Logic: ur doin it rong!

A crystalline example of whatever it is that goes on between a fundamentalist’s ears that passes for thinking can be seen in this whiny little editorial in the Columbia County News-Times. This would be in Georgia, which would be in the deep south, which would explain much. Anyway, the point Will Fischer desperately tries to convince us of is that if people stop saying “Merry Christmas” in favor of all those “politically correct” holiday greetings, then — all together now, boys and girls, “Slippery slope fallacy!” — Christians will “lose their freedom to practice their religion,” apparently. Uh-huh. Oh, and there’s this rather surreal example of analogy fail:

Just imagine what would happen if you decided to say something nice to everyone that you meet such as, “I admire you because you are such a gay person.” Look out; you might not like their response. Why? Because we have changed a word’s original meaning over time to mean something else. By not saying “Merry Christmas,” we are doing the same thing.

I’ll take “Dumbest Argument Made by Someone Not Named Ray Comfort” for $1000, Alex.

This holiday season, shop at “naughty” retailers!

Better call the waaaaambulance. The “War on Christmas” is in full swing in fundieland, and the first casualties are rolling in. Or not.

Got an email heads-up tonight about the “Naughty and Nice 2009” list cooked up by the American “Family” Association. Right-wing fundamentalists absolutely love their collective persecution complex. It’s the only thing they have, really, that gives them any empowerment.

The feelings of entitlement behind the nonexistent “War on Christmas” essentially have to do with Christians not liking the fact that anyone other than themselves exist, as well as not liking the fact that this secular world out there happens to be filled with people who enjoy celebrating the holiday season too, and last of all, going batshit insane over the fact that there are some retailers out there who approach the holiday shopping season with an eye to inclusiveness rather than exclusion. Fundies simply don’t want retailers to cater to anyone but themselves. So they’ve decided that if holiday advertising says things like “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!”, then these are godless evil Christian-hating lefty tree-hugging commie hippie faggot hellbound devil-worshiping retailers who want to make the Baby Jesus cry, and good Jesus-loving Amerikans have a duty to boycott them.

For those of you who don’t want to abuse your eyeballs and brain cells by following the link to the AFA page (though there are some abusive comments there that are pretty sweet), I’ll just repost their list of “anti”-Christmas retailers below — these would be retailers who cheerfully greet those who celebrate Channukah, Kwanzaa, the Yuletide, or who just enjoy the secular celebrations of gift-giving, sharing love and warmth, and scrumptious turkey and dressing, in addition to Christmas-celebrating Christians. It saddens me that so many Christians are so childish and selfish that they want to deny happiness to all but themselves this time of year. But that’s the evil of religion. Thinking you belong to the chosen people of the creator of the universe tends to do ugly things to the egos of people who lack the moral development to respect their fellow humans as much as they demand respect from us.

Companies marginalizing “Christmas” (according to the AFA, this means the company “refers to Christmas infrequently, or in a single advertising medium, but not in others”)

Bass Pro Shops
Banana Republic
Barnes & Noble
Best Buy
Gap Stores
Hancock Fabrics
Hy-Vee Stores
Old Navy
Safeway
Starbucks
Toys R Us
Whole Foods

Companies against “Christmas” (this means the company “may use “Christmas” sparingly in a single or unique product description, but as a company, does not recognize it”)

Advance Auto Parts
Aldi
Barnes & Noble
Best Buy
CVS Pharmacy
Dick’s Sporting Goods
Home Shopping Network
Kroger
Limited Brands
Office Depot
Radio Shack
Staples
SUPERVALU
Victoria’s Secret

So what about the companies who are “for” Christmas? Well, you can shop with them too, if you like! Because as atheists, we believe in freedom of choice and conscience, both on the part of shoppers and the companies that service them, and we’d never tell you not to shop somewhere simply because we thought they offended some precious inviolable ideology of ours (and atheists don’t really have those kinds of ideologies, anyway). Sure, we might suggest that people shouldn’t patronize one business or another if it could be shown that they were engaged in unethical or illegal practices, but in that regard, we’re no different than the BBB. So hey, shop anywhere you like this holiday season. And, just to tweak the hateful, empty people at the AFA, throw a few more extra dollars than you planned at the folks they’ve red-flagged. Spread the love the AFA hasn’t got!

On the same page: another atheist criticizes the FFRF

Just tripped over this editorial by atheist David Gleeson over at the Denver Post, where he lambastes the FFRF’s Christmas sign for most of the same reasons I did. Some good points here.

My wife’s mind is not enslaved when she lights the Hanukkah candles and sings the blessings that have been handed down to her through the generations.

She is simply taking part in a tradition that is important to her identity as a Jewish woman.

Religion certainly can harden hearts and enslave minds, but so can atheism.

The FFRF is taking the very worst that religion can muster and using it to paint everyone with the same bold brush strokes, a tactic perfected, ironically, by radical religious groups seeking to brand all nonbelievers as immoral devil-worshipping heathens. How easily the FFRF stoops to the same level. Pot, meet Kettle.


After some discussion in the comments, I must qualify my position on Gleeson’s piece. I do think that atheists can be hard-hearted people; anyone can be. I do not agree, though, that atheism itself can “enslave” a mind. Atheism is nothing more than not believing in a god, and there are no dogmas or creeds one must subscribe to, no requirement that one throw evidence to the winds in determining how you learn about the world. A person, however, can be atheist for irrational reasons, such as simple rebellion towards or hatred of religion and religious people. Most atheists I know and have had the pleasure of working with base their atheism on a rational critique of religion’s claims, but there are foolish people in any group. And if your atheism is rooted in unreason rather than reason, then yes, you can be a hard-hearted person whose mind is enslaved to anger and emotionalism, instead of being liberated by reason.

The FFRF Christmas sign, and why it’s a bad atheist message

When you have an unpopular message, however confident you are that it is factual, it is important to know how best to deliver that message so that your audience, however predisposed they may be to agree or disagree with you, is receptive, willing to give you a fair hearing at the very least.

Some atheists make the argument that Christians will never give us a fair hearing at all, so there’s no reason not to be as rude and abrasive as possible. But this simply isn’t true. The God Delusion sat pretty on the New York Times bestseller list for a solid year. And while Dawkins is certainly vilified out of all proportion to what he says and does by indignant believers, the point is, the book has sold over a million and a half copies. They didn’t all go to atheists, obviously. Otherwise, every book about atheism would be as monstrous a seller. Whether they like it or not, believers are getting the message — via books like TGD and blogs and what have you — that there are a lot of atheists out there, and that we’re prepared to defend our views with a great deal of intellectual rigor.

And yet there are effective and appropriate means to deliver those views. I’m not a Malcolm X, “by any means necessary” atheist, because not all means work. And while it’s a good thing many times to be provocative, provocative isn’t necessarily the way to go at all times. Which leads us to the Christmas sign.

To recap events of the last week: the Freedom from Religion Foundation had a sign placed next to a nativity scene in front of the Washington State Capitol building in Olympia. (Let us, for the moment, blow off any tangential arguments about the church/state separation issues that may be involved there.) At some point on Friday it was ripped from the ground and found some miles away tossed in a ditch. “Ah ha,” sayeth the atheist blogosphere, “does this not prove how petty and small-minded and censorious those Christian thugs are? How thin skinned they are about allowing any belief contrary to their own in the public sphere?” Well, maybe, but then, let’s look at what the sign — which has been used by FFRF before — actually said, and remember that it was placed next to a traditional Christmas decoration.

At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE may reason prevail. There are no gods, no angels, no devils, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

That last sentence is an example of what is commonly called “overplaying your hand.”

Look, you won’t get any arguments from me about the truth content of the sign as a whole. But, mindful of the whole “time and place” concept, as well as the general mindset of the people (Christians) whom you intend to reach with the message…well, what they read when they read the last sentence is not necessarily what might have been intended by the FFRF. You see, they aren’t going to read that last sentence and think, “By golly, they’re right. How gullible and foolish I’ve been to shackle my mind to these ancient superstitions.” No, what the last sentence of the sign says to them is this.

Hey, Christian fucknuts. You know this Christmas thing you’re all into right about now? You know, that time of year where you gather together with your family, decorate the tree, put lights up around the house, sing carols, stuff yourself silly with yummy turkey and cranberry sauce, wrap presents while eagerly imagining the looks on your childrens’ faces when they unwrap them, then snuggle with your loved one under a comfy blanket before a roaring fire while sipping eggnog and reminiscing about Christmases past and how big the kids are getting? Yeah, you know, all that insect-brain three-hanky horsepuckey? Well, the reason you like all that is because you’re a gullible, hard-hearted, uneducated, dimwit FUCKTARD! So come on over to our side, where we don’t have any of that sentimental shit we just listed, but we do have the thin and feeble pseudo-satisfaction of looking down our noses at everyone we pretend to be better than.

Pretty much something like that, anyway.

Given that’s what the message says to them, is it any wonder it was ripped from the ground? Is it any wonder they nurture their persecution complexes? Is it any wonder they never lack for ammunition in their bleating about a “War on Christmas”?

In short, the sign is provocative when an atheist message delivered this time of year ought to be nothing but fluffy bunnies. That doesn’t mean watering down your atheism. It means putting it in a positive, humanitarian and humanist context. You know, that thing we mean when we refer on the TV show to “promoting positive atheism.”

The irony here is that the FFRF has gotten it right before, with their billboards that simply read “Imagine No Religion.” That is a message that simply seeks, in Dawkins’ words, to raise the consciousness of the reader. All it asks is, imagine a world without religion. The believer may do so and see nothing but a bleak, nightmare void. But that’s where the discussion can start and the consciousness-raising can begin in earnest. You see, signs need only the pithy consciousness-raising message. They should not try to encapsulate a detailed atheist worldview — the whole “religion is superstition and, really, isn’t it kind of silly for grown adults to believe in invisible magic men in the sky” thing — in a nutshell. Especially not in a venue where the received message will be, “What, you like Christmas? What kind of shithead are you anyway?”

“But Martin,” you say, “the FFRF is suing because the city had their harmless, inoffensive, ‘consciousness-raising’ billboard pulled down after two days! So positive atheist messages are no better, obviously!”

Yes they are, my little sprogs. Because while few people will blame Christians for tearing down a provocative atheist sign next to a nativity scene — and I’m sure the FFRF has been dismissed in a number of media outlets for simply pulling a publicity stunt — when they try to suppress truly inoffensive messages such as that on the billboard (or the even-less-offensive one that simply read “Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone.”) then they do look like reactionary, thin-skinned bullies, and it’s easier for atheists to claim the moral high ground and come across, even to some in theistic camps, as more sinned against than sinning.

So while it’s all fine for us to throw punches at religion in most of the forums available to us — our blogs and books and TV shows — when atheists make the choice to take the atheist message out to the general public on their turf (and yes yes, you can say “the Capitol grounds is everybody’s turf,” but I’m dealing with the way things are in this country, not the way they should be), then that message needs to be 100%, undiluted, positive atheism.

If I were to place a sign next to a creche, I’d have it say something like this.

During this holiday season, and at all times of the year, let us remember our shared humanity and come together in love and mutual support, striving towards a better future for us all. A person’s goodness comes, not from what they believe or don’t believe, but from who they are inside and what they do to better the world around them.

And then, when people look at the small print and see it’s from an atheist organization, will they think the sign is attacking them in the way a sign telling them they have hardened hearts and enslaved minds seems to be? Would they still want to pull it out of the ground? Or would they be less inclined to think of atheists as petty, mean-spirited pricks who are just bitter because they don’t have Baby Jesus and eggnog and crackling fireplaces in their lives? Would they have their consciousness raised? Maybe only some. But I bet that’s more than the FFRF’s present sign has won over.

So happy holidays, bountif
ul Solstice, and merry Christmas. Everybody.


Addendum: Well, predictably enough, not only have a number of readers completely misunderstood my point in this post, but some of them seem to have gone out of their way to make a special effort to do so, with one idiot even accusing me of “Uncle Tom” atheism. Another commenter wrote, “What you are saying boils down to, ‘If you’re not saying what I want you to say in the manner that I want you to say it, then shut the fuck up.'” Which is, of course, not what this post boils down to at all, period, not even a little bit. I’ve responded in detail in the comments myself.