Bill O’Reilly and Chris Stedman ally against The War on Christmas

Chris Stedman is the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard University, and author of the accommodationist book Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious (perhaps its title was stolen from this website!). Here’s a discussion he had with the odious Bill O’Reilly on December 6:

According to Stedman, the #1 problem of atheists is that “we are widely distrusted in the United States”, and he doesn’t see the anti-Christmas billboards as “contributing to the de-stigmatization of atheists in the United States.” O’Reilly decries the anti-Christmas fervor of atheists as a manifestation of their anger, and Stedman agrees that it’s counterproductive.

Now Stedman makes some good points about the separation of church and state, but I wish he’d stop telling us how to behave: that we’re supposed to be amiable, friendly toward faith, and so on—and in that way we’ll repatriate our tarnished image.

Although I’m not asking Stedman to become more militant, I think his stance on “moar amiability” is unproductive.  Which books deconverted more of the faithful, Faitheist or the in-your-face books The End of FaithLetter to a Christian NationThe God Delusion, and God is Not Great? I think you know the answer.

I find it demeaning to try to make ourselves seem REALLY NICE to the American public. In point of fact, we are reasonably nice: at least as nice as believers.  So why must we tout ourselves as “The Friendly Atheist” or “The Happy Atheist”? Not all atheists are friendly or happy, nor are all believers. We’re just normal Americans who don’t happen to believe in nonexistent gods.

Making people think we’re friendly and happy will not, I think, do the trick.  Atheists are the most reviled group in America, far less likely to be elected to office than are gays, women, or blacks. We’re not going to change that by showing people that we’re “normal”. Does anybody really think that Christians will either accept us or, more important, abandon their faith if they perceive us as real people? No, they’ll just try all the harder to convert us to their delusions. To my mind, we need less schmoozing and more Socratism—especially asking believers why they’re so sure about their beliefs.

You didn’t see Martin Luther King touting himself as “The Happy Negro” or Harvey Milk as “The Friendly Homosexual,” trying to make common cause with Anita Bryant. No, they called out their countrymen for misguided and harmful thinking. And eventually Americans realized that they were right.

179 Comments

  1. Johannes
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Best point against accommodationism I’ve read anywhere. 🙂

  2. Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    O’Reilly’s sense of entitlement is nauseating. He believes he is entitled to be angry, but not atheists. Indeed, this blowhard has to invert reality to justify his anger and paranoia, where Christians in America are “persecuted”, as if Christians can’t get elected to political office like those “elite” atheists.

    The kind of “atheists” O’Reilly approves of are roughly analogous to the kind of black people racist white Southerners approved of in the early 20th century: friendly, docile, and most importantly, they know their place.

    • peltonrandy
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Really like this analogy.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • Posted January 5, 2014 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

      Yes. O’Reilly just can’t stand these uppity atheists.

  3. francis
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    //

  4. Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    atheists may be distrusted, but that is not because we are untrustworthy. it is because many theists think that the only trustworthy person is one who believes like they do. To say that it’s the atheist’s fault to be seen as untrustworthy, as Stedman wants to do, is simply a lie told to make theists feel better. He strikes me as the same type of person who said and says “don’t rock the boat” in the civil rights movements. Saying “yes, master, of course you’re right master. How dare I get angry at what you’ve done.” gets no one anywhere.

  5. Barney
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Does anybody really think that Christians will either accept us or, more important, abandon their faith if they perceive us as real people?

    Yes, I do think a lot of Christians will accept atheists if they perceive us as real people. I’m British, and I think that Christians do nearly all accept us as ‘real people’ here (non-believers aren’t far off a majority), and the “trusted about as much as rapists” poll results just wouldn’t happen here. The leaders of 2 of the 3 largest political parties are non-believers, and it’s not a big deal.

    There are some arsehole Christians who won’t accept atheists – these are the types fighting abortion and contraception, taking ‘the war of Christmas’ seriously, and opposing gay marriage. But the majority of the USA can be persuaded to recognise atheists as normal people, and that helps atheists, and will eventually increase atheist numbers, when people don’t think there’s nothing wrong with just letting their children decide for themselves about religion when they grow up.

    What King and Milk did was to get people to stop mistreating others. That’s worth fighting for with atheism too, but it doesn’t have to be done by turning Christians into atheists (King and Milk couldn’t do that anyway in their fights, could they?)

    • Larry
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      You rightly say, Barney, that whites cannot become blacks, that hets cannot become gay. Blacks are a minority in the US/UK among whites and gays are a minority everywhere in the world among hets. In each case, though, the characteristic that makes these two groups minorities is biological and fixed.
      In the case of atheism, yes, atheists are now a minority. But, in fact, the reasoning and thinking for oneself that has led some to become atheists is something that all people, no matter who they are, are able to do. So the struggle for atheists is not merely for acceptance or tolerance, but to really show everyone not now an atheist that if they think things through and use their reasoning powers, they (like us) have no choice but to be atheists as well. So, yes, we really do have to do whatever we can to turn Christians and Muslims and all other religious followers away from their unreality towards reality.

    • Posted January 5, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      I am glad that atheists are more accepted in Britain, and I look forward to enjoying a similar outlook here in the US. But right now they are not nearly as well accepted in the U.S. and that is mostly b/c of our relatively smaller numbers and b/c a goodly proportion of the Christians here are very conservative in general. The arseholes you spoke about are pretty common here.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 5, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        And unfortunately they seem to have money and influence.

      • darrelle
        Posted January 5, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        And because their religion has built right into it that the proper reaction to unbelievers is antipathy. And thousands of years of practice implementing that, and cetain aspects of human nature that make such ingroup / outgroup behavior perfectly, well, natural.

        Though christianity in general has become more liberal in the recent era the view that atheism is unethical, and a threat to society, is still prevalent.

        It seems likely to me that the only reason you, Barney, experience less negativety against non believers in Britain is because that group is not “far off a majority”

        • Barney
          Posted January 5, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

          I think it’s silly to say “it’s not worth trying to get more acceptance – the only thing we can do is get believers to become atheists, and then numbers will change the attitudes”. It’s worth being accepted, even if still in a distinct minority. And you can be accepted, while a minority – as the fights by King, Milk and others show.

          Religious extremists are far more active in the USA than in Europe, and that’s a reason for things like the rejection of evolution, as well as mistrust or hatred of atheists. But it is possible to get Christians to accept evolution, and it’s possible to get them to accept atheists. Compare the Episcopal church with Franklin Graham. In Europe, most Christians are more like Episcopalians, even in countries where they’re still a distinct majority.

          • darrelle
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

            Good thing I never said that. Anyone who wants to gain acceptance by sucking up to the religious is welcome to do so and I hope they meet with some success. When their tactics include throwing me under the bus, at that point I no longer wish them success.

            Please note that the problem with believers not seeing nonbelievers as “real people” is not justified by anything that nonbelievers have done. There is no problem with nonbelievers. The problem lies with the believers. With very rare exception any not niceness directed by NBs at Bs is either only in the minds of the Bs or a reasonable response to provocation.

            Also, please note that while US society has made progress against racism and homophobia that both are still significant problems. Though I am sure you meant nothing negative, suggesting that what those groups have now can be described with an unqualified “acceptance” is leaving a lot unsaid. Also, the limited acceptance gained was not achieved by doing nothing but being nice.

            Until such time as religion is a nice personal thing that doesn’t bother anybody else, and has no political or economic power, then trying to convince religious people that their religion is bogus is a very practical goal to strive for. But, no, I don’t begrudge people using other tactics. I do begrudge them telling me that I should shut up and not rock the boat.

    • Posted January 5, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Barney, I think you’ve underestimated the cultural difference between the US and Europe. I’ve lived in both places, and can say that without a doubt, there is far more outright hatred of atheists in the US than there is in either the UK or the continent. In fact, even in the country I now live in (Canada), there is less of the constant piety that you see in the US. Sometimes we experience culture shock as we cross the border from British Columbia into Washington state, where we are greeted a few meters from the border crossing with enormous anti-abortion billboards that one would never see in Canada.

      Such a deep-seated animus can’t be overtaken by amiability as Jerry and others have pointed out. It would be akin (to them) as a smiling serial killer. Sure, we seem nice enough _on the surface_, but from their point of view we are at best horribly mistaken and at worst, a psychopath in sheep’s clothing (like the character Dexter from the TV series of the same name). Being overly _nice_ does nothing to change that opinion.

      The real question, no matter where one lives and the culture around you, becomes when and where one declares one’s beliefs (or lack thereof). If I introduced myself as ‘Hello there, I’m an atheist.’, then I’d be intentionally provoking these people, the same way some Christians have acted with me (and I’ve found that pretty ridiculous). Recently I was on vacation in Central America, and when a fellow at the pool introduced himself as from Nebraska, we chatted about a bunch of things (mainly the weather). Later in the afternoon we overheard him talking to others in his party about a shaft of light on one section of the lawn being the sign of an angel or something like that. I was glad that we hadn’t broached the subject of religion earlier, as I fear it would not have been a pleasant exchange. Did I miss the chance to introduce him to a ‘nice’ atheist? Perhaps, but I suppose that will have to be someone else’s job, as I have no wish to be in his face while we are both on vacation.

      How one acts in social situations and one’s convictions are separate and distinct parts of one’s personality. You can be an amiable Christian, grouchy Jew or an introverted Buddhist, a high-spirited Muslim, or a _whatever_ atheist. It won’t change anyone’s opinion of you or your belief system.

      • Barney
        Posted January 5, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        But do you think they’re going to listen to a carefully constructed argument from someone they still hate, as an invitation to become the kind of person they hate? Of course not. You have to get them to accept you as a normal, good person. Only then would they entertain an argument that they should change their way of thinking to yours.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 5, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

          Define “accept you as a normal, good person”.

          To me it includes being clear in communication, being honest in what you say, and calling bullshit on bullshit.

          It does not include silently smiling when someone like Bill O’Reilly runs his IDiot mouth about how evil atheists are. (Or any of the other myriad stupidities he routinely spouts.)

        • Posted January 5, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

          So much of this is tied up in general rudeness, whatever the point of view.

          People who go on TV and talk about their views are rarely polite (and are not encouraged to be – that just doesn’t make for an interesting dramatic TV show). Anyone who goes on Fox is asking for it or they are on their to show how weak or to put up a pro-forma representation of the opposing viewpoint. Alan Colmes was Fox’s standard ‘Liberal’ and was chosen precisely because he was unattractive (he looks kind of weasely) and weak. He was easy to hold up as an example of ‘those people’. Stedman is also weak and is constantly interrupted by O’Reilly’s bluster. O’Reilly dismisses him as a ‘nice’ guy (after all that bit about being Harvard educated but ‘a simple man’ – give me a break!).

          If you take all of the Fox News faux drama out of it, you can see that the sign is rude. They gave Fox (and the other Conservative pundits who play up the ‘war on Christmas’, and easy pitch right over home plate, ready for them to hit it out of the park. It’s exactly what Fox looks for.

          There are opportunities to be honest and defend one’s atheism, but appearing on Fox to talk about this silly billboard is not one of them. Stedman couldn’t win, and anyone who sees this piece who has any open mind left (not many) will probably just say that he’s effeminate (which he is), and strange looking with those odd earrings and not listen to anything he says. This is not the time for a measured and carefully constructed argument. That was out of the question the moment O’Reilly opened his mouth.

          • Filippo
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

            “Alan Colmes . . . was chosen precisely because he was unattractive (he looks kind of weasely) and weak.”

            Thank you for “blessing” me with your critique of Mr. Colmes. I take it that you were sitting in on the negotiations related to Mr. Colmes’s prospective employment with Faux News. Ought we pray to some deity for Mr. Colmes to be delivered from his alleged unattractiveness? You conpare Mr. Colmes to a weasel? To what animal would you compare yourself? Whom would you ideally like to see in Mr. Colmes’s place?

            In light of your rarefied comments regarding Messrs. Colmes and Stedman, what is your general opinion on “general rudeness”?

            • Posted January 5, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

              Frankly I’m not a fan of Mr. Colmes, who did a great disservice to progressives by agreeing to be the whipping boy to Hannity. There shouldn’t have been anyone who is willing to be a person whose only purpose is to be regularly ridiculed.

              As for rudeness, I’m being brutally honest among a group of what I would hope are people who can understand my point. Stedman and Colmes act as props of Fox, and if you think I’m rude for pointing that out (or commenting honestly on why they might be chosen) then that was not my intention. Your tone has come off as somewhat sanctimonious but I’m hoping that it is merely chiding me that I undercut my argument with that comment about Colmes. If so, point taken.

              • Filippo
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

                “Your tone has come off as somewhat sanctimonious . . . .”

                Verily, one can all too easily be so labelled, short of knowing ones place and being silent.

                Better to be accused of being “sanctimonious” than “weasely.”

              • Posted January 5, 2014 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

                “Your tone has come off as somewhat sanctimonious . . . .”

                Verily, one can all too easily be so labelled, short of knowing ones place and being silent.

                If you are implying that it was a good thing for Colmes to appear on Fox because not appearing helps them, then I must disagree. I believe that it would not be possible for any progressive to appear on Fox on a regular basis and not be held up as an object of scorn and ridicule. To agree to a permanent position on one of their programs is either ill-informed or indicative of some level of self-hatred.

                Better to be accused of being “sanctimonious” than “weasely.”

                Fine. I wasn’t accusing.

        • BillyJoe
          Posted January 5, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          Barney, it seems you want to be a diplomat. That’s fine. But others want to be activists. Why is that not fine with you?

          History shows us that, in order for society to change, we need both. The Diplomat will have no traction achieving change unless there are Activists demanding change.

          The reason that diplomacy on its own fails it that the people they are trying change don’t have to. You’re no threat to them. At best they’ll listen politely, smile under their breath, and continue as normal. There’s a good boy.

          But the Activist demands change. He won’t allow them to continue as normal. He fights them in the media, in the political arena and, if necessary in the courts until this change is achieved.

          Then enter the Diplomat who smoothes the ruffled feathers and allows them some victory in their defeat.

          We must demand complete separation of church and state – no creationism in science classes, no religious indoctrination in public schools, no prayers before parliamentary sitings, no “in god we trust” on our currency, etc etc etc.

          These things must change – and not in a hundred years via the diplomatic route. They must change now – and for that we need activism.

          • Barney
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

            Jerry’s post is calling for less schmoozing -and more Socratism, to get religious people to question their beliefs (he also asks which book deconverted more people). I agree fully with you about the separation of church and state and so forth; my point is that this is worth doing now, and not concentrating on getting them to leave their religions.

            • BillyJoe
              Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

              Then I agree with you. I’m not into deconverting people. If that happens as a consequence of discussions I have with them, well and good, but that is never my purpose. And, yes, we have to be uncompromising regarding separation of church and state.

              “I don’t want to live in a society where my freedom is curtailed by someone else’s religious beliefs”

            • gbjames
              Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

              False choice, Barney. We can walk and chew gum. And if some people want to just chew gum, that’s fine, too. But they should refrain from telling the rest of us not to walk.

              • Barney
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

                Jerry’s OP is calling for less schmoozing. He’s telling other people to stop doing something that is, in their view and mine, productive. And I think he’s trying to run before walking – mass deconversion from religions isn’t going to happen in a society where most people don’t trust or like atheists. They won’t want to become something they don’t understand, or fear, or hate.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

                I assume you are new here. Jerry’s perspective on this is much deeper than your characterization. He doesn’t for a moment expect mass conversions from religion so you’re straw-manning there.

                You may find this helpful. It is a pretty good discussion of why you are posing a false choice.

              • Barney
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

                I’ve been reading for perhaps 4 years, and occasionally commenting. I think this particular post by Jerry isn’t very deep at all, and if he is trying to say “we can do both” as Greta did, then he’s expressed that extremely badly, because it says “Christians will never accept us as real people, and it’s useless trying to get them to do so”.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

                The point is that you’re the one saying we can’t do both.

                “You have to get them to accept you as a normal, good person. Only then would they entertain an argument”

                Which is, I’m sorry, just nonsense. Atheists are by definition un-normal to most believers because we’ve been in the closet forever. We come out, saying exactly what we think, and get told by folk like you that we should be more polite so that people will not confuse us with mean people, like atheists.

              • Barney
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

                No, Jerry is the one saying we can’t do both. “We’re not going to change that by showing people that we’re “normal”. Does anybody really think that Christians will either accept us or, more important, abandon their faith if they perceive us as real people? No, they’ll just try all the harder to convert us to their delusions. To my mind, we need less schmoozing and more Socratism—especially asking believers why they’re so sure about their beliefs.”

                Atheists are by definition un-normal to most believers because we’ve been in the closet forever.
                No, not ‘by definition’. ‘Normal’ does not mean ‘like me’. As I said, I live in a country where Christians accept atheists as normal. You’re throwing yourself a pity party – “I’ll never be accepted as normal, boo-hoo”.

                get told by folk like you that we should be more polite so that people will not confuse us with mean people, like atheists.
                What a ridiculous strawman argument. Be an atheist, tell everyone about it, point out when they’re bigoted about it. But don’t sit there thinking “only other atheists will accept me, so all I can do is tell believers that they’re wrong about God, and that they need to join me in the group I think they all hate”.

              • Posted January 5, 2014 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

                — No, not ‘by definition’. ‘Normal’ does not
                — mean ‘like me’. As I said, I live in a country where Christians accept atheists as normal. You’re throwing yourself a pity party
                –- “I’ll never — be accepted as normal, boo-hoo”.

                Barney, I don’t think you have an inkling of the depth of hatred that American atheists have to deal with. In certain parts of the US, there are regular threats to atheist lives. There are many in the deep South who believe that atheists are not to be trusted because they lack any sense of morality (which can only be given through fear of God), so that killing or imprisoning them is perhaps a good idea because it removes potential murderers and rapists from society.

                Even in places outside the Bible Belt and in my backyard of British Columbia, there was a study that placed atheists below convicted rapists in terms of ‘who one would trust’. (The research was done by Will M. Gervais, Azim F. Shariff, and Ara Norenzayan, and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The article title was “Do You Believe in Atheists? Distrust Is Central to Anti-Atheist Prejudice”. They surveyed 105 undergraduates at the University of British Columbia. Not a huge sample, but not the finding I would have expected in what should be a relatively open-minded region of North America.

                This is not a pity party, but merely a reaction to a level of hatred that at times goes beyond ‘you’re not normal’ to ‘you’re sick’ or ‘you’re not fully human.’

              • gbjames
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

                Barney, I could have sworn you were the person who wrote this:

                “You have to get them to accept you as a normal, good person. Only then would they entertain an argument that they should change their way of thinking to yours.”

              • Posted January 6, 2014 at 1:15 am | Permalink

                Barney, I said that Stedman can do what he wants, but that I consider it unproductive. I didn’t tell him to stop doing what he wants; in fact, that is what he’s good at and he should continue it.

                Thank you for telling me that my post is “shallow”. Do you know the roolz, by the way? I expect you to show a bit of civility towards the host.

                And by the way, please don’t diss the other commenters, either, like saying they’re making “ridiculous strawman arguments.” That language may be suitable for other sites, but not this one.

              • Barney
                Posted January 6, 2014 at 4:57 am | Permalink

                Jerry,
                I’m sorry if I’ve gone too far. But both of those came in reaction – gbjames said your position on this was ‘much deeper’, and I can’t see that; and also accused me of a making a straw-man argument, so saying the same back to them seemed OK.

  6. Richard Olson
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:54 am | Permalink

  7. Occam
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Never be rude to a Christian
    A Clamhead, or Mormon, or Jew
    Never be rude to a Muslim
    No matter what you do

    Never poke fun at a Papist
    A Meth, or a Bap, or a Prod
    And never put
    (KABOOM!)

    (h/t for the original lyrics: Terry Jones)

  8. Rick
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    “You didn’t see Martin Luther King touting himself as “The Happy Negro” or Harvey Milk as “The Friendly Homosexual,” trying to make common cause with Anita Bryant.” How do you do it? Amazing. Spot on.

    I would like to think that this request by Stedman is in fact an indictment of the faith driven. If my group had 2000 years of inconsistencies and malarky driving it, and all of a sudden a thing like the internet came out of left field giving us some space to resolve some of these issues, I would think that there would be enough self-effacement in order to keep us busy for at least 2-3 decades. But no, stay on the attack, create and recreate the popular villains, and just keep waiting for the pearly gates.

    Bill O’Reilly gives me night sweats.

  9. frez
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    I think a wide spectrum of approaches is exactly the way to go. There is a place for Stedman just like there’s a place for Silverman. The audience for our message is diverse too; one man’s straight talking is another one’s offense.

    I think it’s important to understand your own behavioural style and then work to your strengths.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Stedman is welcome to be as gentle, polite, silent, and ineffective as he likes. What he isn’t welcome to do is to tell the rest of us that we’re “doing it rong”. I don’t think his job would even exist if it wasn’t for blunt and explicit atheism raising awareness that non-believers even exist.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted January 5, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        I have a kind of “choose your battles” philosophy and I think there’s a time and a place for Stedman’s amiability and a time for being more confrontational. (I seem to be paraphrasing Ecclesiastes, often touted as the skeptics’ favorite book of the Bible.)

        But I don’t think the venue for amiability is Fox News, although BillO seems to somehow get progressives to treat him more nicely than others over there.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 5, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

          I don’t think his stance helps atheists themselves all that much either. I for one started openly identifying myself as an atheist (though I had been one all my life, but hid out of a fear of being rejected by others and even endangering my job) directly because Dawkins’s Out Campaign and the writings of the New Atheists.

          Being nice has its place, but telling atheists to just be polite all the time isn’t effective in making atheists comfortable not only with who they are but expressing why they are who they are.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

            In fact, telling me to “just be polite”, as Stedman does, generally provokes me to fart in his general direction. It makes me want to push back even harder when someone calls a comment “harsh”. I get this on Facebook all the time from friends who actually agree substantively with me but can’t abide my calling the pope out for continuing to shelter pedophiles (because he’s the “nice” pope!).

            It is as if these people think bad things in life just go away on their own if you close your eyes and smile.

      • BillyJoe
        Posted January 5, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        gbjames, I love your style.
        And you’re right, without the activists there would be nothing for the diplomats to do.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 6, 2014 at 6:47 am | Permalink

          Someone’s got to do it! 😉

  10. BilBy
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    This ‘be amiable’ stuff annoys me. I am an atheist, a Brit in the US (but not for much longer), and I am perfectly amiable when discussing atheism. However, I’m glad there are more forthright outspoken atheists out there. Personally, I think I tailor my ‘amiability’ to the attitude of the theist I am speaking to, and so far US theists have been relatively polite to me. I have never, luckily, met B O’R.

  11. Kevin
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    “more Socratism”. More dialogue. It does not matter how it is done, but the more that people talk to each other the more religion loses. There are preferred methods, like communicating to people about what philosophy or science are, and then there are billboards, which are tacky, but often motivate the former rational discussions as a consequence.

  12. Grania Spingies
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    If this were 1955, I am guessing that Stedman and O’Reilly would have agreed that Rosa Parks was a trouble-maker whose actions should be condemned for making white people feel uncomfortable.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      I have often made that point amongst people I know but, almost universally, they don’t see the analogy as being apt without being quite able to tell me why. I suppose because it leaves them bereft of an argument.

      • Posted January 6, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        I don’t see the analogy as apt because I don’t see atheists discrimination as parallel to the institutionally codified discrimination that blacks were fighting back then.

  13. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    It does atheists no service to criticize one another publicly in Christian forums. I recognize that we should speak up and criticize one another but there is a place and time.

  14. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it quite makes sense for Jerry to compare Stedman’s book to the other atheist books, because Stedman’s is not an apologetic for atheism.

    Pivotal to my own deconversion was the writings of Carl Sagan and Taner Edis’ book “The Ghost in the Universe”, and various autobiographical accounts of deconversion, so in some cases (though by no means universally) it’s the more matter-of-fact material which works.

  15. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    I think humor is one of the keys. But we have to laugh with these people, not necessarily at them. Easier said than done!

    The main reaction I get from believers, no matter how polite the discussion, is that I’m somehow implying that they are stupid, even when I assure them that I used to have similar beliefs.

    Another big difficulty for us is the fact that it is very difficult to imagine an eternal, physical universe — one that has always been here. Because if it hasn’t always been here, at least in the form of some kind of quantum field (or cosmic particle “soup” if you will), then it had to begin somewhere, from something.

    We have to do a better job explaining that most people’s parochial concept of “nothing” is merely a philosophical concept, which very likely does not, and never did, exist in reality.

    Lastly, we have to dispel the pernicious idea that scientists “know everything”. Sure, science is certain about many things, particularly their methods, and scientists should defend those fronts vigorously. But on the questions of origins, it might be better if we adopt a more “goofy” attitude, and say things like “Hell, nobody knows where this all came from! You don’t, I don’t… isn’t that mind-boggling and amazing?

    We’re all in this thing together.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      It can be tough. I try to go with “I don’t think you are stupid, I think the idea is stupid. I think you are just seriously mistaken, but smart enough to figure it out if you think about it enough.”

      Which doesn’t always work but at least explains my perspective more clearly.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 5, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Indeed, keep in mind that many believers aren’t accustomed to justifying their beliefs and they take it very personally when they are suddenly asked to do so. This holds true when speaking with any person unaccustomed to being challenged.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      abrotherhoodofman wrote:

      The main reaction I get from believers, no matter how polite the discussion, is that I’m somehow implying that they are stupid, even when I assure them that I used to have similar beliefs.

      I’ve tried asking “Why? Do you think people who are wrong about religion — people with different religions — are “stupid?” Do you think atheists are “stupid?”

      When they admit “No” then say “That’s how I feel, too.”

      Of course, if they say they think atheists ARE stupid then they can’t play the poor-bullied-victim card any more (which is what they’re doing.)

      • abrotherhoodofman
        Posted January 5, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

        Hi Sastra! I enjoy your thoughtful posts on Jerry’s blo… website.

        One recent example is my first date (and last date, because she chose to walk out of the restaurant) with an assistant law professor who worked at a local university. Can you imagine someone so highly educated getting upset with my views on religion? I was ultra-polite, at least at first, because… well, a man’s got needs… [ahem]

        (In retrospect, maybe it was because I kept telling her “Please! Make a case, counselor!!!)

        😉

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 5, 2014 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

          (In retrospect, maybe it was because I kept telling her “Please! Make a case, counselor!!!)

          LOL

        • Sastra
          Posted January 5, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

          Did you really get into a debate on religion on a first date? Heavy.

          Of course, there’s a reasonable chance that anyone who would walk out of a discussion on religion, politics, or any other hot-button topic on a first date with someone will probably not be compatible with them on those issues … and it will matter. So better sooner than later.

          Reasonable people can become completely unhinged when it comes to Spirituality. After all, that’s part of the draw of religion: you not only get to go “beyond reason,” but you are positively encouraged and flattered when you do. YOU don’t draw the line between secular fact and faith fact: the Mystical Oversoul Above It All does! That’s just so humbling … and yet … somehow … strangely empowering.

  16. Brian
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    What strikes me is how around 4:48 O’Reilly says that Stedman can’t be angry because he’s a chaplain. It’s almost as if O’Reilly thinks that atheism is a religion just like Christianity, Stedman is a chaplain/priest, and Stedman can’t get angry because priests can’t get angry. This just feeds Christian privilege, in particular the sentiment that everyone is ultimately just like a Christian. I’m sorry, but atheists are no Christians! Stedman even getting up there as an “atheist chaplain” is problematic.

    I think Stedman is too nice. He comes across as someone you can just walk all over. I don’t know if that image really helps in combating Christian privilege. Christians already have the privilege to walk all over us, an overly nice guy doesn’t exactly change that. Why doesn’t Stedman get serious or assertive at times, why he is smiling and being nice so much, especially towards someone expecting privilege? Maybe atheists get angry because we are normal people with normal emotions and who can stand up for ourselves and sometimes (not often) that involves anger.

    • peltonrandy
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. One of the things I dislike about Stedman”s atheism is that he never attempts to refute the tiresome trope of the angry atheist. How many times did O’Reilly use that phrase and Stedman basically gave it credibility by leaving it unchallenged?

      • Posted January 5, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        That’s his job here. Fox producers almost always make the battle one they can easily win. (sometimes they fail, like when Jon Stewart refused to be ‘their monkey’). Stedman is a stand-in for atheism the same way Alan Coulmes is for Liberalism. He is supposed to be weak and not refute O’Reilly to help prop up O’Reilly’s views.

        • peltonrandy
          Posted January 6, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

          I understand that part. But Stedman playing this role so willingly is the reason I have little respect for Stedman’s role as an atheist in the larger atheist community.

  17. mthpower
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Sitting from my perspective in the UK, I have to agree with Stedman here.

    Jerry comparing Faitheist to The God Delusion and others is a false comparison. Faitheist is a book largely about Chris’ own experiences, it’s not really about trying to deconvert people.

    Another point I hope people recognise here, calling Stedman an Accomodationist is a bit lazy. Stedman, to my knowledge, doesn’t subscribe to any “multiple-ways-of-knowing” or NOMA BS that characterises Accomodationism.

    Jerry calls for less schmoozing and more discourse; Stedman argues for this too! His work has been about setting up dialogue and interfaith & belief events. He argues against interfaith as a “kumbaya club”, where we all hold hands and talk about our beliefs.

    Back to the article, Stedman is right that the billboard doesn’t accomplish anything. IMO,it plays right into the right wing rhetoric of “the War on Christmas”.

    If we agree that billboards are good way forward (I do), I’d still argue that the wording of the billboard was pretty poorly thought out. It betrays the fact that I think a lot of atheists in America don’t really understand the religious mindset.

    • Brian
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      I think it’s fair to compare Stedman and Dawkins. Both are fighting for atheists and against religious/Christian privilege (The God Delusion explicitly states this). It’s worth comparing the two strategies. The question of whose book (i.e. whose approach) has had more impact on atheists and Christian privilege is a good one. Perhaps the answer is both are good but do different things or Faitheist itself addresses a different topic, but the question remains and the comparison is fair. To my knowledge The God Delusion and Faitheist are explicitly in support of atheists and in opposition of things like religious privilege and prejudice against atheists, Dawkins and Stedman are extremely upfront about this.

      I and a lot of other atheists see interfaith as “schmoozing”. Stedman can say whatever he wants, I don’t trust a guy as overly nice as Stedman to do anything more hard hitting than schmoozing. The video to my mind shows why. (See my comment above for some explanation. The whole “You’re a humanist chaplain, you have to be nice” thing is problematic.)

      I will agree that, if nothing else, the billboard is a lousy billboard and is mostly just insulting. Atheists at times have been bad at designing billboards.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      I think we American atheists understand the religious mindset very well, and likely understand it here in the US better than an observer from the UK.

      If this conversation was about the attributes, good and bad, of a particular billboard message I think you might have a case. My reaction to the AA billboards is that they tend to be ugly and poorly designed. Fine.

      But that’s not what we’re talking about. The conversation is much broader and devolves to the very trite request by believers and fathiests that good atheists are quiet atheists. These folk don’t like the boat rocking that results from blunt, explicit, unyielding confrontation with religious nonsense.

      To which I, and those like me, respond “Get used to it. We’re not going to shut up because you want to be comfortable. It is too important for that.”

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 5, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        I agree, and it probably boils down to personality. Many are squeamish when it comes to disagreement. They see arguments as ultimately bad because they find confrontation uncomfortable. Progress through ideas is slow with this personality type because they play it safe and try not to offend so new ideas are slow to emerge.

        Others (like many here) see the value of argument, namely hearing a point of view and getting the opportunity to consider what you may not have had the means to consider before you discussed your position or idea with someone else. We see this as the most efficient way to hasten progress.

        Sometimes engaging in conversation means confrontation. Sometimes it means those you oppose your ideas will act badly. You don’t need to continue the conversation with those people unless you have motives beyond getting them to understand your point of view (like convincing bystanders for example).

      • Sastra
        Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

        I also agree, but think it often boils down not just to personality but to framework. The religious have very successfully managed to equate a person’s religious belief with their identity.

        In this view, a person is a ‘Christian’ or “Wiccan” in the same way they are an extrovert, an opera fan, a teacher, a black man, an Armenian, and so forth. It’s not a debatable issue. If someone tries to argue against who and what you are then they’re guilty of bigotry. They’re trying to change someone and failing to respect both YOUR personal integrity and the ultimate value of a civil society which celebrates and accepts human diversity.

        Live and let live, is the motto. No right, no wrong — just different.

        Chris Stedman is an activist who limits his activism to church/state separation and science infringement issues. That’s fine. But he’s doing this by promoting the idea that a person’s religion ought to be a personal, private matter of identity to them. Respect then will go both ways.

        The problem is that we atheists are not atheists because we consider belief in God or no-belief in God as a matter of our chosen identity. It’s because the existence of God is a hypothesis and ought to be treated like one. If we don’t get this across, then we will be placed into the religious narrative as the Bad Guys. We will willingly throw away our reasons and allow society to frame us as the sad little people who ‘chose’ to close their minds to Truth and Love. Smiling and normal on the outside, empty on the inside.

        They’ll “see it in our eyes.” Because they know it’s there.

        We need both the soft sell and the hard sell. And what pisses us off about Stedman’s soft sell is that he’s throwing the other side under the bus.

        And what pisses me off about Stedman in this particular clip is that he NEVER refers to the rest of the billboard and I deeply suspect that he didn’t do his homework and thinks “Who needs Christ in Christmas? Nobody!” is the whole thing. He had a great opportunity to show his unity with American Atheists and blew it.

        • abrotherhoodofman
          Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

          It’s because the existence of God is a hypothesis and ought to be treated like one. If we don’t get this across, then we will be placed into the religious narrative as the Bad Guys.

          Indeed. And they’ll continue to pick our pockets by avoiding taxation! We won’t leave them alone until this special treatment is taken off the table.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted January 6, 2014 at 5:42 am | Permalink

        “Ugly and poorly designed”.

        Yes. They should get Randall Munroe, the artist of xqcd.

        xqcd. It works, bitches!

  18. Jolo
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    To cut to the chase:
    If atheists would just sit down and shut up, the religious would like them so much more.

    • Achrachno
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, except they didn’t like us before we spoke up so I don’t know why Stedman and others like him want us to be quieter. I understand why the religious would prefer we not talk back.

      To clarify: I do think that being polite is fine, desirable for winning over opponents, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be clear and direct in your rejection of nonsense. I do like the Friendly Atheist’s approach, for example, even if the title might imply that some of us are unfriendly. I’m friendly enough, but the proselytizers who arrive at my door are likely to learn some things about their faith they’d not heard before.

  19. mthpower
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Sitting from my perspective in the UK, I agree with Stedman.

    I don’t see what that billboard will accomplish other than feed the right wing rhetoric of “the War on Christmas”.

    To some commenters here, calling Chris an accommodationist is also a bit lazy. He doesn’t subscribe to NOMA or any related nonsense.

    Jerry makes two minor errors. Comparing Faitheist to The God Delusion and similar is a false comparison, one isn’t aiming to convert. Second, saying we need less schmoozing and more dialogue, the implication being that Stedman represents the schmoozing here, is false. Chris argues for meaningful dialogue, not what he calls a “kumbaya club”.

    • peltonrandy
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      We can and, I think, do have a meaningful dialogue with believers who are willing to converse. But Bill O’Reilly and christians of his kind aren’t interested in a dialogue, as evidenced by the many atheist tropes, strawman characterizations, and misconceptions he and others repeatedly parade out every time they talk about atheists and atheism. This is evidenced by his annual battle with atheists over the fictional war on christmas. The very fact that he harps on this non-existent war is evidence that conversation is not what interests him nor those who agree with him that there is a war on christmas.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      I think you misunderstand the definition of an “accommodationist.” It isn’t an atheist who ascribes to NOMA (though that would be a type of accomodationist.)

      An “accomodationist” is an atheist who thinks the best way to deal with religion is to welcome and encourage more liberal ways of religious thinking. Thus:

      there is no basic conflict between religion and science, theistic evolution works fine;

      respect the religious person’s “right” to believe — and their sensitivity — and don’t become an atheist ‘evangelist;’

      and religious extremism is the problem, not religion per se because many religions share our values. We atheists must accomodate or fit ourselves into a world filled with religion not by promoting atheism, but by seeking and bonding with any humanism-friendly religious allies we can find.

      It’s not wrong wrong all the way, all the time. But I think it’s wrong when used exclusively.

  20. secularjew
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Religious people have an erroneous views of atheists. Sam Harris once said that it’s like they have a chalk outline of a body on the pavement and it does no good for us to lie down exactly to fit the outline.
    The “war on Christmas,” if there even is such a thing, was not started by atheists. It was the result of political correctness running amuck, cultural conformity, and the desire not to alienate customers who aren’t Christians. Yes, some atheists have been making tiny waves regarding the unconstitutional nativity displays on government property, but that’s about it. The recent atheist Christmas campaigns, however, play into this ridiculous conservative narrative about the atheist war on Christmas, and what Stedman did was refuse to lie down into that outline. In his own, innocuous way, he managed to puncture O’Reilly’s bubble. The viewers watching that show started with “atheists are evil and hate Christmas” and may have arrived at “some atheists are nice and don’t hate Christmas.” I would take that as a win.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      And I would take it as an insult. Stedman going on Billo’s show and making nice is one thing. He’s welcome to do that until he’s blue in the face. But he’s not welcome to trash the rest of us who don’t want to play kissy-kissy with people like O’Reilly. There is a very important distinction that you’re ignoring.

      • secularjew
        Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

        The guy didn’t trash anyone, just disagreed with some of the atheist campaigns. It’s his personal opinion and he made that clear. I thought he was fairly diplomatic.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

          Your first sentence contradicts itself, depending on one’s definition of “trash”.

          He was there in context. He was “yes I agreeing” whenever O’Reilly made an assertion about atheists. And he agreed to O’Reilly’s false representation of the Olympia, Washington sign put up in the state capitol. It was not there because of a Christmas tree. It was there because of a nativity scene.

          He was there, smiling nicely, and validating O’Reilly’s “War on Christmas” campaign.

          • secularjew
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

            Yes, I have a different definition of what it means to “trash” someone. Stedman may not have been up on the business in Olympia, or maybe he would’ve disagreed with the sign there anyway. At any rate, I don’t think he could’ve said anything to invalidate the “War on Christmas” to O’Reilly or his viewers (and it’s hard to invalidate a nebulous concept), but him not “smiling nicely” would not have made things better. Anyway, we’re probably overthinking this. Most of the folks who watch O’Reilly’s show probably didn’t hear a word the guy said and just stared at his piercings.

            • gbjames
              Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

              No doubt that’s true, about the piercings. But Stedman failed to call Billo on any bullshit, just agreeing and trying to shift the conversation a little. It does not require much sophistication to immediately know that there were no atheist signs posted in government buildings in response to Christmas trees. If Stedman is unaware of this he should get a different job because he is totally ignorant of the community he claims to represent.

              To me it is embarrassing and mildly shameful.

  21. Posted January 5, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I fail to see the rude stridency in an animated billboard reminding people of all the great things about Christmas — family, food, parties, lights in the dark, gift-giving, and the like — and noting that you no more need Christ to enjoy them than you need to believe in evil spirits to have fun at Halloween.

    It can only make sense if the Christians think they they have exclusive rights to Christmas cheer — which, seeing how Christians themselves appropriated everything about Christmas (especially including the religious bits) from surrounding, much older cultures, would make them especially rude and nasty.

    Similarly, insisting on the Constitutionally-mandated separation of Church and State isn’t at all anti-Christian, unless they think the separation of Synagogue and State is anti-Semitic, or the separation of Mosque and State is Islamophobic, or the separation of Temple and State is anti-Hindu. If they realize the inappropriateness of monkey god shrines on the courthouse lawn — and I’m sure they do — then they must also recognize the inappropriateness of Jesus shrines there as well.

    Now, of course, if they really want to know what hostile mockery of Christianity is like, I’d be more than happy to summarize the Bible for them….

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Brian
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      “I fail to see the rude stridency in an animated billboard reminding people of all the great things about Christmas”

      Yea, but that’s NOT what the billboard said. The billboard was not celebrating all the wonderful non-Christian aspects of Christmas as to remind people that you don’t need Christ to enjoy the holidays. The billboard stated (I’m quoting) “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody.” Well, I can name a number of Christians to whom Christ is a very important part of Christmas, they go to Christmas Mass etc, so I think I can name quite a few people who do need Christ during Christmas. I just so happen to not be one of them. Telling a bunch of people who regard Christ as important to their Christmas that nobody needs Christ during Christmas is just being an insensitive jerk. You don’t tell other people what they themselves do or do not need.

      If you want to affirm that Christ is not necessary for Christmas since there are many other wonderful aspects of Christmas, get better billboards.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 5, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, Brian, but that won’t wash. The fact that many of us atheist types, especially former Christians, enjoy Christmas very much is pretty strong evidence that people don’t need Jesus to enjoy it. You may be a Christian who enjoy’s a mass.

        I’ll agree that this billboard wasn’t great, however. But the problem was that it was cluttered and visually on the ugly side of the fence, not that it makes oversensitive believers reach for their smelling salts.

        • Brian
          Posted January 5, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

          I don’t in the slightest doubt that some people don’t need Christ to enjoy Christmas. I didn’t deny it in my comment. I myself am an atheist who celebrates Christmas, to me the holiday has nothing to do with Christ, it’s more about family, friends, chocolate cookies, etc.

          But there are some people for whom Christ is a very important part of their Christmas celebration. It is deeply insensitive towards them to say that nobody needs Christ during Christmas.

          The fundamental problem is the phrasing of the billboard is just mean. By all means tell people that atheists like us do not need Christ to enjoy Christmas, but find a better way to say that.

          Not that I have no problem with offending the smallminded sensibilities of Christians, I proudly do that myself. But I am opposed to being a jerk who is insensitive towards the feelings of others. Standing up to privilege and bad ideas is one thing, being an a–hole is quite another. If you don’t see how that billboard is insensitive and inappropriate beyond it being visually cluttered, then you have serious personal issues and I do not want you representing atheists like myself.

          • abrotherhoodofman
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

            But there are some people for whom Santa Claus is a very important part of their Christmas celebration. It is deeply insensitive towards them to say that nobody has any genuine need for this fictitious concept during Christmas.”

            You’re essentially calling these people children.

            • Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

              Yes, exactly — it’s the Little People argument. “I’m smart enough to know that it’s make-believe, but those poor huddled masses can’t handle the truth, and wouldn’t it be a terrible thing to deprive them of their soma?”

              Cheers,

              b&

            • Brian
              Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

              abrotherhoodofman and Ben, do NOT put words in my mouth. I did NOT say “fictitious concept”, abrotherhoodofman did. I said “Christ”, the exact same word used on the billboard. How dare you put words in my mouth saying that I said “fictitious concept”?! That is not what I meant! How bloody dare you?!

              While we are at it, these are my friends you are talking about, people I respect as adults. How dare you say that I called them “children”?! I never once said that! How dare you?!

              Those posts are offensive and insulting to me. And they are a complete straw man argument. I am genuinely furious.

              What I said and what I meant — and I mean nothing more — is that people do celebrate the birth in Christ via activities such as Christmas Mass during their celebration of Christmas. That Christ is part of what Christmas means for these people and Christ is VERY important to these people.

              Now I may hold an intellectual disagreement with these people over whether Christ is the Son of God. But that’s a disagreement between adults. I love and respect these people for who they are, even if that includes beliefs I disagree with. Believe it or not you can and should love and respect people without them having to be exactly like you.

              Sorry, the people I care about and being accepting of others is more important to me than silly old atheism.

              • abrotherhoodofman
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

                I can’t parse any new content in this “clarification” of yours. It seems quite repetitive, in fact, except that now you’re trying to squelch disagreement by bullying me with your emotions.

                Bored. Disengaging.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

                Honestly, Brian, if you don’t think your Christian friends and relatives are able to get through the holidays having been exposed to the suggestion that people don’t need to believe in Christ to celebrate Christmas, then you, not us, are the person who is treating them as children. You are making the “little people” argument.

                Personally, I think adults can handle this level of disagreement. And if there are adults who fall on the fainting couch over a billboard like this, then they do need to get a thicker skin. And grow up.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

            If you don’t see how that billboard is insensitive and inappropriate beyond it being visually cluttered, then you have serious personal issues and I do not want you representing atheists like myself.

            As someone that doesn’t see the billboard as inappropriate, I suppose you are applying that remark to me as well. Frankly, you’re not qualified to make that assessment because you don’t know me and have therefore no evidence to support your claim. Furthermore, the way you behave toward your fellow atheists by insulting them because of a disagreement, including calling Ben a “dork” and a “jerk” isn’t helpful.

            • Brian
              Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

              Diana, the comment was aimed directly at Ben, who I had tried to explain the problem with the billboard to twice and was describing a lot of people including friends of mine as “pretend-play cannibals”. A guy like that has serious issues. And, yes, you expressed support for that comment.

              Note that I do not at all respect Ben, I think he has lousy social skills in particular insensitivity towards the feelings of others and I think Ben is being a jerk. I’m not insulting him for having a disagreement, I’m insulting him for being a jerk. Shall we have an intellectual discussion over whether Ben is a jerk? Note that atheists are not my “fellows”, we aren’t in a congregation or anything and I owe you far less than I owe my friends, which includes several Catholics.

              Note that I do have evidence, I have the comments posted above.

              Now, the problem with the billboard is as follows. The billboard prescribes what all people need and do not need. You don’t tell people they don’t need something. Especially when many of them obviously feel as if they do need that something. Some people need Christ during Christmas and some people don’t. That’s fine. It is mean to tell the first group of people that nobody needs Christ during Christmas. How would you feel if someone said “nobody” needs something that you deeply treasure?

              • abrotherhoodofman
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

                Re-engaging.

                You don’t tell people they don’t need something. Especially when many of them obviously feel as if they do need that something.

                Don’t smoke cigarettes, people!

                Q.E.D.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

            As has been pointed out elsewhere on this page, you are ignoring part of a multi-page message. And you are ignoring that this billboard, and others, are reactions to the decades-long drumbeat “Keep the Christ in Christmas”. It is a response to the BS that the religious right trundles out year after year about how persecuted they are by meanies who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” to people.

            Get some context, bro.

            • Brian
              Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

              There are people who don’t at all identify with the religious right, who think very little about the “Keep Christ in Christmas” campaign and had nothing to do with it, who still celebrate Christ during Christmas, who will read that billboard. They are going to read simply that someone just told them that they don’t need Christ during Christmas. And they probably will be offended. Not provoked into thinking more about how atheists are treated poorly or how nutty the religious right is (as if they don’t already know). Just offended.

              It’s nice that you obsess over the religious right and had the excessive time and interest to look up the context, but most people really don’t give a damn.

              If you want to oppose “Keep Christ in Christmas”, find a better way to do so.

              • Sastra
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

                They are going to read simply that someone just told them that they don’t need Christ during Christmas. And they probably will be offended.

                Technically, I think the boil-it-down message which the nice, moderate Christians have just been given is this: “You could change your mind, renounce Christianity and become an atheist. It will work.”

                The depth of their offense over this will be a measure of the depth of their contempt and fear of being an atheist. Or so it seems to me, when I consider the matter.

                What if this was the entire sign?

                Celebrate the true meaning of Xmas!
                (CHARITY; lights; fun; FAMILY; Chinese food; Rockettes; snow; FRIENDS; parties; FOOD; music; movies; ice skating; human life)
                Happy Holidays!
                American Atheists

              • gbjames
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

                “It’s nice that you obsess over the religious right and had the excessive time and interest to look up the context, but most people really don’t give a damn.”

                One of our two political parties is dominated by these people. Saying “most people don’t give a damn” misses a rather important point.

                Nobody has a right to not be offended. And people should not fail to speak their minds because someone else might be offended. If they are offended, so be it. They, too, can grow up and accept that not everyone agrees with them. And the absolute worst thing would be for atheists to politely STFU because a believer might be offended.

                I’m profoundly offended that you would suggest such a thing.

        • Brian
          Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

          Sigh. Are you atheists so wrapped up in your atheism that you can’t appreciate others for being different from you? Are you so wrapped up in anti-theism that you can’t show consideration for the feelings of Christians? Seriously, I feel like I’m talking to atheist fanatics here.

          You know, in a sense, I think my Christian friends couldn’t get through the holidays without Christ. I think if, I don’t know, they couldn’t make Christmas Mass one year because they were sick, they’d deeply deeply miss it. They’d have a psychological urge to go anyways. That’s fine. In the same sense, I couldn’t get through the holidays without flying out to see my friends and family and without chocolate chip cookies. Go figure. Now am I currently regarding myself as a little person? As I think that would be absurd.

          Now this is very simple. Some people do celebrate Christmas with Christ as an important part. We shouldn’t put up billboards telling those people that nobody needs Christ during Christmas. Atheists should exhibit some basic caring for the feelings of others. Not just treat Christians in whatever crappy way you please and then insist they grow thicker skin when it is pointed out that you are being a jerk.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

            I’ll note the obvious irony of a person oh-so-concerned about the feelings of others coming on a web site and calling others jerks and dorks.

            • abrotherhoodofman
              Posted January 5, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

              It is deliciously ironic, isn’t it?

          • Sastra
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

            We’re pointing out that putting Christ in Christmas is a want, not a need. Because when it comes right down to it, being Christian is a want, not a need. They don’t need it — not really.

            This can and should be said, in public where Christians can see it, as if it were no more dangerous or rude than urging people to vote or support one program over another, to come to one conclusion instead of another one. They do not need to be horrified at the alternative. So horrified, in fact, that even the mere mention of it is going to crush their feelings, cause them grief, pain, and anguish over what they would lose, and what they would become, and how empty Christmas and existence in general would be.

            This sensitivity is a problem. It is something that needs to change. Look at what it’s rooted in. My genuine empathy for them — thinking of how it would feel and why it would feel that way from their perspective, as opposed to mine — actually ends up working against the argument that this sign is too offensive and going about it the ‘wrong way.’

            I am offended that they are so offended. And I am worried that when we respectfully appreciate their anguish over the mere suggestion of removing Christ — whether from the holiday or from their life — we fail to appreciate what that entails in and of itself regarding their views about us. The atheists.

            Desensitize them.

      • Posted January 5, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        First I should hasten to point out that American Atheists is notorious for having the absolute worst graphic designers in the industry. Not only will I not defend their billboards and advertisements on that basis, I will soundly criticize them.

        But, it’s patently obvious that millions upon millions of people have a simply marvelous and wonderful Christmas with either no Christ or only token Christ. What the devout Christians need Christ for isn’t Christmas, but for Christ Mass, in which they ritually cannibalize the baby Jesus by eating his play-pretend cracker flesh and drinking is play-pretend blood wine.

        Christmas as popularly celebrated has nothing whatsoever to do with that nonsense. Christmas trees, gift-giving, festive decorations, lighting of candles — all of that has been going on for an hell of a lot longer than Christianity itself. Io, Saturnalia! All the Christians have contributed is the name.

        Even the religious aspects are decidedly unoriginal. Perseus was born of a virgin, and, by definition, all of the demigods were the issue of mixed mortal and divine congresses. Mithras’s birth was celebrated on December 25, and much of the rest of his biography was cast from the same older mold that was later re-used for Jesus. Prophecies and portents and proclamations and present-bearing pilgrimages heralded the births of all important personages, divine or otherwise; that’s how you knew that they were important.

        So, yeah. Christ is irrelevant to Christmas, in every meaningful way. Do the Christians have their own superstitions that they dress up with stuff they’ve coopted from the true origins of Christmas? Sure. But that’s their problem, not that of those who would celebrate Christmas.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

          ….and in addition to what Ben said, as I’ve argued before that billboard’s main purpose was to reach those people that are closet atheists or christians in name only (like B&E Catholics) who think that they can’t enjoy the celebrations of Christmas unless they include the religious aspects of it.

          The secondary thing this billboard did was rile up the Fox News type Christians who each & every Christmas declare that the secularists are waging a war on Christmas. They are going to do this no matter what atheists do. So, this billboard poked them a bit and made them react strongly to show what goofs they are. You may not agree with that, but I think it exposes them to liberal Christians and non Christians a like – it may even reach those who normally don’t watch Fox so they see how dreadful these people really are.

          • Brian
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

            I respond to Ben Goren’s post. Frankly I think he is being a jerk. Atheists celebrating Christmas without Christ (as I myself do) is a good thing. But calling Christian cannibals for participating in Christmas Mass crosses a line.

            I think reaching closeted atheists is fine, as is celebrating the holidays without Christ. But you have to reach the closeted atheists in the first place. And more than just closeted atheists read the billboard. Saying that nobody needs Christ during Christ is a mean way to express what you said, there are better ways to express the same.

            “They are going to do this no matter what atheists do.”

            Oh, I agree. Bill O’Reilly is a jerk and will be no matter what. But that doesn’t justify putting up mean billboards, which more than just the O’Reilly fans will see.

            “You may not agree with that, but I think it exposes them to liberal Christians and non Christians a like”

            Well, couldn’t we accomplish the same affect of poking O’Reilly and the like without being completely insensitive and mean? O’Reilly will speak out regardless of the billboard’s content. The billboard in question does more than provoke O’Reilly, it is mean towards moderate and liberal Christians and makes us atheists look like goofs too. I mean, can’t we expose O’Reilly as a goof without telling people what nobody needs?

            • gbjames
              Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

              You should read Ben’s comment more closely, Brian. He said that Christians “ritually cannibalize” Jesus, which is precisely correct for most Christian denominations. He didn’t call them cannibals, the latter really do what the faithful only make-believe.

              There is nothing jerk-ish about saying so in clear language.

              • Brian
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

                I did read Ben’s comment closely. It was a mockery of Christians. I also know that you don’t ever tell Christians that they are cannibals. Phrasing it as “ritually cannibalize” Jesus does not make that okay. Especially when you talk about “play-pretend cracker flesh”. That is simply mocking and insulting people for one of the most sacred aspects of Catholicism and other forms of Christianity. Note that while you might not find it sacred, it is important to them. There is something jerkish about mocking people for what they hold sacred.

              • Posted January 5, 2014 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

                If I am a jerk for mocking the Eucharist for being an act of ritual cannibalism, then Thomas Jefferson was a jerk when he observed, “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”

                And so, too, was Mark Twain for opining, “If there is a God, he is a malign thug,” and that the Bible is “a mass of fables and traditions, mere mythology.” He is especially so for noting such Biblical niceties such as, “These people’s God has shown them by a million acts that he respects none of the Bibles statues. He breaks every one of them himself, adultery and all.” Translation: he just called God a cockblocker and a motherfucker, to use modern vernacular.

                Likewise, Christopher Hitchens was quite the jerk for remarks such as, “[Religious belief] is a totalitarian belief. It is the wish to be a slave. It is the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallengeable, tyrannical authority who can convict you of thought crime while you are asleep, who can subject you – who must, indeed, subject you – to total surveillance around the clock every waking and sleeping minute of your life – I say, of your life – before you’re born and, even worse and where the real fun begins, after you’re dead. A celestial North Korea. Who wants this to be true? Who but a slave desires such a ghastly fate?”

                And all this is before we get to jerks such as George Carlin, Woody Allen, Friedrich Nietzsche, Harlan Ellison, Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Seth MacFarlane, and countless others.

                Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m nowhere near as eloquent as any of those whose names I’ve just dropped.

                But if you are to call me a jerk for mocking Christianity, you must also call all of them jerks as well…and that’s the kind of epithet that lets me sleep very well at night.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

                It is mocking (a) religion. No doubt about it. But only because it is mock worthy.

                Now, please explain to me how ritually eating flesh and blood is not ritual cannibalism? Why do you insist that what they claim to be doing isn’t what they claim to be doing? How important to them this is is an interesting subject, but irrelevant.

                Get a grip. Compare an “extreme atheist” with an “extreme Christian”. Which one blows up buildings? Which one demonstrates at the funeral of a service person? Which one is more likely to insist that women “know their place”?

                Your sense of proportion is way out of whack. Religion has too long been granted a special waiver from criticism, granted no other domain. It is long past time for that to end.

        • Brian
          Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

          “But, it’s patently obvious that millions upon millions of people have a simply marvelous and wonderful Christmas with either no Christ or only token Christ.”

          I refer you to my reply to Ben Goren.

          “What the devout Christians need Christ for isn’t Christmas, but for Christ Mass, in which they ritually cannibalize the baby Jesus by eating his play-pretend cracker flesh and drinking is play-pretend blood wine.”

          Well Ben, I know a number of close friends including my best friend’s wife who I went to Christmas mass with this year and a friend who routinely posts about her religion on Facebook. I welcome you to tell them in person how you think of they celebrate Christmas, cannibalism and all. You can also inform them how while you are celebrating Christmas they celebrate a totally separate thing called Christ Mass. Note that I don’t think you get it, to them it’s about family, community, morals, spiritual practice, etc not about “play-pretend cracker flesh”.

          “Christmas as popularly celebrated has nothing whatsoever to do with that nonsense.”

          Christmas as celebrated by whom. MANY people go to Christmas mass in addition to the secular Santa and Rudolf thing. That IS a popular way of celebrating Christmas throughout the US and Europe. And MANY just do the Santa and Rudolf thing, as my family does. Both ways are currently popular.

          Note that this BS talk of Mithras etc is not popular outside of atheists trying to win an argument. Stop being such a dork and jerk. Regardless of the origins of Christmas, people do honor Christ during Christmas and you should bloody well respect the fact that that’s who they are and how they enjoy the holidays. Mithras is irrelevant to that.

          “Do the Christians have their own superstitions that they dress up with stuff they’ve coopted from the true origins of Christmas? Sure. But that’s their problem”

          How is that a problem?

          • abrotherhoodofman
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

            Regardless of the origins of Christmas, people do honor Christ during Christmas and you should bloody well respect the fact that that’s who they are and how they enjoy the holidays.

            Respect? How about tough love?

            😉

            • Brian
              Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

              I guess you aren’t bored enough with me. YOU bullied me first by putting words in my mouth. Ben is bulling Christians by mocking them. The billboard itself is bullying Christians who value Christ as part of Christmas.

              You bully me and those I care about, I get to (verbally) hit back.

              And no, I don’t mean tough love. And I don’t find that funny.

              • abrotherhoodofman
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

                I didn’t put words in your mouth — those were my words. I was drawing a parallel between Christ and Santa Claus, because they are both imaginary beings.

                I also didn’t imply you meant “tough love”. Once again, those were my words. I was suggesting that instead of giving these ridiculous, corrosive Christian ideas any real respect, I would treat anybody in possession of such ideas in the same way a parent or teacher might use tough love to disabuse a child of bad habits.

                By the way, you really shouldn’t waste your emotions on me in this forum — although I’m actually a bit reluctant to dissuade you from such tactics, because truth be told, I do find them… how should I put it… humorously noble.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

            Two points.

            1) “to them it’s about family, community, morals, spiritual practice, etc not about “play-pretend cracker flesh”.” You have just about described exactly what Christmas is to this hard-core, shrill and strident atheist. Except for the “spiritual practice” part (which is vapid pseudo-speak for going to church), that is exactly an atheist celebrating Christmas. Turns out we agree, we don’t need Christ in order to celebrate Christmas.

            2) You are clearly new to these parts. Pro tip: It is generally frowned upon to call people dorks or jerks. I’d say “very unchristian of you”, but I wouldn’t be meaning it.

            • Brian
              Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

              “Except for the “spiritual practice” part (which is vapid pseudo-speak for going to church)”

              Wrong. You obviously have no idea what you are talking about.

              I’m not a Christian. I get to be as un-Christian as I’d like. Don’t care what is frowned upon around here, you are being a jerk towards others and talking about Mithras as if that is an argument is just silly. If you all so frown upon being called jerks and dorks, stop acting like it.

              Don’t worry, I won’t be staying long. I can’t believe that I once supported militant atheism. Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris I could appreciate. I can understand opposing nutjobs like O’Reilly and wimps like Stedman. This brazen and proud insensitivity towards Christians were you support mean billboards and then rationalize being a jerk as if the rationalizing is scholarly debate is just ridiculous. I will have no further part in this. I no longer support militant atheism. Outside of the public figures you guys really are fanatical and offensive.

              • abrotherhoodofman
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

                I can’t believe that I once supported militant atheism.”

                That makes two of us.

              • Sastra
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

                I can’t believe that I once supported militant atheism.

                Good grief! Violence? What did you do???

                (Or perhaps you better not say, since it was criminal. Glad you’re back to simply arguing over ideas.)

              • gbjames
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

                Minor point: I don’t recall saying you were a christian. I have no idea about that. If I’m wrong about equating “spiritual practice” (re: Christmas) with “going to church”, please explain. Maybe it is praying around the living room creche?

                And before you head out the door.. what exactly is a militant atheist? Please contrast your definition with “militant christian” and “militant muslim”. And please give examples.

          • Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

            MANY people go to Christmas mass in addition to the secular Santa and Rudolf thing.

            That was the entire point of my post.

            There are two basically-unrelated festivities with similar names celebrated on the same date.

            One is the ancient Yuletide festival of decorated evergreens and present exchanges and singing and food and all that good stuff.

            The other is the much newer Christian bastardization of Pagan religious myths that were popular in the Empire at the time of the Caesars.

            The modern name for the first one may well have “Christ” in its name, but it not only is far older than Christianity, the Bible explicitly forbids its celebration. Indeed, many Christians over the ages and today are vehemently opposed to the celebration of the ancient holiday, and it is only in the more liberal and modernized churches where you will find any celebration of it. Instead, they celebrate the Christ Mass, which itself has nothing to do with the ancient celebration. And even the liberal Christians clearly delineate the two: they celebrate Christmas for basically the whole month of December, and the only celebration they make of the Christ Mass is in the ritual that takes place in the church.

            So, either we’re in violent agreement, or you’re quite confused.

            I welcome you to tell them in person how you think of they celebrate Christmas, cannibalism and all.

            I’d be happy to do so in an appropriate setting. If you think I’m going to jump up in the middle of a Sunday Mass to tell them they’re batshit fucking insane for playing “Let’s eat the zombie!” then you’re even crazier than they are. But if they wanted to invite me to a Bible Study session with the up-front explicit understanding that I’d give them a no-holds-barred honest outsider perspective on Christianity, and that it would not at all be complimentary, I’d be happy to oblige.

            Similarly, if they’d like to come here to Jerry’s place and either ask for my opinion or offer theirs in such a way as my typical response would be appropriate, again, I’m all over that.

            See, this is one of the things that pisses off a lot of non-accommodationist atheists. An accommodationist sees us clearly expressing our views in suitable settings, and then accuses us of being uncouth assholes who would do the same in unsuitable settings. Yet I’m unaware of even a single instance of such a thing happening. In contrast, of course, the religious people — whom the accommodationists never seem to criticize — are perfectly happy inserting their religion into civic venues where that sort of thing isn’t just rude, it’s banned by the highest law in the land.

            At least empirically, it’s the unabashed atheists who understand proper politeness and civil behavior — and yet we’re the one everybody keeps bitching at for being inappropriately rude. And if you can’t see how that just might ruffle a few feathers, then you’ve got even bigger problems.

            (And do let’s remember that, for every billboard that American Atheists puts up about the uselessness of religion, church groups put up thousands threatening everybody with infinite torture unless they submit to the commands of that one denomination’s hierarchy. “One of these things is not like the others.”)

            Cheers,

            b&

            • abrotherhoodofman
              Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

              In contrast, of course, the religious people — whom the accommodationists never seem to criticize — are perfectly happy inserting their religion into civic venues where that sort of thing isn’t just rude, it’s banned by the highest law in the land.”

              Well said, Ben.

            • Brian
              Posted January 5, 2014 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

              I am confused by this “appropriate setting” nonsense. There is no appropriate setting for calling Christians cannibals, that’s just offensive. There is no setting where a Christian would like being treated that way. And the billboard was not the appropriate setting for telling people nobody needs Christ during Christmas. You are saying completely inappropriate things outside of any sort of appropriate setting. My telling you that does not make me an accommodationalist. Especially when I’ve openly regarded Stedman as a wuss, or at least way too nice and a pushover.

              “At least empirically, it’s the unabashed atheists who understand proper politeness and civil behavior”

              Um, you don’t. Not judging from the billboard or your posts. And the fact that others are telling you off for your actions is an indicator that you might not be acting politely and civilly.

              • John Taylor
                Posted January 5, 2014 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

                Some Catholics do seem to take this stuff very seriously.

                http://www.catholic.com/blog/michelle-arnold/god-is-in-the-details

                http://www.catholic.com/blog/tim-staples/is-the-eucharist-truly-jesus-body-and-blood

                It’s hard to read those links and not have a chuckle.

                I’m not sure how you can say this isn’t cannibalism and why saying so should be offensive to a Catholic. Some of them do indeed seem to believe they eat the flesh of Jesus each week.

                This is the definition of cannibalism:

                http://i.word.com/idictionary/cannibalism

                I believe that Catholics believe Jesus was both man and God at the same time so the definition seems to fit.

                I have plenty of “Catholic” friends and none of them seem to take this stuff seriously. I let them know that I think religion is silly and they don’t seem very bothered by that. For many I think religion is a cultural thing and they don’t care very much about the details. I don’t think many of my friends spend much time at Catholic Answers.

              • Posted January 5, 2014 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

                There is no appropriate setting for calling Christians cannibals, thats just offensive. There is no setting where a Christian would like being treated that way.

                Similarly, no adult who still believes in Santa and the monster under his bed would like to be told that it’s high past time to grow up and stop believing in such childish nonsense.

                But call the imaginary friend who sees you when you’re sleeping, knows if you’re awake, and knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness’s sake not, “Santa,” but “Jesus,” and similarly name the monster under the bed, “Satan,” and now we’re suddenly supposed to treat that idiocy with solemn dignity and respect.

                Fuck that shit.

                If you’re an adult and you still have imaginary friends, it’s not at all surprising that you think it’s oh-so-unfair if somebody is a meanine and tells you you need to grow up. You know why that’s not surprising? Because it’s behavior that’s every bit as childish as having those imaginary friends in the first place.

                If you can’t handle people telling you that your imaginary friends aren’t real and it’s more than a bit embarrassing and inappropriate to cling to them, then you have no place at the big people table.

                Sorry.

                But life’s a beach, and then the tide comes in.

                When you’ve grown up — at least enough to know that imaginary friends really aren’t real — then you’ll understand.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • peltonrandy
                Posted January 6, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

                For all the huffing and puffing you are doing in defense of your Christian friends Brian, I can’t help but wonder why it is you defending them rather than the persons themselves. Why don’t you show them this set of exchanges and the picture of the Billboard and then let them speak for themselves. You keep saying that these people would be offended. But this is you saying it. You are offended. But until we actually hear from these friends, how are we to know that they are actually offended. This said, whether they or you are offended is actually irrelevant. You don’t have a right not to be offended. Those posting here have no ethical or moral obligation to pull their punches.

                You keep repeating that the billboard in question is a mean way of expressing the message intended. But you have not established this. You think it mean. I don’t think it mean. There is nothing in the wording of that billboard that is, IMO,unkind, spiteful, unfair, vicious, or aggressive. These are all words used in the dictionary as part of the definition of mean. Now I acknowledge that you probably don’t agree. But what you are debating here is not an issue of fact but one of opinion. Apparently you are more easily offended than others. Perhaps even more easily so than the people whom you think it necessary to defend. Regardless, I again opine that the billboard is not mean. Not well designed, yes. But not mean.

            • Brian
              Posted January 6, 2014 at 12:16 am | Permalink

              Ben, when I think your posts have been demeaning and insensitive to Christians, you somehow manage to write a comment that is even worse. You attitude is totally awful. With that attitude, you are going to have a very hard time holding down a social life and living as an adult.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted January 6, 2014 at 6:08 am | Permalink

                Last resort: concern trolling.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 6, 2014 at 6:45 am | Permalink

                He’s a very naughty boy.

              • Posted January 6, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

                And I keep telling all y’all, but you never listen: I’M NOT THE MESSIAH!

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted January 6, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

                Pro tip: “predicting” that a middle-aged adult’s life is going to be the opposite of what it’s actually been when he becomes an adult a quarter century ago…is a perfect example of an own goal.

                Congratulations! You have just completed your own stereotypical self-portrait of a concern-trolling accommodationist atheist-butter. And, I must say, it’s not at all a pretty picture.

                Cheers,

                b&

      • Sastra
        Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

        Brian wrote:

        Yea, but that’s NOT what the billboard said. The billboard was not celebrating all the wonderful non-Christian aspects of Christmas as to remind people that you don’t need Christ to enjoy the holidays. The billboard stated (I’m quoting) “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody.”

        No, you’re only quoting the first page of the billboard. It was one of those progressive (?) billboards and it had 3 pages. Here is a more complete transcript:

        “Who needs Christ during Christmas?
        Nobody.
        Celebrate the true meaning of Xmas!
        (CHARITY; lights; fun; FAMILY; Chinese food; Rockettes; snow; FRIENDS; parties; FOOD; music; movies; ice skating; human life)
        Happy Holidays!
        American Atheists

        I think this is important. After all, if you cut out the first two lines then by your own admission you’ve nothing to object to.

        The first two lines are a direct response to “Keep the Christ in Christmas.”

        Please note that it is not “Christians ought to keep the Christ in Christmas but otherwise you’re welcome to celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday however you want.”

        No. It is an intolerant rephrasing of “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” which is in itself trying to demand that the holiday be reserved ONLY for Christians. Not you do what you do and we’ll do what we do. But ‘stop doing what you do.’

        As a Christian you need Christ in Christmas — but as an individual you do not ‘need’ to be Christian. Presumably, you care more about following whatever the actual truth is, Christianity or not.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

          Yes and in addition to being a response to “keep the Christ in Christmas” the crossing out is a subtle reference to what Christians ignorantly say (ignorant of the Greek chi) when we spell “Christmas” as “Xmas”: You’re crossing out Christ.

          • Dave Ricks
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

            I agree with you 99/100 times, but in this case, when I was a kid in a U.S. public elementary school (1960s), the kids who wrote “Christmas” as “Xmas” did it so the name “Christ” would not be discarded on paper or erased from the blackboard. So they wrote “Xmas” in reverence to the name “Christ” like a Jewish friend of mine writes “G-d” in email.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted January 6, 2014 at 5:26 am | Permalink

              My Catholic relatives were explicitly td the crossing out Christ thing in their schools.

              Your education seems better than mine. I went to public school in the 70s and was forced to participate in all kinds of Christian religious stuff, including an annual Christmas pagent, singing “Jesus Loves Me”, reading from the Bible and daily saying the Lord’s Prayer. Looking back, I think it was a rather backward small town and that was part of the issue.

            • gbjames
              Posted January 6, 2014 at 6:37 am | Permalink

              The wonderful thing about symbols is that they can mean so many different things.

        • Brian
          Posted January 5, 2014 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

          Um, some people will walk by and just see the first page. That first page is extremely insensitive. And the other pages don’t make up for the fact that some people do view Christ as part of the true meaning of Christmas. Um, that argument just doesn’t work.

          • Sastra
            Posted January 5, 2014 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

            Yes, some people DO view Christ as part the true meaning of Christmas … but they don’t HAVE to. The argument.

            The first page is saying what the second page says, but with less detail and less explicitly. The second page explains the first.

            If the second page is really fine then the Christians who were offended would breath a sigh of relief. Will they?

            • Brian
              Posted January 5, 2014 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

              Sigh. You guys are splitting hairs on the precise meaning of the term “need”. The sad thing is you won’t be there to split hairs when people read the billboard. You may think “need” merely say there exists people who celebrate Christmas without Christ (I think you know better and just want to win an argument), but others will read it as saying they don’t need Christ to enjoy Christmas. Well, some of those others are celebrating Christ during Christmas. Who are you to say what they need? Cute academic argument for atheist webpages, won’t work out in the real world.

  22. Greg Esres
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    “I find it demeaning to try to make ourselves seem REALLY NICE to the”

    I suspect Stedman’s goal is to make himself look REALLY NICE by throwing fellow atheists under the bus.

  23. Posted January 5, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    For the life of me, I couldn’t make out what Stedman had on his ear lobes. They looked like miniature speakers. Was Stedman receiving radio transmissions from Mars or Pluto that only he could hear coming from those speakers? And what did he have in his right nostril? I couldn’t quite make out what that was either. An miniature antennae working in tandem with the mini speakers for better radio reception?

    I’m amazed that O’Lielly didn’t ask him. That was really weird. Maybe O’Lielly’s in on it? Maybe O’Lielly’s feedin Stedman his responses. Wouldn’t surprise me.

    Yea, there’s somethin’ fishy goin’ on here all right. Somethin’ very fishy indeed.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      The only fishy thing going on here is that you think personal insult is an appropriate response to this.

  24. secularjew
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    What I don’t understand is what in blazes is a humanist chaplain? What’s next, humanist popes and nuns?

    • gbjames
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      Now that’s a good question. Many of us ask the same one.

      I can understand it in the context of the military, where there aren’t any…. A soldier can talk to a chaplain about whatever and not be worried about chain-of-command exposure of whatever anxieties, etc., are bothering him/her. But there is no such role currently in the military. There should be.

    • abrotherhoodofman
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      Good question!

      I wonder if Stedman prays like this:

      Dear Lord, in Your nonexistent yet infinite power, please convince everybody that it doesn’t matter whether or not they believe in You, so we can all play happily together, in the universe You didn’t create.”

    • Posted January 5, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

      Hate to break it to you, but you’re already a pope.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 6, 2014 at 2:14 am | Permalink

        But I’m a Cardinal 🙂

        • Posted January 6, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

          What makes you think you can’t be both?

          b&

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 7, 2014 at 12:17 am | Permalink

            I probably can, I just thought I’d introduce a note of drunken debauchery into the discussion…

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 6, 2014 at 2:04 am | Permalink

      I dunno about the US, but (here in NZ) we have industrial chaplains. Some large companies employ them, either regularly or at times of stress. They provide someone that workers can discuss their problems with, without it getting back to their workmates or the management. Probably does more good than seeing an analyst (which nobody here would dream of doing unless they were seriously mentally ill).

      They’re definitely non-denominational (and may well be non-religious). So I can quite see how a humanist chaplain would function at a university (whether his title is ‘humanist chaplain’ or whether he’s a chaplain who just happens to be a humanist).

      The ‘chaplain’ term is non-religious in this context.

  25. Jeffery
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    I am CERTAIN that many so-called American “Christians”, were they to have the power to do so, would call for the imprisonment and/or execution of ALL atheists, followed by the gays, Jews, and blacks!

  26. gbjames
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    To Brian, and others, who are concerned about the hurt feelings of the faithful.

    Allow me to enter this into evidence. It is a story from yesterday.

    And allow me to point out that this news story exists solely because some people find this billboard offensive. It shows a family of ex-Mormons. It says “Join us in exploring your doubts.” American Atheists is having their convention in Salt Lake City and was turned down by several billboard companies because of fear of hurting the feelings of faithful Mormons.

    So… Is this too offensive for you, Brian et. al? Should AA not put it up because some Mormons are offended? Doesn’t it bother you that billboard companies refuse to rent space for signs like this? Don’t you see how ridiculous is religious privilege?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

      This CFI billboard was rejected in BC as well. The story appears on CBC & if you read the comments, you will see how the faithful are very offended with this message as well & attack atheists telling them to STFU.

      The message is a simple one: Jenn 13:1, Praying won’t help. Doing will.

      Without God. We’re all good.

    • Brian
      Posted January 5, 2014 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

      The billboard you pointed to was not really all that offensive. Just a nice family saying they are atheists. The only think I saw mildly questionable there was the reference to Mormons, as there should be a good reason for singling them out. And there was, the local atheist group was trying to get people out of their comfort zones in a predominantly Mormon area. So this is merely provocative, which I think is perfectly fine. Note that none of the religious people interviewed seemed particularly offended.

      So, no, this billboard is not too offensive.

      The issue is not being merely offensive. Offending a few people is inevitable, as you point out. It’s unnecessary and mean-spirited offense that is the problem. The ads atheist do should tend to be positive yet provocative like the atheist family ad, not insensitive like the Christmas ad. There are choices other than the Christmas ad and being a pushover like Stedman, the atheist family ad is a good example.

      “Doesn’t it bother you that billboard companies refuse to rent space for signs like this?”

      Well, that is the company’s decision, isn’t it? If they feel the ad is too offensive towards Mormons and they’d rather not be involved, I can respect that. I disagree, but I can respect that. I’m more concern about overt religious privilege and refusal to serve atheists, such as the Cranston prayer banner (including controversy and death threats) and refusal to send flowers to Jessica Ahlquist.

      “Don’t you see how ridiculous is religious privilege?”

      Yes. But do you see how ridiculous atheists acting like insensitive jerks? Do you see that you needn’t act like that way to be effective?

      • gbjames
        Posted January 6, 2014 at 6:06 am | Permalink

        “The billboard you pointed to was not really all that offensive”

        Well tell that to the Mormons who were offended by it!

        That’s the point. Someone’s going to be offended no matter what. That’s the nature of religion, it demands special respect which it does not deserve and is granted no other domain.

        Nobody has a right to not be offended. And “insensitive jerk” is in the in the eye of the beholder, which you may discover in your bathroom mirror. Because you can’t imagine how offended I am by your fear of offending christians.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 6, 2014 at 7:37 am | Permalink

        Look at my link. It is even less offensive. Note how the religious were offended in the comments. The point is, people will be offended and some violently so no matter what atheists say and no matter how tasteful we think we are.

  27. paxton
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Whether you prefer Stedman’s approach or a more confrontational approach, there’s no escaping the fact that atheism is making little headway in the U.S. People may be abandoning the pews but they are not embracing atheism or science.

    • Jim Hudlow
      Posted January 6, 2014 at 1:11 am | Permalink

      “Abandoning the pews” is the first step towards thinking for yourself. Coming to an epistomology that does not involve the supernatural takes a long time for many and baby steps are encouraged. They engender a more long term change based on empirical data and self evaluation. Yes…this is just a lay person’s observation but accurate in cases I have personally observed.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 6, 2014 at 6:34 am | Permalink

      This is not at all clear. Polling on this is inconsistent and much depends on phrasing of questions. And I’ll take “abandoning the pews” as a win. This kind of change takes a long time and if you want to see the process in action, look at young people. Don’t waste a lot of time on us older demographics.

  28. Posted January 5, 2014 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    I’d say atheists are nicer: at least when we tell people that they are wrong, we don’t tell them to burn in hell.
    But, of course, we’re not nice, because we are being told that we’ll burn in hell, we laugh too disrespectfully.

  29. Jim Hudlow
    Posted January 6, 2014 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    I really like this comment at the end of the article:

    “No, they called out their countrymen for misguided and harmful thinking. And eventually Americans realized that they were right.”

    This, to me, is the real definition of “patriotism”. So many of my (often creationist but certainly t party) friends consider that I am anything from communist to a traitor when I refuse to say the pledge, with or without under gawd, as I believe our nation cannot command respect thru indoctrination, especially of innocent children.
    I emphatically disagree with the motto ‘change’ from the de facto E Pluribus Unum which included all Americans to a divisive xtian motto that is imposed by our government on everyone.
    My point is that being true to yourself and your country and it’s governing system means you stand up and point out that which you consider does harm. You present evidence and you act accordingly no matter how it pisses off the sheeple.
    If you are atheist, as am I, then live according to those precepts. It does not mean ‘be an asshole’ but point out the real harm religion does in the name of a deity for which there is no empirical evidence…faith healing comes to mind…or torturing and killing children as witches (in Africa during present day). Yeah, a LOT of folks are going to disagree with you. But your job is to make them think about the realities (often negative) of their superstions. Most of them will see you as a good person…eventually…possibly not in your lifetime…. My 2 cents.

    • Jim Hudlow
      Posted January 6, 2014 at 1:37 am | Permalink

      I meant “superstitions”….

  30. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 6, 2014 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    The Yule War on Atheists, again!?

    You didn’t see Martin Luther King touting himself as “The Happy Negro” or Harvey Milk as “The Friendly Homosexual,” trying to make common cause with Anita Bryant.

    Touché!

    I don’t know if they made billboards, but I do think they did placards and marches.

    Or in other words:

    if you find yourself agreeing with the theocratic fascist O’Reilly, U Iz Doin’ It Rong.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 6, 2014 at 4:37 am | Permalink

      Also, I don’t see why atheists would be talking to theocratic shows in public any more than they should be talking to creationists.

  31. Posted January 6, 2014 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Well, the important thing is that you’ve found a way to feel superior to both.

    And your last sentence drives the point home: this isn’t a variation on high school politics where the goal is to rally as many supporters to your team, whatever that takes. This is about honesty, truth, and respect.

    Respect which you clearly lack for your Christian “friends,” seeing how eager you are to deceive them.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • gbjames
      Posted January 6, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

      Response to an evaporated comment?

      • Posted January 6, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

        Ah — seems the Invisible Paw of Ceiling Cat did a bit of housecleaning between the time Brian’s blather arrived in my email inbox and when I replied to it. Considering it was a top-level post and opened with a denunciation of atheists as immature jerks (a word he’s used a lot in this thread) and ended with an exit flounce, I shouldn’t be surprised….

        Cheers,

        b&

  32. Posted January 11, 2014 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    While I agree that Stedman comes across as too nice to O’Riely, I can’t help but think that atheism could use a gentler representative. Too many of the well-known atheists are known for their strong views against theism. It seems like there is this expectation that atheists should all be anti-theists and should be going out of their way to debate religion. While the nice approach doesn’t get laws changed and atheists recognized, it does make theists more likely to support us and recognize us as humans with human rights. There is a time and a place for both. But I think that the O’Riely Factor is the wrong place to play nice atheist.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 11, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      Not being a fan of “gentler”, I call “bull pucky”.

      Atheists with strong views against theism? Oh horrors!

      The fact is that most atheists have strong views against theism. Playing Mr. Nice, which inevitably translates to living in the closet, is a non-starter. It is a bad way to live and it serves no useful social purpose.

      • Posted January 11, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        Who said there’s anything wrong with holding strong views? I don’t think that it is at all true that you’re living in the closet unless you’re standing on the street corner professing your atheism. Somebody like Stedman definitely can’t be said to be a closeted atheist.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 11, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

          Closeted atheists are the only kind that believers really like. They are “nice” enough not to challenge religion in any way. Weak views should be expressed weakly. Strong views deserve to be expressed with strength. If your’s are weak, fine. Express them weakly. But don’t complain about those who express theirs with vigor that “too many of the well-known atheists are know for”. It’s just tone trolling.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted January 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

            Yep, just like when gays started coming out and bigots preferred them to stay in the closet with remarks like, “I don’t care if they are gay but I don’t want to hear about it. It was better when they were in the closet”. The atheist movement and the gay rights movement have some parallels.

          • Posted January 11, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

            A) Be careful when you say things like “all theists like…” or “believe” or whatever. There is no group where everybody in it perceives things exactly the same.
            B) That may be your experience with theists, but it’s not mine. I spend a lot of time with religious people who know that I’m an atheist and don’t care. In fact, I’m very open about my atheism.
            C) I don’t think that there is anything wrong with strong views and weak views. I think that both have their place. Mine tend to be quite strong, but at times I tone them down to be more effective. I think that people like Stedman are just as important as people like Dawkins for this reason.

            • gbjames
              Posted January 11, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

              A) Where did I say “all theists like…”?
              B) That is nice. Perhaps we can all move in with you.
              C) I’m glad that you express your views as you feel appropriate. And I only request that you not tell others to tone it down, so to speak.

              IOW, I completely disagree that “Too many of the well-known atheists are known for their strong views against theism.” Because I think too few are willing to express their strong views strongly for fear a believer or an “atheist butter” will call them rude/harsh/strident/shrill/aggressive/militant.

    • Posted January 11, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      The problem is that, as far as O’Reily and similar Christians are concerned, failure to drop to your knees and beg Jesus for mercy is considered rude and obnoxious. The only way to be truly “nice” as an atheist in their eyes is to be the type of atheist who’s ordained in a mainstream denomination and happily serves communion on Sunday and never even thinks to mention that you don’t actually believe. And, even then, you’re still not as nice as the ones who actually really do believe.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted January 11, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        I completely agree. But speaking on Fox is like debating: you’re not convincing the person who’s interviewing you or most of the audience, being as they’ve already picked a side. The interviewee can only hope that somebody watching is on the fence about theism vs atheism and they can be convinced.

    • paxton
      Posted January 11, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      Stedman’s appearance, especially the earrings, guaranteed that no matter what he said , the image Fox viewers took away was of atheists as insidious, alien creatures, threatening to their way of life. This may have been O’Reilly’s purpose in inviting him, but Stedman played along.

      Similarly the billboards that Stedman criticizes, whatever their complete text, presented an image of atheists as outsiders trying to ruin America’s great annual party.

      Many atheists seem tone-deaf to the art of persuasion and negotiation. It is not a matter of bluntness or politeness, it is a matter of not comprehending their intended audience.

      And it is a matter of offering nothing in return for what they are trying to destroy. Rather than billboards, why not an atheist charity that provides assistance to women denied birth control and abortions by religious oppression?

      The work of the new atheists is essential in undermining beliefs and arguments. They should not back down. But undermining the truth claims of religion is only the first step to drawing people toward a scientific and rationalistic world view. People need to find a new psychic home, and they will never be drawn to atheism as long as atheists present themselves as aliens so far removed from their familiar culture (which for most people are only loosely tied to supernatural beliefs), that they can’t even hear the words spoken.

      • Posted January 11, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        While I do agree that a lot of atheists seem to lack the ability to properly read and empathize with their audience, I don’t believe that is completely true with Stedman. The older generation is likely to criticize his appearance, but people in their 20’s and 30’s are likely to connect with him. Tattoos and piercings are perceived as cool and normal. I just think he should be more willing to take a stand rather than allow himself to get pushed around so easily. If he did that then maybe he could draw support from people who are put off by Dawkins and the like.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 11, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        You pose false choices, paxton. It is possible to put up billboards that some find offensive and also support atheist charities.

        “Atheist butters” drive me nuts. By all means, if you prefer to work in some non-confrontational way, do so. Nobody is stopping you. But whining about billboards you don’t like isn’t helping.

        • paxton
          Posted January 11, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          gbj, It depends on your objectives. If you just want to bloviate, do it any way you like. But if you want to change minds, you have to consider your audience and how to change their mindset.

          Images matter. If Stedman were on Stewart or Colbert he might have connected with the audience. To the Fox nation, not all of whom are religious zealots, and some of whom oppose the religious focus of the conservative movement, his appearance said more than his words.

          The billboard as many noted in the earlier post, are unattractive. In addition, the message is snarky and gives no reason for cutting god out of Xmas. Just asserts you don’t need him.

          I don’t know what an atheist butter is and I don’t mind confrontation if it is a means to an end. But it is always useful to consider what we want to achieve and what means will best achieve it. The slow progress of atheism and rationality, even as science progresses from triumph to triumph, and worshipers are increasingly staying home from church, suggests that atheists aren’t doing a very good job communicating.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 11, 2014 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

            Atheist butter = “I’m an atheist, but…” ( usually followed by some comment intended to distance the commenter from “stridency”).

            In fact the progress is much greater than you claim. “Out” atheism is very recent. Generations of being “nice” and closeted didn’t do the trick, and why would you expect otherwise?


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