Should atheist groups try to make headlines and get attention when their ideas have little to no chance of succeeding?
Despite the fact that I like it when groups I support and people I know are involved, it’s hard for me to automatically say yes.
Last week, the Freedom From Religion Foundation issued a boycott against stamps featuring Mother Teresa. Their reasoning was that she was a religious figure and the USPS Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee says:
Stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor religious institutions or individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs.
Fair enough. She was Catholic. And we all know about the Christopher Hitchens book tearing apart her legacy. She has a lot of flaws — she was notoriously anti-abortion, for example. She supported Charles Keating of the Keating Five. And her care wasn’t always medically sound. I’m not defending her and I think people should be educated about her faults as much as they are about her accomplishments. Hell, here’s a link to a clip from the Mother Teresa-themed episode of Bullshit!
That said, the reality of the boycott is that no one is paying attention to the other side of her life. If this was an awareness campaign to enlighten people about how Mother Teresa wasn’t a “saint” and held some really despicable views, so be it. But that’s not what people are talking about. In that sense, this boycott has failed.
People are thinking atheists are going after her (and the stamp) because she’s a religious figure and for no other reason. (FOX News is taking advantage of the situation.)
FFRF isn’t helping matters any with their arguments. Politics Daily points out some problems with their defense, notably that they have not boycotted stamps with other religious leaders in the past:
For example, previous postal honorees with obvious religious identities include Malcolm X, the former chief spokesman for the Nation of Islam, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1986, the Post Office issued a stamp in honor of Father Edward J. Flanagan, founder of Boys Town, that is still widely used.
In explaining their conflicting positions on those, both the USPS and the FFRF get a bit tied up in contradictions.
Postal spokesman Betts said Flanagan was “honored for his humanitarian work.” Annie Laurie Gaylor doesn’t agree. But she doesn’t have any problem with King or Malcolm X. Martin Luther King “just happened to be a minister,” she said, and “Malcolm X was not principally known for being a religious figure.”
Gaylor does object to the “darker side” of Mother Teresa’s religious activism, chiefly her opposition to abortion. Then again, in its press release objecting to the Mother Teresa stamp, the FFRF urges its followers to buy the Katherine Hepburn stamps the Postal Service is producing this year, because Hepburn publicly described herself as an atheist and was featured in an FFRF ad campaign.
Oy. The boycott is bad publicity.
It’s one thing to get bad publicity when you’re doing something worthwhile (e.g. putting up certain atheist billboards, filing necessary lawsuits, etc), but to boycott a beloved figured? Regardless of their reasons, FFRF had to know they would receive a ton of backlash.
What upsets me is that I’m sure they did know that. And I think that influenced them more than the argument of why Mother Teresa shouldn’t be on a stamp.
Protesting things just for the sake of publicity is something the Religious Right does. They know damn well that things like protesting the Gap for mentioning other religious holidays alongside Christmas won’t win them any fans or followers of Christ. They do it because it gets their organization’s name in the news.
We shouldn’t be stooping to their level when it comes to something like this.
We’re supposed to be the rational ones. We shouldn’t go out of our way to be pariahs.
Incidentally, why is there no mention anywhere of the idea that Mother Teresa was having a “crisis of faith” and may even have been an atheist?
Another publicity stunt took place yesterday, when American Atheists announced that they wanted to purchase naming rights to the football stadium in which the Super Bowl would be played.
Obviously, that was a joke.
Don’t believe me?
Sun Life Financial currently owns naming rights to the stadium. No offer of money from an atheist group (or any other group) is going to nullify their contract.
Even if it was allowed, do you really think any sports stadium would lease itself out to an atheist group and open the door to a possible “Jesus Field” in the future?
American Atheists said in the press release that if the hourly stadium naming doesn’t work, they’re willing to negotiate “for one punt or during the next ‘Hail Mary’ pass.” That sounds like something right out of The Onion.
Clearly, they’re not being serious… (though, by putting out the release, I suppose they would be obligated to pay the money if anyone accepted).
So why put out the press release?
To get attention. And for nothing else.
So far, it hasn’t gotten any media hits… but even if it does, I doubt any of them will make religious people think twice about our ideas.
Why waste our time and energy on things like this?
There are so many more important battles to be fighting.
These are silly distractions.