Oh dear… America, in the spirit of religious intolerance usually reserved for Muslims (completely ignoring the religious freedoms enshrined in the 1st amendment to its own constitution – the freedom of religious belief posits, also, the freedom to not believe), is now getting itself in a snit about atheists.
The American Humanist Association, who seem to be a singularly humourless bunch, have launched a multi-media ad campaign comparing quotes from humanists and atheists to quotations from the Bible and the Qur’an, which is pissing off an awful lot of people.
No surprise there, but why only the Bible and Qur’an? Why not, also, the Hebrew Torah, which contains a sizeable slab of the Old Testament? You really can’t pillory Christians and Muslims, and not Jews – it’s not logical, insofar as logic has any part to play in religion.
Here’s just one quote (like Christians and Muslims, the AHA isn’t afraid to cherry-pick when making a point!):-
“The Bible: ‘A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach authority over a man; she must be silent,”
“Humanism: ‘The rights of men and women should be equal and sacred…”
Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t see how any sane person, atheist or Christian, in the 21st century, could argue with that. OK, I know many Muslims would, but not here.
As regular readers might know, I’m an atheist. I don’t broadcast the fact, neither do I hide it, and I will say that we atheists hold ourselves to no less a standard of ethics and morals than do those of a religious persuasion – a belief in “god” doesn’t automatically make you a better person, but in the run-up to one of the major Christian festivals, I do rather think that, with this campaign, the AHA has shot itself in the foot. At this time of the year, even the most lackadaisical Christian is likely to be offended, so I can well imagine how the Christian Right are reacting to this in the US.
I can see where they’re coming from – the AHA not the other lot – attempting to make an impression at this time of year, but I feel very strongly that it will antagonise everyone from the archbishops down to the most apathetic of lapsed Christians, and that the AHA’s message – that religion has had its day – will be lost, which is a pity.
The AHA, in my view, has seriously misjudged its audience. As the furore over the Manhattan “Ground zero mosque” (actually a cultural centre, streets away from the WTC site – you can’t even see one from the other), should have shown them, the only religion America has any tolerance for is its own, but which I mean Christianity, with a side order of Judaism. Others, like Islam, are generally regarded with suspicion, if not outright persecution, as with the embryonic Mormon church in the 19th century (and many entirely innocent Muslims after 9/11, of course). Atheists, they simply don’t understand at all, seeing us all too often as the spawn of Satan, which is about as wrong-headed as it gets.
Really, though, the AHA’s approach is just too heavy handed (and, arguably, too intellectual for many). A lighter touch is better, like the UK atheist bus advertising campaign in 2008, which said “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” And it was it was still controversial. And what’s with the “probably”? That’s an agnostic standpoint, not atheist.
A similar ad campaign is due to start soon on buses in the Fort Worth area, Texas, saying “Millions of Americans are Good Without God.” That’s the way to do it – keep it simple and to the point. Ministers in Fort Worth are, rather predictably, calling for a bus boycott. Hmm… going to get out there and give people lifts are you guys?
If, at the AHA, you’re trying to encourage Christians to reconsider their belief in a supreme being, and all the baggage that goes with that, Christmas is really, on balance, probably not the best time (and here’s a tip – neither is Easter!). I know you think Christmas is the right time, but that’s incredibly short-sighted. You won’t encourage people to think, just to react.
The best time for Muslims? Probably isn’t one. They take an extremely dim, and frequently terminal, view of home-grown atheists – you’re on a loser there, guys. That’s not to say there aren’t former Muslim atheists, it’s just that their publicly admitting it is – well – let’s just say it’s a seriously bad idea.
Next time, folks, pick a better time and a better target for your campaigning – Christians and Jews, for example – and leave Muslims to work things out for themselves. Not least because taking issue with the Qur’an, as you have, can have messy repercussions.
In closing, I offer you this mind-numbingly dumb quote from Bill Donahue, of the Catholic League:-
“They have to use our season to make their point because they have no season of their own to celebrate. That’s the problem with atheists that are activists.”
Thus demonstrating perfectly what a staggeringly poor understanding he, and most other religious Americans (Brits, and others, too, to be fair), have of atheism and atheists (which is why I say the AHA timing is excruciatingly bad – the message is lost in a torrent of gormless crap like this – even though I defend utterly their right to say it**) – we don’t need a season, and we certainly don’t need to hijack theirs. Why that is isn’t hard to figure out.
**It’s called freedom of speech, which Mr. Donahue might possibly have heard of – – hell, it’s in the same amendment.
(Source of all quotes: ABC News)