Archive for August, 2011


Re-posted from the Friendly Atheist

How Should Atheists React in Different Situations?

Every now and then, we come across a situation where it’s not entirely clear how atheists should respond.

Is every public mention of a god by a politician deserving of a lawsuit?

Are there times when a religious issue may be controversial but worth fighting for, regardless of the PR ramifications?

Are there ever times when it’s a smarter move to keep our mouths shut on an issue?

Of course, the answers to all these questions depend on the particular situations. Reader Claudia suggested we create a scale — a “threat level” chart, if you will. Now, using many of her suggestions, I’d like to propose one.

(Special thanks to Tanya Higgins at Daisies and Shit Productions for drawing the wonderful images.)

Level 1: Don’t even bother.

It’s either too small an issue to make a big fuss over (e.g. Obama saying “God bless America” at the end of a speech) or because the PR will be too toxic (e.g. Threatening a lawsuit over the “Seven in Heaven” street sign honoring 9/11 first responders who died). These are the kinds of issues that all of us notice because we happen to be atheists, but they’re just non-issues for everybody else. If we can’t win over those people with no vested interest in the matter, our fierce advocacy on these issues will backfire. By raising the issue at all, we’re moving hardly anyone over to our side but we’re alienating a lot of potential allies we might need for bigger issues.

Level 2: Proceed with caution.

A measured response will do just fine. These are the cases where the other side didn’t even realize they were doing anything wrong. (e.g. A city council brings in a Christian band for a concert.) There’s no sign of ill intent or religious proselytizing; in fact, the action may have even been for a good cause. That doesn’t make it right, though. A letter of polite complaint or a phone call is warranted, recognizing that the intentions may have been good, but the offenders should be reminded of what the law says.

Level 3: Time to get angry.

These violations are far more cut and dry. The offenders know full well they’re violating church/state separation. They don’t care. They’re using taxpayer money to endorse the Christian faith. They’re sending the message that no other belief system matters. These are things like putting a nativity scene outside City Hall, opening a City Council meeting with a Christian prayer, or using your title as Governor to plan a Prayer Rally. Responses include public complaints, letters-to-the-editor, letters of warning from groups like FFRF/AU/ACLU, and possibly even legal action.

Level 4: Red Alert.

This isn’t just a government endorsement of a particular faith. This is reserved for those people who want to enshrine their religious beliefs into law, when our school systems are under attack from religious conservatives who want to bring Creationism/Intelligent Design into science classrooms, when atheist soldiers are discriminated against, when young non-believers are banned from starting secular student groups at their schools, etc. At this point, you throw everything plus the kitchen sink at the offenders. Send angry letters to anyone who will listen, get local and national media involved, get national organizations to weigh in, call the lawyers. Make them rue the day…

That’s the proposed system. What do you think?

Feel free to use the images when writing about various issues. Ideally, they’ll allow us to discuss the best responses to a variety of situations. Sure, there may be debates over whether a certain issue is a 2 or a 3 (or whatever) or whether 1 should even be an option in the first place… but I see this as a conversation-starter, not the last word.

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Look, people are sensitive about their faiths, sometimes overly sensitive, which is sometimes warranted. I commonly post articles and links which challenge certain beliefs and structures within Islam and Christianity. I’m also commonly accused of openly insulting people by doing so, which is just factually wrong. I criticize the concept not the individual.

I think an example would be great to illustrate this. If i were to say that “I do not like the war in Afghanistan, I hate it and it needs to stop”, this does NOT say anything about an individual, it only applies to the concept of the War in Afghanistan, it does NOT apply to Bush, Cheney, Obama, all democrats, or all republicans. Period. If you think that statement somehow is an attack on a person or group of people than you need to stop and think about that. Just as when I state that “radical Christian beliefs are responsible for the recent Norwegian tragedy” it is not an attack on ANY individuals, it is a criticism of fundamentalist or radical christian belief structures.

When I compare christianity to other religions and mythologies, it is also not an attack on anyone. That would be called comparative religions. Comparing the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god to Zeus or Mithra or Osiris is not an attack on anyone or anything. If you are a believer in any of these gods, it does not matter, they can still be critically compared and talked about. There is no insult insinuated anywhere in the language.

Yes, the Norwegian shooter was a christian radical, that is plain and simple from his own manifesto. He was a terrorist, the term does not only apply to Muslims. It is not an attack or insult on christians anywhere to say this man had radical beliefs that were a product of his religion, it is a criticism of the concept, not of any individual. It can be hard to accept that your world view and belief system can produce such terrible things, but it must be admitted so that people of that tradition or world view can condemn it and change it to avoid such future issues.

If you think of something I have not covered here that you think I need to respond to, tell me. I will make the claim that I never blanket insult any believers in any religious faith or tradition. Please try to prove me wrong so that I can show that I do not.