I hate Nightline. I used to have big hopes for them — like when they said they would air a debate between atheists and Christians, but ended up airing nothing that was useful for further dialogue.
Now, they’re doing a piece on American Atheists’ former legal director Edwin Kagin. Edwin grows on you over time and he may come off brash at first, so I’m worried how this will go. They posted an article about the segment earlier today.
The show begins with a teaser that makes Edwin look like a cult leader who’s indoctrinating people into atheism — he’s nothing of the sort. He’s just having fun with atheists who are attending the annual American Atheists convention.
They showcase the “War On Religion” that’s apparently waged by some atheists and show Kagin performing a “Debaptism” — they don’t explain why they’re doing it. They just like the terminology:
… [Kagin's] referred to Mary Magdalene as a deranged hooker and he’s called the Holy Eucharist “Swallow the Leader.”
There’s no mention of the fact that many atheists were forced to be baptized at an age when they didn’t really know what was happening and that this is a purely symbolic, humorous way to “reverse” that.
Nightline also showed a clip of women singing “Back in Their Burkas Again.”
Cambridge Boxterman, one of the women singing the song, had the best soundbyte of the piece — and I’m paraphrasing — We’re doing this for fun. It’s the religious people who are taking it seriously.
The rest of the piece doesn’t get much better.
They seem to think it’s a big deal that Edwin’s son is a fundamentalist minister, but Edwin brushes that aside:
When asked if he is pained by their opposing views on this issue, Kagin chuckled. “Oh, one wonders where they went wrong,” he said. He and his son, Steven, have an excellent relationship, Kagin said, but they do have their limits.
“We just understand there are certain things we really can’t, at this point, talk about,” he said.
And they focus on why Edwin makes fun of religion:
Kagin has said he doesn’t particularly care who he’s offending with his actions, and that he is acting completely within his rights. “You can mock anything you want because you have the right to,” he said. “Humor is humor and what types of humor are you going to outlaw?” he said.
He conceded that although it may not be good manners to continually take a mocking stance toward religion, “in many cases, it is the only real response.”
Kagin said he thought some people might get overly offended by his poking fun at religion. “If someone is so secure in their faith, why are they the least bit concerned about some little atheist mocking them?” he asked. “I think the reason they are worried and concerned is the very deep fear that if everyone doesn’t believe it, maybe it isn’t so.”
I don’t disagree with Edwin that you have a right to mock faith.
But it’s a source if debate within our community. Should we mock religion or not? There are good arguments on both sides and we’re certainly not monolithic in that regard.
***Update***: And here’s the segment
Now that it’s over, here’s why this bothered me.
The American Atheists convention this year (which I didn’t attend) seemed to be a very positive one.
Check out the schedule. There were talks by Dan Barker, who left his faith, and Paul Kurtz, who advocates reaching out to religious people in very civil ways. Students were given scholarships. Sean Faircloth spoke about the future of atheism and politics. There were philosophical talks and serious speeches.
And one relatively brief debaptism ceremony to lighten the mood and have some fun.
Nightline ignored all the positive, important events that took place at the conference and focused on the anomaly.
While I like the debaptisms, they’re not a common occurrence. They’ve taken place only a handful of times in different parts of the country. Yet, Nightline acted as if Edwin was doing these ceremonies as part of some traveling roadshow and presented it as if this is what all atheists are doing.
And when the camera went back on the host, she referred to the “distinction between free speech and poor taste.”
Without more context as to what was going on, that’s not a fair statement. There’s a very important message in those Debaptism ceremonies that the show simply ignored.
***Update***: Paul Fidalgo didn’t like the segment, either:
But I didn’t know how bad it could get. Dan Harris and those responsible for his report on Edwin Kagan, in-your-face atheism and “de-baptism” should be ashamed. The entire piece is a seven-minute finger wagging at those mean atheists. The questions to Kagan pretty much never move beyond variations on “don’t you think you’re being really rude?” Kagan and those with him at the de-baptism ceremony are portrayed as nasty, callous jerks who are out to hurt feelings for the sheer joy of it. Plus, they drag out the subject of Kagan’s fundamentalist son, I suppose to serve as some kind of foil, as if you say, “How come your son is a man of God and you’re such a jerk?” Harris even pulls the “what about Stalin” canard.