The Blasphemy Challenge

Inspired by a post on Debunking Christianity, I’d like to chime in on the “Blasphemy Challenge” conceived of by an atheist group called the Rational Response Squad. This challenge encourages people to film themselves denying the existence of the Holy Spirit, the one unforgivable sin according to certain interpretations of the Bible, and post it to the internet.

The intent is to gain coverage for the atheist movement through tactics that cause shock and stir up controversy, one of the few reliable ways to attract attention from the media, which is obsessed with spectacle and sensationalism. I can get behind this. I agree completely that atheists simply speaking out in defense of our principles, no matter how eloquently or forcefully, is not likely to attract much notice. We need something more to grab people’s attention. And the Blasphemy Challenge is fairly harmless, as stunts go: it’s a fair portrayal of atheist ideas without unnecessarily impugning the intelligence or sincerity of religious believers. If it draws attention to our cause, that’s all to the good.

However, I’m concerned that the Blasphemy Challenge can make it seem that we are buying in to the mythology of Christianity. It makes sense that atheists who live in areas of the world where Christianity is the dominant religion would spend most of their time criticizing the beliefs and actions of Christians, just as atheists who live in other areas of the world would probably spend more time criticizing other religions that dominate there. On the other hand, atheists everywhere on Earth should make it clear that our objection is to all supernatural beliefs and ideologies, not just to whichever superstition is most popular in our country of origin. We disbelieve in them all alike, not in one more so than others.

If we American atheists define ourselves purely in opposition to Christianity, we give the appearance of being a purely reactionary movement obsessed with criticizing one particular religious belief set. That is not what we are; we offer a bona fide alternative to all forms of religious belief, a positive and desirable alternative path that people should be proud to follow. Getting media attention through stunts like this is well and good, but we should be taking pains to make that clear.

In this respect, we can take a valuable lesson from fringe groups such as Satanists, who say they reject supernatural belief and then inexplicably cloak themselves in the etymology and symbolism of Christian supernaturalism. If you are an atheist, then say you are an atheist. Don’t muddy the waters by defining yourself through superstition-derived labels that are only going to confuse people and give them a false impression of who you are and what you stand for.

For this reason, I think challenge-takers like the man named Joel cited on this page have the right idea. He does exactly the right thing: he states his disbelief not just in the Christian god, but in all supernatural entities conceived by humans, and makes it clear that he disbelieves in one for the same reason he disbelieves in all the others. That is the kind of message atheists should be sending, and it has all the good points of the standard Blasphemy Challenge without giving self-important Christians the idea that this is all about them.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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