The “Friendly Atheist” and Cognitive Bias


Religious Bigotry and the Propensity for Straw Men

“When Christian bigot baker Jack Phillips won his Supreme Court case after refusing to sell a wedding cake to gay customers, it wasn’t a resounding win for conservative Christians.”


Jack Phillips, image source

That’s how Hemant Mehta, the “Friendly Atheist” begins his blog post about Colorado baker Jack Phillips who is on his way back to court following another attack by the Colorado Human Rights Commission on his religious freedom. While I disagree with the approach that is being taken in his case, because I see it more as a matter of freedom of association issue than of religious freedom, I won’t be necessarily responding to those charges, I have an entire post dealing with Christian argumentation and justification for such a position, I would rather address the issue of name-calling.


Hemant Mehta, image source

Name-calling is a form of cognitive bias that is used in propaganda to, “create fear and arouse prejudice by using negative words (bad names) to create an unfavorable opinion or hatred against a group, beliefs, ideas or institutions they would have us denounce.“ By leading off his post by referring to Mr. Phillips as a “Christian bigot”, Mehta is intending to framing the discussion in his favor, with no intention of giving the person under consideration a fair hearing. Mehta then underreports the events leading up to this newest clash to further smear the baker. Christians, however, have a duty to think clearly and purposely, bringing “every thought captive” under Christ’s lordship and refuse to engage in childish forms of argumentation. The average internet atheist wants to be considered to be rational and reasonable, however when they put their biases on display, especially in such a forthright manner, more than likely any arguments that they will attempt to make will either be a straw man or an ad hominem. By underreporting the events, he sets up a straw man argument. Allow me to explain.

Mehta represents the story as a simply a refusal to make a birthday cake, something Philips has said, in court and public documents, that he is more than happy to do for anyone. But this was not merely a birthday cake: this was a “coming out” birthday cake. It was not just a cake meant to celebrate a birthday, but a cake meant to celebrate a person’s rebellion against their creator in with a message.

If the person who wanted the cake had just said, “I would like a cake with x-color inside and y-color outside that said ‘Happy Birthday Jane Doe’,” there would probably have been nothing said. However, the order was placed explicitly for a purpose of sending a message, and that message was to be on the cake. Philips conscience would not permit it and the activist lawyer sued.

Now, we wait. But let’s remember this.

Mehta could not be bothered to present the case honestly to his readers, nor could he be generous, dare I say “friendly” to someone who has beliefs in opposition to his, because of his own animosity towards Christians, which causes him to front load his own bigotry into his post.  Mehta, in engaging in the activity of name-calling, is chumming the waters, and is simply playing to the biases of his audience. Believers must do better and call out the irrationality of unbelievers, especially when it is put on public display.

Image source


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