Where did all the good atheist billboards go?

December 2, 2010

It seems like the atheist advertisements are getting worse and worse. I was a big fan of some of the earlier ones like the one that read, “Don’t believe in god? You are not alone.” I also liked the “Imagine no religion” one, the “good without god” ones, and the “There is probably no god. So stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Now the atheist ads have turned more bitter and petty as well as becoming pretty much indefensible…though sadly, that hasn’t stopped those responsible for them from trying to hopelessly defend them anyway:

I’m sorry, David, but your billboard is shit. It’s doing a disservice to the atheist community. And you look like a total asshole to Fox News viewers for defending it.

Then there’s the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who have reproduced their stupid Washington Christmas “display” from last year in Wisconsin that is essentially just giving the finger to the religious.

Now I recognize that no matter what billboard atheists put up, it’s guaranteed to piss someone off no matter how inoffensive it is but that’s no reason to put up a billboard that is legitimately out to offend people…especially at this time of year.

Like last year, numerous atheist groups have tried to play Fox News’ game by playing along with this “War on Christmas” nonsense in the most childish of ways. Now I don’t think Christmas should be a national holiday either but honestly, who the fuck cares?

There are so many bigger fish to fry and sticking your tongue out at Christmas at this time of year is not going to win friends. I say, stop being reactive or childish and let them have their Christmas.

And while the holiday season commences, we should display a positive secular humanist message to the world. One of the best examples of this that I’d seen was the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia’s “Tree of Knowledge” display, which sadly this year has been disallowed. This display said all the right things. It can hardly even be called an “atheist” display at all. It celebrated tolerance, unity, and a diversity of viewpoints. And atheism was simply included as one of those viewpoints. That’s taking advantage of the sentimental spirit so representative of the season.

An even better way to promote atheism this holiday season would be to organize atheist and secular groups to take part in charity work while wearing your atheism on your sleeve, both literally and figuratively. And an even better way would be to unite atheist groups and religious groups to perform charity work together for the common good. This last one makes for great free publicity. News media love feel-good stories about opposing groups coming together for a good cause.

My point is that Fox News wants everyone to think atheists are angry, bitter assholes like the one featured in this hilarious, less than subtle trailer for the direct-to-DVD film Christmas With A Capital C:

So why would you give them exactly what they want?

C’mon atheists. This holiday season, let’s remind Americans that being an atheist can make you a better person and not just a jerk.

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Mohammed’s U.S. tour continues in Wisconsin

May 3, 2010

Yesterday, I mentioned that the Atheists, Agnostics & Freethinkers group at the University of Illinois went around campus drawing Mohammed with chalk.

Well now the Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics group at the University of Wisconsin – Madison has announced that they will be doing the same. But to be neighborly, they gave the Muslim Student Association (MSA) a heads up in advance by sending them a letter. It begins:

We are aware that depicting images of Muhammad is a controversial issue that is highly offensive to many Muslims around the world. We acknowledge that you may view this as an unproductive, misguided, or hurtful event. We are very sensitive to these facts, and want to ensure that this event is done in a way that does not lead to Muslims feeling uncomfortable on campus. That is why I want to explain our position and our intentions as clearly as possible before the event takes place.

These drawings are not intended to mock, intimidate, or harass anyone -– rather, we aim to make the following statements:

1) We have the right to criticize religion and to perform actions considered blasphemous, even if many individuals find this offensive.

2) A free society cannot tolerate violence or threats of violence which seek to limit our freedom of expression.

Further, we fully understand that Revolution Islam is a radical, fringe organization that does not represent mainstream Islam in any way. It goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of Muslims, in the U.S. and across the world, do not view their tactics as acceptable.

The response letter from the Vice President of the MSA was slightly less cordial. It begins:

I am the Vice President of the MSA and I will cut straight to the chase. Your apology is not accepted since your act is actually offensive. To slap someone in the face, despite warning the person in advance and assuring them of you good intentions does not make slapping someone in the face ok.

Actually, I don’t know if the contents of the letter to the MSA constitutes as an “apology” so much as an explanation of intention, one that explains that this is not a slap in the face but rather is merely taking a stand in the name of free speech by letting terrorists know that they can’t scare us into silence with violence.

But they continue:

You said it yourself, it was an extremist group that announced the threat (assuming such threats were intentionally issued) and we as Muslims disapprove their act. Moreover, your method of protest and announced cause of protest do NOT match. Why do you not direct your protest to the groups in question instead of engaging in acts that you yourself acknowledge will offend the vast majority of Muslims, on this campus and off.

No, you see that’s the whole point. Weren’t you paying attention? They already explained why they chose the form of protest that they did. If you have better protest idea, let’s hear it. But as it stands, given that we’re quite literally only talking about stick figures with the word “Mohammed” nearby, you only further illustrate why the protest is appropriate.

I would like to inform you that, as far as we understand, the event you are planning is illegal by the constitution of the University of Wisconsin (88-12 RACIST AND OTHER DISCRIMINATORY CONDUCT POLICY). Deviating from this law will offend not only the UW Muslim Students Association but the entire Muslim community on this campus and other organization of similar culture and faith. The Dean of Students shall be contacted immediately.

Um, no. There’s a big difference between being illegal and merely being against school policy. You see, universities don’t make up legal statutes. And intent is a major component of discriminatory conduct and as they’ve clearly explained already, the intent is not racism or discrimination of any kind. In fact, Islam isn’t even a race. You, as vice president of the Muslim Student Association should know better than anyone that Islam is not a race.

I politely suggest that you cancel this event and prefer instead that we meet and discuss the issue respectfully before resorting to what we feel to be rather drastic measures. No offense, but giving less than 24 hours notice seems to betray ill intentions.

Drawing stick figures on the ground with chalk is resorting to drastic measures? They’ve already opened a dialogue with you. And given your response, it seems highly unlikely that any rational, meaningful discourse can continue as it seems that you will at no point agree on an acceptable protest against Islamic radicals that simultaneously celebrates the right to reject their barbaric sense of blasphemy. And the letter does not “betray ill intentions.” In fact, it spells out exactly what they’re intentions are and why they feel morally justified in their actions. It’s like when a neighbor lets you know about their upcoming wild party on Saturday night. They’re not asking for your permission. Rather they’re stating we’re having a wild party on Saturday and are just letting you know in advance as a courtesy.

I respect the fact you let us know about your plans beforehand but I also want to reiterate that we do not approve or agree with your highly offensive acts. I assure you that we believe in freedom of expression just as much as you purport to do.

Ahmed Fikri – MSA Vice President “

Your sudden “respect” for the courtesy seems antithetical to what you said one paragraph earlier. And it’s okay if you don’t approve. They never asked for your approval. Again, they just wanted to let you know what they were going to do and why they were doing it. And no, as your letter illustrates, you don’t believe in freedom of expression just as much as the Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics group. In fact, you don’t get it at all.

Woo for kids

July 24, 2009

1. Girl Scout honored to teaching kids creationism – A Wisconsin teen, Annie Wichman, received the Girl Scouts of America’s highest honor, the Gold Award, for. . .

. . .amassing a library of creation literature for her church, building a model of Noah’s ark, and teaching creationism to elementary schoolers. She called her project Alternate Universe.

Now according to the Girl Scouts of America, this was not an endorsement of creationism but rather the award honors personal fulfillment and community involvement:

“…something that a girl can be passionate about—in thought, deed, and action. The project is something that fulfills a need within a girl’s community (whether local or global), creates change, and hopefully, is something that becomes ongoing.”

But it’s interesting how this at least superficially seems to mirror a topic I was discussing yesterday, Bill Maher being given the Richard Dawkins Award for promoting atheism. I disagreed with the choice given Maher’s infamous status as someone who promotes quack medicine while condemning real medicine. But a lot of people argued that he’s strictly being honored for his efforts with atheism and that his other beliefs shouldn’t play a factor in the decision regardless of how “religulous” they are. In this instance, I don’t actually know how the Gold Award process works and if every girl who completes their project receives the same award. But if not and this is a special award that she was being singled out for achieving, I would have definitely thought twice about choosing a girl who promoted pseudoscience as her project to be the recipiant of the high honor, lest it appear to be a tacit endorsement of evolution denialism.

2. The Secret for kids – The writers of the scam known as “The Secret” are now out to get your kids with a new book called “The Secret to Teen Power.”

religious-censorship3. A Christian couple, Ginny and Jim Maziarka of Wisconsin, are out to cleanse their local library of weapons of mass destruction that I like to call books. Specifically, sexually explicit books. Even more specifically, books that talk about homosexuality. And even more specifically, books with the title “Baby Be-bop,” about a gay teenager, which they claim is “explicitly vulgar, racial and anti-Christian”.

Several more cases of harm from woo

July 3, 2009

astrology - the fool1. Tarot card reader rapes 15-year-old girl under pretense of removing her bad luck and helping her wishes come true – Reminiscent of the “putting the devil back into Hell” story from The Decameron, Hector Ayala used his svengali-like influence to coerce this girl into willingly sleeping with him. This is beyond sick, and I disagree with Friendly Atheist (in the link above) who suggests that the victim possibly bares some responsibility because she was gullible enough to fall for it. Everyone is capable of being fooled, and while most of us are confident we wouldn’t have fallen for this, mere gullibility doesn’t mean this poor girl brought it upon herself or bares some responsibility for her own victimization, especially considering that she is only 15. This reminds me to also once again plug the Silence Is The Enemy campaign, which bares a link to Skepacabra on its home page because I promoted it previously.

2. Wisconsin considering removing faith-healing exemptions – Wisconsin currently accepts medical exemptions from parents who opt to instead kill their child by relying on a faith healer. This exemption might be single-handedly blamed for the death of young Madeline Kara Neumann. And Christian Science is primarily to blame for the law. But now 2 senators are fighting this law:

Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) has proposed a measure that would allow Prayer Parents to essentially present a criminal defense — their actions could be considered reasonable depending on “whether the parent should have known the condition was life-threatening, the risks and side effects of medical treatment and the family’s prior experiences with spiritual healing.”

It’s better than the current law, but it would be *really* tough to prosecute Prayer Parents with this measure.

Rep. Terese Berceau (D-Madison) has proposed a measure that would omit the current exemption I mentioned above. Child welfare workers could cite faith healing as an example of abuse/neglect. The court could intervene in cases like Daniel Hauser and require medical treatment in certain situations.

Berceau’s bill (LRB-2190) is stronger and allows for necessary intervention.

So if you know any Wisconsin residents, ask them to support LRB-2190.

3. 15-month-old Ava Worthington is the latest fatality of Christianity

As she died, dozens of members of the Followers of Christ Church — maybe even a hundred — were watching. None of them called a doctor. If any of them had, she would probably have been saved.

Christian group sues for right to burn gay teen novel

June 17, 2009

A Christian group in Wisconsin is actually suing for the right to engage in a public book burning to destroy copies of a book they consider to be “explicitly vulgar, racial [sic], and anti-Christian”:

The offending book is Francesca Lia Block’s Baby Be-Bop, a young adult novel in which a boy, struggling with his homosexuality, is beaten up by a homophobic gang. The complaint, which according to the American Library Association also demands $120,000 (£72,000) in compensatory damages for being exposed to the book in a display at West Bend Community Memorial Library, was lodged by four men from the Christian Civil Liberties Union.

First there was another group that just fought to move the book into the adult section of the library, which calls itself the West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries. The Christian Civil Liberties Union, the West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries–aren’t those exactly the kind of Orwellian names you’d expect pro-fascist, anti-free speech organizations to call themselves?

Their charging that the book’s physical presence in their local library caused them mental and emotional distress and that its alleged derogatory language “put one’s life in possible jeopardy, adults and children alike.” Wow! That must be some book to actually put lives in jeopardy. And since this book has been around for 15 years now, I would love to hear about all the lives who were destroyed by its mere existence.

The first group, the West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries, claims they wish. . .

“. . .to protect children from accessing them without their parents’ knowledge and supervision.”

The old “protect them from themselves” gambit–a fascist classic. Fortunately, the library committee stuck to their guns by keeping the books in the young adult section. That’s when the other group decided they wanted to burn the books.

One of the “derogatory” words they object to ironically is the use of the word “faggot,” which they claim is derogatory to all males. Now I agree that even I find the word “faggot” when used in the derogatory sense to be offensive even though I’m not gay, however, their intended burning of this particular book is  a greater offense. I find book burning a thousand times more offensive. And given that this is apparently a pro-gay book, I’m fairly certain that those who find the word most offensive have no serious objection to its use in this book. The book also uses the word, “nigger,” which of course incited many a fascist to burn copies of Huck Finn.

Now I haven’t read the book and I don’t know how these words are used (though regardless of how they’re used, it doesn’t justify burning the books), but I’m fairly confident that the “derogatory” language argument is no more than an tactic or an excuse to justify their public burning of a book that they simply don’t like because presents homosexuality in a positive light. Further, as with so many similar cases, the context of how the offending words is used is not discussed at all, and context is everything. For instance, this very blog entry uses both the words “faggot” and “nigger.” However, at no time will you find me use these words in a derogatory manner. Presumably, we’re all adults here. And rational thinking adults can use these words in an intellectual discussion about the words themselves without having to resort to childishly referring to them as “The other F word” or “The N word.” Context is key. Was the author of the book actually using these words for the purpose of disparaging and margionalizing a minority group or was the other using those words in order to promote a message of tolerance for such groups? My guess is that it’s probably the latter.

Teens, statutory rape, and double standards

March 23, 2009

In Sheboygan, Wis., a 17-year-old boy was arrested and charged with felony sexual assault for having consensual sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend. He was held in jail for a week in lieu of $1,000 cash bond. Then, only a few days later, another Sheboygan teen was arrested. This time it was a 17-year-old girl arrested for having sex with her 14-year-old boyfriend. She was charged with only a misdemeanor and released from jail almost immediately on only a $1,000 “signature bond.” Teen number 1 faces up to twenty-five years in prison, since he was charged with a felony, while Teen number 2 faces only up to nine months in jail for her alleged misdemeanor. Oh, and did I mention that the same prosecutor handled both cases. WTF!

News From Around The Blogosphere 01.21.09

January 21, 2009

Illinois mandatory moment of silence law was “sham,” says judge – The law was passed last year but high school student (and atheist) Dawn Sherman filed a lawsuit. Today, the final ruling (PDF) came in from Judge Robert Gettleman:

“For all of these reasons the court concludes that the amendment has no clear secular purpose, and that the stated purpose is a sham.”

I suspect the Christian Right is already trying to paint him as an evil “activist judge” trying to hijack democracy.

Religion as the ultimate Big Mac – (By the by, this is at Suicide Girls, so might be slightly NSFW.)

Acupuncture works … as a placebo.

UFO declared by the Chinese government.


groin-kickChild Sacrifice – Last year 11-year0old Kara Neumann of Wisconsin died from a treatable form of juvenile diabetes because her parents foolishly trusted faith healers. And despite the outcome, the parents are not remorseful and still believe in the faith healer. But now they’re going to trial.


scientist-use-in-case-of-emergencyScientists Agree Global Warming Is Real – “While the harsh winter pounding many areas of North America and Europe seemingly contradicts the fact that global warming continues unabated, a new survey finds consensus among scientists about the reality of climate change and its likely cause.”

Smoking Linked To Most Male Cancer Deaths – “The association between tobacco smoke and cancer deaths — beyond lung cancer deaths — has been strengthened by a recent study from a UC Davis researcher, suggesting that increased tobacco control efforts could save more lives than previously estimated.”

Hobbit Is Not Human, Skull Study Finds – “In a an analysis of the size, shape and asymmetry of the cranium of Homo floresiensis, Karen Baab, Ph.D., a researcher in the Department of Anatomical Scienes at Stony Brook University, and colleagues conclude that the fossil, found in Indonesia in 2003 and known as the “Hobbit,” is not human.”


Captain Picard responds to Rick Warren: