The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. — [Bertrand Russell]
As an agnostic I certainly don’t have a problem with anyone choosing to be an atheist. It however has been my experience that many of the atheists I interact with oftentimes tend to be more dogmatic and intolerant than religious conservatives. My casual observation suggests that they definitely are more so than the average religious person. And oftentimes it is not only the religious that has to bear the brunt of their ire, even agnostics are labeled as wimps for being too soft on “the enemy”, the religious that is, and often are referred to as fence sitters when it comes to the general issue of belief. The following utterance by political satirist Stephen Colbert conveying the general sentiment: Isn’t an agnostic just an atheist without balls?
I know I’m generalizing but that is my personal observation based on my own experience. But let me relate an incident that highlights the typical mentality. The resulting consternation upon which this example is based was triggered by the following innocent email.
Good morning everyone. It seems that Monwabisi’s condition has worsened and he is in hospital again. His girlfriend relayed that he is at the Vincent Pallotti Hospital in the Poplar ward. He is said to be extremely ill. Guys, please keep him in your prayers and thoughts.
As innocent as this email was, all hell broke loose after the sender apologized for sending it to the wrong mailing list. She meant to send it to her department only, but chose a group email that sent it to all the staff at the university. The apology followed five minutes later, but soon afterwards emails flooded my inbox requesting to be removed from the her list. It became so bad that the secretary of the chancellor had to ask the operations manager to train staff on the “Reply to Sender” function (which is the default function on the GroupWise mail-server) and they used the “Reply to All” (incidentally not the default option which had to be deliberately selected).
The result was that hundreds of were forwarded in this way. By the third day the emails were still streaming in, upon which someone responded with the following.
To ALL those who don’t want to be part of this mail:
This was a simple mail, requesting prayers for one of our sick colleagues. What is so difficult praying for someone, why does that bother you so much?
If you can’t pray for him, just delete the mails that come to your mailbox and stop filling other people’s mailbox by requesting to be taken out of the mailing list. Tomorrow may be your turn to need prayers. How will you all feel being in Monwabisi’s shoes? The Bible instructs us to pray for the sick and to LOVE our neighbors as ourselves.
So, where did Ashley go wrong by asking us to pray for one of us that are battling with ill health?
The more people that pray for him the better.
Yet, this did not end the chain mailing, bearing in mind that these mails were also being sent to Monwabisi mailbox as well. This is when I thought I’d have my say and changed the email header to “Is this an Institution of Higher Learning?” and responded to the previous email, even though the author clearly had strong religious sentiments.
I agree fully with your email, and I hope the other 2000 or so people who cluttered the email system by purposefully selecting the “Reply to all” (as they had to as I purposefully did in this case), actually got your message.
I thought this is a university of higher learning? And that there may be half a chance of finding civilized intelligent compassionate people working here. I know there are, but this clearly had been an exhibition to the contrary.
I will keep Monwabisi in my thoughts.
I then received a mail with the header: Thank you for rebuking us, we really deserve it. Also sent to all, but then the emails stopped with the exception of the following.
Sorry, you might but I don’t deserve any rebuke!
Let me explain why..... I never ‘replied to all’, neither did I ask to be removed from the list. I am sorry to hear of a sick colleague, even if I don’t personally know him. But actually it is not about that, it is about boundaries. It is very inappropriate to send out an email asking the entire staff of a University to pray for someone. This is not what work place emails are for. If that was the norm where would it end?
We all know people who are in need of support. Can you imagine if everyone suddenly implored us, via internal mail, to call on devine intervention on behalf of someone else? We’d be flooded by thousands of letters on a daily basis. Use the social networks to do that sort of thin. (By the way they are far more effective).
It is equally inappropriate to send out a manipulative and sickly rebuke reminding us of some biblical injunction or telling us we might be ill tomorrow! It’s preposterous! I’m not a child that I need to be chastised. “This was a simple mail, requesting prayers for one of our sick colleagues. What is so difficult praying for someone, why does that bother you people so much?” Do you get how patronizing that is?
On top of that, in the correspondence comes an innuendo that I am neither civilized intelligent or caring! What do you know of me or anyone else on this campus? What is it about people like yourselves that believe it is alright and fitting to adopt a high moral stance because people didn’t respond in a way you thought appropriate...
To which I responded.
Let me not draw this out into a lengthy debate, someone made a simple mistake by choosing the incorrect group address (and invaded your personal boundary), and apologized very shortly afterwards. But moreover, with a very simple request, and all hell broke loose. I would not have known you were supportive of that stance, but now I do. By the way, I’m agnostic, but I respect others efforts to elicit concern for those in need, and why not do it by mail. I receive hundreds of spam daily, so what if a legitimate call for concern for someone in need slips in once in a while. If it offends you so much, delete it, unless it gives you some perverse gratification to air your objection to the world…
While I cannot say for sure whether this person is an atheist as I had never met him, he does exhibit the typical cynical demeanor in his tone. As far as those who sent the emails, I cannot say either, but more than likely are must be both religious and non-religious individuals who participated. This however is more reflective of the mob mentality referred to in this work, for, once the first email was sent, it appears as if others also wanted to be part of that dissent, and thus to show all that they also had something to say, no matter how ridiculous. Indeed I would’ve called the section Narcissism in Action because of the total disregard for Monwabisi and his circumstance; that the responders were more concerned that their boundaries were invaded.
Either way, whether he was atheist or not, this certainly is reflective of the growing narcissistic, uncaring mentality of our time. And just to remind you, this incident did not happen in urban US, but had taken place in Cape Town, a city on the southernmost tip of Africa.
© Newton Fortuin 2011