Faith, Science, and Advertising: An Ethical Quandary

I had this odd ethical quandary the other day, and I wanted to run it by y’all and ask what you think about my decision. I had to make a decision somewhat quickly, so it’s actually already been made — but it’s a question that’s likely to come up again, and it’s therefore not just a moot point.

Advertising_now1The situation: As you may have noticed, I have ads on my blog. It’s not a huge source of income, but it’s a decent trickle, and as my blog gets more widely read, there’s a good chance that the trickle will increase to a somewhat larger trickle. I don’t have to accept every ad that gets submitted to me, and I have rejected ads in the past (most memorably an ad from some multi-level marketing firm that was obviously Scam City).

UccbluelogoSo an ad was submitted to me the other day… from the United Church of Christ.

Not advertising a particular church program; not advertising an educational series or a charitable fund. Just advertising themselves. The church, qua church.

Specifically, advertising themselves as a science-friendly church.

The tag line of the ad was: “Science and faith are not mutually exclusive.”

(You can see more about the ad campaign here.)

And I had a very hard time deciding whether to accept it.

How_to_succeed_in_advertisingUntil now, my policy has been to accept any and all ads unless I found their content flatly objectionable. (Or dishonest, like the multi-level scam ad. Which I guess is just another version of objectionable.) I don’t think a publication has to agree with or endorse every ad that they publish, and in the same way that I like having a variety of dissenting opinions in my comments, I’m happy to have a variety of dissenting opinions in my ads. I’ve even had ads with religious content before — religious content that I didn’t really agree with.

OnasettingwebvAnd as churches go, the UCC isn’t a bad one. They’re not the Unitarians or the Quakers, but as far as I can tell they’re on the progressive side, pretty gay-positive and all that. I like that they’re taking on the fundies on the science question; I don’t think they’d put it into those words, but I think it’s clear that that’s what they’re doing. And I was actually pretty impressed that they wanted to advertise on an atheist blog. (Especially this atheist blog. In fact, part of me really wanted to take the ad, just to have the United Church of Christ ad right under the Blowfish ad with the buttplug.)

But ultimately, I couldn’t do it.

I couldn’t do it because the fundamental thrust of their ad campaign is one that I totally, completely disagree with.

I think science and faith are mutually exclusive.

ManusingmicroscopeNow, before you jump down my throat: I think religious believers can be scientists, and good ones. The evidence for that is pretty obvious. Most scientists throughout history have been religious believers, and many scientists today are as well. I’m not saying that having religious faith means you can’t be a scientist.

Defending_your_faithI’m saying that — as approaches to life, as approaches to understanding reality and engaging with the world — faith and science are radically different. Science is an approach to life and learning that is willing to question anything, give up any belief or opinion, if a preponderance of evidence contradicts it. Faith is an approach to life and learning that starts with an assumption that it isn’t willing to discard. The more progressive faiths are willing to bend and change to adjust to reality; but the basic assumption — the existence of God and the soul — can’t be relinquished if you’re going to maintain the faith. It’s an approach to life based on an assumption that’s not only unproven, but unprovable. And it’s an approach to life that says it’s okay to make this big, unrelinquishable assumption about the nature of reality based entirely on tradition, authority, and personal intuition.

(That’s an oversimplification — of both faith and science — but for the purposes of this post, it’ll have to do.)

DarwinAnd if you’re a scientist with religious faith, it’s very likely that, at some point, your faith and your science are going to collide. And when/if it does, you’re going to have to make a choice. You’re going to have to decide which approach you value more.

(The big conflict in the 20th century was obviously evolution, colliding with the idea of life being designed. In the 21st century, I think the big conflict may be neuroscience, colliding with the idea of the soul.)

That’s what I mean by faith and science being mutually exclusive. I think faith and science are significantly different approaches to life, representing significantly different values. They can both be accommodated up to a point — but when that point is reached, one has to be chosen, and the the other has to be set aside.

Now, I don’t actually feel like debating that point right now. I’m currently working on a larger, more comprehensive piece about faith and rationality where I go into this idea in more detail, and I’d like to hold off on debating this point until I do that. (If you really feel driven to argue in the comments, knock yourself out, but I’m letting you know now that I’m probably not going to get into it.)

Online_journalism_ethicsMy question is this: Given that I do disagree so diametrically with the basic message of the ad, what should I have done?

Should I have accepted it — and should I accept other ads like it — on the theory that this blog is a forum for lively but respectful debate about religion, and this ad would have been just one more part of that?

Or should I have rejected it — and other ads like it — on the theory that I shouldn’t accept ads that are the 100% opposite of my most passionately held beliefs?

HeartI’ll admit: A fair part of my decision was just emotional. I did not want that ad on my blog. I think it’s clear that. as a blogger, I don’t necessarily endorse every comment that’s made on it. I think that point is rather less clear when it comes to ads. I didn’t want anyone coming to my blog and thinking that I endorsed this UCC ad, in any way, shape or form.

And even more emotionally than that: I just didn’t want it. Nothing against the United Church of Christ (well, apart from the fact that they’re perpetuating a belief that I think is mistaken and ultimately harmful), but I did not want that ad on my blog. It made me feel icky.

No_heartsvgBut icky feelings aren’t a very good basis for making an ethical decision. If I’m going to keep accepting ads, this kind of question is going to come up again. And I think I need to have a consistent, coherent policy about which ads to accept and which ads to reject. Something more coherent than, “No ads that make me feel icky.” Based on my experience with this ad, I’m leaning towards, “Ads are okay unless they’re flatly objectionable… or their content is in complete opposition to my own beliefs and values, even if it’s not actually offensive.” But I’m still developing it, and would like to hear what y’all have to say about it.

Money1(Oh, and P.S.: In case you’re wondering, the money was not that big an issue. It would have been nice, of course — especially since they wanted to run the ad for a whole month — but I just don’t charge enough for my ads for money to be a make-or-break factor in deciding whether to accept one. Not yet, anyway.)

Carnivals and Circles: Skeptics, Feminists, and Liberals

CarnivalBlog carnival time!

Skeptic’s Circle #78 is up at The Skeptical Surfer. My piece in this Circle: Untested by Definition: A Rant on Alternative Medicine. My favorite other pieces in this Circle: At Least a Skeptic by Whiskey Before Breakfast, on why skepticism matters in political leaders; and How to be a nice skeptic (and its follow-up piece, Bodytalk follow up), by The 327th Male, on a subject near and dear to my heart — how to question people’s beliefs without being a jerk about it.

Carnival of Feminists #51 is up at Philobiblon. My piece in this carnival: Which Side Are You On? Pro-Porn and Anti-Porn Arguments. My favorite other piece in this Carnival: A Feminist Critique of Superbad (You Heard Me) by Persephone’s Box.

Carnival of the Liberals #56 is up at Blue Gal. My piece in this Carnival: Hypocrisy or Bigotry — Which Is Worse? Huckabee and Guiliani on Gay Rights. My favorite other piece in this Carnival: Overshooting the Goal by Tangled Up in Blue Guy, on universal health care — and why it’s important, in politics as in other endeavors, to reach for more than what you ultimately want or will settle for.

(And I somehow missed this one when it came out, but Carnival of the Liberals #55 is up at The Greenbelt. I don’t have anything in this Carnival, but it’s still a good time, as always. My favorite piece: O NOES!! TEH SANCTITY!!!11!, by The Digital Cuttlefish, who completely outdoes himself in this hilarious poetic parody on same-sex marriage.)

If you’re a skeptical, feminist, or liberal blogger and want to get in on the Carnival Fun (and I strongly encourage you to do so, it’s a great way to expand your blog’s reach), here are submission forms/ info for the Skeptic’s Circle, Carnival of Feminists, and Carnival of the Liberals. Happy reading, and happy blogging!

The Blogroll Meme

Computer_keyboardI thought I’d start out the new year by trying to start up a blog meme. Let’s see how it goes!

This is actually a very easy meme to execute. And it’s a neat way to give props to your fellow bloggers… while taking a little bow for whatever it is that’s special about your own blog.

It goes like this:

Pick three blogs from your blogroll that you think encapsulate the unique nature of your blog. And post them on your blog, with links of course.

Then tag three other bloggers with the meme. (The bloggers that you tag can be the bloggers from your meme, or they can be different ones.)

That’s it.

ThreeAnother way to think of it is this: Pick a combination of three blogs from your blogroll that you think nobody else has. Any individual blog can be one that lots of other people have in their blogroll — it’s the combination of the three that should be unique (or at least, likely to be unique).

You can explain your reasoning if you like. Or you can leave it self-explanatory.

So here’s mine. The three blogs from my blogroll that I think sum up the essence of my blog — the three-blog combo that I think may be unique — are as follows:

Daylight Atheism
Spanking Blog
Cute Overload

And I don’t think I’m going to explain my reasoning, as I think the choices are pretty self-explanatory.

So I’m tagging three blogs to try to get the meme going. But if you think this sounds fun and want to play, consider yourself tagged!

I am tagging:

An Apostate’s Chapel
Daylight Atheism
Letters from a Broad

Happy blogging! And if you run with this meme, please drop me a line and let me know.

900!

Computer_keyboardAtheists and Anger now has over 900 comments!

Comments have been continuing to trickle in on this post ever since the original surge when I wrote it in October; it’s been getting at least one comment a day on most days ever since it was published. But special thanks are due to Friendly Atheist and to Memoirs of a Skepchick for the recent links that put it over the top. Thanks! And thanks to everyone who linked to the piece on their blog or forum or discussion group. This thing really has turned into the blog post that ate the Internet. I am still completely blown away by how many people were touched by it… and I’m very touched that so many people were moved to spread the word about it. Thanks, y’all. If it hits 1000, I think I’ll throw a party.

Brief Blog Semi-Break

I’m going to be very busy for the next two or three days, celebrating the birth of Santa. I’m going to try to get a blog piece or two up if I can — I even have a Christmas sermon in my head — but I don’t know if I’ll have the time. If I don’t, have a happy “whatever solstice holiday you celebrate, if any,” and I’ll see y’all soon. Ta!

“Pulling the Strings”: Greta Interviewed by Rachel Kramer Bussel

Note to family members and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life: You really, really do not want to read this post. At all. This post goes into quite a bit of detail about aspects of my personal sex life that you almost certainly don’t want to know about. If you don’t want to read about that stuff, please don’t read this post. Thanks.

Best_sex_writing_2008The “Best Sex Writing 2008″ anthology is due out soon, and since I have a piece in it, the book’s editor, Rachel Kramer Bussel, just interviewed me about my essay.

PayforThe gist of my piece is that, having edited a collection of advice by sex workers for sex work customers (Paying For It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients), I thought I should experience the sex work relationship from the other side. I wanted to see for myself if the advice in my book was actually helpful. And I was simply curious — both intellectually and sexually — about what visiting a sex worker would be like.

Originally published in Other Magazine, the essay, “Buying Obedience: My Visit to a Pro Submissive,” discusses in detail what becoming a sex work customer was like — before, during, and after. The editor’s interview with me goes into these ideas in a little more depth, and I thought y’all might be interested in seeing it.

[Read more…]

Carnivals and Circles: Liberals, Feminists, and Skeptics

CarnivalI missed putting these up when I was away on vacation. Sorry!

Carnival of The Liberals #52 at Yikes!

Carnival of Feminists #48 at Feminist Fire

Skeptic’s Circle #74 at Med Journal Watch

If you’re a liberal, feminist, or skeptical blogger, and want to submit a blog post to one of these carnivals/ circles, here are the submission forms for the Carnival of The Liberals, Carnival of Feminists, and Skeptic’s Circle. Happy reading, and happy blogging!

No, I haven’t disappeared

I’m travelling for the Thanksgiving weekend, and I thought I’d have reliable Internet access but I don’t. So that’s why I haven’t been posting. I’m coming home on Monday, and should be putting up a proper post on Monday evening. Sorry for the interruption; I miss you all, and will talk to you soon.

Commenting Problems

Computer_keyboardTypepad is having sporadic problems with commenting on their blogs, including this one. Occasionally, for no apparent reason, people are posting comments that are showing up in the “Recent Comments” list (as well as in my own blog management software), but that aren’t actually appearing in the comments themselves.

If this happens to you, please let me know. When it happens, I can fix the problem temporarily by re-publishing the entire blog. (Typepad is working to fix the problem permanently.) So as always, if you’re trying to comment and it’s not working, please let me know. Sorry for the inconvenience, and thanks for your patience.

Evolution of the Blog

SpanishinqSpanish Inquisitor, I could kiss you.

I have to give an enormous grateful shout-out to Mr. Inquisitor. He tagged me with one of these “blog tag” memes, this one being “Pick out five blog posts that illustrate the evolution of your blog, link to them, and comment on them.”

ScreamSo I was going through my archives trying to pick out the five posts that summed up my blog’s development… and I thought, “You know, I’d really like for the last one to be that Atheists and Anger piece I keep wanting to write. That would sum up the evolution of my blog quite nicely. I should just get off my duff and do it.”

I’d been wanting to write that piece for ages. But I knew it would be painful to write, and I knew it would piss people off, so I kept procrastinating. When I got tagged with this meme, though, I knew I wanted Atheists and Anger to be the capper… and I finally got off the pot and wrote it.

The blog post that changed my life.

I owe you one, dude.

Origin_of_speciesAnyway, here’s the meme. The evolution of my blog, summed up in five posts. Except I’m expanding it to six. Okay, seven. Fine, if you’re going to be a fascist about it — eight. But I’m counting two of them as one, so it’s really seven.

So I’m breaking the rules. So sue me. I’m a rebel, and I’ll never, ever be any good.

[Read more…]