Is There a Wrong Way to Promote Atheism?

Posted: July 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

They say that any publicity is good publicity. As long as someone is paying attention it doesn’t matter what they’re saying. Can that publicity, in effect, drive change towards acceptance of atheism? Or will too much bad press earn atheists a permanent spot on the list of least trusted?

I have been doing a great deal of reading, writing, and chatting lately. I first started on one of the Facebook pages that was created to ban the page Fuck Jesus Christ. I appealed to the sanity of the people in support of shutting down FJC to no avail. Most of them were on the verge of illiteracy. Most of them ignored logic, or questions that would require them to think their shallow arguments through. There were very few who would engage in a reasonable debate, yet all of them complained about the “rude atheists who just want to cause trouble instead of being mature and tolerant and having reasonable discussions.”

The “rude atheists” (some of them were downright assholes) elicited more of a response from the page-goers than anyone attempting to engage in a frank discussion of the 1st Amendment, Facebook Policy, or personal responsibility. There were some atheists that heckled, insulted, and constantly reminded people of how much smarter they were because they lacked belief. Some of it was hilarious (and usually true), but as my interest waned I found myself actually liking some of the christians more than the atheists.

Why? I hated their support of a page that would actually try to ban another just because they were offended by the title “Fuck Jesus Christ.” They were usually incomprehensible in their writing skills (a trait that annoys the shit out of me). They were stubbornly clinging to bullshit dogma no matter how hard I tried to reason with them. Some of them were even more insulting than the atheists.

What really got to me is that I felt the atheists should know better. When you hate people telling you you’re shit for not believing in their doctrine, why should you approach them the same way with yours? That’s what I saw there. Some weren’t the least bit inquisitive or engaging. They lumped all theists into one stereotypical mold and proceeded to tell them that they were stupid and wrong.

So I got sick of it. For my own sanity I stopped even looking at the page. Shortly after I lost interest a buddy of mine shared this link. The linked article was criticising the American Atheists for flying banners that promoted atheism and godlessness. The gist of the article is that the campaign was a futile waste of resources and preachy in nature.

I didn’t (and still really don’t) see how the American Atheists were wrong. All I have to do in late June or early July is simply walk into K-mart, head straight to the rack near the front with bright red t-shirts, and pull one out at random to see the words “GOD BLESS AMERICA” in bold, amidst  a backdrop of stars, stripes, and bald eagles. It’s totally a normal occurrence. Is it preachy and aggressive? Yeah, I can see that. I can see how it can declare superiority for our country based on a fairy-tail being showing special favor. It asserts that we should revere said being for bestowing blessings on our country. Those who don’t believe in fairy-tales are outside of that patriotic attestation. The sad truth is that atheists are still unlikely to even hold office in a political system that is supposed to be about the people it represents.

So, why can’t atheists profess their patriotism?

Maybe it makes us just as dogmatic. Maybe it parallels what turned me off of discussions in the Facebook page I mentioned above. The difference I see here is that a shirt, or bumper sticker, or coffee mug with “God Bless America” printed across it doesn’t do much to promote discussion or awareness of the outgroup in the situation. Atheists don’t get to promote godlessness in K-mart, or in political office. Some of us can’t even discuss our views with our families. So when I saw that some group got the funds and gumption to fly banners with pro-atheist messages, right or wrong, I got a little smile on my face.  I think it is an important step forward in this movement for non-believers to proudly proclaim their existence, even if it makes us look like assholes.

Speaking of looking like assholes, the very next day I found myself this here article. Fallen heroes of the 9/11 attacks were memorialized by a street sign reading “Seven in Heaven”. The street sign, which bears a phrase hilariously close to the name of the game “Seven Minutes in Heaven”, is also a violation of church-state separation. Because of that violation, the NYC Atheists are protesting the sign and there is talk of a lawsuit. Some say that placing a religious concept like heaven on a street sign is not a big deal or an important fight, some say we have to put our foot down and stand our ground.

I have to say that my first reaction was a sort of sinking feeling, like, “great, another story for Fox News to pick up and twist into another brilliant portrait of baby-eating-evil-doers trying to take away religious freedom.” It really does make us look like dicks. The firefighters the street sign honors  died trying to save people in a tragic event. Their grieving widows just want to honor their memory and sacrifice…can’t we just give them a little of our tax dollars?

No. We can’t. After posting the article on my Facebook wall I was treated to some awesome arguments that really made me think. What is the line? A sign promoting Jannah, Tian, or any other realm where dead people are said to live would not be tolerated, even if it is the same basic concept. Just because 80% of Americans believe in heaven, doesn’t mean that they get to promote that belief with public funds. There are enough streets and cities named for saints and other religious concepts. We have to draw the line somewhere. The NYC Atheists are drawing that line and taking all the resultant shit for it too, no doubt.

And what of the bad press? It won’t kill the movement. It won’t make non-theists stop fighting for church-state separation. It may make theists push back harder, but constitutionally those who want to keep religion and government separate are in the right. Atheist assholes may make people hate atheism more. Some tactics and antics may be worse than some. Yet the more and more these stories are circulated, the more and more atheists get their voices heard in the national conversation. The publicity, as bad as it may be, is normalizing atheism. When people see atheism as normal, it can slowly begin to be accepted.

All atheists have one thing in common, a lack of belief in god. There are other similarities that most share, but all in all it is a pretty diverse group. No one atheist, nor group of atheists can claim to represent all non-believers. Atheists can be critical and bring arguments to light within and beyond the communities we’ve created. One thing that atheists should all unite in is a push towards acceptance and a distinct separation of church and state. Any one of the numerous tactics (except for violence) should be employed to strive for these goals, so maybe one day we won’t have to fight anymore.

This is a random, sexy picture that I stuck at the end so when I link this post through facebook people will see it and click on it. Sex sells, and you bought it!

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