A Christian Overreaction to An Atheist Group’s Existence

The Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at the University of Wisconsin – Madison took advantage of a program that allows them to send an email to the entire student population… for a price.

(I remember doing something similar at my college to promote a debate on God’s existence my atheist group was holding. It worked. It got the word out to a *lot* of people and the attendance was in the hundreds.)

Here’s the email they sent:

Are you an atheist, agnostic, skeptic, pastafarian, or otherwise nonreligious student?
Come join Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at UW-Madison this Fall!
AHA is a great way to meet fellow nonbelievers here on campus, all while getting involved in the secular movement. Our meetings will be every Wednesday at 7 PM in 155 Van Hise.

We hope to see you there!
In the meantime, join our email list for info regarding upcoming
meetings and events by simply sending a blank email to this address.
And be sure to check out our Facebook group.
Additionally, if you’re blog-savvy, we have one of those as well.

That’s about as harmless an email as you could send.

And yet, the response from religious students has been absurd. Here’s just a sampling:


Group 4: Missing the point, badly.

  • Don’t email me these requests. If you choose to be “atheist,” then you call yourself god. Please take me off whatever list you have created. Thanks.
  • Why is a group like this needed?  Is it something you fear or do you just hate christians that much to want to exclude them?
  • the secular movement? really? more like popular culture- lolkatz- don’t send your stuff here
  • Feel free to never send me emails again. I don’t need to hear this kind of stuff showing up in my mailbox. I’m a faithful Christian and I’m sorry that you’ve lost your way.

Group 5: Bat shit crazy.

  • You live in a nation under GOD, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.  His miracles surround you every day. Open your eyes. The only person that would die for you are the men and women of the US Armed Forces and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Get with the program fools and stop spreading this useless shit.  There are real problems out there.
  • I just wanted to let you know that Jesus loves you and he is coming back soon. All will bow down and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Have a blessed and wonderful day!<3

Do you need any more evidence as to why groups like this are so important? Just their mere existence is enough to draw responses like this one.

Imagine if the email said how they *really* feel :)

If you want to see the rest of the responses, check out AHA!’s website.

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

    … and watch now…

    • Anonymous

      Or I could see the religious groups counter with their own emailing. It will be interesting to see how this pans out. Also it would be nice to know what the subject header of the email looked like. Was there a standard reference that the email was generated from the school’s system? 

      • Anonymous

        We’ll see – normally the way these go is that the religious folks have used the program for quite some time without controversy. Atheist group uses the same method, uproar ensues, and restrictions / bans / shutdowns follow.

        See the Ft. Worth bus ads, school kids backpacks, billboards being refused, etc. etc. etc.

    • Daniel Miles

      Dwayne, if by “program” you mean the thing where you can pay the school for the privilege to spam the students and it gets shut down because the dirty atheists are using it, I think the group can claim a success for righting a wrong, even if they did it accidentally.

  • Anonymous

    “The only person that would die for you are the men and women of the US Armed Forces and the Lord Jesus Christ.  ”

    And not all those Armed Forces people are religious, and jesus didn’t die cos he’s a god dontcha-no, so what point was being made there.

  • Faerie Fey

    Just sayin’… It seems like most of (from the text of the messages you posted) the reaction was because the individuals didn’t want to get emails about this sort of thing (and clearly were too stupid to figure out this was a “service” from their school), rather than being upset that the group exists. Well, except for the one that asked why the group was even needed. :)

  • Anonymous

    When someone emails me things that I don’t want them to, I tell them not to email me. No matter how much I disagree with whatever it is, I usually keep it simple, “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not interested in receiving information related to your church.”

    So this is NOT just “Please don’t email me.” These emails show people who are ANGRY that Atheists exist.

  • Randy Riggs

    Bah. I’d be pissed myself, no matter how much I may believe in or be part of the cause.  It’s SPAM and shame on higher education for making it an acceptable practice.

  • Daniel Miles

    I love this blog and respect what you do, Hemant, but I think I disagree with you about this, it isn’t newsworthy. We shouldn’t be surprised or indignant to see negative responses to spam. The atheist group was wrong to send it, the school is wrong to sell the student email list and two wrongs don’t make a right. What’s NOT wrong is for people to say so, even if they say it for religious reasons.

  • Jennifer Wagner

    I wonder what will happen when our club sends out our mass email with the first line reading… “Do you know that 100% organisms are born atheist, including you?”

  • GodIncognito

    Just to comment, but if it was the school’s email that it was sent to then it would have said where it was from and that it was a school email address. The header would have also given a hint about what it’s about. So from everything I know about the UW system emails the kids clicked on it knowing what it was about. I am surprised though since madison and UW Madison in particular are very secular and liberal. 

  • Philbert

    It’s a university group emailing university students, under a program approved by the university. Calling it spam is stretching the definition. 

    • Randy Riggs

      SPAM has three basic criteria:

      1) sent in bulk (check)
      2) unsolicited (check)
      3) indiscriminate (check)

      this mailing meets all three basic criteria, hence, SPAM.  Whether or not the university approves it is a moot point… SPAM SPAM SPAM.

      Call me anal or old-fashioned, but having to deal with SPAM and spammers everyday at work makes me rather pissy about the practice.  It’s just bad form.

      • TiltedHorizon

        1) sent in bulk (check)
        2) unsolicited (check)
        3) indiscriminate (check)

        These three criteria also describe ‘Broadcast’ mail which is perfectly acceptable and common practice within private networks for relaying information. Just today our HR department sent out reminders of the upcoming Benefits open enrollment period…. to all 60,000 employees. Last week my ISP sent out emails to all their customers informing them of system maintenance. By this “basic” definition this is all SPAM.

        For the sake of clarity a fourth criteria needs to be added.

        4) fraudulent

        Since the distribution list was not illegally obtained and the email does not employ deceptive tactics to evade filtering it is not SPAM.

        • Philbert

          Quite. These criteria are necessary but not sufficient to call something spam. Also, the email was not indiscriminate. It was deliberately sent to a very specific group: students at Wisc.

        • Randy Riggs

          Apples and oranges.

          Your employer is paying you to read email, it is part of your job function.

          With regard to university, students pay tuition and (in the case of public universities) tax dollars are used as well.  In other words, we pay the university for our email addresses.  And while there is probably something in the TOS allowing for these types of mass mailings, they are still, in principle, SPAM. 

          • Rich Wilson

            I’ve also spent a significant amount of my time dealing with spam as a sysadmin.  A supervisor of mine once lost his job largely because of his inability to check the spam flood.  And when I receive an email from a ‘reputable’ company that I have no relationship with, I’m quick to scream.

            That said, if you have a relationship with an organization, you have a need to communicate.  Sending an email is orders of magnitude less resources for everyone involved.  The alternative is that they print X copies, put stamps on them all, and drop them in the mail.  It might save the US Postal Service, but it’s a massive waste of resources.

            And all THAT said, I didn’t notice anyone complaining about email in general from the University.  They just don’t like THIS (godless) email.  So while the spam argument might be valid for you, it’s got nothing to do with the Christian Privileged.   

          • TiltedHorizon

            Actually, they pay me to regulate and maintain all electronic
            communications. A responsibility which includes protecting against SPAM.
            (around 1 – 1.5 million emails blocked per day, that’s a lot of ‘oranges’)

            As for your explanation, people ‘pay’ for an education, anything else is
            a ‘right to use’. Email addresses, specifically the domain (what
            appears to the right of the ‘at’ sign in the address) , is owned by the
            business, in this case the university. They alone define what is
            acceptable use of their property. As long as the distribution and email pertains to University or student  business (which covers a broad list of topics ) the ‘broadcast’ is typically covered by the TOS. Which means this group is well within their rights unless they become abusive of it, like resending the emails needlessly.

          • Anonymous

            That same tuition and tax money is used to fund various programs, clubs and groups on campus that publish information via these mailing lists. If it’s used to inform students about campus activities, it’s very much part of the university’s operation

  • Jennifer Wagner

    Why is everyone upset that people even got this email? I’m not sure how this university works, but at my school I can set my preferences, which allows me to opt-out or receive announcements (or “spam” as referenced here) to things that might interest me. Such things include “sporting events”, “musical appearances”, and another one is “club announcements”.  Presumably, this school has something similar.  When the school provides you with an email address part of the reason is so that you can be updated on events around campus, whether academic or extracurricular. 

  • Anonymous

    Two things still astound me, one that Christians can’t wrap their heads around the idea that someone doesn’t worship _something_, the “atheists are self-worshippers” trope is just old hat.

    I think this can legitimately be called spam, but I doubt most of the complainers would have said anything if a Christian club had sent a message announcing one of their events.

  • walkamungus

    Come on, this wasn’t a Viagra ad. It’s the necessary sort of spam you get at a university, stuff like “Poet to give reading on November 1″ and “Asian Student Association Culture Fair on Wednesday at Student Union” and “First Basketball Practice on Oct. 15 at 12:01 a.m.” and “Final day to drop/add classes this Friday.” If you’re not interested in the message, meh, you delete the e-mail. (Would you genuinely send e-mail back saying “I’m not interested in basketball [or poetry], don’t e-mail me any more”? That’s just childish.) By charging $100, the school is setting the bar at a reasonable level for mass communication and keeping out the riff-raff, so to speak.

    Far more disturbing that most of the respondents seemed unaware that this was a general message. And I thought UW students were more touchy-feely liberal than this!

    • Laura

      Well, we have only 40,000 students here, MOST of us are “touchy-feely liberal” but out of 40k, there’s bound to be a few nut-jobs who insist on sending a rebuttal.

  • Chris Calvey

    Hey everyone, Chris from AHA here.
    To respond to a few of your comments and clear up some confusion, the subject of our email was “Don’t believe in God? Join the Club!” and the sent field was from “Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics at UW-Madison via doit.wisc.edu”  The doit portion is an acronym which stands for for the Division of Information Technology.  The DoIT mass email service is widely used by student groups as a method to reach out to new members – I’ve probably received 10 mass emails from other organizations this semester alone.  I can assure you that sending these messages is not considered “spam,” and that the mass email service will not be going away anytime soon.  

  • Drew M.

    50,000 emails and only 23 replies were bad enough to blog about? I really don’t think that’s an overreaction.

  • Drakk

    Imagine the outcry if the places had been exchanged.

    • Drew M.

      Good point.

    • SkydivingSkeptic

      Other religious groups have used this same system without any outcry.

  • Anonymous

    A) This isn’t SPAM.

    B) The University owns all the email accounts that these were sent to, so the offended parties have no actual right to complain.

    I work at a university that uses List-Servs to great effect.  I organize my own, have access to University wide one managed by other parties etc.

    The fact that university in question here charges student groups to use one of their default [all student] lists is rather troublesome though.

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

    I went to Madison.  The vast majority of the campus is comprised of dirty Godless hippies.   Drum circles out number frat houses at least 4 to 1.   While there are Christian groups, the campus over all is very secular.

  • Barry.

    “I just wanted to let you know that Jesus loves you and he is coming back soon.”  Back soon, eh?  What, did he just pop down to the corner-shop for a pint of milk?  

    • Ducky

      Jesus is going to need more than a pint to buffer against all the fools acting in his name, my friend. If he’s actually real, I bet that poor bastards’ been doing kegstands.

  • Teach Me How To Bucky

    I also attend UW-Madison and I’d like to note that AHA is not the only “religious” group to have used this service.  The campus Muslim group has used it in the past and I seem to recall having received emails from InterVarsity (a Christian group) in the past as well.  It is possible to opt-out of these emails (I didn’t see this one since I did actually get tired of receiving university-wide emails not related to my academics), so I’m really not sure what these people are complaining about.  Don’t want to see it?  Opt out.  Not hard.

  • Anonymous

    Come on, people, this is not spam. It’s no different than a student group including a few paragraphs in the student handbook that is given to every student at the beginning of the school year.

  • Erp

    Strictly speaking is isn’t spam because of the student/university relationship; the students by enrolling have given the university permission.   Whether it is wise for the university to use this permission for other than university wide important messages (e.g., we have a flood in the main library and need all the help we can to rescue books) is another matter.   BTW I wonder how many complaints the religious groups got when they sent out notices.

  • Cutencrunchy

    Any mail or person at my door that isn’t specifically signed up/requested for by me is spam or uninvited and invasive.
    I’d like to change the wording though from non-believers to believers of a world that is based in reality, science and understanding.
    I find it more empowering – rather then be a ‘not them’ group to be an us group.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Randy-Tyson/631100388 Randy Tyson

    Terror Management Theory in action.

  • Michael Appleman

    I don’t see how you guys are calling it spam. I get emails all the time about clubs and events on campus. It informing you about whats gonig on.

  • Angie

    Please. I was evangelized to by Christians three times while walking across campus today. That’s far more invasive and annoying than one little email that can easily be ignored. 

    • http://twitter.com/JonelB Jonel Burge

      I totes won’t miss being blocked by the Gideon Bible folks on the way to class, or being called a whore by one of the preachers waving a bible while his wife and kids are out in the sweltering sun all day.

  • cipher

    It isn’t spam, but even if it is, these Christian kids clearly weren’t offended for that reason, but by the content.

    And they absolutely love this line:

    All will bow down and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord

    and use it at every given opportunity. They get off on the drama.

  • http://www.suburbansweetheart.com/ Suburban Sweetheart

    I like that someone responded with “lolkatz.” Very professional & important.

  • Dan W

    Oh for fucks sake. At the college I went to, official campus groups are required to send mass emails informing their fellow students about their meetings and such. It’s not that hard to delete emails without reading them either. I suppose it’s just more moronic theists who can’t handle the fact that we atheists exist. All the more reason why groups like AHA are necessary.

  • rai

    I’m in AHA and had no idea this e-mail caused so much controversy! Student orgs send out e-mails to the entire student body all the time advertising their group. Hell, freshman running for student government buy the school e-mailing list! Anyone can do it and it’s a one-time thing- you pay to use the school’s listserv. Just clarifying that the e-mail was IN NO WAY SPAM. 
    It basically reads as all our weekly e-mails read, pretty harmless. Plus it got the word out about AHA to tons of new people who missed us at the student org fair earlier this semester. 
    I completely agree that the response it has gotten just proves why the group’s necessary.

  • Anonymous

    It wasn’t spam, Daniel; unless all mass e-mails sent on college campuses count as spam. It was simply an invitation for skeptical students to get together and hang out. Fact; every one of the Christian reactions came from mental midgets with the emotional maturity of a five-year-old, and you know it. This is how they respond if they see that “every knee” isn’t bowing to them and their invisible idol.

  • redharas

    What these comments really seem like is a defense mechanism. They’re offended because someone has a different belief system than they do. If they were really firm in their belief, they wouldn’t be afraid to challenge it or feel the need to have their faith reaffirmed by the whole world. These comments were more than just being upset about whether it was spam or not. They were upset about the message. 


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