WickedEye's Quotient

11/15/2007 at 21:26

What the hell is the matter with you? Why did you do that?

A colleague recently posted a bit of prose (see below this entry) that has, to put it mildly, hacked me off.

She prefaced it with the notation that “No matter how many times it's told it’s still good!”—meaning, presumably, that this narrative gem is an item commonly posted. In all likelihood, she posted it because she thought that her friends—many of whom attend the same school I do—would enjoy it too.

I go to a law school. A law school. If most of my colleagues (or even some of them) think that this story represents discourse, that this is an acceptable way to interact with people who openly contradict the beliefs those colleagues hold, then we are all—man, woman, dog, and child—in so much trouble.

To summarize the tale, a college professor expresses doubt that there’s a God- in fact, publicly challenges God to knock him off a platform. (Which makes it clear that whoever wrote this was someone who’s never known any atheists. Like most other folks who aren’t schizophrenic, they don’t go around talking to people they think aren’t there.) The Marine who’s the hero of the story obliges the professor by knocking him out and then informing him that God is busy protecting the “soldiers who are protecting your right to say stupid shit and act like an asshole”.

There are several pieces of this narrative that utterly and completely floor me. And because I’m prepping for finals, I’ll outline them:

1) The professor/villain is “a vowed [sic] atheist and a member of the ACLU”. Apparently being a member of either group—let alone, horrors, both—automatically makes you a suspect character.

Hmmm. Some of the smartest, funniest, most principled people I know are atheists. Some of the most passionately apple-pie Americans I know are members of the ACLU. And it’s the American Civil Liberties Union, more than any other organization, which brings First Amendment/freedom of speech suits to protect those rights which the Marine is supporting by hitting college professors.

2) Expressing doubt that there is a God—or stating publicly and challengingly that you don’t believe that there is a God—qualifies as “say[ing] stupid shit”. Evidently, it also makes you an asshole.

Huh. So being loud about unpopular or unorthodox beliefs qualifies you as an asshole? Whew. Good thing the men listening to the suffragettes plead for women’s right to vote didn’t have this response. As far as being mouthy: No-one in law school has any business criticizing brazenness. It’s prized and cultivated in some highly accomplished legal circles, as is making your point dramatically.

3) Physical violence against someone who says something which contradicts your beliefs is acceptable and, by the smugly laudatory tone of this little anecdote, admirable.

Wow. Wonder what the Puritans who fled England to escape precisely this kind of treatment would think of this? Or for that matter, the abolitionists who were elemental in getting rid of slavery? Or the loudmouth on the corner shouting about his odd little religious sect? Or any one of a hundred principled social reformers who stood up and took an unpopular position at great risk to themselves? People like Gandhi and MLK Jr. endured a great deal of violence to put forth their beliefs. That doesn’t mean it was necessary or right.

4) Our soldiers are fighting for America and its protection of its citizens’ right to say what they want. Except, apparently, in front of those soldiers.

Saying something which challenges or contradicts a soldier’s belief in front of him, it would seem, is grounds for cold-cocking. They’re only protecting people’s right to free speech when they don’t have to listen to it? Freaking bizarre.

This story is supposed to be funny. It’s supposed to make those who dislike atheists, and others who challenge beliefs they value—including, obviously, members of the ACLU—feel good about themselves.

To feel vindicated in disliking those people. To feel smug in vilifying those people. To feel justified in retaliating against those people.

Here’s the trick, ya’ll: it isn’t funny.

It isn’t funny precisely because it promotes dislike of and disdain for and disregard of other people’s opinions. It isn’t funny because it encourages the kind of denigration and condemnation of other people that splits families and schools and countries.

It isn’t funny because it incites the kind of irrational assault against ideological opponents that perpetuates violent and unthinking bigotry.

Disagreeing with someone’s point of view? Well, that doesn’t make him/her an asshole.

Beating someone up for disagreeing with you? That does make you an asshole.

I wonder if someone at the law school’s gonna beat me up now...


A United States Marine was attending some college courses between assignments. He had completed missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the courses had a professor who was a vowed atheist and a member of the ACLU.

One day the professor shocked the class when he came in. He looked to the ceiling and flatly stated, "God, if you are real, then I want you to knock me off this platform. I'll give you exactly 15 minutes."

The lecture room fell silent. You could hear a pin drop. Ten minutes went by and the professor proclaimed, "Here I am God. I'm still waiting." It got down to the last couple of minutes when the Marine got out of his chair, went up to the professor, and cold-cocked him; knocking him off the platform. The professor was out cold.

The Marine went back to his seat and sat there, silently. The other students were shocked and stunned and sat there looking on in silence.

The professor eventually came to, noticeably shaken, looked at the Marine and asked, "What the hell is the matter with you? Why did you do that?"

The Marine calmly replied, "God was too busy today protecting America's soldiers who are protecting your right to say stupid shit and act like an asshole. So, He sent me."

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Blogger Matt said...

The worst part of that story is that, "the other students were shocked and stunned and sat there looking on in silence." If someone punched a professor in one of my classes, I'd call 911 followed immediately by campus security.  


Blogger Scientiae said...

No bloody kidding! And 50-odd witnesses to assault looking on. (I'd volunteer to take a sick day just for the pleasure of being a witness for the plaintiff.) I'd like to think that many of my classmates would have done the same- that is, call security.  


Blogger jcr said...

Any Marine I know would be quite offended at this story. One thing every Marine prides himself on is his self-discipline.



Blogger Scientiae said...

Given their level of training and fighting ability, that's a profound relief, though I sort of thought the point of the story was to illustrate that the Marine did it coolly and deliberately.  


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