Unitarian Universalist Pastor Comes to Atheists’ Defense

Remember that editorial by Wayne Laugesen of the Colorado Springs Gazette in which he said the atheist movement was on the decline because of groups like Atheist Agenda and their Smut for Smut campaign and FFRF going after the Mother Teresa stamps?

I argued that Laugesen ignored many of the bright spots within our movement and the idea that the overall trend is in our favor.

Well, there was a fantastic rebuttal.

And it was written by a pastor, Rev. Roger Butts of High Plains Unitarian Universalist Church.

Your piece equates atheism with a small student group in Texas and one foundation. You made no mention of the Ethical Cultural Society. You made no mention of the Humanist Institute. You made no mention of Buddhist atheists, Unitarian Universalist atheists, the American Humanist Association. I don’t think the editorial board would ever say that organized Christianity is represented as a whole by [Glenn] Beck and [Fred] Phelps.

You seem to suggest that atheists — or religious humanists, or religious naturalists — are somehow not involved in acts of service and compassion and justice and that they act out of spite and anger and fear. Well, you paint a picture with a broad stroke. The agnostics and atheists I know contribute plenty of money to important organizations involved in making the world more just and act in community organizing and groups like the Sierra Club, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Red Cross or other international aid organizations. And you seem to paint a picture of angry, spiteful atheists acting out of malice. There are those, certainly. And when they act out of ignorance or intolerance, it is as pathetic and pitiful as when anyone else does. Atheists are not so monolithic as you claim.

… In my experience most folks know that anytime a cynical attempt to portray any group as one thing, one mind, one collective is off-base and shallow. Your dualistic thinking is unfortunate and lacks intellectual rigor and integrity.

I don’t think Christianity should be judged by men like Ted Haggard, Fred Phelps, Glen Beck and I don’t think atheists should be judged by a group of college kids in San Antonio trying to get a little publicity.

*slow, crescendoed applause*

I’m becoming less of a fan of the interfaith approach that Butts suggests — the kind that sees value in all religions — but in this case, the reverend makes many terrific points.

On a side note, why does the picture of him on the Gazette’s website make it seem like he has horns growing out of the side of his head?

(Thanks to Raleigh for the link!)

  • Kate

    It’s Unitarian Universalist minister, not Unitarian minister. ;) Very different things!! We UUs get fussy when people drop off the second U.

  • Dave

    Ah, good old Colorado Springs.

    I’m very happy to have made it out of there in once piece when others (Haggard) were not so fortunate.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    Kate — You’re right. I fixed it. Thanks!

  • Matt Dillahunty

    Seriously? You’re going to give a round of applause to someone who compares the UTSA atheists to Glenn Beck and Fred Phelps?

  • http://chatlog.posterous.com jtradke

    The seemingly random bold font was irritating and distracting rather than illustrative.

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

    @ Matt Dillahunty: It seems an accurate comparison. Beck and Phelps engage in outrageous, intentionally offensive, and inflammatory rhetoric as a way of drawing attention to their worldview.

  • Vas

    The “horns” are frigging hilarious.

    On a side note…
    “I’m becoming less of a fan of the interfaith approach that Butts suggests — the kind that sees value in all religions”
    I’m glad to hear this, I won’t drone on about it but, I’m kind of of the same opinion just a fair bit further down that road.

  • http://criticallyskeptic.blogspot.com Kevin

    Yeah, but Christian Fundies don’t listen to UU anyway. They think they’re just as bad as atheists.

  • Matt Dillahunty

    @Beloved Spear: Beck and Phelps are defined by that tactic. It’s nearly all they do. And you think it’s an accurate comparison to define the UTSA atheists by this event?

  • codemenkey

    I wouldn’t say that Glenn Beck is a good example, he’s just a blowhard pundit who panders to his narrow-minded audience with narrow-mindedness. Christianity can and should, however, be judged for the likes of Ted Haggard and Fred Phelps, who claim to be men representing the Christian god (and have followers who believe the same).

    The original article in question, re: smut for smut, was comparing apples and oranges to begin with, and the only thing the author has managed to in writing it was to demonstrate the dullness of his own wit.

  • Aj

    Matt Dillahunty,

    Seriously? You’re going to give a round of applause to someone who compares the UTSA atheists to Glenn Beck and Fred Phelps?

    Of course it would wrong and stupid to compare the students to those people. I don’t think this “pastor” does that, he’s using two unrelated examples.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    why does the picture of him on the Gazette’s website make it seem like he has horns growing out of the side of his head?

    I don’t think its horns. It’s hair.

    Although I liked the rebuttal, I also saw the irony of him painting the UTSA similarly with a broad stroke.

  • codemenkey

    Wow I totally mixed two topics into one. Let me revise…

    The original article in question, re: smut for smut, was comparing apples and oranges to begin with, and the only thing the author has managed to in writing it was to demonstrate the dullness of his own wit.

    Scratch that. The original article in question, re: smut for smut being the decline of the atheist movement, was a piece written out of stupidity. We know that.

    All in all, I like the essence of what Butts says, that to oversimplify one’s opinions (and the implications thereof) into a single word, and judge the entire book by that word, is ridiculous. Not that I agree with every point… but at least he’s being helpful…

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    Thanks Rev. Butts. A touch of reason never hurts.

  • ecorona

    Why shouldn’t Christianity be judged by the likes of Beck, Haggard, Palin, the Pope, the maiming and murder of children in Nigeria, the violence against and disregard for LGBT rights, women’s rights, etc etc etc. These are the people who continuously claim they are the “true xtians” and that they know exactly what their jealous god wants us all to be, eh? Far as I’m concerned, every single one of them has Jesus’ blood on their hands.

  • Miko

    I’m becoming less of a fan of the interfaith approach that Butts suggests — the kind that sees value in all religions — but in this case, the reverend makes many terrific points.

    There is very little in this world which is completely devoid of value; even excrement is useful as fertilizer. A given religion may be a net negative (most are), but it still probably has some elements that are worth looking at.

    ecorona: Why shouldn’t Christianity be judged by the likes of Beck, Haggard, Palin, the Pope, the maiming and murder of children in Nigeria, the violence against and disregard for LGBT rights, women’s rights, etc etc etc.

    It shouldn’t be judged by Beck, …, the Pope since every movement has its nuts. It should be judged by its actions. However, if you look solely at the murders and rights violations, you’ll get one picture, and if you look solely at, say, the humanitarian work you’ll get another. As with most aspects of life, the authoritarian/hierarchical strain of Christianity is what’s causing the problems.

  • Edmond

    @Matt Dillahunty:

    I don’t think Butts was actually likening the UTSA atheist group to Beck and Phelps, but only using Beck and Phelps as extreme examples of “fringe-Christianity” that he knew Laugesen must decry as non-representational of his own faith as a whole, solely for the purpose of demonstrating how inappropriate it is to equate an entire movement with the actions of just a few members. I don’t think he was actually suggesting that the UTSA group is AS BAD as Phelps & Co.

  • Joyfulbaby

    He’s probably standing in front of a stylized picture of the UU symbol, the chalice. I agree, though, not a good place for him to stand if they’re going to crop the picture that way.

  • Roger Butts

    Hi all, thanks for your good comments. The picture is really bad–I was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and well, the gazette has a really bad picture of me! no one’s fault but mine!

    I appreciate the comments about things that were unclear–I could use an editor for sure! Just to clarify I was not trying to equate any group of atheists with Beck or Ted Haggard. I was just trying to say that by picking those two examples he painted a really incomplete picture.

    I am writing tonight to let you all know that my response is a guest column in the Sunday edition (3-14) of the Gazette. I hope that it begins a civil, deep, important conversation in the Springs, which I’ve only lived in for about 7 months (and like!). It is a place that has quite a divide around lots of social, religious and political issues–and is in need of some unity and tolerance.

    Well, all the best to you all, Roger


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X