There has been a conversation (of sorts) over whether or not Jim West’s recent comments are hate speech or if they are just humorous comments taken the wrong way. I have an interesting perspective on this since I’m somewhere in between the epistemological positions of John Loftus and Jim West. So let me state my position on this.
First, I know Jim and he doesn’t ‘hate’ much. Yes, certainly what he says can at times be construed as hateful. It is certainly provocation at its finest (what better way to prove that angry atheists exist than by riling up a bunch of atheists and making them angry?!). But atheists have certainly had their share of humorous and often tasteless fun at the expense of Christians. Let’s be honest here, calling all Christians delusional or suggesting they have a mind disorder, or arguing that churches should be wiped from the earth is just as unwarranted as anything Jim West has said. I’m as guilty as Jim West in that regard as I’ve said some very tasteless things in my past which, now, I regret. Ann posted a comment over at James McGrath’s blog about something similar happening over comments Richard Dawkins’ has made. She writes:
I only point this out because humor and any other finely tuned nuanced comment on the internet can turn ugly in a matter of moments without the benefit of face to face contact. I do not think that adding the category “humor” to one’s post gives enough of a heads-up about whether or not something is humorous or just tasteless.
But she is a little misinformed when she writes:
I also think that these feuds should not be surprising since the biblical literalists will always feud with the biblical non-literalists and biblical literalists will especially feud with atheists.
In fact Jim is not a literalist. He’s a minimalist. His stance on the Bible is quite reasonable (and one I happen to agree with as a secular individual). His stance on the Bible though has nothing at all to do with what is happening between him and Loftus, however. We need to be sure to remember where are the foci of this discussion. I can promise you it is not about atheism vs. theism, but what constitutes as satire or humor and what is actually hate speech. And the lines are quite blurry on both sides.
When Loftus put out his collection ‘The Christian Delusion’ and Dawkin’s put out ‘The God Delusion’ and when atheists sent banners to be flown over the beaches on the 4th of July weekend, what are these but deliberate attempts to provoke the religious communities in this country? Jim West is just as guilty when it comes to provoking atheists, but that is precisely the point, isn’t it? In context, lots of things are said on TV or on the radio or in movies which, out of context, would be considered hate speech and provocation. But they are said within a context and those who get the context understand the humor. Those like John Loftus, who seems to have a very rocky relationship with Jim, are of course going to read it as something depraved and disturbing. But John says some rather depraved things as wel about the status of Christians and Christianity as a whole.
I personally don’t see Jim’s comment as hateful, but that might be because I know Jim. Those who know Jim know he is really only teasing, and he doesn’t really want to see people burn. Still, perhaps in this charged cultural climate, Jim should be more careful about what he posts on his blog–which is public–and keep these sorts of remarks to those in private correspondence or on a closed list. Though one must wonder why someone who despises Jim so much would bother reading his blog to begin with; Jim west’s position has always been ‘I post what I want on my blog and if you don’t like it, don’t read it.’ That is fair, as far as I’m concerned. At the same time, however, there is too great a risk these days for people with thin skins to be offended; these sorts of people shouldn’t be involved in anything where their opinions might be criticized, but while that might be true, they can still file a lawsuit.