Peaceful High School Protest Against Westboro Baptist Church

Fred Phelps‘ Westboro Baptist Church was set to descend upon Dutchtown High School in Louisiana Thursday night because they were staging a production of “The Laramie Project.”

Instead, 500 counter-protesters made a stand and Westboro was nowhere to be found :)

My friend Doug Stewart was there and took some great pics (click to expand). He also brought along a few amusing signs of his own.

What was most amazing wasn’t merely the number of (mostly student) anti-protesters, but the sense of enjoyment, fun and frivolity that their signs portrayed. I applaud the brilliance of counteracting the hateful and nonsensical signs of “Fags Die, God Laughs,” “God Hates America,” “9-11 Gift from God,” “God Blew Up the Shuttle,” and “Pray for More Dead Soldiers,” with equally nonsensical but hilarious signs such as, “God Hates Signs,” “God Hates Homework,” “God is Lady Gaga,” “God Hates Fat Free Mayonnaise,” and “I was Promised Donuts.”

Doug also adds one important comment about the Christians in the group:

… Many of the anti-protesters didn’t get the point. Signs such as “God Bless Our Soldiers”… and “Love God, Love Your Neighbor” legitimize the Westboro message as there’s just as much evidence for “God is Love” as there is for “God Hates Fags.”

It’s one thing to combat Westboro craziness with tongue-in-cheek silliness to lessen their threat and credibility. But do you think Doug has a point that the anti-Westboro Christians give cover to the Westboro people by appealing to the same god?

  • donald

    some teacher he spelled masturbates wrong still funny though.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com Spanish Inquisitor

    But do you think Doug has a point that the anti-Westboro Christians give cover to the Westboro people by appealing to the same god?

    Yes, but even if you try to point out to them that it’s the same god, they’ll think that’s a positive point.

  • cicely

    What if, while the Westboro folks were all off protesting somewhere, a large group came to their place, to protest them?

  • Miko

    Whether they are giving cover or not, telling them that they are is a strategy guaranteed to fail. As Mark Twain wrote in The War Prayer, “[i]t was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.” (You’ll have to read the whole thing to see why that’s relevant. But it’s short, so go read it.)

  • http://www.themetaskeptic.blogspot.com Kai H.

    I disagree with Doug. I think it’s far more important to attack harmful religious practices than it is to attack the institute of religion itself. There are millions of loving and accepting Christians who support our gay brothers and sisters, and I don’t think our response to them should be, “Well, you’re being just as silly as the WBC.”

    I was recently on a Faith and Sexuality panel at my campus, and I was the token atheist among four or so gay pastors (and one religious gook who opposed homosexuality). I enjoyed talking with these people about their faith, and how they reconciled that faith with their sexuality. And honestly, I didn’t care that they believed in a god. What does it matter, if they’re not harming anyone through that belief? If they’re not opposing science education and the separation of church and state? It’s easy enough to say that religious belief leads to harmful practices, but this does not seem like a necessary consequence to me. And when the consequences aren’t there, what’s the problem?

  • Mak

    I agree with Kai. If all religious folk were the quiet, loving kind, I wouldn’t care nearly as much about atheism. I’d still think that teaching people to believe in the supernatural without evidence is harmful, because it can lead to the kind of fundamentalism that scares me, but I wouldn’t bother fighting it. My family is full of loving, kind people who believe in God, and I’m not about to tell them that there’s no room for them in social activism until they stop believing.

  • Haley

    I find this very interesting, as WBC is actually going to protest at my own high school this week. Many people are talking about staging an anti-protest while they are protesting (but then again, we are a bunch of teenagers; who knows if people will follow through?). Sadly, I won’t be able to attend, since my mother conveniently scheduled my dentist appointment for that day. She’s worried that someone will attack them and we’ll all get arrested or something like that.

    In any case, it’s really very interesting to hear all of the responses to their arrival. Of course, everyone I’ve talked to is extremely upset and is very angry–we live near a military base, and many people have relatives in the military–but their justifications are laughable. They claim that the Westboro Baptist Church isn’t a “true” Christian denomination. Perfect example of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

  • jose

    To those who think it might be convenient to allie with religious folks:

    Why do you think America is passing a healthcare reform that won’t pay a single public dollar for abortion?

  • http://auryn29a.livejournal.com Auryn

    The misspelling of “masturbates” really is kind of embarrassing and is unfortunately the only thing I took away from those photos.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com/ Deen

    But do you think Doug has a point that the anti-Westboro Christians give cover to the Westboro people by appealing to the same god?

    Yes, he does. They’re both working from the same book, they just take different messages away from it. They’ll eventually even use very similar arguments when you try to point out that it’s silly to let your life be ruled by a 2000 year old book full of contradictions.

    Pitting “God loves fags” against “God hates fags” also makes the issue into a matter of theology (“What does God really think about fags?”) rather than an issue of human decency and critical thinking.

    That said, I take liberal “God loves everyone”-Christians over bigots like WBC any day.

  • fritzy

    “But do you think Doug has a point that the anti-Westboro Christians give cover to the Westboro people by appealing to the same god?”

    Yes. It’s one unsupportable, made-up claim against another. As Sam Harris points out in “The End of Faith,” moderate and liberal believers provide mainstream cred to irrational, supersitious ideas, thereby indirectly legitimizing the fringe. They tend to pepper legitimate, well reasoned arguments with gratuitous woo. That said, the xtain counter-protestors hearts (if not their brains) are in the right place and they should probably be the least of your concerns when in a situation such as this.

    BTW–when dealing with trailer-rubbish such as the Westboro Klux Klan, spelling really does count.

  • Dave B.

    That sign would have been better as “Every time you kill a kitten, god masturbates.”

  • Alec

    Anyone see the student behind the woman photographer in the foreground? He’s got facepaint on and his sign says “I LIKE TURTLES”. Lawl.

  • fiddler

    Kai H. : (and one religious gook who opposed homosexuality)

    …. uuummm please tell me you meant kook! otherwise you are an ignorant bastage and most of us would rather you didn’t continue posting racial slurs….

  • http://godlessevangelist.com Doug Stewart

    To Kai

    I find it hard to think of a religious practice that isn’t harmful in the long run. Can anyone enlighten me?

    Your own example of the gay pastors that have “reconciled their faith with their sexuality”; you say that as if it’s a good thing; but why should they have to? Would it also be a good thing if they “reconciled their [right handed] faith” with being left handed? Why would anyone want to be a member of such an organization? It sounds like a black man “reconciling his faith” with the KKK.

    You say “What does it matter, if they’re not harming anyone through that belief?” Well, I’m sure the Pastors weren’t planning to axe murder anyone on campus, but you can be equally as sure that they’re going to vote (and indoctrinate other people into voting) for someone that supports the oppression of women, (denying the right to choose while simultaneously opposing contraception), the Priest child abuse cover up, distortion of science, (soul belief, stem cell research, etc.), delusional ideas, (world created in seven days, Noah’s arc, born of a virgin, transubstantiation, the resurrection and atonement), the right of death with dignity, anti-condoms even for disease prevention, and the child abuse of indoctrination using the threat of hell.

    But then again, I’m sure they were nice guys?

    You’ve been duped and you don’t even realize it.

    P.S. I’m an Engineer by trade, so bad spelling is part of my job description. (I hate it that Microsoft Word spell checker doesn’t work with capitals.)

  • http://www.edwardlarson.com Ed

    @Doug

    I find it hard to think of a religious practice that isn’t harmful in the long run. Can anyone enlighten me?

    I don’t see this as the case at all. I think in many cases religious practices can be quite beneficial. Meditation is one obvious example. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_applications_and_clinical_studies_of_meditation
    I have seen studies that show benefits to saying the rosary similar to meditation, like this one http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC61046/

    Some religious practices may be inherently harmful (I can’t think of many here other than perhaps outright physical mutilation like cutting off body parts to offer to gods for instance), but I think it more likely that it is more a matter of how they are practiced and applied. A few posts back on this site there was an in depth back and forth about fasting for instance. Some studies suggest is has health benefits and it may be positive if practiced in moderation, but clearly not eating, if taken too far can hardly be considered a good idea.

    Someone could argue that running is harmful in the log run because of the stress it puts on the joints, and while true in many instances, they would have to ignore lots of evidence that running can be quite beneficial (weight loss, heart healthy, improved circulation/respiration, mood improvement etc) in order to do so. I think most practices are like this-whether or not they are positive often depends on the particulars of how and why you do it.

  • Demonhype

    I don’t even think the question is about whether the nice Christians are propping up puke-stains like WBC. My problem is that holding up “God is love” signs derails the point into a theological discussion. The point of the counter-protests is to mock WBC’s hateful yet childish behavior as the pathetic attention-whoring impotence that it is, worthy only of the bemused mockery of the rest of the world. Whether you believe “God is love” or “God hates Fags” is beside the point–their behavior is disgusting and their methods are absurd, and picketing funerals is one of the nastiest things you can do–it’s neither the time nor place for it.

    The serious signs are saying, “Oh, no no no, you’ve got God all wrong!” when a much better and more effective message in this situation is “You’re a damn child and you need to grow up.”

    That said, it is nice to see the nice Christians putting their money where their mouth is and defying the ugly Christians rather than just berating atheists for lumping them together while not doing a damn thing to show their disassociation. I always have to say to them, “Those guys aren’t True Christians ™? Well then, what are you doing being so quiet? Don’t tell me, tell them!” I just think the mockery angle is more effective with WBC.

  • gwen

    I wonder who clues the WBC on these types of things. SOMEONE had to let them know about the production. I doubt a podunk town in LA would put on a big enough production to come to their attention.
    “Every time you kill a kitten, god masturbates.”…Dave, I love it!!!
    I do think that making fun of them seems to have a greater effect on them than yelling and making countering signs!

  • Steve

    “The same God” is a bullshit statement. It’s not possible. Really.

    I’ve done the atheist thing. And it’s awesome that people are willing to face unpleasant realities even in the face of instinctual fear. If you think that being an atheist makes you a better person, sweet.
    But don’t be an asshole. Don’t worry about making ridiculous arguments. Talk is cheap. Make the world a better place and your actions will speak for themselves. The proof is, as they say, in the pudding.

    almostpositive@gmail.com

  • http://llanaduckk@myspace.com Malana

    I am a Dutchtown High School Student, thankfully graduating this year. I must agree there were more moronic people there, looking for something “fun” to do. There weren’t a lot of out students out in the back, the most of them actually went and saw the play, there were people there just to be there with signs such as “Hi, Billy Mays here” and “God Loves Herb” , and while they are quite humorous, is a tad irrelevant and unnecessary.

    There was actually only One protester, I’m sure you’ve read, and he was actually from our community. THUS, any schools who’ve heard that the WBC will be there to protest there’s nothing to fret, because they are /all/ closet cases and Hitler wanna-bees, closing the minds of their children.

    Now, I am a lesbian, and I believe in nothing. The WBC was honestly a great disappointment. I was expecting for these…. people to stay strong with their beliefs but they did not, which makes them look like a bigger joke than before.

  • bezboznik

    every time i masturbate, a kitten kills a god

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “They claim that the Westboro Baptist Church isn’t a “true” Christian denomination. Perfect example of the No True Scotsman fallacy.”

    Perhaps. Except I don’t think there’s any account – biblical or extrabiblical – of Jesus protesting anything. The guy hung out with prostitutes and other social outcasts (I’m talking first century standards here… not passing judgment on what you may or may not do for a living).

    Can we at least agree on a definition of Christian that is limited to the actions and teachings of Christ. That’ll make it much easier for all of us (Christian or otherwise) when it comes to pointing out that the Westboro Baptists are a dangerously crazy fringe cult with no grip on theology or logic. I do not worship the God they do – and when they meet him (according to the Bible) they’ll be the type who say “Lord, Lord” and Jesus will say “I know you not”… the no true Scotsman fallacy does not apply here because we have a definition of Christianity that these guys don’t meet.

  • jose

    Can we at least agree on a definition of Christian that is limited to the actions and teachings of Christ.

    No.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com/ Deen

    @Nathan: the problem is making this about “what Jesus would have wanted” to begin with. This should be about people, and how we treat them, not about Gods.

  • http://godlessevangelist.com Doug Stewart

    @ Ed

    In the link you provided, an Evidence-based Practice Center concluded that “Many uncertainties surround the practice of meditation. Scientific research on meditation practices does not appear to have a common theoretical perspective and is characterized by poor methodological quality. Firm conclusions on the effects of meditation practices in healthcare cannot be drawn based on the available evidence. Future research on meditation practices must be more rigorous in the design and execution of studies and in the analysis and reporting of results.” So until then, I would say that meditation is firmly in the skeptical ‘alternative medicine’ category.

    However, eastern religion has given meditation ‘mysticism’ that has aided its popularity. If meditation ‘works’ (whatever that means) or not, it should stand or fall on its own merits. That’s another strike against religion if you ask me.

    It’s a bit of a stretch to say that meditation is religion but regardless, as long as people don’t believe there’s something magical happening, if it proves to provide advantages, that’s great, but it won’t give religion any credit. For example, it’s no secret that a sensible diet, moderate exercise, and having a good support structure and community is the recipe for health. But just because religion provides the latter doesn’t give it any credit. Investing in ones family and friends can be achieved through one’s knitting society, bowling club, or freethought organization just as effectively as one’s church.

  • muggle

    First, yay! Way to go, kids!

    “But do you think Doug has a point that the anti-Westboro Christians give cover to the Westboro people by appealing to the same god?”

    No, I don’t. We want the nicer, blander, peaceable form of Christianity to far over shadow the WBC’s brand. We want to encourage them to be peaceable. We want to cheer them on when they say that’s not my god. We want to encourage bridging gaps between people. That’s best for all people.

    At some future time, might some other group pore over the book and take it so literally that they become hateful and dangerous? Maybe, maybe not. The future’s not ours to see. Que sera, que sera. (Hope I spelled that right.)

    Unless you destroy all holy texts — and I certainly hope you aren’t proposing book burning — that danger will always be among us. Hell, even if you do burn all religious texts, that danger still exists. This shit was all made up once upon a time and it has every capability of being so time and time again.

    Last but not least, we want to encourage liberal Christianity because we are outnumbered. Or do you think the wise rational thing is for 15% of the population to take on 80% of it head to head?

    I certainly hope if we were 80% to their 15%, we could be as benign. I sometimes have my doubts given the vehemence shown but I hope we could be.

    Belief is not a choice.

  • http://www.edwardlarson.com Ed

    Doug- I never claimed meditation was a religion. You asked for a religious practice that was not harmful in the long run. Meditation is a religious practice.

    Investing in ones family and friends can be achieved through one’s knitting society, bowling club, or freethought organization just as effectively as one’s church.

    Again, although I agree with you, this is not the issue. The point is not whether or not there are secular options that provide the same benefits- the point is that your claim that ALL religious practices are ultimately harmful, is outright bunk.

    Many religious practices (like every other activity human beings engage in from sex to sun bathing) are neutral, many are negative, many are positive and many more some combination of the above. I provided several religious practices with some evidence that they are positive or some mix of positive and negative, but really I suppose the burden of proof ought to rest with you and your claim that all religious practices are harmful. Can you detail how every single religious practice is harmful?

  • http://www.edwardlarson.com Ed

    Doug, I’ll also point out the bit I have a problem with,

    I find it hard to think of a religious practice that isn’t harmful in the long run. Can anyone enlighten me?

    looks an awful lot like an appeal to ignorance.

  • http://www.edwardlarson.com Ed

    While I’m at it, I’ll also ask you to clarify your knowledge about the beliefs, character and behavior of the pastors Kai mentioned, where you wrote :

    Well, I’m sure the Pastors weren’t planning to axe murder anyone on campus, but you can be equally as sure that they’re going to vote (and indoctrinate other people into voting) for someone that supports the oppression of women, (denying the right to choose while simultaneously opposing contraception), the Priest child abuse cover up, distortion of science, (soul belief, stem cell research, etc.), delusional ideas, (world created in seven days, Noah’s arc, born of a virgin, transubstantiation, the resurrection and atonement), the right of death with dignity, anti-condoms even for disease prevention, and the child abuse of indoctrination using the threat of hell.

    How can you be so certain what these pastors believe without even knowing their denominations? For all you know they where all UU pastors (which again wouldn’t tell you conclusively anything about their beliefs, voting patterns etc.) Pretty much the only thing you can be sure of about them is that since they are all pastors, none of them is a Catholic.

  • http://godlessevangelist.com Doug Stewart

    @ Muggle

    “We want the nicer, blander, peaceable form of Christianity to far over shadow the WBC’s brand.”

    So from this logic, the largest numbers of protestors/anti-protestors or the protestors/anti-protestors that shout the loudest are the “right” protestors are they?

    “We want to encourage them to be peaceable.”

    Even if everyone on the planet was at that anti-protest, do you really think that the WBC would be “peaceable”?

    “We want to cheer them on when they say that’s not my god.”

    Can’t you see that this will turn the WBC anti-protest into a debate? That’s EXACTLY what WBC want. If you can provide any evidence of any kind that proves that “God is Good” or disproves “God Hates Fags”, then I and the rest of humanity would be fascinated. The only effective way of diluting the hateful WBC message is through ridicule with nonsensical signs such as “Does This Sign Make Me Look Fat?”, “My Signs Bigger then Your Sign”, “Warning: This Sign Has Sharp Edges”. It sends the message that just because you can make a sign that says anything at all, it doesn’t make the statement true.

    “We want to encourage bridging gaps between people.”

    How about encouraging the truth? So you’re accommodation atheism is okay with agreeing that say, Jesus was born of half a virgin? Either Jesus was born of a virgin, rose from the dead and absolved us of our sins, or he didn’t.

    “we want to encourage liberal Christianity because we are outnumbered. Or do you think the wise rational thing is for 15% of the population to take on 80% of it head to head?”

    Again, I think the “wise rational thing” to do it the truth. When Rosa Parks said “no” to being forced to sit in the back of the buss, that wasn’t a very “wise rational thing” to do was it? With your mentality we’d still have racial oppression, woman in-equality, and slavery.

  • http://godlessevangelist.com Doug Stewart

    @ Ed

    Meditation is NOT a “religious practice”. It’s a practice sometimes adopted by some religions. Just like providing community isn’t a “religious practice” for the same reasons.

    I guess I should specify that my definition of a “religious practice” is something that involves the unexplainable ‘woo’. (I don’t see how sex or sunbathing applies?) You say you’ve provided several examples of religious practice. I got meditation, what about the others? Instead of just saying “bunk”, and my request is an “appeal to ignorance”, please provide a list. I would honestly be very interested.

    I didn’t say that “all religious practices are harmful”, or “every single religious practice is harmful“. You’re just putting words in my mouth, no better than any creationist. I said “I find it hard to think of a religious practice that isn’t harmful in the long run.”

    I have three kids and I think Santa is a great idea because of the look of wonder in their eyes on Christmas morning. If I would have thought that they’d believe in Santa into their adulthood then I wouldn’t have allowed it, hence the term “in the long run”.

    But take the central Christian premise that Jesus was born of a virgin, rose from the dead and absolved us of our sins. You can’t see any potential problems with that? From the violation of biological science, to the belief in the afterlife to having a “get out of my sins free card”?

    Lastly, your statement that, for all I knew, the Pastors that Kai were debating with could have been UU Pastors. I don’t think I was presumptuous in assuming that the Pastors had a supernatural belief of some sort. Why would they be debating an atheist, reconciling their homosexuality with their faith, and be calling themselves Pastors. How many atheist Pastors (that are out) are there?

    I state my request again. “Can anyone give me any supernatural practice that isn’t harmful in the long run?

  • Ed

    Doug, your initial request was not for a supernatural practice- that would be an impossible task. How can anyone provide proof or evidence something beyond the natural observable, testable world exists? It is not observable, or testable or provable, by definition.

    Your initial request was for a religious practice that was not ultimately harmful. I believe fasting and meditation are two examples.

    There are instances where the evidence suggests meditation is beneficial although as stated in the wikipedia link, flaws exist and more rigorous study is needed. Fasting too shows health benefits and wikipedia again has what appears to be a balanced page on it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasting#Health_effects

    Meditation is NOT a “religious practice”. It’s a practice sometimes adopted by some religions. Just like providing community isn’t a “religious practice” for the same reasons.

    How does pointing out that secular meditation exists, negate the fact that meditation is often a key religious practice for many religions? “Providing community” doesn’t count, because it is not an activity a religion teaches, it is a by product of other activities. It sounds like you asking for a practice that is unrepeatable by someone secular, which is impossible.

    I guess I should specify that my definition of a “religious practice” is something that involves the unexplainable ‘woo’. (I don’t see how sex or sunbathing applies?)

    I don’t think you get to limit religious practices to the world of unsupportable woo. I am sure you would agree all of them have real world consequences because all of them are real world activities. All religious activities take place in the real world be they meditation, bowing, chanting, prayer, baptism, marriage, last rights, fasting, dedication of karmic merit, communion, or eating a particular diet.

    Sex and sun bathing relate because whether they are or are not ultimately harmful depends on the particulars of how and why they are practiced. Just like meditation, fasting, saying the rosary, eating a particular diet, etc. how and why they are practiced determines whether or not they are harmful. The practices themselves are not inherently tainted.

    I didn’t say that “all religious practices are harmful”, or “every single religious practice is harmful“. You’re just putting words in my mouth, no better than any creationist. I said “I find it hard to think of a religious practice that isn’t harmful in the long run.”

    Ok, you did not say all religious practices are harmful, but aren’t you implying it as well as shifting the burden of proof? You seem to be asking us to provide examples that your statement is untrue. But we don’t have to prove a negative, you do. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    Ed said:

    Meditation is a religious practice.

    Doug said:

    Meditation is NOT a “religious practice”. It’s a practice sometimes adopted by some religions.

    I would clear this up as follows:

    Meditation for reasons of relaxation might be good for you, but is clearly not a religious practice. Its purpose is completely secular.

    Meditation as a religious practice, however, must have some spiritual purpose to consider it a “religious” practice. Something like “becoming one with the universe” or “finding your inner spirit” or something like that. The relaxation might be a beneficial side-effect, but it is not relevant to its religious purpose.

    If we now agree that there is very likely no inner spirit or universal consciousness to be reached, trying to reach these through meditating becomes a complete waste of time, and therefore harmful. Not dangerously harmful, of course, but it’s a missed opportunity to do something that could have been useful.

  • Ed

    Meditation as a religious practice, however, must have some spiritual purpose to consider it a “religious” practice. Something like “becoming one with the universe” or “finding your inner spirit” or something like that. The relaxation might be a beneficial side-effect, but it is not relevant to its religious purpose.

    Hmm thanks Deen that is a bit clearer for me, this is no doubt where Doug was going with his bit about how religious practice involves woo.

    I will tentatively agree that, when any practice involves a supernatural or otherwise untestable element while making a real world claim the result is likely to be negative (for someone, though not necessarily for the person involved in the woo) simply because it is advocating a reliance on the untestable and unprovable.

    I don’t limit religious practices to a belief or element of woo though. If you did you would eliminate much of Buddhism as religious. (Claiming we are all “one with the universe” is not woo either http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGK84Poeynk nor is the experience or “feeling” that we are connected in this way, woo, it is a biological, testable, reproducable chemical process occurring in the brain.)

  • http://godlessevangelist.com Doug Stewart

    @ Ed

    We’re getting confused over semantics of “religious practice” and “supernatural practice”. To me, they’re the same and imply something magical is going on. So, if I may restate it as, “I find it hard to think of a supernatural practice that isn’t harmful in the long run” I’ll reply to your answers as follows: –

    Mediation (Including bowing & chanting) – If the relaxation, listening to rhythmic music, provide benefits/stress relief, that’s fine. But if you believe that because it makes you “closer to god”, “one with the universe”, or “more enlightened” than someone that doesn’t meditate – PROBLEM

    Fasting – If the body has naturally evolved to cope with, and even expect occasional periods of starvation, then that’s fine. But if you believe that because you fasted you’re somehow “purer” or “in god’s graces” more than someone that doesn’t fast – PROBLEM

    Prayer (Including karmic merit) – It makes the individual believe that they’re doing something useful, and informing other people that one’s praying for them can instill a sense of community that has benefits. However, problems believing you can talk to god range from being a waste of time, praying instead of doing something that can really solve the problem, to thinking that god is on your side because of your schizophrenia – PROBLEM

    Baptism – Going through a family ceremony provides another form of community and is fine. But if you believe that the baby (who has no choice in the matter) is now a member of a certain club for the rest of his/her life that’s enforced by the power of god – PROBLEM.

    Marriage – If a man and a woman (or a man/man woman/woman for that matter) want to live the rest of their life together then that’s not only fine but I believe an evolutionarily adaptive desire. But thinking that god has joined people together so divorce isn’t an option is responsible for tragedies from life long misery to condoning rape and continual wife beating – PROBLEM

    Last rights – If someone want to give statements to their family before they die, that may be comforting for the individual and also for the family (or not) that go on living. But if someone thinks that they can do a bad thing in life and then just confess it on their death bed and everything okay with “Jesus” and they’re still going to “heaven” that just encourages more bad behavior – PROBLEM

    Diet – If someone doesn’t like to eat something (I personally can’t stand celery), that’s fine. But if someone believes that all people that eat pork are dirty because god said so, or beef because the cow is a sacred animal – PROBLEM

    Communion – There’s nothing wrong with the ceremony, but if someone actually believes that because a priest waves his hand over a cracker it magically turns into the flesh of a man that dies 2000 years ago, it’s no different from Voodoo. I was at a Catholic Convention where all the priests were given a standing ovation because they were the only ones with “the gift of transubstantiation”. This raises the ‘human’ priests to a higher Witch Doctor or godly lever and therefore is a contributor to the susceptibility of child rape. – BIG PROBLEM

  • Ed

    Doug, your last post does seem the same as my claim that all religious activities are not inherently bad but depend instead on how and why they are being practiced. (using my definition of religious practice as a teaching or activity central to a religion/ not necessarily woo related)I agree with all of the above post, sorry you had to type so much. :)

    The only caveat I’ll add is that “problem” does not necessarily equate with “ultimately harmful.”

    Going back to Kai’s post, how does this restatement affect your disagreement with his statement that

    What does it matter, if they’re not harming anyone through that belief? If they’re not opposing science education and the separation of church and state? It’s easy enough to say that religious belief leads to harmful practices, but this does not seem like a necessary consequence to me. And when the consequences aren’t there, what’s the problem?

  • bob

    Every time I kill a kitten, god masturbates.

  • http://www.themetaskeptic.blogspot.com Kai H.

    …. uuummm please tell me you meant kook! otherwise you are an ignorant bastage and most of us would rather you didn’t continue posting racial slurs….

    I did indeed mean “kook”, and I apologize for the typo.

    @Doug

    I understand your concerns about each of those practices you mentioned. However, I agree with Ed that at least some of these practices can be entirely benign. There are probably a lot of people who do believe that prayer can solve all their problems, and I strongly object to that point of view. But in my experience, many more people believe that they need to back up their words with actions (and thus prayer for them is more of an emotionally fulfilling experience than anything else). I can’t see the harm in that.

    I have an acquaintance who will absolutely not support physician-assisted suicide or other forms of euthanasia because he finds it hard to think of any euthanasia practice that will not be harmful in the long run. Obviously, we should be concerned about possible abuse, but the potentiality of abuse isn’t a strong enough argument to oppose the practice all together. The burden of proof is on the person who claims that harm and abuse necessarily follow from practice.

  • Richard Wade

    Every time a kitten masturbates God, it kills me.

  • http://runawayjim.org RunawayJim

    I’m not really sure of the point of all the arguments here. Honestly, who cares if someone is religious? Doesn’t going around calling religious people wrong for believing what they do equate to the same thing they do when they say you’re wrong for not believing in a god of some sort?

    It all comes down to one thing. Are the people good people? If they don’t personally support oppression, regardless of what the main tenets of their religion say (I know plenty of Christians who support gay marriage and abortion rights, even though their religion says otherwise), how is it a problem? I just fail to see all of these arguments. They just don’t make any sense. One of the beauties of this country is the freedom to believe or not believe in whatever religion you want. It seems to me that you’re saying we shouldn’t allow people to believe in a god because it’s just silly and a big problem for society. Some of the most inclusive non-oppressive societies around the world are based on religion. Some of these are even matriarchal rather than patriarchal, which tends to be the norm.

    I mean, seriously, why do you care?

  • http://godlessevangelist.com Doug Stewart

    @ Kai, Ed, & RunawayJim

    “It all comes down to one thing. Are the people good people?”

    “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”
    Steven Weinberg, quoted in The New York Times, April 20, 1999
    If the sweetest, kindest, most wonderful little old lady votes for a politician because of her perspective of where she wants the country to go based on reason, rationality, critical thinking, etc., that’s absolutely fine. But if she votes for that same politician based on a belief in an all powerful invisible magical dictator who she thinks is controlling everything, that’s a bad thing a little above being “just silly”.

    Because of that vote, what if you were gay and weren’t allowed to marry the person you love, would that be “just silly”? Because of that vote, if you were a woman that was told that contraception is bad and got pregnant and weren’t allowed to have an abortion, even if you were raped or the fetus was deformed, would that be “just silly”? Because of that vote, if your kid got the HIV virus because schools told them that condoms were bad, that would be “just silly”? Because of that vote, if your kids come home from school and tell you that they were taught that the world is 6,000 years old, thereby making it impossible for them to get a profession in biology, zoology, medicine, geology, astronomy, and pretty much any science field, is that “just silly”? Because of that vote, if you had a crippling debilitation and agonizing disease where there was no hope and you saw the devastation it was causing not only to you but to your loved ones, not having the option to end your own life would be “just silly”? Because of that vote, what if your little girl looked terrified and was psychologically traumatized because she stole a cookie from the cookie jar and was told at school she’s going to burn forever in a lake of fire, would that be “just silly”?

    A lot of atheists go on about religious belief being responsible for instigating most wars, The Crusades, The Conquistadores, The Inquisition, etc. But that was a long time ago and would never happen, say, in the last election. To think that a politician, no matter how young, pretty, and charismatic could ever come to power that believed in say, the End Times and would be willing to implement world policy to start the Rapture in an attempt to bring on the second coming of Christ. Why, thinking something like that would be “JUST SILLY”?

  • http://www.edwardlarson.com Ed

    Doug, I love that quote too, it is very catchy, although it is not the whole story. It is not religion per se that causes good people to act badly, but authority (something that for many people religion acts as of course)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7791278.stm

    I am tired of beating a dead horse and I don’t think we really have particularly different views on the issue. Where I see us differing is perhaps on a question of degree. You seem more forceful in your willingness to find fault with religion (maybe this is definition based as we explored earlier with the issue of religious practice) and I am perhaps more lenient. We both agree reliance on faith without evidence or on woo is at least problematic, again perhaps there is a difference here on the degree of harm we see it causing.

    I still find Kai’s original response compelling, and haven’t seen any argument from you adequately refuting it.

    “..it’s far more important to attack harmful religious practices than it is to attack the institute of religion itself. There are millions of loving and accepting Christians who support our gay brothers and sisters, and I don’t think our response to them should be, “Well, you’re being just as silly as the WBC.”…I didn’t care that they believed in a god. What does it matter, if they’re not harming anyone through that belief? If they’re not opposing science education and the separation of church and state? It’s easy enough to say that religious belief leads to harmful practices, but this does not seem like a necessary consequence to me. And when the consequences aren’t there, what’s the problem?

    Religious belief for millions is harmful and leads to all sorts of ills as you detailed in your last post. For those reasons I agree we often need to challenge its assumptions, beliefs, and practices. What I don’t see however, is the pressing need to alienate the many people who don’t share those hateful, bigoted beliefs- people who are supporting us against obviously harmful fundamentalist thought. As Kai put it “it’s far more important to attack harmful religious practices than it is to attack the institute of religion itself.” As I hope I have illustrated, determining whether or not religion is harmful is dependent on first examining the particulars of each case- all the hows and whys it is practiced. A UU is not the same as a member of WBC and the level of harm they are causing is drastically different. Our response to them ought to take that difference into account.

    I’ll also point out that while (according to this site, is it really accurate?) 76.5% of Danes call themselves religious, they demonstrate a drastic difference from what we might expect that to imply here in the USA. http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp/2009/05/denmark_a_society_with_god_sor.php Clearly understanding particulars of how and why a particular belief or religion is practiced matters because we can’t assume automatically that the practice or belief is harmful.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org RBH

    Kai wrote

    It’s easy enough to say that religious belief leads to harmful practices, but this does not seem like a necessary consequence to me. And when the consequences aren’t there, what’s the problem?

    The problem is that religious belief requires and values accepting substantial propositions about the nature of the universe and humans without evidence, and even in the face of contradicting evidence. It’s the positive valuing of belief in the absence of evidence that makes all religion dangerous. While we often have to accept things on the say-so of other people because we simply don’t have time to evaluate every claim, where the issues get real serious claims must be susceptible to examination and (potentially) rejection in the light of independent evidence. But religions insulate themselves precisely in order to avoid that sort of examination. That is a pernicious intellectual stance.

  • Ed

    RBH

    The problem is that religious belief requires and values accepting substantial propositions about the nature of the universe and humans without evidence, and even in the face of contradicting evidence..etc

    This is too broad although I agree with the idea behind the statement. Sometimes it is true, maybe even most of the time it is true, but it is not always true. There are plenty of UUs, Quakers and Buddhists to name a few, who this statement would not apply to. Quite a few Buddhists, UU and Quakers are atheists, free thinkers and empirically rather than woo based. You claim religion positively values belief without evidence- but this is not always the case. This was my point about Denmark and religion and one could make a case that in Buddhism reliance on anything that is not first tested and validated as true by a practitioners own experience, ought to be treated skeptically or rejected. Religion, just like religious practices which I have detailed here in other posts, does not necessarily cause harm, even the type of indirect harm you describe. This is an important point because when we forget it we are much more likely to find blame and attack those who don’t merit it. We will be much more likely to be viewed as “angry atheists” agitating for the abolition of religion. It is very important that we are clear about what really is harmful, what really needs to change, and who our allies are. Among other things it is a matter of triage.

  • http://godlessevangelist.com Doug Stewart

    @ Ed

    If a person has a supernatural belief, then they can justify anything. When I say “anything” I mean ANYTHING. From wearing magical underpants to flying planes into buildings. Obviously the ‘danger’ involved varies significantly from the little old lady that votes for a bible thumping politician to a Taliban terrorist, but in their mind they’re capable of justifying “ANYTHING! ANYTHING! ANYTHING!

    I think people have been ‘numbed’ by religion. If a person was sitting next to you and told you that his dog becomes invisible on Wednesdays, you’d at least walk away because the guy may be dangerous. You may even be tempted to call the funny farm. But if that person said that a man that lived 2000 years ago died, came back to life, rose into the sky, and in doing so took all the responsibility for all the bad things away from every human being that has or will ever live –no problem there eh?

    If a million people believe something ridiculous, it’s called a religion. If a thousand people believe the same thing, it’s called a cult. If one person believes the same thing, it’s called insanity. Just because you’ve heard the bullshit a million times, doesn’t mean it’s not bullshit.

  • Ed

    Doug, I have two issues with your last comment. First how does your last comment relate to my point that there are plenty of people involved in religion who have a skeptical, evidence based approach? How does your point relate to all those people in Denmark who are religious but don’t have any supernatural beliefs, all the UU’s, Quakers, and Buddhists I mentioned?

    Second, just because someone holds a relatively benign belief that is supernatural or superstitious (for example that it is unlucky to walk under ladders), does it really mean that they are willing to justify and support a more pernicious belief? You say “but in their mind they’re capable of justifying “ANYTHING! ANYTHING! ANYTHING!” but that seems far from clear in the above example. People believe all sorts of things for a variety of reasons, sometimes we are able to justify the beliefs and sometimes even though we can’t, we still find ourselves believing them. This may create a cognitive dissonance which will be resolved in one way or another, but it is not clear that great harm will be the result.

  • http://godlessevangelist.com Doug Stewart

    @Ed

    Maybe it’s just semantics but talking about people that “are religious but don’t have any supernatural beliefs” to me is a nonsensical statement. The very definition of the word religion implies belief in the supernatural.

    However, I think I understand your question. Obviously these people themselves aren’t the problem, but in involving themselves with religion they do tend to promote it from just adding to their numbers, (which encourages more membership), to putting money in the collection plate. Also, any good they do for the community, religion gets the credit.

    My father was an atheist (he called himself an agnostic) but attended church regularly because he did a lot of community work and the Christian establishment was the best (and probably only) way to network.

    But, I say again, obviously these people are at the very bottom of the ‘problem list’.

    To answer your second point, even a “relatively benign belief that is supernatural” can turn around and bite you in the ass. The belief that a supernatural being implants a soul at the moment a human sperm enters a human egg causes problem that take rights away from women and gets the occasional abortion doctor murdered.

    Going down the scale of irrational belief, of which I have many myself, they can still be destructive. Taking your example of not walking under a ladder, it may be an urban myth but I heard there was a kindergarten teacher that walked her children onto the road to avoid walking under a ladder and there was an accident. I also heard that a woman committed suicide after breaking a mirror because she couldn’t face the seven years of bad luck. I guess the rule is that irrationality is okay as long as it doesn’t cause problems.

    There was a psychology experiment where a bowl of ice cram was put in one corner of a room and a bowl of human excrement was put in another corner. The bowls were far enough apart that people had no problem eating the ice cream. But if the end of a length of fishing wire was placed in the feces and went up and draped across the ceiling of the room and the other end was placed in the ice cream, people were very reluctant to eat the ice cream. However, if an inch of fishing wire was cut out of the middle so there wasn’t a continuous line, people had no problem eating the ice cream again.

    Even though it’s irrational, I can easily imagine my behavior being the same as the test subjects.

    So what’s wrong with that I hear you ask? Well there’s a direct parallel between this experiment and the relocation of terrorists from Guantanamo Bay to mainland America. People, (including myself) have an irrational belief that it’s somehow a ‘spiritual’ insult to our troops that fought and died in Afghanistan. Or that terrorists are so despicable that the thought of them escaping and being on American soil is too much to bear, where rationally, in the very unlikely event that there was a prison break, I’d rather have terrorists in my neighborhood than your run of the mill every day murderers.

    So in this instance, I would analyze all the evidence, realize that my belief was irrational and have the mental capability to go against my instincts and change my mind. Religious people can’t do that.

  • trickie

    Any ideology taken to an extreme has the potential to be harmful. Not just religious ones.

    I like that there are people who will stand up to WBC and show that they don’t have a monopoly on religious thought.

  • Nick

    “But do you think Doug has a point that the anti-Westboro Christians give cover to the Westboro people by appealing to the same god?”

    No. And in a sense, it’s not the same god, is it?

    I do agree that those people probably shouldn’t have tried to make theological counterpoints at a protest. Protests are a good place for quick slogans that discredit the opponent i.e. “every time i kill god a kitten masturbates.”

    But for Christians, the stakes are higher than they are for atheists. As evidenced in this very forum, some people will make broad generalizations about a large group of people based on the actions and words of a vocal minority (this bigoted way of simplifying humanity is one of the chief problems Atheists have with Christians, oddly enough). I think that the Christians holding up signs like “God is Love” were really trying to tell that to others, not necessarily arguing with those crazies protesting the Laramy Project.

    Also if all gods are just made by people, and one person’s version says that God hates gay people and someone else’s says He doesn’t, those aren’t really the same gods at all, are they?

  • http://godlessevangelist.com Doug Stewart

    Nick: Two problems with your post.

    First, when you say “it’s not the same god” and “those aren’t really the same gods at all”, I understand your point but, as everyone there, from the WBC to the gay Big Easy Metropolitan Community Church were Christians, they ARE talking about he same god, it’s just that their interpretation of that god is wildly different. So,again, interpreting the wishes of a sky ghost is tantamount to living in ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land”.

    Secondly, when you say, “some people will make broad generalizations about a large group of people based on the actions and words of a vocal minority”, that’s not true. Every Christian I’ve ever known believes that a guy was executed and miraculously took away humanities “sins” when he came back to life. By the definition of the word ‘Christian’, that’s true from the most obnoxious loud mouth WBC member to the meek and mild little old lady that sells cookies at the county fair. The impact on society from that belief is vastly different, but it’s the belief that is the problem, not the people.

  • http://www.ihop.org Michigansucks

    as A Christian I wish folks stop calling these Folks Christians. It’s also the same when people lump the catholic church with christianity cathlics only represent 6% of so called christians. anyways these people are loons and if they were in my town I would probably counter them in a smart way only problem you have loons like the guy in the pick above is as offensive as these idiots from westboro. so anyways if anyone wants to know what the actual tru definition of Religion is according to the bible read one sentence James 1:27 and its ok to quiz so called christians because if they are not doing that then its all for not. So go in peace much love for lovers and haters live life. remember God is Love anyone tell you different they are smoking out og the wrong pipe


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