Atheist Proselytizing: It Leads to Boobies

Reader Doug tried a little experiment (a la Omar Call) where he stood on a street corner in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and “preached” atheism.

Maybe preached isn’t the right word. He stood with a sign (which read “Atheism: All of the Mardi Gras, None of the Lent”) — on the other side of the street from the Christian preachers — and spoke with people about atheism rather than yelling at them about the horrors that would befall them if they remained religious.

mardi-gras-2009-044

I’m sure the fundamentalists were thrilled.

So how do you think this little experiment went down?

Doug says in an email that the response was better than you might expect:

… The overwhelming response was extremely positive. Many people told me that they were glad I was there to counteract and generally piss off the Christian fundamentalists. This message was true even for people that said they were devout Christians. I was also confronted by many fellow atheists with the general response of “I thought I was the only one!”

I would say about 80% of people that talked to me loved my sign and thought it was very funny. I had my picture taken many times with people, got given many beads, a guy bought me a beer, and one woman even flashed me her boobs! The remaining 20% of people didn’t understand the sign, and I would guess that half of them didn’t even know what atheism was. (I was also wearing a shirt that said ‘Atheist’ across the chest.)

I’m not in favor of pissing off the fundamentalists despite their rhetoric and beliefs, but I’ll admit feeling a bit satisfied that they’ve had a taste of their own medicine.

It wasn’t all fun and games. There were several serious discussions had — with people who rarely think about religion. If that was the norm rather than the exception, I’d be advocating this type of stunt a lot more.

Is this something I see myself doing? No. I don’t think it’s worth the time and I don’t know many people who would enjoy being stopped on the street to discuss religion — even with someone they agree with. But I don’t mind someone trying it out just to see what could happen.

Would you have spoken to someone like Doug if you ran into him on the street?

What advice would you give him if he tried this again?

What could he do to have the most positive interactions possible with Christians?

  • David D.G.

    I don’t see that he “stopped” people at all, which is the intrusive tactic of most proselytizers; what he did was to attract people by using a clever and entertaining marketing ploy.

    So, yes, I’d happily stop and chat with someone like that, or at least congratulate him on a very smart and positive approach. Heck, I might very well do that even with a Christian doing something similar, if it were done well and entertainingly like this. I don’t think I have any advice to offer otherwise.

    ~David D.G.

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    This guy rocks. What a cool thing to do.

    And he still got beads, beer and boobies.

  • postsimian

    Bahhh, he was just cruising for free drinks. ¬_¬

    Just kidding. Power to him, I say. It’s nice to see some atheist representation no matter where it is. (Unless it’s prison or terrorists. We tend to have low representation there, fortunately).

  • http://www.babyfight.com garth

    I too was going to object to the characterization of people being stopped. Passively advertising is a more apt phrase. The communication was entirely “opt-in”.

  • http://www.thewarriorpoets.wordpress.com Christopher

    Funny, funny stuff. I’m a fan of anything that makes people think.

    Most Christians I know would find the humor in Doug’s demonstration. And then there are those that would be offended no matter what. But those type probably wouldn’t be hanging around New Orleans at Mardi Gras anyway.

    Those street preachers? They actually believe they are doing something good. They just happen to be oblivious.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com ollie

    Ok, I’ll take a dissenting view.

    To me, all Mardi-Gras and no Lent is not a good thing; here is why I say that:

    1. When I am working on a math paper, the Lent part is doing the hard work to get it in publishable form. The Mardi-Gras comes when it is accepted. :)

    2. In sports, the Lent is the training. The Mardi-Gras comes when I celebrate a personal victory (even if the real winner came in many minutes (hours?) ahead of me.

    To me, atheism is nothing more than a rejection of superstition.

  • http://www.cognitivedissident.org cognitive dissident

    What an AWESOME idea!

    Not only would I say hi to him, I would have bought him another beer!

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  • Almond

    Ollie,

    I see your point that, just like anyone else, atheists have to work hard to achieve their goals. However, I think his sign does address the rejection of superstition.

    In my mind, lent is about giving up something you enjoy in order to please (or focus your attention on) a higher being. If, as an atheist, you reject the concept of the higher being as superstition, there’s no point in giving something up for lent.

  • http://blackskeptic.wordpress.com blackskeptic

    I like it. I guess. I’m glad he got mostly positive reviews. Okay, I’m mostly ambivalent.

    I don’t like that the sign implies that atheists are hedonists that aren’t willing to sacrifice material things for more important things from time to time. But then again, I feel like a party pooper that’s looking into that sign way too much.

    Overall, I applaud his effort.

  • schism

    My life doesn’t resemble Mardi Gras at all. Perhaps my atheism is defective.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    For atheist proselytization, it’s hard to beat Jonathan Safran going dorr to door in Salt Lake city.

    My only quibble with the “Lent” sign would be that it reinforces the stereotype that atheism = amorality.

  • http://foreverinhell.blogspot.com Personal Failure

    I like it! He wasn’t bothering anyone, he was just passively inviting people to think about something- a far more pleasant tactic than the fundamentalists’.

    I would have spoken to him and bought him a beer.

    I understand the fear that perhaps the wording encourages the stereotype of atheist=amoral, but that might be looking too much into it. He was at Mardi Gras, after all.

  • Lauren

    I would have flashed him my boobies, too. Okay, maybe not, but I would have stopped and chatted with him and thanked him for spreading the “bad word.”

  • Wendy

    I love him. And the fact he wasn’t yelling at people, just fostering thought…even better.

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/ C. L. Hanson

    Only one? Jeez, I’d expect an atheist proselytizer to do better than that at Mardi-Gras. I’m with Lauren ;)

  • J Michael Malec

    I think some of the commentors are not familiar with the wackos that descend on New Orleans every Mardi Gras season with their full-size crosses, banners about going to hell, and, worst of all their sound systems. They are mostly about hate, and telling people they are sinners and will burn in hell for having a good time.

    In this context, Doug’s message is a very good one.

  • «bønez_brigade»

    “…they’ve had a taste of their own medicine.”
    Well, not exactly, since Doug doesn’t appear to have been insanely yelling at people. I’d say his experiment was a great idea, for sure!
    .

    “Would you have spoken to someone like Doug if you ran into him on the street?”
    Yes, and I would’ve joined the many others here in buying him alcohol.
    .

    “What advice would you give him if he tried this again?”
    Wear a flak jacket, just in case the extreme fundies are out.
    .

    “What could he do to have the most positive interactions possible with Christians?”
    Exactly what he did this time.

    ——————–

    Also,
    @ Reginald,
    Safran’s antics are hilarious, as are those by the Aussies in The Chaser.

  • Jim

    I could see myself doing this, if for no other reason than the possibility of seeing some boobies.

  • Dallas

    I’m with Lauren and C.L. I’d buy him a beer, too!

  • Pingback: Atheist Mardi Gras Picture « A Blogspotting Anglican Episcopalian

  • http://humanism.meetup.com/164/ Steve Schlicht

    That…sign…is…great!

    My view is that Mardi Gras has come to be known as a celebration of freedom, art, music and wonderful human expression and joy.

    It isn’t symbolic of or synonymous with unbridled hedonism or specific to isolating our humanity into one camp of avarice and gluttony with no regard for ourselves or others.

    Therefore, the sign is a positive expression that doesn’t attack religious adherents as in the “God is Fake” or “God is Santa for Adults” signs I reject.

    This one promotes beauty and openness with the understanding that submitting to repression and avoidance of joy isn’t necessary to discover real happiness and meaning.

    Doug, I live in Biloxi. Please email me so that I can find out where I can get a sign for my friends and family for next year’s festivities.

    HumanistFamilies at hotmail.com

    Thanks, good work!

    Steve

  • http://humanism.meetup.com/164/ Steve Schlicht

    By the way, I agree with J Michael Malec.

    Want photos?

    Check these out:

    http://humanism.meetup.com/164/photos/550730/#7470634

  • Siamang

    Wow! That’s my slogan!!!

    Thanks for making it a sign. I’m glad you got so much positive attention.

    I like the slogan (and not just because I came up with it) because it speaks of joy and celebration that doesn’t have to be bought by the false idea of sin.

    It doesn’t say “all of the beer, none of the work.” It says “all of the enjoyment of life, none of the damnation, sacrifice or controlling guilt heaped upon you for merely enjoying the finer things in life.”

    Among which are beer and the human body, not necessarily in that order.

    I also like that it’s RELEVANT to Mardi Gras. It’s saying “you can enjoy this ritual which is religious in origin without being religious.”

    It says something of the good times, and how we let them roll!

  • anon

    its ok i guess. if i saw that on the street i would probably smile and walk past, but i agree with other comments that it kinda advocates hedonism, or that with atheism its a 24 hour party with no guilt or regret/penance/punishment for bad things you do. its like “thats your selling point? with atheism you don’t have to say you’re sorry to god for having fun at mardi gras?”

    is it really so life changing to become an athiest? i suppose it might be, i was never raised with religious superstition.

    i mean, i’m glad people can trim the bullshit out of their world view, but i don’t enjoy people that wear their atheism on a shirt like its a badge, uniform, fashion, scene, whatever. i guess the “atheist activist” kind of thing also strikes me as being just as ineffective as online petitions, college kid protests, praying, having a million bumper stickers on your car, blah at changing people’s minds. maybe that’s not the point.

    this is of course over analyzing it, just some guy having fun, making a funny point, which is why i would smile as i walked by

  • http://humanism.meetup.com/164/ Steve Schlicht

    Classic anonymous post complete with the non-existent word “athiest”…Mom…is that you?

    ;0)

    For the record, atheist activism and the proactive vocal refutation of common mischaracterizations about atheists have really been productive here in the deep south.

    Here is some of my own subjective view on the matter:

    http://www.msatheists.org/2009/02/interview-with-american-atheist.html

    Take care and do keep smiling as you walk by!

    Steve

  • Zoo

    @J Michael Malec
    Oddly enough I am familiar (but then I didn’t comment yet :P), we had one of those at the university I attended on a very regular basis yelling at all the kids about what he assumed we were all doing wrong. The only people I ever saw talk to him were essentially making fun of him. He probably still shows up there several times a week. He would be far less offensive (though also far less memorable) if he would have been like the guy in the post. It’s too bad people like that don’t understand those sorts of tactics.

  • RA

    As a native New Orleanian who was masked on Bourbon Street earlier in the day, I would assume this is a really awesome satirical costume mocking the so called street preachers that show up and say we’re all going to hell because we’re having fun (including you, my devoutly catholic 87 year old grandmother who also loves parades). I wouldn’t assume that he is proselytizing for atheism. Most people (even the devote) really, really despise the street preachers because they are jerks to everyone.

    For those that aren’t from here, a big part of Mardi Gras is mocking the powers that be, especially the church and the government. See Krewe de Vieux and Krewe de Etat for examples.

  • The Not-So-Fundamentalist

    J Michael Malec said:

    I think some of the commentors are not familiar with the wackos that descend on New Orleans every Mardi Gras season with their full-size crosses, banners about going to hell, and, worst of all their sound systems. They are mostly about hate, and telling people they are sinners and will burn in hell for having a good time.

    Just so we’re all perfectly clear, not all Christians act like this. As for those who do, I hope that one day they will come to realize that such tactics don’t have the desired effect on most people. Granted, there may not be a way to adapt Doug’s technique to the fundamentalist’s mission, but almost anything would be better than street-corner preaching to no one in particular. I mean, how many people would feel comfortable about approaching someone who is yelling to everyone present, “Hey, you’re going to burn forever in hell unless you turn to Jesus Christ right now”? *go ahead, take a pamphlet* Honestly, this method is more effective at causing further damage to the already dismal Christian image; we’re still being blamed, shamed and flamed for the Crusades, even though anyone who had any part in them died centuries ago.

    Generally speaking, I don’t have any issues either with atheists or with fundamentalists, save that I don’t entirely agree with the beliefs of either party. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t raise a stink (uh-oh, the dialect is leaking in) about them, or anyone else, trying to force their beliefs on others. I just wish we could all be a little more tolerant of one another. On that note, it seems to me that not everyone understands what the fundamentalists are about when they start preaching to passers-by (myself included, being a United Methodist, which, as far as I tell, is different). For anyone who would like to better their understanding of Christian fundamentalism (hopefully in the spirit of promoting religious tolerance), here are some sites that you may find useful:

    http://www.catholic.com/library/Fundamentalism.asp *the fourth-to-last paragraph kinda explains the seemingly overzealous preaching*

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/reac_ter9.htm

    Remember, always try to keep an open mind toward the differences between you and your neighbor. There’s already so much hatred in this world, so let’s try not to add to it.

    Sincerely,
    Eric, AKA The Not-So-Fundamentalist

    *now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my street corner :]*

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    Would you have spoken to someone like Doug if you ran into him on the street?

    Sure. If he’s not actually harrassing people, I’d definitely show him some support.

    What advice would you give him if he tried this again?

    Watch your back, man. Some of those religious guys will cut you as soon as look at you. (God is love, and all that.)

    What could he do to have the most positive interactions possible with Christians?

    If all you’re after is positive interactions? Shut the hell up.

    Why do interactions have to be positive?

  • Siamang

    Thanks for stopping by, Eric.

    We’ve got a few understanding-oriented theists posting here. It always helps to have others stopping in time and again.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    This is great, fly the banner but let the people come to you. Being opposite the idiot street preachers annoying everyone just makes him seem so much more likeable and relaxed.

    I’d buy him a pint and wish him well. I might also show him my (man) boobs.

  • chris

    boy, you sure showed them! way to stick it to them.

    /and you’re a moron who wasted a perfectly good chance to party in order to preach. no different than the religious folk you love. You just have a different annoying message.

  • Glen Ellen

    Of the people that didn’t seem to understand the slogan, it could be that they didn’t recognize the concept of lent. I think this guy had a great idea and personally I think it worked better than I would have expected!
    Rock on!

  • Steve

    What advice would you give him if he tried this again?

    What could he do to have the most positive interactions possible with Christians?

    He could have added;
    “Get your FREE conversion here!”
    And in smaller type underneath;

    “(Offer not valid in Kansas, Louisiana, etc)”

  • http://starseyer.blogspot.com Mikayla

    Meh. I dated a catholic guy once who went to Mardi Gras–from his description (I called while he was there) I think I would hate to be there. Way too wild and chaotic. I’d actually prefer a bit of Lent over that. Maybe it’s just me. Never been much of a party animal.

  • http://AtheistofFlorida.org Carlos Oquendo Perez

    Thanks for representing us:
    My name is carlos and a menber of the Atheist of florida. Mr Jin Young and my self been doin this in Tampa Florida for the last 4 to 5 years standing on 7st every friday from 8pm to 1:30AM. Giving tracks and cd rooms abaut Atheism with sings on our chest. It is the moust beutiful experience peoble realy love us. For more information contac Atheistofflorida.org

  • http://religionvirus.blogspot.com Craig James

    Hemant, your blog brought to mind a funny scene I witnessed a while back on Mardi Gras. In case you didn’t see it yet, check out Christians Almost Cause Mardi Gras Riot.

  • Ed-words

    If you want to talk about a bad atheist

    slogan, how about the billboards they

    put up out west.

    SLEEP IN ON SUNDAYS

  • Jeff

    So I just saw this while “Stumbling” around the internet, and it looked very familiar. I went back and looked through my pics from Mardi Gras this year, and sure enough! Better late to respond than never!

    http://i178.photobucket.com/albums/w257/au01st/Atheism.jpg


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