We got an email yesterday from Mike. Mike calls himself the “Religious Antagonist” and very proudly pointed us to his new YouTube channel where he intentionally antagonizes religious people and mocks religion.
In his latest episode, Mike approaches a homeless man and offers him $20 to scratch the word “God” off the sign he is holding. The man refuses. Mike questions the man’s rationality. Why is he refusing real money for a ‘fairy tale’? The man’s wife gets involved and also refuses. Mike engages them both. Supposed hilarity ensues as Mike tries to get the couple to give up their faith in a higher power for the temptation of $20.
I’m sorry, Mike, I don’t think this was the reaction you were expecting when you sent this to us but I think this is a cruel, cold and pointless tactic and I am struggling hard to understand why you think this is a) meaningful or b) something we’d appreciate.
I am an atheist. I am open about my atheism. I think that there are many serious problems that atheists face in this country. Atheists are still discriminated against, and conservative Christian values are causing laws to be put forward that weaken our education system, are anti-woman and anti-civil rights. And some are just stupid.
There are certainly battles to be fought and I don’t dispute that we need to take steps to fight against these things. But, I’m not sure harassing a homeless guy is the most effective approach. Of course, that’s not the only thing Mike does. If you watch his other videos, he does things like moving bibles in a public library into the “Fiction” section and blowing his nose and wiping his ass with pages from the Bible.
Mike doesn’t like the Bible, it appears. Mike is angry at religion. He believes it is wrong and he is right. And he’s not afraid to mock a homeless couple in front of their child and on camera to demonstrate it.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the relationship between the religious and non-religious. People talk about not being dicks, about how being a dick is the only way to really be heard and to be honest, there are arguments on both sides that I sympathize with. But, for me, it comes down to two things:
1. In human relations, the only way to gain consensus and understanding is to try to find common ground. In my personal life, I know religious people who I care about deeply. And although I know that they don’t understand my atheism any more than I understand their belief, we find common ground. Because I live my life as a good person and as a good friend and they do the same. We find that common ground and it brings us closer together. And that makes it much easier to settle things when we do disagree.
2. Some things are worth fighting for. Sometimes, you need to take the gloves off and you need to antagonize. I do not dispute this. However, make sure if you are doing this, it has a tangible, measurable goal and purpose. What is the purpose of Mike’s harassment of the homeless family? Will the man see ‘reason’? Will his wife or his child?
Or will Mike’s attitude and his treatment of this family just cement their impression that atheists are evil, amoral tools of Satan? This man had probably been taught from an early age that God would look out for him and would test him. And let’s be clear. It’s not like Mike was offering to bring the man out of poverty. An offer of $20 simply isn’t going to make someone put his eternal soul on the line if that is what they believe is at stake. Sure, Mike offered him more money hypothetically and hypothetically, the man refused. But hypotheticals are far easier to discuss than reality.
If I offered Mike $20, would he go on camera and say that he *did* believe in God? Is belief that easy to toss aside on a whim? Not enough? What if it was $1,000? Come on, Mike, that would buy a LOT of snazzy argyle sweaters…
What about the people watching? Will this video convince anyone to turn away from religion? Or to turn toward reason? Or will the majority of people watching either be horrified at the cruelty or laugh along with Mike at the poor ‘stupid’ Christian down on his luck?
What would have happened if Mike had walked up to the man, handed him $20 and said “I am an atheist and I don’t believe in God. I don’t think God will bless me but I want you to have this money anyway because I believe it’s the right thing to do to help you take care of your family.”
It may not have made for quite as “funny” a video. But maybe it would have changed that man’s perceptions about atheists and about what they are like and who they are. Maybe that would have been more effective than any gimmick or smug post-production commentary that Mike could come up with. We won’t know because I don’t think Mike is going to change his methods any time soon. He believes he’s in the right. And he probably can’t see the irony in that.