The popular MTV show and film of the same name, Catfish, has popularized the reality that people use the anonymity of the Internet to pose as someone they aren’t in order to become more appealing. A high school drop out poses to a potential mate as a Harvard grad. A homosexual boy poses to a heterosexual crush as a cute girl. An atheist poses to a Christian apologist as a curious theist.
Hear me out. The second I engage a believer I’m immediately (and correctly) seen as an atheist by my publicly recorded post history. The problem with this is that their preconceptions of an atheist color everything I say. To them I’m just mad at God, close-minded, hindered by secular culture, parroting the words of the “horsemen,” or even influenced by demons. Although some of their preconceptions are clearly unfounded, it’s natural to apply a stereotype and I’ve seen the same crime committed by atheists. Allowing the message to be heard independent of the messenger’s perceived stigma I see as the central benefit of theological catfishing.
This is my confession. I have been impersonating a theist in a variety of Google+ communities. I’ve already told you why I do it. Now I throw myself at the mercy of my readers with the question: is what I’m doing ethical?
I feel it is or I wouldn’t be doing it. The ends justify the means in my mind and I feel no need to defend my actions further. However, I have thought about how I might take it too far. The following are ways in which I choose not to abuse the trust of my “fellow” theists.
- I will not become a parody of fundamentalism in order to drive moderate theists away. Talking to coworkers I’ve concluded that the single biggest reason folks are less religious these days is the Westboro Baptist Church. No one wants to be associated with the likes of them. If the more interactions people have with WBC-like fundamentalism, the more they distance themselves from analogs in their life, it stands to reason that becoming a poe would encourage secularism. I think this logic is sound, but I still won’t do it on the off chance it encourages a single nut-case in any way.
- I will not dishonestly convert to atheism. An eventual reveal of my atheism is likely, but to do it as if I was persuaded out of the white lie of theism makes the lie darker. I won’t muddy the power of authentic conversion stories.
- I will not affirm theistic beliefs that I view are harmful just to maintain the illusion the I’m a believer. For example, I will never recommend faith healing knowing real medical attention is needed.
- I will not promote or defend doctrine that promotes inequality like popularized biblical marriage or the notion that women should be subservient to men.