We are not ashamed of “blasphemy”

On our Facebook page, we received this comment about a picture we posted making fun of the Second Commandment for Blasphemy Day. In the picture, Muhammad just got out of the shower, and seeing his face in the mirror, yells “BLASPHEMY!”

A commenter, Matt Henderson, had posted previously, “More immature inflammatory nonsense from American Atheists.” He later followed up with this:

Matt Henderson

I think that it’s common for many people raised with a heavy dose of certain religious traditions who then fall away from faith to go through an “angry” phase, to lash out and announce their newfound skepticism. It’s a phase that I went through. And writers like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, although they make many important arguments that Americans need to be exposed to, have prompted and reassured many newfound skeptics that it’s okay to be an asshole towards persons whose philosophical beliefs differ from your own. And to say, capital-R Reason or capital-S Science demands that I believe x. No one has access to capital-R Reality or capital-T Truth.

What we have with science and with many other routes to knowledge, are methods that have yielded useful results. I fully support science and skepticism, but no one has a right to get on a high horse and say, this is how it is, end of story. Rather than painting all religious believers with one insanely broad brush and unjustifiably claiming that science proves that there’s no god, or whatever.. I think the trick is to show religious people how explanatorily successful science has been and how it’s useful to tend towards the simplest metaphysical and explanatory principles necessary in order to account for something.

Anyway, to get less philosophical, while I think there’s a place for shocking people out of their complacency, you’re not likely to change many hearts and minds if your tactic is to simply ridicule and throw bombs at people of religious faith. It’s arrogant and unjustified in this postmodern age. So what do I think the goal of atheists should be? I think that the goal of American Atheists should be to serve as a welcoming community and to protect atheists in the U.S. from discrimination. What it should NOT do is pretend that it’s this unassailable citadel of Reason and Truth that gets to judge the rest of culture. We tried that in philosophy and it didn’t really work out.

No one has a monopoly on truth. It’s fine for individual members to go at it, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for a national organization representing atheists to be engaged in this kind of dirty trench warfare on its official page. You may think you’re right and you may be right, but it breaks the respectful decorum that is expected in western society in this day and age.

 

My reply:

Being angry is not a phase. It is an appropriate emotional response to injustice.

People were KILLED because a Danish newspaper dared to publish some funny cartoons. Of course we are angry, and it has nothing to do with whether or not we were formerly religious. It has to do with people being murdered because they dared offend someone’s imaginary friend.

Note that this cartoon doesn’t make fun of Muslims. It makes fun of the idea that images of Muhammad are considered “sacred” by Islam, and it further implies that this idea is taken so seriously that it’s become comical. We’re making fun of the idea of sacrilege, of the idea that the Second Commandment has any authority.

Further, what makes you think this page is for religious people? We are not trying to “shock people out of their complacency” or “change many hearts and minds.” This page is for atheists. If we were attempting to deconvert people we’d probably go about it differently. We don’t go out and try to deconvert people; that is not what we are here for. We are here to fight religion, to educate people about atheism, and to help provide a sense of community for atheists.

Further, this “respectful decorum” you mention is exactly the problem. Religion deserves no respect. It is responsible for many deaths, for poisoning many minds, and for untold suffering. We will not be silent or silenced about this; that’s exactly why we do what we do. If it makes some people uncomfortable, that is too bad—These things are simply too important to just sit by and watch happen out of social expectations of minding our own business. Screw that! When people are being actively defrauded, physically and emotionally abused, and systematically traumatized, we cannot in good conscious be respectful or decorous. We do NOT respect religion and it is that simple. Respect is earned, and religion has not only done nothing to earn it; it has actively moved in the opposite direction.

 

Dave Muscato, Public Relations Director
(908) 276-7300 x7
[email protected]

  • Mandy

    You said it!

  • Susan Humphreys

    So why do you keep shooting yourself in the foot? I agree with Mr. Henderson, it really is about treating others respectfully, whatever their beliefs or non-beliefs. You can be part of the solution to what divides this world or you can be part of the problem, adding to the fear and hate of the other. You have chosen to be part of the problem. AND it is totally unnecessary. There is more than one way to accomplish your goals.

    • SpaceAtheist

      I see. Now that the religious are being called out on their silliness, you want respect. Where was that respect when the religious were killing witches, stoning women, raping little boys, hiding pedophiles, welcoming the worst of society into their little “club”, building grand temples with donations that their members were required to pay, picketing funerals, standing in judgement of gays, treating women as 2nd class citizens, and telling little children their loved ones are going to hell where they will burn forever, until their skin grows back, so it can burn off all over again. Wow. I don’t see religion being worried about division, fear, hate or being part of the problem. But you sure notice when someone speaks out against it. If I wasn’t so busy laughing, I would fart in your general direction. No respect implied or intended.

      • Doodle

        I enjoy reading your comments. In pre modern history childen always married, more often other children.

    • Pat Flannery

      If I said that I believe that aliens are controlling my mind with microwaves, would and should I attract your respect? And should you be allowed to challenge those beliefs when I submit them as justification for increasing SETI’s budget? And should you remain polite when I successfully do so and move on to promoting many other government alien-finding projects? How about when I start telling you and everyone else that you need to start wearing tin-foil hats at all times, and introduce legislation to that effect? That’s where we are right now. That’s why atheists can’t afford to be polite and deferential any more.

      • Susan Humphreys

        You should still behave in a respectful manner towards everyone even people you consider to be Kooks! IF you are unable to present an argument that outweighs theirs then YOU are the one with the problem and YOU need to do something about it. Stope playing childs games with ridiculous hypotheticals. Telling someone they should wear a tinfoil hat isn’t the same as forcing someone to wear a tinfoil hat. IF you can’t tell the difference between the two than YOU have a problem and YOU need to do something about it. We can’t just afford to be polite IF we are actually going to solve this worlds problems and get people to stop hating we HAVE to be polite. You don’t stop fear or hate with more hate.

        • Pat Flannery

          I disagree with you. I think ridicule is a perfectly good rhetorical tool to use against someone who is not responding to reasoned treatment. By showing someone a respect you do not actually hold, you are being dishonest and potentially giving observers the impression that you feel the person’s arguments have merit. If believers think their arguments are so strong, then they should not be afraid of being made fun of and should make those arguments instead of falling back on whining cries for respect.
          And BTW, I never said or implied that telling someone they should do something and forcing them to do something are the same thing. That’s your strawman. But in politics, saying everyone should do something has the potential to lead to legislation and enforcement. That’s why it is important to fight back, with everything at our disposal, when believers bring their faith into politics.
          While we are pointing out false dichotomies, I might as well say that lack of respect and hate are not synonymous. I don’t respect my daughter’s opinion on when she should go to bed, but I certainly don’t hate it or her.

          • shumphreys

            Ridicule is the tool of two bit bullies Mr. Flannery and a sign that the bully doesn’t have any substance to their arguments. It is possible to be respectful towards someone and still demonstrate that you don’t support their opinions. I have just done it. Behaving in a civil fashion towards others is not in any way giving the impression that you accept their arguments. You seem to have a rather confused concept of the term respect as you demonstrate with your example about your daughters opinion about her bedtime. Respect and civility are for the person, not for the opinion!

      • Doodle

        Cool Pat. Aliens are controlling my thoughts.

    • Doodle

      Yes we can win better. Destroying religion completely is a certainty a last resort. Sort of like asking yourself. Should I stop the Muslim’s from killing me, or should I stand against tyranny, or be kind to them. Eventually you grow towards wisdom if only in the face of death..

  • whether you are a Christian, Muslim, or an Atheist.. The most important thing is respect. No matter what we believe in life as long as we do no harm to others.

    • Pat Flannery

      Crap. There are about 100 things more important than respect. Health. Wealth. Knowledge. Happiness. Freedom. Love. The list goes on and on.

  • Robin Reagan

    Mr Henderson,

    I am a life long Atheist (that’s correct, I don’t ever remember believing in a god. My first memory of god or religion is wondering why my friends could not play outside on Sunday mornings and being totally confused when my mother explained it to me, I’m still confused to this day) I never went though an “angry” phase, only short bursts of anger when some uneducated school board member decides that scientists from around the country are wrong and they know better and changes a biology text book in an attempt to throw out 200 years of evolution simply because it is contrary to their fairy tales.
    People who kill others because someone else displays a caricature of someone revered in their religion need to be desensitized! If they are going to live in western culture they need to open their minds.
    One of the main precepts of western thought is the idea of freedom of expression. We take it so seriously that it’s the first amendment to our constitution. They have no choice but to accept it or leave. Violence is not an acceptable reaction.
    No one has ever said that freedom is cheep or easy, in fact it is incredibly maddening and frustrating. And that is when you are exposed to the most vile, dangerous and potentially wondrous ideas, ones different from your own.
    I general it is atheists that are trying to open up the minds of those that have been closed by thousands of years of religious dogma. Those that wish to remain closed minded are welcome to do so, as long as they don’t keep others from having the same choice.

    R. Reagan

  • Susan Humphreys

    It is about respect for ALL whatever their religion or non-religion and whether they are worthy or not worthy.

    To paraphrase an old wives saying, “you catch more flies
    with honey than with sour lemons”! It is easy to show respect towards those you approve of, difficult to act respectfully towards those whose ideas you abhor BUT the rewards are greater.

    Your angry words bring out more angry words in the childs game
    people play called “tit for tat”. And leads to escalating verbal exchanges and
    far too often physical violence and full blown wars. I try to not get sucked in
    to such childish games.

    We don’t bring about a just society with unjust tactics-spreading
    lies and mis-information…. We don’t stop the violence with more violence. We
    don’t stop the angry words with angry words of our own.

    All the world’s religions and non-religious philosophies have embraced some version of the “Golden Rule”—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This rule by the way was first expressed by the PaganGreeks, it isn’t a Christian concept. I like to be treated with respect and I therefore try to treat others with respect.

    This doesn’t mean you ignore the abuses, pretend they didn’t
    happen or aren’t happening. It just means you have to educate yourself about
    ALL sides of the issues, know your opponents arguments inside and out, act
    smarter and behave better than your opponent to point out the error of his/her
    ways and how much better your way is!
    You can make someone look like a fool without actually calling him one!

    • Pat Flannery

      We can’t afford to be this naive. If everything you say were true, negative political advertising wouldn’t work. But it does. Ridiculing religious beliefs is a very effective way to get people to question them. There’s another Greek invention you may be familiar with called satire. Religious leaders hate it because it works.

      I think we should be respectful to people while showing their unreasoned, dangerous beliefs no respect at all.

      • Susan Humphreys

        Ridiculing religious beliefs is NOT an effective way to get people to question their beliefs. It simply makes them more intransigient. All you need to do is plant a new idea in a persons head, in a respectful, honest, polite and sincere manner and then sit back and let nature take her course. IF there is any TRUTH to your idea it will stand on its own merits and it’s truth will bug the heck out of the other person. Why do you think dictators control the media in their countries? Sheesh. Advertising good and bad works! Why do the ChristianRright object to NPR and PBS stations and try to stop funding? They put information out there in an honest, polite, factual way that some people don’t want others to hear? People don’t like being insulted or ridiculed and will simply tune you out if you behave that way, proving to them that Christians are better people than Atheists.

        • Pat Flannery

          Thank you for the perfect illustration of my point. NPR and PBS broadcast stuff that challenges the Christian Right’s agenda in a polite, respectful and intellectual manner. Meanwhile, the Christian Right calls them the voice of Satan, tells everyone they are run by gays, Jews and drug addicts (which are insults among their congregations) and attempts to shut them up through duress by boycotting them.
          We know who has the moral high ground here. But who has more influence over the American political process? You know the answer to that, and it is not close.
          I really wish we lived in a world where you could just plant a lovely, reasoned idea in a person’s head and let it flower. But our education system has turned most people’s heads into a barren desert. The choice here is between communicating atheist ideas to people in a way they can understand and will listen to, or giving up the political battle in the name of ethical purity. The former can be done in a way that is effective without promoting hate or division. The latter accomplishes nothing.

          • shumphreys

            You asked “Who has the more influence over the American political process?” It is BIG money, the major corporations, not the extreme Christian right. You offer a false choice, between communicating Atheist ideas or giving up in the name of ethical purity. I prefer to educate about all sides of the issues, from the religious view point (many different religious views not just Christian) as well as the many different secular view points. It isn’t atheist ideas or nothing any more than it is Christian ideas or nothing.

          • Pat Flannery

            Big money is not as influential as the Christian lobby groups because big money does not always pull in the same direction. Some of the biggest money comes from public sector labour unions, who have a tax-and-spend agenda almost directly opposed to private capital. And that’s just one vector of difference on policy. The power that religions have over the political process is they can get all their members to vote the same way on a slate of issues. No corporation can deliver that.
            Education implies the only reason atheist views aren’t enacted in politics is because people are unaware of them. I think this is hopelessly naïve. People are quite aware that there are people who don’t believe in God. The problem is, they hate us. We have committed what is, to them, the worst possible sin. You could educate them fully on all the issues and arguments on both sides and you would still be left with some people who have elected to rely on reason to form beliefs and some people who think it is OK to decide certain issues using faith. I don’t see a middle ground here. Faith should be ridiculed and driven (peacefully) out of public discourse. I just don’t this will be accomplished with gentle persuasion.

    • Doodle

      The golden rule is he who has the gold makes the rules. You’d make a great Buddhist. Really. For one exception though Buddhist will wage war. and rebuke their adversary regardless to respect and benifits of kindness,

    • Doodle

      I’d have to say though susan I have never met a woman that was not overbearing.Ever, ever. If what you say is true. You would not anger your husband over anything and would be a perfect woman, but this troubles me, because i believe it is not true..

  • Susan Humphreys

    Many folks don’t seem to understand the concept of “treating someone respectfully”. This has nothing to do with whether they have earned “respect” or are worthy in your judgment. It is about behaving civilly in a civil society.

    It means you deal with them honestly—you don’t create or spread lies or misinformation about them or their beliefs or opinions. You deal with them fairly—treating each individual as an individual, you don’t falsely accuse them of things they aren’t guilty of, give them credit when it is do, you don’t lump ALL Christians or Muslims or blacks or whites into one basket. You avoid name calling, personal insults and put downs, you don’t make racial/ethnic/religious slurs about their character, you stick to the points, the topic at hand, this isn’t an argument about their character.
    You avoid such childish taunts of the school yard bully “I would fart in your general direction.” That tells us alot about your character!

    • Pat Flannery

      Nice try. Atheists are no more rude than believers. In the thousands of discussions I’ve had, believers are far, far more likely to resort to the behaviour you describe.

      • Susan Humphreys

        So does that mean you should stoop to their level? Didn’t your mother ever tell you that just because someone hits you first doesn’t mean you are excused for hitting them back? It is about “practicing what you preach”. You preach that reason and logic should rule the day than you should show by your own actions that you are ruled by reason and logic not by fear or hate. Why would any religious person want to stop being religious and become just like you, a person who appears to be as fearful, and superstitious and hateful as they are? IF you can’t demonstrate a betterway with your own words and actions than your way is NOT a better way!

        • Pat Flannery

          You have still not proved your initial premise, which is that atheists are any more likely to be rude in conversation than believers are. I have said, and I stand by it, that they are not and are in fact less likely to act this way.
          It is not usually the goal of atheists to convert believers. This is the kind of rude behaviour people indulge in when they are clinging to faith-based beliefs they can only sustain with the support of a community of the like-minded. So I don’t speak with the intention of persuading anyone to change their beliefs. I speak with the intention of preventing their beliefs from becoming unchallenged intellectual currency in society (as so many religious beliefs have). In this effort, it is often more effective to be direct and confrontational than mealy-mouthed and overly deferential. This is something religious apologists have understood for a long time and deployed to their political advantage. It’s time atheists did the same.

          • shumphreys

            I have never said that atheists are more likely to be rude than believers so don’t accuse me falsely. I don’t appreciate it. You need to educate yourself about human psychology, you are grossly ignorant about what moves people to change their opinions and what moves people to take a defensive position and become even more intransigient. One can be direct without resorting to the tactics of bullies: ridicule, name calling, put downs.

          • Pat Flannery

            If you don’t feel that atheists are more rude than believers, than I don’t know why you bother to come in here with your lectures on being nice. Perhaps what you want is for us to be nice in the face of all the religious rudeness. That works when it works, but sometimes it don’t.
            I feel confident that I know quite easily as much about human psychology and persuasion as you. As for what works in political discourse, the entire history of the field refutes your position.

  • Pat Flannery

    Bang! Nice reply, Dave.

  • Pat Flannery

    We may not have access to capitalized Truth, Reason and Science, but we do have access to the best approximations of them that human effort has been able to deliver. And religious claims violate all these principles. If Henderson wants to pretend we know nothing in order to be able to call for peace, that’s his business. I think it is too dangerous to be wrong in this world, and I think religions are wrong about a great many things. I for one won’t allow my society to be governed by superstition, and if I have to get verbally nasty with some people to prevent it, I will.

    • Susan Humphreys

      You are a tad late, our society has been governed by superstition since it was founded. Financial market folks are as superstitious as any extremeist religious person. Getting verbally nasty won’t stop the superstitious it simply reinforces their superstitions.

      • Pat Flannery

        Actually, verbal nastiness and ridicule is exactly what takes superstitions out of play as acceptable social currency. People don’t mind believing something that is wrong, or even dangerous. But believing something that is socially gauche? Forget it.

        • shumphreys

          Who is socially “gauche” Mr. Flannery? The fool that uses verbal nastiness and ridicule or the fool that believes in God but behaves civilly towards others?

          • Pat Flannery

            I know which one I’d rather talk to at a party.

  • Bridget Smith

    I’m atheist and I agree with Mr. Henderson. Doing things like that gives atheists a bad name. It’s exactly what theists would expect us to do. Make fun of religion. It’s immature and disrespectful not just to theists, but to atheists as well. While I would have laughed and maybe shared that photo on my FB wall, I feel like it isn’t appropriate for the official American Atheists page to mock religion so carelessly.

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