Think we’re the only ones who have obnoxious, loud-mouthed fundamentalists who simply exist to antagonize others?
Atheists have Kirk Camerons too– their called the American Atheists. This past year they’ve been showing their civility and good-will by taking out billboards in various places (something I wrote about here) to mock people of faith.
Classy, I know.
Instead of sending the message of “We’re here, we hold a valid worldview, and we want to be good neighbors” the billboards send the message of “We’re here, we’re right, and the rest of you are idiots”.
It is no different than Christian fundamentalism. As I’ve written before, I see fundamentalism as being less about religion and more about attitude. When one holds belief (or non-belief) in arrogance rather than humility and insists that anyone who disagrees is flat out wrong, it’s fundamentalism.
For their newest trick? The American Atheists have taken out a billboard near the Super Bowl stadium to promote an upcoming convention by mocking prayer, something their president calls a “superstition, plain and simple.”
I’m so tired of it all.
I’m tired of when my side does it, and I’m tired of when their side does it.
Why? Because regardless of which side is doing it, it’s a provocative gimmick designed to keep the whole cycle going. It’s not going to end until one side opts out of the cycle completely by simply refusing to play by these rules.
The cycle goes something like this:
Our fundamentalist put out an obnoxious billboard meant to antagonize people of no faith or a different faith. When they freak out, we say: “see how unreasonable and nasty those atheists can be? They really need Jesus“.
And so, they respond in-kind (keeping the whole cycle going) by putting up billboards designed to antagonize us right back, and when we freak out they say: “see how unreasonable and nasty those Christians can be? Their faith system is toxic.”
As one of my atheist friends put it yesterday, we follow this cycle and then “lather, rinse, and repeat”.
It’s all a ploy and we’re both idiots if we don’t wake up and realize that.
I’m tired of it. I’m tired of my Kirk Camerons and I’m tired of theirs.
When will we realize that we’re actually creating the toxicity, and that we can end it by opting out of this tit-for-tat system?
Ironically, I think the teachings of Jesus have some wisdom to offer both sides– I’m sure most of my atheists friends are reasonable enough to agree that Jesus was a wise first century rabbi and might have some good teachings.
Jesus actually spoke about these unhealthy cycles that we so often get sucked into during his most famous sermon, often called the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon he teaches the way out of these cycles is to refuse to respond “in kind” when someone harms you– or even just antagonizes you. According to Jesus, it is the response that keeps the system alive. Refusing to hit back, is what kills the cycle.
I say, let’s stop responding like this– both of us. Let’s kill the system that keeps trying to convince us we’re enemies and find ways to be good neighbors and work together for common good. Both sides are guilty of the toxicity so long as both sides insist on playing by toxic rules.
The answer is to simply refuse to play this way.
A great first start would be to stop erecting billboards on either side and use that money (which is probably an astronomical amount) for a joint cause to better society instead of wasting our money to feed an endless cycle that is distracting us from the things that really matter.
I’m telling my Kirk Camerons to stop, and I hope they will send the same message to theirs.(Also, see John Shore’s post on Fundamentalist Atheists, here)
I agree with your point of view, your article has given me a lot of help and benefited me a lot. Thanks. Hope you continue to write such excellent articles.
Is the original author really saying he agrees with Kirk Cameron outside of his tactics? Otherwise it’s a false comparison.
The billboards aren’t mocking anyone, they are just pointing out a different point of view. So you bible thumpers are allowed to have a presence everywhere but we cannot even make a sign saying “WE EXIST”.
I’d just describe the poster as a bit snotty.
When a single religious person can provide any evidence whatsoever that prayers are answered, then you will have some grounds for comparing AA to Kirk Cameron. The evidential burden that atheists ask religious people to meet are really super minimal, but no one feels any embarrassment at all to make lavish claim about God answering prayers on the basis of none whatsoever.
Every religion, political party, social club or town has its very own selection of jerks. It’s part of the natural diversity of the human species.
I don’t feel particularly responsible for the American Atheists, since I’ve never given them money, am not part of their organisation and I don’t even live in the same country as them. I don’t think that just because we agree that God is a imaginary being, created by human minds, that means that I should be held accountable for what they do and say.
Having said that, I think the bilboard is funny, if not entirely accurate (prayer does work in the sense that it reduces anxiety in some people, comforts them and gives them strength to deal with their problems, in the same way meditation does). It’s nowhere near as bad as the ‘who needs Christ’ one. And I think most ‘sophisticated theologians’ would agree that prayer doesn’t work if you expect to get whatever you pray for, like you’re ordering from a divine shopping catalogue. Prayer won’t heal a broken leg or get you a new car. I think the only ones who think prayer does work in that way are fundamentalists. So, I don’t think the message is aimed at most Christians.
Imagine these two (existing) signs:
– “God Answers Knee-Mail”
– “A Hail Mary only works in football”
If these are not equally offensive – or equally unoffensive – please nix the double standard. One says “Prayer works”, and the other says, “Prayer doesn’t work”, and I believe it’s unreasonable to think that one is more offensive than the other.
Whether prayer ‘works’ is one question. Whether it ‘works’ because of a particular mechanism, is another.
It doesn’t work by any mechanism, because it doesn’t work.
The first isn’t “offensive” as such; but it would be if someone added “so there, nyaaah atheists.” The second could be said to imply “so there, nyaaah believers” but as it is written isn’t that offensive. But I don’t think either are useful contributions to society.
Well so do what Jesus says then. Sounds like brilliant advice. Tell all your Christian friends too. Here is some more wonderful advice: “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.” Great wonderful advice if you’re an idiot. Good thing people have the God-given ability to make those words say other things than what they say, lol. Yeah I know, it’s so incredibly stupid that it’s even banal to quote dumb verses any more. Especially when we know what’s coming next–the apologetics that make words say other things than what they say. It’s so commonplace and predictable that it makes the guy pointing out the stupid verses look like the stupid one for being so boring with the obvious Bible quotes. “Oh noes, some idiot is quoting long and boring Bible verses again, doesn’t he know I have my Bible repellent spray, SMH. *yawn*.”
As an Evangelical I couldn’t agree more. Our respective “sides” in the culture wars have tended to find at least part of their self-identity in opposition to the other. We end up mirror images of each other and engage in practices we think are persuasive to the other but which end up only preaching to the choir. At the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy we advocate a different approach, relating as trusted rivals rather than enemies. We have submitted a proposal to the American Atheists for a conversation about this approach in connection with their conference here in Salt Lake City in April.
This reminds me of the false comparison often made between militant fundamentalists and “militant atheists.” That is bogus. And this comparison (between the Kirk Cameron’s on both sides) seems equally bad — though much less harmful. It is just as bogus.
Finally, there’s an adult in the atheist house! This undergraduate point scoring really is “toxic” and “tiring”. Great post.
Why is it offensive to publicly suggest that prayer doesn’t work, but not offensive to publicly suggest that it does?
Was kind of wondering what the reply to this would be…
Totally agree with you that we should strive to send the first message, not the second one. Sometimes atheists get it right, like with the billboard that says, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” That sends a completely different message than one like Ken Ham’s “Hey Atheists! You’re wrong! Nyaa nyaa!”
“According to Jesus, it is the response that keeps the system alive.”
Then Jesus is wrong. The wacky beliefs held by Christians are what keeps the system alive. If we withhold criticism about the belief that the creator of the universe takes a strong interest in the outcome of a football match, PEOPLE WILL STILL BELIEVE THAT HE DOES.
It’s curious that you’re more concerned with the criticism of your fellow Christians’ beliefs than the absurd beliefs themselves.
I personally don’t find this particularly offensive (as opposed to the Christ in Christmas, which I think was). I think it is kind of funny. It can also spark some interesting conversation is you simply ask “What do you mean by ‘works’?”
Prayer works six days, and rests on the seventh.
If I had to draw a us/them line, which I attempt to avoid as much as possible, as a theist and a Christian I would be hard-pressed to consider myself and kirk Cameron on the ‘same side.’ No matter how you draw it I would far closer to the average atheist I know than the average fundamentalist.
There seems to be a certain irony in saying we should stop responding to these kinds of billboards as a response to this kind of billboard…
Do you really think that if these jerk atheists quit displaying their satire, that jerk Fundamentalists are going to go quiet and stop proselytizing their Gospel too, and the “cycle” will just stop already?
I don’t understand how this is at all ‘fundamentalist’. I may think it’s silly, but I really think that it should come across as harmless. For the first part, I’m not sure what any atheist can say on a billboard that won’t make you think they’re uncivil other than what the American Humanists have used, and the American Atheists can’t very well go plagiarising them. This billboard, as most of their signs, is an effort to raise the awareness and acceptability of atheism. I’m not sure it’s terribly successful at that, but is there anything wrong in making a gentle claim that might make people think?
And it is a gentle claim. It is not fire. It boils down to “prayer doesn’t work”, which is (in line with current scientific research and definitely) not equivalent to things that fundamentalists say about atheism, such as “if you don’t believe in God you’re going to hell”, “atheists don’t deserve to be American citizens”, “atheists should be shot”, and so forth, all of which I’ve heard.
American Atheists work for the separation of church and state, and for atheists’ constitutional rights to not be forced into religion. And I, as an atheist, along with many others, including the Freedom from Religion Foundation, will also fight for other people whose religious beliefs are being unconstitutionally threatened.
Perhaps they’ve chosen a simple assertion about prayer because that surrounds us as atheists. We have to deal with prayers being posted on public school walls, prayers being featured and endorsed by staff in public schools, prayers said at graduation. This is in addition to being forced to recite the pledge of allegiance with the phrase ‘under God’, which is not just limiting to atheists, but also Jews who believe it’s blasphemy to say ‘God’, polytheists, and religious people who don’t have a concept of god in their religions. This is in addition to Bible verses being paraded in public buildings that citizens of all religions pay for (such as the 10 commandments). This is in addition to my working at a secular nonprofit where I was told I was wrong over and over again for interpreting Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence in a way that did not include a god. This is in addition to creationists trying—and succeeding—to push creationism into schools instead of science where there is no scientific debate.
In American society, atheists aren’t allowed to just exist. Some Christians can’t stop going on about how Christians are persecuted. They won’t be happy until everyone is like them. You may think that’s what the American Atheist billboard is saying, but it’s really not. I don’t think you’d have a problem with John 3:16 being on a billboard. This is not that much different.
So I’m here because I’m standing up for myself, much as I imaging American Atheists to be doing. If American Atheists are fanning the flames by standing up for themselves, then there’s something wrong here. If Christians in a Muslim-dominated Indonesia are fanning the flames by standing up for their beliefs, there’s something wrong there.
But until American Atheists match the fundamentalists in saying “you will be eternally punished if you believe in a god”, “Christians and other religious people don’t deserve to be citizens of our secular nation”, “religious people should be shot”, “evolution must be taught in church”, “churches should be closed”, “churches should be bombed”, “nobody may ever pray”, “you can’t be religious if you want to be an elected official”, or something equally antagonistic, there’s no reason that it should be derided so heavily as fundamentalist. Lumping the equivalent of “prayer doesn’t work” into the former is, quite frankly, offensive.
(And something I’m tired of? Having to put this paragraph in here in which I must disclaim that of course there are atheists who say those things and I have nothing but condemnation for them. There are, of course, atheists who do argue such drivel. I have nothing but condemnation for them, but that’s quite different from the above statement by American Atheists.)
Absolutely spot on.
When faced with Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on my door, when faced with the preponderance of silliness delivered via Fox News and others, when observing some of the actual harm caused by religious fundies and the views they espouse (and not just Christians- name a faith, there are dangerous and very public fundies) there is a dire need for balance. That balance lets others know they aren’t alone, that many of us similarly doubt the existence a supreme all-powerful being that cares what I wear and what I do, that requires tithing and prayer and worship and veneration and even physical mutilation….
What I’m waiting for and desire to see is the religious moderates- those believers who also condemn nonsense, like young earth creationism, death for apostasy, genital mutilation or circumcision- speak up, and help end all support for those fundamentalist views. Label those extreme views as what they are, and help consign them to history. That will do much more to bring us all together than will complaining about a relatively innocuous billboard.
Yes, there is value in some of the parables and stories of the Bible. there’s also a lot of utter crap. The crap needs to go.
While I don’t really fancy playing the ‘your fundies are worse than our fundies” game, I don’t the comparison is an accurate one.
The American Atheists made a dick move with this billboard. Sure I’ve had fun mocking theists in my time. Not my proudest moments. But I don’t pay enormous amounts of money to do so.
But here’s what The American Atheists aren’t doing: campaigning to have the non-existence of gods championed in public schools, restricting marriage rights, kidnapping minors and sending them to re-education camps, fighting against the Violence Against Women Act, refusing to provide their employees with health coverage, advocating preemptive wars in other countries, preventing abandoned children from being adopted by families they don’t approve of, talking about ‘legitimate rape,’ actually committing reparative rape, committing child abuse and advocating such as proper Christian parenthood. And that’s just in America.
No, The American Atheists wasted their own money putting up a juvenile billboard. I’m not saying stirring up bad feelings is a positive goal, just that it’s not really comparable to what’s happening among your tribe.
I don’t think it’s fair to lump fundies in with “his tribe.” His political, ethical, and moral ambitions are far more in line with yours and mine than with people like Cameron or Phelps. If I, as an atheist, don’t have to accept Dawkins or American Atheists are being part of my tribe (which I don’t), Ben shouldn’t have to claim his fundies either.
How do you manage that? Dawkins and Co are atheists, just as we are. It’s not a matter of accepting. It’s a fact. I don’t get to brush off the IRA as ‘not part of my tribe,’ because they’re a black stain on the Irish people. Instead of dismissing people who embarrass our cause or identity as ‘not part of us,’ the responsible thing to do is to step up and call our fellows out when they act badly.
I understand where you’re coming from, but you’re playing in the No True Scotsman sandbox.
But we’ve deviated pretty far away from my original point, so I’ll let it rest.
Also, I like Dawkins.
I think the idea is that atheists are no more a tribe than non-bowlers are.
While there are plenty of jerk atheists, Christian fundamentalists are the ones making a positive God claim and have the burden of proof in the argument. This is the crucial distinction between Christian fundies and atheist fundies (strong atheists or gnostic atheists).
I’m not seeing how making a positive versus a negative absolute claim is any different from the other. Saying “there is no God” and “there is a God” are both absolute statements. To me however, the issue isn’t either claim, but the attitude people hold with that claim.
I think you’re right. As we discussed awhile back, most atheists are weak or implicit atheists, who do not make certainty statements like “there is no god.” A lack of belief does not require evidence to support itself as a stance, while an absolute denial of something does.
There are jerks of every persuasion. Jerkiness knows no bounds, has no limits and does not belong to any group. Snotty billboards are the product of jerks. Not Christians, not Atheists, just jerks. And, yes, ignoring a jerk is often the best way to get a little peace. If you don’t kick back, they have no momentum for their next act.
I’ve used that technique for racist jokes. Don’t laugh, don’t denounce them, don’t react at all, except for an “Oh.” Then turn away. If you laugh, they will think you’re a kindred spirit. If you lecture them or challenge them, they are getting a response and that’s what they want. Many jerks love a good argument. They can’t take being ignored.