September 20, 2009

Celebrating the Win Does Not Always Mean Deriding the Loser

American athletes display their pride after th...Image via Wikipedia

State of Protest had an interesting post a couple days ago with a title that caught my attention: Do Atheists Get Happy When "Bad Things" Happen to Christians? My first thought when seeing the title was that this atheist certainly does not. My second thought was that I'd better read the post to see what it was talking about. I'm glad I did. It is a good one that asks us to consider some challenging questions.

In the post, Procrustes asks whether atheists experience feelings of joy upon learning about Christians losing church-state separation cases. Well, that's different, isn't it? I absolutely do feel happy upon encountering such news. I tend to interpret it as a victory for the law rather than a defeat for Christians, but I'm sure the Christians involved in the court case don't see it that way. It makes perfect sense that a Christian on the losing end of a constitutional battle would perceive my reaction as anti-Christian, even if I don't see it that way.

Procrustes also asks whether we ever laugh at a Christian who fails miserably in a debate. Guilty. And yes, here I must acknowledge that it is more than me wanting to cheer on the forces of reason, truth, and logic. I admit that I take a certain delight in seeing some holier-than-thou sort fall on his or her ass. I can't say I'm proud of it, but I freely confess it.

Procrustes asks:
Is it right for atheists to revel in victory? Is is honorable, rational, or productive to laugh in the face of a fallen opponent? Have centuries of oppression and fear caused us to suffer from nervous laughter syndrome, whereby our repressed emotions and need to express ourselves manifest derision and ridicule at even the slightest slip by our oppressors? Is it healthy or beneficial for us to perpetuate such reactions? Do we threaten the already tenuous relations between believers and non-believers?
I do sometimes laugh when Christians fail, and I sometimes do so for fairly petty reasons. This is not especially productive, but I believe it is human. Yes, I think it is human to deride what we know to be absurdly false. Does it threaten our relations with religious believers? Probably, but I'm not here to accommodate dangerous irrationality. I'm not here to profess tolerance to what history reveals as one of the most potent forces of intolerance ever conceived. I'm all for positive relations, but not at any price.

Setting all that aside, however, I do want to be clear about one thing. My positive emotional reactions usually have more to do with seeing reason triumph rather than seeing delusion fail. Most of the times that I smile, laugh, or celebrate such an outcome, I am focused on the law or human reason working the way it is supposed to work. Most of the time, it really isn't about the theist at all (as hard as that seems for some of them to believe).

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