Over the next two days, I received more than one hundred e-mails from Little Green Footballs readers. One suggested I should look into a job at Taco Bell, since I was obviously going to be fired for messing with Johnson. (Little Green Footballs fans credit Johnson with taking down Dan Rather after his 60 Minutes story on George W. Bush’s National Guard service.) Another called me “a self-righteous numskull with the literary prowess of a dodo bird. A dodo bird that dropped out of college and is on drugs.” Still another suggested that there was “no way you could possibly be any more of a dick.”

In two related threads on Johnson’s blog, which ran to nearly 1,500 comments, my photo, bio, and home address were all posted. Someone ran my name through an anagram site and listed the results (Demon Shitty Town, Howdy Mitten Snot, Hindmost Yet Wont). Another participant wrote a song, to be sung to the “Toys ‘R’ Us” theme: “I don’t want to be a St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalist, because if I was. There wouldn’t be heaven after death.” And let’s not forget the haiku:

Tim shills for haters While wearing moderate robes He does not fool us

Besides being called ignorant, arrogant, balding, stupid, rude, fat (my new nickname was Burger Boy), lazy, and incompetent, I was depicted as a Satanic baby. My mother was insulted. I was accused of lying about my academic degrees, having a comb-over, being a paid agent of the Saudi government, and acquiring “numerous social diseases.” I was, apparently, a plagiarist and a terrorist. Someone did a search to see if I was a pedophile. Others stuck with more generalized invective:

Tim Townsend—you’re a smarmy little fuck, aren’t you?

Townsend really should have checked on Dan Rather’s career before he messed with Charles.

What a chickenshit little cocksucker. Another journalouse prick with a face for radio.

Finally, there were suggestions that I should be murdered. To his credit, Johnson deleted the death threats and the comments with my address. Blessed are the peacemakers.

Many of us like to think that the principles embraced by James Madison and the rest of the founders are the bedrock upon which succeeding generations of Americans have built this nation. The fact remains that a large percentage of our countrymen prefer the message that Winthrop delivered to the passengers of the Arbella. At the conclusion of his sermon, Winthrop warned that if the Puritans failed to found New Jerusalem in the New World—if they didn’t remain true to their covenant—God would reject them in turn. “If our hearts shall turn away, so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced, and worship other gods, our pleasures and profits, and serve them,” Winthrop said, “it is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it; therefore let us choose life, that we, and our seed, may live by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for He is our life, and our prosperity.”

Reporters who cover the fractured, volatile, weighty world of religion have a responsibility to be equally respectful of all beliefs. Whether someone is a Roman Catholic, a Jew, or a Raëlian, we are privileged to ask such people personal questions about their most profound thoughts and hopes. “As corny as this sounds,” says the Times’s Neela Banerjee, “I think I grow by talking to folks whose worldviews are deeply different from mine. My job is not to grab the quote that makes them sound silly, but the one that sheds light, perhaps new light, on what they believe.”

Tim Townsend is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.