Sunday, August 05, 2007

A or Not-A? Movement or Not-Movement?

This post is about making a tough decision. But I’m going to start with a short rant. Since we here in the Atheosphere love occasional tirades, our own or other people’s, I trust you’ll bear with me until I get to my point.

It’s amazing to me that so many blogging atheists are eager to claim they’re part of a “movement.” That’s why the Dawk-A is showing up on blog after blog in the Atheosphere. The Dawk-A, which is really a logo for a line of T-shirts and bumper stickers and who-knows-what else, is also, allegedly, a symbol of the “OUT” campaign.

But, come on! Displaying an ugly red “A” in the margins of your home page ain’t the same as being an admitted atheist in real life. If you’ve got a solid freethinking blog, everyone who reads it should know very well where you stand in the god-belief continuum: you’re OUTside it. My no-A blog is just as godless – maybe even more so – than someone else’s A-displaying site.

I, for one, happen to be an avowed atheist in my everyday, non-blogger existence. I speak out, loudly and often. My family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and even casual acquaintances all know that I think religions are nonsense. Do I need an A to identify myself? Not as long as my voice still works.

Look, I admire Richard Dawkins for his unabashed atheism. But neither he nor his line of atheogarb have influenced my nonbelief one iota. In fact, I suspect that very few religionists have picked up The God Delusion, read it all the way through, and then said to themselves, “Hey, he’s got something there! I’d better get me an A.”

What truly astounds me about the “OUT” campaign is how quickly some nonbelievers have embraced an idiotic symbol as if they’ve been longing for their own version of the crucifix or the star of David. It’s a red A, for cryin’ out loud. If you put it on your shirt, and then add a cape and boots, you can look like a comic book superhero. How impressive!

If we’re really a movement, though, and not just a crowd of malcontents who dress up for some mutual grousing, we ought to band together and act like one. Wearing a T-shirt is not a rational substitute for taking action; displaying a logo is no indication that you’ve made a tough, reasoned decision.

Right now, the toughest decision of all for American atheists is the decision not to support a presidential candidate who seems OK— if only it weren’t for all that pandering to the theocrats.

But here’s the way I see it. By some estimates, we freethinkers make up around 10% of the American populace. That’s a healthy, election-influencing chunk of humanity. If we’re a real movement, let’s refuse to roll over and play dead at the ballot box. Let’s act like a movement where it counts.

Any candidate who drones on and on about his or her faith does not demonstrate a deep commitment to separation of church and state. A politician who takes every opportunity to speak at, and/or be photographed attending, prayer meetings, church suppers, and religious services, is likewise no great advocate of the First Amendment. A presidential contender who prays that our country be blessed by a god is doing what the founders specifically declined to do when they wrote the Constitution.

It’s a tough decision, whether you’re a progressive or a libertarian, a conservative or a liberal, to say: “I’m not going to vote for anyone who explicitly or implicitly, through word or deed, denies the rights of freethinkers by putting religion on a pedestal.” Yet, that’s what all these candidates are doing. Every mention of faith, every intoning of the word god, every appearance at a church or synagogue or mosque says: “My presidency will favor believers. Religion will be encouraged in my White House. While I’m in office, I’ll ignore the chipping away at the wall of separation. God bless America, and vice versa. I’ll continue to participate in holy wars. I’ll continue to support mythology over science, backwardness over progress. I’ll continue to use an evil and antiquated moral code as the national ethic.”

Well, count me out. I’m in a true atheist movement, although it may be a movement of one only. No candidate who puts god on the ticket will get my vote, even if I have to stay home and sit on my hands come election day — or go to the polls and write in “The Exterminator.” I will no longer condone the proliferation of superstition.

Isn't that what an atheist movement should really be about?

ADDENDUM (12:45 p.m. EDT): I should add that I’m not suggesting we merely stay home on election day — or laughingly write in “The Exterminator” — and do nothing else. We should take every opportunity to make public statements about our tough decision. We should continue to speak loudly and proudly through our blogs and, if possible, let the candidates and media know why we freethinkers and secularists, as a bloc, will not be voting for anyone who injects religion into his or her political discourse. Mind you, I'm not saying that a candidate must actually be an atheist, or claim to espouse atheism. I'm just saying that we should punish those, however appealing they may be otherwise, who go out of their way to use god as a vote-getter. We must let them know that god is a vote-loser, too.


Anonymous said...

I don't recall ever having the opportunity to vote for any candidate who didn't pander to the religous.

Anonymous said...

I think you've taken on just one aspect of the OUT campaign. Of course it's redundant for those who have atheist blogs. Everyone who reads their blogs knows their position. It's the readers who can benefit from the campaign. Not by being militant and denouncing faith at every turn but by subtly indicating their atheism to each other. It's a step towards a more confident position.

Dawkins often remarked at how many people approached him during his book tour to say that they had no idea that others felt like they did. Here's a way to connect with like minded people.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post (again) and I couldn't agree more.

Interestingly, there have been several blogs and comments which have mentioned they think the "A" thing is a bit odd and pointless. Generally these have drawn a bit of a mauling by atheists who seem to be turning Atheism into a religion.

Even on PZ Myers, otherwise fantastic blog, there was a post which made a pretty blanket condemnation of anyone who would not jump on the A wagon.

For me personally, an atheist "movement" seems odd at the most basic level. There is not "doctrine" to follow and no compulsion for any commonality of thought (with one exception).

I am an atheist. Everyone who knows me, knows I am an atheist. If any one cares they can ask me. I dont need a sign to prove it. I am also right handed, but I dont have a big sign announcing that to the world. I have an LCD television but I dont carry a banner announcing it when I go out...

There certainly wont be an A on my blog, on my car or on my clothing while I have any say in the matter.

Babs Gladhand said...

I'm a non-A girl myself. I just don't see the point in it.

The Exterminator said...

kent, you said: I don't recall ever having the opportunity to vote for any candidate who didn't pander to the religous.
Of course you're right. That's the point I was trying to make. Why do we sit idly by and accept this?

Anonymous: You believe that the Dawk-A T-shirt campaign may give people a chance to come together by subtly indicating their atheism to each other. I don't see anything subtle about wearing clothing emblazoned with a big, ugly A. The way to connect with like minded people is to converse with them, either through conversation or through writing. Wearing a team T-shirt is just a mindless way to show that you root for the same side.

TW, you said, For me personally, an atheist "movement" seems odd at the most basic level. There is not "doctrine" to follow and no compulsion for any commonality of thought (with one exception).

Nicely put. I would add that atheists are, almost by definition, non-joiners. We're freethinkers, right? We think for ourselves.

That granted, I do think we can work as a voting bloc to punish the godpushers of all political persuasions.

flumadiddle: As you know, I read your blog -- pardon the expression -- religiously. I had a pretty good idea that you'd be a "non-A girl" even before you told me. Given your level of freethinking, I can't see you rushing out to buy any kind of cheerleader outfit.

Anonymous said...

A couple of things, Ex:

1. I DO have a link, with a prominent A on my site. I put it there not because I want people to buy T-shirts from the Dawkins site (I didn't, and won't) but because I like the allusion of a big red A. It's literary. Remember The Scarlet Letter for adultery? Now we have a scarlet letter for Atheism. It's not so much that I want people to wear it on a T-shirt, it's that I want to raise the consciousness of people who read my blog that Atheists are like adulterers in Hawthorne's time - persona non grata. And that's not right.

I do have theists who come to my blog, and even occasionally comment. I had one yesterday who actually put me on her blogroll, with the pop-up note that says "open minded people only" under my link. These people may come to my site, see the "A" and actually have their consciousness raised. In that sense, I am doing my bit to "speak out, loudly and often".

2. As for not voting for anyone who panders to religion, I agree with you - to a point. However, I have to say that reality tends to intrude. Your proposition basically excludes every candidate (except Guliani who I won't vote for for other reasons) leaving us to vote for - who? There are other reasons to elect someone other than their religious views. If everyone did that since 1792, we would still be searching for our first president.

If you remember 2000, many people voted for Nader on a similar principle. Personally, he was the better of the three, and I would have voted for him myself, except for one over-arching reason - he couldn't win. And I knew that if Bush won, with the then current ages of the Justices of the US Supreme Court, the results of the elections would have a more serious impact over the next 30 years - not just the next 4.

And, as it turns out, we got just that.

Sometimes we have to vote for someone who does not mesh with all of our views, simply because there is no alternative.

Anonymous said...

Oh. I forgot the other reason I have that big red A on my site. It adds a little color to my otherwise bleak Atheistic color scheme. :)

Anonymous said...

John P: All very valid reasons for putting an A on your site and, with that in mind there is nothing wrong with having it. Personally I am not convinced that many theists will make the necessary leap of understanding and will simply view it as a crude version of the crackpot fish.

I would be more likely to put the A on a site for your added reason, giving a splash of colour, than for any statement purpose.

One thing which does interest me, as I alluded to previously, was the early backlash against people who didn't like the A. This alone will ensure I never use it - while we have a High Church of Atheism with its own Inquisitors, I don't want to join in... :-D

Something else I often wonder about - given that most atheists are firm adherents to the scientific method and the need for evidence to support beliefs^H^H^H^H^H^H^H theories, I wonder if any of the current methods to "raise awareness" of atheism have ever resulted in a de-conversion. Are there any theists who read God Delusion and thought "By Jove, he is right!" and gave up on their chosen fantasy?

From the comments, links and visitors I get (and see on other atheist blogs), most of the preaching is being done to the Atheist Choir with the occasional theist coming along looking for a fight. I am not saying it is a bad thing, just that there is a limit on the spread the message effect people can have.

vjack said...

No Dawk-A for me either. If someone can't tell from the title of my blog that I'm an atheist, a red A isn't going to help them. Aside from this ridiculous symbol, I do support most of what the OUT campaign is trying to do (now that Dawkins has clarified).

The Exterminator said...

TW: Yes, Atheist Inquisitors -- among whom John P., despite the name of his blog, is most definitely not numbered -- are no better than any other mind-control freaks. "Be my kind of atheist or you're no atheist at all." What other groups does that sound like?

vjack Like you, I too support much of what OUT allegedly stands for. But until Dawkins dissociates himself entirely from the fashion campaign, I no longer trust him as a spokesman for atheism. There's nothing rational about wearing a team logo; some of the biggest idiots I know do that. What's next: An A-shaped breakfast cereal?

John: The Scarlet Letter allusion is cool, but I'm not convinced I'm an adulterer just because I don't want to sleep with the god I'm "supposed" to.

As far as Nader in 2000 goes, notice how outspoken Gore has become about the environment now. Perhaps he learned his lesson: you can't ignore a large bloc of your constituents without losing votes.

You ask who would be left for us atheists to vote for if we refused to support any candidates who pander to the religious. The answer, obviously, is no one. But until we refuse to accept randomly tossed, half-baked crumbs -- mere lip-service to secularists who passionately care about the continued separation of church and state -- we freethinkers are not going to be given a seat at the main table. Why do we constantly try to convince one another to vote for candidates who disregard our commitment to freedom of thought? That commitment is one of my most profoundly held values. I suspect it's one of yours, too.

No, I'm not happy about not voting for a mainstream candidate, but I'm going to stick to my principles in this election. A candidate who talks incessantly about his or her faith has broken faith with me. I can't trust him or her not to use some bloodthirsty god as an implicit justification for going to war, nor can I be certain that he or she will always rate science above superstition. In a contest essentially between theocrats, least bad is not good enough.

Babs Gladhand said...

Ex - Well, I actually do have a cheerleader outfit, but it's for something entirely different.

John Evo said...

I have mixed feelings about your rant. I stand in the same place you do - no one in my bloglife or real life has any doubts about my atheism. On the other hand, I try to be sympathetic to those who think, more or less, like I do but are unwilling to be outspoken.

You said, "Look, I admire Richard Dawkins for his unabashed atheism. But neither he nor his line of atheogarb have influenced my nonbelief one iota. In fact, I suspect that very few religionists have picked up The God Delusion, read it all the way through, and then said to themselves, “Hey, he’s got something there! I’d better get me an A.”

He hasn't influenced you or me, and almost certainly no fundamentalist, but HOPEFULLY he, you and I and a whole lot of other bloggers have had some influence on the fence-sitters. Otherwise, is this not just one great circle-jerk? I hope not.

The Exterminator said...


Well, I don't consider my blog part of a circle-jerk because I have no mission to de-convert believers. I leave that fruitless task to other, more optimistic, atheists.

Me, I just want to do what I can to keep the theocrats in check. I also occasionally enjoy acting as a gadfly within the atheist community -- particularly when we start taking ourselves too seriously.

Being an atheist is a joyous experience. The best way to advertise our godless "lifestyle" is for us to look like we're having a damn good time thinking for ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Every one of us is one thing or not another for as many reasons as there are people.

I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but doesn't it seem to turn up to other folks among us that when there is some form of formal organisation with symbols as a focus that eventually you get an orthodoxy, the symbols themselves take on the importance and are granted a reverential status? Certain views (suitably edited for mass understanding...and compliance) from the "fathers" and probably "mothers", too, get to be the accepted wisdom, no matter what. I look at religion, and even the civic/statist cults in this country and can see exactly that. I'd hate to see a form of "orthodox atheism". I have run across some fellow atheists who had a hankering to try exactly that.

The people I admire most include Garibaldi, Marti, and Bob La Follette. I am known to be an atheist and a socialist. Most people believe neither about me because of my past, until I show them my voter registration card. If asked "why", I say I am more interested and knowledgeable about society than than republicans are about their purported republic, or the democrats do about democracy or even yet, the "demos". I play for some of the in-crowd gatherings of some of the local parties, I hear what they say among themselves. A plague on both their houses, says I. If Bob LaFollette walked into the democratic party ones and heard what I have, he'd probably turm white as a sheet and projectile vomit...then pick up the nearest heavy, blunt object and start cleaning house. Lots of hair, blood and bone flying around. Not much brain, though.

Exterminator, I'm with you. We will NEVER de-convert the world, and it isn't up to me to take from someone that which hemay (I think foolishly) give him his identity or help him through a dark night. Suppression or adding a danger or difficulty to something doesn't stop it, it gives an importance to it, makes it attractive. It's dangerous, a rallying point. And I love to have a good time. I make music (even in churches if they pay me) travel as much as my disability will allow, talk to people, and read books. I love to teach young people the things they need to know to become good men and women, theist or not, be with the kids, and look at pretty women, wish well to the young couples starting their life's journey, help my fellow man where and how I may and can.

Co existance is possible, my wife (lifelong methodist) and I will complete our thirty ninth year of marriage in October. We've had our ups and our downs like any other couple, but never over religion. Not once. Any time religion as a problem has been come up it's come fro outside and the inserters have been invited to mind their own business. I'd been back from my first tour in Viet Nam for about two weeks when we got married. In a church. After about two months she gave me her first harsh words. I was still adjusting to indoor 'civilised' life and I committed a social gaffe in public, and she was outraged, told me she hadn't expected me to be sane when we got married, but she thought I'd be HOUSEBROKEN! But not religion, never that.

Sorry for being windy. We are what we are, if we're ourselves in honesty, we don't need no steenkin' A. In my life I've tried to cut people the same amount of slack they're willing to cut me. I meet good will with good will. I ignore animus, and if someone screws around with me I teach them to leave me be. Enjoying life and happiness is the bestadvert for what we choose NOT to be.

Anonymous said...

The Exterminator, You are right. Wearing a t-shirt with a huge A on it is not subtle. When I responded here it was just after talking to someone else about the OUT campaign and I had been discussing the problem of the t-shirt and it's lack of subtlety. I must have still been processing that conversation as well.

I would actually be in favor of something like a small lapel pin that would announce my position to other atheists and perhaps encourage meaningful dialog with those who are curious of its meaning.

So, I am not a fan of the in your face t-shirt but I am supportive of the idea of making my atheism more visible to others.

There are a lot of us out there. Let's see who we are.

Anonymous said...


Loved your comment. Especially the part about your relationship with your wife. I know the feeling. I often expect my wife to hit me with a rolled up newspaper. ;)

But I have to except to the idea that we will never de-convert the world. Maybe not the whole world at once, but maybe, over time, the whole world, one person at a time. Or at the least, leaving only little minority pockets of religion in isolated places around the world.

Without doing a study, my sense is that while there are many atheists who were raised that way, most of us came to it through the deconversion process. And that often starts with a chance comment from an acquaintance, an article in a newspaper or magazine, a TV program, and yes, even someone's blog. In short , exposure to an atheist or an atheistic thought. So the more it's out there for someone to have that chance encounter, the more likely there will be another deconversion. Every little bit helps. It certainly doesn't hurt.

John Evo said...

Exterminator: "Being an atheist is a joyous experience. The best way to advertise our godless "lifestyle" is for us to look like we're having a damn good time thinking for ourselves."

Agree with you 100%. By the way, the following comments were all great perspectives.

I'll just say, yes, we NEED no steenkin' "A", on the other hand - take or or leave it. If you want to wear the shirt, wear it and don't criticize those of us who won't. I put the "A" up on my site, just to show a little solidarity, but I don't feel like I'm in lock-step with ANY other atheist, including Dawkins (whose science I GREATLY admire).

And I don't see myself wasting time deprogaming people but, again, for those on the fence who are interested in learning about being a free-thinker and not living their lives under a cloud of superstition, I'd like for them to be able to hear voices like ours. That's all.

PhillyChief said...

This is actually the first I've heard of this "A" thing and I think it's silly. Now we're all supposed to ride around in a van fixing the world with Dirk Bennedict and Mr. T? "I pity the fool who thinks there's a god!"

Earlier this year there was a news issue (which is different than actual news, which can no longer be found on tv) about trying to get the Wiccan symbol on a vet's tombstone in Arlington. The point raised was "even the atheists get their symbol". "We have a symbol?" I thought. Turns out it's the American Atheist symbol, you know, the one that looks like an atom. So now what, atheist soldiers will have to argue, "no not that symbol, I want THIS symbol"? What about those who worship titties and beer? I'd like to see that symbol.

Another thing is I recently saw on tv an older movie entitled Triumph of the Spirit (I think) with Dafoe and Olmos. Thinking of all of us running around with "A"s on makes me think it'll be that much easier for the fundie brownshirts to find us, round us up and it's off to the camps when they take over.

Anonymous said...

I'm told there are proportionatly more "atom" symbols in the section where vets are cremated than regular burial for some reason. Me, I won't have a grave so I won't sweat it.

I don't hold out much hope for educating people away from religion. My parents used to drag me to the Southern Baptist church when I was a youn'un, and the one thing I learned was that where a belief is proscribed or discouraged, it will become like a cyst, almost impervious to pressure. And become attractive. Credos always grow best in the dark, I think.

I've spent too many nights in hole, under deadfalss, in in hospital beds wondering what kind of shape I'd be in or even if I'd see the sun come up to seriously think that frightened, insecure people, some of whom have maturity problems, will give it up. There have been times I almost envied them, but in the end I've always stood on my own two feet and took what comes. And felt, come what may, better for it.

People with power know that the religious thing is a guarentor of power in a heirarchy, so they embrace and encourage it no matter what they privately think. And I guess people need their teddy bears at night. (My sons have given me their solemn word that their wives were much more satisfying and versitile than their teddy bears, but I digress)
There are certain organisation which will not accept accept you as a member if you don't acknowledge a supreme being. Masons, Oddfellows (people who know me figure I'd be a shoe-in with that one, surprised I'm not in. I guess one can be TOO odd.)even VFW and American Legion. Guys who sat at a desk, never heard a shot can be members, even people who weren't in the military, they can be accepted as members. I was in combat, wounded, disabled, but it would be "keep walkin'" if I wanted to join. Luckily for my self esteem, I don't want to join anything.

Philly, I think that we could be found just by what is on this and other web sites. Remember, the nazis got almost all the Jews in Europe with papers stored in shoe boxes. I've talked to survivors on both sides of that line, they agreed that there was very little force used to contain "undesireables". Just official communiques to report, and people reported to the people who conducted them to a terrible fate. Why? It would be illegal not to, and non compliance and resistance "would only make things worse." Things like that happen, resist as hard as you can because it can always get worse.

Unknown said...

Not voting is the stupidest movement idea I have ever heard. Pretending there is no difference between Sam Brownback, John McCain, Hilary Clinton, and John Edwards because they are all religious is just idiotic. If I were a fundamentalist I could hope for nothing more than all non-believers to sit at home on election day.

The Exterminator said...

Philly, you ask: What about those who worship titties and beer? I'd like to see that symbol. Actually, it's a Budweiser bottle with a nipple on it. If any of the company's Clydesdales had ever been nailed up to a cross, the symbol would probably still be the same -- except maybe there'd be a splinter through the nipple and a horseshoe around the neck of the bottle.

Jim>: Well, I've been waiting for someone to attack my argument as stupid. But you'd better look at history, before you cast too many stones. When a large chunk of the voting public refuses to vote for a party's candidate, that party's principles change magically in the next election. (Sometimes it takes two elections.) I'm sick of pretending to be gung-ho about potential theocrats who would enthusiastically trample my rights if that's what it takes to get them elected. As far as respect for freedom of thought, I don't see much difference between the politicians you mention. Yeah, that moron Brownback openly admits to not "believing" in evolution; but how fiercely have the others defended science and learning vs. superstition? You don't see any of them talking about how the study of biology got them through their personal crises. Or how they turn to geology in their moments of need. They don't mention the planetarium they attend regularly -- or the great secular literature they read -- when they're looking for inspiration. No, it's faith, god, their church, and the bible, over and over and over.

I will grant you that some of these candidates might be slightly better for atheists than others. But the operative word is slightly. Why should we shrug our shoulders and settle for that?

Anonymous said...

The Dawk-A, as you call it, is really of no import I think. I have it on my site because I like the boldness and solidarity with Dawkins, PZ, etc ... and it just happens to look pretty good en my site. But more importantly, as mentioned by previous commentors, is the way the symbol digs at religion.

Religion has this history of labeling things it considers evil. You have the Scarlet Letter, you have dark skin as "the Mark of Cain", in Mormonism/the Book of Mormon you have the evil heathens marking themselves on the head with read paint, and of course you have "the number of the beast". I just get some sick satisfaction from fulfilling their nasty-ass little prophecies for them.

I'll admit -- I enjoy toying with them. I enjoy having them point at me and being horrified by the appearance of their own delusions in the real world. It's mean, I know. But I love the irony and this "A" does just that.

Anonymous said...

If all atheists remain as individuals, and do not have at least some sort of co-operation, theists are to win eventually. As usually, over-individualism will lose against unified forces.

I think we have to faith against evil, or it will win. A or not an A-sign - what a stupid minor detail to argue about!

John Evo said...

Or, as Dawkins has frequently said, "trying to get atheists to come together is like trying to herd cats". I think that's a compliment to our individuality, but it's worth thinking about OCCASIONALLY going with the group - in a tentative way! (As long as the "A" doesn't become a religion, isn't insisted upon, isn't expected - just given willingly, or not).

By the was Finnish, I think you meant to say "fight" against evil, not "faith"... pretty funny though!

The Exterminator said...

mel, Finn, & John-Evo:

I definitely agree that atheists are going to have to work together at some point. I'm not convinced, though, that buying a Dawk-A T-shirt or displaying a symbol, the way religionists do, has any practical application -- other than for the people who make money hawking the clothing.

Better, perhaps, would be to band together where it counts -- in the courtroom and the polling place. Then we wouldn't need to have artificial logos to identify ourselves.

John Evo said...

"Better, perhaps, would be to band together where it counts -- in the courtroom and the polling place."

Agreed, Exterminator. And the net serves as the way to make the connections that are necessary for that. john b

Anonymous said...

Quote: "By some estimates, we freethinkers make up around 10% of the American populace."

I'm European, as are a lot of atheists, so those estimates don't make a whole lot of sense. :)