Why would anyone want stupid comments all over their website? Well, it could be that they want to reinforce a stereotype of a certain group -- in this case, the stereotype of atheists making disparaging remarks about the history of religion without knowing that religion well.
The question in the title of this post occurred to me today when I saw that a comment on HP from a friend of mine had been deleted. He's pretty brainy, and regularly points out historical inaccuracies in other readers' comments. As do I. A couple of regular obnoxious know-it-alls we are, if you don't enjoy learning things. And clearly, stupid people don't. (That's why they're stupid.) Sometimes, when my friend or I point out that Constantine actually didn't revise the Bible, or that the development, written or oral, of the Old Testament has not as yet been traced back in time earlier than the Iron Age into the Bronze Age, or that many of the earliest Popes wrote in Greek instead of Latin, or that the status of dhimmi was offered to Zoroastrians as well as to Christians and Jews in Islamic states in earlier eras, or what have you, the person we're addressing, or a third party, will actually thank us, or even ask if we have reading tips for further information on the subject at hand. (Of course we do. How d'you think we got so friggin' smart?) Often, however, the person we're addressing (or a third party) reacts with hostility to our attempt to help. If they are atheists, they often (mistakenly) assume that I and my friends are believers. A couple of hardcore cases don't believe us if we happen to correct them and say that we're atheists. That's right -- they think we're Christians posing as atheists in order to trick them. (Or maybe it's just one, whom I encountered on more than one separate occasion, and whose handle I had not lovingly memorized the first time. I hope it's only one. That this would be a pattern would be quite discouraging.)
Yesterday I corrected one of the popular ahistorical memes concerning the history of religion in another reader's comment. That reader responded by asking me whether I was planning to sacrifice an animal or my first-born child. I said I was commenting in the interest of historical accuracy, with no religious belief and ergo no attempt to proselytize. The other reader only became more hostile and more bizarrely imaginative about me and my intentions, and after a brief to-and-fro I gave up.
Then today I learned of the above-mentioned deleted comment by my learned friend: he had not given up when I had, but replied to the last reply to me by the reader who got very angry at me and my fancy-pants book larnin'. I was very surprised that my friend's comment was deleted, both because it contained information which was, you know -- accurate; and because it was not one bit harsher in tone than the other person's comments, none of which were deleted.
Then I saw this HP article: Too Simple to Be Wrong: Atheism's Bronze-Age Goat Herder Conceit. And that's when I started to wonder whether some individuals who decide what sort of readers' comments on articles in HP Religion will appear on the website, and which won't, have a preference -- maybe subconscious. Maybe not. Maybe the one in certain individuals and the other in others -- for those comments by atheists which reek more of jackassery, all the better to portray atheists as jackasses. I was very disappointed, as soon as I saw the article's headline and read its first paragraph, a quote from Sam Harris, that the time when comments on this particular article were being accepted for consideration had passed, because I wanted to point out that I had repeatedly pointed out in my comments that I realized that the Bible had not been written in the Bronze Age, and that I had never been the slightest bit impressed by Sam Harris, indeed that I cringe when I think that Harris is a leader of the current atheist movement. Then I read the rest of the article and saw that its author also did not seem to realize that the Bible was not a Bronze-Age artifact, but more disappointing that that was the presentation of certain simpleminded attitudes bundled together as "Atheism's Bronze-Age Goat Herder Conceit" and not attributed specifically to certain simpledminded atheist individuals. Those of you who have seen Philadelphia,please recite along with me:
This is the essence of discrimination: formulating opinions about others not based on their individual merits, but rather on their membership in a group with assumed characteristics.
That's right, Dawg: that's what the Federal Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 says. I don't ignore the individual merits of religious believers based on their membership in the group of believers. I don't assume that certain characteristics belong to the group of believers. I don't appreciate it when someone formulates an opinion about me based on assumptions they make about a whole group of people. Of course I don't. Nobody appreciates that sort of thing, and nobody should have to put up with it.
And hopefully it goes without saying that I hope that this suspicion that hit me today like a chill down my spine, about HP wanting certain sorts of dumb comments from me because I'm an atheist, so that they can say Hey look how dumb those atheists are, is dead wrong.
PS, May 30: This morning, in a Huffington Post reader's comment, I called another reader "a retard." I'm not at all proud of having said that, and to my great surprise, HP published it. Yet another HP reader commented on this Wrong Monkey blog post by insisting that I'm thinking way too hard about all this, and that the HP moderation is simply "arbitrary and capricious," a phrase which apparently is often used by lawyers.