Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Aggressive Atheist Extremists

Maybe you’ve seen the PhillyCOR billboard recently? Floaty clouds on a blue sky, with the text “Don’t believe in god?” on top, and “You are not alone,” on the bottom. It’s an invitation to disenfranchised atheists to get in touch with local humanist, atheist, free-thought or secular organizations in their areas. And it’s as inoffensive a message as I’ve ever seen from any atheist group. No attack on religion. No invitation to anyone to reconsider their beliefs. Just a note to those who already don’t believe, who think they’re on their own, to encourage them and let them know there are like-minded people “out there” who would like to get to know them and offer them camaraderie and community involvement. PhillyCOR actually even works alongside religious organizations to support charitable endeavors.

So, here again we have the age-old question: Is there any way—at all—that an atheist can express his opinion that won’t be considered an attack on or offense to believers?

The answer, PhillyCOR has now made clear, is “no.”

In an interview with Fox News, Family Research Council’s own Peter Sprigg had this to say about the board:

“This billboard in Philadelphia seems to represent a trend—a new assertiveness, even aggressiveness on the part of atheists.”

You heard right. Putting up a billboard to let like-minded people know you exist—people who often think they are utterly alone—is “aggressive.” The billboard represents—is part of—a trend of “aggressiveness.” Am I to assume that Sprigg has never seen a Christian billboard before? He should come to Austin, where he would be able to see several in a five mile stretch in any direction. And they don’t just appeal to other Christians—they appeal to everyone to come to church, accept Jesus, believe in god, convert to Christianity. Would Sprigg label Christians as a “hyper aggressive” group, then? I’m guessing not—but to be consistent, he actually would have to. If atheists today are “aggressive,” I can’t see how Sprigg doesn’t consider Christians to be hovering over the edge of “dangerous.”

Further, this man who claims atheists are being “aggressive” has the following to add:

“Atheists are very vigorous in promoting the separation of church and state, but with the extreme way that they interpret that concept, you would basically eliminate every mention of god from the public square, and that would amount to the establishment of atheism.”

First of all, it’s not about eliminating the mention of anything from any “public square.” People in the public square, speaking as private citizens, can say whatever they like. It’s people and institutions that are in any way representatives of government that cannot, and should not, promote any religious perspective—including the existence or nonexistence of any god or gods. That’s a little different, and perhaps a subtlety that is lost on people like Sprigg—although, if I am to speak frankly, I don’t believe it’s lost on him at all. I believe it to be an intentional misrepresentation—a strawman—intended to rile religious masses, because Sprigg knows that an accurate representation would not be nearly as compelling and effective in attaining that goal.

Free advice: When someone misrepresents their case, always, always, always ask “why?”

And while I am on misrepresentations, another interesting fact that Sprigg seems to conveniently have misplaced, is that one of the most active entities promoting separation of church and state is a group headed by the Reverend Barry Lynn, who often speaks on behalf of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Since Sprigg’s group is so very interested in separation issues, I can’t imagine he is unaware of this. And yet, he promotes separation as an “atheist vs. theist” issue, in order to launch an unfounded attack on atheists and rally undeserved support to his own agenda to use the government, openly and unapologetically, to promote a worldview that just happens to align with conservative Christian religious ideologies.

Asking Sprigg to not use our government as a vehicle to push his religion onto others is somehow an “establishment of atheism.” I have pointed out before, but perhaps not at this blog, that asking that the government remove “under god” is in no way the equivalent of asking them to add “without a god” to the Pledge. Ensuring everyone, theists and atheists alike, is free from government sanctioned, promoted, or imposed religious ideology allows everyone, theists and atheists alike, the freedom to exercise their religion, or no religion, as they wish, by putting all religious ideologies on the same playing field—a field that is, and ever should be, found exclusively in the court of private practice.

The level of projection Sprigg employs is at least as bad as anything I have seen from any theist so far. He effortlessly scales the heights of hypocrisy as he accuses others of stepping out of line who are not, while he is guilty of absolutely all that he accuses. Ironically, even if atheists were guilty of all he accuses, they would be doing no more or less than their Sprigg-encouraged Christian counterparts, in so far as pushing their agenda via government and posting and promoting their ideology as far and wide as possible. So, how could Sprigg possibly criticize, even if atheists were guilty, without showing himself up as a raging hypocrite?

The real issue here is that Sprigg wants Christianity to enjoy special privilege and treatment from society, as well as from the government, without being able to actually explain why special status is merited. I would never advocate promoting atheism using the government. And yet, if I did, any criticism from Sprigg could be nothing less than stunning, as I’d be doing no more than he and his organization and religion are doing already (and have been doing for quite a long time).

It’s actually competition Sprigg fears—not competition from others asking government to endorse their religious views, too, but the competition that would exist if his own religious view was no longer allowed to use the government as a prop—if it had to exist, horror of horrors, on the same level upon which all other religious views and ideas are now safely relegated—far beneath his own. It isn’t that he thinks it’s wrong to empower and utilize the government to promote religious views at all. His actions illustrate that he very much supports using government to promote religious views and policies. They also illustrate, in no uncertain terms, that his real beef is that he wants his particular brand of religion to be the only one that gets to do it.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Let's see.

    Whining about atheist aggressiveness if a lack of god belief is merely mentioned? Check.

    A slippery slope argument about eliminating god from the public square? Check.

    Employing confirmation bias to "prove" an appeal to emotion? Check.

    Projecting his own behavior on to others to prove an incorrect argument? Check.

    Right out of the fearful theist playbook. Nice article, Tracieh

  3. Sprigg is afraid that as soon as someone mentions that the emperor has no clothes, his cushy position of privilege will be in jeopardy. He's got good reasons to be worried.

  4. As stupid, dumb, inaccurate and biased as that ridiculous segment was, it's what you can usually expect from Fox "News."

    The one thing I'd like to know, though, from the people who argue the lack of religion is promoting atheism, is how it would then be possible to have the government not promote some religious ideology.

  5. Zurahn: I think that's partly the point. While I don't think neutrality does promote atheism, I wanted to point this out:

    Even if we were trying to get the government to promote atheism--on what grounds could Sprigg protest? He's clearly OK with government being used to promote ideologies toward religion. So, his only real reason for protest could only be that it's not _his_ religion being promoted.

    It's as if he sees Christianiy as some sort of "default," and anything other than Christianity--including respectful neutrality is "something other than Xian"--and therefore not OK.

    But he's using "atheist" as the enemy here, and trying to make separation of church and state and "us/them" issue. The truth is that the entire context of separation is meant to protect his rights as a believer. By injecting religion into government, he actually infringes more on other believers than he does on me.

    For example, let's say we went all-out theocracy, and Sprigg gets to choose the doctrine. Let's say we all get up each morning, and we have to pray to Jesus under penalty of death. I can't speak for all atheists, but I'm not going to die for lack of talking to a fantasy god.

    But there are a number of religious people who might. Clearly, it would be more of an imposition to someone who truly believes in another god or another form of Christianity than it would be to someone like me, who would see the prayer as meaningless to my life, and only a small waste of my time.

    The imposition of religion by government, I would assume, would distress other believers far more than atheists.

    Then, if we get into lifestyle issues imposed by religious policy legislation, such as women's rights and gay rights (if you've seen the Family Research Council Web site), it's as if Sprigg doesn't understand that there are believers in those groups as well. Oppressing gays is not the same as oppressing atheists. It's oppressing a group that consists of atheists and theists.

    These aren't "atheist vs. theist" issues--but that's how Sprigg wants to paint them all, because he garners far more support if he can get as many "believers" as possible behind him (by making nonbelievers the enemy); but those believers running to support FRC need to pause and ask if they really want the government legislating religious policies to individual believers...? Weren't many of them actually running from the institutionalized church in England when they colonized The New World?

    I'm seriously confused by the fact that its theists who are attempting to set up a system that mirrors a system they came to this area, literally, to escape. They labeled it "persecution" and now they want to impose that same persecution--not only on others, but also on themselves. What gives?

    I can't comprehend how they do not see that they are undercutting their own rights and freedoms.

  6. PZ has just made note of the FFRF's "Imagine No Religion" billboard up in Seattle. I imagine Fox is going to start going into Chicken Little mode and warning all its viewers to stock up on canned foods and duct tape now.

  7. The real issue here is that Sprigg wants Christianity to enjoy special privilege and treatment from society, as well as from the government, without being able to actually explain why special status is merited.

    I believe their response to that would be that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Of course, Rome was pagan for centuries before embracing Christianity, so history shows that things change.

  8. it’s not about eliminating the mention of anything from any “public square.”

    The phrase "public square" comes up a lot in this context, and relies upon an equivocation over two meanings of the word "public": there's "public space" as in places where anyone can go, and there's "public funds" meaning paid for by the government.

    I don't think anyone here is opposed to religious expression in public (first sense) spaces, while most of us are opposed to public (second meaning) support for either religion or atheism.

    Perhaps we need a different set of words. My thesaurus isn't all that much help; the best I could come up with is "communal" for the first sense, and "nationalized" for the second. I like the phrase "nationalized religion", since it conjures images of that evergreen conservative bogeyman, socialism.

  9. tracieh: It's as if he sees Christianiy as some sort of "default," and anything other than Christianity--including respectful neutrality is "something other than Xian"--and therefore not OK.

    I disagree slightly. It's not "as if" he sees it that way; it's that he *does* see it that way. My former pastor divided everyone in the world into "people who are [Christian] believers" and "people who are becoming believers." Some Christians do feel that they should get special treatment because they honestly feel privileged; they would be suprised to learn that everyone else doesn't agree.

  10. I agree with you here. Refutation rather than wussy complaining is the way to deal with atheists and atheism. Why go with the latter when the former is not all that hard?

  11. "Refutation rather than wussy complaining is the way to deal with atheists and atheism. Why go with the latter when the former is not all that hard?"

    Yeah, I mean look at how easy it has been for Rhology. LOL!

    As I said in response to this excellent blog post, there’s no greater truth about the value of a position than its dependence upon lies and deception in order to sell it to others.

  12. It's also as if Christians believe that the USA belongs first and foremost to them, and that all others may be citizens as far as voting goes, but they alone should be allowed to call the shots. IOW, "This is our countrehh!" as John Mellencamp sung in that horrible Chevy commercial.

  13. Well they do force that god bit at the end of the Citizenship oath. Well ok, not force, but it's there and no one is going to tell you that you don't have to say it, and as a new citizen you're not likely to try and rock the boat. This is what our country is currently calling "voluntary".

  14. To these dunderheads, living in a society that is not 100% in accordance with their bigoted, wicked religion means they're being "persecuted". To them, to live in a society that allows gay marriage means persecution. To live in a society that allows abortion means persecution. To live in a society that allows free speech means persecution. It's a shame these idiots are mentally sound enough to vote.

  15. They just can't help themselves.

    If you haven't seen these already, the cartoons that were done by myself and Cectic seem to be relevant (again)...

    Both can be seen here.

  16. Wouldn't it be great to have a billboard of that sort in Austin?


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