The Scarlet A

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Here’s another idea to herd-the-atheist-cattle that won’t work. Even if it did work, it wouldn’t accomplish the intended goal.

There’s an OUT Campaign being run by the Richard Dawkins Foundation. They want people to wear the a t-shirt, among other things. It’ll help promote atheists coming out, reaching out, speaking out, etc.

It’s a cute shirt. No harm in getting one and wearing it proudly.

But it’s not going to change anything.

The shirt doesn’t even say “atheist.” Which I think defeats the purpose of everything Dawkins’ people are trying to do.

If you’re going to wear a shirt to declare your atheism, be smart about it. Be funny. Be in-your-face if you want to.

We’ve all seen clever atheist shirts. Over the weekend, I saw one on a friend that read “Proud member of America‘s Most Distrusted Minority.” I like that. It gets people thinking. and it’s specifically talking about atheists.

If you’re not going to wear a shirt that screams atheism, I’m not sure that wearing a weak symbol is any better.

No outsider will know you’re an atheist when you wear the shirt. I’m not even sure that most people would catch The Scarlet Letter reference.

And why are people gung-ho about putting the symbol in the sidebar of their blogs? If you don’t know that PZ Myers is an atheist the second you see his site, the sidebar A is not going to help.

Buy the shirts if you want to. Proceeds go to a good cause (The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science). But don’t get the impression that this is the way to come out as an atheist.

Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s vitally important that atheists be open about their beliefs. We shouldn’t do it in a half-assed, secretive way, though. Go all out and be proud of it.


[tags]atheist, atheism, The Scarlet Letter, Richard Dawkins, Pharyngula, PZ Myers, OUT Campaign, The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science[/tags]

  • Maria

    cute how you made all the A’s red. I like the tshirts

  • Richard Wade

    You don’t think that the reference to Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” is a good idea? You may be right that many haven’t read it, but still it’s a story of courageous endurance in the face of slander, bigotry and treachery, and the idea may catch on. Not that I’m going to wear anything that identifies me. Are you nuts? I get enough slander, bigotry and treachery as it is without attracting the lethal attention of Clem and Bubba, the Defenders of the Faith.

  • Darryl

    I don’t think I’ll advertise my atheism until I start packing a side arm–I think I’ve seen Clem and Bubba around town.

  • Jim

    Around here everybody would just think you were a (Alabama) Crimson Tide fan if you wore that shirt. Coming out as an Atheist to everybody at random here can be hazardous to your health. We have lots of Clem’s and Bubba’s.
    I prefer to come out to people I know I can trust, I don’t want to deal with the lunatic fringe.

  • http://www.myspace.com/leecookebarbo Lee

    I think the scarlet letter idea would have more impact if the t-shirt had the Red ‘A’ followed by ‘theist’ in black, and I would want it on a white tee-shirt. I would buy that t-shirt, and wear it proudly.
    I do agree with Richard and Darryl that Clem and Bubba (and let’s not forget Zeke and Bobbie Sue) would take such a t-shirt as an invitation to confront the wearer, but I still would buy and wear it.

    I have an Evolve Fish on my vehicle that is eating a Chrispie fish with the caption enclosed in the body, “Reality Bites”. Beside the fish is a dent in the back door of my vehicle where, apparently, someone was expressing their distaste for my Evolutionists views… as though destruction of property makes the Creationists’ point of view so much more valid…

    Anyway, gimme an ‘A’, but also gimme a ‘theist’!

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I think the scarlet A shirts are quite funny.

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  • http://Skepticsanctuary.com Tom

    Hemant, you are right, but for a symbol to catch on and get a strong association of atheism, you have to start somewhere. However, they should have started with having the “A” followed by -theist, until it gets popular and widely known. First then you can use just the “A”.

  • http://www.templewhore.blogspot.com Slut

    I liked the idea but I had the same reaction regarding its secrecy. When I realized it doesn’t say “ATHEIST” I was disappointed to say the least. It seems to me to be nothing more than an advertisement for Richard Dawkins’ site, and I don’t care to be a billboard, thanks very much.

    More charitably, maybe whoever dreamed this up thought it would be cute and people would ask you “what does that mean?” so you could then explain all about how you’re an atheist, and start a dialogue. Or some such thing.

    Either way, I still won’t wear one.

  • Siamang

    My friend gave me a shirt that looks like an “Oakland Athletics” shirt. Instead of “Athletics” it says “Atheists”.

    I’ve taken to wearing it sometimes as an “out” thing. I’ve had some positive comments and no negative ones.

    I like that it’s humorous, as a parody of a baseball logo, and that it puts me on a “team” rather than making a statement about other people.

    It’s playful in tone, rather than confrontational. Plus, it’s an attractive shade of green!

  • Polly

    A big red letter “A.”?
    So, atheist means “adulterer” now? Isn’t that what the “A” stood for? It’s been a long time since I read tSL.

    Sadly, I’m still in the passive-agressive phase. I really do prefer a vague, snarky message that only other atheists will get. I have no desire to advertise my atheism to those that I DO know.

    I thought of writing something atheistic in Greek to pass as a counter to “Ikthus”, but even a “Zeus loves you” in Greek would be immediately legible to my M.Div. friends. And Hebrew would just give the wrong impression altogether. :)
    (If I were a Xian, I’d be rolling my eyes at this post and especially at my own comment)

  • Siamang

    Actually, Hawthorne never specifically says what the A stands for.

    It’s to be assumed it’s for adultery, since Hester does have a child that is clear isn’t her husband’s. But to be pedantic, Hawthorne never says it.

  • Polly

    That makes sense. I do recall not knowing for sure, but I always equated the A with adultery automatically.

    This whole coming-out thing just brought to mind an incident that my wife told me about yesterday about the pre-school. While a woman was picking up her kid, she was greeted by a child (someone else’s) who asked her something about god. The lady quickly, but kindly, told the child to go talk to its own parents about it. She then turned to my wife and whispered, “I’m an atheist, but I’m nice, I don’t bite.”

  • Kate

    Does anybody know of a good website where one can buy the “Most distrusted minority” shirt? I need one of those!

  • http://friendlyatheist.com FriendlyAtheist

    Does anybody know of a good website where one can buy the “Most distrusted minority” shirt? I need one of those!

    Right here!

  • Daniel

    I like the idea of some universal symbol. Maybe the ‘A’ is it, I dunno. I’d like to see it as a pin, maybe a wristband or something along those lines. Adopt the same awareness routines that the AIDS and cancer foundations have used.

  • John

    I hope the OUT campaign is only starting with this shirt (I don’t like the design too much). This could be a useful campaign if it provides timid/new atheists with resources and even organizes events such as a Global Out Day (ironic acronym intended… GOD was created by people). I don’t see shirts and symbols being particularly useful without an active campaign behind them.

  • http://crazyrainbowunderwear.blogspot.com yinyang

    Doesn’t atheism already have an unofficial, unrecognizable (to those who don’t know about it) symbol with the Invisible Pink Unicorn?

  • Aj

    Anarchists seem to manage pretty nicely with an “A” symbol. Who would have guessed Atheist symbolism would contain moderately obscure references to great literature?

    The idea of the campaign isn’t to use a universal symbol, it’s asking Atheists to come OUT. The t-shirts are just one idea, no one is saying other t-shirts can’t be used for the purpose. Not just t-shirts either, boxer shorts, posters, parties, and hats would do just as good.

    The Invisible Pink Unicorn symbol looks like Klingon.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Richard Wade:

    You don’t think that the reference to Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” is a good idea? You may be right that many haven’t read it, but still it’s a story of courageous endurance in the face of slander, bigotry and treachery, and the idea may catch on. Not that I’m going to wear anything that identifies me. Are you nuts? I get enough slander, bigotry and treachery as it is without attracting the lethal attention of Clem and Bubba, the Defenders of the Faith.

    There’s a bit of a Catch-22. The places where wearing that shirt would be an act of courage are also places where wearing that shirt would be a risk to one’s health at the hands of the likes of Clem and Bubba, and the places where wearing that shirt is safe are places where the motif of courageous endurance would be overblown and look self-important.

    A T-shirt campaign with a sense of humor would work better, IMHO, and that way, those who are in the relatively safe places can raise the profile of atheists on behalf of those who aren’t, and do it without looking like so silly.

  • Polly

    Re America’s most mistrusted minority

    Where would a middle eastern atheist fit into that? Would he (HE because males are relatively less trusted) be more trusted because he’s not a Muslim, or less trusted because he’s an atheist AND middle eastern?

  • Jen

    Whoa, flashback to high school English class.

    You don’t think that the reference to Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” is a good idea? You may be right that many haven’t read it, but still it’s a story of courageous endurance in the face of slander, bigotry and treachery, and the idea may catch on.

    I like the idea because the A in the book eventually came to stand for Hester’s good works, once everyone forgot where her daughter came from. It started as a reason to hate her, and became associated with her goodness. Perfect for atheists!

  • http://davidernst.net/blog David

    I don’t like the A because it’s so negative. That sounds funny, but I’m serious… “A” is the part of “atheist” that means “not”… When I ponder my beliefs about the nature of the universe, I am not just denying things. I have positive beliefs, all of which (to the best of my ability) are grounded in experience and science, and some of which are almost certainly wrong, and but they still are beliefs, and not just negations of other people’s beliefs. I actually prefer the term “materialist” to describe myself, but I’ve experienced that this term is not useful outside of philosophy departments (most people think of that famous “Material Girl” Madonna when they hear it). I wish there were a better word to celebrate, but in the meantime, I definitely can’t get behind wearing a prefix that means “not-”. Although I like a lot of atonal music as well… hmmm…

  • Polly

    I actually prefer the term “materialist” to describe myself, but I’ve experienced that this term is not useful outside of philosophy departments (most people think of that famous “Material Girl” Madonna when they hear it).

    Ditto. Buddhists can be atheists, I don’t believe in anything supernatural. Alternately, I’m afraid they’ll think I’m announcing my unremitting greed, i.e. “materialistic”

    I need a good V to I coda in my music or I can’t sleep at night.

  • http://www.atheistperspective.com/ Michael

    Christ I hate that design. It looks like it was designed by a 60 year old blind chemistry teacher. Maybe that’s the target audience because I don’t see many others wearing it. If you want to get people wearing something then at least make it a little more ‘cool’.

  • http://popcorngallery.blogspot.com Max

    The problem with the shirts is that they are not clever, unique, interesting, or trendy. As the kids say, they’re pretty lame. But I am a firm believer that any increased visibility for atheists is positive. I would love to see more fun, clever and humorous shirts as well as many other people who have commented but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone designs some.

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  • http://effingtheineffable.wordpress.com Peter Wardley-Repen

    For me (who spent my formative years in punk-dominated London), the A says Anarchist. I’d like to propose an alternative.

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  • http://blackskeptic.wordpress.com black skeptic

    i went to the affable atheist’s cafepress page and saw a few items that i really like. at the very least i’ll a button that says “atheist” (it has the word written in lots of different fonts/colors) or “proud member of america’s least trusted minority.” hey, i’m a woman, i’m black and an atheist so i’m definitely in America’s least trusted minority.

  • Jonathan

    ummm.. Hemant, you missed the chance to make red the ‘a’ in the word ‘that’ in the very first sentence. This apparent lack of attention to detail makes me question how committed you are to the causes you claim are so dear to your heart. You’re a world renouned blogger. You need to be more careful.

    I hope this blunder doesn’t set the freethinking/athiest community back in our quest for world domination!!! muuhahahahahaha.

    –EAC4ever–

  • http://friendlyatheist.com FriendlyAtheist

    ummm.. Hemant, you missed the chance to make red the ‘a’ in the word ‘that’ in the very first sentence. This apparent lack of attention to detail makes me question how committed you are to the causes you claim are so dear to your heart. You’re a world renouned blogger. You need to be more careful.

    I hope this blunder doesn’t set the freethinking/athiest community back in our quest for world domination!!! muuhahahahahaha.

    –EAC4ever–

    Umm… *Hemant quickly edits post*…

    I don’t know what you’re talking about. The post is an epitome of perfection.

  • Richard Wade

    black skeptic,
    Take heart, as a female black atheist you’re not quite the absolutely least trusted minority in America. (unless you want to be, then disregard this) To be the absolutely least, least, least trusted minority in America, you would have to be a female, black atheist who for some reason wears a hijab, with an arabic surname, is gay, has a speech impediment, lots of warts, one eye that goes sideways, unwanted facial hair, really ugly, short and left-handed, who is a lawyer or a used car salesperson. Then you’d be the very very least trusted minority in America, unless I left something out.

    Nice blog, by the way.

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  • http://unorthodoxatheism.blogspot.com Reed Braden

    Again, Hemant, I’m sorry… but I have to disagree.

    I’ve only worn my OUT shirt thrice and I’ve had seven people ask about it. Discounting the two Christians I explained on my blog, the shirt led to five conversations about Atheism that wouldn’t have happened if it was (say) my “Sausagefest” tee shirt.

    I expounded my case on my blog.

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  • tomchaps

    Anyone know where I could get one of those Oakland Atheists t-shirts? I saw one this summer and have been looking for one ever since.

    Anyone?

  • N Schumacher

    Can’t help you on the Oakland Atheists shirts, but I know where you can get a Mohammed Teddy Bear. They have a huge selection of atheist t-shirts too.

  • http://effingtheineffable.wordpress.com Peter Magellan

    For anyone who’s looking for an atheist T-shirt (or Tea-shirt, even), here’s a cool one. Be prepared to explain about the teapot, though… :-)

    http://www.onegodfurther.co.uk/teashirt.html

  • Mozza314

    All symbols have to start out somewhere. Maybe the scarlet A will be a hit, maybe it will become well-known in the general population. I think the A is worthwhile.

  • mike

    This would be my first step into pro-active athiesm and I think the symbol is a great idea. However I prefer the idea of a pin as I would want to wear it to work. Why? Well. There are a lot of laws to protect people from religious prejudice at work and I would want test if I were entitled to the same defence as a non believer

  • Rob84

    I would like to ask the blogger Siamang if he knows where his friend got the “Atheists” oakland athletics shirt. I saw a picture of one but can’t seem to find it anywhere on the internet.

    I live in the philadelphia area and like the phillies, but I wear an athletics hat because of the a for atheist.

  • Des

    I just found the (Oakland) Atheists t-shirts at Revolution Books in Berkeley. http://www.revolutionbooks.org/ Look in “Buy Books” and scroll all the way down. I wasn’t prompted for a size so I sent an email also.

  • David R. Zach

    The beauty of the Scarlet “A” is when you advertise with it. Only people “in the know” recognize it. It’s a subtle way of expressing your non belief and showing others in the crowd that are aware of this symbol, that they’re not alone.


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