The Religious Antagonists, Mike Lee, posted a new video on January 25th and the response has been mixed.
The short description is that he offers a homeless couple $20 to remove the word "God" from their sign.
Hemant Mehta, at Friendly Atheist, offered his thoughts.
Mike and I had a private e-mail exchange where I pointed out that I'm on the fence about this particular video.
"I'm somewhat torn. On the one hand there's a very important point made in that video. On the other hand, it seemed like a bit of a lose-lose. You're going to appear overly antagonistic as it's hard for a homeless couple to appear anything other than sympathetic especially when they have a kid and especially to the majority of Christians who would probably be cheering them on.
I've been thinking about it off and on all day - which is great - but I don't know who the target audience is and whether or not they'd give it the same thought. To someone like my parents, you just look like a dickish, agent-of-Satan who is harassing homeless Christians. I wouldn't be surprised if someone like the AFA used your video to drum up more donations.
That said, I wouldn't be surprised if they used many of my videos to drum up donations and my parents think I'm a dickish, agent-of-Satan...so we're in the same boat.
I'm still completely undecided on this. It'd be hypocritical of me to complain about Christian homeless ministries who offer food in exchange for a sermon while endorsing your actions. Right now, the only thing that might trump that issue is that you were making a point and aren't (as far as I know) starting a campaign with this as the default reaction to homeless people with religious messages on their signs.
The commentary certainly makes me favor the video a bit. The more I think about it, the more I'm leaning that direction...but this one is still far from settled, for me."
Mike responded and I asked him to sit in on a future episode of The Non-Prophets so that we could openly talk about all aspects of this, including the response.
And then, just a short while ago, Masala Skeptic from Skepchick posted her thoughts on the video and I had to wonder if she actually watched the video and thought about it for a few minutes before posting.
As I started reading the comments, hoping someone would point this out, what I saw amazed me. Several of these skeptics simply refused to watch the video and made up their mind based on Masala's comments.
So, I'll point out the problems with her commentary, in the hopes that discussions about this video (about which I am still undecided) might be a bit more thoughtful and relevant to the content.
- doesn't seem to understand that Mike flatly acknowledged he was being a jerk.
- discusses the video with no acknowledgement of the clarification and commentary that Mike added.
- doesn't seem to get the important meaning behind this (that religion encourages poor decision making - to the point that a starving family will turn down money)
- doesn't seem to realize that Mike never asked them to stop believing (she wrote: "Mike tries to get the couple to give up their faith in a higher power for the temptation of $20." Mike specifically states the opposite. Did she watch the video?)
- doesn't seem to realize that they acknowledged that they weren't putting their soul on the line. (She wrote: "An offer of $20 simply isn’t going to make someone put his eternal soul on the line if that is what they believe is at stake."...when it was made clear in the video that this wasn't REMOTELY the case. Did she watch the video?)
- doesn't seem to realize that those people got the money and got to keep their "god" at the end of all of this
- doesn't seem to think that Mike would say that he believed in god for $20 - I would if it was obvious that I was just uttering words to get cash, rather than stating my honest beliefs. I suspect Mike would, as well. If I was homeless, I most definitely would.
- takes an irrelevant and silly shot at Mike's sweater
- completely misrepresents the video as if it were intended to be a "funny" video.
- pulls the passive-aggressive 'probably can't see the irony of thinking he's right' bullshit while explaining why Mike is wrong and she's right...
As I said, I'm still torn on the video and I'd like to see more discussion about it, but I'd rather discuss it with people who have actually seen the video and with people who are open to fairly and intelligently representing it. People who refuse to watch it, or watch part of it only to rely on other people's commentary for their unskeptical dismissal aren't helping the discussion. People who misrepresent the video definitely aren't helping the discussion.
The knee-jerk, "don't be a dick" crowd annoy me - mostly because they're hypocritically and blindly being dicks about not being dicks. (And almost exclusively on the subject of theism/atheism...)
Make no mistake - Mike is being a dick and he acknowledges it. Masala isn't.
I do like Masala's suggestion for alternate ways to handle this situation, but she doesn't seem to realize that Mike isn't advocating his method as the new de facto standard, it's a single incident constructed to highlight an issue. How can it not be an important issue?
So, what's your take on the video?