Monday I wrote a fairly harsh blog condemning the web site Changing the Face of Christianity. Brad White, the site's author, was kind enough to reply in detail, and he made some good points that I'd like to address today. (Click here to read my blog and Brad's reply if you missed it). Today I'm responding via an open letter to Brad, the site's founder and author.
In your comments to my blog, you argued that I essentially missed many of your points, and that I was assuming far too much about your opinions. In a nutshell, you pointed out that I was putting words in your mouth, claiming that you said things that you never said and don't believe. And I confess, that's exactly what I did. Guilty as charged.
But I'm still going to claim I was right to do so!
How can that be? How can I claim that my inaccurate portrayal of your opinions and thoughts is actually right?
I have done a great deal of GUI ("graphical user interface") design in my career. I create computer programs and web sites that customers use to buy stuff, run scientific experiments, enter a screenwriting competition, buy my book, and many other things. One of the most humbling experiences I've ever had to endure was when I was forced to sit silently and watch users struggle with a wonderful new program I'd just finished designing. I was sure that my GUI was dead obvious, that any fool could sit down and immediately get the job done.
Instead, I watched the user make gross mistakes. They couldn't figure out where to enter information, what button to click next, how to navigate to the "shopping cart", or how to upload their screenplay. Whatever it was I was trying to achieve, the users would fail to figure it out. I wanted to jump up and shout, "No you fool, click THAT button!" But the rules of these GUI tests are strict: I was like the fly on the wall, prohibited from saying a word. I had to watch and see for myself all the different ways that my design was inadequate. It was humbling.
When the test was over, I'd take my proverbial hat in hand and go back to the drawing board.
How is this relevant to the debate about your web site that encourages Christian reform? Because when someone misinterprets my design, I am always wrong. The point of a commercial web site is to sell stuff. If a customer wants to buy my product and fails, it's always my fault. I can jump up and down and say, "But it's OBVIOUS how to do it ... look here, I'll show you. Anyone should be able to figure this out!" That's a completely, one hundred percent useless argument, because I still would lose the sale. And I'll lose the next, sale, and the sale after that too, because no matter what I meant my GUI design to do, the customer couldn't figure it out and didn't buy the product.
So that's why my misinterpretation of your web site is important. Your goal is to make Christians more sensitive to non-Christians, and your web site is your "GUI". It's the only way you get to present your message. If it doesn't work, then it doesn't matter what your intent was. All that matters is the feelings that your readers have by the time they leave your web site.
Since I'm a non-Christian, it seems I'm your intended customer, or at least the "customer" of those Christians who heed your advice. And since I was offended by many of the things I read, it doesn't matter what your intent was. Both Hemant and I, along with several other atheist bloggers, came away with the same impression. We all found many of the things you say offensive. Having corresponded with you privately and in this forum, I know your intentions are good, but your web site isn't conveying that message.
I hope you'll continue with your efforts, and I hope that my critique and the critiques from other atheist/humanist bloggers will help you to further your worthy mission.