by Jesse Galef —
I swear, I thought I was used to the knee-jerk objections to nontheistic ad campaigns. We atheists and humanists come out with some of the most innocuous statements like “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” and people get upset. Our mere existence as proud nontheists is offensive. I’m used to that — people think atheists are immoral bastards, and I know it’s a misconception we need to fight. Business as usual.
But even I was surprised by the objection lobbed by USA Today’s Cathy Grossman. In a baffling move, she compares the American Humanist Association’s new ad campaign to Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.
But ditching the thoughtful-alternative concept approach for an in-your-face aggressive one just in time for Hanukkah and Christmas may be less a call to “reason” than the kind of irrational annoyance of a Westboro Baptist Church demonstration.
Those are the ones where the followers of Fred Phelps’ twisted version Christianity march around the funerals for war veterans saying their deaths are God’s retribution for society’s acceptance of homosexuals. The distance between a hateful message from Phelps that “God is your enemy” isn’t so far from saying God is hateful, is it?
The humanist ads promote tolerance and compassion, opposing religious literalism and extremism. The Westboro Baptist Church promotes bigotry and hatred, spouting a literal and extreme religious message. How much farther apart could those messages be?
The contrast should be obvious. The humanist ads point to people like Phelps and say “Some people believe that, but we believe something else — we prefer kindness and reason.” It’s not even close.
Grossman closes by asking: “Is it possible to lead an ethical life without disparaging people who believe — or think or both — differently than you?” I’m not sure where the “disparaging” accusation comes from though — the ads quote the religious texts in their own words. I don’t consider that belittling — if anything, it’s quite respectful. I could understand the charge if the ads said “Some people believe such crazy crap.” I could understand the charge if the ads had said “Christians believe” rather than “Some believe.” But the ads did neither.
This seems the best way to summarize my thoughts:
Some people believe that respectful disagreement is offensive and never appropriate.
Humanists think that calmly pushing back against harmful religious dogma is essential to move us toward a more compassionate, reasonable society.