Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Getting on the Bus...

I’ve made a surprising change of, um, direction, I guess, lately. I’ve actually come to agree with the intents of the so-called “New Atheists.” This is something I was hesitant to do when I cast off my own belief because I didn’t want to be one of those people who went from hawking one viewpoint to hawking another with no self-reflection. In short, I didn’t want to be the bizarro Chuck Colson. I also didn’t want to come off like one of those high school atheists who just stopped going to church and quoting Nietzsche in an attempt to be “edgy” and “cool.” Of course the fact that I waited until I was in my mid-twenties meant it was a little late for that, anyway. I also wasn’t particularly interested in proselytizing for atheism. I never cared much for doing it when it was a religious commandment, so when I didn’t have an angry god breathing down my neck I really just wanted to live my own life. And, hey, it’s worked out pretty well for me. For the record, I’m still not particularly interested in proselytizing. It’s not my job to tell people what to do or think. It’s not going to help much, either. Either way, the Atheist Bus Campaign has made it to Chicago. I apparently didn’t notice. However, I do know that bus ads are extremely effective, since I kept seeing Jimmy John’s ads when I was on the Mag Mile on Saturday and I ate lunch at Jimmy John’s. Of course there was a better than even chance I would have done that, anyway. I like JJ’s and was thinking, "Maybe I should get me a sammich," long before I saw a bus ad… I like the Atheist Bus Campaign, too. I think it would have been better if they’d gone with the “You Can Be Good Without God” slogan from South Bend than the “In the Beginning Man Created God” slogan in Chicago. But, hey, you’ve got to take what you can get, right? Part of the problem is that there have been many missteps in atheist attempts at publicity. Remember the sign at the Olympia, WA Christmas display last year that said “At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds[?]” It was a stupid sign. I mean, yes, it said things that are true, but it served no purpose other than to make an inflammatory statement that I’ve ever been able to tell. Although I also think that setting up a display next to the Nativity Set that said, “The Real First Christmas,” and had nothing behind it would have been full of win. I guess I’ve got more of a theatrical mindset. Or at least I like the sort of thing that requires a moment to compute… Either way, I like the Atheist Bus Campaign. I think it’s fun and not particularly inflammatory. I also think it’s utterly fascinating to watch the fight over the campaign. South Bend stalled the ads because apparently Obama would have showed up for the Notre Dame commencement, seen the ads on a bus and, um, turned in to a puddle of ooze or something. I’m not sure what the argument was supposed to be. But I can say that about most arguments Christians attempt to make in the public sphere when they realize they can’t say, “Hey, we’re a bunch of entitled jackasses who are afraid of what would happen if opinions other than ours are heard.” I don’t think there was any controversy in Chicago (wait, what’s that? Obama wouldn’t have been able to handle atheist ads in South Bend but it’d be okay in Chicago? Bawh?). Chicago buses have also run ads for religious organizations at many times in the past. So I’m assuming the powers-that-be in CTA thought, “Hey, we’re going to get some money. Sweet.” Part of the reason I’m a fan of the Atheist Bus Campaign is that it’s a good litmus test for hypocrisy. It’s also why I’m starting to like the sheer pointlessness of “Web 2.0.” You can find the hypocrisy right at your fingertips. In a Trib article on the subject there are the typical comments, including the apparently required use of Psalm 14:1 and the whole thing about the fool saying in his heart that there is no god. That one never gets old. I think maybe if I hear it another ten thousand times or so I’ll suddenly realize, “Hey, I’ve been a fool this whole time…” Anyway, we get this one from NFM: “Can someone explain to me why 10% of the human race that do not believe in God have the loudest voice?” A.) It’s closer to 1/6 of the human race. And it’s, like 20% of the country I’m assuming you live in. B.) The fact that atheist advertisements get this kind of attention while religious ones don’t pretty much destroys your premise. Then we get Albigensian who says, “An atheist organization is prosylitizing (sic)? I guess that just goes to show that militant atheists can be every bit as dogmatic as the most dogmatic religious believers. If anyone manages to parse that one, please tell me what the hell it means. I fail to see how the statement that man created god can be considered proselytizing, militant, or dogmatic. That’s just a logic fail on all levels. We get the standard statement of lack of positivism from hilsto: “If they wanted to do something positive they could have raised that money and given it to a charity of their choice instead of wasting it on a cheeky statement. They just want attention.” Yes. Yes they do “just want attention.” That’s why one places an ad in a public place. And the moment I hear that the last of those dumb billboards that are black with white lettering and say clever things like, “You should come over to my place before the game on Sunday. –God,” have disappeared because the churches have decided that money would be better spent on helping the poor, I’ll agree with you. Then of course there are the people who promise damnation and the ones who call it “hate speech” and “an attack ad.” Just go read the comments your own damn self. Either way, in this country we’re constantly surrounded by religious sentiment and symbolism. We’re constantly in danger of losing control of the great Enlightenment experiment that is a government by, of, and for the people where equality marches ever onwards to those who think that we’re best ruled by their insular, limited version of a deity. This brings me back around to the “New Atheists.” I’ve come to like them. Pharyngula gets as much time on my browser as Slacktivist these days, possibly more, since PZ updates way more than Fred and I don’t spend as much time in the comments at Slacktivist as I used to. I find Dawkins witty and urbane and Christopher Hitchens amusing and, on some level, comforting. It was strange to approach them on my own after hearing from the religious how they’re shrill and evil and think, “You know, these guys don’t seem anything like I was told they are.” That’s part of the problem, too. The vocal religious community finds it necessary to demonize anyone who disagrees with them. Any time a group attempts to upset the status quo those in power demonize the public faces of that movement. That’s why the vanguard of a movement needs to be thick skinned and, to a certain degree, inflexible. Some day we won’t need an Atheist Bus Campaign. Some day the PZ Myerses of the world will be able to quietly teach biology in an out-of-the-way corner of Minnesota without having to worry about the possibility of dealing with students who were not properly served in high school by textbooks that were approved by YECs. Some day the Dawkinses of the world won’t have to give their books provocative titles like The God Delusion. Unlike the hyperventilating religious types who overreact to the simplest sign, I believe that when that day comes it will be an indication that we’re all enjoying a high level of freedom. I don’t necessarily believe that the irreligious (or even non-Christians) are better and more moral people than the religious or more capable of governing. I simply believe that when the day comes that the “New Atheists” are no longer needed it will be because we no longer have the threat of theocracy hanging, Sword of Damocles-esque, over our heads. But until that day comes, we need to keep up the fight. I find I’m much more comfortable with PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens holding the line than I ever was when I was a Christian and had to contend with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell…

4 comments:

PersonalFailure said...

I actually heard someone say that Darwin fishes (you know, on the backs of cars) were hate speech.

About 5 minutes later they were decrying the "new" hate crimes bill because it would turn sermons into hate speech.

I feel like carrying business cars with the word "fail" on them, and nothing else, and handing them out to every idiot I run into.

I'd need a lot of cards.

Anonymous said...

C'mon. We all know nobody persecutes better than a minority. They've got every right to be afeared of a group they outnumber like 2.5 to 1.

Andrew said...

Okay, speaking as a constantly conflicted spiritual-but-not-religious yada-yada person, I'll say that I do find a lot of the new atheist stuff to be proselytizing to an extent, an attempt to convince people that they are wrong. Worse, though, is the arrogant way in which many of them do it, a mocking sort of thing. In that sense, I do think of them as equivalent to religious evangelical types who use similar tools to try to sway people.

At the same time, I'm okay with it as a balance. I'm sick of hearing the same ole pushy religious stuff; might as well have some variety.

Geds said...

Andrew: Yeah, they can totally go over the line at times.

I actually think that's why I prefer the Bus Campaign to the Olympia Christmas sign. I think it's also why I prefer "You can be good without god" to "In the beginning man created god." I think there's a very fine line between making your voice heard and trying to make others believe the things you say.

It can be really easy to cross that line. But in general crossing that line because you're calling for intellectual freedom is more forgivable in my eyes than crossing it to take freedom away.