A Catholic Website’s Sneaky Spin on the Atheist-Lit Case in Georgia

If you have to resort to making stuff up in order to “prove” that secular Americans are out to attack Christianity, your case is probably pretty weak.

Take this recent headline from Catholic Online:

That’s the website’s take on the offer by American Atheists president David Silverman to send non-theist literature to Georgia, to be placed in state park cabins. Silverman made the gesture after Governor Nathan Deal said that the Gideon Bibles are fine and that “in fact, any group is free to donate literature.”

By using the preposition atop in that headline, Catholic Online childishly stokes the Christian-persecution narrative, implying that the atheists are trying to literally cover up the Bible. The word alongside would have been fine, thank you very much.

The dishonesty continues in the article:

Since the atheists are enjoying success in supplanting the Bible in Georgia, there is some concern they could attempt to replicate it elsewhere.

To supplant means “to supersede and replace”; or more specifically, according to the dictionary definition, “to usurp the place of, especially through intrigue or underhanded tactics.” American Atheists doesn’t seek to supplant; the group just wants equal access, literature-wise (per the First Amendment as well as per Governor Deal’s invitation). Catholic Online knows this full well, considering that it summed up Silverman’s position accurately two sentences earlier:

“Silverman said that neither [type of literature] should go into the rooms, but if the Bible will be there, then so should literature about atheism.”

The website closes its article with this smirking passage:

For now, [this controversy is] only in Georgia state parks. Of course, donated literature can also be taken home and enjoyed, so it’s unclear how long Silverman’s books will last or if he will be able to keep up with demand.

That reads like a subtly-veiled nudge to destroy or deep-six the atheist literature, rather than leave it in the bedside drawer for the next guest to find. Classy.

The faithful don’t need much encouragement in that regard. Religious believers have a rather poor record of tolerating even the mildest of atheist utterances. My guess is that Silverman will have to re-supply Georgia’s state park cabins a lot more than the Gideons will. We’ll see.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I wrote this comment over at the Catholic Online site:

    You have written “atop” instead of “alongside,” and “supplant” instead of “accompany.” Neither of these are true, and the remarks by David Silverman neither say nor imply anything like “atop” or “supplant.” Then you give a not-so-subtle hint that the atheist literature should be censored so no one else can read it by encouraging Christians to discard it.
    You really seem to have no problem lying and stealing for Jesus.

    It’s “pending approval.” It will be interesting to see if it is included in the comments tomorrow.

  • Sids

    To be fair, it’s not uncommon to hear of atheists talking about playing games of “hide the bible”, defacing or otherwise taking them out of circulation.

    Really, I think Silverman’s plan was always going to be an expensive one. Copies of the Gideon bible are produced rather cheaply whereas The God Delusion isn’t really intended for this purpose and will come at a higher price tag even if it isn’t replaced as quickly.

  • Mick

    Catholics lying for Jesus. What a surprise. Two thousand years of impeccable honesty and now this! The other Christian sects will be outraged.

  • SeekerLancer

    All I hear is the usual crying from Catholic writers about how it’s so unfair that they have to play fair.

    Their solution? Turn the other cheek? No. Instead they lie, cheat and steal. I see why they need so many reminders of their own rules on public property. They keep forgetting them.

  • A3Kr0n

    That “pending approval” sure has a chilling effect on rational discourse. It seems like most religious website do that, too.

  • A3Kr0n

    Personally, I’d like to see some Native American spiritual literature placed on top of the Gideon Bibles. After all, they were here first. I think it would also be more appropriate in a park setting. It would be fun to sit among the trees, and read about the forest spirits.

  • Baby_Raptor

    My comment follows. I doubt they’ll actually post it, but at least the cog in the machine that has to moderate the things will be forced to confront a little reality.

    Let’s have a little honesty here, yeah? That can’t be too hard for people who follow a God that commands you not to lie.

    Nobody is trying to get the Gideon bibles hidden. Your use of “atop” is highly misleading.

    Further, getting other literature in there alongside your bibles is in no way “supplanting” them. Supplanting them would be removing or banning them. You said yourself that the governor supports bibles being there, and that the bibles were returned. So how is anything being supplanted?

    And, really? The “tactical error”? So you’re openly espousing that only you should be able to spread your views? How is that in any way fair, or adherent to religious freedom? Need you be reminded that everyone in this country has that, not just Catholics?

    Lastly, you seem to be telling people to take this literature and trash or otherwise destroy it. Nice; really classy. You would be utterly outraged if someone encouraged this for your literature, so it’s blatant hypocrisy for you to do it to anyone elses’. And last I recall, the bible didn’t speak highly of hypocrites.

    What are you so worried about? If your religion is as true as you believe it is, seeing words from someone that doesn’t believe in your god isn’t going to harm people. God will speak to them anyway. If you have to go to such great lengths to hide and demonize opposing views, that just shows how little faith you have in your own.

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

    Awe give em a brake two thousand years of squelching dissenting opinions is a pretty hard habit to shake. (no rhyme intended)

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

    Though we invite robust discussion, we reserve the right to not publish
    any comment which denigrates the human person, undermines marriage and the family, or advocates for positions which openly oppose the teaching of the Catholic Church.

    I’m thinking Richard that your comment won’t get approved.

  • Charles Honeycutt

    But you don’t see any atheists with a public forum doing it seriously, just some “makes for bad toilet paper/kindling” jokes. What you almost always see is discussion of Christians stealing or destroying books followed by variations of “How would they like it if we did that to them?”

    This writer is not making a joke, and in the context of the article, is not making a hypothetical statement either. Inciting the audience and then wondering if anyone might rid him of those meddlesome books is blatant.

    Ah, this website is so great. The writer is admitting that no one cares enough about donated Bibles to even make off with them, but that his side cares rather fervently about competition.

  • Charles Honeycutt

    Don’t forget to rate the article if you visit the website. But if you do, please read it first, not because Terry Firma is incorrect, but because we should try to not take any claims on (achem) faith.

  • Charles Honeycutt


  • Hat Stealer

    Excuse me, but I take my Bible/poop jokes very seriously.

  • Carmelita Spats

    I doubt your comment will be approved. Catholic sites are notorious for censorship. If you want to see what I mean, go to the National Catholic Register and see how long it takes for them to block you for the crime of posting a different opinion or challenging their positions, point by point. They kicked me off after one round with no profanity or blasphemy. You are dealing with a cult and they respond with the ethics of a cult.

  • Carmelita Spats

    Catholics whining about a bible that they do not believe in since it excludes certain books, the Apocryphal literature, (Maccabees I and II, Judith, Tobit, additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch, Epistle of Jeremiah, etc) and does not hold the official nihil obstat…Catholics used to persecute heretics for distributing this Protestant bible. Will they defend the Jehovah’s Watchtower bible next?

  • Hamilton Jacobi

    At first glance I read the title as the Catholic Onion. Then I thought, what a silly mistake. But the more I read, the more accurate my first impression began to seem.

  • 3lemenope

    I simply don’t get it. Why is the Catholic Church or any organ thereof angry about anything having to do with Gideon bibles? First off, it ain’t a Catholic approved translation and second, the Catholic Church to my knowledge has always been pretty firm that the laity should not be reading the Bible on their own without priestly guidance.

    It’s like complaining about how bad a movie is that you never plan to see.

  • Savoy47

    The Gideon’s pass out
    the King James V bible. The Catholic Church does not even recognize that bible
    as legit. The article seems to be
    advocating for the KJV which itself is not in line with the teaching of the
    Catholic Church.

  • DougI

    When you have god on your side you need to resort to lies.

  • Donatello

    Robust discussion but it has to be in line with the teaching of the RCC? So basically a board where you can freely discuss whether the pope’s hat is chic or très chic?

  • The Other Weirdo

    Yet people do that all the time.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Because even iron chariots are mightier.

  • 3lemenope

    Yes they do. It’s pretty annoying.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    “Of course, donated literature can also be taken home and enjoyed”

    On the plus side, this pretty much solves our problem with prayers, copies of the ten commandments and pictures of Jesus that have been donated to schools and so forth.

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

    i weep over the decimation of the eastern First Nations. there are so few of them left. i had a roomie who was a member of one Nation from Mass. she was so beautiful. there are like, 300 or so of them left.

  • randomfactor

    Wonder how the Catholics feel about the Protestant version of the Bible being placed to the exclusion of the Catholic Douay translation.

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


  • MarkTemporis

    Sir Ian McKellan claims to tear the offending (anti-gay) part of Leviticus from every Bible he finds in a hotel room. I don’t see any particular reason to doubt this or think it a joke. It’s specificity makes it sound fairly reasonable.

    Every hotel I’ve stayed at in HI has a Buddhist book placed alongside the Bible. Nobody has ever said anything publicly for or against this practice.

  • Nate Frein

    Every hotel I’ve stayed at in HI has a Buddhist book placed alongside the Bible. Nobody has ever said anything publicly for or against this practice.

    If you’re talking about privately owned hotels, then there’s nothing to be said…the owners have every right to choose what gets placed in their rooms.

  • SeekerLancer

    So we invite discussion as long as it agrees with us. How robust!

  • TCC

    The answer is relatively uncomplicated: If atheists are trying to have their voices heard equally with Christians of any stripe, then Catholics will take the side of the Christians against the atheists. And really, the fact that these Bibles are a version that is not sanctioned by the Catholic Church and which do not contain deuterocanonical books isn’t that big a deal; the Gideons sometimes distribute only New Testaments (well, generally NT + Psalms & Proverbs), and its incompleteness is not usually considered to be problematic because it at least gets people reading the Bible, by their reasoning.

  • 3lemenope

    Gideons usually give out the whole shebang to hotels and similar properties (I’ve worked at three hotels, and they all had ‘em). The NT+PP pocket versions are more for the on-the-street distribution.

    Yeah, it isn’t mystifying from a psychological perspective; it’s simple in-group bandwagoning. What cracks me up about it is they have to run roughshod over their own (magically only up till this moment and certainly again after this moment has passed) very important doctrines. You’re right that the incompleteness/defective nature of the translation from the Catholic perspective isn’t so much of a big deal, but encouraging the laity to crack open a Bible at an idle whim *certainly* is.

  • Rain

    “in fact, any group is free to donate literature.”

    Keep using that word, but “cynical Inigo Montoya” does not think it means what everyone thinks it means.

  • Cortex_Returns

    Silverman can get a deal, I’m sure. The publisher must love him.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    While benefitting greatly from the first amendment in the US, the RCC has a long history of going to great lengths to silence dissent (see the recent pressure put on families who wanted to report that their children had been raped by priests). It’s not a democratic institution, it is a hierarchy and they throw a fit when anyone disagrees with them because disagreement is not allowed. Except in a free country it is. They benefit from that freedom but act as if they are being violated if anyone else exercises that freedom. What a disgusting bunch.

  • dcl3500

    Doesn’t everyone take home the Gideon bibles from hotel rooms? I have come home from roadtrips with 10 of the suckers before

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    Yes, the RCC has a long history of playing fair with dissenters. (see also: Inquisition, Spanish)

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    Agreed. but imagine the furor if any hotel chain stopped allowing Gideons to place Bibles in the rooms.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    They aren’t the only ones. I’ve been blocked from posting at Huffpost for some time now. I have no idea why.

  • kenofken

    Maybe they could put a bound volume of all the broken treaties in with the Gideons. Of course, there wouldn’t be room for a bed or television after that….

  • TCC

    Yeah, I didn’t mean that Gideons distribute NT+PP pocket versions in hotels.

    I’ll say this on the “encouraging the laity” bit: If you assume that these Bibles are intended for non-churchgoing people, then the RCC may consider it to be justifiable to “hook” these people. (The only issue is that these people won’t necessarily seek out the Catholic Church to get more information, of course, but I think the gap here can be bridged by the in-group support.)

  • Charles Honeycutt

    Slimeballs sign on at HuffPo in droves specifically to report liberal and secular comments and try to get the posters banned by the system. Initially automated moderation is one of many reasons they suck. I contacted them, got my posting rights restored, and to the best of my knowledge got somehow flagged so that won’t again happen easily… but that was pretty much it. I don’t bother with them anymore.

  • Cafeeine

    There is godless material out there that is not as expensive as TGD. E.g. the writings of R.G. Ingersoll are, I believe in the public domain, which means AA can print their own bulk versions. Otherwise, an anthology of freethought through the ages, including donated passages by contemporary authors shouldn’t be that hard to wrangle.

  • allein

    I don’t think it’s ever even occurred to me to look in the drawers in a hotel. I never really stay in one long enough to bother unpacking my suitcase.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    I thought about complaining but it didn’t seem worth the effort. I probably mocked some new-agy nonsense and got a complaint or two. Whatever.

  • Anna

    It’s really disheartening that the Catholic church would be so cavalier about separation of church and state. Have they forgotten their own history? What do they think all those nice evangelicals with their Gideon Bibles want to do to Catholics? And this is in Georgia, of all places.

  • Mikko

    I only toss it in the trash

  • dcl3500

    Habit since I was just a little kid, I have to know where every thing is where ever I am. Used to drive my Dad nuts when we went to Grandpa and Grandma’s and I was digging through drawers and cupboards seeing what was new or moved. LOL I am not that bad anymore, but I do still do it when I hit a hotel, and Mom’s place.

  • Artor

    They’d leap up toward the top of my list of places to stay.

  • Artor

    Best to let HuffPo sink into the pit of mediocrity it is destined for. I don’t see it going anywhere else soon.

  • Charles Honeycutt

    I wouldn’t consider Ian McKellan an atheist speaker in that sense, but more a public atheist. But yeah, he definitely isn’t kidding. That opens up an interesting question, for me anyway: is defacing a book to make a statement ethically equivalent to destroying a book to make a statement?

    Hawaii? Hmm, never thought about it, but that makes sense.

  • Charles Honeycutt

    No. Why would I steal Bibles?

  • Charles Honeycutt

    I’ve been waiting for the holiday weekend to be over to see what sort of comments made it through moderation. There are thirteen new ones this morning, all of them critical of the article, but I don’t see yours.

  • dcl3500

    I honestly do not think it is stealing and according to an old family friend that is a Gideon, it isn’t, they put them there to be taken home. ;)

  • Charles Honeycutt

    Oh, do they? I reckon that makes better sense than intending them to stay at the hotels, actually. Thank you!

  • baal

    The pope is willing to have atheists join in the conversation on how atheists can convert to RCC (but not on how they can leave). They are very consistent on this and related points.

  • baal

    I wish more US Christians knew about the religion on religion discrimination (and skirmishes) of the early colonies. They had established (government supported) religion and it was a huge mess.

  • Jordan Sugarman

    The point isn’t really to have the books there, IMO. The point is to raise enough of a ruckus about the fact that “those atheists are putting books in the rooms” so that they rethink allowing any religious material. To that end, this sort of story is great publicity.

  • Jordan Sugarman

    I really like the bit where the author calls it a “tactical error” to let it be known that other groups can donate literature. Like there wasn’t going to be a law suit if he said otherwise.

  • Anna

    Not to mention why the United States has a Catholic school system in the first place.


  • Tor

    Whaaa, whaaa. Out here in the West, we get the Book of Mormon in hotel drawers, along with the Bible. What could an atheist tract hurt?

  • Derrik Pates

    I know, on the rare occasion that I even look in a hotel drawer, I can only wonder why they have actual working drawers. Do people really unpack all their clothes and put them in the hotel-room drawers? I’ve never known anyone who did.

  • UWIR
  • Shannon Hawkins

    Because even a bad Bible is better than something that says the Bible is bad!