Is the Atheist Movement on the Decline?

Wayne Laugesen, the editorial page editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, has a piece in which he chides the atheist movement as a whole.

He says we had a good run, but we’re committing a comedy of errors:

… The organization Atheist Agenda, at the University of Texas-San Antonio, draws attention by offering pornography in exchange for Bibles, Torahs, Korans and other religious texts.

Here’s some unsolicited advice for the college atheists: Grown-ups don’t think it’s cute, and you don’t help the atheist cause by aligning it with porn. We’re just saying…

Meanwhile, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has decided to battle the U.S. Postal Service over its new Mother Teresa stamp….

He focuses on things like the recent chaos at the Richard Dawkins forums as evidence that our movement is fading fast.

That’s ridiculous. There are plenty of things atheists do that I like and much that I dislike. But overall, we’re heading in the right direction.

And when you have momentum on your side, a few distractions won’t change that.

The few blemishes we have don’t necessarily set us back all the way. I’m not a fan of Smut for Smut but I don’t think they’re going to undo everything that Dawkins and Sam Harris and the national organizations have been working toward. They don’t help, but they’re not the end of the world.

We’re not unified in our tactics but we don’t have to be. And we’re not going to keep our mouth shut if we don’t like what someone else is doing. That said, we are basically unified in our message that we would be better off living in a society where religion had less power than it does now. We’d be better off without all the superstitious nonsense. We’d be better off if people realized they could be good without a god.

But how does Laugesen treat the few instances where atheists don’t come off looking great?

As a collective, atheists are falling apart. Their movement probably has no great future. It may have seen all the momentum it ever will. The atheist community will thrive only if non-believers find positive and constructive causes, as Mother Teresa did. It will find a future only if disbelievers put time and money into soup kitchens, homeless shelters, hospitals and AIDS hospices — as Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians do. A movement can’t go far on negative energy alone… If atheists want acceptance, and to make a difference in this world, they need to find the love.

He’s overreacting.

But he has a point about the love. We can’t tear down religion without offering something to replace it. You can’t take away someone’s hope without inspiring them in another way. You can’t remove someone’s social network without offering them a new community to join.

The atheist movement is working on all of those things.

Laugesen neglects to mention groups like Foundation Beyond Belief (which I’m on the board of) which focus on getting Secular Americans to give to charity.

He forgets that young people are coming out, starting local groups, and being vocal about their non-theism moreso than ever before.

He doesn’t mention that we’re meeting with the White House, lobbying in Washington, D.C., and working together more than anyone would’ve ever thought possible.

Yes, there are a few individuals and groups who do things that might hurt our image. But the overall trend is favorable to us and that’s not about to change because of a few people.

(Thanks to Bob for the link)

  • http://thechristianmanifesto@gmail.com C.E. Moore

    So, how come when a Christian distances themselves from the moron out there blowing up abortion clinics or waving signs around saying, “God hates fags,” we’re all thrown into the same basket. We’re told, “Look in the mirror. This is what religion causes?” Religious people, Christian and otherwise, for YEARS, have been saying that atheism is 1) too simple and 2) doesn’t REQUIRE morality or, at the very least, an aligned one. But, when someone hands out porn for religious texts, you want to distance yourself because of…what? Bad PR? Not because, at bottom, it is morally reprehensible…though you would fight for the rights of a gay man to parade down the street in pumps, make-up, and a nun outfit with a bra affixed to the outside. You would fight for a woman’s right to “do with her body as she pleases” as a matter of private morality. Somehow, though, a woman selling her body and video recording it and having it sold in stores or exchanged for religious texts (religious texts they OBVIOUSLY disdain by doing what they’re doing anyway), well somehow that’s just stupid.

    Is atheism on the decline, though? I don’t think so. I think the church is on the decline, especially in America. Religious belief is not, however on the decline. We are simply becoming more pluralistic as a nation and church decline reflects that shift. Atheism has made vast strides in our society, but the spotlight has been taken off of Hitchens and Dawkins at the moment. The mass media has turned to other sensational news, so atheists do not have the free publicity they had for that brief window in time. Thus, this will force atheists to do what Christian missionaries have done for years–quietly go about their work hoping that someone notices the small amount of good they accomplish. Even if it goes unnoticed, though, they should be content that change is happening.

    Anyhow, that’s my two cents. Not sure why I’m giving advice to atheists, but take what you will from it.

    C.E. Moore
    http://www.TheChristianManifesto.com/
    Twitter: @CManifesto

  • NewEnglandBob

    The non-theism movements are stronger and louder than ever before and are growing.

    The Colorado Springs Gazette is all wrong.

  • http://terahertzatheist.ca Ian

    I thought you’d point out how he can’t tell the difference between a forum and a blog. The discourse on a blog like this is generally positive, whereas forums can quickly degrade and eventually result in 4chan. Of course, some blogs have harsher comments, like Pharyngula.

  • http://thinkerspodium.wordpress.com Bruce

    There’s a principle I’m finding myself repeating a lot lately.

    “…atheists are just as entitled to have their fallibility and idiosyncrasies realised as anyone else.”

    Cherry picking instances of atheist failure doesn’t make the case that atheists fail more often than others. And we should expect better than to have these hasty inductions exaggerated into smears.

    Unless someone actually comes up with a credible statistical analysis that shows we’re in more trouble than the control group (or a suitable benchmark), the hysteria is unwarranted.

  • http://www.givesgoodemail@gmail.com Givesgoodemail

    “The atheist community will thrive only if non-believers find positive and constructive causes, as Mother Teresa did.”

    Has Laugesen actually explored what Mother Teresa was doing? Using piles of donors’ moneys to set up locked sauna boxes disguised as “hospices” where people went to lie down and die on dirty cots, without water or food, any kind of medical attention, or the company of relatives (who were not allowed to visit).

    There was nothing positive or constructive about Agnesë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu did, other than possibly to teach others how to bilk millions of dollars from would-be do-gooders.

  • http://t3knomanser.livejournal.com t3knomanser

    As a collective, atheists have never really come together. We don’t march into churches and start singing a bar from “Alice’s Restaurant”, we’re not a movement. We’re a bunch of people that agree on a very specific metaphysical point.

    I think, generally, atheists all agree on more points than that, like the importance of separating religion from politics and doubts about the social value of religion. But you can have those thoughts without being an atheist and in fact there are actual movements dedicated to those philosophical positions.

  • Jim G

    Laugesen acts as though atheists are competing for attention with spotlessly pure religious types, as though the public will see only saints on one hand and poor p.r. on the other, and thus obviously prefer religion.

    I would point out that today’s atheists don’t have a track record of buggering orphans and hiding evidence, conning grannies out of their Social Security checks for bogus charities, or getting caught out as hypocrites for bashing a behavior in public while indulging in private. Compared with religion’s record, handing out copies of Playboy looks pretty benign.

  • http://seangill-insidemyhead.blogspot.com/ SeanG

    I’m not surprised to hear something like this out of Colorado Springs. He’s just writing what most of his readers want to hear.

  • http://reasonablyaaron.blogspot.com Aaron

    Meh. This reminds me of all those creationists who insist that “evolution is in decline” and will fall “any day now”.

  • heironymous

    C E –

    I personally haven’t distanced myself from smut for smut. I don’t think it’s a good PR move, but I see nothing inherently wrong with pornography. One of the great wrongs of Christianity is associating sex and libido with evil.

    But I agree with you that atheism isn’t on the decline. The episodes mentioned in the column are more like growing pains than anything else.

  • Ron in Houston

    We can’t tear down religion without offering something to replace it.

    I don’t think you’ll tear it down even if you offer some fantastic “you can’t refuse” alternative.

    Seems to me that if we focus on the things other than tearing down religion then we might accomplish things. The problem is now when issues like separation of church and state are brought up, they are twisted into another attempt to tear down religion.

    Seems to me that when you have something that can be both positive and negative that tearing it down is not the best alternative. How about just addressing the negative parts of it?

  • Ron in Houston

    Colorado Springs? I missed that angle. Makes a lot more sense now.

  • http://www.belovedspear.org Beloved Spear

    But how can it fall apart? Atheism, or so I’ve been told, is NOT a movement. It shares no defining purpose or ethos, outside of being not-theist. Atheists can be folks who are highly rational and see no place for faith in their view of the cosmos. They can be libertines. They can be ethical humanists. Expecting something that is amorphous and defined only by negation to cohere in the way that political or social movements cohere seems, well, unreasonable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?ref=profile&id=100000016895400 littlejohn

    While I have to admit that, in my opinion, the porn exchange was a chldish mistake, the atheist movement in general looks stronger than ever. This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @ Beloved Spear,
    Yes, the author of the article being discussed here has done nothing more than set up a straw man to beat up on. Interestingly, quite a few of the readers here have bought into the straw man themselves. It would be nice if we defined ourselves instead of going along with the enemies definition of us, and then reacting to it as if it was a legitimate construct.
    @ Aaron,
    It also reads like mainstream anti-Semitic “journalism” from late 1930′s Germany masquerading as informative news.

  • http://chatlog.posterous.com jtradke

    I completely agree with C.E. Moore.

    Any disapproval for Smut For Smut comes from a position of moralizing, or at least from the position that moralizing is OK.

    Religious people are offended by Smut For Smut? Too bad. There’s nothing morally wrong with porn, and I don’t care about catering to people who think there is.

  • Heidi

    heironymous Says:

    C E –

    I personally haven’t distanced myself from smut for smut. I don’t think it’s a good PR move, but I see nothing inherently wrong with pornography. One of the great wrongs of Christianity is associating sex and libido with evil.

    ^This. Porn isn’t my thing, but I don’t find it “morally reprehensible,” as CE called it. In fact, I find there is a lot more morally… questionable material in the Bible than Playboy would ever get away with having.

  • Richard Wade

    Let’s see… Using Laugesen’s theory that P.R. gaffs will bring a social trend to a stop, if we add up all the thousands of sexual scandals, financial scandals, blame-the-victim scandals, racism and other bigotry scandals, corrupt political machinating scandals, and the mayhem and murder scandals that are perpetrated by religion, then… where’s my calculator…

    Yes, religion will come to a complete grinding halt by… last week.

  • Aj

    C.E. Moore,

    So, how come when a Christian distances themselves from the moron out there blowing up abortion clinics or waving signs around saying, “God hates fags,” we’re all thrown into the same basket. We’re told, “Look in the mirror. This is what religion causes?”

    Because it is what religion causes. You’re saying religion had nothing to do with blowing up abortion clinics, that their beliefs about souls didn’t lead to them judging it right to kill some doctors to save hundreds of “sacred” ensouled lives? Ask those responsible, ask their friends, and they’re explain to you detail why they did what they did.

    2) doesn’t REQUIRE morality or, at the very least, an aligned one.

    That’s interesting, my lack of belief in unicorns also doesn’t require morality. Religions often require immorality. Those that cherry pick the Bible and ignore explicit commandments to kill aren’t doing so because morality comes from religion, they’re actively rejecting religion as a source of morality.

    Not because, at bottom, it is morally reprehensible…

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with pornography inherently. Some pornography might be immoral, in content, creation, or intent, but two people fucking on film is not wrong. That doesn’t mean atheists don’t have morals, it means yours are wrong.

  • Killer_Bee

    If missteps were sufficient to derail a movement, the organized religions of today would be nonexistent.
    The idea that atheism is in decline is just more wishful thinking from, or for consumption of, people who are already well-disposed to such.
    Alternating cries of “we’re winning” and “we’re falling behind” have always been used to invigorate the brethren.
    Works on atheists, too.

  • http://katcox.com kat

    i don’t think the end-goal of atheism is to “tear down religion”. i don’t think atheists have an end-goal at all, really. (it can’t be reiterated enough: atheists are not an organized group.) some atheists may think we should all try to end the tyranny of religion over social and political life (which makes good sense to me, although i’m not an “evangelical atheist” [excuse the pun]), but for the most part, the “tearing down of religion” that takes place is very personal for each of us — leaving our church families, our real families, and the good graces of society to follow our hearts and admit that we just don’t believe. i’d wager that more christians are out to get us than we are out to get them.

  • http://kaleenamenke.blogspot.com Kaleena

    Impressive Hemant! You had this all written and posted before I even woke up! I read it online here before going upstairs to find that the article had been laid out for me to read. Yes, Colorado Springs is an exciting place for us but I agree with darn near everything that article said.

  • Trace

    “the love”? lol

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/noblinksnake/ laviniaserpent

    This article is relevant even if it is inaccurate. Now IS a good time to consider whether atheists who want to counteract theocrats (really, the only kind of religious people in question as a non-political ((non-violent)) religious nuts are irrelevant) should focus on strengthening atheist groups, or non-theocrat groups formed from beliefs across the board.

    This new term, Non-theist, interests me, because atheists DO have an uphill battle to overcome the characterization of: ‘I’m a malcontent because I’m an atheist at worst and vice versa at best.’

    The majority of people WILL vote to undermine religion if it’s packaged as undermining religious intolerance. An atheist lobby sounds nice, but for every politically active atheist there’s at least one that hates belonging to any group and one that can’t believe such a group could accomplish anything.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    But he has a point about the love. We can’t tear down religion without offering something to replace it. You can’t take away someone’s hope without inspiring them in another way. You can’t remove someone’s social network without offering them a new community to join.

    To me, it seems fairly simple. If people just stop indoctrinating children and raising them in those environments, there will be nothing for them to miss. There seems to be a focus in the atheist “movement” (if we really are a movement) on replacing religion. But what about those of us who don’t think religion needs to be replaced with something else? I know I’m a minority within a minority, but I was raised outside of religion and never had a belief in any gods. I don’t think that I missed out on anything. I didn’t miss out on friendships. I didn’t miss out on community. I didn’t miss out on hope.

    So, in my opinion, efforts to replace religious-structured communities with atheist-structured communities are missing the point. There are lots of opportunities to find community outside of religious environments, but they need not be atheist-driven or atheist-identified. I don’t want to stamp out religion. I would prefer to see a world where religion is mostly irrelevant, where it disappears naturally and organically because of lack of interest. But I don’t think the way to make that happen is to encourage organized atheism to be a carbon copy of religion.

  • http://kaleenamenke.blogspot.com Kaleena

    Did anyone else notice that the article totally missed the reason that Mother Teresa shouldn’t be honored? The article claims that:

    The foundation wants to eliminate her stamp because she was Catholic and opposed abortion. Apparently, this group that claims to advocate tolerance believes one must be an abortion-rights atheist to go on a stamp.

    But, FFRF’s reason:

    The FFRF says, specifically, that issuing the stamp is in conflict with a postal regulation which reads, “stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor religious institutions or individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs.”

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @ kat
    You wrote:

    i’d wager that more christians are out to get us than we are out to get them.

    You’re so right. Some of us are out to change that.

  • Deiloh

    If every single atheist group and organization fell apart, I’m still not going to suddenly start believing in deities. Had our run? As long as someone somewhere has access to a good education, atheism is a permanent part of the landscape.

  • Ron in Houston

    To me, it seems fairly simple. If people just stop indoctrinating children and raising them in those environments, there will be nothing for them to miss.

    Simple in concept but the reality is much different. People indoctrinate their kids. That’s the way the world works. The best you can hope for is that they indoctrinate them on things like “be good,” “don’t hurt others” and other things that turn them into good human beings.

    Besides, in the US you have a constitutional right to be an idiot and to raise little idiot sycophants.

  • Revyloution

    The non-belief movement needs to get behind something positive? We need something to carry us besides negative energy?

    How about damn near ALL of science? Scientific discovery is responsible for saving far more lives than any soup kitchen.

    And for lifting people out of poverty, how about education? Nothing improves peoples lives like education, and secularism is for the big win there too!

    Ok, we non-believers dominate science and education. Theists have soup kitchens.

    I think that’s a win for secularism.

  • J. Allen

    Wishful thinking at it’s best.

    Sure it might not have been our best month, but we will learn and regroup. I guess if we haven’t destroyed religion by next month we’re a complete failure though.

  • http://shepherdoftheridge.org Pastor Dale

    Inconsistency has always irritated me. I agree with C.E. that this is analogous to folks like the Westboro Baptists being seen as representative of all religious people. There have been plenty of atheist nutjobs as well. I would contend that within any group, if sufficiently large, you’ll have people who go off the deep end, whether you’re talking the Soviet Union or the Spanish Inquisition (I bet you weren’t expecting that!).

    All that said, since atheists have been around a good long time, I don’t expect that that’s going to change. Anything coming out of Colorado Springs must be read with the head tilted slightly to compensate for the slant. At the same time, just as religious movements change their methods from time to time, the collective trends within atheism will change from time to time as well. Atheism may not be a formal organization, but Secular Humanism has its manifesto, which reads like Luther’s Small Catechism, and the movement certainly has its modern apostles and its ancient prophets to which most educated atheists will tip their hats. At the same time, all religions have their nominal members, including atheists who hold to the basic belief but know nothing about the movement per se.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Simple in concept but the reality is much different. People indoctrinate their kids. That’s the way the world works. The best you can hope for is that they indoctrinate them on things like “be good,” “don’t hurt others” and other things that turn them into good human beings.

    Well, yes, but I meant indoctrinating them by putting them into specifically religious environments. I don’t know if there’s anything atheists can do to encourage people not to indoctrinate their children, but there are countries with much lower levels of religiosity than the United States. In those societies, it seems that religious fervor has just sort of naturally fallen by the wayside.

    The U.S. is much more religious than other developed countries, but I do think the statistics are somewhat encouraging even here. There are increasing numbers of people who are not affiliated with any particular religion and who say religion is not important in their daily lives, and those people are presumably much less likely to raise their children in organized religious communities. This doesn’t mean that they’re atheists, but it does mean that religious identification is not part of their lives.

    There’s nothing for children to miss if they grow up in an environment where it’s normal not to go to church, where it’s normal not to claim any particular religion, and where it’s normal (even if not required) to disbelieve in gods. Thus, I think efforts to replace religious communities with atheist communities are sort of focusing on the wrong thing, trying to replicate the religious experience by putting an atheist slant on it. But that doesn’t speak to people who never had and don’t want the religious experience.

    As a child, there was no need for me to go to atheist summer camp or for my family to join a local atheist group simply because our lives were already completely secular, and we found community with other people who already didn’t spend time talking about religion. Not that most of them were atheists; in fact, I doubt many of them were, but their religion (or lack thereof) was irrelevant to our friendships and the community we formed together.

  • Miko

    As someone who holds a number of minority beliefs, I’ve seen this same thing from a dozen sides. The problem, as I see it, is that idiots are distributed rather evenly throughout all belief systems. (While the belief system itself may be rational, the idiot apparently just chooses it by throwing a dart at the ideological dartboard.) Then, smaller groups have the problem that their idiots tend to stand out more and are more likely to be taken as a representative for the entire group.

    Re: porn. As an advocate of free speech in particular and of freedom for all in general, I’ll agree that there is nothing inherently wrong with pornography, certainly not from an ethical standpoint and not even from a moral standpoint, and that any attempt to suppress it would be far worse than any pornography itself. That said, actually existing pornography often is vile. Cf. Chris Hedges, who despite some smarmy moralizing and crazy assumptions does make some good points. Highlight:

    What does it say about our culture that cruelty is so easy to market?” Jensen asks. “What is the difference between glorifying violence in war and glorifying the violence of sexual domination? I think that the reason porn is so difficult for so many people to discuss is not that it is about sex—our culture is saturated in sex. The reason it is difficult is that porn exposes something very uncomfortable about us. We accept a culture flooded with images of women who are sexual commodities. Increasingly, women in pornography are not people having sex but bodies upon which sexual activities of increasing cruelty are played out. And many men—maybe a majority of men—like it.

    IIRC, Smut4Smut was handing out Playboy, which is less problematic. Indeed, the worst thing there is calling it “smut,” since that gives cover to the real smut out there. But, regarding the overall porn industry, it’s worth remembering that just because people should be allowed to do something doesn’t always mean that they should be encouraged to.

  • http://www.frommormontoatheist.blogspot.com Leilani

    I was raised to be an idiot sycophant :( … but it didn’t stick… shucks! Just because people are indoctrinated, doesn’t mean they always believe it. (Thank goodness!) :)

    Hey, I know! Why don’t we call upon all Atheists to have like 20 children each? Why don’t we get our own prophet to tell us not to pierce our ears or listen to Green Day? Or why don’t we gather on a set day and bash other people, all while sitting around with our heads up our asses, doing nothing of any true help or good… why don’t we look the other way when our leaders rape little boys? Oh crap… it’s because we aren’t a religion, we aren’t a movement and we aren’t crazy… well, shit. I’m all out of ideas.

    Atheism has been around a long time. It’s not like one day in 1994 someone woke up and suddenly didn’t believe in the god of the Old Testament. Then started on a ‘mission’ to dissuade all of their friends and loved ones.

    I think it’s a mistake for any religious person to assume that some of us Atheists didn’t come out of a religion. Or that we consider ourselves a movement. Or that we totally support any Atheist for any reason. Sure, I can see how the smut for smut trade could be seen in a bad light, and yeah, I can see that the FFRF fighting the Mother Teresa stamp can be seen as pointless, but that’s because I am a rational person who can often see both sides of an argument. Mostly I find the smut for smut funny and the Mother Teresa stamp as something that doesn’t bother me, I just won’t buy it. (I do know the importance of their fight.)

    Sometimes it seems like in order for those ‘silly’ Christians to understand that not all Atheists are alike, we should group them in with Muslim extremists more often. Not everything is black and white, like religion teaches. I might not believe in a god, but I still have morals, I still am a good mother, a good wife and a kick ass friend. I don’t need guilt to keep me in line. I have self control.

    Oh, and as long as humans suffer from reason and logic, there will be Atheists.

  • Miko

    Ron in Houston: Seems to me that when you have something that can be both positive and negative [i.e., religion] that tearing it down is not the best alternative. How about just addressing the negative parts of it?

    It depends on whether the good parts are separable from the bad parts, and on whether the system is necessary for maintaining the good parts. If the good parts come primarily from individuals and the bad parts come primarily from systemic incentives, then it makes sense to get rid of the system and maintain the individuals.

    It’s easy to become trapped in the illusion that the current way of doing things is the only way of doing them (as a libertarian, I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked where roads would come from without the government, as if societies didn’t have roads until governments took over building them). Currently, the church likes to run all charity through itself, sometimes take a cut off the top, and then pass it on to the portion of the needy with church-approved moral values. What essential function does the church serve here? Wouldn’t it be better if people were to undertake the charitable parts of religion directly, to be willing to see those in need first-hand and help them without waiting for the intercession of an intermediary? Historically, the “church-approved moral values” has been the most significant part of the above: people have been kept intentionally poor (by the secular government) so that they have nowhere to turn but the church and are then denied help by the church unless they kowtow to the church’s authority. (Churches, in their turn, have returned the favor by granting legitimacy upon and support for the secular governments.)

    Hemant: We can’t tear down religion without offering something to replace it.

    Ron in Houston: I don’t think you’ll tear it down even if you offer some fantastic “you can’t refuse” alternative.

    No, but you might if you offer a real “you can refuse” alternative. An honest vision of society is more powerful than a false one, even if it promises far less.

  • Nathan (not the Christian Nathan)

    I do think that we have to be organized in a political sense, but WHY do we have to replace religion with something? Are they saying we have to replace Sunday morning meetings, fuck that, i play basketball on Sundays (with a bunch of Jews funny enough), then go swimming with my family. Is that religious enough for them?

  • http://thebroadside.freedomblogging.com/ Seth Richardson

    Kaleena Says:

    The problem I see with this regulation is that it has the effect of inhibiting religion because it engages in content-based discrimination. Under the Lemon Test, the question should be does the regulation have a legitimate secular purpose, does it serve to advance or inhibit religion, and does it “excessively entangle” government in religion?

    In showing an express hostility to “individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs” the regulation does not appear to have a legitimate secular purpose, rather it appears to discriminate against individuals who may be under consideration for such an honor for something notable that they did unconnected to religion merely because their “principle achievements” may be associated with religion.

    Under the interpretation the FFRF espouses, the Rev. Martin Luther King should not have been honored with a stamp either, because his principle achievements were closely associated with his religion.

    In this case, Mother Teresa is being honored for her unwavering, altruistic, charitable lifetime of service to the poor and sick. Her status as a Catholic may have motivated her, but that status and motivation should no more disqualify her than it should disqualify Dr. King.

    By the way, anyone who is interested in a discussion of the philosophy of Tolerism™ is welcome at my site.

  • http://thebroadside.freedomblogging.com/ Seth Richardson

    Sorry about the block quote error, my bad. The text is mine, not Kaleena’s.

  • Greg

    C.E. Moore – are you seriously equating offering pornography for holy books and blowing up abortion clinics in terms of reprehensibility? Wow.

    Wanting to distance yourself from bad PR, and wanting to distance yourself from what people have done in the name of the same beliefs you profess to have are completely different.

    If someone is able to quote chapter and verse as reason from their holy book, it doesn’t seem to be too much of a leap to say that the holy book was a primary motivation in their behaviour. If you could trace a similar link from the smut for smut campaign to atheism, you might have a point, but given how you follow up by raging that atheism is ‘too simple’ (what kind of a complaint is that?) you already seem to know that you simply can’t do it.

    Also, there’s nothing morally reprehensible about porn in and of itself. That is not to say that there are some morally repugnant practices which could be considered porn, of course. (Although I’d always much rather people looked at these things rather than acted them out, it’s a tricky question, but when does regulating porn turn into regulating ‘thought crimes’?)

    As an aside, why assume that all porn is derogatory to females? Do you seriously believe that women weren’t able to trade in their smut for porn?

    Finally, I am sick of the attitude that the porn is more reprehensible than the holy books. Whilst I’ve only read the Bible from cover to cover, with that book at least, I have no hesitation in choosing which is more morally repugnant, and it aint the porn. Yet no-one forces kids to look at the porn.

  • joe agnost

    greg wrote: “Whilst I’ve only read the Bible from cover to cover, with that book at least, I have no hesitation in choosing which is more morally repugnant, and it aint the porn. Yet no-one forces kids to look at the porn.”

    Well said. Excellent point.

  • joe agnost

    C.E. wrote: “…do what Christian missionaries have done for years–quietly go about their work hoping that someone notices the small amount of good they accomplish.”

    While ignoring the many atrocities they commit… the trade off is often not worth it:

    ‘…here is some medicine and a few books (about god) – all you have to do is build a church and you can keep all this food too!’

    Yech.

    (edit: “atrocities” might be too harsh… but it’s just barely.)

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    The FFRF says, specifically, that issuing the stamp is in conflict with a postal regulation which reads, “stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor religious institutions or individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs.”

    If this is their policy, how do they justify selling Jesus stamps at Christmas? It would seem that Jesus is the ultimate religious individual, one who is only known or associated with religion and religious achievements. Someone could at least argue that Mother Teresa was primarily known for her charitable endeavors, however questionable they may have been, but I don’t see how the same is true for Jesus.

  • Neon Genesis

    “Bad PR? Not because, at bottom, it is morally reprehensible…though you would fight for the rights of a gay man to parade down the street in pumps, make-up, and a nun outfit with a bra affixed to the outside.”

    What’s your point? That since an atheist doesn’t like Smut for Smut, you should be allowed to ban gay pride parades?

  • Pseudonym

    Miko:

    IIRC, Smut4Smut was handing out Playboy, which is less problematic.

    That’s true if you’re talking about the fact that a lot of pornography is inherently demeaning and in poor taste. Playboy is, indeed, better than most in this respect. However, Playboy is just as guilty as any of implicitly promoting unrealistic body images as an ideal. And, of course, Playboy was founded to promote an unsustainable, unhealthy, hedonistic, testosterone-fuelled lifestyle.

    Yes, I’m being over-the-top here, but I’m just making the point that just because it’s less problematic, that doesn’t mean it’s not problematic at all. Perhaps they should have handed out works by Greta Christina.

    But this is beside the point.

    I agree with the thrust of G.E. Moore’s initial post: What we’re seeing here is, essentially, karma. All those who said for years that atheism equals reason, all those who claimed that Christians and Muslims aren’t allowed to distance themselves from fundamentalists… today, thanks to Smut4Smut, Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens and the FFRF, they have to learn the hard way what it’s like to be on the receiving end of precisely that kind of irrational argument.

    However, contrary to Wayne Laugesen’s opinion, this is not a sign that Atheism is on the decline. On the contrary, it’s a sure sign that it’s becoming mainstream. You know that a movement has reached a critical mass when it develops a lunatic fringe.

    Welcome to the club, guys! No, Atheism isn’t a religion, but the movement has finally reached a point where it’s started to learn why religion has some of the less desirable features that it has.

    I empathise with those who have consistently rejected the irrational elements of the Atheist movement. To you: I know how you feel. Believe me, I know.

    To everyone else: Suck it up. If you can dish it out, you can take it.

    Either way, welcome. You’ve officially made it. If you need any advice on reformations, just ask.

  • Ash

    Laugesen is utterly right on the money; we’re becoming less and less organized as a group and will soon all have to turn in our membership cards and club novelty banana beanie toys.

    After all, the reason there is no such thing as the Christian religion, e.g., (and hasn’t been for many hundreds of years) was all those schisms and the way sects kept breaking off…wait, what?

  • Aj

    Miko,

    That said, actually existing pornography often is vile. Cf. Chris Hedges, who despite some smarmy moralizing and crazy assumptions does make some good points.

    I haven’t agreed with Chris Hedges before, and I still haven’t. As usual he’s a dishonest and ignorant fuckwit. People get compensated for doing work they don’t want to do all the time. People get addicted to a lot of things. People can be unkind and nasty. These problems are with society, not with porn. I don’t understand why pornstars don’t demand condoms, I know some do, and I think they’re smart. Despite this, pornstars as a group are at less risk than many other sexually active groups when it comes to stds.

    I wouldn’t criticize anyone doing anything I find disgusting or unpleasant consensually. I wouldn’t want to watch plenty of porn. I don’t want to watch gay men fuck, or pegs on nipples, or weights hung from testicles, it makes me cringe. There’s nothing wrong with consenting adults doing it for sexual gratification though, and there’s nothing wrong with people getting paid to perform these acts for other people.

    If women shave their pubic hair to look like prepubescent girls, does that mean men shave their faces to look like prepubescent boys, or women? I vote for bush. I can’t believe someone actually thinks a problem in porn is that it portrays unrealistic endurance. It’s called fantasy, has Chris Hedges heard of fiction before? Chris Hedges is against porn because he’s a Christian, and doesn’t want people fucking on film. He’s as dishonest about this as he is about everything else he writes about.

    Pseudonym,

    However, Playboy is just as guilty as any of implicitly promoting unrealistic body images as an ideal.

    TV dramas and movies are as guilty, actually pretty much any form of media is just as guilty. Not sure I agree that displaying “unrealistic” body images is wrong, but even if it is, you can’t blame porn, it’s a problem with society. Cosmos implicitly promotes unrealistic intelligence.

    I agree with the thrust of G.E. Moore’s initial post: What we’re seeing here is, essentially, karma. All those who said for years that atheism equals reason, all those who claimed that Christians and Muslims aren’t allowed to distance themselves from fundamentalists… today, thanks to Smut4Smut, Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens and the FFRF, they have to learn the hard way what it’s like to be on the receiving end of precisely that kind of irrational argument.

    You’ve never been able or willing to understand the argument, so you’re not in a position to criticize it. Last time I checked, atheists weren’t going around saying you should believe things without evidence, that certain books have authority, and that you shouldn’t criticize certain beliefs. Last time I checked, I never did anything to promote, protect, or enable Bill Maher’s belief in alternative medicine bullshit. Yet somehow you feel that’s analogous to the way religious people behave. Not that pointing this out is going to do any good, because you’ll just ignore it like the other times it’s been explained to you.

  • http://gaytheistagenda.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    As a collective, atheists are falling apart.

    We’re not a collective. Anybody who expects us to think, speak or behave as a monolith doesn’t know much about us.

    That being said, I don’t think we’re on the decline at all. In fact, I think we’re just getting started…

  • Pseudonym

    Aj:

    TV dramas and movies are as guilty, actually pretty much any form of media is just as guilty.

    True enough. This isn’t specifically a problem with porn, it’s a problem with society.

    Not sure I agree that displaying “unrealistic” body images is wrong, [...]

    It’s not the mere display that’s the problem, of course. It’s the message that a lot of people get that you’re not good enough.

    And yes, I’m aware that many religions are guilty of this. I hope I’m not.

    You’ve never been able or willing to understand the argument, so you’re not in a position to criticize it. Last time I checked, atheists weren’t going around saying you should believe things without evidence, that certain books have authority, and that you shouldn’t criticize certain beliefs. Last time I checked, I never did anything to promote, protect, or enable Bill Maher’s belief in alternative medicine bullshit.

    Last time I checked, I have never said that any book has “authority”, unless it was Hoyle’s. I have never said that any belief is beyond criticism. I’m far from perfect, but had I ever done any of these things, I’m pretty sure that I’d remember.

    To the best of my knowledge I have never defended, promoted, protected or enabled a fundamentalist beyond their civil rights. Admittedly, I may have said that some beliefs are reasonable even if there is no hard evidence to back them up, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t give religious beliefs a special pass in that regard.

    For the record, while you’ve said many things that I disagree with, I don’t recall I’ve ever seen you promote Zeitgeist, or claimed that fundamentalist religion is more authentic/consistent/whatever than more moderate forms of religion.

    I do not want you to be tarred with a broad brush any more than I want to be. We are complex individuals. But it’s an inevitable consequence of sticking your head above the parapet that people will do it to you.

    Can we at least agree that Laugesen’s op-ed is dumb, and move on?

  • Mike

    “Bad PR? Not because, at bottom, it is morally reprehensible…though you would fight for the rights of a gay man to parade down the street in pumps, make-up, and a nun outfit with a bra affixed to the outside.”

    I found this sentence meaningless too. Frankly, I would also fight for the rights of a straight man to parade down the street in pumps, make-up, and a nun outfit with a bra affixed to the outside. What does sexual preference have to do with it?

    “However, Playboy is just as guilty as any of implicitly promoting unrealistic body images as an ideal.”

    Chicken or the egg. Do men prefer women with a body like those in Playboy because Playboy is promoting them? Or does Playboy publish images of ‘perfect’ women because that’s what their client base wants to see? Personally, I suspect it’s the latter. Playboy is a business enterprise and their mission is to make money.

  • stogoe

    Here’s some unsolicited advice for the college atheists: Grown-ups don’t think it’s cute, and you don’t help the atheist cause by aligning it with porn. We’re just saying…

    So his argument is “grow up”? What. A. Moron. I hope something unpredictable and horrific happens to him or his family for no reason at all. (Statistically, my hope will come true at some point without any outside intervention.)

  • Aj

    Pseudonym,

    I have never said that any belief is beyond criticism.

    I have never said that any book has “authority”…

    To the best of my knowledge I have never defended, promoted, protected or enabled a fundamentalist beyond their civil rights.

    Seems like your the lunatic fringe of religious people, because that’s not how “moderate” religious people usually behave, and a large proportion of atheists.

  • http://supercheetah.livejournal.com supercheetah

    C.E. Moore,

    Hemant didn’t even disagree with the premise behind the Smut for Smut campaign. What he disagreed with was with its efficaciousness. He felt that the campaign does nothing to endear us to those like yourself.

    So his post was more targeted at us, his fellow atheists, rather than at the religious like yourself.

  • TXatheist

    I heard back from the article author………Mark:

    Thanks for sending this link. That is wonderful to see, and thank you for your organization’s hard work and devotion to the poor. I know a majority of atheists spend their time doing good in the world, rather than picking fights with people of other beliefs. Unfortunately, so many of the high-profile athiest organizations are in the business of confrontation. I’m sure they represent a minority of atheists, just as the high-profile Christian hypocrite televangelists represent a minoirty of Christians, the murderous terrorists represent a tiny minority of Muslims. I will look for an opportunity in coming weeks to point out some of the good works done in the name of atheism. Thanks again for sending this along.

    Wayne Laugesen

    editorial page editor

    The Gazette

    From: M S [mailto:md457@hotmail.com]
    Sent: Thursday, March 11, 2010 4:21 AM
    To: Wayne Laugesen
    Cc: Joy Harper; Joel Millman; larry.ryckman@gazette.com; Jeff Thomas
    Subject: Texas atheists

    There was no email for Wayne on the website so I am sure one of you can make sure he gets this.
    Here is another group of atheists in Texas just north of San Antonio who have been doing something for 6 months, every month.
    Mark Johnson
    co-founder AHH
    http://www.youtube.com/user/aajoeyjo#p/u/1/o2ysHgRANAM

  • Bryndel

    Hah, how ironic, the day I stumble upon this fascinating blog is the day it brings up a local issue I’d already had on my mind. …This is gonna be long given that I’ve tried to address numerous points in their own paragraphs, sorry, but hopefully interesting and informative for all that.

    I consider myself pretty much atheist–the Judeochristian god, in fact, is the version that seems most especially unlikely to me. But I volunteer all the time even without that flaming baseball bat labeled “HELL” held over my head. At the Catholic soup kitchen downtown, even, and with my church (yeah, you read that correctly), among other places and times. My Christian minister of my Unitarian Universalist church, in fact, was the first one to alert me to this article, by sending out an email to see if anyone wanted to help him write a reply to this same horrible farce of an article in the Gazette. (I did, but I got to it too late, and he was probably more articulate and concise than I would have been in any case…lol. I can see if he’s okay with my posting his reply here, in fact, if anyone so desires.) This town has more than its share of fundamentalist loonies, admittedly, but I’ve found myself surprised by the number of prominent places I see the local Gay and Lesbian Fund/Pride Center popping up. Maybe it’s just the godless sodomites I hang out with (:P) but I do think we have a pretty good-sized, though less noisy and obnoxious, anti-fundamentalist underground of all sorts of disparate groups (and isn’t Internet Infidels actually based here as well??). It’s really more about who, and what organization, is posting something than the simple fact that they’re from Colorado Springs–something I suspect most of you probably already knew, but I wanted to be sure that was clear. ;)

    I think the Unitarian Universalist bunch is likely on the right track and best compromise when it comes to educating kids without brainwashing them (though I am, admittedly, biased). One of the major reasons I joined the church, in fact, was because I absolutely loved their religious education program for youth–namely, learn about and respect all religions (and atheism, too) while mandating none. I like this because I also think there’s value to be had in examining religions even if one doesn’t buy into all the weird, illogical, or otherwise questionable elements so often included as part of the package–and such a program helps to emphasize that really, we all usually have pretty similar goals in the end: be a better, happier person and make the world a better, happier place. So long as your actions align with that, I personally have trouble having a serious beef with your [essentially irrelevant] beliefs, though I still love to compare them to mine and debate about them for the fun of it.

    UU, humanism, and many of the major philosophical schools, such as utilitarianism, provide ample basis for non-religious morality, if for some reason your own conscience is not enough. Heck, now that I think about it, even most of the Scout pledges I took as a kid were mainly secular words pledging good behavior–there were a few insertions of “god” in there, but I distinctly recall that I simply mouthed the theological bits and took the rest to heart.

    Porn, on the other hand, is a separate topic–and probably a stupid PR move, but that has nothing to do with whether it’s right or excusable in some/all/any of its forms. And also quite different from religion and morality, or lack thereof, overall.

    And while I can see what point I think the article’s trying to get at with atheists “needing to replace”, I think he is, like many Christians, confusing his own brand of religion with both love and morality. I have both in ample quantities, and give ampler consideration to them than very nearly everyone else I’ve ever come across, and yet I’ve never been Christian. I feel no dearth of great love despite my apparent religious “lack,” instead finding that the physical world around me here and now holds amazing, inspiring, wonderful things that inspire far greater depths of love and awe in me than any of my years of Bible study or Vacation Bible School have ever managed.

  • GSW

    Hadn’t heard of Smut for Smut before but, having read both the OT/NT bible and the koran (in the English translation of course), I have to agree that both books are very full of sex, murder, torture, war & slavery.

    Nope, doesn’t help ‘our cause’ but then not many religious people have ever actually read their own credo.

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