Pharyngula

More aggressive tactics for infidels

There’s an interesting idea floating around at a few other godless sites: the Parking Lot Challenge, which proposes that atheists take up the task of putting together positive statements about reason and rationality and materialism and naturalism, a little active proselytizing for godlessness.

Instead I want to see YouTube videos of people ambling around church parking lots during Sunday services and placing pro-rational “tracts” on people’s windshields. I’m not talking about in-your-face “God doesn’t exist, get used to it, ya fuckin’ hayseed!” stuff, but something genuinely useful and even seductive. Material that simply asks readers not to trust Pastor Blowmuff out of the gate; to consider that science is not in fact a natural adversary of a moral or spiritual or introspective life; to understand that evolution is not a tool created for the express purpose for battering Jesus into submission, but is simply one more aspect of how nature works, with or without my, your, or the Holy Ghost’s approval.

I like the idea (in general; I take exception to some of the details, since I do think science is an adversary of a ‘spiritual’ life). It’s being stated as a counterpoint to the Blasphemy Challenge. I liked the B.C., which I thought was a great tactic to rally those who are like-minded; the P.L.C. has a different goal, to convert the faith-dependent. That’s a much trickier job, I fear, and although it seems Kevin and Skepchick are well aware of possible pitfalls, I think Hank Fox also has a few words of warning:

The Christian at the Party
… a short, one-act play …

Scene Opens: A group of bright, funny people is having a pleasant evening together, talking and laughing on a redwood deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean, while gentle music plays in the background and dolphins frolic in the surf.

A Christian enters the room and says in a loud voice “Have you all heard the Good News of Jesus Christ?”

There is an embarrased silence. Suddenly everyone is looking at their watches and saying “Oh, would you look at the time! I have to get up in the morning.” Soon, all is quiet and still.

A dolphin rises in the ocean, and surveys the empty deck. Curtain.

There’s the problem: you don’t want the atheist at the party to be the Christian at the party.

I’m all for a stronger evangelical effort by the godless, but it’s going to require some finesse and humor and something more than just declaring gods to be dead. I’m not too keen on the idea of flyers stuffed under windshields, either, since that is immediately coupling the message to obnoxious behavior. I’m going to be thinking about this some more — make suggestions!

Comments

  1. #1 DaveX
    April 28, 2007

    I say take a clue from the Catholics; let folks know that if they have a question, you’ll be there to answer it. Beyond that, mind your own damn business. Nobody appreciates someone putting shit on their car or their doorknob– not even “valuable” coupons.

  2. #2 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    I would suggest the establishment of debating societies, societies in which coherent and rational argument wins over style and flair. (Traditionally, debate focuses on delivery and not at all on content – that needs to change.)

    Discuss every topic under the sun – global warming, whether the claims of WMDs in Iraq were justified, the nature of the mind, the existence of intelligent life in the universe, the nature of the universe – you name it.

    Don’t let it just be about atheism – be evangelists for reason. Once reason is accepted, atheism follows inevitably.

  3. #3 Jim Downey
    April 28, 2007

    We’ve kicked this around a fair amount over at Brent’s place, and I’m still of the opinion that what works best for me is to be an “out” atheist. Don’t push it in people’s face, but just act as if it is the most natural thing in the world.

    I’m fairly well known in the community for being a decent sort, a full-time caregiver for my mother-in-law, who has Alzheimer’s and other age-related health issues. When people make the comment that I’ll receive my “reward in heaven”, or “bless you”, I thank them, but explain that I think that it is important to create the meaning of our lives here and now, since I am an atheist. After they pick their jaw up off the floor, it gives us a chance to talk about how ethics and morality aren’t tied to religious belief, and to go on from there. Not the PLC, but a challenge to the assumptions and expectations most of the religious have.

  4. #4 valhar2000
    April 28, 2007

    Jim, don’t you ever get tired of having to do that over and over again? I don’t think I could; I’d just have to ask them to drop it.

  5. #5 John Danley
    April 28, 2007

    Not being “respectfully accommodating” when asked is important. I live in the Southeast and admitting that you are a non-theist is a bit like announcing that your last name is Cohen during the Nazi regime. The fear of being stigmatized or potentially losing employment because you have “thought something through” is an abysmal reality. Pathological obedience to any creed is not just exclusive to theism…it appears everywhere and is a theme of opportunistic pandering in capitalist marketing. People want to identify with the “winning team” or the superman who is on *their* side. Illustrating that gods are fictional levels the playing field and illuminates commonality. Folks don’t like that. They want a hero.

  6. #6 Jim Downey
    April 28, 2007

    Val, yeah, sometimes it does. It depends on the situation – among most of the people I interact with, a little rational discourse is fine. Most of my friends and family know I’m not a person of faith, and it is rare that any of them try and convince me to convert. With the bible-thumpers, it depends on my mood: if I’m playful, I might well get into it with them, since I know full well how to hold my own against anything that they’re likely to throw at me; other times, I might just let it slide – one thing about being a 24/7 care-giver for someone with dementia, you learn how to ignore rantings (and you’re likely also exhausted most of the time – meaning I don’t always have the energy to want to get into it with the thumpers).

  7. #7 Stuart Coleman
    April 28, 2007

    Well, the problem is that most people will just never hear these arguments, we have to get them to them somehow. We can’t use TV, movies, they won’t look at it on the internet, and we probably can’t get them into newspapers. So we’re pretty much left with something that’s obnoxious. I think pamphlets under the windshield wiper could work, some people are bound to read them and be interested. Especially if it’s geared to kids, the people who are still vulnerable and can easily be broken from religion’s corrosive spell.

    Of course, I have no idea how to actually do that, but I’ll let someone more creative than I am figure it out.

  8. #8 Bill Sheehan
    April 28, 2007

    Atheism is not an organized movement, nor should it be. Just think of the drawbacks: “Hey, wanna join our club? Karl Rove is a member!”

    Debates and blogs by thoughtful people like Dawkins, Harris, and Myers are enough to get the word out that faith is, at very least, optional. As the saying goes, no slave is ever freed save he frees himself.

  9. #9 Cody
    April 28, 2007

    Just do what I do at every meeting of Baylor University’s Inherently Unofficial Atheist & Agnostic Society: bring chocolate.

    Once you’ve convinced them it’s not poisoned, they’ll be more likely to listen to what you have to say.

    (BTW, official chocolate of the BUIAAS: Riesen)

  10. #10 doctorgoo
    April 28, 2007

    The easiest way to spread godlessness (or at least stifle the irrational fear of non-believers, which in my opinion is much more important) that I can think of is just to be a good, friendly, moral atheist.

    Since your atheism is unknown to Christian strangers, just displaying proper behavior will gain their trust and friendship. And then when they happen to mention their religion, you can politely drop the “A” bomb on them. If they’re truly your friends, they’ll be willing to listen to you… even if on a fundamental level they disagree.

    And even if your initials are PZ… and everyone points you out to their children and say Stay away from him, he’s an atheist Devil Worshipper!!… Behaving in a respectful, generous manner around them will demonstrate to them that maybe, just maybe, even the most vocal of atheists are basically good people, just like everyone else.

    In general, my advice is to teach by example. If people see first hand that atheists (or homosexuals, or wiccans, or whatever) are normal people, then it becomes more difficult for them to just dismiss them.

  11. #11 Gary
    April 28, 2007

    I posted this as a comment on the Skepchick blog, I’ll repost it here because I thought it was a good idea.

    I have an idea – instead of focusing just on science, we could focus on unscientific ideas that would likely be opposed by both scientists and religious people. Astrology would be a good example, since practically every newspaper has a horoscope, and it would allow us to give some interesting factoids that would encourage critical thought, like how the obstetrician has a greater gravitational influence on a baby than the planet Jupiter. The pamphlet could then segue into information on astronomy. It could talk about how sunspots and solar flares affect technology on Earth, or about how the moon affects the tides, or about the various discoveries that have been made by Mars missions and the Cassini spacecraft. I think that religious people would be more likely to read something like this rather than an explanation of something they don’t believe in, like evolution.

  12. #12 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    Gary, that type of organization already exists. See the JREF or CSICOP.

    And they’re fairly well hated for exposing human stupidity.

  13. #13 NC Paul
    April 28, 2007

    Have to say – I like Jim’s approach. Show, don’t tell.

    While it’s important to resist the encroachment of religion into public life and state the reasons for one’s opposition and disbelief clearly and loudly, I think active conversion is counter productive and a step too far. Personal belief is something we shouldn’t violate. That’s what They do and it’s damned irritating.

    Don’t hide or apologise for your position, but equally don’t shove it in the face of people who don’t want it stuck there. Give good example by how you live your life and reasonable people will come around.

    I’m reminded of the Aesop’s Fable where the Sun and the Wind compete to see which of them can get the man to take his cloak off. The Wind blows up a gale, but that only makes the man draw the cloak tighter around him. The Sun, on the other hand, just shines and sends out its heat – and that’s what gets the man to shed his cloak.

    While we should blow a gale in defending science and reason and in stating our position, only by radiating warm good sense will we actually persuade people to rethink their ideas about faith.

  14. #14 kmarissa
    April 28, 2007

    But frankly, not enough people know any atheists personally. Either that or too many atheists are in the closet, so people are not aware that they know any atheists.

    Definitely. When I first realized I was an atheist, it was a very painful and lonely experience because I had so many questions and worries (mostly all of which were the typical Christian reactions to atheism) but didn’t know a single atheist who I could ask about them. It was SO tempting to ignore my doubts and keep having faith. Considering the fact that I was a college student at the time, surely there were plenty of people right there on campus who were atheists too. I wonder how many would-be atheists never make it through the process because they don’t realize that there are normal, friendly, every-day people in their lives who are atheists too.

  15. #15 ivy privy
    April 28, 2007

    Here’s an idea: we could get Nobel prize-winning scientists to give talks like this:

    A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology
    Steven Weinberg

    2007 Messenger Lecture Series at Cornell University
    7:30 PM Thursday May 3, 2007
    Rockefeller Hall, Schwartz Auditorium
    Ithaca, New York, USA
    Open to the public
    FREE

    Weinberg is a 1954 graduate of Cornell, a signatory of Project Steve, a winner of the 1979 Nobel prize for physics (a;long with Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow) and an advocate of reductionism.

  16. #16 writerdd
    April 28, 2007

    Scientists speaking is good. But us “normal” people need to speak out too. You don’t have to be a scientist to find religion ridiculous.

  17. #17 kemibe
    April 28, 2007

    To reiterate (OK, copy and paste) what I wrote on the Chump Refuge…

    Dan asks:

    “As for filming confrontations for people to laugh at – again, why is this a good/useful idea?”

    The primary intent of this whole undertaking is not to annoy people (if it was, I wouldn’t be trying to finesse the language of the pamphlet, handout, whatever), and now that this project appears to more than an amusing hypothetical, I admit that I’ll be far more inclined myself to politely approach people as they’re leaving a church service than to leave stuff on their cars.

    But whether folks choose the windshield route of “evangelizing” a la many godders or opt for a more sociable route, some of the godders will get pissed — not for the same reasons most people understandably do when their space is invaded, but because of the nature of the intrusion. They would never articulate it this way, but they think that reason simply doesn’t belong in a “spiritual” setting. They’re hypocrites with built-in persecution complexes. In these cases, I would really like to see the beleaguered parties explain, with a camera rolling, why they’re upset — and again, I don’t mean about obviously assholian or juvenile tactics like people blocking cars from leaving the area or shouting at them or what have you; anyone can piss anyone else off.

    I’m picturing a group of people calmly gathered somewhere near a church, handing out literature with about the same level of solicitation as you see in a mall or at a marathon expo, when people are handing out business cards or flyers for some raffle or other event. Again, it’s a guarantee that some will squawk and complain that we’re trying to put awful ideas in their kids’ heads, etc. I wouldn’t back off on account of these assholes, because it’s okay to combat ignorance.

    I have gone to some length to emphasize that the primary idea here is to give spreading information a little more aggressively than usual a whirl. As far as spreading atheism in particular — not really; one has to hope that this is the result of what is in effect a not-scam-oriented bait-and-switch approach, i.e., first promoting science as a boon to humankind and then playing up its chief purveyors as not evil but simply fans of evidence and what is rather than what “should be.”

    If all of this still seems pointless, don’t focus on the giggles-and-YouTube aspect. Focus on the other stuff.

    Really, I’m not one to go pissing on electric fences just to watch the sparks. But come on. They fundies bitched when Penn & Teller came out, they bitched at the very idea of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins writing about the lack of evidence for god, they bitch about the unfairness of not teaching the nonexistent “other side” of evolution in science classes, they bitch about wars on Christmas, they bitch that the SCOTUS won’t just fess up to the fact that America is a “Christian nation,” they bitch about gay civil unions, they bitch about “killing” embryos destined for the trash can. They bitch about everything that they can’t have precisely their way. Not all of them, maybe not even close to most — but who’s still pretending that fundagelicals are somehow rare? Protestant Christians are over twice as numerous as generally-more-reasonable Catholics, and Catholics can be nutty as well.

    This incessant promotion of ignorance demands a response. Just having the information out there doesn’t do much, if anything. Being hyper-aggressive may not help much either. But you’d have to be empty-headed to suggest that avoidance and the utmost in restraint is going to see the godders eventually become bored and leave reasonable ideas alone, and stop trying to cram creationism into schools and eliminate valuable biomedical research. If people are convinced that standing by and avoiding confrontation is the choice they would personally make, that’s fine, and I don’t blame anyone for feeling this way. But drive-by whiners who see things like this in the works and only scream “that’s stupid!!!” and then scamper off into the shadows have no reason to even throw their two cents in.

    At the very minimum, there are a lot of great minds patrolling these blogs, so it’s possible – even a guarantee, I daresay — that a well-done PDF will come out of this, even if no copies of it ever hit a churchgoer’s hands, mind or windshield.

  18. #18 PZ Myers
    April 28, 2007

    Yes, I agree. We need better evangelical tactics, ones that don’t annoy and also don’t water down the message. We don’t need to invent an “atheist rock” to counter “christian rock” (I suspect one would be just as awful as the other.)

    At universities, we see two kinds of groups invading ‘our’ space: the insane preachers who damn the students for their sins, and the quiet guys who hand out bibles. I disagree with the messages of both, but the latter’s tactics are unobjectionable. Why not have a small group of polite atheists standing outside the special church events that we find contemptible, handing out short, clear pamphlets or flyers that present a rational and opposing view? I’m all for it, just so long as it isn’t a matter of screeching.

    A perfect example: the Minnesota Atheists are making themselves known in their opposition to the bogus National Day of Prayer with a Day of Reason, in which they descend on the state capitol and protest the whole thing with speeches and peaceful demonstrations.

  19. #19 William
    April 28, 2007

    So statements not just about why religion is bad, but why atheism is good? Yeah, I’ve been thinking about the need for those for a while. We bash religion a lot, but since atheism is by definition a negative claim, we’re often challenged to justify it as a productive idea or one with content. That’s fair, because I think it is, and I think that atheism makes active statements. I don’t have a video camera to put this up on YouTube, but I think that 99% of atheists probably agree with these basics as positive claims that atheism makes:

    Atheism is based on respect for truth. It requires and encourages critical thinking: reality exists regardless of what we believe about it, and understanding it is crucial, so we don’t want to rely on just what would be nice if it were true, or what people tell us is true. This is a habit of mind it is good to cultivate because it helps people deal with problems in their lives (facing the reality that a problem exists, and accurately assessing the options available). It also helps us avoid falling victim to liars, from frauds to politicians to emotionally manipulative personal relationships.

    Atheism gives purpose and meaning to life. You can’t wait around for Heaven to make everything better, or for bad people to be punished by lightning bolts. You must act to rectify injustices and make this world a better place if you want anything good to be done. Many people will interpret such a mandate to better the world in different, even conflicting ways. That’s fine. People who honestly face the truth and can agree on objective measurements of what they want to achieve can examine the results of their trials; those who respect truth are willing to acknowledge if their ideas aren’t working.

    Atheism draws a bright moral line at death, with an entire structure of ethical consequences. Death is the end of a unique, self-contained world called a person, terrible and irrevocable, and it is a sad thing for those who are lessened by that loss. Thus you should refrain from killing and acts that make death easier or more likely, such as condoning wars or (depending on your interpretation of the facts and predilection for intervention) furthering environmental degradation. You should support conditions that lengthen and improve lives, like medical research, widespread education, stable international relations, and many more.

    Atheism is beautiful and inspiring. This world is not dross compared to some paradise, or an illusion of desires, or a blink in a better existence. It is existence. It boggles the mind with its age, its size, its intricacy, its variety, and many other traits. We humans and the things we make and do are endlessly fascinating because no one person can completely understand any other, so there is always the opportunity to be astounded by art and music and scholarship and all manner of genius.

  20. #20 kmarissa
    April 28, 2007

    Apparently some atheists are countering the National Day of Prayer by giving blood for a “Gift of Live Day”.

    http://www.atheistnation.net/news/?atheist/article,00004

  21. #21 Randy Edwards
    April 28, 2007

    Billboards. The churches do it all the time. e.g. “Big Bang Theory? You’re kidding, right? -God”

    Humor helps. This is the wrong format but vaguely the right idea:

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

  22. #22 tsig
    April 28, 2007

    For a slogan

    “Where did you get your belief?”

  23. #23 Cody
    April 28, 2007

    “We don’t need to invent an “atheist rock” to counter “christian rock” (I suspect one would be just as awful as the other.)”

    And you’d be right.

    Ugh.

  24. #24 Marcus Ranum
    April 28, 2007

    >The primary intent of this whole undertaking is not to annoy people

    Sorry, then it’s pointless. If you poke a person’s faith, it’s inherently annoying. For it not to be, they wouldn’t have enough faith for it to be worth poking.

    I disagree with the notion of “polite” and “respectful” atheism. The faithful are freakin’ retards who’ve got brains enough to figure out what’s what but just aren’t using them. Or, worse, are wasting them by using the creativity that millions of years of failed near-ancestors died to evolve.

    I’ve found that most of the Xtians and Fuzlims that I’ve dealt with are unjustifiably and inordinately proud of their religious group identity. A good dose of ridicule is the one thing that shakes that self-evaluation. As we’ve seen over and over again, persecuting faith makes it stronger. It’s time to try giggling at the faithful.

    What we need are “faithful” jokes. You know, like:
    Q: Why did the delusional holy man who thought he was Jesus stop praying?
    A: Because he realized he was only talking to himself.
    (loosely lifted from The Ruling Class)

    Making people feel uncool and awkward – turning up the peer pressure – is what it’s all about.

    mjr.

  25. #25 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    I’d be careful, PZ. Inducing cognitive dissonance is a very dangerous thing – especially because most people will short-circuit right through logic to whatever will dissipate the unpleasant feelings the fastest. That usually isn’t sweet reason.

  26. #26 Mike Haubrich
    April 28, 2007

    Apparently some atheists are countering the National Day of Prayer by giving blood for a “Gift of Live Day”.

    http://www.atheistnation.net/news/?atheist/article,00004

    Posted by: kmarissa | April 28, 2007 03:25 PM

    I am going to join both events; I regularly donate platelets for the Red Cross (it’s a cheap way to keep visual tabs on my cholesterol levels, btw.) This Thursday, my schedule starts with a platelet donation, in honor of reason, lunch with my state legislator and the day of Reason event in the Rotunda of the Capitol from 1 to 3. If you would rather corner legislators, senators and state officers than stuff anti-tracts under windshields, come and join us.

    If anybody in the Twin Cities wants to join us tomorrow morning, the Minnesota Atheists are holding a fundraiser breakfast tomorrow (Sunday morning). Pancakes and stuff for only $6.66 a plate.

    Breakfast Fundraiser: On Sunday, April 29th, from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m., Minnesota Atheists will hold a Breakfast Fundraiser for our Building Fund. Pancakes, omelettes, juice and more will cost a paltry $6.66. Go to 1276 Larpenteur Avenue West, in St. Paul. Enter through the gap between buildings in the rear of the complex and follow the signs to the Party Room.

    Minnesota Atheists – because there are better ways to spend a Sunday Morning than laundry or church.

  27. #27 Zeno
    April 28, 2007

    Hmm. For some reason I can’t post a message with an embedded link today. Some anti-spam feature must have locked on to me and is dissing my links. I am diminished…

    In the previous message I was going to document my statement about gifts for my nephew/godson’s birthdays with my post “Religion is good”. Those who are curious enough can find it for themselves, I’m sure.

    P.S.: I wonder if maybe this is God smiting me for my unbelief. Yeah, that’s it. It’s a sign! (My angry God thinks really, really small.)

  28. #28 Godless McHeathenpants
    April 28, 2007

    #18 Kimibe> Some of the most liberal churches are protestant. You are making a category error by lumping all protestants in with the fundies. My mom was a devout Episcopalian, and I was baptized in that church. They are clearly far more liberal than almost any Catholic organization. Not individual Catholics, but as an organization. They ordain women and gays, support equal rights for all, run outreach programs to minorities and many other traditionally liberal objectives. John Spong (an Episcopalian bishop) is a wonderful writer, and a dedicated progressive. He is, frankly, more likely to agree with Dawkins, Harris et at. than with Ken Hovind. They are liberal to the point where often fundie groups declair they “aren’t real Christians” (they must put honey in their porridge.) If all Christians were like this, we would not need to bitch about religion. Same with Unitarians. It’s the Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Charismatics who try to influence public policy based on private belief.

    I think I posted this point somewhere else, so bear with me if you’ve heard it before.

    When you tell someone you don’t believe in their god, you are basically telling them you think their whole life is a lie, and their loved ones are not in heaven waiting for them. It can be a bit of a shock. We need to get to the younguns. I favor putting critical thinking classes into the school curricula. Maybe under the pretense of being able to parse spin and disinformation from the “Main Stream Media” (Who could be against that?) or New Age Woo? How could a fundie be against debunking crystal therapy or whatnot? It just so happens that the tools students will use to deconstruct the woo will be as useful in decontructing the Big Sky Daddy. Two birds with one stone. w00t!

  29. #29 kemibe
    April 28, 2007

    “Some of the most liberal churches are protestant. You are making a category error by lumping all protestants in with the fundies.”

    Yeah, tat wasmisleading. I was actually making more of a sheer laziness error by stopping short of the salient numbers. All funds are prots and all prots are Christs, but not all prots and/or Christs are funds!

    The survey I dug up indicated that about 2/3 of US Christians are Protestant, and a little less than half of that 2/3 are Baptists or Mormons, with the other just-over-half being Presbys/Meths/Epis/ etc.

    The fastest-growing (by %, not outright numbers) religion in the US right now? Wiccanism! That’s go to be chapping a few anuses in the general vicinity of Lubbock.

  30. #30 Dustin
    April 28, 2007

    We are all entangled particles, that can operate randomly even though spatially separate.

    I don’t think that’s right. Entangled states are states in which a measurement on one particle gives, by way of a conservation law, information about the same observable on another particle. The point behind things like the EPR paradox is that entangled particles aren’t supposed to operate randomly, but that they both have a definite state even though only one is being observed.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EPR_paradox

    Anyway, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be entangled with.

  31. #31 Dustin
    April 28, 2007

    All funds are prots

    Drop by Colorado Springs sometime. I’ll show you a few people who exhibit fundamentalist beliefs but attend a Catholic church. Someone, I’m sure, will tell me that it isn’t possible to do both at the same time since a strict interpretation of the Bible is at odds with the adopted pagan ritualism of the Catholic Church. But I’m not the person you need to tell that to.

  32. #32 Gary
    April 28, 2007

    Spacejam: I like it, but I’d leave out the part about entangled particles. It plays too much into the hands of the religious who claim that people lose their morality when taught that humans are animals descended from other animals.

  33. #33 Sonja
    April 28, 2007

    I remember being thrilled to learn in my college Intro to Psych (required) that sarcasm is a proven method to change people’s opinions. I think this is especially true among young people in peer-pressure situations.

    So, atheist teens need to start texting their friends, “You’re not seriously going to church tomorrow. It’s all, ‘God created the heaven and earth in six days.’ Yeah, like what idiot believes that?”.

  34. #34 kmarissa
    April 28, 2007

    Sonja, I think you mean, “ur not serosly going to church tomrw, wtf?”

    ;)

  35. #35 WCG
    April 28, 2007

    I use random “fortune cookie” quotes – most of them atheistic or at least pro-science and reason – as an email signature. This accomplishes a couple of things – 1) it makes people aware of the fact that they do know an atheist, and that he’s not so much different from anyone else, and 2) I regularly get private comments from strangers when I post in email groups. Some of these are from religious people and often result in a friendly exchange of views. I haven’t “converted” anyone, and I don’t expect to, but I do think I’ve given them something to think about. And perhaps they’ll start looking at some things a little differently (at the very least, perhaps it will help lessen the widespread bigotry against atheists). Not to mention that the quotes themselves – from Dawkins, Harris, PZ Myers, etc. – are quite thought-provoking. Just publicizing such gems is a useful accomplishment, too.

  36. #36 Bart
    April 28, 2007

    I’ve been tossing around ideas to increase critical thinking, past my own personal drive to educate those around me.

    The one idea that keeps kickin in my head is to emulate the GOOD things that religion does. Feed the homeless. Do fund raisers for tragedies. Clean up highways. Do coat drives at the winter solstice for kids. Do it with a HUGE public face. Proudly announce that you’re doing it because it’s right! Not because it will get you a free pass into eternal Candy Land. Hand out pamphlets on critical thinking to those who approach you. Let people ask the questions. Only the curious can be converted to be true skeptics.

    A previous poster pointed out that atheists aren’t a group. This is true, we don’t have any common belief system that holds us together (just look at the recent atheist discussion boards on gun control). And a negative (lack of belief) can’t used as a force to hold a group together.

    As a community (which we might be considered in the loosest terms) we don’t behave with common purpose. The organized religious people that I have spoken with see this as being uncaring towards the plight of others. I know this is completely untrue. Most non-theists I know are MORE moral, not less, than the average bible thumper.

    Preaching how much better being a skeptic is won’t convert anyone. Showing how much better a skeptic is will. The question is how we can bring our morals to the light of the public eye.

  37. #37 Dave Eaton
    April 28, 2007

    I think an Atheist or Secular Chautauqua movement might be interesting and useful. Using a public park to give a lecture on non-belief or some secular topic, a la Robert Ingersoll, would attract like-minded secular people mostly, but could serve as a kind of outreach, or ‘tent revival’ for secularism. Plus, it would be something fun to do on Sunday afternoon. A secular populism would tap deeply into bits of American culture that might serve to ease people into thinking more rationally about what they believe.

  38. #38 Engineer-Poet
    April 29, 2007

    I wonder if it might not be a good “hook” to use the irrationalism of literalists against them.  Something like a series of pamphlets titled “Would the creator lie?” and subtitles like “#12: The age of the Grand Canyon.”

    The theistic conclusions include (a) God made the world as a lie, (b) God doesn’t lie but Satan made the world, and (c) the world really is old.  Forcing the reader to discard (a) and (b) leaves them with (c).

  39. #39 Laura Quilter
    April 30, 2007

    Hotel bibles: I write in references for works that have some pro-Christian-sounding title but that are actually exercises in critical thinking, Biblical criticism, comparative religion, etc. Lately I’ve been sending people to Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible. Sometimes I describe it as a “concordance”. Heh.

    As for flyers being annoying — to many people, yes, and you have to be willing to use (waste) the physical resources that leafletting always costs — at least 90% waste. But let me throw in a pitch for the disgruntled teen who is searching for information that her religious family would never give her … a simple flyer could be a lifesaver. She might be heading out to the car early or even playing hookie from a service trying to sneak off and read a book. (Queer religious youth are at a high suicide risk–solidarity or any way out could be huge.)

    So, a few flyer ideas: (1) innocuous information about “critical thinking” with URLs; (2) a “be a rational Christian” flyer — for instance, my partner & I designed one for a Kent Hovind talk that points out that there are scientists who are Christians like Francis Collins; it also included information that pointed out Hovind’s tax problems etc. (because I believe that rationality leads to atheism, and even if it leads simply to moderate Christians that’s better than Hovindites). (3) Informing people just a little bit about their faith — remember, most Christians don’t actually read their Bible thoroughly and don’t realize what a whack book it is. So digging up a few of the contraditions that an ethical person might find troubling can actually be very enlightening. This can even be a sneak attack: Just post a short flyer with a homily that everyone would agree with and list a few contra bible verses.

    Don’t like car windshields? Bus seats are great for small card-sized things, or subway/bus ads for cardstock flyers you can stick in the corner of the ad. Newspaper bins are good for loose-leaf paper — especially if there are local free papers that list lots of religious stuff. Small inserts in books in bookstores — if you’re in the south, there are LOADS of religious bookstores and every one of them represents an opportunity to reach out to the faithful.

    As for being out — I agree it’s actually the most important thing. I’ve often thought about doing a series of little business cards that say something like “this good deed was done by a local atheist” (or “local lesbian”) and then giving them to people with a smile after I do the nice thing that generates the “bless you”.

    … more pithy and polite responses to the automatic “bless you” would also be good — i never know what to say!

  40. #40 Keith Douglas
    April 30, 2007

    ivy privy: I applaud Weinberg for doing such a thing. But I think doing it at Cornell just reinforces the stereotype that the nonreligious and atheistic are just a bunch of ivy-leaguers and that.

    WCG: A useful tactic, though sometimes I turn off my signature to avoid poisoning the well in other contexts. It currently reads:

    It is impossible for anyone to dispel his fear over the most imporant
    matters, if he does not know what is the nature of the universe but
    instead suspects something that happens in myth. Therefore, it is
    impossible to obtain unmitigated pleasure without natural science.
    — Epicurus

  41. #41 JohnnieCanuck
    May 1, 2007

    And then there’s always the Monopoly? inspired card.

    The Bearer of this card is
    100% Guaranteed not to Rot in Hell.
    No matter what They do.

    I found this on http://www.jesusandmo.net in a comment by Lewy. Many other bits of pointed humour could be added in the fine print, such as:

    Any living atheist will cheerfully address your complaint if you are unsatisfied in any way with your afterlife. Proof of death required.

    It could be used in many situations. Tucked into books, or used with a phrase like, “And here is an atheist’s blessing for you.”

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