Is This College Atheist Group’s Poster Blasphemous?

At Western Kentucky University, a student wrote a letter-to-the-editor complaining about a flyer put up by the school’s Secular Student Alliance affiliate:

The Secular Student Alliance (SSA) has a new flier displayed around campus showing a man in a turban decapitating a cartoonist. The SSA has the freedom to display this cartoon, but their disregard for Muslim and Arab students in displaying it is morally reprehensible.

Many Muslims and Arabs here are visitors from abroad and have chosen to study here on American turf. Americans should welcome them as guests, not ridicule them for their beliefs.

Some may say that the cartoon is only ridiculing militant Islam, not Islam as a whole. This may be true. However, the image is emotionally loaded and can only exacerbate tensions between Muslims and non-Muslim Americans, not heal them.

This is the poster in question:

My initial reaction was that this poster suffered from the same mistake that Dave Silverman committed: It failed to distinguish, as the letter writer implied, between the radicals and the moderates.

While I’ve said before that moderates need to do a better job of standing up for freedom of speech — even if that speech criticizes or mocks their beliefs — their reluctance to do so isn’t even in the same ballpark as the extremists who kill because of it.

The SSA group at WKU tells me they received no criticism of their flyer until this letter appeared online. It seems like most people understood that it wasn’t directed at the moderates.

Do you think it’s offensive?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    Are we supposed to believe the man with the sword represents moderates? I think the context makes it clear he does not. The word “fanaticism” is directly above him!

    • judith sanders

       I guess the next phase is to get into a discussion about what constitutes fanaticism.  If I’m a student trying to sleep late on Sunday A.M. after a long night of gaming, and a group is having a praise-Jesus sing-along in the adjacent student lounge, then I consider the singers  fanatics.

      • amycas

         I had a friend who actually called in a noise complaint about the church next to his apartment complex. They had a large flat screen and speaker system set up on the lawn of the church, so people outside could watch and listen (or rather be forced to watch and listen) to the sermon in the church. The church made a habit of displaying this every Wednesday night, Sunday morning, Sunday night and some Saturday nights. Yeah, the cops showed up and they had to turn it down, and they weren’t allowed to show the video after a certain time without a permit (because of the light the video shown on the residential apartments just across the street, people seriously couldn’t shut that light out without blackout curtains).

  • Guest

    If Islam was fundamentally peaceful, then the fundamentalists would be too, no?

    • Mike

      As Sam Harris points out, a fundamentalist Jain is no-one to be frightened of.

      • ZenDruid

         That depends on whether people are scared of naked men. Digambar Jains have forsworn clothing along with everything else.

        • Coyotenose

          Learn something new and terrifying every day…

        • Georgina

           does that count as a phobia? ‘cos it seems phobias are now illegal.

          • Coyotenose

             Elaboration please.

        • 3lemenope

          Except apparently the skyclad are also disproportionately represented among India’s stock-brokers, at least if Larry Gonick is to be believed.

          • Parth Choksi

             There’s definitely some dissonance with a lot of Jains, who in theory should not focus on materialism, yet are very wealthy. Not that wealth itself is such a bad thing, however quite a few Jains don’t mind buying really nice cars and houses to show off…but whatever, I guess at least you want see any Jains going on killing sprees, missionary trips or suicide attacks

        • Parth Choksi

           Actually it’s only the monks and nuns, not laypeople

  • Amakudari

    The image … can only exacerbate tensions between Muslims and non-Muslim Americans, not heal them.

    Ignoring that people are actually being killed for minor transgressions against another’s superstitions doesn’t seem to “heal” anything worth healing.

    It’s telling, in any case, that someone’s offended more by this flyer than the actions it decries.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/godvlogger?feature=results_main GodVlogger

       Great point.
      It’s like Tim Minchin’s “Pope song” where people get more ‘offended’ by the song’s use of the F-word than feeling ‘offended’ about the religious child abuse/rape that the song is criticizing.

  • Jon Peterson

    If I saw it walking around on campus, I would probably roll my eyes and ignore it. In the U.S. we have almost no risk of encountering the sort of religious folk who are so militant that they’d actually kill over Draw Muhammad day… so using such an example on an advertisement for a campus-level discussion is… well, I guess “overzealous” is the best word.

    Sure, they have the right to use it and whatever. I just think it’s in poor taste.

    There’s also something to be said about the fact that it puts the artist (in the drawing) in the role of the oppressed… and I just have a hard time with the implication it makes about atheists participating in Draw Muhammad (in the U.S.) On the whole of things, I just do not see it. It’s like if I were to complain about racial discrimination because a minority was hired instead of me. On some level, my complaint MIGHT be tied to reality (yes, hiring quotas exist) but it grossly overestimates the severity of the situation (so Company A needed to hit a requirement… what about Companies B, C, D, etc?)

    And by misrepresenting the severity, it loses credibility. Moderate religious sorts have a much easier time discarding atheist concerns if we claim them to be worse than they actually are. :/

  • TristanLawksley

    “While I’ve said before that moderates need to do a better job of
    standing up for freedom of speech — even if that speech criticizes or
    mocks their beliefs — their reluctance to do so isn’t even in the same
    ballpark as the extremists who kill because of it.”

    Moderates who stay silent while the extremists of their religion bring violence upon the world are serving only to enable them – which in my book makes them just as guilty. If more “moderates” would take a stand against the psychopaths in their religion the less violence there could be – and that makes them just as culpable.

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      This is a criticism that could equally be turned against closeted nonbelievers as well. I’m not sure you want to go down that road, since silence is often justified by mitigating factors (e.g. “I could lose my job or my relationship with family if I speak out against X”). The only difference between moderates and closeted nonbelievers in this case is that the latter aren’t affiliating themselves with the extremists, which I’m not sure is a relevant difference.

      By the way, I say this in part because I’m partially closeted (hence the pseudonym, for one), and before I was a closeted nonbeliever, I was a moderate/progressive believer. I understand the point you’re making, but I fear you may not be seeing the nuances of why some people in those situations don’t feel that they can speak out. Sometimes silence means safety.

      • TristanLawksley

        TCC, while I completely understand your valid point, I don’t agree with it. The more people cower in fear the more they fuel the power of their oppressors. There may or may not be negative consequences for those that step out of the closet, but in my opinion the positive that may come from inspiring (Potentially.) thousands of people to exit their own closet outweighs them.

        The comparison you draw isn’t a fair one at all. We’re talking about the moderately religious keeping their mouths shut while extremists of their own belief system take to the streets and kill innocent people. No one is being killed, at least not in the United States, that I’m aware of because an Atheist, Gnostic or Agnostic, hides in a closet. I’d like to think that if an Atheist was killed in this country for their lack of belief in invisible sky daddies that the majority of those in the closet would step out in protest.

        I wholly expect “moderate” Muslims around the world to either speak out against the extremists of their religion, or denounce Islam as a religion of peace and call it what it is… utter bullshit that’s used to persecute and control.

        • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

          Had a response lost, so I’ll try to say it again more concisely…

          I agree that coming out is a positive move (and I have personally done that in a limited way), but you can’t know what people will go through in doing so. Telling someone that they should just suck up and suffer through losing their families, their closest relationships, their livelihoods, is something that I don’t think any person has the right to demand. In a perfect world, coming out would be largely inconsequential, but it simply isn’t, and it takes a severe lack of compassion to criticize people who haven’t come out because they aren’t ready to accept the consequences for it.

          And as I noted below, the point of the comparison was about silence: if silence is the problem for moderate believers, then it would equally be a problem for closeted nonbelievers or, for that matter, anyone who stayed silent. Dissent from within might be more meaningful in a limited sense, but from a moral standpoint (which is how I assume we’re defining this), they are equivalent. Just consider that your net will cast farther than you intend.

      • Dale

        I don’t think your analogy holds.  I’m not sure you can call nonbelievers extreme because they are not killing people for their belief.  

        • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

          But I wasn’t doing so, not in the least. I was drawing the comparison between believers and nonbelievers who do not feel as though they can speak out against extremism. Please re-read what I said.

      • Coyotenose

        I feel that the criticism is valid as a general one, but should not be applied to any one specific person. To Godwin up the place, the Nazis steamrolled their way to power and genocide partially because their critics were silent, but that doesn’t mean I lay blame on Mr. or Mrs. Specific German Civilian for not speaking up and thereby endangering their families.

        • TristanLawksley

          Now consider the alternative… If the majority of Germany had stood up and called bullshit at the first sign of his insanity and not remained quiet then the lunatic wouldn’t have stayed in power. It’s a pointless debate however as we have absolutely no way of knowing unless you have access to transportation to an alternate reality where the German people stood the fuck up to the mad man.

          I’m choosing to think that if people would speak up then crazy people wouldn’t gain the authority to carry out atrocities and when they don’t speak up they’re choosing to enable. What’s that quote…

          “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  – Edmund Burke

          • Coyotenose

             That’s not actually an alternative. That was the same position I took.

      • Brian Macker

        Nonsense,  theists in general are not being asked to speak out against Islam because they do not belong to that ideology.  Atheism is NOT an ideology.   No more than theism is an ideology.   Islam specifically calls for the murder and subjegation of non-Muslims.    Once one calls oneself a Muslim one takes on a burden of separating oneself from the behaviors that Islam advocates.    One must say things like “I’m a muslim by birth but the Qur’an is not to be taken literally, and those who do are evil” in order to separate oneself from that evil.   It’s a very difficult position to be in.   It’s like being a peaceful Nazi that claims to be tolerant of Jews when the founder of your ideology had specific plans to exterminate them, and was clearly anti-semetic.

        Atheists don’t have to answer for what other atheists do because there is zero content to the concept of atheism other than a failure to believe in any gods.    Theism has zero content also except for the belief in some god.   One doesn’t even need to belong to any established religion to do that.     One can invent ones own conception of god like Spinoza.

  • primenumbers

    No, not offensive in the least. If it’s offensive to anyone, it’s to illiterate head-chopping-off Muslims, and we all have good reasons to show our contempt and ridicule of them.

  • Heinrich Kruger

    I don’t see anything offensive about the poster. It very clearly refers to militant “religious fanaticism”. In fact, I think in this case the letter writer is the one who fails to distinguish between radicals and moderates. Unfortunately this is quite common among religious moderates. They see criticism of the more extremist factions of their religion and respond as though it is an attack on their religion as a whole; thereby aligning themselves with with extremists instead of denouncing them (as they should).

    • Foster

      You have a point out of context, but that’s only the subtitle you mention.  The title: “Join [the organization] in a discussion of the ‘seriousness’ of religion” would seem to tar *all* of religion for what a few fanatics do.  It would be as though I created a poster showing Stalin cutting off a Jew’s head, with the title “Join [my theistic organization] in a discussion of the “defensibleness” of atheism.  [subtitle] When is enough enough, and how can we stand up to atheistic fanaticism?”  I don’t think you’d call that a fair representation of atheism either.

      • Alex

        In other words, a discussion of seriousness of religion and, as a consequence, how serious one should take it. I also fail to see anything offensive here.

        As far as Stalin (as well as Hitler, never mind that he wasn’t an atheist), people have and do make that argument all the time. Go to just about any evangelical church to hear it. We are used to it by now.

      • Heinrich Kruger

        I disagree. There’s a significant difference between your Stalin poster scenario and the poster under discussion here. As has been pointed out numerous times, Stalin did not kill in the name of atheism. Besides, Stalin died almost 60 years ago, so his actions are not particularly relevant to a discussion of modern atheism. On the other hand, at this very moment, we see violence and human rights violations being perpetrated in the name of religion all around the world. Therefore, a discussion of religion and how to stand up to religious fanaticism is very relevant. Furthermore, note that the SSA poster invites people to a discussion of “the ‘seriousness’ of religion” not “the ‘defensibleness’ of religion” — there is quite a difference in meaning between those two phrases and you conveniently substituted one for the other. 

        Anyway, if someone were to put up posters similar to what you describe, I would obviously think that they are silly and wrong. I would not, however, be angry or offended. I certainly would not write letters calling for the posters to be taken down. Instead, I would go to the meeting, engage them in conversation and try to convince them that they have a mistaken image of atheism, or I would organise my own event to show them that atheism is very different from Stalinism.

        Nice job on the copy+paste, by the way…

  • http://twitter.com/davehodg Dave Hodgkinson

    1. “Blasphemy” is an artificial construct against a fiction.

    2. Given what’s in the Koran, I’m not convinced any Muslim could be described as “moderate”.

    • Coyotenose

      Ditto for Christianity in that case, since what’s described in the New Testament is Communism to the point of deliberately impoverishing oneself.

      Good Christians and Muslims go out of their way to compartmentalize and ignore the chunks of their religious texts that, if followed, would make theirs and other peoples’ lives unlivable. It’s curiously uplifting to see that their humanity almost always takes precedence over their beliefs.

  • Bob

    I think ninjas should feel offended at being associated with Islam.

    • Brian Macker

      Except this is how actual Muslim fanatics dressed when chopping off the heads of actual non-Muslims.   Google “beheading of nick berg” and switch to image search.   Same with Dan Pearl.

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

    looks more like a Ninja to me, not someone wearing a turbin…

    • Coyotenose

       Your stereotyping of ninjas offends me, Sir.

  • A3Kr0n

    Just put an atheist in the place of the sword guy and ask yourself if it’s offensive. That will be your answer.

    • skinnercitycyclist

       The cartoon would make no sense if the swordsman (happy to help you expand your vocabulary) were an atheist (assuming one could indicate such).  I am unaware of atheists offering to sever heads in return for insults, graphic or otherwise.  But I have often seen Muslims in large violent crowds offering  trenchant responses to such cartoons, documentaries, etc. such as: “How dare you call Islam a religion of violence?  I will cut your head off!”  And it doesn’t stop with threats.

      That being said, I do not believe most Muslims would utter such threats or stoop to violent action.  As with most of us, like Tom Joad they are “trying to get along without shovin’ anybody.” 

      • A3Kr0n

        So you find it offensive, right?

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

          Offensive because it’s not based in reality, like any time they talk about militant atheism. Militant Islam certainly exists and it’s pretty obvious that this is referring to the radicals, not to every Muslim out there. They should be offended by the radical Muslims, not the fact that someone doesn’t like the radical Muslims.

      • Don Gwinn

        I think the analogy might fit better if you replace the swordsman with Hitler, Mao, or some other bogeyman more commonly used in the classic “You’re an atheist?  Like the Nazis were?” argument.

        It’s not a perfect fit, but in both cases, you have a decent person being told that an evil person shares their ideology.  In both cases, they’re being told that the ideology is suspect because it links them to these crazy, evil people who justify their evil actions with that ideology.

        An atheist confronted with that trope *should* (IMHO) simply point out the evidence that Hitler was not an atheist, plus the evidence that eugenicism, anti-semitism and fascism do not require atheism.  

        A Muslim confronted with a cartoon that mocks Muslims for reacting violently to cartoons has a harder row to hoe, yes, but he should react the same way if he wants to convince anyone.  Show people that you represent a kind of Islam that would not allow riots and killings over a cartoon, and you are no longer tarred with that brush.  

        • Foster

          Can’t the muslim be offended that you or anyone else “would tar him with the same brush” in the first place without any good reason to think he shares the same views as the fanatics?  Hate speech may not be illegal, but it is still wrong.  It is completely rational to think that that poster in itself tends to strain relations between ordinary muslims and the general student body and should never have been made.

    • Moira

      Are atheists known to kill people that show contempt to atheism?  Not really a good comparison.

    • http://twitter.com/butterflyfish_ Heidi McClure

      No, I would not find that offensive. Confusing, but not offensive. And I would likely forget about it ten minutes later.

    • David Starner

       How do we know the sword guy isn’t atheist? It never mentions a religion. If you just change “Yeah, but it’s Mohammed Ali” to something more atheist (whatever that could be), it just becomes silly. It’s like a drawing showing people killing each other over their choice of D&D 4 versus Pathfinder; it would only bring up strong feelings if someone had actually got more than their emotions hurt in the edition “wars.”

  • 1000 Needles

    Hemant, it seems like you have a different standard for criticizing Islam than you do for criticizing Christianity.

    If the poster depicted a man being stoned for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, I can’t imagine you being concerned with the delicate feelings of moderate Christians.

    • Foster

      You have a point out of context, but that’s only the subtitle you mention.  The title: “Join [the organization] in a discussion of the ‘seriousness’ of religion” would seem to tar *all* of religion for what a few fanatics do.  It would be as though I created a poster showing Stalin cutting off a Jew’s head, with the title “Join [my theistic organization] in a discussion of the “defensibleness” of atheism.  [subtitle] When is enough enough, and how can we stand up to atheistic fanaticism?”  I don’t think you’d call that a fair representation of atheism either.

      • C Peterson

        But Stalin didn’t kill anybody because he was an atheist. That’s quite different from Muslim extremists, who do, in fact, kill people specifically because of religious differences.

        • Foster

          Whether his atheism and lack of belief of a higher power to judge his misdeeds led him to be more open to killing people for his “greater good” is debatable.  As is whether Muslim extremists are extremists because of Islam, or if they would be extremists even if they weren’t Muslims, and use their religion as an excuse for the violent acts they would commit anyway.  You’re wrong:  the parallel is valid.

          • Glasofruix

            Well stalin never used an atheist excuse to kill people, muslim fundamentalists and christian ones however do so, parallel invalid.

          • C Peterson

            I don’t think it’s debatable at all that Stalin acted as he did because of his atheism. He was a despot, and his violent response was towards any dogma that stood in opposition to his absolute control… religious or otherwise.

            Similarly, it seems impossible to view the actions of Muslim extremists as anything other than religiously motivated.

            So I consider the parallel not just invalid, but grossly so.

          • Brian Macker

            Plenty of people who do not lack a “belief of a higher power” go around killing people on massive scale.  Muhammad being an example.  So that is no obstacle, and there is no debate to be had.    Atheism is not an ideology so there is no motivation there for killing anyone.  

            Stalin was an authoritarian marxist, and they hated the upper class and any collaborators, and their ideology painted their enemies honest behavior as criminal.  Is it any wonder that Marxists killed millions?  Their belief system sanctioned such behavior.

            Your “parallel” is similar to blaming people who don’t believe in leprechans for atrocities committed by both Muslims and Marxists.   It’s ridiculous.

      • Glasofruix

        That stalin was evil because atheism shit is getting old…

      • Brian Macker

        The correct analogy would be Stalin and Marxism, not Stalin and atheism.  Atheism isn’t a ideology.

    • Philo Vaihinger

      Good idea. How about the Muslim Swordsman and a Christian Clinic Bomber on a single poster? Some might complain of the false implied equivalence, but there’s no pleasing everyone, is there?

    • Coyotenose

      You don’t have to imagine it. He’s asked similar questions before, even recently, in reference to Christians. It’s part of what makes him a good blogger and leader; he puts both overt and implied questions out there as opportunities for readers rather than dictate to them.

      • Butthole

        Tell me, with your tongue so far up his ass, how does it taste? Curryish?

        You sycophants just cannot think for yourselves, can you?

        • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

          You apparently can’t tell the difference between approval and sycophancy. Can’t say I’m too surprised, from someone who chooses “Butthole” as a handle.

        • Coyotenose

          You seem kind of pissy today, friend. Maybe your blood sugar’s a little bit low? You might want to scream upstairs at your mom for another sandwich.

          • Pluto Animus

             Plus that “curryish” line seems vaguely racist….

  • Moira

    If the same group did a poster that lampooned the hatred of the Westboro Baptist Church ( a group holding hateful signs at a funeral for example) with the same tag line “When is enough enough, and how can we stand up to religious fanaticism?”, I tend to think most Christians would see that as specific to the fanatics who spew hate and not all Christians.  Maybe not all, but I still think most would understand the meaning.

    So although I might not have chosen this image, I am not going to get too worked-up about it.  Moderate Muslims should be just as angry at the fanatics representing their religion as anyone else.

    • Foster

      Again, you’re leaving out the main title and quoting the subtitle out of context which changes the meaning (see above comment).

      • Brian Macker

        Thats the purpose of subtitles, silly.   Religious become fananical when they become too serious about their beliefs.

  • George Wiman

    Certainly offensive to religious fanatics, who are clearly identified by the word “fanaticism” and by the action depicted. Does every such depiction need small print that says “Thefollowingdepictiondoesnotrepresenteveryonewhoadherestothisreligion”?

    • Brian Macker

      Not all Islamic religious fanatics would be offended by this.   Especially since they see there fanaticism as a positive attribute, and advocate the behavior in this cartoon.   

  • Pureone

    I think we should define what kind of moderate, or at least what a moderate is. Do you mean the kind of moderate that would physically attack someone with bare hands for wearing a Mohammed costume like you posted about on Feb 23, 2012, but not do any acts of violence in response to koran defacement or bad movies depicting islam/Mohmmmed?

  • stojadinovicp

    “Do you think it’s offensive?” – No one has the right not to be offended.

    • digibud

       +1.   i’m of the opinion that colleges are much, much too “pc”. It’s OK if it’s offensive. If it untrue…libelous…that’s one thing, but if you restrict all commentary that is offensive to every ethnic group and every religious group and every political group and…everyone…you have no learning left to be done. Don Gwinn also makes a good point.

  • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

    I have a hard time getting outraged about this. It’s clear that the cartoon is criticizing a specific type of action, not a specific religion (although a specific religion, Islam, is used in the example). Anyone who focuses on the Muhammad part of the cartoon over the decapitation part of the cartoon has missed the point, which should be pretty damn obvious.

    Personally, I think the problem here is that people don’t always know how to read political cartoons these days.

  • Don Gwinn

    This is an excellent opportunity for anyone who is here to learn in/about America, and is offended by the poster, to practice an American method of dealing with that offense.  Note the time and place listed on the poster, go to that place at that time, and when it’s your turn to speak, rise and explain that you’re offended and why.
    Then listen to the responses you get, and if you have more to say after that, respond to them.
    If you can’t make it to the public forum or the date is already past (happens to me a lot) then use the handy email address or join the indicated Facebook group, and you’ll still have plenty of opportunity to explain your point of view.  We didn’t invent this idea, but we really like it.

    It sounds crazy, but it works.

    All that said, the letter writer followed that advice pretty well, and I’ve got no problem with that.  The letter writer made it clear that she respected the SSA’s right to put up posters with which she disagrees, but she also reserved the right to speak out about her disagreement, including her right to explain *why* she’s offended and why others should care about her point of view.  That’s exactly what I’m talking about.  Let’s just do that more.

  • Foster

    When I consider the hypothetical that the cartoonist had merely shown a swordsman threatening a scared cartoonist with the katana, as opposed to actually cutting the guy’s head off, it seems to me that there would be much less likelihood that the student would complain.  At least part of what was wrong with the cartoon was that it was needlessly graphic in representing the violence it abhorred, inappropriate for a public place where small children of professors, or weak-stomached people who would rather not view such things might see it.

    • Coyotenose

       If that were the case, I’d be offended that they drew a katana and not a scimitar or tulwar.

      Worrying about small children being exposed to adult concepts when brought along to a university seems a little disingenuous, doesn’t it? It makes me think of Maude Flanders. At any rate, kids are remarkably good at picking up on and handling concepts that we think are beyond them*. They can certainly handle a black and white cartoon panel that depicts a trivial percentage of the horrors of a Tom & Jerry short.

      *I explained to an eight-year old who asked why Sheriff Gerald Hege left office and why he wasn’t qualified to return, and the kid asked detailed questions and could explain it to someone else without using my words. I saw a four-year-old watch The Land Before Time with her mother and explain, to her mom, how Littlefoot’s mom had just died but he would be okay because he knew she loved him. They listen. They get it. Orson Scott Card once responded to a critic of his Ender novels who said that children don’t act the way he wrote them. Card replied, “No, they don’t act that way around you.”

      • Foster

        You sound like parents who defend using the F word in front of children because it’s an “adult concept.”  You neglect the value of childhood innocence, as well as the common decency not to assault people’s eyes in public with pornography or graphic violence.

        • 3lemenope

          The point is that “childlike innocence” is primarily a construct created by adults to deny the notion that their kids know more about the world than they might like them to.

          And for what it’s worth, my childlike wonder about the world and its contents did not diminish one iota the first time I heard the word “fuck”.  I can’t even imagine how that might work. Does the word have the magical power to create cynics out of children? Or is this just one more thing that parents tell themselves about children so they don’t have to worry about what they’re really thinking about?

        • Anna

          You neglect the value of childhood innocence, as well as the common decency not to assault people’s eyes in public with pornography or graphic violence.

          You really think the poster contains graphic violence? It’s a cartoon. There were far more explicit pictures on those silly Garbage Pail Kids cards I collected growing up.

          Out of curiosity, when was the last time you were exposed to pornography in public? I can’t say I’ve ever had that happen to me, and I live in an extremely liberal part of the country. Unless you have a rather loose definition of pornography, I can’t imagine a situation in which you would just happen to come across it in public.

          • 3lemenope

            At the risk of being slightly unfair, I get the sense that Foster believes that Calvin Klein and Axe Body Spray ads are sexualized enough to drive children into lives of sex addiction, dissolution, and despair. 

            • Anna

              Could be, though Catholics aren’t normally that prudish. I usually think of evangelicals as the ones who believe that nudity itself is pornographic.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

            It’s hilarious. I live outside of Chicago and I very rarely see anything sexual. Travel forty minutes into God-fearing Indiana and there are countless “Adult Superstore” billboards and tons of trashy looking strip clubs.

            • Anna

              I live right outside of San Francisco. Of course there are some adult bookstores and the occasional strip club. Maybe that’s what Foster is referring to? I’d hardly count that as pornographic, since the windows are always covered up. I think it would be pretty hard to come across actual pornography by chance in public. You’d have to go looking for it. People don’t just head out for a stroll and randomly stumble upon explicit pictures or videos of sexual acts.

        • Glasofruix

            as well as the common decency not to assault people’s eyes in public with pornography or graphic violence.

          I’d like to not being assaulted by depictions of religion in public places….

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

          Why can’t kids say the F word? I’ve got a 3 year old niece who knows some swear words and we’re always trying to stop her from saying them. But why? She understands the concept of saying a word to express frustration. She uses the swear words correctly when she’s frustrated. She says “Damn it!” when she can’t get her crayons back in the box. She obviously feels the need to use words of that nature, just like we all do. If we didn’t feel that need, then why do we have replacement words for swear words? And how are they any better if the thought behind them is exactly the same?
          We still tell her to stop because we’re afraid that other people will hear her. That’s it. It’s not socially acceptable for kids to swear, so we tell her not to swear.
          The only reason it’s not socially acceptable for them to swear because people are concerned that saying these words will somehow lose their innocence. How? Because “fuck” means “sex?” Kids are way more sexual than people think. The only reason we don’t realize that is because they learn from an early age that adults can’t handle talking about it.
          I think it should be way more acceptable to say “Damn it!” to a vexing box of crayons than to tell children that God will damn them to hell for all eternity if they don’t believe in him.

        • Coyotenose

           No I don’t. I sound like someone who didn’t have to make up theoretical situations to complain about that require him to ignore the who concept of a public university.

          That you spend infinitely more time criticizing the students and their ridicule of violence than you do the violence says it all, really. Anything to take a jab at the mean atheists, any partnership at all as long as it props up your religion also.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

      I had to scroll up to remind myself what the picture looked like. Seriously? That’s graphic violence? As a child, I was the one drawing pictures like that in Sunday school. (The teacher came up behind me and said, “Why don’t you draw something a little nicer…”) And I was sheltered as a kid. I definitely was not allowed to watch anything gory at that age.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    In one word: No. There is no way that this can be blasphemous. Blasphemy would be targeting the religion itself. This posted focuses on the fact that there are people who have been killed because they did something that upset islamic extremists. Like Theo van Gogh or Salman Rushdie or numerous others facing death threats.

    You cannot ignore the reality that people have been killed over stupid reactions to “blasphemy”. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1607022278 facebook-1607022278

    In light of the fact that people have been trying to kill others who depict Muhammad not just in Arab countries but abroad as well, I don’t think it is the least bit offensive. When you start apologizing for the moderates and representing them when they seem to not even want to wholly represent themselves then you have to start drawing a line to make the distinction between moderate and extreme and catering to a sense of moderate that only serves to squelch your dissension of both the moderate and extreme. It’s hard to shame the extremists without offending the moderates. If the moderates don’t believe in the violence of the Koran that means it is THEIR responsibility to stand up and represent themselves appropriately.
    Besides, the flyer obviously isn’t aimed at the moderates anyways. Moderate Muslims don’t behead people!

  • ORAXX

    One man’s blasphemy is another man’s self evident truth.  Thus it has alway been and, there in lies the problem.  The very idea of blasphemy needs to be abandoned.

  • Kaydenpat

    I’m sure the flyer was not meant to target average Muslims, but meant to condemn those who kill/riot violently because someone “insults” their religious sensibilties.  Someone from the SSA group should explain this in a letter to the same editor.

  • C Peterson

    What is the actual question here: Is the poster blasphemous or is the poster offensive? The distinction is important. It doesn’t matter if it’s blasphemous… indeed the question is a meaningless one. Anything might be considered blasphemy by any particular religion, including the ordinary doctrine of another. Whether it’s offensive is another matter. Here, I’d ask if the intent was to be offensive, or whether it just happens that some people take offense at the content. In this case, I’d say it’s the latter. Of course, there is not necessarily anything wrong with being deliberately offensive… it can be a useful strategy in attempting to educate people. But there’s nothing here that makes me think that was the intent.

  • judith sanders

    It’s funny, and quite appropriate.  If we allow religious people to compromise our free speech a little, where does it stop?  We already have laws that punish you for limited categories of speech that actually can harm *people.*  That’s enough.

    Did you know that there are places where you can get in trouble for depicting living beings, especially humans?   The people who enforce these laws aren’t militant, but that doesn’t mean the laws  aren’t a real obstacle to learning, art, etc .
    The Islamic students aren’t really “guests,” they are paying customers of the university.
    Caveat emptor.

    The poster gets one’s attention – it does its job well.  How many people do you think would attend this discussion without it?

  • Philo Vaihinger

    The object of satire is to chastise faults through raillery and sink a purely metaphorical barb into those who know the fault is theirs.

    Anything the satirist thinks deserves it is fair game.

    As for whining about people being offended, well, that is the point of satire, after all.

    Those who bear the flaws under assault are supposed to feel embarrassed,  humiliated, discomforted, or even offended.

    And what atheist can deny that religious belief is a fault?

    And what honest atheist would deny that, for its endless capacity to inspire hate, violence, and bloodshed, Islam is far and away more deserving of satiric jibes than any other religion?

    Are Muslims offended?

    Good!

    I hope they are embarrassed and humiliated, too!

    I hope every time they see such a satiric rebuke they ask themselves why theirs among all the religions of the world has become distinctly notorious for sheer, inhuman cruelty.

    And then I hope they ask themselves whether that can be changed, or better still whether they really want to be associated at all with such a monstrous religion.As for politically correct non-Muslims, well, the profound and egregious hypocrisy of their double standard on this matter of giving religious offense is well-known.

    Whenever we hear from them, after we throw up, we should try to pretend it never happened.

    If we can.

    Pending the day some talented writer or artist produces a real zinger of a satirical attack on them!

    Oh, joy!

    I can’t wait!

    • PissyMcSatire

      ^^^^^ This. 

      Well said.

  • FreeSpeech

    Sam Harris’s latest column said it best - 

    It does not matter if the poster is blasphemous or not. The question alone is disgusting.

    We have a protected RIGHT to speech and display such as this, so it doesn’t make one iota of difference if it is blasphemous or not.

    • Guest

      Not that you could tell there is free speech based on Hemant’s behavior, but c’est le guerre….

      • Coyotenose

         Poor angwy baby.

  • Guest

    I don’t understand what part of “fundamentalism” on this poster was unclear. IT SAY’S SO ON THE POSTER. not very hard to understand.

    • Philo Vaihinger

      no, it doesn’t.

  • Thomas Farrell

     I never liked the question “is this offensive”, because I’ve learned that everything is offensive. EVERYTHING. If you say “hello”, someone will be offended, and if you don’t, someone else will be offended.

    A better question is, “*should* we view this as offensive?” To which my answer is, no. The text of the poster very clearly says it’s for a discussion about “religious fanatacism”, so we should understand that the cartoon also refers to fanatacism and not to ordinary milquetoast religious people. I suppose fanatics should be offended, but I don’t really care if they are, they need a jolt of reality to remind them that their behavior is unacceptable.

  • Philo Vaihinger

    Why blasphemous, anyway? Not every jibe at something or someone to do with religion is blasphemous. And is this a jibe at the religion or at some of those who claim to act in its name?

  • Alex

    So, when a Muslim kills someone over a Muhammad drawing, it’s a bad, no-good, extremist Muslim, and the moderate majority is not like that. But when somebody draws a cartoon of that bad, no-good, extremist Muslim lopping someone’s head off for nothing, that’s all of a sudden a portrayal of all Muslims? Hey, let’s overreact to EVERYTHING! Man, that’s a good philosophy to live by.

  • http://profiles.google.com/conticreative Marco Conti

    No. It’s quite funny actually. 

    It’s the same kind of humor I remember from the cartoon that appearead after Christopher Hitchens passing where he is in heaven and this bearded guiy tells him something like “Relax, I am Charles Darwin”.

    At the time, I tought it was a funny cartoon that probably Hitch himself would have enjoyed. But no doubt there are atheists that were offended by it or at least could have made the argument it was offensive because of its depiction of an afterlife (for the record, this is my supposition and I ahve not read or know of any complaints about it one way or another).

  • http://twitter.com/bhurt42 Brian Hurt

    Two things.  One, any religious moderate who thinks this poster is offensive is not a moderate.  If you are offended people standing up to religious fanaticism, you support the fanatics.  It’s bad enough if the religious “moderates” don’t call out their fanatics themselves, but if they oppose other people calling out their fanatics, they no longer deserve the term “moderate”, do they?  They don’t have a problem (demonstrably) with people killing cartoonists, they have a problem with people who have a problem with people killing cartoonists.

    Second, it doesn’t matter if it’s offensive or not.  You don’t have the right to not be offended.  Which is good, because what a lot of religious people go on about I find offensive.  If “someone finds it offensive” is sufficient cause to shut someone up, most religions would be shut down.   

  • Neil

    I would think that the facts that the attacker is jumping head high in a sort of cartoonish movie-ninja style, wearing a total head covering, glaring hatefully with an intense look in his eyes, cutting off a person’s head, with the use of the words “religious fanaticism” right above him, would be more than enough to make any necessary distinction, for any sane person.

    If that’s not enough to allay anyone’s sensitivities, I would suggest that they need to grow the fuck up and get the fuck over themselves, and if they are interested in growing as rational humans, they might even question why they feel an apparent affinity with the “fanatic”.  I might suggest that maybe they should develop a bit of sensitivity for the damn near countless victims of religious fanatics, and learn to emotionally separate themselves from people with whom they share some culture, but few if any values, as the rest of us do every single damn day.  Maybe, just maybe, they could take the opportunity reflect on the very real, fanatical Islam-inspired murder of Theo van Gogh and the attempted axe attack on Kurt Westergaard, for the high crimes of making films and cartoons…maybe they should ask themselves why this cartoon is as ACCURATE as it is.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, Blonde

    the word “blasphemy” is not a real word to me. it’s like “snuffaluffagus” or “jabberwocky.” it relates to something that is not real, and therefore my concern with it is highly limited. 

    “offensive?” maybe. “insensitive” maybe. but no atheist should use the word blasphemy as if it related to something that affects real people in the real world. and frankly, if i were to critique this cartoon, the words i’d choose would be “bordering on racism.” because any atheist in the south should know: the fundie xtians would be right there helping swing the sword, if it were an artist depicting “christ” in some way they didn’t like. that’s much more relevant in american society than the threat of fundamentalist muslims, who barely make up a fraction of our population. 

  • Ghdcpa

    No, it’s not offensive.  It’s just a joke.  

    It’s an advertisement for a discussion about the “seriousness” of religion.  And it’s painfully obvious some religionists take their religion too seriously.  The cartoon mocks the extreme levels to which some take their religion.

    The question is only asked because some religionists have overreacted in  recent weeks to matters they find offensive.  If our measure of what qualifies as offensive is modified because of their overreaction,  we giving merit to their childish overreaction.

  • Chakolate

    Since I’m not a Muslim, I wouldn’t presume to say whether it was offensive or not.  Clearly it’s offensive to some. 

    But it’s also an interesting ploy – “If you want to tell us how offended you are, come to the SSA meeting!”

  • Ixoreus

    No, it is not offensive.

    What is offensive are religionists who demand that I respect their ideas and beliefs, and religionists who want to silence critical examination of their superstitions     What is beyond understanding is their demand for laws to criminalize my actions when I ridicule their nonsensical beliefs.  What is beyond the bounds of imagination is that some religionists will kill to suppress what they call “blasphemy.”    Now, that’s offensive

  • http://twitter.com/dougreardon Doug Reardon

    How can anyone equate the offensiveness of cartoons and satire with murder?

  • jose

    http://www.snopes.com/photos/politics/muslimprotest.asp

    ^ People with their faces covered advocating exactly what the guy in the cartoon is doing. So if you want to complain, go complain to those people who advocate that kind of actions in real life, because the flyer is an accurate representation of their ideas.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Not offensive, just stating true facts, that Islamic extremists/fanatics DO respond with violence, often out of all proportion to the alleged “offense”.

  • Randy

    It’s unclear what the poster means by “seriousness”. What they seem to be asking is whether religions should be taken as a serious threat to safety.  The example depicts an extremist Muslim beheading an artist.  I’m not sure of beheadings, but religion-motivated murder does happen.  So I think, no, the poster is not offensive.  The major religions have holy texts which contain direct instructions, as well as examples and lots of hoping, to go kill other people.  Regardless of how many “moderates” there are in each religion, yes, this is a threat to be taken seriously.  They could easily remove these things, or add text surrounding them saying “Hey, don’t do this”.  They just don’t.    To be quite honest, I don’t think there are any “moderates” if they don’t change the text.

  • TheKevinBates

    I’m offended, but only by their choice in font…

  • http://www.facebook.com/randy.burbach Randy Burbach

    Seems to me it says “how can we stand up to religious fanaticism”  right up front.  how is that not making a distinction?

  • Brian Macker

    ” It failed to distinguish, as the letter writer implied, between the radicals and the moderates.”

    Why?  Are moderates “Religous Fanantics”  and do they run around in black masks carrying swords and attacking cartoonists?    If moderates do that then maybe they do deserve to be lumped in with the non-moderates.

    Again this is nonsense.   

  • Brian Macker

    “Is This College Atheist Group’s Poster Blasphemous?”

    Why would behavior sanctioned, advocated, and practiced by the founder of a religion ever be blasphemous?

  • Ned Ludd

    Who cares what the visiting Muslims think? It is a false dichotomy to make a difference between “moderates” and “radicals”. It is the “moderates” that enable the radicals. A so-called moderate is as bad as a radical, only in a different way. A pox on both their houses. Not only they are in the same ballpark, they are in the same room.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002830936475 Frank Jones

    No not offensive. But correct.

  • http://www.facebook.com/walter.petit Walter Petit

    Hi everyone! This is Walter Petit, the President of the Western Kentucky University Secular Student Alliance. I actually had the opportunity to sit down and talk with John, the person who wrote the letter. He basically admitted to not thinking the letter through and apologized. He also promised to come to an SSA meeting. He was honestly a pretty nice guy. Problem solved.


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