I've engaged in a number of political, philosophical and theological arguments at a message board run by the Center for Inquiry. I have the impression that CFI is more-or-less a church organization for atheists and secular humanists. Recently they were in the news for having written a critique of the textbook criticized by high school student Matthew LaClair--already a minor celebrity because of his involvement in the brouhaha over a teacher who supposedly was preaching in the classroom (the newspapers went whole hog with that take--I found the evidence lacking).
As I enjoy arguing against capable opposition, I've had a good bit of fun at the CFI forum between my various brush-ups with the site leaders who sometimes express concern about my tone and general attitude. Which leads me to my reason for blogging about the discussion forum.
Another Christian (a Roman Catholic) posting at CFI started a thread called "Ask a Christian" but he ceased his participation in his own thread over time. Some days ago I started fielding some of the leftover questions, which resulted in a new raft of questions. Eventually the conversation drew out "dougsmith," who presented a relatively elegant argument from outrage as a problem for Christianity. After a few back and forth exchanges, this CFI member complained that I was using his name. Seriously. He said I'd made a habit of using his name and that of others (which I gather makes the practice even worse).
I’m going to skip all the diversionary attacks in the prior part of the message, and the constant repetition of my name, which seems to be a focus of your messages no matter who you’re talking to. If you’re concerned about these discussions becoming overly personalized, repeating someone’s name while taking issue with them is an odd way of depersonalizing things.This is the kind of thing that evidently sets Doug on edge:
For that instance I would also bring to bear the other factor that I’ve already mentioned: the covenant. The people gathered before God and made a deal to follow the laws God gave them in return for God’s blessings. When Doug mentions the account of the folks stoned for collecting firewood he curiously omits that aspect of the problem; the text (Numbers 15) appears to indicate that the man who collected firewood would likely have been present to agree to the covenant.
By way of analogy, we might suppose that Doug agrees to put a dollar into a workplace fund every time he says “dammit!” And then we get the moral dilemma: Is it morally right to charge somebody a dollar just because he says “dammit!”? Context matters.
(bold emphasis added)
Here's another one where I make the debate personal with name-dropping:
More interesting, I think, is the way Doug leaves out both the context of my specific complaints about things he was leaving out as well as the present context (the fact that he is implicitly presenting the passage with the comment that it represents clear immorality). That on top of avoiding my questions, in particular my attempt to resolve an issue via Socratic dialog. Perhaps Doug sees himself as the prosecutor addressing a witness at trial.And a particularly nasty one (I imagine):
It isn’t clear that you can describe such a compass in the first place, Doug, even given completely free reign. The poison you’ve prepared for the well is dilute.It's a mystery to me why one would object to having his name used in this manner, though I can sympathize in a small way with some ... disorientation owing to my sometimes-habit of alternating between addressing the one to whom I am replying and the other participants.
You skipped the opportunity to demonstrate the “plainly immoral” nature of the commandments in favor of trying to get me to settle on one that I would contradict. Remember?
The debate, for those curious, concerned Doug's (I'm going to risk using the name since it's my blog) assertion that certain acts or statutes of God were clearly immoral. I challenged his basis for that declaration, and he responded by fashioning his argument to get me to declare one of God's actions immoral instead of establishing the supposedly clear immorality as an objective fact. It was a good strategy on his part, albeit making up for a problematic opening.
One area where he has been particularly impressive lately is his avoidance of my questions to him, to my amusement. And, by the way, I've immediately stopped using his name in my replies to him now that I've discovered that it apparently bothers him.
I expect to blog some of my general impressions over time. One not-unexpected impression is that there are some genuinely likable folks posting there along with some who are somewhat less likable. Average people in that respect. That has been my general experience in debating atheist and skeptical types over the years.