Editor’s Note: This post really hits a chord with me. While I might seem like a rather “out” atheist – having written a book about non-believing clergy and editing this blog, I’m rather shy about mentioning my lack of religious beliefs around people I assume, or know, believe in God. I have a drawer full of atheist t-shirts that I rarely wear that were given to me when I spoke at atheist conferences. I think the last time I wore one was at the Reason Rally, when I first met the author of this post. Here I am pictured with him. /Linda LaScola
By David Madison
As long as Christians are reigning-champion flaunters, I think it would be really cool to have a T-shirt made for myself:
Front: ATHEIST AUTHOR & ADVOCATE.
Back: A picture of the cover of my book.
But where could I wear it without running the risk of getting beat up? Especially these days when religious folks are enflamed about being persecuted. At the very least, I’m sure I would be scolded for flaunting my atheism.
“Why do you have to be so in our faces about it? Please keep it to yourself!”
Christians have enjoyed majority status for so long, it’s hard for them to grasp that they are champion flaunters: it’s part of what they do! They want to be noticed, they insist on being noticed, and they spare no expense getting noticed. Atheists have a long way to go before we can match flaunt for flaunt.
Ten Examples of Christianity In Our Faces
(1) Worldwide there are countless shrines dedicated to the ancient Jesus mystery cult; actually, they can be counted. There are 3,000 Catholic cathedrals in the world, and a quick Google search shows that there are about 2,000 Christian churches in New York City alone. All those buildings, some modest, some magnificent, guarantee the high profile of the Christian faith. And most of them, of course, have the signage out front with Bible verses, sermon titles, and pious quotes or admonitions. There’s one Catholic church that I pass occasionally, with a large-as-life statue of Mary at a landscaped corner, overseeing the busy intersection. Thus the Jesus mystery cult is supplemented with adoration of a female goddess (the Queen of Heaven), and the faithful regularly place fresh flowers in her praying hands. Truly, Christianity has become part of the landscape.
(2) Public costuming by employees of the Jesus cult. This is blatant flaunting—much more conspicuous than any atheist t-shirt—and I see it in my Manhattan neighborhood. There are convents and monasteries nearby, and the nuns and monks go about their business in full dress code, displaying their piety; ordinary priests settle for the dog collar. But the fashionistas of the Vatican, of course, put everyone else to shame. The costumes of the pope and cardinals are, of course, meant to dazzle. But it’s too much razzle-dazzle. What are they playing at? We have to wonder what’s going on in their heads as they play dress-up. Couldn’t the Vatican couture budget be redirected to the needs of the poor? As in, “What Would Jesus Do?”
(3) Laypeople settle for Jesus on jewelry, i.e., the cross—sometimes with their tortured lord still on it—worn around the neck. This is intended as testimony, I suppose, letting passersby know what they believe = flaunting. I recently saw a buxom young woman interviewed on TV, wearing a large crucifix settled in her low-cut cleavage; she was double flaunting. Would Jesus have approved the positioning?
(4) Bibles in hotel rooms. I’m almost disappointed now when I don’t find a Gideon Bible in a hotel room, since I use them to flaunt my atheism, if only in a minor way. I write on the title page, “Please read this book carefully. It’s all the proof you’ll need that there is no god.” As of 2015, the Gideons had given away two billion Bibles, most of them, presumably, placed in hotel rooms. I recall Gideon preachers visiting my church when I was a kid, appealing for donations to support their ministry; of course we thought they were doing the Lord’s work. What level of fanaticism has been required for this effort? Atheists would surely be accused of outrageous flaunting if we tried to get copies of Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion into every hotel room in the country.
(5) Books in pharmacies and hardware stores. I have noticed racks of Christian devotional books in these businesses in my neighborhood. The hardware store was a bit of a mystery, but shrewd marketers know that vulnerable customers are likely to be found at pharmacies. Hence the Wonderful-Power-of-Prayer is the theme of this literature.
(6) Pamphlets in the subway. This is where Jehovah’s Witnesses set up shop, I suspect all over the world, to distribute their own brand of cult propaganda. And of course, these venues allow for the presence of real, live missionaries who are available to make the pitch in person. Speaking of which…
(7) The Door-Knockers, especially of the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness variety, who have become clichés. Even most Christians can’t stand them, perhaps because flaunting at this level is so annoying. And, naturally, Christians who find themselves interrupted and harassed at their own front doors know that their own brands of the faith are truer and better than the craziness being hawked by these wandering fanatics who consider the whole world their target. The resurrected Jesus himself commanded this flaunting, “Go and make disciples of all nations…”(8) The word “God” where it’s not supposed to be, thanks to the Christian lobby’s contempt for separation of church and state. Every piece of money in your wallet or purse, paper or coinage, bears the words, “In God We Trust”—unless you have something minted before the 1950s, when the words were added. It was in 1954 as well that “under God” was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance. So everyone who recites the pledge or pays with cash participates in this flaunting. Atheists, of course, can simple omit “under God” while reciting the pledge, and who’s the wiser? And some have inked out ‘trust in God’ on the paper currency. Most folks don’t notice or give a thought to this slogan as they hand dollars to the cashier—any more than they could explain what it means to claim that a nation trusts in a god…especially one with the largest military budget in the world.
(9) Televangelism. The TV marketing of Jesus is a multi-billion dollar business, and must be the worst possible manifestation of the human brain on Jesus. This slick enterprise (Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and Creflo Dollar come to mind especially, among dozens of others) is so crude and so exploitative: Christianity as entertainment cash cow. How come there’s not a League of Decent Christians Against Televangelism?
(10) Evangelicals for Theocracy. According to these folks, we have no hope for survival if we don’t ASAP become a Christian Nation, as was intended from the beginning; separation of church and state has always been mistake. The Bible should have more clout than the constitution. Just as “Intelligent Design” became a wedge issue to get creationism accepted in schools, Donald Trump has become the wedge President because he has given the green light to the evangelical agenda: whatever it takes—and Trump is a lot to take—to move the country closer to the Christian ideal. This is far more than flaunting; it is an assault on our democracy.
Many more examples could be added to this list: arrogant, confident missionary fanaticism worldwide, the National Prayer Breakfast, the National Day of Prayer, Bibles for presidential oaths, Bibles in courtrooms, Congressional Chaplains, the Ten Commandments in the public square, life-size Nativity displays, Christian outrage at the War on Christmas, smudges on foreheads on Ash Wednesday, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.
How Dare We Flaunt Right Back at Them!
Christians have become more strident because atheism has found its voice—or, more correctly, voices. American Atheists was founded in 1963 and The Freedom from Religion Foundation in 1976—and dozens of other atheist/humanist organizations have followed. Since the 1990s, more than 300 books have been published on the falsification of Christianity and theism; it would seem that Christian flaunting has provoked a major backlash from serious thinkers. Most of these new works have come in the wake of the major titles by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. Who could have imagined that these would end up on best sellers lists?
Then there’s social media. The count of atheist blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, and Facebook Atheist Groups is in the thousands. Facebook and Twitter have helped me connect with atheists worldwide: who knew there were so many of us, eager to connect? Even—are you kidding me?—in Texas and Ohio. It has been said that the Internet is where religion comes to die, but that’s not true; Christians are full strength online. Just ask a question about the Bible on Google and see how many Christian websites are there to provide all the right answers. But we know that searchers find their way to the Debunking Christianity Blog as well. The Internet is where atheism has come to find energy and like-minded enthusiasts.
Massive Christian flaunting obviously works, but it can’t keep people from thinking. How come there are now, for the first time ever, as many “nones” in the U.S. as there are evangelicals or Catholics? The Internet has something to do with it, as does the atheist publishing surge since the 1990s. It would seem that Christians have taught us that flaunting works. We can never match what they’ve been able to do, but we have found our voices. So we continue to write, publish, and work to influence public policy.
**Editor’s Addendum** We also have The Clergy Project– a private online community for current and former religious professionals without supernatural beliefs. Founded in March of 2011 with 52 members, it will soon have 1000!
David Madison, a Clergy Project member, was raised in a conservative Christian home in northern Indiana. He served as a pastor in the Methodist church during his work on two graduate degrees in theology. By the time he finished his PhD in Biblical Studies (Boston University) he had become an atheist, a story he shares in the Prologue of his book, published in 2016: 10 Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith. This blog post is reprinted with permission from the Debunking Christianity Blog.