Doc Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The rhetorical Eephus pitch

I am sometimes asked -- indirectly, in the form of angry outbursts from wounded parties -- why I am so strident in criticizing the failures of religion. To hear believers tell it, as in this fine example (see the comments), they are all for hearing views from the god-free camp -- as long as such views are not dismissive, straightforward, strongly worded, categorical or otherwise couched in such a way as to get their central message across without confusion. In other words, it's okay to criticize faith as long as it comes off as something other than criticism.

I am obviously among those who believe that faith in the supernatural ought to be treated just as irreverently as any other idea grounded in high-grade horseshit, e.g., "psychic" consultants, astrology, fad diets and so on. That most people in America are religious to some extent doesn't cow me, because it doesn't take, well, a genius to grok that most people in the U.S. are stupid in one and usually numerous realms, usually in concert with their own particular "failures" (obesity, poverty, insecurity, and so on). I am among these unfortunates, as frequent lapses in judgment have established, but if nothing else I happen to have escaped the religious byrus.

Apart from this, however, I have an ulterior motive in being especially aggressive when it comes to taking on the assertions of the faithful. Part of the reason I do this is because I know that even if I begin gently, in accordance with the tacit demands of believers, I'll ultimately wind up stating things in increasingly strong fashion until I reach the point of offensiveness I'm presently accused of adopting from the outset. In other words, I'm sparing everyone the preliminary dancing around. But my chief reason for acting this way is because doing so, in theory at least, puts the faithful in the seemingly strategic position of having a powerful motive for refuting my serves.

It doesn't take a philosophy background to understand that the best way to defuse an opponent in debate is to prove his assertions false. Yet all I ever hear from goddists is that I'm intolerant, or pompous, or overly wordy, or operating on blind faith of a perversely religious variety -- usually some combination of the above. As for why I am supposedly wrong, I've never heard the slightest focused argument. I occasionally hear appeals to "authority" such as the Pope, baldly relativistic nonsense about godlessness being just another fundamentalist religion, and, amusingly, figures about the prevalence of belief, as if a mass, institutionalized delusion compensates for the inanity of the whole charade.

In baseball, there's a phenomenon known as an Eephus pitch. (I saw it demonstrated by Yankees reliever George Frazier back in the 1980's during a post-season lost cause.) The Wikipedia background is here, but know that the basic idea is that this is a pitch that by all appearances is an easy target for batters, yet repeatedly stymies its victims. This is how I see challenges to religious doctrine. Give them something that provides every imaginable reason for shredding its originator, and the invariable result is that its recipients can only stammer, yammer and fumblefuck in circles. It wouldn't even be considered a fair fight were it not for religion's unfortunate stronghold on American politics.

Is the effectiveness of the rhetorical Eephus pitch telling? Well, only if you remain on the fence or unconvinced of the things I typically write. To me such hollow forms of backlash are entirely predictable, because people who have nothing to back up their belief systems other than belief itself have no forensic option other than complaining of their opponents' tactics or personalities. Overbearing as I may seem, and overwrought as my writing may be, this isn't the point; I could shed these qualities and become a wishy-washy, semiliterate religious skeptic instead, and if I did you can bet your ass I'd be criticized on the basis of these shortcomings instead of indicted for verbosity or recalcitrance. Ad hominems, of course, are all the faithful have. Well, that and the inevitable proposition that goddism is exempt from the ordinary burdens of evidence and demonstrable support because, well, that's how God set things up: the unyielding value of observation, data, mutability and testability on this side, and blind, crass dogma on the other. He's a tricky character, after all.

All this means is that goddists have every imaginable motive for putting people like me in their place. Yet they don't. They withdraw from arguments on the basis of their opponents' alleged uneducability, bitterness, and lack of proper exposure to the real side(s) of [insert religion], or occasionally feing disinterest even after days of back-and-forthing, but that's pretty much the end of it. No in-your-face challenges of substance, no palpable reasons for why godless folks should just keep their "opinions" (which are no more worthy, supposedly, than those of blind goddies) to themselves. Just generalized retorts.

This is not surprising, given what it is believers are blindly and sadly representing. But it's instructive from the standpoint of human psychology, as it demonstrates -- not for the general good -- that a mind selectively deprived of critical thinking properties at an early developmental stage remains irreversibly crippled throughout the lifetime of its owner.

Religious people don't like me painting them in this light. This is understandable, and they'd surely feel this way even if they could somehow become cognizant of their own de facto lobotomies. But I don't care, because for my part I don't like the extreme ramifications of their non-surgical lobotomies, manifested to the discordant tunes of ID creationism, homophobia, opposition to useful medical procedures, and endemic embracing of fucktardation in every imaginable guise. If someone can explain to me the benefits of these solecisms I'm all for learning new things. The point isn't that all believers embrace any or all of these nasties, but that without the pervasiveness of "faith" such things would recede in terms of incidence and impact. I may be asking the impossible, but remain an idealist anyway.

I look forward to people continuing to take their swings at challenges to shittery. Somehow, I'm not especially worried that I happen to not have brought a glove along, or that in fact there's no catcher behind the plate. I know a three-pitch, the-whiffs situation when I see one.


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