Where have all the dissenters gone?

(see what I did there?)

In recent months, there has been a profound lack of substantive discussion from people who disagree with me on my blog, Facebook, and elsewhere. Many people will write anonymous (and not anonymous) comments in local newspaper that consist of nothing more than personal attacks and ridiculous assertions that clearly show that they have not really considered the arguments against their position, do not have an argument, are not able to have a discussion, have not taken the time to understand what I believe about certain issues, and have not really thought about their own beliefs. This is quite unfortunate.

In December of 2009, a local hate campaign which was surprisingly (or not) associated with radio disc jockey Jumpin' Jeff Walker from KRZ radio -- a man turned-off by "bleeding heart liberals" who called me the "third most hated person in Luzerne County" on live radio during an interview consisted of little more than personal attacks, threats, conclusions based on false premises, and malice. People from all over 'the valley' sent me hate mail, wanted me to be expelled from college, threatened me with violence and hellfire, and supported many hypotheses I had before I filed a church/state complaint against a courthouse nativity scene [more on the nativity controversy including hate mail and nasty comments can be found here].

Before December of 2009, I realized that many people simply don't want to have discussions with people who disagree with them, 'step outside of their beliefs,' and consider objections to their beliefs. When I received a tremendous amount of hate mail, much of this was greatly supported. At the time, there was a lack of reasonable arguments against my position (and not just because I believed I was right and county officials admitted that the display was unconstitutional) and today...there is still a lack of reasonable arguments.

I have issued a public debate challenge on behalf of the NEPA Freethought Society in the letters to the editor section in the Citizen's Voice, my Examiner.com page, my blog, and elsewhere. While individual pastors may not have read the text of the challenge, individual believers have noticed the challenge who are free to tell their religious leaders. In September of 2010, I issued a similar debate challenge to King's College...and no theologian, teacher, or priest accepted the challenge. Some noted that since I was a student, the challenge was not accepted, but no there can be no excuse from King's or the community at large. I've graduated, now have some credentials, have commented on related issues for quite some time, am somewhat of a public figure, am the co-organizer of a local atheist group, etc, etc.

After recently meeting someone on a dating site who said that she was attracted to me and wanted to date revealed later -- after hours of phone discussion, text messaging, and quite compelling words -- that she was a "super Christian" who really wanted to convert me, my previously mentioned hypotheses were further reinforced: people often don't want to have the discussion, don't want to challenge their beliefs, etc. If she really wanted to convert me, why wouldn't she just have the discussion whether it was through texting, e-mails, or phone discussion?

Further, many religious texts mention the need to evangelize, prepare a defense for your beliefs and give it to others who ask, and 'save souls.' What better way can there be to 'save souls' than have the discussion? Religious people should know that preaching and appealing to scriptures is unlikely to 'turn' an atheist and that many atheist bloggers like myself are interested in the discussion and willing to have it...but few are taking the opportunity to discuss despite 'saving souls' being so important.

It is quite easy to levy personal attacks, but it takes some time and effort to offer a substantive response to those who happen to hold a certain belief that is at odds with someone else. It might be quite easy to 'just believe' and not question one's cherished beliefs. For some, it might be the case that inconsistencies are overlooked when beliefs conflict, the inconsistencies are personally threatening to the point of not wanting to confront the inconsistencies, or one has simply given up rationality in one area of life (or a few) thus falling into a rationalization trap.

Saving souls is so important and Heaven is the greatest possible reward...
but I don't care to 'spread the word.'

There is a scientific consensus on the matter of evolution that includes theists...
but I believe that creationism is essential to my theistic belief.

Atheists are moral people...
but they have no morality because morality has to come from a belief in a god.

I understand that because something exists in nature does not entail that it is moral...
but meat-eating is part of our evolutionary history, so it is permissible.

Evidence is important for my beliefs...
but faith in God is okay.

God loves everyone and Christians are supposed to love everyone...
but it it okay to attack atheists because they don't believe in God and are going to hell.

I understand that all who disagree can't reasonably be expected to post about their disagreement and also acknowledge that every theist can't be expected to comment on my blog posts...but there are many theists who 'talk behind my back' saying about how horrible of a person I am, how I am wrong about everything, etc. and they don't talk the time to actually learn about me, read my posts, and understand why I believe what I believe. There is a huge problem with this that admits of cowardice, intellectual dishonesty, and intellectual laziness.

About a year ago, a theist I went to school with actually took the time to send me a Facebook message saying that he wanted to chat with me and I was quite happy about this, but when we met his first two 'arguments' were Pascal's Wager and 'you can't disprove God.' Clearly, he hasn't considered arguments against his position.

I welcome dissent because it keeps me honest, allows me to address something I may have missed, provides an alternative perspective I may not have thought of, and might even change my stance on some issues. It is certainly no fun 'preaching to the choir' (and I know this is not the case because many theists read my posts, but just don't comment), so I want people who disagree to comment.

While discussion is certainly not for everyone and some people simply do not wish to post, there are certainly people out there who disagree with me on many issues who enjoy the discussion...but they are not having it for the most part. Even if one is not comfortable discussing, comments can still be left to gain understanding, raise an issue, or say about how I might be missing the point.

As always, I welcome comments on my posts and elsewhere. Feel free to disagree. If you mostly agree with me and happen to disagree on some finer points or pose a question, feel free to do that.