Politeness as Manipulation: Ray Comfort
In addition to helping fund-raise for the Orange County Freethought Alliance Conference this year, I’ve been a volunteer for the con since its first year and spoke there last year. People who knew I was there asked me if I ran into Ray Comfort. When I’ve told them that I left during the dinner break, they have lamented the fact that I missed out on encountering the infamous Banana Man (he doesn’t like talking about that particular yellow, phallic fruit anymore).
The truth of the matter is that I’m incredibly glad that I left before I was subjected to that man’s smug mug yet again.
First of all, encountering him isn’t some super rare occurrence that I missed out on. Ray Comfort is not a hard man to find. If you want to run into him, just hit up the pier at Huntington Beach, CA on Saturday. He’s a Southern California fixture, not some retiring fellow who only makes rare appearances.
Secondly, while I know that some people get off on dealing with rabid ranting fundies, I don’t. Back when I wore a headscarf, I was often accosted by Christians. Every word they chose to use with me dripped of condescending assumptions: that my father beat me into submission, that I was forced to cover, that I didn’t know English, that I knew nothing of Jesus or the Bible. While it did afford me a bit of smug satisfaction to school them, I would have preferred to have been left alone. Post-deconversion, I was subjected to the same treatment if they happened to read my looks as “Muslim” or hear me speak of my Muslim past.
As a student, I did counter-protest Brother Jed as well as the Big Christian Sign Guys (the same people who once protested a fundraiser for orphans that I attended, not even kidding). However, what I enjoyed about that was not dealing with fundies, it was representing the majority opinion of the UC Irvine student body (i.e. that sign-waving, bile-spewing fundies are horrible people) as well as showing others that atheists aren’t just some force of negativity in the world.
Last, but not least, the way most atheists talk about Ray Comfort betrays both how bad of a person he is and how skewed I sometimes find other atheists’ priorities to be.
In my estimation, Ray Comfort is a bad person, period. The first time I met him, he attended an Orange County Atheists meeting. At the time, I was still laying low as an atheist, so I sat at the table designated for those who did not want to be recorded for his website. He ended up paying for dinner (which annoyed me since I was broke at the time and had only ordered an iced tea in anticipation of having to pony up for the bill). The glow from his having fed us faded quickly as soon as I caught wind of his blog post on the matter, where he admits to having bought us food to shut us up. In my humble opinion, what was expressed was not the speech or attitude of a sincerely nice person.
Upon further research, I discovered his penchant for, ahem, creative editing, which knowledge later served me quite well. I attended Richard Dawkins’s talk at CalTech. Guess who was waiting, but without a ticket, along with the rest of the queue?
All the atheists in line were eager to engage with Ray Comfort. They, like many, thought it was a unique experience to have the chance to interact with the viral, hilarious Banana Man. I knew better and ran about the queue, calmly but firmly warning people them that he was in the habit of recording people and then selectively editing the video so that they look confused, contradictory, and otherwise wrong.
His response was to confront me with a holler of “You atheists make yourselves look stupid!” Suddenly, a video camera was pointing in my face and the Banana Man was accosting me with questions. I refused to be recorded but he continued his verbal assault. Our “conversation” mostly consisted of him rudely throwing non-sequiturs and insults at me, interrupting me, and insisting that I was a deluded fool. I’m inclined to think his butthurt over my spoiling his dishonest fun at the expense of atheists revealed his true nature: smug, self-righteous, and unkind to anyone who doesn’t play along with his tricks.
Later events corroborated this assessment. When he caught wind that the atheists of UC Irvine were ready with banana-shaped debunking bookmarks for his doctored copies of Darwin’s The Origin of Species, he preempted his set schedule and came to campus early, then spun the story as if it were one featuring a bunch of angry atheists attacking him.
I don’t care how many gift baskets he sends to PZ, how many atheist meals he bankrolls, or how “nice” a fellow other atheists insist that he is, Ray Comfort will always be an asshole to me, not that super duper hilarious guy from YouTube. He’s playing atheists and other pro-evolution folks quite skillfully with his faux-niceness, and most of us have fallen for it. It’s about time we stopped.
Once more, with feeling: Ray Comfort’s “niceness” is a tool wielded by a complete tool of a man who will craftily edit even the most eloquent pro-evolution argument into a portrait of a bumbling fool, meeting him is no big deal since he’s publicly available every weekend, and he is only buying you food so that you’ll shut the hell up.