How Should Atheists React in Different Situations?

Every now and then, we come across a situation where it’s not entirely clear how atheists should respond.

Is every public mention of a god by a politician deserving of a lawsuit?

Are there times when a religious issue may be controversial but worth fighting for, regardless of the PR ramifications?

Are there ever times when it’s a smarter move to keep our mouths shut on an issue?

Of course, the answers to all these questions depend on the particular situations. Reader Claudia suggested we create a scale — a “threat level” chart, if you will. Now, using many of her suggestions, I’d like to propose one.

(Special thanks to Tanya Higgins at Daisies and Shit Productions for drawing the wonderful images.)

Level 1: Don’t even bother.

It’s either too small an issue to make a big fuss over (e.g. Obama saying “God bless America” at the end of a speech) or because the PR will be too toxic (e.g. Threatening a lawsuit over the “Seven in Heaven” street sign honoring 9/11 first responders who died). These are the kinds of issues that all of us notice because we happen to be atheists, but they’re just non-issues for everybody else. If we can’t win over those people with no vested interest in the matter, our fierce advocacy on these issues will backfire. By raising the issue at all, we’re moving hardly anyone over to our side but we’re alienating a lot of potential allies we might need for bigger issues.

Level 2: Proceed with caution.

A measured response will do just fine. These are the cases where the other side didn’t even realize they were doing anything wrong. (e.g. A city council brings in a Christian band for a concert.) There’s no sign of ill intent or religious proselytizing; in fact, the action may have even been for a good cause. That doesn’t make it right, though. A letter of polite complaint or a phone call is warranted, recognizing that the intentions may have been good, but the offenders should be reminded of what the law says.

Level 3: Time to get angry.

These violations are far more cut and dry. The offenders know full well they’re violating church/state separation. They don’t care. They’re using taxpayer money to endorse the Christian faith. They’re sending the message that no other belief system matters. These are things like putting a nativity scene outside City Hall, opening a City Council meeting with a Christian prayer, or using your title as Governor to plan a Prayer Rally. Responses include public complaints, letters-to-the-editor, letters of warning from groups like FFRF/AU/ACLU, and possibly even legal action.

Level 4: Red Alert.

This isn’t just a government endorsement of a particular faith. This is reserved for those people who want to enshrine their religious beliefs into law, when our school systems are under attack from religious conservatives who want to bring Creationism/Intelligent Design into science classrooms, when atheist soldiers are discriminated against, when young non-believers are banned from starting secular student groups at their schools, etc. At this point, you throw everything plus the kitchen sink at the offenders. Send angry letters to anyone who will listen, get local and national media involved, get national organizations to weigh in, call the lawyers. Make them rue the day…

That’s the proposed system. What do you think?

Feel free to use the images when writing about various issues. Ideally, they’ll allow us to discuss the best responses to a variety of situations. Sure, there may be debates over whether a certain issue is a 2 or a 3 (or whatever) or whether 1 should even be an option in the first place… but I see this as a conversation-starter, not the last word.

If you’d like to use the images, just copy/paste the following code in your blog entries (you may need to resize!):

Level 1:


Level 2:


Level 3:


Level 4:




About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    I would say that the Seven in Heaven thing was a level two, not a level one.  I don’t believe it is worth proceeding because of the negative press and if we lose a precedent is set that could be horrible but I do think that it is an issue for theists too.  If you ask first: Is this right? and then ask what it will cost that might go some way to reacting to other groups reasonably and logically.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dj-Nash/100000103380335 D.j. Nash

    I agree and try to be very selective. Another consideration isn’t just is it worth it, but will they understand, depending on your audience. 

  • http://twitter.com/JoeCascio Joe Cascio

    Yes, picking the right battles is definitely a better strategy than a mindless “zero-tolerance” approach. We’ll leave the mindlessness to our opponents as we can’t possibly out-do them on that count. :)

  • Jarppu

    I would put the 9/11 cross at threat level 1 or at most level 2. Seems like American Atheists are classifying it as level 3 at least. What do you think should be it’s threat level?

    • WingedBeast

      3.  The fact of the matter is it’s being treated as a religious symbol.  That fact alone says that it shouldn’t be under government auspices.  I’m sure any number of churches would like to present it, they could timeshare.  But, in a museum or memorial for everybody’s loss, putting a religious symbol in there as an ode to Christianity is excluding a lot of people from “everybody”.

    • Annie

      I would put it at 1 or 2 as well… or maybe not even on the threat level (I’m an American). 

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      Level 1 at the most. I’m not sure how they are planning to display the cross in the museum, but if it presented in a purely historical context, as in “This cross was found and gave hope to American Christians” then I have no problem with it at all. Whether we like it or not, Christians do exist in America and they have an effect on our history. Ignoring it would be dishonest. I don’t see this as an endorsement of any kind, just a presentation of the events. Should we also remove references to Martin Luther King Jr being a minister? I don’t think so.
      On the other hand, if it is displayed saying that “this cross represents our triumph!” then it would be a problem.

  • Johannsone

    I always thought they could have picked a better name for the street, but maybe all 7 were believers, but if everyone is suing the street.. Maybe Firefighters Way or Never Forget Seven.
    I think it is a terrible homage anyway. How about Paved With Good Intentions :)
    At any rate, I like the warning levels. Happy 1 becomes angry 1.
    Thanks for sharing

    • Johannsone

      or more like angry 4

  • Marguerite

    I like the threat levels, but with regards to #4, it doesn’t seem so much like it should read “atheism under attack” as “separation of church and state under attack.”  That isn’t as pithy, obviously, but my point is that egregious violations like this aren’t just be an atheist issue– they should anger anyone who wants to keep religion out of government.  The examples you gave would have bothered me when I was a Lutheran just as much as they do now.

    • JulietEcho

      Good distinction.  You could also say, “First Amendment Rights Under Attack,” because it amounts to the same thing.  Otherwise, I think they’re well done, and I like the images :-)  I happen to agree with the placement of the examples, but like Hemant said, there’ll definitely be those who don’t see category #1 as an appropriate outlook in any of these situations.

      • John F

        What about us non-Americans? :-)

      • Raspberrykoala

        I would suggest using “Separation of Church and State under attack” rather than specifically the US Constitution or First Amendment. The issue is a huge one in the US, but the situations can apply globally – including for us Canucks ;) 
        Example: So they put up a giant ‘holiday’ tree at the Eaton Centre every Decemberish. Fine, cool, it has little to do with anything biblical anyways. I like festive decorations to celebrate the end of the year, and I appreciate the attempt to appeal to everyone. But the nativity scene at City Hall? I dunno…I appreciate the Menorah being there as well, but my city is one of the most multicultural in the world. Are we really just throwing token nods at select groups? And sure we have a ‘solstice’ parade. But that’s just locals having fun together, I don’t see any civic sanctions for it. So until that’s on the lawn too, my phone’s on speed dial…

        • JulietEcho

          Good point.

    • Placibo Domingo

      I agree. “Atheism UnderAttack” is the wrong message. It should be “US Constitution Under Attack”.

    • Anonymous

      If I might suggest a shorter alternative, how about “Secularism Under Attack”?  Some people (who don’t understand the term “secular”) will likely misinterpret it anyway, but I expect that this is the case regardless of the wording, and gives us an opportunity to explain the difference.

    • Anonymous

      I’d say “secularism” is under attack rather than atheism.

      • JulietEcho

        Yeah, but unfortunately, many churches and Christians mistakenly consider “secular” and “secularism” synonyms for “atheist” and “atheism.”  I mean, they’re wrong, but we still have to take that into account.  In my experience, the word “secularism” is almost as maligned/feared in conservative churches as “atheism.”

  • Rozannef

    Why is it that teaching Creationism or Intelligent Design in schools as ONE of the theories is so threatening? I am not talking about a 7-day literal creation theory, bur rather teaching Theistic evolution I guess I feel as though teaching other theories and leaving out the the possibility there is a divine creator is a problem as well. Wouldn’t it be equally as wrong to denyto deare in our schoolsthat there is a God no as the sole teaching? As a Christian, I would encourage atheists to fight to have their side represented but not fight to remove the other side. As a Christian I would like to see a more balanced approach to Creation rather than a 7-day literal creation — admitting that if there is a God He could have created the earth and everything on it in many different ways.

    • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

      The issue is that no form of creationism is science. It is not a competing theory, at best it is a hypothesis with no possibility of falsification (other than young earth creationism which is obviously falsified many time over). It may have a place in a comparative religion class, but not in Biology.

      • Rozannef

        Evolution could have happened with a divine being in control. So we may not have evolved quite enough to understand everything there is to understand.  Time as we know it did not exist prior to the beginning of earth. Read The Science of God, Gerals Schroeder.

        Interesting thoughts. Enjoyed the discussion.  Thank you!

        • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

          wow… that’s pretty self-centered. So this vastly enormous aw-inspiring universe didn’t exist within time until our little pale blue dot came into existence?

          • Rich Wilson

            Pretty sure she meant ‘universe’, not ‘earth’.

            The problem with ‘could have’ is that it adds no value to the discussion.  There’s a British philosopher [mentioned by Sam Harris in Afterlife debate with Hitchens, Wolpe, and someone else] who argues that it is statistically probable that we are virtual simulations, not ‘real’ beings.  The argument is that a) at some point we’ll be able to digitize our brains into virtual self-aware processes.  b) there are probably more virtual (even nested) identities than real identities, so, statistically speaking, we are probably virtual, not real.  Great.  Fine.  Interesting.  But not something we can set out to investigate.  And so no more or less value than the God thesis.

            I think it’s valuable to discuss the value of being able to investigate an idea.  The Camp Quest “disprove the invisible unicorn” does that brilliantly.  So, not in biology class, but perhaps in a more general science class “what are the kinds of ideas that science can investigate”.  And if science can’t investigate it, then it doesn’t belong in a SCIENCE class.

          • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

            I don’t know the book she mentioned, but if she meant “prior to Earth” or “prior to the Universe” time didn’t exist, she hasn’t evolved quite enough to understand the pointlessness of the phrase “prior to time’s existence.”

            She’s trying to bring out the befuddlement there, and end the discussion. You must have struck a nerve.

            • Rozannef

              No nerve struck.  Just been away from my computer for a while. I don’t believe this discussion will ever be over.

              I meant that time “as we know it.”  Meaning that I am not sure that 24-hour days existed prior to the universe being in place.  I believe that time existed it just didn’t exist perhaps in 24-hour increments – years, months, etc.

              But back to Hemant’s original 4th point.  I was wondering if it might be more productive for both sides to fight “for” something instead of “against” something.  Why not fight for your believe to be presented instead of fighting to remove things that have been taught for years. 

               As a mom, I would much rather my children be taught that non-theistic evolution in elementary school, jr. high and high school even though I believe in theistic evolution. Here’s why.  When they come home and ask me about it what a rich discussion we can have.  Children need to decide for themselves anyway.  I would much rather have discussions with them about all of the options, (and what rich discussion we have had with our children about this very thing) than to have them go off to college and wrestly with them all by themselves.

              So I believe that it is very American to share all the options out there in our public schools. Fight for evolution or your beliefs to be taught, not to remove something so many Americans still believe it.  If we are responsible i,nvolved parents shouldn’t be threatened by this.

              Ok, have to go cook dinner now.  Not shutting anyone down and none of the responses struck a nerve. 

              I loved Hemant’s book The Ebay Atheist, btw!  Took it to heart and my husband interviewed him when we were at Willow Creek Community Church.  We actually had the pleasure of having Hemant over for dinner prior to the interview. He truly is a “Friendly Atheist” and I truly hope I have been a  “Friendly Christian.”  Thanks for letting me join in your discussion. 

              • Rich Wilson
              • Marguerite

                ” I believe that time existed it just didn’t exist perhaps in 24-hour increments – years, months, etc.”

                I see your point, but I’d say that was just a way of *measuring* time.  Time is time, whether you live on a planet with 24-hour days or 90-hour days. 

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          Hi Rozannef, I appreciate your courteous tone.

          For a proposition to belong in science,  it has to include the following things:

          1. Empirical evidence (observable by at least one of the five senses) that is observable by anyone, not just by a select few who claim to have special abilities, such as mystics.

          2. A hypothesis proposed to explain the empirical evidence observed.

          3. Testing of the hypothesis against the empirical evidence.

          4. Review of the testing and the conclusions by peers in the field, whose job it is to look for flaws in the procedure or the conclusions.

          5. Repetition of the testing by others, to make certain the results can be reproduced. 

          6. Amending the hypothesis or proposing an entirely new one in light of the test results, as well as newly observed evidence.

          7. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

          For the proposition of a god who guides the development of life to be included in science and science education, it would need to include the above steps, not just an argument  An argument is not evidence. An argument needs evidence. Regardless of how eloquent or elaborate an argument is, if it doesn’t have supporting empirical evidence, then it’s just an empty hypothesis.

          Science, when presented properly, never says “This is the truth.” It says, “This is the best explanation we have so far for what we observe, and when we observe more, and more clearly, we are going to ammend our explanation a little, or even a lot.” It takes humility to adhere to this stance. It is constantly trying to correct itself, rather than constantly trying to reinforce its original assumptions, as religion does.  To dilute that rigorous discipline of honesty by allowing entities that cannot be empirically confirmed to have a place in science is to begin the retrograde journey back to the age when superstition reigned supreme.

        • Marguerite

          “Evolution could have happened with a divine being in control. ”

          Perhaps, but (in my totally uneducated opinion), Darwinian evolution couldn’t have.  Evolution as it seems to be generally understood relies on natural selection, which to me seems  to contradict the idea that it could have been directed somehow by a superior being.   

          • Rich Wilson

            Unless we’re selecting for the genetic propensity to pray…

    • WingedBeast

      Intelligent Design isn’t a theory.  In the scientific definitions, Intelligent Design is, at best, a model, one with no hypothosese based off of it and no evidence for any of those hypothosese.

      Secondly, evolution isn’t “the atheist side”.  Nowhere in the theory of Evolution is the phrase “without God”.  It is a theory for how lifeforms change over generations.

      Teaching Intelligent Design as an “alternate theory” is a lie in that it’s a theory or even an alternative.

    • Anonymous

      Steve hit the nail on the head; ID is an alternate hypothesis, but unless creationists (which is essentially what the the people promoting ID are) back up their claims with physical evidence in geology, biology, etc., you’ve no more right to teach it than inserting the Zodiac into the classroom.

      And yes, it SHOULD, perhaps, be taught – along with all other theories of how the earth came to be, in a comparative religions course. There’s a Biblical account of creation, but there are also zillions of other creation stories and myths that should be equally valid, by your logic.

      • Rozannef

        I agree that there are more things that need to be taught on this subject. BTW sorry about the mistype in the middle of my response.  I did it from my phone and couldn’t view the whole comment before it posted.  But it seem as though everyone got the gist.  Appreciate all your responses — but I would still encourage you to fight for your side to be heardand added but not to remove Theistic Evolution from being taught.  Otherwise you might be considered like those you oppose, the ones trying to take evolution out of the picture.  After all, we are all Americans and the beauty is everyones voice should be considered and heard.

        • Anonymous

          The fight is misunderstood and misrepresented if it comes across as trying to remove it completely; the problem is that ID supporters want it taught in science classrooms as an equally valid theory to evolution (and it just isn’t…there just isn’t the same body of evidence for ID as there is for evolution).

          Teaching ID as a feasible theory – while I think most atheists and readers of this blog would admit that ID is feasible, if extremely far-fetched – is incredibly irresponsible. It teaches impressionable children (while HS students are certainly capable of critical thinking, as a HS English teacher I can attest that the development of the brain isn’t at the level of an adult – therefore, to some degree, they are still impressionable) that you can believe things as scientific WITHOUT having or needing evidence, and that you can use presuppositions to validate your claims. Christians and atheists alike should be appalled at those suggestions! No one ought to want their children to be taught opinions as valid, proven fact – we’ve got a word for that in the English language, and it is called “lying”. 
          :) But I totally, wholeheartedly agree with your last sentence. It’s not just that ID would be taught in schools; execution is very, very important.

        • Anonymous

          It should be noted that “theistic evolution” is the exact same thing as evolution only with a “God did it” label. That’s literally the only difference. In science (and hence, in science classrooms) the simplest theory that minimizes unnecessary entities (a rule of thumb called Occam’s Razor) is preferred. Since “theistic evolution” doesn’t give us any useful information (that is, information based on which we can predict facts about the world) that simple evolution doesn’t offer, we prefer just ordinary evolution. (That is, adding “god” to the equation really adds nothing at all.)

          Moreover, science is interested in proven facts. Evolution is a proven fact. Whether or not some god caused evolution is both unknown, and irrelevant to the fact that evolution happens. If at some point it can be proven that some god causes evolution, then at that point it would be right and proper to add it to the evolutionary theory and include it in science classes.

          Intelligent Design is the concept that some ‘creator’ such as a god began everything, planning for it to turn out roughly as it did (i.e., evolution was planned). This is essentially in the same boat as theistic evolution; it’s an unnecessary addition to the theory that provides no benefit and is utterly unproven. As above, if at some point it is proven, it will be added. Otherwise it will not.

          Creationism is mutually exclusive to evolution. That is to say, the two cannot both be true; if one is true, it disproves the other. Evolution is known beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt to be true. Therefore, creationism is false. Therefore it is an utter waste of time, and in fact quite misleading, to teach in science classes.

          This may come off as a bit harsh, but the purpose of science is to distinguish between accurate models and inaccurate/useless ones while eliminating the natural bias that all humans have. The scientific method is by far the best tool we have ever discovered for doing so. This is why we continue to hold by it.

          I leave you this thought in parting: why is it that you are so intent on including theistic evolution, but not theistic gravitation or theistic chemistry? I assume as a theist, if you believe your god is responsible for evolution that you also believe he/she is responsible for most other basic science facts. Yet only “theistic evolution” is ever pushed. Why the need to push a god into that theory and not into other ones that, presumably, he/she had a hand in?

          If you can understand why we would never bother including a god in the theory of gravity, then you can understand why we also don’t bother including a god in the theory of evolution.

          (Oh. One last thing. Keep in mind evolution does not speak to how life began on Earth; that is the field called abiogenesis. The study of how the entire universe began is cosmogony (not to be mistaken for cosmology, of which cosmogony is a branch).)

    • Annie

      Rozannef- the indigenous people of Australia had a beautiful creation story.  During Dreaming, or the Dreamtime, powerful beings came out of the land and created or gave birth to the people, other animals, and plants.  These beings were thought to continue to control the natural world, and the fertility of the people who inhabited it.  I find this creation story fascinating, should we include it in the science curriculum as well? If you take away the failed attempts at “sciencing up” the Christian creation story, you have exactly what you have with the indigenous Australian creation story- a beautiful and creative tale made up by people who did not yet have the means to explain their world through science.   ID belongs in a Humanities class, right along side a study of all the other major religions of the world.  As a science teacher, I put the fight to keep religious tales out of the science classroom at level 4.

      • LV

        I agree with you (fellow science teacher)!  Chances are you too had youngsters throwing god or other pseudo-omnipresent being’s name out in the classroom as alternative to what you were teaching.  Problem is that often children are so brainwashed, they seem to have what appears to be a kind of resistance to facts …

        • Annie

          I used to get flustered by the response, “because god made it that way.”  LV- How do you respond?  A friend gave me some advice a while back  that seems to work in most situations.  I just say, “Hmmm.  Let’s see if we can come up with a scientific explanation.”   This allows the child to know that their answer was not acceptable in a scientific setting, it compartmentalizes faith-based vs. fact-based reasoning, and it suspends judgment on the faith being presented.

    • LV

      You must not be familiar with The FSM …  As good an alternative theory as any!

    • Rich Wilson

      Lots of other good replies, but I’ll add also that evolution does not deal with first life, but rather development of life.  Lots of Christians have theistic ideas about how life started, but understand that how life developed (Darwinian evolution) is established scientific fact.  A theory, not a law, but still a fact.

    • Anonymous

      Look at it this way. Evolution happens. We know that the mechanisms that cause it to occur happen without any detectable intervention. Not any different from say, an eclipse. We know enough about gravity to know that the orbits of the earth and moon around the sun cause eclipses to happen. When we teach about eclipses to kids, we don’t stop the class for a digression into how it’s possible that the moon goddess is guiding the moon to block the sun. We present the facts, clear and uncluttered by metaphysical speculation.

      The evidence we have says gravity and the properties of light are responsible for eclipses, and natural selection, genetic drift etc. are responsible for evolution.  The evidence indicates that there is no teleological explanation for either.

      Now, let’s look at it from the other direction. Believers tend to believe that their gods are guiding and causing everything. What makes evolution any different? So, if we’re going to stop and make students aware that some people believe their god guides evolution, shouldn’t we have to stop and talk about gods* controlling gravity, gods creating stars, gods guiding the course of history, gods controlling the weather and the movement of tectonic plates, gods deciding the outcome of athletic competitions, gods creating and directing diseases to infect people….


      *I say gods, because surely we can’t talk about the god of just one religion, we’d have to mention the gods of many different religions to be fair, right?

    • B-Lar

      Teach it in History, where it belongs. Science requires falsifiability, and Creationism has no data, evidence, or in fact anything other than a bunch of people who think that it is the case. It is only a theory in the most stretched out sense of the word.

    • Anonymous

      Creationism is not even wrong.

  • Pickle

    I think the threat levels are a good idea. While I agree that the 9-11 cross shouldn’t be in the museum, I think getting so upset about it makes us look like a bunch of  *ssholes. And you’re right, we are alienating a lot of people who would be on our side in a different battle.  I think on the cross issue, instead of just demanding it’s removal, we should offer alternate solutions. How about auctioning it off and using the money for healthcare for the first responders? I’m sure there are quite a few mega-churches that would love to have the cross.

  • T-Rex

    Good idea.  IMO the threat levels are pretty accurate.

  • Shannon Kish

    I think, at times, people in the atheist community become so focused on shutting anything religious down (9/11 cross, etc).

    I am tolerant of religions— thankfully I live in the US where I can choose any religion or lack thereof and have that freedom. While I certainly laugh and mock those that choose to believe hellish fairy tale stories, I also recognize, that they also have that right and freedom to believe.

    I usually try to base my decisions to fight something on the context. Do I accept that in my city council meetings a Christian prayer is offered at the beginning and that no other religion has been offered the opportunity to open the session? Hell no, because that is intolerant of other religions and it is blending state and religion.

    Do I accept that at the yearly concert series that is hosted in our town has a Christian/Religious stage? Yes, because the concert is put on by the community and community organizations host different stages. The Christian stage is hosted by churches in the area and therefore does not impede on my freedom to choose not to believe.

    I think we have to remember tolerance and that just because a Christian or Christian organization does something public, doesn’t mean that they are violating my first amendment rights.

    • Anonymous

      I think you’re confusing the multiple meanings of ‘public’.  From Merriam-Webster, the meaning we’re most concerned about when it comes to public endorsement of religion is meaning #2b (“of or relating to a government”).  Public displays of piety are not a problem unless that public is government.

  • Philbert

    Any calibration of how pissed off we need to be about various things should include a level zero. Sometimes it’s OK to be OK with other beliefs.

    • Anonymous

      In this case, I suspect a 0 (zero… looks weird in this font) would be when there was actually no violation of any sort whatsoever.  A politician on a Sunday going to church without turning it into a big deal? Zero. (As opposed to a 1 where something is violating separation of church and state, but that thing is quite minor.)

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      Better to not neglect zero.

  • http://diaryofamessylady.wordpress.com/ Lauren

    I’m going to skip right past the debate over where to put current issues and say, “Awww….!” Those little number guys are cute! I’m skipping over to check out Tanya Higgins now. :)

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    I disagree.  You shouldn’t have to pick fights based on other peoples perceived views.  No matter what, some groups will think atheist are dicks and asshole just because we are atheists.   The ground zero cross is a subtle way of saying your dead don’t count, which to me is a very dickish position of the majority.   In order to change the culture you must be a dick  sometimes.  

    • Chana Messinger

      Hi Holytape,

      I think you’re absolutely right that sometimes social change requires offending and angering some people, and it definitely sucks to feel like we have to stay quiet just because other people don’t understand. But the fact that “no matter what”, some people will think poorly of us doesn’t mean that there still aren’t more and less effective ways to get our message across and achieve our goals. If being less ‘dickish’, as others see it, makes America secular faster, then it seems like that’s what we should do even if we resent it, and I think that’s what Hemant is trying to do here.

      • Anonymous

        Except you need those who act ‘dickish’.  Without them, you appear as the extremist fringe, even when you substantially agree with all those who are accused with acting ‘dickish’. 

        It’s the old Good Cop, Bad Cop thing. 

        Wouldn’t you rather deal with the Good Cop who will gladly ‘compromise’ by allowing your religious symbols be proudly and publically displayed on private property, or the Bad Cop who won’t even talk about displaying them elsewhere.

  • Anonymous

    I think you’re missing a level 0 — At first glance, it might look like something to be concerned about, but in fact there’s nothing wrong going on.

    As I see it, both the Seven in Heaven street name and the 9/11 cross are not violations of the First Amendment at all. If you can have a street called Valhalla Court or Apollo Way, then there’s no reason not to allow a “Heaven”  or “Seven in Heaven” street as well. Heaven is a mythical concept and places are often named after mythical concepts. You can’t make exceptions just because more people believe in the Heaven myth than the Valhalla myth.

    As for the cross, it’s being put in *a museum*. That’s like talking about religion in a history class. We don’t want to rewrite history and pretend that Christianity doesn’t exist. We just don’t want the government endorsing it to the exclusion of other religions/non-religion and pushing it on people.

  • Briancharboneu

    Good model to follow… I am a teacher and my principle always starts the year with an “optional” prayer… however that means me and my fiancee always have to stand up and walk out if the room. I have complained with no progress with ending this practice.

  • Afederici75

    Great post. The alienation of potential allies for more important causes (first being ID being even available in public schools ) is something that always had me worry. That aside, my question is what are non-christian believers saying or doing about the 9/11 cross? Are they upset and publicly showing their distaste for the choice or are minding their own business? If anybody should say something about that first it should be the family of, for example, an Islamic killed soldier, not us… i think we have much bigger fish to fry…opinions?

  • Bruce_wright

    Hmm… you forgot THREAT LEVEL: MIDNIGHT!

    • Anonymous

      That’s what she said.  :-)

    • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

      Don’t forget Code Black! The worst colour there is! (Simpsons reference!)

  • Colin Fleisher

    Does religious belief deserve any respect or reverence outside what one would give to other normal political or ideological belief? Is it worthy of “special treatment?” Or is it just like the other beliefs I mentioned?

  • Anonymous

    I see I picked a great day to come back from vacation and regain a net connexion.

    For obvious reasons, I think the scale is a good idea. I also think that level 3 is adorable. I agree that maybe a “Level 0″  for false alarms would be good, though it might mess up the color scale (maybe off-white?). Things that are merely misunderstandings and not actual problems are sadly rare, but they do happen. I vaguely remember that it turned out that license plates weren’t going to feature “In God we Trust” by design but with an optional sticker. That would have been perhaps a Level 2 that could be downgraded to 0.

    A sliding scale simply acknowledges the reality that some violations are worse than others. It’s also not a good idea to become known as the kind of folks who will lose their shit at the drop of a hat. Bill Donahue of the Catholic Defense League is pratically a punch-line because he gets into a frothing rage over damned near everything.  We will of course argue over the level of reaction warranted in each situation, but an atheist post without a debate would be like a picnic without ants, eh?

    • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

      I’d make the argument that the license plate thing could be downgraded to 1 not 0. I don’t know why the government is selling bumper stickers, but selling one with the IGWT motto is just as much a violation of the first amendment as the motto itself.

      I’m with Thalfon, level 0 would be when there was actually no violation of any sort whatsoever.

      • Rich Wilson

        I think level 0 could even be for cases where we want to actively support the ‘violator’.  e.g. in the “politician goes to church on Sunday” hypothetical.  If anyone actually complained, I’m sure the vast majority would be out in support of said politician.

        Or a slightly more likely example, I think it’s not only pointless to get upset over any non-government entity’s holiday greeting, it’s contrary to the 1st amendment.   Wal Mart can say “Marry Christmas” or “Happy Ramadan” or “Festivus for the Restuvus” or anything else they want.  And I think anyone who complains should be politely pointed to the 1st Amendment (in the USA at least).

  • https://sites.google.com/site/ferulebezelssite/ Ferule Bezel

    Am I the only one who’s noticed that these color alert sequences never seem to follow the order of the colors in the spectrum and when they’re close they are backwards, meaning that the color for the greatest threat has the lowest energy level (of those we can see).

    How about:
    Red – Whatever dude.
    Yellow – Dude, you really shouldn’t be doing that.
    Green – Knock it off or I will actively campaign against you.
    Blue – This is so heinous I’m bringing in the lawyers.
    Purple – Drag ‘em out of their offices, parade them down the street naked, tar & feather them and march them out of town.

    • Anonymous

      They do actually follow a sort of order, just not a scientific one. They follow the traffic-light order. Green is go, red is stop. The other colors are ordered for their percieved proximity to green and red.

    • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

      1) Code Red must always be most severe. Science fiction has settled this.
      2) Code Purple is too barbaric. It should be replaced with a court order to wear a Grimace costume at all times.

  • Anonymous

    For level 4, how about “theocracy” rather than “atheism under attack”

  • Anonymous

    I’d be more than happy to change the wording on #4′s sign – these are, however, actually ink drawings… like… on paper… because I apparently think it’s 1804.  As such, changing one word would be much simpler than changing them all (and possibly even changing the dimensions of the sign).  “Secularism under attack” then?

    Also, to all who’ve visited my site, I very much appreciate it and please check back.  I’m working my ass off getting all the content up and running.  :)

    - Tanya Higgins

  • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

    I think using an abstract numbering system is a wasteful gimmick. I think it creates confusion and makes it more difficult to refer to any specific instance. You either have to reiterate the meaning of whatever value you’re referring to, or someone you’re speaking to will.

  • http://politicsandpucks.blogspot.com Mike Brownstein

    Just don’t color code them please

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    what about cases where bigotry against atheists is the issue but it’s not illegal?

  • http://antigold.myopenid.com/ Jude

    No thanks.  I’m not part of a “movement.”  I’m an individual.  I don’t need silly icons to tell me when I feel threatened or how I should react.

  • Ankit

    Sir , how one should react under diffrent types of humilation
    react means show anger etc


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