Why do people have to be so stupid?

OK, so I spend a lot of time talking about how Christians and atheists can be friends, and then some stupid person proves me wrong. This is also the type of thing that makes me proud and embarrassed to live in Colorado.

These billboards have been put up, sponsored by the Colorado Coalition of Reason (COCORE), in Denver and Colorado Springs. A couple of additional signs were supposed to go up in Northern Colorado, where I live, but the media company refused the ads. That’s not the worst of it.

A lot of Christians who have seen the billboards have found them offensive enough that they felt a need to complain. Some have even accused the billboards of being hate speech and denigrating Christians. One Christian driver who saw the billboard went so far as to say “It is a despicable act to allow that sign…” I, for one, can’t see how that is possible since the billboards are not speaking to or about Christians or people of faith, they are merely offering support to those unbelievers who may be living in the area.

This really makes me wonder if we unbelievers should start complaining about religious signs and TV shows and radio programs that we find offensive. This goes against every fiber of my being, because I am a very strong supporter of free speech. But maybe they need a dose of their own medicine so they know what it feels like. I don’t know why some people just can’t understand that not everyone finds the same things inspirational or offensive. And I don’t know why not all Americans seem to understand that America is a free, secular nation and that not everyone who lives here is or wants to be a Christian. How can we get that message across without acting as stupid as these complaining Christians?

Is it too much to ask to be treated equally? Whatever happened to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? It seems that some Christians, at least, don’t actually believe in the golden rule, never mind the Constitution.

Hat tip to Hemant.


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. As non theists, our very existence is a threat to them–in their eyes at least.

    It’s silly and absurd but it’s true for a lot of them.

    Our disbelief puts us in the same category as rapists and murderers in their eyes and yet we’re happy, decent people just like them. It’s a conflict between what they see in front of them and their view of the world. Some people accept reality. Some people accept that there are differences. And the stupid twats who complain about stuff like this stick to their worldview and try to pretend reality doesn’t exist.

  2. I think “giving them a taste of their own medicine” would be about as successful as punishing a dog an hour after their error. They either wouldn’t recognize the parallels, or they would spin it as militant atheists trying to destroy good, old-fashioned Christian values. In this era of soundbites, they would win.

  3. I read this post’s title in my feed reader and couldn’t help but sigh in agreement. I spent yesterday at a barbecue where one woman was telling me that because cyclists don’t pay registration we shouldn’t be allowed on the roads. I tried to show her my point of view, that I am just a guy trying to get to work in the morning without getting run over, but it didn’t work.

    Eventually I turned away from that conversation only to find myself in another on the virtues of acupuncture. “It worked for me!”

    After that I just wanted to jump in a lake.

  4. I’m of the opinion that just letting it go is the best thing. We should continue to try to “get out there” and live good clean, moral lives and not because we are out to prove anything, but because that is how we want to live our lives. Fighting about it only gives others the chance to say “See we were right about you.” On the other hand, you shouldn’t just let the fundies push you back into the non-believer closet. As far as my family and in-laws go, we have not outed yet. I want to live my life the same way I did when I was a believer and show them that my morals and principles have not changed. Technically, I’m still a member of the the Mormon church and over the years, I’ve noticed that the eye-brow raising tends to happen less now than it used to when I admitted to being Mormon. I think this is partly due to the church’s attempts at education and by the members living what they believe and showing that they are good and moral. This tactic takes time and patience is required. We need to find a way to keep emotional responses to a minimum. They operate on emotion and knee-jerk reactions and if you can take that away from them, then you have lessened their power.

  5. thombogs, I LIKE the idea of “giving them a taste of their own medicine”. And I think it would be a successful tactic in the right context – i.e., so long as it’s responding to something in one’s local area recently.

    I know if that shit happened in my city – if believers started screaming blue murder about an atheist message campaign – I would definitely start complaining about the local five-times-a-week Chirstian TV show and anything else I could find on which to base a plausible complaint.

  6. No. They would find it about as annoying and ridiculous as we find this case. And it would be about as helpful. They would not say, “gee, well we were wrong”, it would just piss them off and that would not promote good relations at all.

    And besides, they don’t need more ammo…

  7. “Some have even accused the billboards of being hate speech and degenerating Christians. ”

    Not that Christians aren’t degenerates (ha!) I believe you meant “denigrating”.

  8. I agree with DNAmom; the only way to deal with the religious is to let them prove their own case, in all cases.

    If they are offended, let them take the action, therefore forcing them to prove their case. Let them prove ‘hate speech’ before a court of law. Let them prove their own bigotry and ignorance before a court of law.
    Let them stand before the land’s judges and prove their claims.

    Athesim should never be on the defensive. the religious are the ones who must prove their case, and if they are offended, let them prove it, in a court of law.
    Let them be the ones to bray, bleat and scream their emotional hysterics, and hopefully, one day, the rest of society will see all of their hysterica and say, ‘these people are nothing but trouble to society; we will have nothing to do with them.’

    Let the religionist bring themselves down; dig their own graves, shoot themselves in the foot, and put the last nail in their own coffins. let them show their true faces to the world, where hopefully, the more reasoned in our world will begin to turn aside from them, seeing them for what they really are: people with nothing to say.

    This of course will take a long, long time to achieve, this religious self-destruction; and yes, let us defend ourselves if our private lives are being interfered with, but as far as public displays of atheism are concerned, and the religious who are offended by it, no, I say let them do all the braying and self-pitying bleating.
    Never ever play by the oppositions rules.

  9. NO, NO, NO!

    One of the very worst things about Americans that I’ve noticed is a willingness to give up freedoms as long is it makes someone they don’t like suffer. The Patriot Act is a perfect example of this, where people just surrender the Bill of Rights on the off chance that the same reduction of freedom MIGHT be applied to a SUSPECTED terrorist. Fight for the sign not against Christian’s stupid signs, or the eventual direction of American society is one where no one can say anything that offends anyone, even when it trues.

  10. I think this shows their true colors. You can often hear them complaining about “militant atheists” who are “too rude”. The truth is, they don’t want atheists to be nicer or more diplomatic; they want atheists to shut up. For fundamentalists (and for many religious people who see themselves as moderates as well), any atheist who is not closeted is a militant, evangelistic atheist out to convert them.

    What can we do about it? Simple: not to shut up. Speak up, brethren (and sistren). Speak up in any way you see fit: yield or whisper, be irritating or genial, be naughty or nice… Make them grow a callus on that oversensitive baby skin. Make it clear to them that we won’t go away, and they better get used to our presence.

    Sure, it won’t be easy… But again, who said it would?

  11. @truthwalker: Agreed. Why do we have to sink to their level to fight for our rights. What’s wrong with going to a local or campus paper with an editorial explaining how it’s unconstitutional to take the sign down? Fight FOR the sign, not against Christians. Probably a lot of Christians who put up those signs are not the same ones who force us to take ours down.

  12. Kimbo, removing the sign is only unconstitutional if the government does it. A private company can choose to display whatever signage it wants, just as Rebecca gets to choose the ads for Skepchick (even if she doesn’t actually bother).

  13. The problem with the “Golden Rule” is that not all others want to be done unto in the same way. I’m sure there are a lot of evangelicals that honestly believe that if they were on the other side they would want to be “shone the light.”

  14. Ironic isn’t it. They openly blame the ills of the world on us non believers, as do some of the leaders of the major xian cults even in the UK, and yet we are the ones guilty of hate speech for simply stating that there are other non believers out there. Religion, a synonym for hypocrisy.

  15. Well I do not think it is a question of “stupid.” I know many christians who have IQs off the charts. They include top notch scientists, MDs, and every other profession.

    It is a question of power. When it comes to billboards – they have a heck of a lot more power than atheists. And with a group that size, someone is going to use that power.

    Now on this blog site the reverse is true. The atheists are dominant. And if a christian tried to get a voice on this blog site, you’d see the same conduct. You find the same hypocrisy with all such groups who are bound together by a common set of beliefs, including this one.

  16. TrueSkeptic, a rather ironic name considering. The difference is that while we might take issue and argue with something you said, we wouldn’t prevent you saying it. See the difference… thought not.

  17. writerdd,

    Just curious. In light of your new outrage and desire for combat, do you look at the subjects we were arguing about a couple weeks ago in a new light? :)

  18. @Andrés Diplotti:
    Exactly, our mere existence is the problem. Amazingly, I bet that’s also what they mean when conservative Christians talk about the ‘homosexual agenda.’ The problem is that they exist in the first place.

    And I agree, we need to speak out and make it clear that we’re not going to just disappear.

  19. I think both sides of the religion debate feel threatened by the other. Theists feel that the more control or power seculars attain, the more chance there is that they will be restricted from practicing their faith in the way they want. As a non-believer, I feel that the more power the theists get the bigger the chance that their agenda will become the law of the land in terms of a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage, ID in the science classroom, etc. These are all issues which theists want to control in ways I feel are both morally wrong and unconstitutional. So, it’s basically a fight to the finish. We have science and reason on our side, they have faith and emotion on theirs. If your very way of life is threatened, or you believe it is, things can get really nasty. Here in Colorado, we have a really large population of religious conservatives. In my workplace, I run into them every day. I have found you have to carefully pick your battles. Is it something you are willing to fall on your sword for? Or is it just annoying and can be ignored? As far as the billboards go, I have not heard that law enforcement has ordered them removed and the issue has not made it to a court as yet. The company that put them up certainly has the right to choose its customers. Maybe this represents an opportunity for some enterprising folks to start a competing billboard company?

  20. Just curious. In light of your new outrage and desire for combat, do you look at the subjects we were arguing about a couple weeks ago in a new light?

    Phlebas, no, not really. I would not complain about Christian ads or TV shows because I do believe in freedom of speech. I’m just in a bad mood.

    Denver7M, the truth is, that atheists just want everyone to be treated equally. Most Christians do, too. But the ones who have been striving to get political power through control of the Republican party are the minority who would not allow everyone to follow their own beliefs, but rather would impose their conservative Christian beliefs on everyone else. So their fear that we unbelievers in a secular society would stop them from following their own beliefs is nothing but projection.

  21. Have to agree with Callisto, Rasputin, In this case, the cure might well be worse than the disease. Let them spend their money, time and emotions. Unless they are interfering with our private lives, let them waste their resources. We are indeed a threat to their way of life, because we show that there really are atheists, that we are not easily identifiable and that we are not moral degenerates constantly commiting henious crimes. We are living proof that their propaganda is wrong. (Recall the origin of the word “propaganda.”)

    We can speak up as reasonably and rationally as cases permit, but to start an expensive public war that we would probably lose doesn’t make much sense. The “taste of their own medicine” sounds more like a revenge tactic to me.

    Remember that the conservative Christers are still very powerful, influential and well-financed. No need to stir them up for little gain.

  22. @QuestionAuthority:

    In general, I agree with you. But signs like this one aren’t really targeting people like us, IMHO, but those who are closeted atheists or those who have doubts and think that there is something wrong with them. Been there myself.

    I would expect that those Christians don’t want us to network or give the closeted doubters access to others like them. Personally, I feel more compelled to reach out to exactly those people than to protest a religious billboard or TV show.

  23. Fighting back will not work, because while your intention would be to trigger their empathy (‘now they’ll see how I feel’), instead you will confirm their bias that the secular world is out to get them. Speaking as a Christian myself, I am constantly dismayed by the strong thread of victimization and fear that runs through the community. And you cannot conquer fear with fear.

    “War on Christmas”, anyone? “War on Marriage?” Gah.

  24. @soapko: Much of that is created and stoked by the pastors of the “megachurches” like Dobson, Robertson, etc. It gets them massive donations from the people they frighten. I wonder how many air -conditioned doghouses Dobson and Robertson have? Besides, Pat Robertson has to keep buying all those blood diamonds somehow. (For those that don’t already know, Pat Robertson is hip-deep in the South African diamond trade. Funny place for a “pastor” to be, don’t you think?)

  25. @Nitpicking: I guess what I meant was that it was unconstitutional in principle – but yeah I should probably have used another word (I was posting quickly before class).

    I don’t think we should go out of our way to piss of Christiams (hey, they aren’t all bad), but we shouldn’t let the bad ones silence our message when they are allowed to get theirs out so prevalently – private company or not.
    Side note: This is a skeptical blog, so of course a particular view that might fit with that would be dominant. I would expect the same on any site with a particular topic for a particular demographic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. And opposing views wouldn’t be censored unless they were breaking the rules that we *all* have to follow. If they are making good arguments to back up their point of view, great. However, many people do not argue well or are arguing points that are inherently foolish (ex: ID “science”). So if they get “shouted down”, how much of that has to do with us being jerks vs. us rationally analyzing their irrational argument? To the person who’s argument sucks, it would feel like being attacked for sure, but that’s not the intent for many of us, and they still get to say what they want to say.

  26. Because there is no god, people should get over it, dreaming of some wonderful place they go after they die where all the women are perfectly shaped and dispense beer from their tits. They feel threatened by people who actually use their brains to think instead of blindly believing in sick, twisted ‘whisper down the lanes’ that occurred over 2 millenia ago by primitive ancestors who didn’t understand physics.

    Religion = control over people who are too afraid to think for themselves, so they can just blindly spout jibberish passed on from early homonids on drugs. Moses climbed a mountain, spoke with a burning bush and received god’s commandments? Damn right he was on drugs.

  27. I agree with the general theme of the comments. I don’t think we should fight them with their own tactics. Some people would listen but most wouldn’t. We just have to keep being good people who are able to be moral and helpful without the fear of punishment or the promise of reward. That said we need to organize some atheist charities. It would help show that we really are good people. If we could do something comperable to shriner’s childrens hospitals we would not only be helping out many children but would be giving the world a concrete easily understood example that you don’t have to be a believer to do good.

  28. I’m not sure I can suggest a good way to combat these people on any intellectual level; I would say, however, that the approach a lot of people are taking here is wrong in one key regard. People are saying that atheism is being confused with evil, that atheists are considered equivalent to murderers and rapists, and that the best way to combat this kind of vehement religiosity is to show the world that we can live good clean lives.

    I actually think the problem goes much, much deeper than that. Certainly, quite a few people have a moral objection to atheism – that’s a fairly Catholic and/or secularized view of the world, however. Those are not our main enemies. Fundamentalist Christians belong to an evangelical Protestant sect that would actually consider a Christian mass murderer morally superior to an atheist doctor/philanthropist – since they believe the only possible moral good is to accept Christ as your personal savior. The worldview of most devout Christians is quite simple: your behavior here is only relevant as far as it influences your fate in the hereafter. Since Fundamentalist Protestants believe that behavior influences your afterlife not at all, they couldn’t care less how we behave. If we don’t believe in God, we’re going to hell – regardless of ANYTHING we might do.

    If they condone us, God might punish them by forcing them to burn with us. This is a real possibility for true Biblical believers, and while a minority they are a vocal and influential one.

    Just my two cents.

  29. Regarding the OP: I think such responses are indicative of the belief that God is the only source of morality. If you truly believe that, then any suggestion that it is okay to not believe in god is a promotion of an amoral lifestyle, and is therefore, “a despicable act.” As far as such a person is concerned, you might as well post a billboard that says, “You can murder your family with no consequences!”

  30. I just posted this on a related topic on Hemant’s blog:

    I’m not good for any reason. I have no desire to commit crimes or to hurt other people. (I’m sure there are trivial ways I break the law but that’s not what I mean. I don’t want to steal or murder or beat up people, etc.)

    It’s not even because I have empathy and can imagine how I would feel if I were the victim of a crime. I just have absolutely no desire to do these things.

    If Christians really want to rape and pillage and murder and just don’t do it because the Bible prohibits it, those are some frakking scary people. I’m glad they have found some way to control their vile impulses, but I don’t find people who have vile impulses and control them to be much better in the big picture than people who have the same vile impulses and act on them. That’s just disgusting.

  31. I am gradually coming out of the Christian perspective, after having been raised just about as Christian as it is possible to be. (Baptist preacher’s kid, Christian camp, youth group, conversion experience, Christian college, and can still quote you chapter and verse on just about any topic.) And I will tell you right now that signs like that would have offended me deeply in the height of my Christian experience — would have piqued my interest when my doubts started — and would have warmed my heart if I saw them when I was really coming unglued.

    I think that lowkey “you’re not the only one out there” things like that are the best approach, honestly. That, and non-theists or agnostics who are willing to have intelligent discussions without getting riled up by the almost inevitable emotional response of their Christian friends. Consistency is going to go a lot further with Christian closet doubters than antagonism.

    Whether it’s accurate or not, I think a lot of Christians have a persecution mentality that has a long historical precedent, and they don’t always stop to think that they haven’t actually experienced any themselves. I didn’t realize how pervasive the Christian mentality really was in America until I backed away a little. There is a definite sense within the community that they are an island of truth in a morass of sin. Whether unbelievers agree with it or not (or even understand it), I am convinced that any intelligent dialogue between skeptics and Christians is absolutely dependent on skeptics having a real understanding that that is where Christians are coming from.

    I’m sure there are some equally deep misunderstandings that go the other way, but coming from the Christian perspective, that was always the sticking point in my conversations with skeptics, atheists, or other non-Christians — the pluralistic mindset of most of America is truly foreign to the Christian mind, and that has to be dealt with on a one-by-one basis. In the meantime, signs and intelligent conversation between friends and respected adversaries is the only thing that will make a difference.

  32. J.P.: The difference is that while we might take issue and argue with something you said, we wouldn’t prevent you saying it. See the difference… thought not.

    J.P. – you think you have identified a difference – really? Maybe you should go back and read the original post again. And in the meantime, read the comments of one of this site’s correct speech cops:

    Kimbo: However, many people do not argue well or are arguing points that are inherently foolish (ex: ID “science”). So if they get ‘shouted down’ ….”

    Trust me, as I could prove it with empirical data, getting “shouted down” on a skeptics’ site is not significantly a function of the strength of one’s arguments as compared to one’s viewpoint. (Even Rush Limbaugh on occasion has to gently correct the poor reasoning of one of his ditto heads.)

    Now if you went back and checked Writerdd’s post, there is nothing in what she wrote that refers to Christians “preventing” atheists from saying anything, which btw is the practical effect of Kimbo’s reference to “shouting down.” She refers only to some Christians being offended enough to feel the need to complain and one saying it is despicable to allow the sign. All confirming, of course, that the sign is allowed by the Christian majority – though being the power majority, they feel very comfortable voicing their complaints in public.

    But J.P. if you want to think *your* group is special in its tolerance of opposing beliefs (or other falsehoods – like having higher IQs or superior critical thinking skills), you go right ahead and think that. Such is the nature of groups formed on the basis of common beliefs. And it is easier than my digging up quotes by skeptics stating how people who disagree with their ideas are dangerous, stupid, worthy of shunning or ridicule. Now, of course, such does not apply to all “skeptics,” but neither do writerdd’s comments apply to all Christians.

    You want to take another stab at identifying the difference … thought not.

  33. I’ve got to say I just stumbled upon this post and frankly the poster made tears well up in my eyes. I do feel alone.

    This is not mellow drama.

    Thanks for the post.

    Forward with hope.

  34. Hate to double-post but..
    I’m sure this has been mentioned but at the very least in my state of Indiana there were these huge almost terrifying signs with pithy quotes signed God.
    In this context, if a child were to paint messages from her imaginary friend on a wall, she would most certainly be evaluated for mental defect. How we, as a people, have gotten so far away from the basic tenants of sanity is beyond me.

    Further, my state allowed for a time, and I’m not exactly sure where the litigation is on this, but drivers were allowed to choose the regular Indiana plate or a ‘In God We Trust’ plate that was sanctioned by the state.
    I’m sure all of this seems completely on par with all of the experiences shared here but it, to me, speaks to the isolation I feel in community and my country overall.

  35. I believe in freedom of speech. I believe in freedom of thought. But there is some line, over which, people should not be allowed to cross. On one side of the line, we have folks who do not believe strongly enough in anything for which they would kill. On this side, there are perhaps causes for which we would die. But these are usually causes of great social concern, like liberating Europe and the Jews, Gypsies, gays, and cripples from tyranny and extermination.

    On the other side of the line, there exist people who believe so strongly in something, usually some religion, and not just Islam or Christianity but also Sikhism, Buddhism, and others. Not that all of these groups fall on the other side of this line. But the vast majority of those who exist far beyond the line do come from these groups. Those on the other side of the line find holy justification for beating women, murdering children, crashing airplanes, and bringing about untold misery upon those in this world.

    And here begins my moral conflict. It is the words of these religions (free speech) that create those who mete out pain upon random souls. Can, could, should, would, religious speech be banned? Could it be banned on the grounds of public safety? Could it be banned from being taught as truth like in Denmark? Norway? (I forget which country banned it.) There is some line, across which men should not be induced to cross. If religion continues to be adopted, if evangelists continue to frighten children with terrible torture and punishment, if the world supports religions with tax exemptions and other incentives, if the Catholic church cannot be shut down for institutionalized pedophilic sodomy, religions and, thus, murder, misogyny, torture, rape, and hate will have its wellspring from which to grow and its cave into which it hides when public opinion bears its anger upon them.

    Now do you feel alone? I do!

  36. OH NOES! Someone is thinking for themselves! Its a threat to our all-loving God, who will surely give these free-thinkers eternal damnation in all of his loving glory! :P

    I agree with you on this. I think religion and not religion can coexist. That is if religion calms down enough to allow us to have our own opinions. From what I can tell, quite a few religious people are OK with atheists, as I have seen from my teachers at my Catholic highschool (I’m being forced by my mom to go to school there against my will), but the people who throw a hissy fit whenever they see anything that is even slightly not oozing with their religious message seem to be the ones who are the most obnoxious and the loudest.

  37. I have been an atheist all my life but prefer to have a more positive philosophy such as simply to be a believer in the natural universe. As such I long for our society to become a free society again in which the Constitution is obeyed rather than ignored. So these days I support which is growing rapidly and deserves a look. Almost 95,000 of us who believe you have a right to your own life and the government should be limited to powers granted in ARticle 1 Section 8. Worth checking out and and and and and and read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, etc.

  38. You (American atheists) should not fight back because “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster” (Nietzsche).

    Instead of fighting AGAINST abomination, you should fight FOR rationality.

  39. Lars, love the quote and agree with the sentiment. But I have never seen rationality work with the religious. Isn’t faith a means of arriving at a conclusion without rational contemplation? I would like to see how this could be/ is being applied. Thanks!

  40. I don’t see how this billboard is any different from the signs outside of churches. I drive past at least three churches a day with a sign that says something like “Believe in God? You’re Not Alone”

  41. I, too, live in Northern Colorado and would love to see some of these signs around. I feel alone as an atheist, and misunderstood by those who connote atheism with moral bankruptcy and a lack of direction.

    I am a born and bred atheist who grew up in the most liberal area of Colorado (Boulder), and was confronted by religion when I came to the half-liberal, half-conservative Northern Colorado. Now, some of my finest and most treasured friends are fundamental Christians. Additionally, some of my most vile and superficial acquaintances were those with religious and political views similar to mine.

    I remember talking to my roommate freshman year about this very subject- of Christians attacking non-believers, of non-believers belittling Christians. She certainly faced opposition for her beliefs from people in our dorm, and (surprisingly) from Coloradoans in general.

    Now. I am a firm believer in science, and that is my prerogative. However, I think that attacks come from both sides of the field, and that my roommate was belittled and made to feel inferior because of her faith. It is only in more neutral locations that either side is aware of their standing as both attacker and victim.

    Unfortunately, coexistence only occurs when both sides are willing to be diplomatic and back down. The reality is that diplomacy is not usually considered as noble as Fighting the Good Fight. As a result, I believe that true coexistence can only occur in smaller pockets of individuals.

    Ah well. I’m glad they’re going down into Colorado Springs though. All the people I have EVER met from the Springs are:
    a. Devoutly Religious and currently praying for Ted Haggard
    b. Had a massive falling out with the church and are aggressively outspoken about it.

    I think there must be some quiet Atheists down there too. This will be good for them.

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