them?

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    2. HaHa! Prayer Shawl - Brilliant.
      Perhaps you could knit me a car repair sock?

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  5. I've found that this kind of thing seems to be far more prevalent in America than it does in Australia. I'm not sure if it's a byproduct of the US being far more religious by nature (I know about three people in Australia who attend church), but I find it endlessly frustrating when I'm in the US and, when people find out that I don't believe in God, get told that I'm breaking their heart and that they'll pray for me to find faith.

    It's not QUITE as outspoken as the "sky fairy" comments, but still manages to imply that I'm deluded in my choices. Sigh.

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    1. So even though Australia is less religious, you don't find as many people openly mocking those who do believe?

      Somehow it would not surprise me that the US is more likely to produce both the most obnoxious Christians and the most obnoxious atheists.

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    2. Maybe it's just my personal experience, but people would be more likely to look at you a little strangely than be openly mocking. Faith here tends to have very little bearing on personal identity - I don't know that I've met anyone outside the US who would introduce themselves and mention in that introduction what their religion was. (You know, the "Hi, I'm Sally, I'm a Christian, I like to play soccer and my favourite TV show is How I Met Your Mother" kind of introduction that you do at the start of a semester?) It's more of a personal thing.

      Obviously, there are still obnoxious arseholes, like the guy in the city who yells through a megaphone about how God is going to send us all to Hell for not going to church. But people ignore him rather than getting into arguments with him.

      I guess given that we're a young and very multicultural country, we have something of a "Hey, whatever makes you happy" attitude...

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    3. That makes sense.

      One of the things that annoys me about America is how we have these embedded cultural narratives about our country that we are the "land of the free" and the "melting pot," and yet a large portion of our population thinks we're a Christian nation that needs to send all the immigrants back where they came from. So it's like we profess to have the "whatever makes you happy" attitude you describe without actually living it out. It seems it'd be much preferable to have the opposite, where you tend to live and let live without being constantly self-congratulatory about what a free country it is.

      Even Whoville, which is one of the more open-minded cities (one of the reasons we moved to the West Coast), can be openly prejudiced about things like religion (see the story above of the knitting lady telling me my prayer shawls were a sham). And really, this relates back to the point of Justin's point that I linked to, which is that there's no point in going on about Christianity being a religion of love and charity if you're not actually living it out.

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  6. Those who think 'sky fairy' is an illuminating re-description of God seem to know very little about fairies - which is such a pity!

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