Today’s Moron: Alice Shannon, Anti-AtheistNovember 3, 2008
Today’s Moron wrote a letter to the editor calling for all atheists to be thrown out of America because, you know, the country was founded on religion and she appears to believe being religious is legally binding.
Here’s the letter:
Thank you, Alice Shannon of Soldotna, Alaska, for your tremendous insight.
You’ll note that she goes on to link atheism to society’s woes, etc. You’ve heard it before. I know I have. Whether it’s atheism, patriotism, racism, whatever, if there’s a newspaper with a letters page, some crackpot will take advantage of it.
This letter isn’t new. It appeared more than a year ago. But it’s resurfacing now because of the recent rise of anti-atheism in the US election campaign. Religion has again become a concern for voters, some of whom think Barack Obama is a Muslim, others who think Sarah Palin’s a bit too Christian … it really shouldn’t matter, and thankfully in Canada it doesn’t, but a lot of Americans are weird about things like that.
And you see that in letters to newspaper editors. Letters pages are a pretty accurate reflection of how a community thinks. Especially in smaller centres, where the correspondence isn’t so much about world issues and ethical quandaries as it is about “thanks to the man who helped change my tire” and, as we saw above, extremists with a forum.
My own newspaper just printed a letter criticizing Barack Obama for “always crying racism whenever someone disagrees with him.” That’s not even remotely true. But, like Alice Shannon, this person found a way to spread his vitriol to thousands of readers.
Some papers censor these letters. Others edit them. But a lot, mine included, run them intact and let the readers make up their own minds. There’s a risk there, of course; I’m sure there are a lot of people in Alaska who agree with Alice Shannon (they did elect Sarah Palin, after all), but these people will always be able to find each other.
Now, if you go looking for background on the Alice Shannon letter, you get a lot of conflicting information. The newspaper in which it appeared later claimed it was a spoof, and Alice Shannon herself may have said something along those lines. Or maybe not. Like any Internet meme, it’s the effect, not the origin, that we remember.
But the fact is this letter is out there, with that name on it. And if it’s parody, it’s pretty bad, because a spoof only works if the reader eventually figures it out. This letter sounds like genuine intolerance, and genuine stupidity, and that’s dangerous, because it can inflame and encourage the very people it’s allegedly targeting.
We’ll never be rid of stupidity. It’s in our genes. But at least we can laugh at it. And as the years go on, and Alice’s letter keeps making the rounds of the Internet (I found it on digg), more people will chuckle at her moronity than will buy into her argument.