We do attack ideas, but we attack them in a way that sometimes offends people. The point, though, is that the people who are taking offense are often doing so due to unreasonable beliefs. Like PZ Myers and his "frackin' cracker." It's less about the offensive language and more about the fact that certain people believe the cracker is the body of Jesus -- which it clearly isn't -- and they are willing to terrorize and intimidate people who don't treat it with the respect due to a magical cracker -- which it isn't. It's about the fact that people should be allowed to draw cartoons with Mohammed as a character -- clearly an activity that harms no one except by annoying them -- without receiving death threats.
Agreed. If you have unreasonable expectations in terms of "politeness" (i.e., expectations that are not based upon reason), then you're liable to be offended. Enjoy! You're welcome to follow whatever tenets and strictures that your religion imposes upon you—but the moment that you try to force someone else to abide by your religious doctrines, you're being an ass, and you're wrong. You can't prevent a person from drawing your prophet. You can't prevent a person from sticking a nail through a wafer of wheat. You can't prevent two people who love each other from marrying. You just can't do that.
But Phil Plait would also like to strengthen his case by sneakily conflating two things. On one hand, we have posts that say "All Christians are Retards," a statement which is both dickish and false. On the other hand, we have PZ Myers throwing his cracker in the trash. By conflating the two, we can be left with the impression that PZ Myers calls all Christians retards, when in reality the two acts are not equivalent.
It just seems to me that way too often, saying "Don't be a dick" is actually code for "Shut up and accept it when other people are dicks to you."
Now, I like PZ Myers a lot. He can be a little dickish at times—I think that this is true. But, as I said in my response to Phil's talk, there is a difference between being blunt and being a dick:
I've seen people being fairly blunt, but I think that that definitely has its place. I don't think that the phrase "God is imaginary" should be considered especially offensive, for example (and if it offends you, I quite frankly don't care), but it certainly is blunt.
The problem is, as far as I can see, Phil didn't actually "strengthen his case by sneakily conflating" PZ Myers' desecration of a communion wafer with posts that call Christians offensive names. This was the only post by Phil Plait that turned up when I did a cursory Google search for "myers wafer" against the Bad Astronomy domain:
The Vatican has released a previously secret list of sins. The list itself is not terribly surprising, of course. What shocked me was the way it listed relative importance of these sins: desecrating a Eucharist (the cracker Catholics believe is the transubstantiated body of Christ) is considered a worse sin than murder or even genocide.
I had to read that part twice to make sure I had understood it, but the meaning is pretty clear. What PZ Myers did was worse, according to this doctrine, than what Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot did.
I understand that if you are a devout Catholic, you truly and fervently believe the cracker has become the actual body of Christ. But honestly, is spitting it out — an example specifically stated in the article — or even driving a rusty nail through it a worse sin than actually murdering millions of living people? I’ve read the Bible, and from the Sermon on the Mount it doesn’t sound to me that Jesus was someone who would think that way.
Maybe I'm reading that wrong, but Phil doesn't seem to be coming down hard against PZ. It's quite possible that Russell has some information that currently escapes me, but I can't find any reference to Phil calling PZ's desecration "dickery", and I frankly don't understand why Russell thinks Phil is being sneaky.
As I've said previously, I agree with a lot of what Phil said, but I don't think that we're overrun with dicks:
I don't really doubt Phil's premise, but I would have liked to hear a few substantive, representative examples of such discourtesy. I understand that he intentionally didn't single anyone out, but such examples would prove beneficial to ensure that everyone is on the same page. The problem, I think, is that "being a dick" is fairly subjective.
In terms of "vitriol and venom", I honestly haven't seen a lot of it firsthand.
Perhaps dickery is a problem among rank-and-file Internet skeptics, but I don't think that it's a major issue with the well-known voices in the skeptic movement.
So, where do we stand?
It seems to me that Phil make several good points with regard to tone and I find his endorsement of Wheaton's Law fine and laudable—these are things that are important to keep in mind during discussions with believers of all stripes. That said, I agree with Russell that we may have a bit of a tempest in a teapot on our hands, for while Phil gives good advice the implication seems to be that we have a dangerous proliferation of dicks on our hands. (Did I mention that this post would have mild NSFW content combined with bizarre imagery? Well, I should have.) And that doesn't seem quite right, either.
For the record, not only do I support PZ Myers' right to desecrate that communion wafer, I think that given the context it was actually the right thing to do.