I try to keep away from the comment sections of Facebook as best I can, but I do have some standard and rehearsed ideas that I will take the opportunity to spread beneath a worthy article or post. Despite the opinion that I share with many atheists that engagement with full-fledged religious extremists is a useless endeavor, they always manage to discover my Facebook conversations and hijack the feeds to the best of their ability. (I believe their ability to “find” me wherever I am is called trolling?) It’s annoying, I’ll say that, and on top of the normal angry indignation over my anti-religious views, it also results in indignation over our freedom to have the conversation. The extremists pat themselves on the back no doubt for making the conversation impossible and shutting it down. When I comment on an article about religion, usually from a known Jewish source, I wonder if I haven’t entered into the extremist’s arena; taken his bait and found him so to say. But in reading these hijackings I’ve found patterns, and I think knowing about them is incredibly useful.
Of all the classic weapons used by a religious extremist, there is one that I have frequently encountered that initially puzzled me, as though among all the lousy old bombs that the enemy throws there are a few strange devices that don’t quite explode correctly and you’re left wondering what their purpose was. The device I’ve heard all over the place recently is a particularly pathetic version of deference to authority — Some form of: “These are not my words, this comes straight from the sages,” or “Don’t look at me, I’m not the one who said it.”
I think it is really worth pointing out the value of someone washing their hands of an idea this way. It is only at the point when someone has realized that they are completely unable to defend an idea that they throw someone else under the bus for it; in this case, the sages. It is a desperate appeal to authority with a different nuance. “Well, I’m out of bullets, but the fact is I am right no matter what, according to the authorities.”
But here is the gravamen of my analysis. No one has ever washed their hands of a good idea. Whoever employs this pathetic appeal to authority is acknowledging that their position is completely unpalatable. No one ever says, “Let’s work together toward world peace — Don’t look at me, it’s not my idea,” or “Love thy neighbor as you love yourself — Not my words, I’m just sayin’.” In fact, the few times I’ve heard this device recently was in defense of child brides, homophobia, and punishment for blasphemy. Huge surprise there.
When you hear this particular appeal to authority, I want you to know that: 1) They’re exhausted and their defense is cooked, and 2) They know their idea is so bad that while they must defend it, they are admitting apprehension about having its filth on their hands.