Category Archives: Atheist Outreach

Capital Pride Festival 2013

My meetup group, Capital Region Atheists & Agnostics, will be at this year’s Capital Pride Festival on June 9 at Washington Park in Albany. If you’re in the area, drop by and say hello! I’ve got a bunch of atheism and LGBT-related goodies to give away to people at the event.

Last year, we had a few delightful religious nutjobs protesting the Pride Parade. One of them was even someone I recognized from the Reason Rally! The kooks sure do get around.

P.S.: I’m still alive! I don’t update this nearly as much as I ought to because I’m getting most of my atheism-related frustration out on Reddit nowadays…

Stuff to watch: The Atheist Experience

In case you haven’t seen it before, The Atheist Experience is a live call-in talk show hosted by The Atheist Community of Austin. The hosts take calls from theists and atheists alike, and the discussions are occasionally really good. The show is broadcast live on public access in Austin, Texas and over the internet on Ustream. For example, during today’s show, a Christian called in to challenge the hosts on whether or not an objective morality was possible without a god. The conversation was pretty amazing. Watch it for yourself and see!

Atheist group duplicates church billboard’s message–and is denied for being “offensive”

Over at Hemant Mehta’s blog Friendly Atheist, an interesting little storm has begun brewing. Back in August, the McElroy Road Church of Christ in Mansfield, Ohio put up a billboard with a surprisingly atheistic message:

ting-mce

Not shown: overwhelming sense of irony

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We’ve got a highway!

Our local atheist meetup group has adopted a highway. More specifically, 2.6 miles of highway just outside of Cohoes, New York.

highwaysign

That’s me on the left there. (Many more photos here.) We just wrapped up our first highway cleanup event. Eight people showed up, and over the course of half the full route, we went through over a dozen trash bags. Lots of litter… mostly plastic cups, cigarette packs and butts, beer cans, energy drinks, and random bits of paper and foam packaging.

Things we learned today, as said on Facebook by Rick, the event’s organizer:

  • Apparently, high proportions of the nation’s dwindling number of smokers are drawn, irresistibly, to Cohoes, NY, much in the way that visionaries flocked to Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
  • Litterers exhibit a strong preference for Budweiser, Red Bull, Five Hour Energy and Newports.
  • Unlike love, Styrofoam is forever.

I got a nice sunburn, and I’m looking forward to doing this again – with a bigger group so we can split up and do the whole route.

Church vandalized with FSM graffiti… help them out or not? [Update: probably not.]

**Please read the updates at the end before considering donating.**

Last night, some vandals took it upon themselves to spray paint symbols and slogans related to the Flying Spaghetti Monster all over two Christian churches in Bend, Oregon. It’s a dick move; there’s no justification for this sort of stupid behavior. I don’t care if it’s a church; I don’t care how offensive I find their message; you don’t attack someone’s property.

Bobby Henderson, the “prophet” of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, released a statement about the vandalism:

This is not ok.  This is counter to everything we stand for and acts like these only set back our cause.  I don’t know who did this, but I will try to find out.

Over at Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta started a cleanup fund for the church, calling for atheists to find it in our hearts to chip in. (If you want, you can do so below.)

[donation widget removed. see the update.]

There’s a lot of disagreement in the atheist blogs(among commenters, at least) about whether or not atheists should be donating to a church at all, even for something like this. After all, say the opponents, this’ll just free up their money to spread their message, and judging from what church officials have said about the perpetrators, their message is none too friendly:

“Yeah, it’s a bummer what we have to go through and redo all this for a brand new facility,” said Rod Kirk, the director of facilities for Westside Church. “But the bottom line is that God is the one that’s going to get revenge — we aren’t.”

God’s going to get revenge? Really? Yeah, that’s totally not creepy at all.

Hemant and others suggest that this would be a good opportunity to “be the change we want to see in the world,” as the saying goes. After all, we might not expect a church to pony up some cash to help out if an atheist billboard or bus ad gets vandalized; we should aim to be the bigger person.

So… what would you do? Chip in to help out a crime victim (and give atheists some good PR), or refuse on principle to donate to a religious organization?

* UPDATE *

It turns out that this church is much less than friendly. This comes straight from their website:

“Are you struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions? Have you lived as a homosexual but now are looking for a way out. [sic] You have come to the right place. New Dawn offers hope and help to people seeking freedom from homosexuality.

This is a group that gets tax-free donations to support the unscientific, hateful idea that homosexuality is a disorder that needs to be cured. So… they can kindly get fucked, as far as I’m concerned.

* UPDATE 2 *

Hemant has posted some followup to the story, including a video from the local news covering the fundraising effort.

So, what have we learned?

And now, for a moment of seriousness. For a (hopefully small) number of people, today was supposed to be the day that they’d be instantly whisked away to a place of eternal peace and joy.

Instead, today is the day that they learn the hard truth so may other doomsday cults have learned: Placing your faith in the fantastic (and incredibly dubious) claims made by charismatic preachers who say that they’re going to save the world is a mistake.

But rather than criticize them, this gives us all an opportunity to glimpse the flaws in human thinking and learn important lessons about ourselves.

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What’s in a name? … Who cares?

If you’ve been active in the online atheist community for a few weeks or so, you’ve probably run into this kind of argument:

Atheist 1: Agnostics are just atheists without the balls to admit they’re atheists.

Atheist 2: That’s not true. Atheism is about what you believe; agnosticism is about what you know. You can be both.

<Repeat ad nauseum.>

I no longer see a point in making this kind of distinction. I also don’t think it’s useful to start using terms other than “atheist” to describe your position with regard to religion. Bright, Pearlist, Secular Humanist, and so on; these terms are all well and good, but when you’re trying to explain your ideas about religion, it’s best to keep the confusion to a minimum. Tell someone you’re a Bright, and it gets you nowhere. Pearlist? Almost nobody knows what that means. And no matter what, eventually you get back to the point where you say you don’t believe in God, and they say, “Oh, so you’re an atheist?” And right there, the whole slew of stereotypes and misconceptions come flooding in. What we call ourselves matters to absolutely nobody but ourselves.

Can we all just agree to cut this out? We’ve got much more important stuff to deal with, and engaging in this kind of bickering isn’t helpful.

For example… I’ve got no problem with the idea of atheism as an intellectually defensible position. If I didn’t think it was, I probably wouldn’t be an atheist. But let’s face the facts, here: for most people who are religious, it would be unthinkable for them to give up their beliefs without the emotional safety net they provide. Religion is very useful inasmuch as it provides a sort of emotional security, convincing people that the universe isn’t as scary and impersonal as it really is. If atheists really want to get people to give up their religions, we’re going to have to find ways to make our position more reassuring – something we can’t do if we spend so much time arguing over details that are utterly irrelevant to anyone outside of our peer group.

The Atheist Experience, with special guest Ray Comfort

Every week, the Atheist Community of Austin puts out a great public access TV program called The Atheist Experience. The show broadcasts live online at Ustream at 5:30 ET pretty much every Sunday. Typically the show features a pair of hosts discussing a subject related to atheism, skepticism, critical thinking, separation of church and state, and so on, followed by a period where they take calls from the audience. This week, though, they featured famed Christian apologist Ray Comfort (he of Banana Man fame). Continue reading

The Friendly Atheist – Hemant Mehta at RPI

Hemant Mehta, best known as The Friendly Atheist or The eBay Atheist, recently paid a visit to the Secular Student Alliance at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New Yok. Hemant’s original claim to fame was an eBay auction where he offered to go to the religious service of the buyer’s choice for one day per $10 spent. The media spun this as Hemant “selling his soul,” and after he tipped off a few key blogs and local media organizations, his auction quickly made the international news. Atheists and Christians squared off in a bidding war over the deal, and Hemant fielded dozens of questions in response, both off-the-wall and serious.

The winner of the auction, a former evangelical minister from Seattle named Jim Henderson, tweaked the deal a bit and offered to send Hemant to several different churches around the country, from tiny home churches to Ted Haggard‘s massive megachurch. Henderson runs an organization called Off the Map which (at the time – the focus has now changed) hired non-churchgoers to attend local churches and write up critiques of their experiences. Jim asked Hemant to do the same, and to post them online. The result surprised both Jim and Hemant: People from all along the religious/irreligious spectrum responded almost entirely positively, often finding common ground in their recognition of parts of what Hemant articulated.

In his talk at RPI, Hemant went into great detail about this project, its aftermath, and what he has been doing since then. Hemant is now chair of the Board of Directors for the SSA, a role which lets him play an active role in supporting secular student groups across the country. He is also a math teacher in the Chicago suburbs, a role which led to his coming under attack as a “dangerous influence” for kids from a extreme conservative Christian group called the Illinois Family Institute. Hemant described how that came about and how his life has changed (or not) as a result of it.
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What Should Atheists Evangelize?

Something I’ve noticed about myself since getting involved with atheist social groups is that I have an insistent desire to “spread the word.” The dilemma I find myself facing is simple on its face, but leads to much bigger questions: what word should I be spreading?
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