Recently it feels like I've been involved in too many discussions about what actually constitutes rape. Long, involved discussions that boil down to the argument that victims are somehow to blame for what happens to them, whether it's based on how they dress, what their behaviour was, if they did or didn't fight back and so on. I hit on a phrase that seemed to stop one friend in his thinking tracks: bullying someone into accepting sex is still rape, in exactly the same way that bullying someone into giving up their lunch money is still theft. Just because the victim accedes to the demand does not mean that the crime was not commited, nor does it make it somehow less, and violence doesn't have to be used, or even implicitly threatened, to make it bullying/rape/theft.

Which got me thinking - how much is bullying used in theist communities? I have no 'real life' experience here, as I've been raised in an atheist family. Where I have experienced it, though, is on websites and online forums when discussing evolution (and therefore creationism, whether I want to or not), abortion, contraception, and various legal and moral issues. I've always been unsettled by the aggression theists have used against their opponents, which has frequently seemed to be over the top. Even people I consider friends, who are not what I'd call hard-core debators, seem to have this pattern of throwing out "facts" like grenades, with a "hah! Gotcha!" attitude and no attempt to listen to, let alone try to understand, what is being said. It's as though having stated their position, there is no onus on them to consider the opposing argument; the content of the argument is irrelevent, the only thing that needs to be fixed on is the defiance of their position.

Going back and looking at those arguments, there does seems to be a prevelent use of bully-like behaviour. The theists don't seem to feel any need to consider, reflect on, learn and understand the contrary argument, nor do they seem to see a need to provide a genuine, reasoned argument of their own; all they seem to feel the need to do is to keep contradicting any claim laid before them. Facts, figures and explanations are irrelevent, and don't even need to be dismissed, they can just be ignored as another line of beligerent "reasoning" or "fact" is thrown out. No discussion into the validity of those facts or how well the reasoning stands up to examination will be entered into; any attempt to engage in discussion is simply bulldozed.

Quite simply, the line seems to be to bully the other into silence, and then to claim the silence as victory.

So now I have to ask myself the question: how do you argue with a bully without yourself becoming a bigger bully? A bully isn't interested in being right, or honest, or in providing an enlightened view. A bully simply wants to control the situation, regardless of what they have to do in order to acheive that. Which means that a rational, reasoned conversation is, by their terms, irrelevent. So how do we engage? How do we make the bully enter into a reasoned conversation instead of a shouting match? How do we make it about discussion, not grandstanding and shouting each other down? My entire life, my response to bullying has been to disengage and walk away. There must be a better response - but I don't (yet) know what it is.

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Comment by Anwyn Davies on August 21, 2012 at 10:12pm

Richard, that's an interesting take I hadn't considered. Discussion is difficult - says so very much and would seem to give an explanation for a lot of behaviour I find baffling.

Something for me to think about, thank you.

Comment by Richard C Brown on August 21, 2012 at 6:15am

My experience as a theist is that we arm ourselves with the bible and the words therein.God said it.This is what the bible says and I am following it.

It is difficult to get the theist to listen.

I like this discussion it stirs the sleeping within me.

The theist finds discussion difficult.

Comment by Loren Miller on August 20, 2012 at 3:07pm

... in dealing with certain types you must step on their toes until they apologize.
-- Robert A. Heinlein

Comment by James Yount on August 20, 2012 at 2:58pm

Sometimes you have to be just as loud and vocal as the theist to get your point across.  Look at Christopher Hitchens.  I usually use his method as a last resort though.  Sometimes if you talk softly the other person will follow suit.  Those who cannot hear an angry shout may strain to hear a whisper.” Spock

I talked clearly and softly the other day when debating an extremely religious friend of mine on the topic of slavery in the bible.  He loudly confessed that I was misinterpreting/misrepresenting the text.  So I went home and pulled up all the texts on slavery and sent them to him via email.  Then when we talked again, I loudly vocalized that HE misrepresented his own religious text to win an argument and that he wrongly accused me of doing so.  It shut him up, at least on that subject.  Some people only understand things if you forcefully speak up.  I'll acknowledge that it's easier for men to argue that forcefully.  I was always a quiet person and I had to learn how to speak up.

Comment by Loren Miller on August 20, 2012 at 7:25am

You make some good points.  Both theists and bullies have many traits in common, and indeed, those two subsets have a considerable intersection between them.  My experience regarding theists is that arguing with them is a waste of time, since they really have no interest in listening to anything anyone other than they have to say.  Generally, if I find I have engaged such a person, I point this out before disengaging from the discussion (they generally don't like that).  If the discussion is online, I might suggest to the owner of the discussion to block and/or remove that person's input from it, and if the discussion is mine, I won't hesitate to do so.  You are spot-on in observing that the bully wants to control the situation with his words.  At least one solution is to trump his words with ACTION, and the swifter and more positive that action is, the better.

The real world can be a much harder to deal with a bully or a theist, depending on the immediate environment and who populates it, but the actions can be remarkably similar: gathering friends who share my resolve and confronting the offending party with his actions, letting him know that those actions will not be tolerated and will result in consequences.  In extreme cases, notifying the police may be necessary, and again, this is not an action I have a problem with.  Or, depending on the level the bully is operating at, simply ignore him - starve the troll of the attention he wants.  The type of action required is quite naturally dependent on the situation as it is.

I should mention that Atheist Nexus has a group dedicated to the issue of bullies and bullying: It Gets Better: Atheists for a Bully-free World.  You might give it a look when you have a moment.



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