Confession: I never really liked that FFRF sign

Libby Anne has a post up called “The Problem with Confrontational Atheist Tactics,” which takes as its jumping off point an infamous sign that the Freedom From Religion Foundation puts in the Wisconsin Capitol Building every year: (The text on the sign reads: At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. there are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.)

I’ve actually never liked this sign. In fact, I even wrote a post saying so way back when, when I had been blogging for maybe six months. But I find Libby Anne’s reasons for rejecting it completely wrong. After all, she doesn’t just have a problem with this sign, the title of her post is about “confrontational atheist tactics” in general:

Finally, some might say that the negative perception of atheism is not our fault, and that it’s therefore not our job to fix it. Some may argue that atheists are already living full lives as nice people, and that Christians if Christians don’t know that it’s not atheists’ fault. I see the point, but I have to take issue with it. You know why? Because the confrontational tactics some atheists use are complicit in the negative image many Christians have of atheists. In other words, I think that some of the tactics of the organized atheist community have actually served to further the public’s negative perception of atheism.


Now obviously, I speak only from my own experiences, and everyone’s experiences are different. I’m happy to listen to points of disagreement or give a hearing to counterarguments. But I am serious when I say that I think the confrontational tactics used by many in the atheist movement do more harm than good regardless of the goals of the atheists behind them.

I have a huge problem with this, namely that it ignores the question of whether religious folks’ notions about how we ought to behave are reasonable. Reinforcing negative perceptions of your group is, all else being equal, a bad thing, but very often all else isn’t equal. Frequently, you’re dealing with completely unreasonable notions about how your group ought to behave, notions that need to be challenged rather than acquiesced to.

I mean, we live in a world where some people believe genocide is totally cool if God commands it, and in fact He did command it in the incapable-of-error holy book He inspired; where other people recognize said holy book is flawed but insist on believing that in spite of the overwhelming amount of awful stuff in it, they know the true message of the book and the true message is supportive of gay marriage; and where other people think both of the previous groups are nuts. And on top of all that, many people in the first two groups think it’s just horrible to point out such embarrassing facts about this holy book.

If you’re going to ignore those issues, if you’re going to ignore the issue of whether people’s reactions to certain behavior are reasonable, then you may as well start telling women they need to dress modestly at all times for the sake of fighting misogyny.

Now again, I don’t much care for the particular sign put up by the FFRF… but I’m not even sure my reasons are good ones. What I want to say is that while there are many things worth being a dick over, Christmas has become so secularized that a Christmas tree in the Capitol building is not one of them. But I’m given pause by some comments Heina D. made about the “atheists & secularization of Christmas” issue on Twitter:

So maybe we should be dicks about the Capitol having a Christmas tree (which is, honestly, a Christmas-specific thing, in spite of its unclear connection to Christian theology). Not entirely sure on this one.

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