Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bullied Into Belief

Most of my regular readers are aware of the contributions of Dennis Markuze. If you're coming in late, Dennis - who also posts as DM, Dave (or David) Mabus, AtheistWars, and various other pseudonyms - is a Canadian fellow who lives in Granby, which is a suburb of Montreal. He creates long, incoherent diatribes which are punctuated with links to pictures or videos; then he pastes these creations in the comments of other people's blogs or message boards, or (I believe) sends them out as e-mail. He occasionally attempts a more personalized communication, generally in the form of death threats.

He stopped by a few days ago and left another threat: "michael mock you are a traitor against God and will be executed..." I responded by pointing out that if God is truly all-powerful, then He does not need Dennis' help to give warnings.

Dennis actually gave me a response to that:
don't worry, michael mock
we are going to have MERCY on you....
we just wanted to give you a little fright...
This is interesting to me, because it echoes something from one of my earlier exchanges with him. He said: "repent and turn to God and everything will be ok!"

Now, several people have pointed out that I'm probably overthinking this, and that Dennis probably does what he does because he's mentally ill. I'm not arguing the point, because (with the usual caveats*) I think it's likely true. What puzzles me, and has all along, is the shape of the pathology. What is Dennis trying to accomplish? Why does he use this particular method?

There's certainly an element of power fantasy to it. There's a grandiose quality to the way he delivers his threats and judgements and warnings; an assertion of knowledge and power that, in real life, he simply does not have. I suspect - though again, I can't be sure - that this is part of reason he's so unwilling to answer questions, or carry on a more normal conversation: delivering his pronouncements makes him feel powerful, and actually communicating would ruin that.

But insofar as this is an anti-atheist/pro-Christian effort - and I think, on some level, it is that, too - I think the goal is to scare people into finding God. The rants and the threats are basically Dennis' version of Scared Straight... or, to pick a more religious and Halloween-appropriate example, Hell Houses.

This is not a terribly winsome (or, I suspect, effective) approach to evangelism. I am not a Christian because, on a fundamental level, Christianity makes no sense to me. Trying to scare me does not change that. Christianity remains as incomprehensible when I'm afraid as it does when I'm happy, sad, angry, or concentrating on something else entirely. So by all means, explain to me that I'm going to Hell for not believing in God. It doesn't work. First of all, I don't believe you;** and second, you obviously don't understand why I don't believe.

I can dismiss the Hell Houses as more-or-less-harmless lunacy. Oh, I think they're placing far too much emphasis on the wrong portions of Christianity and missing the essential point of the Gospel. I can even see where they could do some actual harm - they are basically trying to change behavior through fear, after all, and that's an approach that's almost impossible to use without some level of bullying - but I'm also sure the vast majority of people who attend them are already sympathetic to the view they present. And, of course, if you don't want to be scared by them, you can simply not go.

Dennis Markuze, on the other hand, shows up uninvited, delivers explicit threats loaded with unequivocally violent imagery, and disregards requests that he either moderate his behavior or leave. In doing so, he crosses the line from preaching into bullying - or terrorism, though I think that word gets used far too loosely as it is. It's a strange, self-defeating sort of bullying - most of his "victories" seem to come when he annoys someone enough that they block him from posting, and I'd bet heavy money that the number of people who've read his diatribes and converted to Christianity is exactly zero - but it's bullying nevertheless.

I'm not really sure where to go from here. I still think Dennis needs help from a mental health professional, but obviously he's not going to take my word for that. The bullying behavior is completely inappropriate, but I don't see a really good way to make him stop. Most bullies, if you call their bluff, either escalate or back off and try something else; Dennis just keeps at it. Playing along doesn't seem like a particularly good idea, either; I don't want him to think that his behavior is in any way acceptable.

So I'm keeping the policy in place: meaningless, disruptive bullshit gets deleted. That's not just for Dennis, though he's the only one for whom I've ever had to invoke it.

And meanwhile, every time he leaves a threat - anywhere - I see someone who desperately wants to be important and powerful and dangerous, who ardently wants to change the world... and can't.

* I'm not qualified to diagnose him, and even if I were, I couldn't do it over the Internet.

** This should probably go without saying, but I'll say it anyway: I'm not talking about all Christians here. I'm not even talking about most Christians. Hell, the denomination I was raised in mainly taught that God expects us to do our best, treat other people well, and trust in His forgiveness for the things we get wrong. As far as I know, that's the mainstream of Christianity - it's just quieter than the "damnation awaits" crowd.


  1. A haiku for the both of you:

    Walk outside your house,
    Cast your gaze up to the stars,
    There is no one there.

  2. But... but... what about the aliens, man?

    No, I'm kidding. I liked it.


Feel free to leave comments; it lets me know that people are actually reading my blog. Interesting tangents and topic drift just add flavor. Linking to your own stuff is fine, as long as it's at least loosely relevant. Be civil, and have fun!