Yesterday’s Reddit Shitstorm: A Post-Mortem

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.

7234906_tim lambesis

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:

Christianity Today Gleanings_ Christian Musician Arrested for Allegedly Hiring Hitman to Kill Wife

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; Lambesis photo via gigwise]

A Milestone and an Apology

The great news: In the 24-hour period between 4 p.m. yesterday and today, Moral Compass had roughly 126,000 page views — a new one-day record!

The so-so news: Despite the site having moved to a new, higher-capacity server this past weekend, some visitors still experienced temporary delays last night, when traffic peaked and the server began to choke. Sorry about that. We did digital triage as best we could.

The idea is to give swift 24-7 accessibility to all comers, preferably without shelling out thousands of dollars a year for an even wider data pipeline. (Note: I’m paying for Moral Compass myself, although some server capacity and all tech support is donated by a wonderful anonymous benefactor a few states away).

Thank you for bearing with us through these early-stage growing pains. I imagine that by the summer, we’ll have a modest revenue stream going in order to offset our operational expenses. We’re considering selling small ads, placing affiliate-marketing links, and/or perhaps asking for web donations from frequent readers. That revenue should help us stay up and running.

We’re thrilled that you’re here. Please bookmark this page if you haven’t already (or add Moral Compass to your newsreader). You can also join us on Facebook to learn of new posts the moment they are published. Thanks!

One Hundred Ten Thousand Views…In One Day!

Two weeks ago, our page views shot up to 6,000 in a day, and we were excited.

Five days later, the number doubled to more than 12,000, and we were getting giddy.

And now we’re elated, because yesterday brought this gobsmacking six-figure milestone (thanks to Reddit and redditors’ more than 2,000 upvotes):

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And it wasn’t all Reddit. Richard Dawkins also linked to Moral Compass from his website yesterday. Sweet.

The numbers could have been even higher if our servers had been able to keep up with demand. Unfortunately, as the traffic got heavy, Moral Compass got grindingly slow for a few hours in the evening. I imagine we tested people’s patience, and inadvertently chased some visitors away when they couldn’t get our pages to load in a timely fashion. Sorry about that. We’ll be looking into measures to keep the site quick and responsive.

There’s something you can do, too, if you wish. Actually, there are six things you can do. Pick and choose:

1. Tell others about Moral Compass.
2. Join and ‘like’ the Moral Compass page on Facebook (if that link doesn’t take you to the right place, search Facebook for “moralcompassmyfoot.”
3. Bookmark us in your browser(s).
4. Subscribe to our RSS feed (top right).
5. Subscribe to this blog by e-mail, so you’ll be notified of new posts as soon as they go live. Look for “Moral Compass by email” in the column on the right.
6. Find Twitter user MoralCompassWeb. Follow our Tweets, and don’t forget to say hi.

Also, feedback is always welcome.

Thanks again!

UPDATE: Today, we bought triple the previous bandwidth allotment. That should do nicely, but please feel free to try to prove us wrong!

New Visitor Record, and Another Sincere Thanks

Amazing. Just five days ago, we peaked at more than 6,000 page views in 24 hours, and we were thrilled.

Yesterday, we very nearly doubled that.

Or rather, you did.

Total page views on Sunday: 12,200. (I guess atheists don’t take that Day-of-the-Lord stuff too seriously for some reason.)


Oh, we also doubled our number of Facebook followers over the weekend, plus we tallied almost 1,400 website page views yesterday that were the direct result of people sharing our Facebook updates.

Moral Compass isn’t even six weeks old. We’re blown away by your enthusiasm. Again, thank you.

Honestly, I thought we’d be making this site for just a couple of hundred people — and we would have been fine with that. I’m delighted that it turns out we’re capable of drawing a five-figure audience, and we are more committed than ever to making this both an informative and entertaining place for you to visit.

If you have suggestions, hit us in the comments.

New Visitor Record Yesterday: Thank You!

Screen shot 2013-03-20 at 12.07.33 AM

We’re really happy that our page views and unique-visitor numbers keep rising; in fact, yesterday, we more than tripled our previous peak number of ten days ago.

I know there’s something unseemly about getting all self-congratulatory, so we won’t bother you again until … we get into the five figures. We’re looking forward to that milestone. Thank you for putting Moral Compass on your radar screen!

It Was a Good Day

Wow. Almost 2,000 page views in the past 24 hours. Not bad at all, considering we’ve only been at it for a few weeks. Thanks to everyone who dropped by, and a double thanks to those of you who dropped by and spread the word!

Site Stats ‹ Moral Compass — WordPress

Hey Redditors (and Others)! Welcome!

This blog is seeing its visitor numbers jump hugely today, via both Reddit and Hemant Mehta’s site (The Friendly Atheist, hosted at We’re thrilled!

If you like our content, please consider doing one of four things (or all four if you’re, you know, hardcore).

1. Join the Moral Compass page on Facebook (if that link doesn’t take you to the right place, search Facebook for “moralcompassmyfoot.”
2. Bookmark us in your browser(s).
3. Subscribe to our RSS feed (top right).
4. You can also subscribe to this blog by e-mail, so you’ll be notified of new posts as soon as they go live. Look for “Moral Compass by email” in the column on the right.

We’ll make it worth your while by, day after day, chronicling the misdeeds of the faithful, using stories culled from the news.

Write us at moralcompassblog AT gmail DOT com if you have editorial tips, questions, concerns, or complaints. We’ll listen.