Moral Compass unwittingly caused a mob fight of quasi-Biblical proportions on Reddit yesterday.
It happened when a Reddit user named Unbliever posted a link to this Moral Compass riff on Tim Lambesis [photo]. Lambesis, if you’ll recall, is the overtly Christian frontman of the metalcore group As I Lay Dying. He was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly plotting to murder his wife with the help of a contract killer.
Unbliever, a fan of this blog, wrote a moderately cheeky description of that news event, and posted it in Reddit’s atheism section. This is it:
Christian hardrocker Tim Lambesis says he writes all songs from his faith’s perspective. Yesterday he got arrested for trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife.
On Wednesday, more than 114,000 Reddit users clicked on those lines and were transported to Moral Compass, helping make the Lambesis murder-for-hire story the most-read article in this site’s three-month-young history. Moral Compass tallied 162,723 page views on Wednesday, also a record.
Unbliever published his description of the Lambesis post in Reddit’s atheism hangout, as I said, but a lot of angry responses were from Christians who felt slighted.
The following numbers indicate how big the controversy was: as I write this, an unprecedented 8,113 Reddit users have “upvoted” the story — similar to clicking “like” on Facebook. On the other hand, 6,499 others hated the story (or Unbliever’s description of it) enough to vote it down. The differential was still impressive enough for the piece to end up on Reddit’s front page. From what I’ve seen, it’s rare for that to happen when the number of negative votes is that high.
Predictably, given those numbers, the Reddit post generated a whale of a discussion (currently almost 1,100 comments and counting) with a lot of the remarks being pretty scathing — not just about Lambesis, but about yours truly and this blog.
Most of the criticism is the result of an apparent misunderstanding (sometimes, several).
Let’s take a quick look at the complaints.
A lot of people took Unbliever’s description as
(1) an unsupported-by-the-facts suggestion that Tim Lambesis intended to kill his wife because he is a Christian; or
(2) a bold and equally unsupported assertion that Christians commit lots of crimes while atheists pretend they‘re exemplary citizens; or
(3) evidence that Unbliever and Moral Compass harbor an obsessive hatred of Christians.
(4) There was also the accusation that we used a tragedy to score a cheap point against religion (while no one got killed, the marriage is over, Lambesis will probably go to jail, and three kids may grow up without their dad).
Point number 1 is silly. No one alleged that Lambesis’ motive had anything to do with his being a Christian. We don’t yet know what his reasons were, and I wouldn’t care to speculate.
Point number 2 is an unwarranted assumption, a bit of manufactured meaning that some people eagerly “read into” Unbliever’s description and my blog post. If it really needs saying, me, I don’t think that Christians are, on the whole, more criminal and less virtuous than atheists. I’ve stated so in the Moral Compass FAQ since day one. I also addressed the question in the second half of this post.
Point number 3, about hating Christians…you know, that one is beginning to sound familiar. This past weekend, someone branded me an islamophobe and a racist because of this post about the world-wide prevalence of violent Islamist ideals. On Monday, I was accused of being an antisemite when I called out some Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn for a selfish stunt that illegally benefited their yeshiva.
Yes, it’s true that I have some serious disdain for pious people who, when they think no one’s looking, violate the values that they insist they hold dear. (More on that in a moment.) But hatred for the religious? I think that might surprise my wife of 19 years, who is a Christian — with a degree in theology, no less. By the way, one of my best friends is an evangelical preacher. And so on. If anyone needs further reassurance — the FAQ is pretty instructive about my feelings toward people of faith.
I’m slightly more sensitive to point number 4, the one about flippantly exploiting a tragedy and scoring cheap points off of it. I get that it seems harsh to mock Lambesis, as I did in my post about him, at a moment when he’s down for the count. Then again — holy shit, the guy tried to hire a contract killer to murder his wife! And let’s not forget: He’s a famous musician, a public person. That means he’s fair game, like O.J. Simpson or Phil Spector. If I wrote about Lambesis a bit coldly and mockingly, I guess it’s because I owe no great respect to a wannabe murderer — much less one who made a career out of singing about his celestial savior.
Some people were appalled that Unbliever used the adjective ‘Christian’ in his title — “Christian hardrocker Tim Lambesis.” But the religious signifier is perfectly on point here. A big reason for As I Lay Dying’s rise to fame is that, for a few years, it was trendy (and good business) in the metal/hardcore scene to be a Christian band. AILD’s Wikipedia page makes much of the group’s Christian identity, as do many of its fans, not to mention the press. Though Lambesis seems to have struggled with his religion in recent times, he also said that he loves Jesus, “the man who told us to love our enemies”; and that he sought to emulate Christ by living a life full of compassion and devoid of selfishness.
Putting a hit out on your wife is hardly the best manifestation of those sacred values.
This goes to the very core of the site you’re now visiting. We too have a “purpose-driven life,” and our purpose here at Moral Compass HQ is to call out the difference between professed religious beliefs and actual behavior.
Very few people seem to have a problem with headlines like
• Church Teacher Kills Man in Road Rage Assault
• Muslim Preacher Caught in U.K. Child Sex Ring
• Priest Hires Hitman to Kill Teen Accuser
• Orthodox NY Jews Won’t Disclose Name of Herpes-Spreading Cleric
If those are perfectly fine, I don’t really see what’s impermissible about
• Christian Hardrocker Tim Lambesis Arrested for Trying to Hire a Hitman
The people who charged that it’s no more relevant to use the adjective ‘Christian’ than it would be to use ‘long-haired’ or ‘big-shouldered’ missed the point, and not in small way.
I wonder if they’d muster the same outrage for the following headline, almost identical:
Click to see what publication that’s from.
One thing I learned from this mindbending dust-up is that venue matters. Once Unbliever’s Reddit post, published in the atheism section, received so many upvotes that it automatically got pushed onto the Reddit front page for a general audience, the shit hit the fan. There, Christians — including many who seem to wallow in a hairtrigger persecution complex — misconstrued the meaning of his two-sentence description.
Scores of downvoting commenters were sincere about what they thought was implied. Others, no doubt, chose to “misunderstand,” the better to advance their strawmen arguments.
As Unbliever pointed out in the discussion yesterday,
The number-one question atheists get is “how can you be good without god?” Asked with varying degrees of puzzlement and, often, a hint of condescension.
99% of the people who ask it will never do anything majorly or criminally wrong, and I have no beef with them. They’re ultimately still my brothers and sisters.
It’s the remaining one percent that deserves to be mocked, in public, when they do indefensible stuff like raping little kids; or embezzling money from their church; or trying to have their spouse murdered.
That’s not tarring all members of their religion with the same brush; it’s simply poking fun at the delusional claims by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.
That’s exactly how I feel.
[Reddit cartoon via amerika.org; Lambesis photo via gigwise]