The Course of Reason


December 18, 2012

As you all know, last week a tragedy befell the world when over 20 children were molested by a religious leader, and the church attempted to cover up the atrocity rather than turn the perpetrator over to the authorities. I know it is tempting for members of the atheist and skeptic community to jump on this opportunity to politicize the tragedy, but I urge everyone to practice basic human decency and simply mourn the destruction of these innocent lives.

Yes, it is awful what happened, but to politicize such an event while everyone is still in shock is simply monstrous. You can wait a week to jockey for political advantage regarding your pet causes. At least take a week, or a month, or a year to exercise your compassion. We all know that compassion is best expressed by doing nothing, by not discussing the problem, or by offering prayers. So long as we don't address the issue in open and honest discussion, we will remain compassionate.

Based on the reactions of our community regarding a similar tragic destruction of innocent lives, I know I can count on you all to keep silent your opinions about what ought to be done in the wake of such a travesty, until such a time as it is appropriate to politicize the event.

I know from past experience that our community practices tremendous self-control in refusing to politicize tragedies out of a sense of duty to mourn. Like when a child dies of a preventable illness because her parents were Christian Scientists who did not believe in hospitals. We never react with public outcry to those events, condemning the parents and their religions for such dangerous practices. The wake of tragedy simply is not the time for discussion.

And I remember when polio reemerged in states with large anti-vaccination contingents. It is with great pleasure that I report no one in our community responded with public outcry. Instead, we remained respectfully silent, in mourning.

However, we must not stop there. We must continue to practice restraint every time something awful happens. Even if it is merely a violation of the Constitution, and not a matter of life or death. The next time a public elementary school attempts to teach Creationism to the children, I expect you all to mourn the tragedy in silence for a few days, rather than attempting to politicize it. In the wake of such injustices, it is inappropriate to try and capitalize for political purposes. The appropriate response is an introverted emotional one, not a public call for reasoned debate about the problem.

We must silently mourn each tragedy, no matter its cause, until we are no longer shocked by similar events in the future. Only then, when it's too late to do anything, is it appropriate to try and do something.

What's that?

Oh, we only respond with silence to public massacres by semi-automatic weapons?

Sorry, I am just now getting the memo.

Forget everything I just said. As long as the tragedy involves religion or irrationality, feel free to politicize it. Unless you think it is irrational for a society to allow the purchase of semi-automatic weapons, given our species' clearly irrational and violent behavior. Then you are just wrong, and you need to silently mourn the tragedy.

And if you disagree with my post, now is not the time to voice your opinion.

You monster.


About the Author: Seth Kurtenbach

Seth Kurtenbach's photo
Seth Kurtenbach is pursuing his PhD in computer science at the University of Missouri. His current research focuses on the application of formal logic to questions about knowledge and rationality. He has his Master's degree in philosophy from the University of Missouri, and is growing an epic beard in order to maintain his philosophical powers. You can email Seth at or follow him on Twitter: @SJKur.




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