30 November 2008

Part II -- When Did Expressing Doubt About God Become a "Negative" Attack Message?

I saw a blog post tonight on Hemant Mehta's "Friendly Atheist" blog titled "Questioning God is Apparently Hate Speech." Hemant is the author of I Sold My Soul on eBay (a book that describes his visits to a variety of Christian churches. These visits initially occurred as a result of an eBay auction and the media reaction was the Mehta "sold his soul on eBay").

His blog post is related to my recent blog post on recent American Humanist Association bus ads (When Did Expressing Doubt About God Become a "Negative" Attack Message?).

Apparently, the atheist billboard ad is at the top of this blog post is considered offensive "hate speech" but other billboards in Colorado expressing religious views like the one below are OK:

Here's the news coverage from the Rocky Mountain News about this billboard dispute:
The message is but eight words divided into two short sentences set against puffy white clouds on a blue and black background.

One of the men behind the billboard message says his life has been threatened because of it, which seems an odd thing since those doing the threatening all profess to be Christians.

Just eight words:

"Don't believe in God?" the upper left of the billboard reads. "You are not alone," the lower right says.
The sole purpose of the ads, the group maintains, is what it says: to let other freethinkers, atheists and humanists know there is a group out there for them.

Two of the 11 signs were supposed to go up in Fort Collins and Greeley, the group said. This was so until the moment the media company that owns the two billboards read the message.

The hate mail and nasty, threatening phone messages began almost immediately.

Much of it has been directed at Joel Guttormson, who mostly has been serving as a spokesman for COCORE, as they call it.

Twenty-two and a Metro State junior majoring in theoretical mathematics, Guttormson also is president of the Metro State Atheists, one of the 11 groups that make up COCORE.

"It's been kind of wild, kind of outrageous," he says of days since the billboards went up.

"It has been mostly Christians who've been calling and e-mailing," Joel Guttormson said, "which is strange since the message is not directed at Christians or anyone from any religion.

"You know, if you see an ad for migraine medicine and you don't have a migraine, why would you care?"

Almost all of the feedback, he said, has been from people who say the billboards denigrate Christians. He says he still has no idea how that is possible.

"We are not out to anger people," Joel Guttormson said. "I don't know why people think that. So much of it says we are evil and that we hate everybody.

"Have you seen the billboard? Tell me where any of them mentions evil or hate. Why is everyone so mad?"

There is some good news out of this -- Joel Guttormson reports:
"The cool thing is we've even had some Christians step up and defend us. They know our message is no more offensive than one that reads:

"Believe in God? You're not alone."

29 November 2008

It's Amazing Where Religion Leads Some Folks ...

It's amazing to find where religion leads some folks.

Imagine a British woman of Sub-Saharan African descent who became a "born-again Christian" and is now defending the institution of slavery because "slavery is not wrong."

Apparently if it were wrong, God would have condemned it in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures - here's the money quote from this blogger:
The bible does not condemn slavery. So Christians try to act like Job's friends and try to defend God in a rather foolish way by condemning slavery, as if God forgot to do it Himself in the bible. I think this is a very unwise thing for a Christian to do because if slavery was wrong, God would have said so himself. But He doesn't say its wrong. As John MacArthur says in his study bible, " The New Testament nowhere directly attacks slavery; had it done so, the resulting slave insurrections would have been brutally suppressed and the message of the gospel hopelessly confused with that of social reform.
Of course another possibility is that the authors of the slavery-supporting Bible verses are simply wrong for defending slavery.

The funny thing is that I've heard folks speak against the Welcoming Congregation Program and other Unitarian Universalist social justice programs using a similar logic -- they should be discouraged because they interfere with spreading our Unitarian Universalist "gospel" in our congregations and our communities.

[Hat tip to Evolved and Rat/i/onal (Religion exploits unpatched vulnerabilities in the human mind) and Pharyngula (PZ Myers' blog) for finding this unusual perspective on slavery and the Bible for us.]

28 November 2008

When Are Your "Privately Held Religious Beliefs" Not So Private Anymore?

Here is Dan Savage's answer to the question proposed in the title of this blog post and in Dan's original online article:
When you donate $1500 to a political campaign to strip other people -- people who are not your co-religionists -- of their civil rights. Richard Raddon is, or was, the director of the Los Angeles Film Festival. All hell broke loose after it emerged that Raddon, who is Mormon, had donated $1500 to the "Yes on 8" campaign.
Dan writes about how making a large donation to a political campaign isn't a private expression of religion any more:
Bill Condon, the gay guy who directed of Dreamgirls, attempted to get Raddon's back: "Someone has lost his job and possibly his livelihood because of privately held religious beliefs."

No. No. No. Raddon lost his job due to criticism of his public political actions, not his private religious beliefs, and his public political actions were a part of the public record. If Raddon wanted to go to church and pray his little heart out against same-sex marriage, or proselytize on street corners against gay marriage, or counsel gay men to leave their husbands and marry nice Mormon girls instead, that could be viewed as an expression of his "privately held religious beliefs." Instead he helped fund a political campaign to strip a vulnerable minority group of its civil rights.

"Millions of Californians definitely lost their civil rights," says John Aravosis. "But I'm not hearing a lot of concern about any of those victims, only sympathy for their attacker. When you use the power of the state to rip away my civil rights, and force me to live by your 'values,' you are no longer practicing your religion. You're practicing politics."

In the wake of Prop 8 millions of gays and lesbians all over the country have decided that we're no longer going to play by the old rules. We're not going to let people kick our teeth down our throats and then run and hide behind "Nothing personal—just my private religious beliefs!" That game's over.

26 November 2008

When Did Expressing Doubt About God Become a "Negative" Attack Message?

This blog post is in response to another blogger's article on the American Humanist Association's recent ad campaign.

For the life of me, I cannot see why an ad campaign that suggests there is no need to believe in god or gods is somehow a negative attack message.

When did an honest expression of doubt and skepticism become an expression of religious intolerance in the eyes of some believers?

This ad is critical of traditional religious belief. But we should not live in a society where we engage in religious "idolatry" where honest questioning is discouraged.

Any idea (religious or non-religious) must be able to withstand criticism.

Any idea that cannot withstand critical analysis should be rejected or modified.

13 November 2008

Unitarian Universalism as a "Safe Place" for Atheist "Deconverting"?

Greta Christina - a favorite blogger of mine who writes on "sex, atheism, politics, dreams, and whatever" - writes in her blog today about "How can we make people who are questioning their faith feel that atheism is okay?"

She mentions Unitarian Universalism as a place for "people who have left religion but still miss its ritual and community" and a "non-denominational religion without the need for all that pesky God stuff."

You can read the rest of her article here.

I guessing that the changing social norms surrounding church attendance and changes in religious demographics may affect how "atheist-friendly" our Unitarian Universalist congregations are to those who are "deconverting" in the future.

The social expectation that one must attend church is no longer enforced in the United States - in my "Bible Belt" town, most of my neighbors do not attend church regularly (based on the numbers of folks observed doing yard work and other stuff on Sunday mornings).

Christianity is currently the majority religion but it's shrinking. The "atheist/agnostic/unchurched "demographic is growing. Check out the "American Religious Identification Survey" findings for more details about these demographic changes.

Both of these demographic trends and the non-mandatory nature of church in our society will affect our future demographics and future growth. I suspect that our atheist, agnostic, and unchurched neighbors will stop joining us and create their own institutions for supporting their families like the "Atheist Sunday School" mentioned on my blog and in Time Magazine.

08 November 2008

Easy Web Site Tool -- Google Sites

If your congregation or other community organization needs to set up a low-cost web site, I would check out the Google Sites web site building tools.

Our community's PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter web site's domain name registration had expired and it was taken by poachers.

To create a temporary web site while we decide where we want to do next on the web for our group, I used Google Sites -- here's the new Shreveport PFLAG web site.

With tools that are this easy to use, there is no excuse for a church not having a web site today.