Riddle Me This, Riddle Me That, Who’s Afraid of a Complete Dumbass?
    --This antifundamentalist rebuttal is dedicated to the memory of Christopher Hitchens...
       Hitch, if I ever compose a single paragraph as good as one of yours, it will be enough for me


See you when I get there, man.
And by "there," I mean noplace.

Enough whining.  It’s time to do what I do best: eviscerate an idiot.  Recently, while spending another afternoon using the internet to discover what humble and forgiving Christians really think about nonbelievers (Pro-tip: type “Should atheists” into Google and have a look at the suggested search completions), I came across the following jewel, from the presumptuously named TenCommandments.org:

"Johnny is 11.  He is being taught the principles of the american [sic] constitution and its amendments by his atheistic parents.  Recent lessons given him has [sic] focused on the first amendment.

The other day, Johnny’s school teacher [sic] gave him some math problems for homework.  When his teacher checked his homework the next day, she was astonished that Johnny gave everyone [sic] of the problems incorrect answers.

His teacher therefore called him to his desk and asked him had he forgotten how to solve such problems.  But Johnny said to his teacher “none of my answers are incorrect.”  His teacher asked him why did he say such [sic], and he said, “Because the answers are the ones I believe them to be, and I have a constitutional right to my opinion.  You have the opinion that the answers should be such and such, but I say differently.  You cannot say my answers are wrong.  I have the right to my opinion and you have the right to yours.  If you are dogmatic that my answers should be the same as yours, that makes you self-righteous and a biggot [sic].  If you say my answers are wrong, you are judging me.  Judge not lest you be judged.  I deserve an ‘A’ like everyone else.”

The riddle is this:  Who is right, Johnny or his teacher?  Is there an atheist who can solve this riddle?"

I’m so glad you asked.  I can, and so could most atheists.  I would even go so far as to say that so could most Christians, though perhaps not in the United States.  To the extent that this riddle cannot be “solved,” it is only because it borders on nonsense, akin to the Mad Hatter’s “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”  Lewis Carroll, of course, was deliberately composing fanciful prose poetry there, whereas you appear genuinely to believe that you’ve got an airtight stumper on your hands.  But you don’t, and for more than a few reasons, which I’ve been good enough to point out below.  Sadly, I suspect that this will be an exercise in futility where you’re concerned, rather like trying to translate a Japanese text to the satisfaction of someone who does not believe that there is such a language as Japanese.  It will, however, be an exercise in amusement to everyone who is not you.  My solution to your riddle will not be a one-liner, however.  In fact, it will of necessity be considerably longer than the riddle itself.  I apologize for this, but someone who does not like such answers should not compose deeply flawed riddles. 

Flaw #1:  You begin by mentioning that Johnny is being taught about the American Constitution by “his atheistic parents.”  Why is this relevant?  The text of the Constitution is not a matter of debate between Christians and Atheists, or between anyone and anyone (the interpretation in many places, yes, but not the text).  A nation’s constitution is a codification of its laws, not a philosophical work concerning the nature of truth—i.e., it lays out what the government may or may not do.  For example, the fourth amendment says that the police cannot search my home without a warrant.  And indeed they cannot.  This is true regardless of whether the person who informed me was an atheist, a Christian, or a believer in Zeus.  It has nothing to do with religion or the lack thereof; it is an American rule about what American police are or are not permitted to do.  Someone may think that police should be permitted to do either more or less than this, and that opinion might somehow be based on this individual’s religious beliefs, but the fact remains that currently the law says what it says—just like the statement “possession of marijuana is illegal” is a true statement, whereas whether one agrees that it should be is a separate matter.  Are you saying that only atheists believe there is such a thing as the Constitution?

Flaw #2:  I will admit that your use of the Constitution confused me, if only because it was an outside-the-box move for your demographic.  I am accustomed to seeing American fundamentalist Christians unite the principles of Christianity and American Exceptionalism in a sort of murky pious/patriotic soup, so seeing a fundamentalist attack the Constitution threw me for a loop.  But I may be wrong that this is what you’re doing, because your point is more than a little unclear.  Are you saying that the Constitution itself is anti-Christian?  Or only that atheists incorrectly interpret it in an anti-Christian way?  If the former, then this conflicts somewhat with the fundamentalist canard about the founding fathers all being enthusiastically Christian.  If the latter, then what would be the correct/Christian way of interpreting it?  I am honestly not sure what you mean here, but I’ll remind you that being unclear does not count as stumping me.

Flaw #3:  Luckily, your being unclear is immaterial, because unless the police subsequently burst into the classroom and arrested little Johnny for getting the math problems wrong, then the Constitution is wholly irrelevant.  This is because, as I pointed out above, a nation’s Constitution is a work of law and not philosophy: the first amendment does not declare from a philosophical perspective that all speech is equally true; it establishes from a judicial perspective that all speech is equally legal.  In other words, it states that the government may not put you in jail for what you say.  And indeed it may not.  This does not, however, mean that other citizens are not allowed to disagree with you, and certainly not that the teacher may not mark your answers wrong in school.  A bad grade is not a legal penalty, and the teacher is not Congress.  You may remember the difference by observing that if teachers were Congress, they would be imbued with the ability to vote themselves pay raises and accordingly make a good deal more money.

Flaw #4:  In addition to failing to distinguish between philosophy and law, you also fail to distinguish between belief and speech.  This is an important distinction here because speech is an act whereas belief is not, and by definition laws can only practically govern acts.  You have Johnny say that he has “a constitutional right to [his] opinion,” but this is a bit off.  Technically, even someone in the world’s most stringent dictatorship necessarily has the right to his opinion, because thus far governments cannot read minds.  Converting one’s opinion into speech, however, constitutes an act and is thus the province of laws.  In the United States, all acts of speech (barring exceptions, such as assault or incitement to riot, which are criminal offenses, and slander or libel, which are civil offenses) are legal, and in various other countries this is not the case, with varying degrees of penal severity.  I’ll here remind readers that this was all curiously framed as “A Riddle for Atheists,” and I still fail to see what any of it has to do with religion.  I think—I think—I see what you were going for:  the idea that religion (rather, specifically your religion of Christianity, and not anyone else’s, since your site attacks “heathens” as frequently as it does nonbelievers) is consubstantial with belief in objective truth itself, and that an abandonment of religion necessarily constitutes an abandonment of the distinction between true and false.  But it doesn’t, and to believe so is childish.  Please understand, by the way, that I use the word childish in the cruelest and most literal sense:  I am not merely calling you “silly,” but out-and-out proposing that you have a “low mental age,” a musty phrase from a time when belief in scalar intelligence reigned and one was permitted to make such allegations.  Your worldview is strikingly similar to a very small child’s assumption that he becomes invisible upon closing his eyes, and an adult who still reasons this way is—to sidestep the bush it has become so commonplace to beat around—stupid.  Ironically, the side in this debate that has been weakened by political correctness is mine, not yours.  Teachers can and do still mark test responses as incorrect with no reproach, but I might meet with some for pointing out that, if only it were fifty years ago and the original Binet scale still in favor, you could officially be labeled an “imbecile” by a psychological professional.  O tempora, etc.  And by the way, if you had to look up the word consubstantial, then you do not know nearly as much about Christianity as you think you do.

Flaw #5:  In brief, the position you assign to your straw-man atheist is self-negating, as demonstrated by the fact that he begins the third sentence of his response to the teacher with “You cannot say,” which would be nonsense if he really believed the first amendment means what you purport him to believe it does.

Flaw #6:  On the subject of straw men, your ascription to atheists of a position we do not actually hold constitutes bearing false witness against us, and thus you are breaking one of the Ten Commandments yourself by composing this riddle.  In addition to breaking the ninth commandment as just stated, you are also arguably violating the third, by proclaiming that God is on your side when your cause is unjust.  Little Johnny, however, as problematic as his reading of the Constitution might be, is dutifully obeying the fifth commandment by interpreting it as his mother and father have apparently raised him to do.  Perhaps you should change the name of your site?

Flaw #7:  Let us turn aside from theory and examine practice.  Your imaginary atheist—who is atheist because of the constitution, or something—notwithstanding, suppose we look at real life and ask ourselves who actually challenges teachers about curricula more often, atheists or Christians?  I daresay it is unnecessary for me to elaborate beyond pausing to let the question sink in, but for the sake of thoroughness I shall: it is Christians, and by no small margin.  It is you who challenge the indisputable truth of human origin by evolution, it is you who challenge the idea of a genetic basis for homosexuality, and it is you—by heavy statistical correlation, if not explicit dogma—who dismiss the problem of global warming.  There are also some holdouts among your ranks who continue to insist that the sun orbits the earth rather than vice versa.  To restrict our examples solely to mathematics, the subject at play in your riddle, there are even some Christians who insist—hilariously—that the value of pi is exactly three, despite the fact that this was never a belief mandated by any Christian church but in actuality originally something that atheists pretended you believed in order to make fun of you.  I’ll belabor that point for just another moment, purely for its stupefaction value: when a Christian invented a prima facie absurd belief and ascribed it to atheists, as you have done in your riddle, we pointed out that we do not actually believe it; when atheists invented a prima facie absurd belief, based on a tenuous implication in one line of I Kings, and ascribed it to Christians, many Christians actually started believing it.  To be fair, there are some situations where students who are statistically likely to be atheist or at least agnostic do challenge scientific truths—a feminist disputing biological explanations of gender difference, for example—but these cases are A) dwarfed in frequency by cases of religious believers disputing scientific truths, and B) usually unrelated to the student’s lack of religious faith.  A feminist who disputes biological explanations of gender may coincidentally be a passive atheist, but she does not make her rebuttal in the name of atheism; rather, she objects on the basis of another series of irrational dogmas adopted in place of religion.  In practice, virtually no active atheists oppose scientific truths, and certainly not mathematical ones.  Oh, and speaking of feminism, the Bible says that women cannot be teachers of male students (I Timothy 2:12), so your riddle also violates it on that point.

Flaw #8:  Your riddle is a mess on all fronts, for nearly more reasons than can be explained.  But in general, the explanation is that you refuse to—or perhaps, lack the ability to—distinguish between the concepts of “morally wrong,” “factually wrong,” and “illegal,” even though these are three very different concerns.  For example, betraying the confidence of a friend is morally wrong but not illegal, drinking a beer two days before your 21st birthday is illegal but not morally wrong, and believing that penguins can fly is factually wrong but neither morally wrong nor illegal.  Your apparent inability to make such distinctions returns us to the impolitic question of your “mental age.”  Reasoning along the lines of “I am afraid of dentists and I am also afraid of werewolves, so therefore my dentist is a werewolf” makes sense to a very small child, but not to an adult, unless the adult is literally retarded, in the sense of a dispassionate psychological diagnosis rather than a generic insult.  The free-speech clause of the first amendment concerns laws about what the government may or not do, not scientific truth or the morality of interactions between citizens.  Science and mathematics concern factual truth, not morality or the prerogatives of government.  I would dearly like to be able to complete this triad in a symmetrical fashion by stating that religion concerns morality and not scientific truth or the role of government, but alas, the majority religion in the United States has overstepped those bounds to such a degree that it now appears to be considerably more concerned with the latter two.  In any case, however, this is immaterial, as religion has nothing to do with your riddle and why it is asinine.  The question is whether the first amendment means that students cannot be marked wrong in math class, and the answer is that it doesn’t.  The fact that the student who claims it does is an atheist is utterly irrelevant, yet you appear to consider it a sine qua non.  This is rather like presenting a psychology class with the Prisoner’s Dilemma and repeatedly insisting that the Prisoner is wearing a green hat, as if that not only changed something, but were a central and indispensable detail.  It isn’t.

Flaw #9:  Your imaginary atheist closes his argument by saying “Judge not, lest you be judged.”  I shudder to ask, but you know that is from the Bible, right?  Are you trying to demonstrate that the Devil himself can quote scripture to suit his purposes, or were you simply confused by that late stage in the riddle?  In any case, it is bizarre to pen a screed attacking atheists for embracing relativism and have your atheist justify this with a quotation from Jesus embracing relativism.  Or it would be, if that were what Jesus was really embracing there.  But it isn’t.  In the context of Matthew 7, Jesus is actually addressing hypocrisy—judging someone for doing a specific thing that you also do yourself.  Presumably, the math teacher gets the answers to math problems correct, and so the quotation is inapplicable.  So I guess what this amounts to is, you accidentally tried to say that Jesus was wrong but then screwed it up.  Whether that still counts as blasphemy is the business of your church, however.  The U.S. Constitution and my math textbook are curiously silent on the matter.

Flaw #10:  Taking apart your atrocious riddle has been great fun, but I now suspect that the rest of what I said was beside the point, since what you really meant to argue has nothing to do with the Constitution or math class.  If I am right—and I believe I am—your true impetus is made clear near the end of Johnny’s speech, where he calls his teacher “self-righteous” and a “biggot [sic].”  Your mission, it now seems, was not to defend scientific truth (had it been, you would be a rare fundamentalist indeed), but to defend Christian prejudice and intolerance by figuring them as objective truth, as if the statement “homosexuality is a sin” were the same category of assertion, and just as unimpeachable, as the statement “the square root of forty-nine is seven.”  I mean, let’s be honest here: this is about homosexuality, is it not?  Bringing a charge of “bigotry” into the equation rather tips your hand, since animus against gays is by far the most common Christian tenet that elicits such a response—at least, it is nowadays, since you have recently learned to shut up about Jews being cursed, women deserving the pain of childbirth, and Blacks being the descendants of Cain.  As far as you are concerned, your bigotry is a fact.  You are so hateful that, to you, someone alleging that homosexuals do not deserve persecution is as upside-down and inside-out as someone alleging that math is not math (even though, once again, the only people who ever actually asserted that math is not math were fundamentalist Christians, regarding the value of pi, after we atheists accidentally tricked them into doing so, to our own great surprise).  Your blindness is such that you do not even see how little sense it makes to have Johnny describe his teacher’s corrections as “dogmatic.”  The term dogma does not refer to any forcefully made assertion—only to forcefully made assertions that lack empirical evidence to support them.  Science and math are not composed of “dogma,” and religions are.  To be perfectly blunt, we can say this about you, but you cannot say it about us (or at least, you cannot factually say it about us, though it is perfectly legal for you to do so).  This is pitiful and nauseous, but in one respect it pleases me, since I do feel the occasional pang of conscience about laying into someone simply because he is stupid.  It therefore gives me great relief to be able to say: you are not only stupid, but also an asshole.

I have solved your riddle, TenCommandments.org, and now I demand that you allow me to cross the bridge.  It is a bridge to the future, where you will not be. 

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